You could almost hear the colonel add, "O.K., so now I've said it."
For several months the belief that Project Blue Book was taking a negative attitude and the fact that the UFO's could be interplanetary spaceships had been growing in the Pentagon, but these ideas were usually discussed only in the privacy of offices with doors that would close tight.
No one said anything, so the colonel who had broken the ice plunged in. He used the sighting from Goose AFB, where the fireball had buzzed the C-54 and sent the OD and his driver belly-whopping under the command car as an example. The colonel pointed out that even though we had labeled the report "Unknown" it wasn't accepted as proof. He wanted to know why.
I said that our philosophy was that the fireball could have been two meteors: one that buzzed the C-54 and another that streaked across the airfield at Goose AFB. Granted a meteor doesn't come within feet of an airplane or make a 90-degree turn, but these could have been optical illusions of some kind. The crew of the C-54, the OD, his driver, and the tower operators didn't recognize the UFO's as meteors because they were used to seeing the normal "shooting stars" that are most commonly seen.
But the colonel had some more questions. "What are the chances of having two extremely spectacular meteors in the same area, traveling the same direction, only five minutes apart?"
I didn't know the exact mathematical probability, but it was rather small, I had to admit.
Then he asked, "What kind of an optical illusion would cause a meteor to appear to make a 90-degree turn?"
I had asked our Project Bear astronomer this same question, and he couldn't answer it either. So the only answer I could give the colonel was, "I don't know." I felt as if I were on a witness stand being cross-examined, and that is exactly where I was, because the colonel cut loose.
"Why not assume a point that is more easily proved?" he asked. "Why not assume that the C-54 crew, the OD, his driver, and the tower operators did know what they were talking about? Maybe they had seen spectacular meteors during the hundreds of hours that they had flown at night and the many nights that they had been on duty in the tower. Maybe the ball of fire had made a 90-degree turn. Maybe it was some kind of an intelligently controlled craft that had streaked northeast across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Quebec Province at 2,400 miles an hour.
"Why not just simply believe that most people know what they saw?" the colonel said with no small amount of sarcasm in his voice.
The colonel's comments split the group, and a hot exchange of ideas, pros and cons, and insinuations that some people were imitating ostriches to keep from facing the truth followed.
The outcome of the meeting was a directive to take further steps to obtain positive identification of the UFO's. Our original idea of attempting to get several separate reports from one sighting so we could use triangulation to measure speed, altitude, and size wasn't working out. We had given the idea enough publicity, but reports where triangulation could be used were few and far between. Mr. or Mrs. Average Citizen just doesn't look up at the sky unless he or she sees a flash of light or hears a sound. Then even if he or she does look up and sees a UFO, it is very seldom that the report ever gets to Project Blue Book. I think that it would be safe to say that Blue Book only heard about 10 per cent of the UFO's that were seen in the United States.
After the meeting I went back to ATIC, and the next day Colonel Don Bower and I left for the west coast to talk to some people about how to get better UFO data. We brought back the idea of using an extremely long focal-length camera equipped with a diffraction grating.
The cameras would be placed at various locations throughout the United States where UFO's were most frequently seen. We hoped that photos of the UFO's taken through the diffraction gratings would give us some proof one way or the other.
The diffraction gratings we planned to use over the lenses of the cameras were the same thing as prisms; they would split up the light from the UFO into its component parts so that we could study it and determine whether it was a meteor, an airplane, or balloon reflecting sunlight, etc. Or we might be able to prove that the photographed UFO was a craft completely foreign to our knowledge.
A red-hot, A-l priority was placed on the camera project, and a section at ATIC that developed special equipment took over the job of obtaining the cameras, or, if necessary, having them designed and built.
But the UFO's weren't waiting around till they could be photographed. Every day the tempo and confusion were increasing a little more.
By the end of June it was very noticeable that most of the better reports were coming from the eastern United States. In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland jet fighters had been scrambled almost nightly for a week. On three occasions radar-equipped F-94's had locked on aerial targets only to have the lock-on broken by the apparent violent maneuvers of the target.
By the end of June there was also a lull in the newspaper publicity about the