By Time MagazinePeople who believe in flying saucers got encouragement last week from the skeptical U.S. Air Force. On Jan. 29, an Air Force spokesman said, strange things were seen in the night sky over North Korea. The tail gunner and fire-control man of a B-29 over Wonsan saw a disk-shaped object that seemed to fly with a revolving motion. It was orange in color, and around its rim were small, bluish flames. For five minutes it flew along with the bomber at 200 m.p.h. Then it disappeared.
On the same night, the tail gunner and fire-control man in a B-29 of another squadron saw much the same thing over Sunchon, 80 miles away. The flyers reported that the object looked globular rather than disk-shaped. It followed their plane for more than a minute. Then it vanished too.
The orange disks or globes may well have been the exhausts of Communist night fighters. Under some conditions, jet engines have luminous exhausts that glow orange and blue. The interesting point is that the Air Force, after investigating hundreds of flying-saucer stories and pooh-poohing them all, has apparently decided to become less hostile toward mysteries in the sky.
Latest Fashions. The Air Force is not alone. In spite of firm squelching, flying saucer stories have not died. They have changed somewhat with time; the first ones reported, sighted near Mt. Rainier in 1947, were round and shiny, and they flew in daylight with no unusual maneuvers. The saucer-conscious public duly reported many more like them. Then the fashion changed when two airline pilots told about seeing, near Montgomery, Ala. one night, an enormous, wingless, cigar-shaped craft with glowing portholes.
The cycle of flying-saucer romance had another revolution in 1950, when Hollywood Columnist Frank Scully produced a book called Behind the Flying Saucers. The saucers, he wrote, are space ships from a foreign planet. They are manned by extraterrestrial midgets who are almost exactly like miniature humans except that they have no beards, only fuzz, and no cavities in their teeth. Their ships fly on magnetic lines of force, and are built of metal harder than diamond which stands up to temperatures that would wilt any earthly substance. Three of them crashed, said Scully, in the U.S. Southwest, and were impounded by the secretive Air Force, the villain of Scully's book. (The Air Force denied everything.)
Green Fireballs. The latest turn of the saucer cycle began last year when Professor Lincoln LaPaz, a reputable meteor expert of the University of New Mexico, announced that there was something very odd indeed about a series of eight bright green fireballs seen over the Southwest during a 13-day period. Meteors are seldom green, said LaPaz, and big ones seldom pass in close sequence over the same place. He suggested that the green meteors might be man-launched missiles.
Since the LaPaz pronouncement, many reported saucers have been brightly luminous. They have been seen all over: in New York, Virginia and especially in the Southwest. Both New Mexico and California had a rash of reports last week.
Most of the reports are certainly imaginary; many of the "sighters" are newspaper delivery boys, excitable old ladies and other people with no technical training. But a considerable number of technical men have sighted, or believed they have sighted, mysterious flying objects. In New Mexico, the rocket experts of White Sands Proving Ground and Holloman Air Force Base are interested—and baffled.
Baffled too are many of the aerodynamic experts who work for the great aircraft manufacturers of Southern California. Some of them, led by Ed Sullivan; a technical writer for North American Aviation, Inc., builders of the Sabrejet, have formed an organization called the Civilian Saucer Investigation to give proper scientific analysis to the swarming rumors. The organization maintains a post-office box (Box 1971, Main Post Office, Los Angeles 53), and invites all "sighters" to report accurately everything odd they see in the sky.
Sullivan, a sighter himself (30 luminous, zigzagging objects over the Los Angeles area), apparently believes that the saucers are space ships from some other planet. He does not think they are either U.S. or Russian super-aircraft.
Most impressive believer is Dr. Walther Riedel, a scar-faced German rocket expert who was chief designer at the Peenemunde V-2 center and now works for North American Aviation, Inc. Riedel has seen nothing strange himself, but for years he has kept records of sightings all over the world. He is convinced that there are strange craft in the sky, and that they come from outer space.
Advanced Planet. The saucers cannot be of terrestrial origin, Riedel reasons, because: 1) their skin temperatures must be too high for any material known on earth; 2) they perform maneuvers that require a pilot, but which would kill any human pilot; 3) their propulsive systems leave no trails at high altitude, as all systems known on earth do. Therefore, thinks Riedel, the things must come from a planet where air and space technology is more advanced than on earth.
Skeptics—and there are still a few, even in Southern California—ask the following questions:
1) Why have none of the space ships crashed on earth and been found?
2) Why are there no firm reports of saucer-sightings by radar, which would give a flying object's speed and distance?
3) How can a conspicuous flying object pass over metropolitan Los Angeles (pop. 4,000,000) and be seen by only two or three people?
Until such questions are answered, the flying-saucer problem will continue to fascinate psychologists as well as physicists.