Popular Mechanics

Fifty years ago, something crashed in the desert. New evidence points to two equally startling conclusions

Pot, Hub Corn's 8-year-old border collie, leaps from the back of the tool-packed pickup. She sniffs the cuffs of my pants, begs to be scratched on her head and then bolts across the dusty field. "She'll scare away the snakes," Corn says as we follow Pot down a gentle incline. Our objective is 100 yards ahead, at the bottom of a 40-ft. cliff that rises from an arroyo. Corn points to a small flag that is planted halfway from the top. It marks the spot where the U.S. Army once believed a "flying disc" made its final, fatal contact with planet Earth.

Ideas of what happened here during the first week of July 1947 range from the simple–a weather balloon crash–to the downright silly–Earth was being scouted for an intergalactic invasion. The latest official government explanation–there have been three thus far–for the so-called Roswell Incident is that the recovered debris came from a Project Mogul balloon that was carrying instruments to detect Soviet nuclear tests. Despite such claims, however, over the years a number of government officials have inadvertently fired imaginations. As a presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter claimed to have seen a UFO. As president, Ronald Reagan mused openly on how petty differences among nations might evaporate in the face of an extraterrestrial threat. And no one has done more to turn up the speculative heat than retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, who held a slew of top intelligence posts, including deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. In a Learning Channel documentary, Inman said – but has since repeatedly and vigorously denied–that the military is attempting to use technology from unspecified "recovered vehicles."

The passage of time has also complicated the task of ferreting out the truth about Roswell. The three men who might have known what actually happened–rancher Mac Brazel, who collected an armload of wreckage from a crash site near Corona, 85 miles northwest of Roswell; intelligence officer Maj. Jesse A. Marcel, who identified it as from a "flying disc"; and Brig. Gen. Roger Ramey, who ordered Marcel to retract his claim–are dead. Time has also scattered the files of the U.S. Army Air Corps, Atomic Energy Commission and other government agencies that may have investigated the episode into the bureaucratic wind. For this reason, a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation performed at the request of New Mexico Congressman Steven H. Schiff and released in July 1995 reported finding no official records of a crash, other than the Army Air Corps account of a crashed weather balloon and an FBI memo that refers to it.

Suspecting there was more to the Roswell story, Popular Mechanics undertook its own investigation to learn if anything new had emerged in this 50-year-old techno-mystery. After interviewing witnesses who had seen and handled crash-site debris, and reviewing documents that were still classified when the GAO undertook its investigation, we have concluded that there really was a crashed disc, dead bodies and a secret that could have been politically deadly to presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.


The official story

In 1947, the Roswell Army Airfield (RAAF) was home to America's most elite air unit, the nuclear-weapon-equipped 509th Bomb Group. And during the first week of July, nearly everyone on base and off was at a heightened state of alert. Since mid-May, America had been in the grips of what historians would later call the great UFO craze of 1947. By some counts, as many as 800 sightings of strange objects were reported. At the bars, lunch counters and dinner tables in Roswell, airmen retold stories of mysterious "kraut balls" and "foo fighters" that had played tag with bombers and fighters as they flew missions over Europe and the Pacific. There is one more important, but often overlooked, historic fact to keep in mind. In the years immediately after the war, the term "flying disc" did not necessarily mean a flying machine from another planet.

Perhaps it was because of this mindset that the remarkable headline that appeared in the July 8 edition of the Roswell Daily Record was accepted with some sense of inevitability. "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch In Roswell Region," it read. The story beneath the headline reported that intelligence officer Marcel had recovered pieces of a flying disc from the range of an unidentified rancher. Wire services and radio stations eager for any news about flying discs–the term UFO had not yet been coined–jumped on the story. "There was a tremendous amount of excitement," Art McQuidday, a local editor, later recalled. "Here I am, a little old country editor talking to Paris and Rome."

It was a short-lived fame. The next day's Daily Record reported that Marcel had gotten it all wrong. Its July 9 headline read "Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer." Ramey, commander of the Eighth Air Force at Forth Worth, Texas, was quoted in the story as saying that the debris recovered by Marcel was simply the remains of a crashed weather balloon. Lest there be any doubt, the Army distributed a photo showing a contrite Marcel kneeling next to balloon remains.

Brazel also told his story on page one, beneath the headline "Harassed Rancher Who Located 'Saucer' Sorry He Told About It." He said that he and his son had actually found the wreckage on June 14 and returned to pick it up on the Fourth of July, after hearing about the crashed "flying disc." Brazel said he wondered if what he had found might have been some of the debris.

The story went on to say that he delivered the debris to the local sheriff on July 7, who then notified Marcel. The intelligence officer visited the Brazel home and returned to the base with the wreckage. The official story is that it consisted of about 12 ft. of smoky gray rubber from the balloon's gas bag; bits of foil, paper and tape; and a 7- or 8-in.-thick bundle of 3-ft.-long sticks. Notably absent from the recovered materials were an engine and propellers.

Ramey's press conference, Brazel's statement and photos of what were identified as the remains of a balloon so thoroughly quashed the initial report of a crashed flying disc that not until 1978 would most UFO researchers even count the Roswell incident as part of the 1947 UFO craze.

The idea that something more significant than a balloon might have crashed was raised in 1978. During a television interview, intelligence officer Marcel revealed a startling undisclosed fact about wisp-thin material recovered from the debris field near Corona: When placed near a match, it did not burn. Writers descended on Roswell, and some of them cajoled a new generation of witnesses–most of whom were children in 1947–into telling a variety of tales. The new reports told of I-beams with hieroglyphic-like marks and death threats by government agents. "There is no question there was a coverup," said UFO researcher Kevin Randle, who wrote two books about Roswell. "The question is, what were they hiding?"

A spy's tale

Randle's claims were largely based on a series of interviews that he had conducted with a former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent who at various times has been identified as either Frank McKenzie or Joseph Osborne. Now, as I spoke with this former spy in the back dining room of Roswell's Sally Port Restaurant, I wasn't quite sure he could be trusted. People I do trust had vouched for him. He showed me documents that confirmed he had been assigned to the 509th. At the time of the Roswell incident, he had been a civilian employee assigned to intelligence duties. It was a job that could have given him access to the impact site.

Nevertheless, I felt something was fishy when he said that in 1949 he attended a technical briefing at which engineers summarized what they had learned from the wreckage found on what is now Corn's 24-sq.-mile sheep and cattle ranch. This simply didn't sound right. The first rule of keeping secrets is limiting information to those with a "need to know." The men who found the debris would not have been told its secrets.

In my business, you don't call people liars. You mentally cross them off your list of credible sources and move on. At that point, I decided to wrap up the interview by asking the spy an innocuous question: "What do you think of the crash-site dioramas in the UFO museums?"

"They got it wrong. It wasn't round. It was heel-shaped," he said, tracing a pattern with his finger. With my curiosity rekindled, because the city's two UFO museums both depicted circular craft, I slid my notebook across the table and asked him to sketch what he allegedly saw. The spy then drew side, top and bottom views of what I immediately recognized as a wingless lifting-body airframe. It was a dead ringer for the X-38, which NASA and the U.S. Air Force are planning to use as a mini-space plane. The only obvious difference was a crude pattern of crosshatched lines he was trying to draw on the bottom view. I had seen something similar before. These lines cut into the baby-smooth bottom of the F-22, the fighter the Air Force hopes to fly into the 21st century. The purpose of the indentations is to scatter radar energy to make the jet more stealthy. Few know this. So, I decided to give the spy one last test, and asked, "Are these heat shield tiles?"

"No," he said, ignoring the bait. "They made it invisible to radar." I signaled the waitress for another round of drinks, sat back and listened as the spy–his real name is Frank J. Kaufmann–told me how he helped to engineer the "great Roswell cover-up."

Kaufmann says the Roswell incident really began on July 1, 1947, when he was ordered to bring a group of radar experts to Alamogordo, about 100 miles southwest of Roswell. For nearly a day, radar aimed at the nearby White Sands Missile Range had been detecting unexplainable blips. Kaufmann was assigned to a radar screen. While he was watching, just before midnight on July 3, he saw a brilliant glare envelop the display. The source of the disturbance came from somewhere north of Roswell.

Moments later, in Roswell, the airfield's switchboard began ringing as residents on the north end of town called to report a glow in the desert. "They thought one of our planes had crashed," Kaufmann said. "It was something that had happened before." Acting on what he said were orders from Brig. Gen. Martin Scanlan of the Army's Air Defense Command, Kaufmann told me he returned to Roswell. Here, he roused the base commander Col. William Blanchard and intelligence officer Marcel. With a small contingent of men, they drove north through the sleeping city and onto what is now Route 285 north. Near mile marker 132, they turned off the road and began driving across the desert, stopping from time to time to cut the barbed-wire fencing. Around 3 am, they found a heel-shaped craft measuring about 25 ft. long and 12 ft. wide embedded in a cliff.

It was split open. One of its four small passengers was thrown clear. Another was partially out of the craft. Two more were inside. All were dead, their bodies intact and unburned. Kaufmann said he watched as a crew from the airfield worked feverishly beneath searchlights to load the fractured craft and bodies aboard a flatbed truck before dawn. Meanwhile, a second team hastily created two diversionary sites to confuse the curious.

As the sun boiled up from the east, the tarpaulin-covered Army truck rolled slowly south through downtown Roswell. Unnoticed by residents who had long ago grown used to the sight of military traffic, it made its way past the base gates and into a hangar, which was promptly surrounded by armed guards. Before evening, the wreckage and bodies were loaded aboard a military transport and flown first to Fort Worth, Texas, and then on to Wright Field in Ohio. "The beauty of the recovery operation was that it was so simple," says Kaufmann. "We didn't have to involve anyone from the outside."

It is a compelling story, spiced with some verifiable information, but upon closer examination, the former spy's tale is fraught with inconsistencies. The most obvious of these being a lack of burned wreckage or charred bodies at a crash that allegedly produced suf-ficient illumination to alert residents miles away. It is also filled with factual errors, says Stanton T. Friedman. A University of Chicago-trained nuclear physicist, he was the first civilian to investigate the Roswell incident. He looked into Kaufmann's claims in the course of researching his recently published book Top Secret/Majic. "Majic" refers to a secret organization that Friedman believes President Truman created to investigate UFO crashes and keep the public ignorant about extraterrestrial incursions.

"There were no Air Defense Command radars in New Mexico in 1947," Friedman told Popular Mechanics. "Radar experts tell me the only way to flood a screen with glare is for something to explode very close to the antenna. The supposed site was more than 100 miles away."

The German connection

Report on Project Silver Bug, 1955

The subject of this report deals with a proposal for a new type aircraft by one of Canada's most progressive members of the aircraft industry, AVRO Aircraft, Limited, a member of the Hawker-Siddley Group. This project should in no way be associated with any science fiction or "Flying Saucer" stories because of its external appearance. The configuration was a result of an engineering investigation into the solution of a particular problem.

The proposal is for the design of a supersonic research aircraft having a circular planform and VTO characteristics. One version provides for the use of several conventional axial-flow engines, while the ultimate aircraft configuration utilizes a new radial-flow type engine. Another unusual feature of this proposal is that the control of the aircraft is accomplished by selective direction of the exhaust gases which eliminates the necessity of conventional aerodynamic control surfaces.

There is a USAF requirement to develop means of operation from dispersed bases. This requirement stems from the growing and possibly catastrophic vulnerability of conventional air bases. The major feature of conventional air bases is the runway, which has grown wider, thicker, and longer as aircraft have become heavier and faster. The operational necessity of runways leads to concentrations of aircraft which have become critical targets. The logical approach to dispersed base operation would then appear to be toward reducing the length of runways or to their total elimination. Numerous schemes have been proposed, investigated, and some developed to reduce the take-off distance of aircraft. Among them are water ejection, after-burning, and RATO. Drag chutes and methods of thrust reversal have been developed for reducing landing requirements. Attempts to eliminate runways completely have resulted in helicopters, convertiplanes and what is known as VTO aircraft.

There are two general types of VTO aircraft - "tail-sitters" and "flat-risers." A flat-riser takes off in the vertical direction in a normal horizontal flight attitude, while the tail-sitter takes off vertically from a position which is 90 degrees to a normal level horizontal flight attitude. Examples of tail-sitters are the United States Navy projects with Lockheed and Convair which utilize a turboprop power plant, and the USAF project with Ryan Aeronautical Corporation utilizing turbojet power plants. Examples of the flat-riser are the Rolls-Royce "Flying Bedstead" and the Bell VTO aircraft. The basic design problem associated with any aircraft of this type becomes one of achieving in a single vehicle VTO and military performance capabilities. A possible solution to this problem has been proposed by A. V. Roe, Canada, Limited, in the form of their Project Y2 (Secret).

The cockpit is located at the center of the aircraft with the orientation of the cockpit determining the fore and after center- line of the aircraft as well as the normal direction of forward flight. The airframe, fuel cells, and the gas turbine power plant encircle the cockpit. This aircraft is designed for vertical take-off and landings while in the horizontal flight attitude, i.e., a "flat-riser". Since this aircraft rises vertically from a horizontal position, it does not require a landing gear of auxiliary landing devices. The flat-riser flight take-off technique, the elimination of the landing gear and auxiliary landing devices, are brought about by the peripheral exhaust which produces a "powerful ground cushion effect" This is one of the fundamentals upon which this new radical aircraft design is based."

I was all but ready to trash Kaufmann's story when a nearly foot-thick package of documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests arrived on my desk. As I read their badly photocopied pages, I came to realize that my judgment of Kaufmann's story might have been overly hasty. The more I read, the more credible Kaufmann's tale–except for his conclusion about extraterrestrials–became.

The most surprising information was contained in a declassified Air Force briefing paper titled "Report On Project Silver Bug." It was prepared by the Joint Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1955. It had two purposes.

The first was to update civilian and military intelligence experts on technical issues related to so-called flying saucers. Its second goal was to enlist the help of the FBI, CIA and intelligence units within the State Department in determining if the Soviets were pursuing similar aircraft designs.

To provide the intelligence community with technical background, the report described several ongoing U.S. saucer projects. Configured as classic UFOs, these craft exhibited flight specifications that were nothing short of phenomenal, even by today's standards. The largest weighed 26,000 pounds and was powered by jet engines that could lift it to an altitude of 36,900 ft.–as high as today's airliners fly–in about 1 minute 45 seconds. The operating ceiling of these amazing craft was 80,600 ft. Their cruise speed was an astounding Mach 3.48.

Using key words and technical descriptions in the Silver Bug report, PM was able to trace the origin of these remarkable aircraft to Germany. And here, in half-century-old intelligence files stamped "secret," we learned that the U.S. government had mounted a massive search for engineers and scientists who had worked on the so-called German saucer project.

Contrary to UFO literature, which claims the Germans were attempting to reverse-engineer a crashed alien vehicle of their own, these documents show a more practical reason for interest in saucers: They could take off without runways. Months of around-the-clock bombing by the allies had reduced German runways to rubble. The Third Reich's only hope of using its newly perfected jet-engine propulsion system to regain air superiority would be to install it in a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft.

The documents also tell of Army intelligence officers combing Europe for two brothers, Walter and Reimar Horten. Trained as pilots and engineers, they had close connections to the Reich's high command. The information provided to Army intelligence said they were believed to have persuaded German leaders to construct a fleet of saucer-shaped bombers. U.S. military historians acknowledge that the Horten brothers built and flew prototypes of circular and flying-wing aircraft. But they dismiss these craft as aeronautical curiosities with no military value. Initially, PM discounted a possible connection between the Horten brothers and Roswell.

We began to think differently after we obtained a copy of a long-secret field report from an American intelligence officer stationed in Germany. In response for a service-wide request for information about the Horten brothers, he had apparently looked into the most secret military files. There he discovered, and duly reported to his superiors, that the Horten brothers already had been found. "Paperclip records further show that the men were released by the U.K. for exploitation and allocated to the U.S. [on] 15 November 1946," the officer's report said.

"Operation Paperclip" was the code name for one of the Second World War's most secret and ethically controversial projects. Its mission was to put former Nazi scientists and engineers on the U.S. payroll. The American public knew the secret of Los Alamos weeks after the first atomic bomb exploded. They would not be told of Paperclip until after men landed on the Moon, an event made possible by Paperclip rocket scientists. The reason for keeping Paperclip secret was that the laboratories at which many of the former German scientists had worked were also Nazi slave-labor and death camps. The fact the Nazis had technology that American engineers could not duplicate was deemed too harsh a message for a nation that had gone to war for a higher moral purpose.

Probing further into the fate of the Horten brothers, PM learned that just prior to their capture they had been working on the design for a new generation of circular-shaped vertical-takeoff aircraft, with specifications much like those described in the Silver Bug report. Other records indicate that after the war, models of the Horten's designs–possibly constructed by the brothers themselves–were tested in the wind tunnel at Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This is the same base to which the wreckage of the Roswell crash was finally transported.

The Air Force acknowledges the Germans were working on a flying-disc craft, but says it was inherently unstable. Officials point to the failed Avro flying car built for the Army and a deteriorating plywood Horten wing, both on display in museums.

Declassified records obtained by PM in the course of its investigation suggest that these marginally performing craft were, in fact, shills intended to disguise the existence of more formidable flying machines. One of the most potent of these flying discs was developed under a secret program called Project Pye Wacket. Its objective was to design a 5-ft.-dia. liquid-fueled missile launch platform to protect U.S. bombers penetrating Soviet airspace.

In the end, the military would select conventionally shaped planes and missiles. As for the Horten flying disc that the Reich had hoped would turn the tide of battle, patent rights to a remarkably similar craft configured to carry "passengers" would be assigned to the Lockheed aircraft company.

Despite this information, the possibility that the object that crashed at Roswell was in fact one of the Horten brothers' creations misses the mark on two important details. The craft that Kaufmann claims to have helped recover was not round, but as his sketches showed, a lifting body. Also, he claims there was no fire damage, a virtual impossibility in the crash of a jet-powered aircraft.

A Japanese UFO

As our investigation neared its close, PM was alerted to a forthcoming release of documents that may fill in these two missing pieces of the Roswell puzzle. They may also explain two other curiosities: the presence of the crisscrossed radar-deflecting pattern on the bottom of the Roswell craft, and–to the consternation of those who seek an unearthly explanation for Roswell–the origin of the "dead aliens" who have so often been described as having Oriental features.

PM has been told that the documents scheduled for future release will tell of a Japanese counterpart to Operation Paperclip. One of its purposes was to determine if the Japanese had constructed a suicide-piloted version of the Fugo incendiary bomb. During the Second World War, the Japanese launched these unmanned high-altitude balloons in the hope that they would land in the Pacific Northwest, explode, ignite forest fires and thereby deprive the war effort of needed lumber. The effort was an obvious failure. The Japanese may have attempted to build a second generation of Fugos that could be guided to targets by suicidal pilots.


Site Meter

PM suspects the craft that crashed at Roswell will eventually be identified as either a U.S. attempt to re-engineer a second-generation Fugo, or a hybrid craft which uses both Fugo lifting technology and a Horten-inspired lifting body. In either case, Japanese engineers and pilots brought to the U.S. after the war to work on the project could have been the dead "alien" bodies recovered at the crash site. Also, equipped with a rudimentary radar-deflecting underside, such a balloon could have reached stratospheric altitudes as it traveled over Western Europe and been well above the range of then-existing MiG fighters and missiles even if it had been detected. It could have carried out both photo reconnaissance and air sampling experiments–similar to those of the Mogul balloon–before gliding back to Earth in friendly territory.

Fifty years after the fact, the questions about Roswell still ring loud and clear. Our investigation leads us to believe the explanations that require an extraterrestrial presence, while possible, are nevertheless highly implausible. We're putting our money on a flying disc labeled "Made In Japan."


Regarding Frank Kaufman's story:

When the report of a crashed UFO came from Brigardier General Martin Scanlan ('Temple'; AWS) on July 4, 1947, Kaufman and his team of agents went out to the crash site, which he described as "very rough country, no roads at all." They found the UFO, shaped like a man's shoe heel, crashed into the wall of an arroyo. The vehicle was split open, and the team found four dead aliens... and one that was still alive!" -Kaufman said the UFO was loaded onto a flatbed truck, brought back to the base, and stored in Hangar 84, which had an armed M.P. platoon all around it. The four dead aliens were laid out on a tarpaulin before the ambulance took them to the base hospital for the autopsy.

The overall conclusion which can be drawn from these articles is that: The whole thing seems to deal with the US military's 'frenetic actions' involved in hiding new and recovered/captured aircraft technology - something which is understandable, especially as regards the Cold War area, and the "arms/tech. race" between Soviet and USA/Allies in those days. Regarding people's thoughts of 'intergalactic invasions' in connection with these flying saucer/disc sightings in 1947 (e.g., Maj. Marcel, and possibly also Gen.Ramey), this is possibly connected with Orson Welles' radio performance of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, involving invasions from Mars, which took place some 10 years earlier.

Mr. F.Kaufmann has described (at least) two significantly different discs at the Roswell crash site: The one presented for Mr. Randle and Schmitt, and the other for PM's Mr.Wilson. From the present interpretations of the Ramey message this seems to indicate that the disc described for Mr. Wilson might be correct, as he was also mentioning the craft ('crash/disc/disk), 4 small passengers ('4 ... victims'), two/three 'sites' ('site one/two') and a contingent ('extra powers') of men. (The word 'disc', or 'flying saucer', was probably used by the military in those days to indicate a craft having circular planform; a 'disk' could indicate both circular and other planforms, like today's computer disk.) Four 'secret', American, military projects are mentioned:

1. Project Silver Bug; re. design proposals for disc-shaped, or radical, aircraft; a supersonic aircraft having a circular planform (1955).
2. Project Paperclip; the code name for one of the Second World War's most secret and ethically controversial projects. Its mission was to put former Nazi scientists and engineers on the U.S. payroll
3. Project Project Mogul; re. a balloon that was carrying instruments to detect Soviet nuclear tests.
4. Project Pye Wacket; the objective was to design a 5-ft.-dia. liquid-fueled missile launch platform to protect U.S. bombers penetrating Soviet airspace.

The WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, or Wright Field, OHIO, is mentioned in connection with the following 'incidents':

* Wind tunnel tests of circular-shaped, VTOL aircraft * Models of the Horten's designs--possibly constructed by the brothers themselves-- were tested in the wind tunnel at Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

* The wreckage and bodies from the Roswell crash was finally transported to this base

* A declassified Air Force briefing paper titled "Report On Project Silver Bug." It was prepared by the Joint Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1955 i.e., really 'interesting things' were going on at this base in those days. There were proposed developments of aircraft having 'circular planform' and VTO (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) characteristics in 1955 (mentioned 'Flying Disc').

The reason we don't see these craft today (at least not very often; and possibly and correctly observed as UFOs!) might be because of problems with instability, expensive to produce, and/or that they are being used, but exist only as experimental planes, used by the military for research and 'spying'/'special' missions only. The inherent craft instability may - to an acceptable degree - have been solved. (Many of the aircarft today are inherently unstable, e.g., JAS Gripen, but this is compensated for automatically by using many pressure sensors located on the craft, and aided by powerful computers on board the plane to help controlling and piloting.)

According to the article's contents, it seems (possibly correct - as proposed by many) that, in connection with the Roswell incident, we might actually be dealing with 'aliens', i.e., not exactly ETs, but rather Japanese ('kamikaze') test pilots! (They were often described as being 'small' - having 'children's height' - and having Oriental features.) In addition, the use of 'alien tech.' could also mean the capture and use of Nazi and/or Japanese technologies. - which were unknown for the US and the Allies till after the war. In this context, referring to this PM report, could the 'hieroglyphs' detected on the beams on the Ramey office photos, i.e.: possibly be Japanese writing/imprints? Or, could it just be some marks left from the assembling process; welding, smoldering etc.?

It is well known that the US used ('alien') technology recovered from German scientists (but not necessarily Nazis) after the war. This includes - at least - the rocket technology, fronted by von Braun. It is also well known that there were numerous sighting of 'flying saucers' the first years after the war - and most likely - due to the intensive developments and tests of the new and captured technologies, involving some exotic aircraft, missiles and rockets.




Roswell Declassified

Formerly secret files finally reveal the truth about the world's most famous UFO incident


Knowing that old military records often contain startling revelations, we were eager to see what surprises awaited us in the latest disclosure from the Roswell files. For decades, UFO researchers had clamored for the National Archives to come clean about a "flying disc" that supposedly crashed during the Fourth of July weekend in 1947. The Army started the story when it used the term in a press release about a crash that had occurred north of Roswell, N.M. At the time, the sleepy town had the distinction of being home to the only atomic bomber unit (at Roswell Army Airfield) in the world. By the end of that holiday weekend, the Army had retracted its original story, claiming it had been a mistake. The debris that ranch manager Mac Brazel had found on the J.B. Foster Ranch was simply the remains of a weather balloon. The press reported the revised version of events, and the story promptly died.

Government paperwork, however, is immortal. Once a Roswell file was created it became a collection bin for all sorts of UFO-related material. Eventually, the collection moved to a climate-controlled archive in College Park, Md., about a half-hour drive east of Washington, D.C. And there the files would have remained undisturbed were it not for a law that forces the government to periodically review a document's security classification.

During the 1990s, the time limits on keeping Cold War-era records began to expire. Journalists had come to appreciate that these automatically declassified files often contained spectacular information. Declassified records showed how the Atomic Energy Commission intentionally released radiation from its reactors in Hanford, Wash., on unsuspecting civilians in that area. Other disclosures described how doctors working for the federal government were permitted to conduct ghoulish medical experiments on women, children and prisoners. Buoyed by these earlier disclosures, UFO researchers had good reason to hope the 11 boxes of newly opened Roswell files might contain a similar smoking gun.

Paper Chase

Popular Mechanics was interested too. In 100 years of covering military affairs, our editors had come to realize that everything the government touches creates a paper trail. If something extraordinary had happened at the Roswell Army Airfield in July 1947, evidence would turn up in the paperwork compiled by sergeants and officers. And it was that possibility that lured us to Maryland. If aliens had landed, the soldiers who chased them would have left a paper trail, too.

As we had hoped, we found the original government records. But first we had to do some digging. Most of the boxes were filled with newspaper and magazine clippings about flying saucers, old books, and government UFO reports that were made public decades ago. There were Betamax videotapes about UFOs. We even found the remains of the infamous balloon reflector, which UFO buffs claim the government planted at the crash site in place of the pieces of the flying disc. These pieces, they say, were taken to an undisclosed military base.

Then, amid the clutter, in Box 1, we found what we were after. It was a seemingly unimportant document titled "Morning Reports, July 1947." This was essentially a log of the day-to-day activity at the base. In much the same way that a police blotter would provide evidence of a bank robbery, the Morning Reports would provide unambiguous evidence of unusual military activity.

As we worked through the Morning Reports line by line, we came to a simple realization: Absolutely nothing extraordinary had happened at Roswell that Fourth of July weekend. There was no indication of an emergency, no mention of a deployment of rescue and firefighting crews, as was the case with other crashes. That was one mystery solved.

For years, UFO researchers had claimed that enlisted men and officers involved in the disc recovery operation were transferred to other bases to ensure their silence. Sure enough, the transfers took place. The paperwork explained why. Several months earlier, in a sweeping postwar military reorganization, Army fliers were systematically transferred to the newly created U.S. Air Force. The men had not been transferred. They had merely changed uniforms. Another mystery solved.

We left the National Archives and Records Administration complex in College Park more confused than enlightened. Surely there was more to the story. As the old saying goes: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." So with this thought in mind we decided to call Frank Kaufmann, the man at the center of the Roswell episode.

Forged Records

Kaufmann was less than the picture of health when we interviewed him for our July 1997 cover story about the 50th anniversary of Roswell. A respected member of the Roswell business community, Kaufmann's name had been tied to the story from the very beginning. We were saddened to learn he had died in February 2001.

Kaufmann's credibility arose from his willingness to show journalists and book authors a copy of his Separation Qualification Record, which supported his claim that he was an intelligence officer stationed at Roswell in July 1947. After Kaufmann's death, his widow gave UFO researchers access to her husband's papers. One of those researchers was Mark Rodeghier, scientific director of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies. In fall 2002, Rodeghier published his findings in the center's journal: "To put it quite plainly, Frank Kaufmann created an altered version of an official document to present a false version of his military career consistent with his claims about his involvement with the events at Roswell. His supposed work in intelligence was used to explain how he came to be so knowledgeable about what crashed at Roswell and the subsequent military cover-up."

Dying Confession

Stanton Friedman, a physicist and author of several books on Roswell, tells Popular Mechanics he was not surprised that Kaufmann had altered his service record. "He got out of the service in 1945. He was a civilian employee doing the same job, as a clerk."

Friedman says his suspicions were raised during a 1999 meeting with Kaufmann and several other researchers. He says he asked Kaufmann pointed questions about his working relationship with Maj. Jesse Marcel, who was an intelligence officer at the Roswell base in '47, and Col. William Blanchard, the base commanding officer at that time.

"Kaufmann knew he was dying," Friedman says, explaining why he trusted the answers he received. "I asked Kaufmann, 'Did you take Marcel to the [crash] site?' He said 'no.' I asked him, 'Did you take Blanchard to the site?' He said 'no.'"

Despite the disappointing document disclosure by the National Archives and the discovery that Kaufmann had altered his military records, Friedman says it is premature to close the books on Roswell. He believes convincing evidence of an alien landing exists but that it has yet to be disclosed. And he says he knows exactly where to find it--in vaults at the National Reconnaissance Office and the Central Intelligence Agency.


The truth about Roswell
Dava Sobel

Flying saucers made their first official appearance in the summer of 1947. On June 25, Kenneth Arnold, a Boise, Idaho, rescue pilot working for the U.S. Forest Service, flew over the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, searching for a missing plane. He spotted nine disc-shaped craft, which he guessed to be moving at a speed of 1,200 miles an hour and at an altitude of 10,000 feet. When Arnold described their motion as resembling "a saucer skipping over water," a newspaper headline dubbed them "flying saucers." Almost instantly, believable witnesses from other states and several foreign countries reported similar sightings--enlivening wire-service dispatches for days.

Within two weeks, on July 8, 1947, the United States Army announced that it had recovered a flying saucer from the New Mexican desert, near a town called Roswell. The morning after, the Army corrected itself: The "saucer" had been a misidentified weather balloon.

Thus began the infamous "Roswell Incident," the mother of all UFO scenarios. At first, it seemed to be a burst of excitement over nothing--a story of "Man Bites Dog" that quickly faded into "Dog Bites Man." But over decades, the event at Roswell has been repeatedly remembered, re-evaluated, and retold, so that it now boasts seminal importance in the annals of contacts with extraterrestrial civilizations.

According to several residents of Roswell who claim to be eyewitnesses, at least one alien craft crashed there that summer of 1947. However, they say, military and government parties--including the Air Force, the FBI, and the White House--intentionally covered up the facts. As a former employee of the local funeral parlor recalls, the humanoid bodies of the saucer's crew were autopsied at the Roswell Army Air Field Hospital immediately after the crash. Then their remains were flown to Dayton, Ohio, to the site of what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where they were frozen for future study.

Rumors circulated that one of the creatures had even survived the accident. It lived for over a year, sequestered and cared for in a specially built top-secret facility, before succumbing to an Earth-acquired infection.

Now, nearly half a century after the precipitating event, New Mexico Congressman Stephen H. Schiff has asked the General Accounting Office (GAO), which is the investigative arm of Congress, to investigate the incident.

Did the military act appropriately at the time--or did it move to suppress information, spread lies, and silence the residents of Roswell, some of whom claim they received death threats warning them never to reveal what went on there in July 1947?

GAO spokesman Cleve Corlett insists his agency is not investigating Roswell, as many students of the case contend. "We don't talk about our work till it's finished," Corlett said. But whatever the truth, thanks to publicity from Schiff and others, Roswell has spawned interest from many quarters indeed.

For example, a recent Showtime movie called Roswell, based on the book UFO Crash at Roswell, paints a vivid picture of charred aliens on operating tables, amid a Watergate-style cover-up masterminded by four- and five-star generals, scientists, super-spies, and Cabinet members. The film celebrates the twin themes of the Roswell Incident--the arrival of extraterrestrial visitors and the paranoia regarding government conspiracy. With documentary verisimilitude, Roswell depicts UFOs as the vehicles that ferry aliens to Earth, and the governments of the world as the powers that conceal the alien presence.

At the opposite extreme, the U.S. Air Force has completed its own internal review of the events and allegations. Its Report on Roswell, which was released in September 1994, identifies the so-called "weather balloon" as part of a once-top-secret experimental program, "Project Mogul," for monitoring Russian nuclear bomb tests. A page-one story in the New York Times of September 18, 1994, heralded this explanation as the long-awaited denouement of the Roswell Incident. Project Mogul, the Air Force and the Times agreed, dismissed the alien-spaceship tale as a modern myth. Proponents of the alleged saucer crash and subsequent cover-up, however, remain unconvinced by the Air Force account.

How good is the evidence on each side of the Roswell Incident? What really happened there? And if all that landed was a glorified weather balloon, why won't the legend die?

I came to this story prejudiced, as all journalists are, with my own preconceived notions. As the co-author of a book about the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) through radio astronomy, I firmly believe that other civilizations share our galaxy, and may even be trying to contact us. But I do not think that flying saucers are landing here. The alien presence would have to be ubiquitous to explain all the claims of contact I have heard. Nevertheless, the Roswell incident intrigued me because it was born practically at the moment of my birth, in June of 1947. Maybe Roswell was as real as I am. I mean, if the entire universe could happen once--rise whole cloth out of one Big Bang--why not admit the arrival on Earth of a lone flying saucer?

Part of me was wide open to that possibility when I started exhuming the incident's history. I read six books about it, along with miscellaneous reports on Roswell published by the Mutual UFO Network (an international contingent of UFOlogists). I read the Air Force report, of course, with all its supporting documentation, as well as numerous magazine and newspaper articles, plus back issues of newsletters devoted both to promulgating and debunking UFO sightings. I also viewed several hours of videotapes on the Roswell Incident, reviewed selected Internet files, and interviewed a dozen individuals on the telephone. Then I went to Roswell to meet some of the witnesses face to face and to see the place where the saucer is said to have landed.

To begin at the beginning, the Roswell of 1947 was a small town in a big desert, surrounded by acres of undeveloped land and sheep ranches stretching over the mostly flat terrain as far as the eye could see. At the south end of the business district stood the Roswell Army Air Field, home base for the fighting 509th--the world's only combat unit trained to handle and drop nuclear bombs. About 100 miles west of Roswell, at Alamogordo, the first atomic bomb explosion had shot up its mushroom cloud just two years prior to the Roswell Incident. And although secrecy shrouded the activities at nearby White Sands Proving Ground, Roswell residents were aware that captured German V-2 rockets routinely penetrated the arid sky. What's more, Robert H. Goddard, the father of American rocketry, had moved to Roswell from Massachusetts, and launched 56 flight tests there from 1930 until shortly before his death in 1943. You could say that Roswell stood closer to outer space than any other town in the world.

The stories of flying discs that spread across the country in the summer of 1947 fell on receptive ears in New Mexico. Sheep rancher W. W. ("Mac") Brazel overheard the talk in a Corona bar on Saturday night, July 5. According to his own later account in the local press, he wondered if the strange debris he'd found on the ground during his ranch rounds might be part of some such flying disc. He hoped it was. A prize of $3,000 had been promised by a national news outfit to anybody who recovered one. Brazel drove some of the shiny litter into Roswell and showed it to the county sheriff, who showed it to the Army base's intelligence officer, who retrieved the rest of the pieces back at the ranch.

That Army intelligence officer, Major Jesse Marcel, had never seen anything quite like the debris that lay in scattered scraps and tatters over an area some 200 yards wide. Though plentiful, it was so lightweight that Marcel and a helper could pick it all up and load it in the backs of their cars. Brazel, the rancher, estimated in a newspaper interview that the whole lot couldn't have weighed much more than five pounds.

Although Marcel's description of what he had found did not appear in any press reports published at the time, he later recalled that the material bore no resemblance to any aircraft he had been trained to recognize.

"I saw ... small bits of metal," Marcel told a reporter years after the fact, "but mostly we found some material that's hard to describe." Some of it was porous, he remembered. He also mentioned "stuff that looked very much like parchment," as well as long, slender solid members--like square sticks, the largest of which was between three and four feet long. These pieces resembled wood, felt as light as balsa, and carried undecipherable markings that Marcel called "hieroglyphics."

On Tuesday, July 8, 1947, a press release announcing Marcel's catch was distributed to the local newspapers and radio stations by Walter G. Haut, then-public relations officer at the base. The Roswell Daily Record spread the word under a banner headline: "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region."

The story began, "The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer." It is not clear from the article who termed the debris a flying saucer. The words do not appear in quotes, and they are not attributed to either Marcel or to the base commander, Colonel William H. Blanchard. They are used matter-of-factly, as though such things would be well known to readers of the Record--and indeed they were.

"After the intelligence office here had inspected the instrument," the article went on to say, "it was flown to 'higher headquarters."' Indeed, Marcel took the debris on a plane to Fort Worth, where General Roger M. Ramey identified it to Marcel and the press as the remains of a downed weather balloon carrying a radar target. The next day, in an even larger headline than it had used to announce the find, the Record reported, "Gen. Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer."

The Army's announcement of the "weather balloon" explanation ended the flying saucer excitement. All mention of the craft dropped from the newspapers, from military records, from the national consciousness, and even from the talk of the town in Roswell.

Thirty years passed with no further mention of the Roswell incident.

Then, Stanton T. Friedman of Fredericton, New Brunswick, in Canada, rediscovered Roswell. Friedman had been working as a nuclear physicist (although he does not hold a doctoral degree in that discipline) for General Electric, Westinghouse, and other companies. He devoted his spare time to reading widely about flying saucers, including the reports of Project Bluebook--the Air Force's official investigation, from 1952 to 1969, into UFO sightings.

"In the 1970s, when the bottom fell out of the nuclear physics business," Friedman told me in a telephone interview, "I went full time as a lecturer."

Friedman has delivered his lecture, "Flying Saucers ARE Real!," at some 600 college campuses and to many professional meetings. Although Friedman never saw a flying saucer himself, his work made him a lightning rod for people with their own UFO stories to tell. They would seek him out after his talks and share bits of information. Over the past 17 years, by following leads from such sources, Friedman has become the self-styled impresario of the Roswell Incident. He has ferreted out several self-professed witnesses, and he believes that the cover-up of the crash continues today at the highest levels of secrecy within the federal government, although his evidence for this claim is hotly contested.

Friedman received his first important Roswell tip in 1978 while appearing on a news program in Baton Rouge. The station manager mentioned that his ham radio buddy--a fellow named Jesse Marcel--had once handled the wreckage of a flying saucer.

Intrigued, Friedman called Marcel the very next day. The former major had retired from the Army and was working as a television repairman in Houma, Louisiana. Friedman ascribes great weight to that initial conversation. Writing about the encounter, and describing himself in the third person, he gauged its import as follows:

Marcel described the material to Friedman over the phone, giving the veteran UFO investigator the first indication of the nature of what could possibly turn out to be the most important discovery of the millennium.

Friedman used his contacts to set up an interview for Marcel with the National Enquirer. In that 1979 interview, 32 years after the original discovery, Marcel said of the debris, "I'd never seen anything like that. I didn't know what we were picking up. I still believe it was nothing that came from Earth. It came to Earth but not from Earth."

Marcel continued to express puzzlement about the Roswell debris till his dying day in 1986, But he never called it a flying saucer. And he certainly never mentioned any bodies lying in or near what he had found. Nor did the original discoverer of the debris, Mac Brazel, ever claim that he had seen extraterrestrial aliens, dead or alive.

Friedman added that part--the corpus delicti. The crashed saucer and its alien crew were the gifts of Vern and Jean Maltais, who attended a Friedman lecture, and stayed late to tell him a flying saucer story related by their late friend, Grady ("Barney") Barnett. Barnett said he had seen a saucer wreck near Socorro, New Mexico, where he worked in the 1940s as a government engineer. The Maltais couple couldn't remember what year the crash might have taken place, and Barney was long dead, so there was no way to find out. But they assured Friedman that Barney was much too upstanding a citizen to have fabricated such a tale--complete with sunlight glinting off a great, metallic disc, some 25 or 30 feet in diameter. That was enough for Friedman to go on--in his preliminary reconstruction of the events, the 1947 craft dropped some of its pieces on the sheep ranch near Roswell, then continued flying in a northwesterly direction before it crashed. Friedman contributed these insights to the first volume in the Roswell literature--The Roswell Incident (Grosset & Dunlap), by Charles Berlitz and William Moore.

With the book's publication in 1980, the Roswell Incident took on new proportions. First it spread from the debris field on the sheep ranch to a site far away where Friedman thought the rest of the saucer must have landed. He put this "crash site" at Corona, about 90 miles northwest of Roswell. Since Brazel's ranch sprawled over desert that lay between the two towns, the Roswell Incident might just as well be called "The Crash at Corona." Indeed, Friedman later took this title for his own book, Crash at Corona, co-authored with Don Berliner and published by Paragon House in 1992. Friedman didn't stop at Corona, however, but continued westward, straight across central New Mexico for another 150 miles--to a second crashed saucer site on the Plains of San Augustin. Here, just past Socorro, was where Friedman figured Barney Barnett's craft must have touched down.

Struggling to understand the connection between the two sites, Friedman pondered various possibilities: There might have been several craft in the area. Two could have collided in midair, sprinkling debris, saucers, and bodies in a wide swath. Or one craft could have crashed at Roswell/Corona, while another got shot down over the Plains of San Augustin by military fire from the White Sands Missile, Range. There seemed to be enough room in the desert for almost anything to have occurred.

Friedman eventually found a live eyewitness who could corroborate his second site on the Plains of San Augustin. This was Gerald F. Anderson, a mere boy of five in 1947, who saw Friedman on a 1990 national television program called Unsolved Mysteries. Right after the show, Anderson phoned the network's toll-free number from his home in Missouri. He said he remembered coming upon the very craft that Friedman had mentioned, with its alien corpses ejected onto the sand, while out rock-hunting with his family.

"We headed straight toward it," Anderson later told Friedman in person. "There was a big gouge mark where it had cut a furrow across the arroyo. It tore up a lot of the sagebrush and there were fires smoldering here and there. "That's when my brother said, That's a goddamn spaceship! Them's Martians!'"

Anderson's vivid memories of the hot, humid morning are stunning in their detail. Likewise his estimates of the distances between objects on the ground, and his total recall of the dialogue that engaged his father, his brother, his Uncle Ted, and his Cousin Victor. In all, Anderson's account, which fills six pages in Friedman's book, strains my belief to the breaking point. And I say this even though I know that Friedman had Anderson take a polygraph test (a de rigueur step in serious UFO investigations), and Anderson passed it.

Friedman, ever on the case, continued to look for another eyewitness to back up Anderson's outstanding memory. He never found one. Thus, Anderson stands alone against the attacks from other Roswell researchers, all of whom seek to discredit his testimony.

For example, Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt, authors of two books published by Avon--UFO Crash at Roswell and its sequel, The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell (in which the date of the crucial crash is corrected from July 2 to July 4)--denounce Anderson's story. They summoned a forensic scientist to examine the 1947 diary purportedly kept by Anderson's Uncle Ted. This document, which supported Gerald Anderson's oral history, was duly found to be written on bona fide 1947-vintage paper. However, the ink upon that paper had not become available until 1974.

"Clearly this was not a document written by Anderson's Uncle Ted," Randle and Schmitt conclude triumphantly in their new book. "Ted Anderson could not be reached for comment. He had died several years prior to 1974."

This is a recurrent theme in Roswell research--the unfortunate disappearance of firsthand witnesses due to natural attrition. As the years go by, those who devote themselves to seeking the truth about Roswell face ever greater challenges from fading memories and failing hearts.

The Randle-Schmitt duo took on the Roswell Incident in 1988, thinking they could expose it as a hoax, or at least a harmless flap over something that never happened. Now, after six years and 25 trips to the town, they believe the claims that first struck them as extraordinary. As Randle told me early in our talks, "No mundane explanation fits.

"I'd be extremely disappointed if it turned out to be terrestrial," Randle later said of the Roswell debris, "but I'd accept definitive proof." Since no one saved any of the original debris--at least so far as anyone knows--Randle is unlikely to encounter enough evidence to make him deviate from his current career path.

A resident of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Randle is a former Army helicopter pilot who flew over Vietnam. He has demonstrated a flair for fiction by writing some 70 novels (mostly science-fiction and men's adventure) in addition to his two Roswell texts and consultation on the screenplay for Showtime's Roswell movie. Randle looked briefly into cattle mutilations before finding his metier in Roswell. Now he also hosts a weekly two-hour radio program out of El Paso, "The Randle Report," which covers the full gamut of paranormal subjects from past lives regression to the Bermuda Triangle.

When Randle and I met for lunch in Roswell, he chose the restaurant. And when we paid our separate bills at the cash register, he presented a special card that procured him free food from the establishment, in any amount, at any time. This hospitality, like his free room at the motel he recommended to me, is the way the townspeople thank him for his efforts on their behalf. Stanton Friedman may have put Roswell on the map, but Kevin Randle put it in the movies.

Randle's co-author, Don Schmitt of Hubertus, Wisconsin, once served as an assistant to the late J. Allen Hynek, founder of the Center for UFO Studies in Chicago (the first UFO group dedicated to scientific analysis of the phenomenon). Schmitt, who describes himself as a medical illustrator, actually works as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Milwaukee, a position he has held since 1974. (This came as a surprise to many of his fellow UFO researchers, who simply were not aware of his "day job."

Like Friedman, neither Randle nor Schmitt has ever seen a UFO.

Having dismissed Gerald Anderson as "a hoax," Randle and Schmitt originally put their faith in the eyewitness testimony of their own Jim Ragsdale of Carlsbad, whom they found around Roswell on one of their research trips. Ragsdale said he was camping north of Roswell on the night of July 2, 1947 with a female companion, Trudy Truelove, when a bright object roared overhead and hit the ground. The couple hunted down the wreck that night and identified it in a flashlight's dim beam as a flying saucer, with alien corpses nearby. They returned the next morning, Ragsdale claimed, but couldn't get close because the place was crawling with military police who had cordoned off the area.

This scenario, presented early in The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell, includes an asterisk next to Trudy Truelove's name. I glanced at the bottom of the page, expecting to find the usual disclaimer about aliases made up to protect the identity of actual individuals. Instead, I read:

"The story told by Jim Ragsdale has been well corroborated by various family members, including Clint Brazeal, Wendelle and Willard Ragsdale, his wife Mary, and his mother-in-law, `Grandma Lucky.'" Now I was not only being asked to accept the existence of Trudy Truelove, but also Grandma Lucky, who was soon joined on following pages by a matriarch called "Big Mom."

Randle rues the fact that Ragsdale has now aggrandized his story and has thus discredited his own testimony. As Randle explained at last October's UFO conference in Pensacola, "The story he [Ragsdale] tells now is much more exciting than just seeing the bodies in the distance. He's now talking about going down and trying to pull the helmet off one of the dead aliens and seeing big black eyes, which is not consistent with what we have learned about what the aliens look like."

I asked Randle if he could get me an interview with Ragsdale, but he pooh-poohed the idea. "Jim, last we heard," Randle said, "was living in a trailer near Carlsbad. He's from there. He's an irascible old man."

Meanwhile, another witness has come forward to fill the gap, adding a weight of new evidence to Randle and Schmitt's new book. His name is Frank J. Kaufmann, although he is called "Steve MacKenzie" in the book. Kaufmann served in the Army in Roswell until 1945, and then stayed on in some paramilitary capacity. He saw the craft firsthand, he says, when he took part in a secret search for it, accompanied by high-ranking officers on a reconnaissance mission through the desert. His name withheld and his face blurred for his first television appearance, Kaufmann pointed out the actual impact site during a Roswell segment of 48 Hours aired on April 3, 1994.

Secrecy, or shyness--or both--still characterizes Kaufmann, who parcels out his story in installments, like a staged rocket. Nonetheless, he invited me to interview him in his Roswell home. Surrounded by his oil paintings of landscapes, he described the spaceship he saw as being shaped like a wingless airplane, not a round saucer. It was stuck at an angle in a sandy hill. Though still intact, it had popped a side seam, and through this portal he could see the bodies.

"I did everything in the world to try to block it out of my mind," Kaufmann said of the image that still haunts him. "I kept that secret till a few years ago, when Randle and Schmitt came to me. I made them wait a year before I gave them anything. I just told them a little even now. I just told them the outside version." I understood him to mean that he had more to reveal, but could not risk the consequences of telling all, and also feared being branded a kook.

Since Kaufmann offered no documentation for the secret group he said he'd belonged to, or of the debriefing where he was sworn to secrecy--and how could he be expected to produce evidence of such things?--I had to rely on my instincts to judge him credible or otherwise. As I listened to his account of the quickly deteriorating alien bodies, I believed his anguish to be real, though the story did not convince me the event had taken place. When he mentioned that he had personally spoken to Wernher von Braun (the Nazi German rocket whiz who brought the V-2 to White Sands) about the events at Roswell, he tipped the balance for me. I could not follow him that far.

Kaufmann is to Randle and Schmitt what Gerald Anderson is to Stanton Friedman. Strong ties bind each Roswell researcher to his star witness, forsaking all others. I have even heard the researchers attack each other's witnesses--and one another--with insults the likes of "flaming ass," clown," and "liar." Within the community of Roswell researchers, angry contention surrounds the discussion of conflicting crash sites, the descriptions of saucers, as well as the number, condition, and appearance of recovered aliens. Try as Randle does to portray the dispute as a scientific debate--on a par with paleontologists wrangling over the precise shape of a Brontosaurus head--the rancor weakens the arguments on all sides.

The sole witness who remains everyone's darling is Glenn Dennis, a mortician at a Roswell funeral parlor during the late 1940s. Since Dennis never claimed to see the crashed craft, his story meshes well with all other accounts.

Dennis remembered that fateful July 4 weekend (now changed to the middle of the following week, according to his most recent recollections) as the time he received several unusual phone calls from the base mortuary officer. One inquiry concerned the availability of child-size caskets. (The aliens, all witnesses agree, were as short as ten-year-old children. In another call, Dennis said he was asked about preservation techniques for deteriorated bodies, and also about the effects of embalming fluids on bodily fluids such as blood and stomach contents. Even more startling, Dennis recalled, an Army nurse at the base told him tearfully how she had been ordered by visiting doctors to assist at the autopsy of three mangled aliens. The nurse had been sworn to secrecy, and she made Dennis give her an oath that he would never reveal her identity.

Dennis, now vice president of the two-year-old International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, no longer grants interviews with the news media. These days he speaks only to Karl T. Pflock of Placitas, New Mexico

Pflock is a former employee of the CIA. While living in Washington in the 1960s, he became active in NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena)--an early pro-UFO study group founded in 1956. Before moving to New Mexico, Pflock worked as a congressional staff member, and served four years, from 1985 to 1989, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense. He traces his lifelong interest in UFOs back to his own childhood sighting of one. He is married to Mary Martinek, a senior staffer in the Albuquerque office of Congressman Schiff--the same U.S. representative who requested the GAO study of the Roswell Incident.

Pflock believes Dennis's testimony is the key to the conundrum in Roswell.

"I'm firmly convinced Glenn is telling the absolute truth as he remembers it," Pflock told me, after making short shrift of the testimony of other witnesses. (Pflock on Kaufmann: "His story has evolved over the years. How could anyone be comfortable accepting it?" Pflock on Ragsdale: "Ragsdale claims he and his friend saw the flamihg craft drop out of the sky during a violent thunderstorm, yet local newspaper weather forecasts and reports for July 4 say nothing about significant lightning or thunderstorm activity in the Roswell vicinity."

The key to the Dennis testimony, as revealed in his Omni interview, is the long-lost nurse--how he met up with her on base while aliens were being autopsied; how he met with this same nurse the following day over lunch at the Officers' Club on the base; and finally, how she vanished, never to be heard from again.

Indeed, Roswell researchers have claimed that five other nurses at the base also vanished--hinting foul play or destruction of military records. However, all have since been tracked down by Omni reporter Paul McCarthy, and shown to have led eventful lives after the Roswel Incident. All except Dennis's nurse, who remains at large.

Dennis gave her name to Pflock as Naomi Maria Selff. But Pflock concedes that he has been unable to find any records of her presence at Roswell Army Air Field in July 1947-or anywhere else, for that matter.

"Similarly," writes Pflock, "no record of her family has been located. The search continues, but so far, she seems to have disappeared without a trace."

Another possibility is that all efforts to find her have failed because she does not exist. Or she goes by a different name. Los Angeles obstetrician Richard Neal, who investigates UFO events for a hobby, has been hot on Naomi's trail since 1990, when he learned her name from Friedman. In a recent conversation with Dennis, Neal told me, the mortician hinted that Naomi's last name wasn't really Selff.

"From what I gather," said Neal, "Selff was just a name to throw off the researchers." if so, the ploy has certainly succeeded.

Naomi by any other name aside, Dennis's version of the Roswell Incident is singular in regard to the atmosphere at the scene of the action. As he tells it, the Army base was jumping that July afternoon he first sensed something out of the ordinary. Dennis saw Army ambulances parked outside the hospital, chock-a-block full of strange purplish debris, and MPs milling about, even before he encountered the hubbub inside the hospital. But former public relations officer Walter Haut, Dennis's friend of 40 years, who was at his desk on the base that day, recalls no unusual activity whatsoever--except for Colonel Blanchard's asking him to issue a press release about a flying saucer.

As soon as I got to Roswell I visited Walter Haut, now 72, and to appearances extremely robust, clear-headed, and affable. I met him at the new International UFO Museum and Research Center, of which Haut is president--and, as I mentioned earlier, Dennis is vice president. This museum, right across from the courthouse on Main Street, opened its doors in October 1992. It is the second such institution to take advantage of tourist interest in the Roswell Incident. The older (by six months) UFO Enigma Museum, on the outskirts of town, features a life-size diorama of the crashed saucer, complete with flashing lights, soft-sculpture alien figures in the sand, and a rifle-toting store mannequin in an MP uniform;

I was pleased that Haut spent two hours talking to me, since he is about as busy as he can be making television and radio appearances, granting press interviews, presenting after-dinner talks, and running the new museum, which is open every afternoon, and has already welcomed more than 44,000 visitors from all 50 states and 54 foreign countries. On broadcasts, he said with a weary sigh, he has been asked everything "except whether I wear boxer shorts or jockey shorts." On occasion, the local police dispatcher awakens him in the night to check out a reported sighting by a concerned citizen.

"I think 99.9 percent of the time such things are explainable," said Haut, who recently had to convince a young policeman that what he identified as a UFO was actually the bright star Sirius--and that it appeared to be moving across the sky because the earth was turning.

I asked the obvious question: "Is Roswell the .1 percent?"

Long pause. I thought I saw Haut torn between his down-to-earth training as a navigator and bombardier, and his public duty as museum president.

"I would guess so," he conceded at length. "Maybe .005 percent."

On a Haut-guided tour of the premises, I was surprised to find two dozen copies of my book on radio astronomy, Is Anyone Out There?, prominently displayed in the gift shop, cheek by jowl with titles such as UFO Crash at Roswell, not to mention souvenir Frisbees, hats, T-shirts, key chains, string ties, earrings, and even guitar picks emblazoned with the features of dark-eyed aliens. (I bought three of these for my son, the gilt flying-saucer earrings for my daughter.

"Walter, do you recognize my name?" I asked him, pointing proudly to the book's cover.

"Well, I'll be," he replied. "I don't think we sell too many of those."

Undaunted, I asked Haut about the original press release, without which there would be no Roswell Incident even now--no matter how hard Stanton Friedman tried to breathe life into the event. The press release had generated the newspaper articles and wire stories that linked the U.S. Army Intelligence Office of the 509th to a flying saucer crash near Roswell. Those reports had given the Roswell Incident a greater reality than any other sighting report. Haut seemed to know this, too, for he had souvenir copies of the front pages of the Roswell Daily Record from July 8 and 9, 1947 on sale in the gift shop. They were the only genuine relics in the whole museum.

"All my information came from Colonel Blanchard," Haut reiterated.

"When Blanchard talked to you about what to say, did he use the words' flying saucer?'" I asked. "Did he seem to be frightened?"

"I've got an experience coming up in the latter part of March," Haut said by way of reply. "They're going to hypnotize me."

"They" turn out to be Randle and Schmitt--with help from the Center for UFO Studies, eager to plumb Haut's memory on the chance that anything else of note actually occurred.

"I do not remember the minute details," Haut told me, "I feel that I've had a pretty full life, and how the colonel passed that information on to me I cannot honestly tell you. I don't know whether he called me on the phone and said, `Haut, I want you to put out a press release and hand deliver it to the local news media. Here's what I want in it.'

"Or," Haut continued, "the adjutant might have called and said, `Haut, the old man's got a press release he wants you to pick up and take it around town.'"

When I"pressed Haut about the authorship of the release, he answered frankly: "I cannot honestly remember whether I wrote it, whether he had given me the information and told me `This is what I want in it.' It was not that big a production at that time, in my mind."

I couldn't believe that. Wouldn't a flying saucer have been a pretty spectacular find?

"Well, there were quite a few reports of flying saucers at that time," Haut reminded me. "I had a multitude of hats I wore. I had all kinds of things to do. I asked my wife, when all this [the renewed interest in Roswell in the mid 1980s] started, `Do you remember me coming home and saying anything about it?'"

Her reply, he recalled, was simply no.

Haut's spin on the events seems to take the wind out of the cover-up theory. In and around Roswell, however, people now believe in the cover-up conspiracy as much as any other part of the incident, sometimes mentioning "the government" and "the military" with rolling eyes and in hushed tones, as though they were the KGB. The clerk at the hotel where I stayed while in Roswell gave voice to this comparison:

"We talk about the Russians," she said. "People should know the things that go on in our own country."

In books and on television specials, when the usual Roswell suspects are rounded up and trotted out, the likes of Lydia Sleppy and Frankie Rowe recite the threats they received from the FBI and the military police. Sleppy was trying to send a teletyped news report from the local radio station when the bureau interrupted her transmission and signaled her not to complete it. She obeyed and never complained till Friedman found her years later. Rowe tells how her father had been summoned to the crash site with other members of the Roswell Fire Department, and later told her he saw two body bags and one live very small being" near the wreckage of some kind of flying craft. She subsequently heard rumors that the being was being taken to the base hospital, and that it walked in on its own. She couldn't divulge any of this, however, she told Randle and Schmitt, because "The Air Force or the Army or the military came up to our house and told us we could never talk about this. As far as we were concerned, the whole incident never happened."

These were two of the "witnesses" the Air Force and I chose not to interview. The reason: Neither one had seen anything firsthand. In the annals of Roswell research, however, a person who has heard a rumor about the incident may attain the status of "witness."

A deft step in the cover-up purportedly occurred at Fort Worth Army Field, soon after Marcel landed there on July 8. According to Randle and Schmitt, Marcel spread out the debris on the floor of General Ramey's off ice, the better to see it all. Then Marcel and Ramey left the room briefly. By the time they reentered, accompanied by press photographers, the strange material had disappeared. In its place was a shredded weather balloon. Ramey, who has been accused of ordering this quick switch, summoned his weather officer, Irving Newton, to identify the weather balloon as a weather balloon. Then Ramey fielded all the reporters' questions so that Marcel didn't get to say a word.

In a telephone interview with Newton, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, General Ramey's weatherman assured me that nobody had pulled a fast one on Marcel.

"I remember Marcel chased me all around that room," Newton said. "He kept saying things like, `Look at how tough the metal is,' `Look at the strange markings on it.' He wouldn't have made such a big effort to convince me the thing was extraterrestrial if he thought we were looking at a weather balloon."

"But you knew it was a weather balloon with a radar wind target--a Rawin--no question?" I asked.

"I was adamant," Newton concurred. "I said I'd eat it with salt or pepper if it wasn't a Rawin."

Newton added that Marcel should never have been faulted for failing to recognize the balloon and its attachments, since he would not have come in contact with meteorological apparatus.

"There was nothing to it," Newton concluded of the debris. "I went back to work and forgot about it."

Something of a small cover-up seems to have taken place, however, sanctioned by the Air Force, in order to disguise the military purpose of the balloon.

On July 10, 1947, the day after the "emptying" of the Roswell saucer, a full explanation of the "flying disc" appeared in the Alamogordo News. It described a press briefing that had helped reporters understand what all the fuss was about in Roswell. The story included an elaborate description, plus photo, of the balloon-borne corner radar reflector that the Army believed had crashed on the sheep ranch. Elements of the description published in this article matched key points in the accounts of both Marcel and the rancher Brazel. To wit: The balloons trailed "paper triangles covered with tinfoil and held rigidly by small wooden strips."

Marcel had said the longest pieces of woodlike material were about three or four feet. The article said,

"These corner reflectors . . . are about 48 inches across." Marcel had found something porous on the debris field, and everything lightweight. "It is very light and is towed by a synthetic rubber balloon made of neoprene," the article offered.

Such devices were being launched at Alamogordo and all over the nation, the article continued, for radar target practice. Thus the article gave the impression that the balloons were as common as kites.

In reality, however, the particular balloon equipment the Air Force now says landed at Roswell as part of the top-secret Project Mogul was not at all common. It was a train of 23 meteorological balloons in two 650-foot-high strings that were, in essence, a forerunner of today's spy satellites. It belonged to an experimental effort to monitor nuclear bomb tests from the air. Everything about Project Mogul, the Air Force said in its recent report, was classified top secret with the highest priority--Priority 1A, on a par with the ultimate hush-hushedness of the Manhattan Project. And although Project Mogul ceased in 1950, after just four years of operation, it retained its top-secret status until the early 1970s. Even its name was a secret.

"I didn't know till three years ago it was called Mogul," confessed Charles B. Moore, professor emeritus of atmospheric physics at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, who served in the New York University part of the project as its engineer. Whatever the name. of the project, its raison d'etre, according to Moore, was the "tremendous concern" on the part of the United States that the Soviets were developing nuclear weapons for use against us, much like the ones that had ended the war with Japan in just eight days. Mindful of that danger, scientists in the Long Range Detection Program eventually known as Project Mogul), tried to eavesdrop on the world for the telltale sounds of clandestine bomb tests.

Moore believes that both Blanchard and Ramey were ignorant of the program when they made their public comments about the weather balloonal--though they were probably informed after the fact. For this reason, Moore said, neither one of them should be accused of participation in a cover-up.

"If you see a bus and you say it's a bus," Moore explained to me, "it's still a bus--even if it's being used to haul concrete."

The particular piece of Project Mogul that sparked the Roswell Incident, Moore thinks, was a test flight launched from Alamogordo on June 4, 1947. History of the project goes like this: The NYU group had tried to monitor an explosion at Helgoland, an island off the German coast, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But when high winds prevented the launch of the monitoring balloon from Bethlehem, the Army Air Force scientists moved the operation to Alamogordo Where they planned to track the balloons using the radar. To aid in the tracking, the NYU group took with them some special radar targets that had never been used before in New Mexico. One of the interesting features of these new targets is that they were reinforced with Scotch tape on which a pinkish-purple abstract flower design had been printed. Reportedly, the first targets with the new design had failed when they were flight-tested near the end of WWII, so a quick fix was devised for the later targets, using the only tape immediately available.

The first balloon train launched from Alamogordo was NYU Flight #4. Apparently, according to radar signals, it was lost over the town of Arabela, New Mexico, about 70 miles northeast of Alamogordo. Flight 5, launched on June 5, 1947, was tracked as well. Military records show that this flight ascended to 60,000 feet and--then landed 26 miles east of Roswell.

The runic designs on the tape seem to answer the longstanding question about the pastel-colored markings on the original debris--Marcel's hieroglyphics, which had been described by other witnesses as

"Chinese writing," "figures," "numbers in a column that didn't look like the numbers we use at all," and "different geometric shapes, leaves, and circles."

Credit for first tying the latter-day Roswell Incident to Project Mogul goes to independent researcher Robert Todd of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Todd, originally a believer in UFOs, has abandoned 20 years' work as a Urologist in the wake of his discovery

"I'm satisfied with Mogul as the solution," Todd told me. "I don't think Jesse Marcel had ever seen a radar target."

The Air Force, giving first credit where it's due to Todd, also acknowledges that Glenn Dennis confidante Karl Pflock, much to his credit as a researcher, independently came to the same Mogul-Roswell conclusion. Let the flowered tape fall where it may, Pflock still thinks Glenn Dennis is the real glue holding the incident together. Because in Pflock's scenario, the UFO that crashed and killed its alien crew may have collided with the ill-fated Mogul balloon--or went out of control while trying to avoid a collision.

"Whatever the exact circumstances," Pflock concludes in his report, "an encounter between some sort of crewed vehicle and one of Charlie Moore's unwieldy monsters may have brought both down."

In other words, Mogul is not enough to account for the full-blown Roswell Incident. Thus the Air Force report, and the Times page-one story that announced it, have already been dismissed out of hand as "garbage" (Friedman's word) by aficionados of Roswell.

"I just have one comment about it," said Walter Haut, repeating to me what he'd already told the Times:

"All they've done is given us a new balloon."

But I had a higher opinion of the Air Force investigation. It was clearly written and internally consistent.

And when I questioned Lieutenant James McAndrew, the historian whose research supports the findings, he was more forthcoming than I could have hoped, and had more knowledge at his military fingertips than in all the books by Friedman, Randle, and Schmitt.

"About Frank Kaufmann," McAndrew interjected as politely as he could. "He has no records at St. Louis." McAndrew was referring to the National Personnel Records Center, the repository of all past and present military personnel records (the place where Omni ultimately tracked down the five "missing" Roswell nurses). If Kaufmann wasn't on file there, then either his records had been destroyed in a fire that ravaged the place 22 years ago--or he never really served in the Army. The fact is," Kaufmann declares, "I did serve and was honorably discharged in October of 1945."

It didn't matter to me any more whether Kaufmann had ever worn a uniform. All I wanted was to see his alleged crash site out near the new Trans-Western natural gas pipeline. Kaufmann had warned me I'd never find it myself, and never make it without four-wheel drive. All I had was an economy-class rental car and a broken tape recorder. So I was very happy to discover a flyer on the bulletin board in my motel, announcing that the impact site near Roswell, "Home of the UFO Incident of 1947," was available for viewing. The pink paper showed a picture of a flying saucer with a phone number to call for information and reservations.

I met Herbert "Hub" Corn the next morning, as arranged, at a mile marker on the highway leading north out of Roswell. Corn, a cordial young sheep rancher driving a workhorse pickup truck with two herding dogs in its bay, had agreed to chauffeur me to the spot for $15. He asked me to sign a release, drawn up for him by a lawyer, agreeing that I would not hold him responsible for injuries I might incur from, among other things, "snakes, scorpions, cactus, lizards, and other wild animals" on the Hub Corn Ranch or crash site.

"You're joking about the scorpions, right?" I asked him.

"They're not a problem this time of year," Hub replied, smiling. "And my dogs'll take care of the rattlesnakes."

As we bumped slowly over the not-quite-road to the site, Hub told me he hadn't realized he owned the spot where the saucer had landed until he met Randle and Schmitt, who took Kaufmann's word that this must be the place. He seemed interested but removed from the event. It had happened long before he was even born. And he struck me as too savvy a rancher, too close to his land, to think that a tourist attraction--even one of this magnitude--would ever replace his real work of raising lambs for market and shearing sheep of their wool. Still, he's been improving the road in anticipation of the tour buses that will no doubt come this summer, especially during the first week of July, which Roswell Mayor Tom Jennings has proclaimed "UFO Awareness Week." In another two years, when the fiftieth anniversary of the Roswell Incident rolls around, who knows what the traffic will bear?

Hub stopped on a flat stretch, as close as he could get to the hill where "it" had happened. Unlike the great mesas that poke their flat heads far above the desert floor, this elevation was not at all outstanding. It looked too low to get in any low-flying aircraft's way, so far as I could tell, although it might break the fall of a crashing one.

We walked through the chayote and prickly pear, talking about sheep prices and flying saucers, until we reached the dried-out stream bed at the foot of the hill.

"What we really need is some rain," said Hub.

I stared up and down Roswell's field of dreams. I let myself imagine the storied scene in all its glory. With pleasure, I found that in that spot, the incident raised a few goosebumps on my flesh, sent a shiver or two down my spine. Predictably, I didn't see anything to set this spit of sand apart from the rest of the desert-no vestige of wreckage, no markers where the bodies might have lain or the MPs could have thrown up their barricades. Yet, I felt happy and somehow privileged to be there, close to the heart of the mystery.

"Even if this didn't happen," I remembered an author saying in the introduction to a novel, "it's true anyway."