Date: Fri Jun 04 1993 19:48:00
From: Don Allen
Article: Aliens in the Basement
Article by: Frank Kuznik
From: Air & Space/Smithsonian (magazine)
Date: August/September 1992
Issue: Volume 7, Number 3 -- Page 34
It's the story that won't die.
A legion of UFO buffs is convinced that
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
is hiding... ÄÄ¿
ÀÄ¿ ALIENS IN THE BASEMENT
The official fact sheet on 'Project Blue Book', the Air Force program
that investigated 12,000-plus unidentified flying object sightings from
1947 to 1969, reads like your standard military briefing paper -- until the
very end. Then it drops this incredible disclaimer: "There are not now,
nor have there ever been, any extraterrestrial visitors or equipment on
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base."
Little alien corpses kept frozen and hidden away on an Ohio military base
may sound like sci-fi lunacy to the uninitiated. But for 45 years, this is
one UFO story that's refused to go away. And for that the military has
mostly itself to blame. It was, after all, Roswell Army Air Field in New
Mexico that started the whole business in the summer of 1947 by announcing
that it had recovered a crashed "flying disc".
Never mind that they were quick to say, No, wait, make that a weather
balloon. Over the last decade in particular, a small army of authors,
researchers, and TV hucksters has done a highly imaginative job of filling
in the details of the "Roswell Incident," as it's come to be known. Unlike
most UFO yarns, their stories are based on enough interviews, photographs,
and other evidence to seem...well, not impossible.
Ultimately all the stories lead to Wright-Patterson, the headquarters of
'Project Blue Book' and the site where the wreckage of the spaceship and
the bodies of its crew were allegedly taken for analysis. Then they come
to an abrupt halt. "We know the material was taken to Wright-Pat," Mark
Rodeghier of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies says. "But that's
where the trail grows very cold: we don't have any sources there."
That's enough to get the gears of any redblooded space writer racing.
What if I could spend some time poking around the labs at Wright-Patterson?
There's no telling what I might find. Admittedly, the odds of actually
coming back with the goods are slim. But as longtime UFO investigator Don
Berliner points out, "It's potentially the biggest story ever."
My first contact with the base public relations staff makes me think I
might be on to something. "The little green men story? I get three calls a
week about it," says Major Aurelia Blake. She assures me there's no
crashed saucer or alien corpses under wraps, but says I'm welcome to tour
the base. A few hours later, however, she calls back. "Why don't you
think about doing something else?", she asks. "We've got some great wind
The Roswell Incident dovetails with the birth of the modern era of flying
saucers, so named in June 1947 when a private pilot reported seeing nine
disc-shaped objects flying over Washington's Mt. Ranier "like saucers
skipping on water." That sighting triggered a nationwide wave of UFO
reports that made headlines for months afterwards.
Far and away the wildest headlines came out of Roswell, where two weeks
after the Mt. Ranier sightings a sheep farmer named Mac Brazel clumped into
the sheriff's office to report something he couldn't identify cluttering
one of his fields -- something, he said, that had fallen out of the sky and
broken into shiny pieces.
Brazel's ranch lay some 75 miles northwest of Roswell near a tiny town
called Corona, in a stretch of scrub desert neatly triangulated by what
were then arguably the three most security-sensitive military installations
in the world: the Roswell Army Air Field, home of the 509th Bomb Group, the
world's only atomic bomb squadron; Los Alamos, where the bomb had been
developed and was still being refined; and the White Sands Missile Range.
Not surprisingly, Sheriff George Wilcox suggested that Brazel report his
find to authorities at the nearby Roswell base.
After sending two officers out to reconnoiter the crash site and retrieve
some samples, the 509th brass went ballistic, mounting a full-scale
recovery effort and firing off its "flying disc" press release. On
Tuesday, July 8, newspapers across the country carried headlines announcing
that Roswell Army Air Field had captured a flying saucer.
The next day, though, many carried a follow-up story explaining that the
wreckage wasn't a flying saucer after all. After being flown to Fort Worth
Army Air Field, it was identified as the remains of a weather balloon. An
Associated Press wire story that ran in a number of papers on July 9
described the wreckage as "consisting of large numbers of pieces of paper
covered with a foil-like substance, and pieced together with small sticks,
much like a kite. Scattered with the materials over an area about 200
yards across were pieces of gray rubber."
Before my trip to Wright-Patterson, I tracked down Walter Haut, the
retired base public information officer who wrote the infamous press
release, and asked him if he ever actually saw the wreckage. "No, and I
feel like an idiot every time somebody asks me that," he said ruefully. "I
got a call from the base commander, who basically dictated what was in the
And how did he feel when the bottom dropped out of the story? "I
probably wiped the perspiration from my brow and said Thank Goodness, we're
of the hook now," he said. "Very frankly, I don't think I believed that we
had something from outer space. I think most of us felt we were being
hoodwinked somewhere down the pike."
This is not, incidentally, what Haut believes today. "I feel there was a
crash of an extraterrestrial vehicle near Corona," he says firmly. What
happened in the intervening 45 years to change his mind?
For a long time, not much. Nobody questioned the military in 1947, so
when the captured disc metamorphosed into a weather balloon, the
explanation was accepted and the story largely forgotten. It was a revival
of the Roswell story in the '70s that convinced Haut and thousands of others
that the Air Force really hadn't been on the up and up. It began
inauspiciously in the person of Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist and
well-traveled UFO lecturer. At his talks, Friedman would occasionally meet
people who had been in New Mexico in 1947. Bit by bit, their stories began
to form a picture startlingly different from the official version's.
Friedman dug further with the help of a friend, William Moore, who in turn
enlisted writer Charles Berlitz of Bermuda Triangle fame to turn their
findings into a book published in 1980 called 'The Roswell Incident'.
The book blows off the weather balloon explanation as a hastily
concocted cover story and argues that the Air Force really did recover a
crashed saucer, as well as several alien bodies. The wreckage and bodies
were taken to Wright-Patterson for analysis, it said, and everyone involved
in collecting, transporting, and studying them became part of a massive
conspiracy of silence. There's a lot of chaff in 'The Roswell Incident',
including some blatant hokum about Gemini and Apollo astronauts spotting
flying saucers. But the main idea -- that the government was sitting on a
captured saucer -- fell on some fertile ground. Other books followed,
including last year's 'UFO Crash at Roswell'. Television found the story
irresistible. The series 'In Search Of' did an episode on it. A trashy 1988
production called 'UFO Cover-up? Live' featured two mysterious "intelligence
sources" who revealed that the captured aliens like Tibetan music and
strawberry ice cream. And in September 1989, 'Unsolved Mysteries' featured
the story on its season premiere, attracting an impressive 28 million
The captured saucer idea even took root overseas. "I was visiting
Kapustin Yar, a Soviet missile base, two years ago when the head of the base
asked me if we had any UFOs," recalls Gregg Herken, chairman of the
National Air and Space Museum's department of space history. "I thought he
was kidding at first, but he turned out to be quite serious."
It's a good thing the Soviet commander never saw the UFO exhibit in the
world-famous United States Air Force Museum adjacent to Wright-Patterson,
which the PR staff had encouraged me to check out before coming to the
base. It turns out to be a single glass case filled with fake photos and
hoax items that wouldn't cut it on the old Flash Gordon serials. A blob of
melted plastic, a big hunk of cinder, a crumpled metal ball stuffed with
radio tubes, springs, and speedometer cable -- this is it? An Air Force
museum so comprehensive it has a wall covered with the history of spark
plugs , and there's nothing to show for 23 years of UFO investigations but
a pile of rusty junk? Very odd.
On to the base itself, a vast tract bigger than half of Dayton's suburbs.
An alien rescue team could search the place for six months and not find
their friends. But I know where to look. One place is the infamous
Hangar 18, where the bodies were allegedly stored in deep freeze. Another
is Wright Laboratory, one of four Air Force "superlabs," where nearly $1
billion is spent annually on research in propulsion and power, avionics,
materials, electronics, and the like.
If they learned anything from the saucer, there should be signs of it in
the labs. I also, want to see the Foreign Aerospace Science and Technology
Center, the secret facility where the Air Force takes apart foreign
aircraft to see what makes them tick.
The first thing I learn is that there is no Hanger 18. There's a
Building 18 complex that at one time housed "cold cells," rooms that could
be cooled to sub-zero temperatures to test engines under Arctic conditions.
In 18A I meet Fred Oliver, a folksy division chief and engineer who's
become the base spokesman on the subject of aliens. He commiserates with
me in my disappointment at finding generic government offices. "I know,"
he says, "you picture walking into a building with a big curved top where
you go through all these guards, and run your card through a cipher lock,
then there's this spaceship going 'rrrrr, rrrrr' that gives off a green glow."
Exactly. How does he know that scene in such detail? Before I can ask,
he's deep into a Viewgraph briefing. You can't meet anybody at
Wright-Patterson without getting a Viewgraph briefing; it's as automatic as
a handshake. It's also a lot like the lessons you used to get in high
school on overhead projectors, except that instead of scrawled equations or
French verb conjugations you get to look at big bright slides of
organization charts and turbine engines. Finally Oliver works his way to
the bottom of a six-inch stack of slides and asks, "Any questions?"
"Where are the bodies?"
"There are no bodies," he says kindly, like a dad breaking the bad news
about the tooth fairy. But if a saucer did crash-land, wouldn't the
remains be at Wright-Patterson? "That's a sensible conclusion," he admits.
"Since the beginning of time, this has been the nation's center of
I suggest that a good strategy for hiding aliens might be to act like
you've got nothing to hide, bring reporters on base, then overwhelm them
with Viewgraphs. "And walk them till they drop," Oliver agrees. "I'm
going to get in trouble for saying this, but give us some credit --
wouldn't you think we'd be smart enough to hide the bodies if they were
here? Do you really think you'd get to see them?"
In any case, after a tour of the Building 18 complex, it's clear I'm not
going to see them there. The cold cells are long gone, gutted and replaced
with recon-camera maintenance and repair shops and testing equipment. The
basement of 18A has a huge facility that can pump pressure- and
temperature-controlled air to a number of "environmental chambers," but
there's nothing resembling a 24-hour cryogenic operation. If the bodies
were here, they're gone now.
My next interview is with Keith Richey, chief scientist of Wright
Laboratory. The determined set of his face tells me he obviously has
better things to do with his time that talk about aliens. "Do you have the
Air Force fact sheet on Project Blue Book?" he asks as soon as I broach the
subject. "My own personal knowledge corroborates that. So that's where we
are on that subject."
Richey has fascinating tales to tell of running a superlab and developing
the kind of weaponry we saw in Desert Storm and how we'll be able to launch
the next generation of smart bombs from hundreds of miles away instead of
just a few and still park them up somebody's keister. Eventually I steer
the conversation back to aerodynamics and ask how efficient a saucer shape
would be for flying.
"Well, it's not very efficient," Richey says. "What you want is a
multiplication factor of 20 times the lift for the amount of drag you
generate, and it doesn't generate much lift."
I try a different tack. What if something dropped out of the sky
tomorrow and was brought to Wright Laboratory for analysis? Could Richey
and his 2,000 scientists and engineers figure out what makes it go?
"We could do it," he says, pride getting the best of his no-nonsense
demeanor. "We could take it apart, analyze it, and I don't know how long
it would take, but with enough effort we could find out what it would do."
So presumably if a saucer had shown up at the base in '47...? Richey
doesn't hesitate. "You would have seen it flying. You would probably be
buying tickets for it by now."
Before I can weigh the implications of that remark, I'm hustled off to
the Flight Dynamics lab for a Viewgraph briefing by Colonel Dick Borowski.
A congenial fighter pilot who saw action in Vietnam, Borowski smiles and
says, "I know you came looking for little green men," then unleashes a
dazzling overview of the new technologies his division is developing.
Acoustic's testing. Thermoplastics. Forebody vortex flow control. Flight
simulation. By the time he's done, I'm too dazed to ask him where he's
hiding the bodies.
My pulse quickens as I'm led down a maze of hallways and through a
heavily locked door by Richard Moss, chief of cockpit development. No
bodies in the inner sanctum, though -- just a series of rooms with liquid
crystal display screens in various test stages. The first one shows a
simplistic terrain with targets in the air and on the ground, all
irritatingly out of focus. "Here, put these on," a technician says,
handing me a pair of Captain Video sunglasses with tiny on/off buttons on
"Are these a souvenir?" I ask her.
She laughs. "Those cost $2,000."
I look at the screen, where suddenly everything is not only in focus but
in 3D. There's a truck in the forefront, then some mountains, then -- wait
a minute! A saucer-shaped object is hovering in the sky.
"That's a flying saucer," I tell the tech excitedly.
She squints at the screen. "The red thing? I don't know what that is."
She looks at Moss.
"That's a transport aircraft," he says.
There's more rooms and more screens, but I'm too preoccupied to pay
attention. When Moss finally escorts me from the building, he gives me a
meaningful look and says, "You've only seen the tip of the iceberg."
I start my second day at Wright-Patterson in the museum research library,
hoping to find the original Roswell documents that will cut through some of
the hype. When I tell the librarian what I'm looking for, he gets a pained
look and barks, "Every time they run that damned Roswell thing in the
tabloids all the crazies come out. The old man [museum director Richard
Uppstrom] says he wishes we had one of the bodies to put downstairs and
charge a dollar a pop to see. We'd never have to ask Congress for money
Disappointingly, the museum's UFO files are in the same league as its UFO
exhibit. There's a ton of Blue Book summary reports along with University
of Colorado and National Academy of Sciences studies agreeing with the Air
Force's conclusion that UFOs don't merit serious attention. There's a
detailed aerodynamic analysis of virtually every shape UFOs have ever
taken, pronouncing them all "impracticable." And in year after year of
briefing papers, there are remarks like this one: "It is unlikely that
positive proof of [flying saucers] existence will be obtained without
examination of the remains of crashed objects."
This afternoon's lab run is through the materials directorate, where
after the obligatory Snoozegraph briefing I'm handed off to Lieutenant
Colonel James Hansen. He's got a basement full of wild machinery that
tests composite metals and ceramics for the National Aerospace Plane, the
hypersonic hybrid that will fly into space.
No bodies here either. But watching strips of exotic metals being
tortured under incredible heat and pressure, I realize I may be a lot
closer to pieces of a crashed saucer than I think. I ask Hansen the same
question I asked Richey yesterday about analyzing something that dropped
out of the sky -- only this time in the past tense.
"If somebody had brought in composite material 20 years ago, we wouldn't
have had any idea what it was," he admits. "Now, we could take it apart
down to its atoms." Suddenly it all begins to add up -- the glowing
spaceship scene Oliver described, Richey's cryptic boast about selling
tickets, the saucer on the screen, and now Hansen's admission that we've
only recently been able to figure out composites. It's taken nearly 40
years to crack the secrets of the Roswell wreckage.
And today we're developing a freak craft that can take off from a runway
and fly into space -- just like flying saucers do.
Coincidence? Think about it.
My last shot at finding the bodies is the super-secret Foreign Technology
center. It took negotiations on the order of a Middle East peace
conference to get an appointment there, and I'm pleased to see that the
public information officer waiting for me is a novice filling in for
someone who just quit. No telling where she might take me.
We drive around the building first. It's a nondescript red and gray
affair, like a warehouse in a suburban industrial park, only a lot bigger.
My guide confides that you need top-secret clearance to get almost anywhere
inside. "It's basically a huge safe," she says.
We park at the front entrance, greet an officer on the way out, and step
into what might be the lobby of Krupp's Widget Works -- except for the
heavy-duty security desk with the big control panel. I look at my guide
and make an expectant move toward the desk. She doesn't budge.
"That's it," she says.
"That's all you can see."
And that's that.
No flying saucer story would be complete without an anonymous highly
placed military source who spills A Big Secret. Mine didn't materialize
until I got back to Washington, where I brooded for days over what I had
seen -- or hadn't seen, actually.
Studying a map of New Mexico got me thinking about all the secret flying
and testing that was done at Roswell and Los Alamos and White Sands after
the war. If there was ever a place where something the military wanted
kept under wraps was likely to fall from the sky, it was central New Mexico
in 1947. That thought prompted me to call my source -- a retired Air Force
officer I met while touring Wright-Patterson who is, alas, still in a
position to sensitive to allow his name to be used. He was way ahead of
"All these years I've been hearing about this Roswell incident," he said,
"and knowing Air Force history like I do, and how hush-hush the 509th was,
I just set it in my mind that they must have crashed with a nuke that
came close to going off, or maybe [exploded but with] a low-level yield
that we don't know about. I could never prove anything one way or
another. But with the 509th that close, and -- well, B-29s weren't noted
for not crashing, let's put it that way."
It's a nifty theory, but just a theory. Like all good stories, Roswell
expands to accommodate whatever you bring to it. That's the nature of
myths and legends -- they're detailed enough to seem real, yet fuzzy enough
to stay always just beyond the reach of objective proof.
In that sense, it was better that I didn't find any bodies. Naturally
I'm disappointed at not having broken the biggest story of all time. But
I've done my part for the legend. Substantive or not, Roswell grows a
little with each retelling. And this one lets you have it both ways. If
you prefer a purely rational, scientific world, you can take comfort in the
fact that my mission was -- just as you knew it would be -- doomed to
If you prefer a world filled with mystery and intrigue, well, I haven't
disturbed that either. The Air Force is still covering up a big-time
screw-up...or just now cracking the secret of interstellar propulsion...or
sitting on the biggest cosmic kick in the pants since the Big Bang.