Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a flying saucer?
Numerous reports of mysterious flying objects were reported in the aftermath of World War 2, and rumours compelled officials to issue statements denying that these were sent by aliens
The period that immediately followed the excitement of the war had a sense of anticlimax, and this led to stories about flying saucers being grabbed by “news-hungry writers”. So writes Michael Anglo in his book Nostalgia, Spotlight on the Fifties, from which the following is taken.
Stories about flying saucers not only made good copy but could be slanted with an anti-Russian angle, Anglo points out; it could be asked whether the flying saucers were a new Russian weapon. He says this was “a feasible possibility at the time when the Cold War was hotting up”. Most people believed this theory, rather than that the Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) were invaders from Mars or another planet, he writes.
Many listeners still remembered the famous broadcast by Orson Welles of the radio drama The War of the Worlds “which scared the listeners … who believed Martians had landed” on Earth.
According to Anglo the US Air Force continued to investigate every report it received about UFOs. It had a degree of “success”, as some sightings turned out to be of meteorological balloons, meteorites, American experimental missiles or, in some cases, even birds.
The US defence services were upset by rumours that the sightings were of secret US weapons being tested, or a new jet-propelled Navy plane. The White House issued and reiterated denials that this was the case. But, Anglo points out, many did not believe them.
And UFO reports were being received regularly. Anglo says that on February 1 1950 thousands of people in Tucson claimed to have seen “a mysterious object shoot over the city, slow down and hover for a moment before streaking off, leaving a long trail of black smoke”.
Also, US Navy radar officials apparently tracked two glowing UFOs “flying 50 miles above the ground”.
There was no stopping the rumours, and sightings continued to pour in from all parts of the globe. Anglo mentions that these reports were of “weird, disc-shaped, metallic flying objects”.
“Strangely, he writes, “there were no accompanying photographs of these UFOs”.
He writes of four fighter planes being scrambled to intercept a UFO over Dayton, Ohio. But when the planes reached the spot where the sighting had been made, the object had disappeared.
It did not end there. According to Anglo, two pilots of Southern Airlines, flying from Memphis, Tennessee, to Little Rock, Arkansas, claimed that they saw flying saucers manoeuvring “at tremendously high speeds”. Photographs were taken, but none was shown to the public.
And still reports came in, from as far afield as Mexico, Cuba and Turkey. But none of these claims was backed up by photographs.
Then there was a sighting by a commander in the US Navy of three saucers near the White Sands guided missile base.
According to Dr [Ulmer] Liddell of the American Navy Research Office, flying saucers were the navy’s cosmic ray research balloons. Anglo explains these were giant plastic holders
filled with gas, and that they often rose to 100,000 feet.
Anglo writes that a former US Air Force scientist, Anthony Mirarchi, believed flying saucers could be experimental rockets of a potential enemy and should be investigated.
In the first few months of 1951 there were few UFO reports. Anglo points out that the war in Korea was proving a bigger headache than the Americans had bargained for. It was going badly. The Chinese allies of the North Koreans “were launching numerous offensives”. And, Anglo explains, there were more than enough headlines for the American press.
But, according to Anglo, on September 14 a UFO was seen at Los Alamos and another in the vicinity Atomic Energy Laboratory. Anglo mentions that this was not the first time saucers were reported in the vicinity of atomic stations.
The number of sightings dropped in the US at the beginning of 1952, but there was a report from Canada of a UFO “estimated to be one of the largest … on record”. This, Anglo says, made the Canadian intelligence Services “sit up and take notice”.
More dramatic was the destruction of a British Comet airliner, which Anglo says took off in driving rain. Six minutes after takeoff the plane disintegrated over area of six square miles. The Civil Air Ministry investigated the crash and reported that the Comet “had been hit by an unidentified flying body”. Anglo poses the question: “Was it a flying saucer?”
Sightings continued until the end of 1953 and 1954, Anglo reports, but slackened off in 1955. UFOs “had become old hat and no longer made people’s flesh creep”, he writes.