The First Investigation
It is rumored that Project Sign informally began life in 1946. Called "Project Saucer" thought to be instigated as a result of
"foo fighters" being seen by combat pilots during World War II.
Project Sign was an investigation into
more correctly known at the time as "flying disks" or "flying saucers." On request from the US government Sign was set up in December 1947 by the USAF to investigate flying disk sightings such as
Kenneth Arnold's sighing
in June 1947. Work started on the project in January 1948 at Wright Field better know now as Wright-Patterson AFB. Even though the project was classified restricted it was known by the public to exist.
A formal letter dated 23rd September 1947, concluded that (shortened):
a. The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious.
b. There are objects probably approximately the shape of a disc, of such appreciable size as to appear to be as large as a man-made aircraft.
c. There is the possibility that some of the incidents may be caused by natural phenomena, such as meteors.
d. The reported operating characteristics such as extreme rates of climb, maneuverability (particularly in roll), and action which must be considered evasive when sighted or contacted by friendly aircraft and radar, lend belief to the possibility that some of the objects are controlled manually, automatically or remotely.
e. The apparent common description of the objects is as follows: ...
f. It is possible within the present U.S. knowledge... to construct a piloted aircraft which has the general description...
g. Any development in this country along the lines indicated would be extremely expensive...
h. Due consideration must be given to the following:
(1) The possibility that these objects are of domestic origin - the product of some high security project not known to AC/AS-2 or this command.
(2) The lack of physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits which would undeniably prove the existence of these objects.
(3) The possibility that some foreign nation has a form of propulsion, possibly nuclear, which is outside of our domestic knowledge.
... Army Air Forces issue a directive assigning a priority, security classification and code name for detailed study of this matter. Though conducted by the Army Air Force, the study’s information and conclusions would be made available to all the armed services and to scientific agencies with formal government ties.
Project Sign’s first major investigation was the study of a widely publicized UFO sighting known as the Mantell Incident.
On 7th January 1948, Air Force pilot Thomas Mantell in pursuit a UFO Mantell reportedly described as "a metallic object ... it is of tremendous size." Mantell died when his airplane crashed near Franklin, Kentucky. Project Sign investigators determined Mantell had been chasing the planet Venus. A conclusion met with some skepticism.
In another investigation undertaken by the Project Sign team, the Chiles-Whitted sighting over Montgomery in Alabama on 24th July 1948 proved to them to be harder to explain. Two airline pilots reported that a rocket-shaped UFO, glowing blue and seeming to emit reddish flames, approached them on a near-collision course. The two pilots Chiles and Whitted reported the object appeared to show a double row of ports or windows emitting an intense bluish-white light. A similar UFO was seen over The Hague in the Netherlands a few days earlier which gave extra credibility to the pilots sighting. Both incidents were independently report to Project Sign.
The credibility of the sightings in Alabama and The Hague along with other sightings at the time, many by military pilots, confirmed to the Project Sign team that these reports must be investigated further, believing that neither the US or USSR had the technology to produce such craft. As such the conclusion was that these objects must be of extraterrestrial origin as outlined in the "Estimate of the Situation" document.
The secret document, "Estimate of the Situation", that USAF Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenburg received in October 1948, suggested that the extraterrestrial hypothesis offered the best solution to the mystery of the flying disks. Vandenburg rejected this conclusion, the document was declassified a few months later, and all copies of it were ordered burned.
In the 1950's the "Estimate of the Situation" document's destruction became known to the public, the view was that of a cover up. To add fuel to the fire the documents existence was denied by the USAF.
In one case, seeking evidence of an advanced propulsion system,
Sign personnel tested the radiation levels of a National Guard airplane which was said to have had a "dogfight" with a flying saucer over Fargo, North Dakota.
From the start members of the team that made up Project Sign generally thought the sightings were most probably soviet aircraft built using
technology acquired at the end of World War II.
This was dismissed.
In its final report Project Sign came to the following conclusion:
It is hard to believe that any technically accomplished race would come here, flaunt its ability in mysterious ways and then simply go away ... Only one motive can be assigned; that the spacemen are "feeling out" our defenses without wanting to be belligerent. If so, they must have been satisfied long ago that we can't catch them.... Although visits from outer space are believed to be possible, they are believed to be very improbable. In particular, the actions attributed to the "flying objects" reported during 1947 and 1948 seem inconsistent with the requirements for space travel.
In February 1949
Project Sign was replaced by Project Grudge
that later became
Project Blue Book.
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