Guest Commentary

UFOpolitic at Edwards Air Force Base

By: Larry W. Bryant (

When USAF Col. (Ret.) L. Gordon Cooper recounted certain astronautical heroism in his memoirs "Leap of Faith" (Harper Collins, 2000), could he have imagined how his alleged UFO-related exploits might come to overshadow his expected ones?

Right now, Cooper may be ruing the day he yielded to the temptation to publicly reveal his role in the controversial case of May 3 (or May 2, depending on what source you cite), 1957, at Edwards AFB, Calif.

Why controversial?

Well, his account of the alleged flying-saucer landing (and the official filming thereof) happens not to jibe with the case's formal report filed within the records of USAF Project Blue Book (which are preserved at the National Archives annex in College Park, Md.).

When you scan pages 82-86 of "Leap of Faith," you'll find the following perspective penned by Cooper, recalled from his early days as a test pilot:

"I wasn't about to defy the Pentagon general's order about no prints -- a surefire way to end my career or, at the very least, lose my top-secret clearance and my test pilot job.  But since nothing was said about not LOOKING at the negatives before sending them east, that's what I did when they came back from the lab.

"I was amazed at what I saw.  The quality was excellent, everything in focus as one would expect from trained photographers.  The object, shown close up, was a classic saucer, shiny silver and smooth -- just as the cameramen had reported."

Cooper went on to say that he never learned the final, official fate of the still-photo negatives (and of the motion-picture film that had accompanied them).

Could it be that the tell-tale stills and film footage somehow got diverted from their presumed destination of Blue Book headquarters at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio?  If so, who was responsible for that diversion?  Could this Cosmic Watergate smoking-gun evidence still be languishing somewhere near that Pentagon general's office who'd ordered its sequestration?

"Hardly," you say?  But only if you ignore another general's pronouncement on the relative value of Blue Book's purview.  I refer, of course, to the so-called "Bolender Memorandum" of Oct. 20, 1969.  Issued as a death warrant against the project's further operation, the memo (subject:  Unidentified Flying Objects) bears the signature of one USAF Brig. Gen. C. H. Bolender, Deputy Director of Development for the Deputy Chief of Staff (Research and Development).  Its most famous passage reads:  "Moreover, reports of unidentified flying objects which could affect national security are made in accordance with JANAP [Joint Army-Navy-Air Publication] 146 or Air Force Manual 55-11, and are not part of the Blue Book system."

In the fifties, any UFO incursion into a restricted military base most certainly would've triggered an "immediate high alert" (to use an official phrase applied to the rumored retrieval of a crash-landed saucer near Del Rio, Texas, in December 1950).  This would include the scrambling of jet-interceptors to determine the friend-or-foe status of the interloper.  Who performed the scramble at Edwards on that fateful day in May 1957?  And what did the interceptors' gun-cameras capture on their film during the pursuit?  Who currently has custody of that film?

Those questions, and others, form the core of what's become known as Cooper-gate.  To ferret out the answers, I've embarked upon a freedom-of-information quest aimed at every pertinent agency -- from Edwards and the Pentagon to the F.B.I. and the CIA.  So far, the see-no-evil/hear-no-evil monkeys at these agencies have opted for the policy of "least said, best said."  Except one:  the National Archives and Records Administration.

My recent visit to the NARA annex produced about 60 pages of documentation on the case.  Hold not thy breath.  They contain less than a shell casing from the smoking gun.  As you plod through the cold ruins of this Blue Book case file, you get the distinct impression that it's been sabotaged by a disinformation specialist or bowdlerized by a counterintelligence operative (or both).  Besides concluding that the encounter can be attributed to a routine balloon launch at the base earlier that morning, the file conspicuously lacks the several 8- by 10-inch glossy prints reportedly made from some of the 35-mm stills.

The file contains only several small, smudgy contact prints (no negatives thereof).  But one of these does reveal a shiny discoid about the size (dare I say it?) of a ballot chad.  Of course, the image is too tiny to discern the three landing gear observed by the witnesses.  No mention of any close-up motion-picture film.  No mention of any gun-camera film.  No mention of any non-USAF agency's interest in the case....

Thus, the file becomes more important for what it lacks (or purposefully excludes).

It does contain some politics, however.  For example:

(1)  An untitled/undated/unsigned communication concludes:  "This case is considered to have been improperly handled.  It did not come to the attention of ATIC [the W-P AFB-based Air Technical Intelligence Center, parent of Blue Book] until well after the press had received it; the Edwards AFB official made statements to the press that it was 'unknown' when investigations disclose that they had been informed that it was a balloon; and the local commander could have solved the case by making local inquiries of his various units."

(2)  In a June 4, 1959, memo to ATIC intelligence executive Maj. Byrnes, Blue Book chief Capt. George T. Gregory concludes:  "Please be informed that Mr. [deleted], the director of this organization [Flying Saucers - International], has just completed a book entitled 'Flying Saucers,' which is now on the market.  It is particularly vitriolic, and contains a statement by a former UFO project officer, Capt. Ruppelt, repudiating the Air Force findings.  A copy with appropriate comments and notations will be forwarded."  [The memo encloses a proposed reply to an FS-I inquiry about the Edwards case.]

With its Murphy's Law overtones, its internecine conflict, and its grudgingly acknowledged high public profile, the Edwards case file readily fueled an us-against-them mentality among the ATIC hierarchy. Now, 44 years and tons of UFO-paperchase residue later, shouldn't we realize that, all along, it's been us-against-us?



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