UFOs: Man-Made, Made Up, and Unknown

Today’s post comes from Joseph Gillette, an archivist on a cross-training assignment in the National Archives History Office. This is the last in a series concerning the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation. Part I addressed the challenges the National Archives faced in providing access to the records. Part II addressed general Air Force investigatory and analytical procedures, as well as sightings resolved as natural occurrences. This final part addresses sightings resulting from human causes . . . and a case still unidentified.

Swan Lake, NY, 1965

On September 27, 1965, a college student from New York City was in Swan Lake, NY, when he saw an unusual sight. Upon receiving the student’s report, Air Force investigators completed a standard survey form to collect basic information about the sighting and provide an initial possible explanation (to fulfill confidentiality agreements, personally identifiable information [PII] has been withheld):


The student had his camera at the time and managed to take several photographs:

Photos included in the UFO report from the September 27, 1965, sighting in Swan Lake, NY. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

After conducting an initial photographic analysis, the Air Force decided the object was in fact real, but further analysis required more information. Even though more detailed information could have aided in the photo analysis, the overall investigation reached their conclusion: although the object’s distance from the photographer was unknown, its location, speed, and movement strongly suggested the sighting of a weather balloon. These types of balloons are among the more typically misidentified phenomena in UFO reporting.

Correspondence, September 14, 1966. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)


Riverside, CA, 1951

On November 23, 1951, a gentleman in Riverside, CA, took this photograph and sold it to the Los Angeles Bureau of the Acme News Pictures.

Photo from November 23, 1951, Riverside, CA, sighting. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Typically, Bluebook investigations began as a result of a witness contacting the Air Force to report a sighting. In this case, the Air Force initiated its investigation in response to a newspaper article.

Newspaper Clipping, November 1951. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

However, it did not take long for the Air Force to become skeptical of both the image’s authenticity and the witness’s integrity. After the witness canceled an appointment to be investigated, the Air Force interviewed former associates of the photographer. Both associates reported the photographer was a “prankster” who was capable of faking such a photograph. By March 25, 1952, the witness himself admitted the whole thing to be a hoax.

Cable, March 25, 1952. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

The Air Force closed the case. Read the Report of Investigation, March 28, 1952.

New York, NY, 1952

Our final case occurred in New York City, also in 1952. With the stated purpose of photographing the moon, an amateur photographer instead captured over the course of several nights images of lights in the sky. In one case, the lights appeared as a group of three, one of which seemed to consist of smaller globules of light. The second was oblong, appearing directly below the moon.

A commercial photo developer brought the photos to the attention of the U.S. military and provided the name of the photographer, who was subsequently interviewed by the Air Force. The photographer claimed he had not seen the lights until after the photographs were developed.

Summary of Information, August 19, 1952. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Unlike most investigation files, this one is noticeable for its dearth of supporting paperwork. No interviews were conducted, nor was there any photographic analysis. The photographer in this case issued no statement. At the same time, the Blue Book investigators offered no alternate explanations. In the end, the Air Force concluded these objects were unknown.

ATIC Form 329 in response to New York, NY, sighting, 1952. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Project Blue Book came to a close in 1970. The Air Force concluded that the overwhelming majority of sightings could be explained as a misinterpretation or misidentification of human-created objects or naturally occurring phenomena. Some were a result of mental frailty or fabrication. The small remainder were unknown—truly unidentified flying objects.

The Air Force was quick to note, and we must be willing to acknowledge, that “unidentified” does not mean alien. It simply means an object in the sky that is not readily identifiable. Likewise, “unidentified” does not mean “impossible.” Reports of UFO sightings and related phenomena should be approached and judged based upon factual evidence and not simply dismissed out-of-hand. Much can be learned from Blue Bookit provides insight into fascinating past phenomena and can serve as an example for investigating similar occurrences in the future.

Interested in researching Project Blue Book Files? Visit our research page










2 thoughts on “UFOs: Man-Made, Made Up, and Unknown

  1. I live in Swan Lake, NY & last night I saw what I believe to be a UFO. I told my friend it was like a bright light that I first thought was a plane because it was going on a straight line but then it zoomed up, down, to side, out of range, back into my line of sight. I decided to do an online search & the report attached matches my description of the event. I was also NNW & a few miles away. This happened around 2:20 am. I’m still in shocke that I witnessed something like this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *