The two films in today’s post provide an overview of the goals of Project Blue Book and the investigation’s findings up to 1966. The interviews in these records are particularly interesting because they appear to have been scripted and filmed by the Air Force for public release.
The first featured film was shot four months after the genesis of Project Blue Book, and two days after a press conference held by the Air Force to address a rash of UFO sightings over Washington, D.C. In this interview, Major General John A. Samford explains the Air Force’s mandate to identify and analyze potential threats that come by air, while also assuring the citizenry that there was no known threat.
Major General John A. Samford and Donald Keyhoe, 7/31/1952
The fabric “UFO” dangling from the ceiling in the opening sequence of this film just might be the best thing I’ve seen all month.
According to General Samford, between 1947 and the time of the interview (a span of about five years), there were between 1,000 and 2,000 reports collected. “The great bulk” of them could be explained as hoaxes, mistakes, or naturally occurring phenomena. The rest of the sightings, which were made by “credible observers of relatively incredible things” were what the Air Force was “attempting to resolve” with Project Blue Book.
Also present in this film to offer a differing opinion is Major Donald Keyhoe. Keyhoe was a vocal believer in the existence of extraterrestrial visitors. His book, The Flying Saucers are Real, is referenced in this interview.
In the second film, produced toward the end of the Project Blue Book investigation, clearer goals and data are set out by Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Tacker (who, himself wrote a book called Flying Saucers and the U.S. Air Force) and Major Hector Quintanilla, who led Project Blue Book from 1963 until the investigation’s cancellation in 1970.
A note on this film: the quality of the original is quite poor. This video is the result of a full HD transfer and some audio processing to improve sound quality. Use of the closed captioning option is recommended.
According to Major Quintanilla, there were two defined goals of Project Blue Book. The first was to determine if the reported UFOs were a threat to national security. Secondly, the Air Force wanted to analyze the sightings to find evidence of technology that could lead to useful research and development.
By this point, more than fourteen years into Project Blue Book, Quintanilla reported 10,000 sightings, with 646 that were truly unexplained. Major Quintanilla also emphasized that Project Blue Book was a completely unclassified investigation and that all information was available and open for journalists to request (this is true, although all reports have names redacted for privacy reasons).
As in the 1952 film, the overarching message of this publicity interview is that the reports did not prove that Earth had been visited by extraterrestrial beings. Further, the official statement read by the interviewer at the conclusion of the film asserts that the sightings did not represent a real threat. In fact, some believed that public panic was a greater risk to national security. Emphasizing the lack of imminent danger was helpful in allaying fears.
In 1985, the United States Air Force released a final statement about Project Blue Book (available on the NARA website), indicating that citizens should report sightings to scientific organizations or to local law enforcement if they feel there is an immediate danger.
The fact sheet also provides a final set of statistics for Project Blue Book. Between 1947 and the close of the investigation at the end of 1969, a total of 12,618 UFO sightings were reported. 701 of those, or about five percent, remained unexplained by the Air Force.
Quoting from the fact sheet, Project Blue Book resulted in three main conclusions:
(1) no UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security; (2) there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as “unidentified” represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge; and (3) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as “unidentified” are extraterrestrial vehicles.
Finally, the Air Force wanted to clarify that no alien bodies or vehicles had ever been held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (Whether or not these objects may have been held at another location is a question left unanswered.)
For those who want to do more in-depth research into Project Blue Book, NARA holds 42 cubic feet (approximately 84,000 pages) of records, available for viewing on microfilm in the research room at Archives II in College Park, Maryland. These records are searchable online at the unaffiliated Blue Book Archive.
Thanks go to Mike Taylor for searching the textual records to find additional background information on these two films (we couldn’t find any).
Stay tuned for home movies of UFO sightings– more of the motion picture records of Project Blue Book preserved at the National Archives!
This week I’m posting photographs from the Bureau of Public Roads and its successor the Federal Highway Administration. These images relate to the Washington, D.C. area and are just a few examples of what can be found in the series Historical Photograph Files, 1896-1963 (30-N) and General Photograph Files, 1954-1984 (406-G), which both contain photos of urban and rural areas throughout the United States and in some cases foreign countries.
Local Identifier: 30-N-36721 (Box 290), Construction of the Cabin John Bridge over Cabin John Creek, originally known as the Washington Aqueduct Bridge No. 4, Maryland. July, 1859.
Local Identifier: 30-N-21003 (Box 285), East Entrance of “Zoo Park”, Washington, D.C. 1919. Photograph by J. K. Hillers.
Local Identifier: 30-N-35-2136 (Box 285), Pennsylvania Avenue from Treasury, Washington, D.C. 1935. Photo by J.K. Hillers.
Local Identifier: 406-G-134-64-495, Ceremony opening the final link of the Capital Beltway around Washington, D.C. with Federal Highway Administrator Whitton and Maryland Governor Tawes cutting the ribbon, and John B. Funk, Chairman of the Maryland State Highway Commission assisting, Maryland. August 17, 1964.
Local Identifier: 406-G-61-65-77, U.S. Route 1 North of College Park, Maryland. 1965.
For the last two weeks, we have been sharing films of the First Motion Picture Unit. This week, we’ll take a look at an animated film produced for the Navy by former members of the FMPU. This post was written with Criss Kovac, supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab at the National Archives.
Like others who served, at the end of World War II the members of the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) returned to their regular jobs. We all know what happened to the more well-known of them, such as Bill Holden, Alan Ladd, and Ronald Reagan, but what happened to those men who served behind the scenes? In today’s post, we’ll look at The Sailor and the Seagull (1949), an animated film produced for the United States Navy by several former members of the FMPU.
The Sailor and the Seagull was released by the U.S. Navy in 1949 with a simple goal: encouraging servicemen to re-enlist. In the film, a disgruntled sailor named McGinty complains about the raw deal he believes he is receiving by serving in the Navy. As luck would have it, a seagull comes to release him from service so that he can experience the freedom of civilian life. McGinty soon learns, however, that civilian life means less freedom and less money than he had imagined and quickly jumps at the chance to re-enlist.
The Sailor and the Seagull was produced by United Productions of America (UPA), an animation studio founded in 1941 in the wake of a strike at Disney. The studio is best known for later series such as Mr. Magoo and Dick Tracy cartoons, but gained a foothold in the industry with commercials, industrial shorts, and military films such as Seagull.
Like other military films, there are no credits on this title, so the connection between the FMPU and UPA is not obvious. Thanks to animation aficionado Chris Sobieniak, however, we learned that the film itself includes an enormous hint about the names of the producers in one of the final scenes.
There are six other names in the Seagull’s book. These are UPA animators.
In 2012, the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab digitally restored The Sailor and the Seagull. We chose the title because of the richness of the images and because of the film’s connection to UPA. In Seagull, the animators created a unique style called “limited animation” which was more modern than anything that had come before. Frames were also reused throughout the story, which was fairly unheard of at the time.
The film preservation team, led by specialist Bryce Lowe, began digitizing The Sailor and the Seagull in January 2012. We started with a scratched projection print and scanned at a 2K resolution in order to achieve the best possible final product.
Lowe spent more than 80 hours painstakingly removing printed-in dust and scratches from the twelve-minute film. On average, a digital workflow will take four times longer than traditional photochemical preservation and restoration.
Because animation has a softer palette, the restoration of Sailor and the Seagull presented unique challenges. When the images lacked hard lines and the colors were more diffuse, the software actually introduced digital artifacts or erased parts of the image entirely. Because of this concern, Lowe avoided some of the automatic clean-up tools and opted for frame-by-frame corrections.
Since most theaters can only show digital copies, the digital restoration of The Sailor and the Seagull was an important first step to keeping our holdings available for public screenings. Digitization is still a questionable long-term tool for preservation, but provides our best avenue to access, allowing for wider dissemination of the motion picture holdings.
Local Identifier: 306-NT-804-P-5 “Augusta, GA – “The Perfect Course” which has only 22 traps, known as the Augusta National Golf Club, laid out by Robert Tyre Jones Jr., retired amateur and Open Champion and Dr. Alister Mackenzie, as it appears from the air. January 10, 1933″
Local Identifier: 306-NT-804-C-D-3 “Toledo, Ohio – An aerial view of the Inverness Club course in Toledo, Ohio, where the competition for the title relinquished by Bobby Jones will begin on July 2nd. June 12, 1931″
As a follow-up to last week’s post on the Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU), this week I am focusing on a title that is arguably the most significant training film produced by the unit.
Considered as a federal record, Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter (1943) is an important historical document of the training of World War II fighter pilots. If we look a little deeper, though, it is the story of the making of this film that provides the best illustration of the First Motion Picture Unit’s impact on World War II.
In the film, pilot Lt. Jimmy Saunders (played by Ronald Reagan) learns to identify the differences between the American P-40s and the Japanese Zero fighter planes. Saunders really learns his lesson when he jumps the gun and only his poor shot keeps him from downing an American pilot.
In case the animated diagrams of planes bore you, Reagan
appears and the story begins at about the five minute mark.
The First Motion Picture Unit produced Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter to address a very real and serious problem: American pilots were mistakenly shooting down our own men because they could not easily distinguish between our own P-40s and the Japanese Zero fighter planes. The instructor in the film explains that this was not a common occurrence, but one can imagine that any deaths caused by pilot error were a major concern, as they would be today.
The solution was Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter, which we have preserved at the National Archives. It’s an entertaining and effective training film that emphasizes the differences between the two planes, as well as the importance of knowing the exact moment to act. The film instructed pilots to fire once they were certain, but without any hesitation so that an enemy plane wouldn’t have time to attack them first.
Even at the time it was made, Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter was held up as the prime example of how the First Motion Picture Unit was critical to the war effort. Production on the film was rushed, and prints were shipped to Pacific bases as quickly as possible. According to a 1946 piece in Hollywood Quarterly, “uncounted lives” were saved because the First Motion Picture Unit was nimble and responsive.
In this case, the First Motion Picture Unit’s efforts translated directly to saved lives, creating an immediate, measurable impact on the Pacific war front. Secondarily, while a good training film doesn’t replace the need for a parachute, the success of Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter proved that it can be just as essential.
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