The American cultural phenomena of “flying saucers” started in 1947 when a civilian aircraft pilot saw several objects from his plane that he claimed were traveling at supersonic speeds. Reports of more flying saucers soon proliferated throughout the country and the term “unidentified flying object” was coined by the military in 1952.
When a rancher found unidentified debris including rubber, tape, and tinfoil near Roswell, NM, the most enduring UFO legend was born.
The military originally said that the debris could have been from a flying disc, but soon retracted that and claimed it was from a weather balloon, and the incident was largely forgotten for several decades.
In the 1970s, interest in UFOs peaked again, and the Roswell story was revived when an army officer who collected the debris from the ranch said that the weather balloon story was a cover-up for an extraterrestrial craft. You can read more about this incident in a 1979 interview that was published in the National Enquirer and is now held by the National Archives. It begins on page 165 in the file unit UFO File (2 of 2), from the series Roswell Report Source Files.
UFO enthusiasts and science fiction writers have since kept interest in the Roswell Incident alive. The story has expanded to include alien bodies (never mentioned in the original accounts) and the Area 51 testing facility in Nevada.
In 1994 the General Accounting Office launched an inquiry into the events at Roswell and concluded that the debris had indeed come from a balloon, but not a balloon for monitoring the weather. Instead, it came from Project Mogul, a program that used balloons to monitor Soviet atomic tests.
As part of the investigation, the Air Force conducted several interviews and produced the film “Roswell Reports” to accompany the publication “The Roswell Report: Case Closed.” You can view the film and the related interviews through the National Archives Catalog.
As part of the National Archives’ staff ongoing declassification and digitization efforts, several more series relating to UFOs were added to the National Archives Catalog. You can explore these digitized records and more:
- Roswell Report Source Files, 1987-1996
- Case Files on Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), 1953–1960
- Moving Images Relating to “The Roswell Reports” Source Data Research Files
- Case Files of the 4602d Air Intelligence Service Squadron on Sighting of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), 1954-1956
- Project Bluebook Artifacts, 1952-1969
- Project Bluebook Artifacts, 1947-1969
- Sanitized Version of Project Blue Book Case Files on Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947-1969
- Project Blue Book Case Files on Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), June 1947-December 1969
- Project “Blue Book”, 1954-1966
- Project Blue Book Administrative Files, 1947-1969
- Project Blue Book Motion Picture Films, 1950-1966
- Project Blue Book Case Files on Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), June 1947 – December 1969
- Copies of the Case Files of the 4602D Air Intelligence Service Squadron on Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), 1954-1956
Are you interested in seeing if the truth is out there? You can help the National Archives transcribe thousands of UFO-related records, including civilian and military eyewitness reports, case files, transcripts, and interviews. Join the mission here.
Illustrations, from above: Scientific Study of UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) [image cropped] National Archives Identifier 295136808; and Project Mogul [screen shot from 05:38 of Roswell Reports], National Archives Identifier 2789203.