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Roswell 1947 - ufologists investigations

January 1991, doubts on the "extraterrestrial" nature of the debris:

Analyzing the Roswell Debris

By Joe Kirk Thomas

In the decade since the publication of The Roswell Incident, I have voiced only the mildest of doubt about the authenticity of this affair. Although, for personal reasons having to do with family history, I found the tale of a crashed UFO retrieved near Roswell, New Mexico, a particularly enchanting one, I was nevertheless plagued by doubt centered largely on Bill Moore's description of the wreckage itself.

If a jet fighter were to crash in the desert, for example, a contemporary observer, though perhaps not up to date with the technology involved, would still find a rich array of clearly technological artifacts. These artifacts would include remnants of CRTs, integrated circuits, hydraulic lines and actuators, structural members, turbines and combustors, a seat perhaps. Even if we were able somehow to reach back in the past, say 120 years, and bring forward an observer raised in the Age of Steam, there is little doubt that he would be able to identify the remnants as technological artifacts. I strongly suspect that would be true even if we reached all the way back in Antiquity to say, Greece and the Age of Chariots. Yet the alleged wreckage was nothing of this sort. It fundamentally lacked the variety and richness one properly expects of any sophisticated technology. From the beginning it sounded suspiciously to be just what the Army Air Force claimed it was.

Now Jaime Shandera and William Moore have asserted, in the September '90 issue of this Journal, that the tattered remains photographed in General Roger Ramey's office were the genuine remnants of a crashed UFO. This assertion is absurd. In fact, a casual examination of the Journal photographs give ample evidence that all the statements made by the Air Force as to the nature of the debris are true, and that all the assertions made by Shandera and Moore are wrong. Even the materials shown are readily identifiable, and I have provided modern variants of them to the editor!

Shape Changes

Consider, for example, the allegation that the foil material is rigid. This is patently not so. I invite the reader to examine the photograph on page 5 of the September issue. A triangular piece has been propped up against a chair. The right side is connected to a spar, and is therefore straight. But the left side flows over the chair and then down to the floor in a shallow V shape. I now refer the reader to the photo on page 6, which shows the same piece held at its apex by Colonel DuBose, with the lower end of the left side again resting on the floor. Notice that the left edge is now mildly parabolic. The shape of the edge has changed!

Furthermore, the curve taken by the edge of the foil approximates a curve known to engineers as the catenary (1). This curve is that of a rope suspended at two points at the same or different heights under the action of its own weight, and is even represented by a mathematical function called the hyperbolic cosine. Thus the edge conforms to the shape one would expect of a flexible material supported at two points and hanging under its own weight. On page 8, Major Marcel is shown holding what appears to be the same roughly triangular section of foil. Note that the lower half of the triangle is reflective, whereas the top half is white. That is because he has folded over the foil to reveal the white backside. But the photograph on the front cover of the Journal itself shows Marcel holding the same foil, but refolded essentially into a flattened cone, with the edge facing the camera folded back to reveal the white underside. This geometry is decidedly different from that of page 8, which again challenges the assertion that the material is stiff or rigid.

And the material itself? It's paper backed foil, or, more correctly, foiled paper. Its origin predates the war, and it was used, and still is, in such applications as candy bar, tobacco, cigarette and other non-porous food packaging, as well as in numerous other commercial and industrial applications. Today it has been largely superseded by plastic and metallized plastic.

Plain aluminum foil, such as purchased at the supermarket, is usually about 1/2 mil. thick, whereas the heavy duty grade is around one mil. Plain foil is easily torn, and relatively expensive compared to foil paper. The foil on foiled paper, however, is a small fraction of the thickness of aluminum foil alone, and the paper gives strength and mechanical properties better suited to packaging applications.

The two samples I have provided the editor are small and bear the faint aroma of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. It is easy to see how the edges of the thinner foil can be bent over to expose the white paper underside, as occurs in numerous places in the Journal photos. The second sample is a heavier grade, paper-backed foil from which the gum carton itself was made. Here I deliberately delaminated a couple of sections. That is, I carefully peeled the foil from its paper backing. Careful examination of some of the photos show areas where this same delamination had apparently occurred.

It is not clear from the photographs exactly how the foiled paper was actually attached to the spars. A close examination of the left end of the spar directly under Marcel's right knee on page 8, as well as the spar in the foreground on page 6, gives some evidence of periodically spaced tufts of foil, which would be indicative of stapling, as suggested by the meteorologist Newton. But it is also possible the foil paper was glued to the spars. A careful perusal of the photos shows that the spars are always connected to the foil on the paper side.

(Twelve years after these photos were taken, I was making small rockets, in my backyard lab in El Paso, Texas, out of rolled-up tubes of heavy foiled paper. Indeed, at age 14,1 decided to attempt to launch a small rocket from a kite while it was at altitude. In that vein I made a large kite out of — that's right — foiled paper and balsa wood spars.

I followed a pattern copied from a large commercial paper kite, with the foil side facing skyward on the side of the rocket's exhaust, and the foil glued to the spars on the paper side! The timer consisted of a long spiral of slow burning JETEX fuse, and the results are not worth reporting.)

Denied Territory

Shandera and Moore raise the question of why Roswell AAF didn't recognize the debris as remnants of a weather balloon. This point similarly troubles Schmitt and Randle, who also wonder why the AAF would ask Mac Brazel to take an oath of secrecy, and who point out3 that weather balloons do not normally explode and leave the stench of burned rubber.

It is this latter piece of information that provides, I believe, a clue as to what actually happened, at Roswell, and, from the hindsight of 43 years, justifies the Army Air Force's actions. As the Cold War started to heat up in the aftermath of WWII, it became obvious to the intelligence community that the United States was at a strategic disadvantage in at least one sense. While accurate information on the position of American cities and military installations was public information, similar information about the Soviet Union was unavailable. Doubt existed as to whether American bombers could find some Soviet, cities, much less military targets, whose existence and location were totally unknown.

Indeed, it was the desperate need for strategic intelligence of this type that in later decades fueled the development of sky planes such as the U2 and the SR-71, and space satellites. But the technology for such "technical means" was not available in 1947.

Thus, the intelligence community turned to balloons. The idea was simple enough: High altitude balloons carrying cameras would be launched from Europe and carried by prevailing winds across the Soviet Union. Above the operational altitude of fighters, they would randomly ,map the territory below, and, once over the Pacific, drop their cache on radio command.

The first project of this type was called "Moby Dick." Developed by the Office of Naval Research4 with balloons provided by the Air Force, Moby Dick was one of the first projects sponsored by the newly created Central Intelligence Agency, and was just becoming operational in 1947. Unfortunately, the project failed due to the loss of balloons to the Soviets, and the poor quality of the aerial photographs taken by those few balloons that survived the transcontinental trip. A new balloon reconnaissance program, ultimately code named Genetrix, was attempted in 1956. Hundreds of balloons, carrying 1430-pound camera and beacon payloads, were launched over the course of a week. Apparently, 243 balloons were never seen again; only 44 were every recovered. 5

Now, anything the United States does, the Soviet Union does sooner or later, and, on occasion, before! And there certainly were some sensitive areas in the United States, of which New Mexico, with its nuclear bomb wing at Roswell, its rocket research at White Sands, and its nuclear laboratory at Los Alamos, would head the list. But if the Soviets had in mind the same type of balloon reconnaissance, one might expect some differences. At the end of WWII, most of the helium found in any quantity was in the United States. Thus, the Soviets may well have been compelled to use hydrogen instead, a flammable gas. A reconnaissance balloon so filled might explode for a number of reasons, which would include lightning or possibly static electricity generated from being dragged over the ground during descent. A balloon at high altitude might accidently detonate if, for example, pyrotechnic squids, possibly designed to rupture the envelope on command, fired on a spurious signal. The squid itself, in the oxygen rich lower atmosphere, might, depending upon the material used in the balloon's construction, cause conflagration.

The scenario I propose is simple:

As the Cold War heats up, the country is suddenly beset with inexplicable UFO sightings. In the midst of the resultant publicity and anxiety, a large balloon, of an unknown genre, has been found in New Mexico. When the nature of the debris becomes known, Roswell AAF concludes that objects of this type may be behind the current hysteria. Although Colonel Blanchard is the recipient of sensitive targeting data, the probability is high that neither he nor Major Marcel is aware of Moby Dick, as under the theory of compartmentalization, he had no "need to know." The press release claiming the "capture" of a flying saucer is authorized. As the story goes out over the wires, however, intelligence officers "in the know" become alarmed. A balloon? Of unknown genre? In New Mexico? Half way between Los Alamos and the 509th at Roswell? And it's burned?

Now, the famous sequence of events makes sense. Colonel Blanchard is reprimanded and ordered to fly the balloon remains to Air Technical Intelligence Command at Wright Patterson to determine if the materials, or instruments, if any, are of Soviet origin.

The flight is to stop over in Fort Worth to take care of that other problem, the story that the debris is from a crashed saucer.

There, a variously bemused and baffled General Ramey, also unaware of the ongoing efforts in balloon reconnaissance, shows some of the debris to a journalist, wondering what all the fuss is about. Major Marcel, accompanying the remnants, entertains the same thoughts. It's important to understand that I am not asserting that the wreckage recovered at Roswell was part of a Soviet attempt at balloon reconnaissance. All that is important as far as the scenario above is concerned is that someone in the AAF, the Navy, or the CIA thought that might be the case. With what is known today about the state of strategic reconnaissance in 1947, it is clear that the government would have been derelict in its duties not to have acted precisely as it did!


The "Roswell Incident" is not an area in which I claim to have done research. Indeed, my predominate sources are Moore, Friedman, and others who have published copiously on this matter during the last decade.

But when two investigators look at photos of obviously terrestrial materials, miss obvious visual cues that point to flimsy construction material, and pronounce them to be remnants of an interplanetary, or perhaps even interstellar, spacecraft, it's time to join the variorum.

These materials simply are not of extraterrestrial origin. And remember, Marcel himself has said that the debris on Ramey's floor was "the real stuff." If not, then Marcel's accuracy is in question. Some authors have suggested that the wreckage had been switched with that of a Rawin Sonde. If so, why is part of the material burned? After all, weather balloons don't burn, do they? And with the public disclosures of the history of technical intelligence made in various books published during the '80s, the behavior of the AAF is now transparent.

As much as I admire the efforts, and, in some cases, financial sacrifices made by the primary investigators during the last decade, the reality is that they have failed to make their case. Furthermore, the cost to ufology has been high. The amount of time and money devoted to the Roswell Incident and the related MJ-12 documents is probably unprecedented in UFO history. Being as under-funded as ufology is, I suggest that a serious reassessment is in order. (Please see Editor's Note, page 2.)

  1. From the latin word catena, which means "chain."
  2. Don Schmitt and Kevin Randle, "Roswell, July 9, 1947," IUR Vol. 14, No. 6 (Chicago: CUFOS, Dec. 1989).
  3. Don Schmitt and Kevin Randle, "Fort Worth, July 8, 1947: the cover-up begins," IUR Vol. 15, No. 2 (Chicago: CUFOS, April 1990).
  4. William E. Burrows, Deep Black (New York: Berkley Books, 1988), pp. 59-60. 5. Ibid., p. 75.

Note: the debris photographs discussed in this article are visible here.

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