Edward Ruppelt: Summer of the Saucers

Michael David Hall and Wendy Ann Connors. Captain Edward J. Ruppelt: The Summer of the Saucers - 1952, Rose Press International, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2000

For those who enjoy UFO history this is a superb account of the early 1950s period (particularly 1952) in the USA, focusing on the life and work of Edward J. Ruppelt, who was chief of Project Blue Book from 1951-53 and whose book The Report on UFOs (1956) became an early classic and is still often cited by believers and sceptics alike.

The authors have, for the first time, published many useful titbits gleaned from Ruppelt’s private files and notebooks (which run to some 700 pages) and have spoken to members of his family and to many of his former colleagues, both military and civilian. The result is a book which will interest any UFO student of whatever persuasion. The only drawback is its inevitable American bias, there being very little on UK or foreign ufology.

There are many examples of letters to or from Ruppelt, pages of discussions of the logistics of USAF organisation from 1947 onwards, accounts of top-level meetings on such topics as UFOs, the Cold War, atomic energy, and atmospheric phenomena; plus several new UFO case studies, as well as some old ones with fresh updates. One of interest is the Kinross F-89 radar case, which John Harney wrote about in Magonia ETH Bulletin No. 9, under the heading “Disappearing Planes”. The authors reveal, through an aviation historian, that the Kinross tragedy had nothing to do with UFOs, but much more to do with the fact that the F-89 was a disastrous, unreliable aircraft. (It was scrapped soon afterwards.)

We get new insights into the workings of the Battelle Institute study, the CIA sponsored Robertson Panel, and the aftermath of the famous Washington radar sightings. For the first time a complete transcript is given of General Samford’s press conference of 29 July 1952.

It may not be generally known, for instance, that the Battelle study and report (quoted by certain UFO proponents as proof of UFO reality) had been completed in September 1953 but was not released until October 1955, and even then it was dressed up as Blue Book Special Report No. 14. The name “Battelle” was deliberately suppressed at the time. When Ruppelt was asked about the report after his own book came out he said he had discarded the Battelle study as worthless in 1953. Similarly, it seems Ruppelt was kept in the dark over the conclusions of the Robertson Panel, although he participated during some of its meetings. He was never shown its written findings while at Blue Book, although its report was written in January 1953. The first inkling of any written report was not until April 1958 when a brief summary was released. The complete report, by Frederick C. Durant (an associate member of the panel) did not appear until 1966. Ruppelt had carefully omitted in his book any mention of the CIA who, as is now well known, was the instigator of the Robertson Panel in the first place.

One curiosity is the “Lubbock Lights” case of autumn 1951, involving repeated sightings of strange night lights over Lubbock, Texas by four science professors, plus many other people. The case did not publicly come to light until an account appeared in Life magazine in April 1952. Ruppelt had investigated the case at length but officially the lights were left as unexplained. However, in his book he tells how a certain scientist had later, privately, resolved the case but that he (Ruppelt) could not divulge the details as the man had sworn him to secrecy. In the revised edition of Ruppelt’s book, however, he reveals that the lights were identified as moths reflecting a row of street lights.

Hall and Connors reveal that the scientist in question was none other than one of the original professors (W.L. Ducker) who had, after lot of experimentation, finally identified the lights as a flight of plover. However, when he told Ruppelt of this he asked for his identity to be kept secret. The irony was that Ruppelt had first suggested to the professors, in 1951, that the objects might be birds but they flatly rejected this idea! It was only after repeated sightings of these lights (which reappeared during 1952 and after) that Ducker proved Ruppelt was right in the first place but, presumably, did not want his colleagues to know this. The puzzling aspect is that Ruppelt gave a false explanation in his revised book. Why? The authors cannot say, and admit it is not a satisfactory ending to the story. However, we can surmise that Ruppelt was still modestly trying to avoid giving the impression that he was correct all along and still wanted to credit an anonymous scientist with solving the case. To divulge the true solution would give the show away. Hence the false “solution”. Unfortunately, Ruppelt’s notes shed no further light on how the “moths” explanation came about.

There is an interesting new story of Donald Menzel which the authors describe as “a shocking story of security violations by Menzel”, where he obtained Blue Book files by unauthorised means after first being refused them. It does not paint Menzel in a favourable light.

Also included are incidents from the post-Ruppelt era, NICAP’s rise to fame in the late 1950s and the early attempts at congressional hearings. As letters make clear, Ruppelt strongly disapproved of Congress wasting its time over UFOs; he had a few exchanges with Donald Keyhoe over this.

Finally, the authors prove conclusively, through documents and Ruppelt’s personal notes, that there was no official pressure brought to bear on him either during the writing of his book or its later revision. At no time did the USAF, the CIA or anyone else seek to make him change his mind, reverse his views or censor his book in any way, although he did, of course, submit it for clearance. Indeed his letters show that he was always sceptical of UFO reality, even when serving with Blue Book.

In early 1956 the vice-president of engineering at Northrop Aircraft (Ruppelt’s employer) even issued an internal memo to staff praising, and giving publicity to, his book. This memo is printed in full.

Unfortunately Ruppelt’s health declined in the late 1950s and, after two heart attacks, he died in September 1960 aged only 37. Do not read this book expecting any “smoking gun” revelations. There are no crashed saucers, no abductions and no underground bases. Just a straightforward narrative with many interesting quotes and insights into the early American UFO era. Strongly recommended for all UFO historians. -- Reviewed By Christopher Allen. From Magonia Supplement 36, June 2001


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