Pilots, signal operators, and other military officials witnessed the extraordinary UFO encounter at Fort Monmouth in 1951. The incident still remains a mystery but did expose the failings of the Air Force's official UFO investigation project.
On September 10, 1951, at 11:10 a.m., at the Army Signal Corps radar centre in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, a student operator picked up a target that was moving too fast to be tracked automatically. The object, located 12,000 yards southeast of the installation, seemed to be following the coastline. The operator tracked it off and on for the next three minutes, after which it disappeared in the northeast. He estimated its speed at 700 mph.
Twenty-five minutes later a T-33 jet trainer piloted by Lieutenant Wilbert S. Rodgers, with Major Edward Ballard aboard as a passenger came upon a "silver-coloured object about the size of a fighter plane. Perfectly round and flat," it was flying, by the observers' estimate, at 900 mph. Rogers gave Air Force investigators this account:
"When first sighted, I would judge that it was between 5 and 8,000 feet over Sandy Hook (New Jersey). It appeared to be descending when I first saw it at Sandy Hook and appeared to level out in-flight just north of Red Bank, New Jersey, and continued on at the same altitude until it disappeared. At the point of our first sighting of the object, I started a descending 360-degree turn to the left from 20,000 feet to 17,000 feet, gaining airspeed from 450 mph to 550 mph on a course paralleling that of the object until it was lost from sight.
In our training and daily practice as intercept pilots, we must note accurately the times at which the object of the interception is first sighted. I did this automatically when I first sighted the object over Sandy Hook and noted the time to be approximately 1135 EDT, 10 September 1951. Although we were on a direct course for the destination at Mitchell AFB (Long Island) at 20,000 feet at the time of the sighting, I was so amazed at the speed of the object that I immediately started the turn to the left and waited for Major Ballard to get through with the radio conversation he was having so I could point the object to his attention, and we both watched it make a 90-degree turn to the left and kept it under observation together while it covered approximately 20 miles and disappeared out to sea. The object appeared to be banking as its course described a radual 90-degree turn to the left."
The next day, at 10:50 a.m., two radars picked up an object moving too rapidly for automatic tracking. It provided an unusually strong return and was moving at close to 1000 mph.
Then at 1:30 that afternoon another target, 10,000 yards away and at 6,000 feet to the north, appeared on the radar at Fort Monmouth. The operators stepped outside hoping to glimpse the object, apparently hovering, but overcast conditions prevented any such observation. Back inside, they tracked the object as it ascended vertically at a rapid rate of speed, then streaked to the south so fast that it was lost to automatic tracking. Through manual tracking, the operators monitored it for a short time. They concluded it was travelling well over 700 mph. They rejected a Project Grudge suggestion that the tracking was caused by "anomalous propagation" linked to weather conditions; they insisted they were familiar with this phenomenon and would have recognised it if they had seen it.
The Official Response
At the time of the Fort Monmouth events, Grudge, the Air Force's official UFO project (located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio), was nearly moribund, having been all but killed off by the vehement anti-UFO sentiments prevailing at the Air Technical Intelligence Centre (ATIC), which oversaw Grudge, and encouraged by ATIC's chief General Harold Watson. All the while Watson and Grudge head James Rodgers were assuring Major General Charles Cabell, head of Air Force Intelligence at the Pentagon, that real - if quiet - investigation was continuing. In practice, however, any report that came Grudge's way was promptly ridiculed and disposed of - without further inquiry - in order to satisfy the pentagon that all was in hand.
But when Life reporter Bob Ginna showed up at Wright-Paterson in April 1951 and observed the project's manifest shortcomings, Watson was forced - if only for appearance's sake - to reassign fellow UFOphobe Rodgers elsewhere in Air Material Command (AMC) intelligence at the base. Watson put Lieutenant Jerry Cummings in his place. Lieutenant Colonel N. R. Rosengarten was brought in to replace the chief of ATIC's Aircraft and Missiles Branch, Rodger's superior.
Yet Rodgers and another Watson ally, radar expert Captain Roy James, continued their efforts, apparently with Watson's blessing, to discourage serious study. When a detailed account of the Fort Monmouth episode came to Watson's head of intelligence analysis, Colonel Bruno Feiling, Feiling sent the report to James, not to Rosengarten and Cummings, and soon Rodgers had a look at it.
Soon afterward, Lieutenant Colonel Rosengarten heard that a significant UFO case had not come to his attention, even though he was the one responsible for handling such reports. He complained to Feiling, who gave him a copy. After Rosengarten showed him the copy, Cummings went to confront James and Rodgers. It turned out that they had already devised an off-the-cuff "solution" for the Pentagon ("the whole outfit were a bunch of young impressionable kids and the T-33 crew had seen a reflection," Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, an onlooker at ATIC, recalled in a private memo), and General Watson had signed off on it.
An argument ensued in Feiling's office. It ended when a call was placed to Cabell. Cabell's assistant, who took the call (his superior was out of town), expressed incredulity that an investigative team was not already on its way to Monmouth.
Hours later, Cummings and Rosengarten flew to New Jersey. The two officers spent all of the thirteenth interviewing everyone involved in the incident, including the pilot and passenger of the T-33. They were convinced that the object they had seen was "intelligently controlled." The two ATIC representatives then flew on to Washington to brief Major General Cabell personally.
Once there, they were taken into a meeting already in progress, where the two were introduced to high-ranking military officers as well as two representatives of Republic Aircraft, including Robert Johnson, there to speak for a group of scientists and industrialists who felt the Air Force's handling of the UFO matters left much to be desired. Cabell asked Cummings to summarize what had been going on within the project. According to a privately recorded account by Ruppelt:
"Jerry told me that he looked at Rosy ( Rosengarten) and got the OK sign, so he cut loose. He told how every report was taken as a huge joke; that at the personal direction of Watson, Rodgers, Watson's #1 stooge, was doing everything to degrade the quality of the reports; and how the only analysis consisted of Rodgers's trying to think up new and original explanations that hadn't been sent to Washington before. Rodgers couldn't even find half of the reports."
A furious Cabell wanted to know, "who in hell has been giving me all these reports that every decent flying saucer sighting is being investigated?" At one point he shouted, "I've been lied to! I've been lied to!" The other high-ranking officers expressed comparably unhappy sentiments. "I want an open mind," Cabell went on. "In fact, I order an open mind. Anyone that doesn't have an open mind can get out, now."
Cummings and Rosengarten returned to Wright-Patterson with orders to recognise the UFO project, which upon Cummings's retirement soon afterward passed to Ruppelt. Ruppelt - whose job was to analyze Soviet air power intelligence - had been monitoring developments in the UFO project from his desk in the same office Rodgers had occupied. What he had seen had not impressed him. He would remember the period as a "dark age."
In Grudge's Special Report No.1 (December 28, 1951) the T-33 sighting is explained as "probably" caused by a "balloon launched by the Evans Signal Laboratory." (Ruppelt remembered that "the two officers said that we were nuts. They found several holes in our analysis.") The first radar tracking was "possibly due to the operator's being exited." A weather balloon was responsible, according to Grudge, for the first tracking on the eleventh. Here Grudge based its identification on nothing more than a call from Air Force Intelligence. "How the identification was determined is unknown," Grudge acknowledged with disarming candor. The last radar tracking "remains unknown," but Grudge speculated that "it was very possible that it was due to anomalous propagation and/or the student operators' thoughts that there was a great deal of activity of unusual objects in the area." Kinross UFO: An Unidentified Craft, A Hidden Transcript & A Missing Air Force Jet