If you’re the US military in the decades immediately following the Second World War, you really don’t know what to expect. This was a time when missiles were still fairly new, when flight was taking on a whole new level of sophistication, and nobody really knew where human abilities in aviation were going to stop. Could the Soviets manage to construct a hovering fighter jet? What about a missile that can sharply change direction in mid-air? Nobody knew.
So, being ignorant as they were, the US Air Force had to treat UFO sightings as credible threats to national security; even if they aren’t aliens, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t real. The resulting Air Force research projects were terms Project Sign (1947), Project Grudge (1949), and ultimately Project Bluebook (1952), which collected reports from more than 10,000 sightings. Since their final termination in 1969, they have become the stuff of legend.
Now, the entire archive of UFO studies is available online, for free. The documents themselves were declassified shortly after Project Bluebook ended, but until now they have been available exclusively on physical micro-film — which is to say, they have not been available. The dedication on display here is pretty incredible, taking the time to upload 130,000 pages of material that the government says proves… nothing. Not that it will remotely lessen the enthusiasm of UFOlogists, but the official Air Force response to Project Bluebook simply says that it and its predecessors found “no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.” Out of about 12,600 sightings reported, only 701 remain “unidentified.”
Look at this delightfully absurd breakdown, ranging from “Was balloon” to “Possibly balloon.” Wonderful.
So, what does the Air Force say were the cause of UFO sightings? Well, all kinds of things. There are the cliche weather balloons (really, there are a lot of weather balloons) and of course human aircraft (known and classified), along with weather/astronomical events like an aurora, comet, meteor, or something else. It’s striking how many of these documents are given the “insufficient evidence” label — you really get the feeling that around sighting 7,000 or so, they started to get a bit annoyed with the job.
Of course, this is also just what people involved in a nefarious coverup would say, so perhaps that doesn’t prove anything. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Roswell, New Mexico sighting that has kick-started a tourist industry to make Nessie proud. This could be because the results were too explosive, but more likely it’s because the investigation was large enough to warrant its own designation. That was one sighting that we know the government at least briefly considered as a possible Soviet incursion point — though it could easily have been the US’s own military doing tests, as well. Or, you know, it could be aliens.
Though it’s blurry with age and poor printing, this is still sort of amazing. It shows how a UFO sighter was asked to relay their information to investigators.
The Project Bluebook Collection is hosted by the Black Vault, a larger effort to collect declassified government documents in a free, searchable database. All UFO stigma aside, it’s a wonderful effort; whatever the motivations behind it, putting up this much information about the government’s true workings, especially searchable, will be a boon to anyone trying to exercise real oversight.