By Dennis BalthaserRecently Mike Shinabery, education specialist at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, contacted me for comments about an article he was writing about the Mogul Balloon controversy related to the 1947 Roswell Incident. His article was published in the Alamogordo Daily News newspaper on Sunday, August 30, 2009, and is shown here in its entirety.
By Michael Shinabery
New Mexico Museum of Space History
“Of the several dozen Project Mogul balloon flights from 1947-1950 – the majority launched from the Tularosa Basin – three lifted aloft this week in 1948.
One launched Aug. 31 and tested an automatic ballast valve, then landed at Fort Stockton, Texas. A Sept. 1 flight was recovered at Neuvas Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico, and a Sept. 3 flight-tested a neoprene coated nylon balloon that touched down at Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua.
The Roswell Report: Case Closed” (USAF/1997) reported Mogul had military and scientific purposes, but the foremost was listening for launches of Soviet nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. A monograph, “Cold War Balloon Flights 1945-1965” (on the Web site vectorsite.net), said microphones attached to the balloons listened for “sound waves.”
Mogul sought to “maintain America’s technological superiority, especially with respect to guarding against … a devastating surprise attack” the Soviet Union might launch, said “The Roswell Report” Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert” (USAF/1994).
Militaries have long utilized balloons. During World War II, according to vectorsite.net, the Allies developed “decoys … such as inflatable phony tanks … to fool German reconnaissance aircraft.” An article in the New Mexico Museum of Space History Archives, “Remote Piloted Aerial Vehicles,” described how Austrians, in 1849, “launched some 200 pilot less balloons against the city of Venice. The balloons were armed with bombs controlled by timed fuses. … Some of the balloons exploded as planned but the wind changed direction and blew several balloons back over the Austrian lines.”
The Japanese launched “anti-personnel bombs” against the United States and Canadian west coast, stated a second archived article, “Fugos: Japanese Balloon Bombs of WWII.” It documented how 9,300 were launched, resulting in “a little over 300 balloon bomb incidents.” The only deaths occurred after a woman and five children at a church picnic in Oregon tried to move one of the contraptions. A 1945 Seattle Times article said the bomb exploded.
Mogul, one of the first post World War II balloon programs, continued “the cooperative wartime relationship between civilian research institutions and the military,” said “The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert.” The document, along with Karl Pflock in “Roswell” (Prometheus/2001), stated New York University was the civilian institution involved with Mogul.
Technology to fly balloons to extreme altitudes came with the “invention of improved plastics, particularly polyethylene” after World War II, said “Cold War Balloon Flights.” While under contract to the military, NYU graduate student Charles Moore “made a significant technological discovery: the use of polyethylene for high altitude balloon construction” said “Roswell: Case Closed.” Mogul became the first balloon project to use the lightweight polyethylene.
Moore, in a 1995 NMMSH oral history, said that in early 1947 his group “approached General Mills to make balloons out of polyethylene and were rebuffed. … We of course weren’t in position to describe the classified high priority programs we had.” So a manufacturer in Merignac, New York, “made the first polyethylene balloons,” said Moore.
Documentation compiled by NMMSH archivist Wayne Mattson showed that on June 4, 1947 the fourth Mogul flight touched down northwest of Roswell. “The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert” described how three “lifter balloons” pulled a “train” of equipment that included 26 main balloons. The “train” stretched to 657 feet and, said “Cold War Balloon Flights,” included “kitelike structures covered with aluminum foil to allow the balloon system to be tracked on radar.” The two Air Force “Roswell” publications conjecture that upon landing this might have been misconstrued as a “debris field,” becoming the impetus behind the infamous UFO Roswell Incident.
“I suspect,” Moore said, “that the New York University flights probably are responsible for the Roswell incident. … Every time that we flew balloons in late June, and early July the local radio station in Alamogordo would carry reports of flying saucers being seen over the Tularosa (Basin).”
UFO researcher and columnist Dennis Balthaser, a Roswell resident, disagreed.
“It’s of special interest to me as a researcher, that in the photographs taken in General Ramey’s office on July 8, 1947… the only thing presented for the photographs was a weather balloon, with none of the equipment that would have been attached to a Mogul balloon, such as sonobuoys or radar reflectors,” he said.
weather balloon in the General’s office.
Balthaser pointed out that the fourth Mogul flight, on June 4, 1947 “was actually cancelled due to poor weather conditions. The balloon was probably released due to having been filled for launch, without any of the testing equipment attached,” he said. “Since the (UFO crash) happened … in early July, that balloon must have taken the long way to arrive at the ranch almost a month later.”
There have been four different official explanations of the incident over 62 years. The first “excuse,” Balthaser said, was the July 8, 1947 press release that reported “we have a flying saucer in our possession. The next morning newspapers east of Chicago had General Ramey’s cover-up story that it was nothing but a weather balloon, which the elite 509th Bomb Wing (at Roswell Army Air Field) misidentified.”
Pflock wrote he was “certain Project Mogul and the supporting activities of the New York University team at Alamogordo played a central role in the incident. … It would have been quite consistent with concerns about Mogul security for the army quietly to contact the Roswell newspapers and radio stations and ask them to spike or downplay the story,” he said. Additionally, Mogul officials did visit Roswell Army Air Field “to make sure the just-renewed New York University/Project Mogul activities at Alamogordo Army Air (Field) would not lead to any further misunderstandings,” Pflock said.
Balthaser said the government’s third and fourth explanations came in the form of the 1994 and 1997 “Roswell” publications. He counters those with the fact, he said, that the “Russians didn't do any nuclear testing until 1949,” and that the bodies allegedly recovered at Roswell could not have been anthropomorphic dummies because those “weren’t used until 1953. Weather balloons and Mogul balloons didn’t have bodies on board,” he said. “It's time for the proponents of the Mogul balloon theory to move on.”
Michael Shinabery is an education specialist at the New Mexico Museum of Space History. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wayne Mattson, a NMMSH archivist, and Michael Smith, the museum registrar, contributed to this article.
So the controversy about the Mogul balloon theory continues in articles such as the one above, on the Internet from time to time, and in other forums. If the debunkers and critics would bring something new to the table just once, it might be worth discussing, but after 62 years that hasn’t, and apparently is not going to happen. The Roswell crash based on extensive research by David Rudiak and others has eliminated the Mogul balloon theory as a possible solution to the Roswell Incident, and as I stated in the above article, “I think it’s time for the proponents of the Mogul balloon theory to move on.”
Note: Illustrations and photos were not present in article written by Mike Shinabery, and have been inserted in Dennis Balthaser’s article for clarification.