Air Force Times 05-06-96 Issue

BACK TALK: DON'T RENEW THOSE UFO HUNTS


By Robert F. Dorr



Some people think the Air Force is covering up information about unidentified
flying objects, or UFOs -- those pesky flying objects often portrayed as
invaders from outer space.

Many critics, such as aviation writer Don Berliner of Alexandria, Va.,  who
wrote "Crash at Corona," a 1992 book about an incident that occurred near
Roswell, N.M., in July 1947, are responsible people who have no explanation
of their own for UFOs and shy away from talk of alien ships and aliens.

"Qualified observers have seen things in the sky we do not understand," says
Berliner, who adds he has seen evidence that the Air Force is hiding
documents from the public.

 Others with more extreme views claim the service is covering up  that 1947
incident, which they claim involves an interplanetary flying saucer, an
autopsy of a dead space alien and plenty more.

In my opinion, some UFO sightings do defy earthly explanation, but none is
proof of visits from outer space. That is why I worry that the Air Force may
be pressured to spend taxpayer money re-opening UFO investigations or
explaining its past and current actions. This could come as the result of the
publicity Nevada Gov. Bob Miller is giving to space aliens.

"I'm afraid we will have to get into the UFO business again," says a former
Air Force civilian official who asked not to be named.

The Air Force investigated UFOs from 1948 to 1969 under a variety of names,
including Project Sign, Project Grudge and Project Bluebook. During that
time, taxpayer dollars went into investigations and into explaining to the
press and public what the service was doing. 

 "It was a costly business," says the retired civilian.

This month, Miller officially gave the name Extraterrestrial Highway to
Nevada Route 375, which crosses the desert near the Air Force's secret test
facility at Groom Lake. Miller and Tom Tait, the state's tourism director,
say they want to attract travelers of the very ordinary variety -- humans who
come to their state to soak up the sights, gamble, and spend money in other
ways.

 In fact, Nevada's current mania for UFOs is being underwritten in part by
20th Century Fox, which is using the renaming of the highway to promote its
summer movie blockbuster, "Independence Day," about an invasion by space
aliens.

All of this makes the Nevada state government much friendlier toward UFOs
than  the Air Force, which seems to regret the efforts expended for 15 years
and to want nothing more to do with intergalactic visitors.

Last September, the service released a 1,000-page report on the Roswell
incident.

Some have claimed for years that an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell and
that the event was covered up. A grainy black-and-white film purporting to
show an autopsy of an alien creature is believed by a few UFO watchers to be
authentic. "That was real schlock as far as I'm concerned," says Berliner.
"I've seen funnier looking people at the Safeway."

 The report said the crash involved an unmanned balloon from Project Mogul, a
program that was developing a reconnaissance capability aimed at Soviet
nuclear tests. (Mogul was not a weather balloon, as widely reported).

In recent years, the service has shied away from becoming involved in UFOs.

What we did when asked," said retired Maj.  Richard Cole, former Air Force
public affairs officer, "we always answered that the Air Force had
investigated UFOs fully. There is a standard fact sheet explaining that
virtually all UFO sightings, when investigated, had been found to have an
explanation. We would send anyone who asked the fact sheet and tell them that
the Air Force is not in the UFO business."

These days, Lt. Col. Mack McLaurin fields the UFO questions. "Basically," he
says, "I listen."

McLaurin says he has received invitations from media outlets all over the
world to go on TV in uniform and discuss the Roswell report, but "that would
make it seem like we're continuing the investigation. And we're not."

Back when it accepted, studied, and commented on UFO incidents, the Air Force
agreed that up to 10  percent of reported sightings were made by serious,
reputable observers, such as airline or military pilots. The Air Force said
none were a threat to national security.

Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Widnall called "a damned nuisance" in an
interview last October. And she is absolutely right.

I am not humorless. I enjoy Miller and his fellow Nevadans having a little
fun.

But these are lean times. The Air Force has serious business at hand. This is
not the time for the Air Force to resume investigating UFOs. There are plenty
of private citizens who can do that.

************

Robert F. Dorr, an Air force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va., and has written
books about Air Force aircraft in Korea and Vietnam. His e-mail address is
robertdorr@aol.com.


Copyright 1996, Army Times Publishing Company  All rights reserved