Monday, January 23, 2012

Roswell: The Issue Of Bodies

As I noted at this blog in an earlier post, in 1994, the U.S. Air Force published a report suggesting that what came down on the Foster Ranch, New Mexico was not, after all, a regular weather-balloon. But, said the USAF, it wasn't a UFO either. Rather it was a collection or cluster of balloons designed to monitor for Soviet atomic bomb tests. However, the project utilized regular balloons in the Mogul program. In other words, there was nothing unique or special about the make-up of these balloons. It was just the purpose they were being used for that was considered classified.

While the Air Force's report of 1994 delved deeply into the world of Project Mogul, most noticeable by its stark absence was any serious attempt to address the statements of those sources that claimed to have seen unusual bodies at the Roswell site.

Indeed, this aspect of the controversy received only the following, brief statement from the USAF: "It should also be noted here that there was little mentioned in this report about the recovery of the so-called 'alien bodies.' [T]he recovered wreckage was from a Project Mogul balloon. There were no ‘alien’ passengers therein." (1)

Three years after the 1994 report was published, the Air Force made a surprising acknowledgement that the reported sightings of strange bodies at Roswell did have a basis in fact. Not only that: so compelled by then was the Air Force to address the "bodies" issue that it authorized the release of yet another report on Roswell.

The final word was apparently not the final word, after all.


Entitled The Roswell Report: Case Closed, the Air Force’s latest report on the New Mexico events of 1947 was published in 1997 and marked the 50th anniversary of the incident at Roswell. The report did little to dampen the notoriety surrounding the case, however. Indeed, the question of why the Air Force had concluded that there was a pressing need on its part to explain the reports of unusual bodies found in New Mexico (when it could have summarily dismissed them as hoaxes or modern-day folklore), arguably only heightened the interest in what did or did not occur.

The report focused practically all of its 231 pages on the alleged recovery of the strange bodies and asserted that: "'Aliens' observed in the New Mexico desert were probably anthropomorphic test dummies that were carried aloft by U.S. Air Force high altitude balloons for scientific research. The 'unusual' military activities in the New Mexico desert were high altitude research balloon launch and recovery operations. The reports of military units that always seemed to arrive shortly after the crash of a flying saucer to retrieve the saucer and 'crew,' were actually accurate descriptions of Air Force personnel engaged in anthropomorphic dummy recovery operations."

There is no doubt (indeed, it is a matter of historical record) that the Air Force conducted a wide array of tests using crash test dummies in New Mexico and that at least some of these tests did occur in the vicinities of both the White Sands Proving Ground and the town of Roswell. But were those same tests responsible – either in part or in whole – for the stories concerning highly unusual-looking bodies recovered by the military during the summer of 1947?


During the First World War, extensive research was conducted at McCook Field, Ohio, into the development of parachutes for the military. To test the parachutes, engineers experimented with a number of different dummies, finally settling on a model constructed of three-inch hemp rope and sandbags with the approximate proportions of a medium-sized man. Known by the nickname "Dummy Joe," the model made more than five thousand "jumps" between 1918 and 1924.

By 1924, parachutes were routinely required on military aircraft, with their serviceability tested by dummies dropped from aircraft. This practice would continue until the early stages of the Second World War, when, due to both increased reliability and large numbers of parachutes in service, this routine practice was discontinued. Nevertheless, test dummies were still used frequently by the Parachute Branch of the Air Materiel Command (AMC) at Wright Field, Ohio, to test new parachute designs. But it was as a result of research into ejection seat development that the crash test dummy came to the fore in the post-war era.

The ejection seat had been developed and used successfully by the German Luftwaffe during the latter stages of the Second World War, and was recognized as a highly effective device when one was obtained by the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1944. To properly test the ejection seat, the Army Air Forces required a dummy that had the same center of gravity and weight distribution as a human; characteristics that parachute drop dummies did not possess. In 1944, the USAAF Air Materiel Command contracted with the Ted Smith Company to design and manufacture the first dummy intended to accurately represent a human, but only with abstract human features and “skin” made of canvas.

In the late 1940s, the Air Force Aero Medical Laboratory submitted a proposal for an improved model of the anthropomorphic dummy – this request having been originated by Air Force scientist and physician, John P. Stapp, who conducted a series of ground-breaking experiments at Muroc (now Edwards) Air Force Base, California, to measure the effects of acceleration and deceleration during high-speed aircraft ejections.

Stapp required a dummy that had the same center of gravity and articulation as a human, but, unlike the Ted Smith dummy, was more human in appearance. A more accurate external appearance was required to provide for the proper fit of helmets, oxygen masks, and other equipment used during the tests. Stapp requested that the Anthropology Branch of the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field review anthropological, orthopaedic, and engineering literature to prepare specifications for the new dummy. Plaster casts of the torso, legs, and arms of an Air Force pilot were also taken to assure accuracy. The result was a proposed dummy that stood 72 inches tall, weighed 200 pounds, had provisions for mounting instrumentation, and could withstand up to 100 times the force of gravity, or 100Gs.


A contract was awarded to Sierra Engineering Company of Sierra Madre, California, and "Sierra Sam," as the dummy was affectionately known, was born; and a similar contract for anthropomorphic dummies was awarded to Alderson Research Laboratories, Inc., of New York City. Dummies constructed by both companies possessed the same basic characteristics: a skeleton of aluminium or steel, latex or plastic skin, a cast aluminium skull, and an instrument cavity in the torso and head for the mounting of strain gauges, accelerometers, transducers, and rate gyros.

Declassified documentation made available by the Air Force shows that forty-three high altitude balloon flights carrying 67 anthropomorphic dummies (that were transported to heights of up to 98,000 feet) were launched and recovered throughout New Mexico.

And as The Roswell Report: Case Closed notes: "Due to prevailing wind conditions, operational factors and ruggedness of the terrain, the majority of dummies impacted outside the confines of military reservations in eastern New Mexico, near Roswell, and in areas surrounding the Tularosa Valley in south central New Mexico."

For the majority of the tests, dummies were flown to altitudes between 30,000 and 98,000 feet attached to a specially designed rack suspended below a high altitude balloon; and on several flights, the dummies were mounted in the door of an experimental, high-altitude balloon gondola. Upon reaching the desired altitude, the dummies would be released and "free-fell" for several minutes before deployment of the main parachute.

Dummies utilized in these operations were typically outfitted with standard equipment, including a one-piece flight suit, olive drab or gray in color, and a parachute pack. In addition, the dummies were fitted with an instrumentation kit that contained accelerometers, pressure transducers, and a camera to record movements of the dummy during free-fall.

The recovery of the dummies was handled by Holloman Air Force Base’s Balloon Branch; and under normal circumstances, eight to twelve civilian and military recovery personnel would secure the landing site of one or more of the dummies, and would be complemented by a variety of aircraft and vehicles, including a wrecker, a six-by-six, a weapons carrier, and L-20 observation and C-47 transport aircraft. On one occasion southwest of Roswell, Lieutenant Raymond A. Madson, even conducted a search for dummies on horseback.

Documentation reviewed by the Air Force as part of its attempt to lay to rest the claims that strange corpses were recovered from the New Mexico desert in the summer of 1947, demonstrated that Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, has – to date - launched and recovered no less than 2,500 high altitude balloons, with the majority having been launched by the Holloman Balloon Branch. But under what circumstances did these operations begin?

In 1946, as a result of research conducted for Project Mogul, Charles B. Moore, the New York University graduate student working under contract for the Army Air Forces, made a significant technological discovery concerning the use of polythene for high altitude balloon construction. Polythene, a lightweight plastic that can withstand stresses of a high altitude environment differed drastically from, and greatly exceeded, the capabilities of standard rubber weather balloons used previously. As an example of this, polythene balloons flown by the Air Force have reached recorded altitudes of 170,000 feet and lifted payloads of 15,000 pounds.

It is also a fact that in the late 1940s, a characteristic associated with the large – and newly invented – polythene balloons, was that they were often misidentified as flying saucers. In fact, according to Bernard D. Gildenberg, Balloon Branch Meteorologist and Engineer, so many flying saucer reports were generated as a result of the balloons launched from Holloman AFB that accounts from police and news services were regularly used by Holloman’s technicians to supplement early balloon-tracking techniques.

Indeed, balloons launched at Holloman AFB in 1947 generated an especially high number of flying saucer reports due to the excellent visibility in the New Mexico region. Also, the balloons, flown at altitudes of approximately 100,000 feet, were illuminated before the earth during the periods just after sunset and just before sunrise. In this instance, receiving sunlight before the earth, the plastic balloons appeared as large bright objects against a dark sky. Also, with the refractive and translucent qualities of polythene, the balloons appeared to change color, size and shape.

Research also undertaken by the Air Force as a part of its Roswell investigation showed that one of the key areas of investigation in New Mexico at the time that involved balloon-based studies was in relation to “space biology” and the way in which cosmic ray particles might adversely affect living tissue; while other projects gathered meteorological data and collected air samples to determine the composition of the atmosphere.

The Air Force’s new research also led it to elaborate further upon the strange debris recovered by rancher Brazel on the Foster Ranch: "As early as May 1948, polythene balloons coated or laminated with aluminum were flown from Holloman AFB and the surrounding area. Beginning in August 1955, large numbers of these balloons were flown as targets in the development of radar guided air-to-air missiles. Various accounts of the 'Roswell Incident' often described thin, metal-like materials that when wadded into a ball, returned to their original shape. These accounts are consistent with the properties of polythene balloons laminated with aluminum. These balloons were typically launched from points west of the White Sands Proving Ground, floated over the range as targets, and descended in the areas northeast of White Sands Proving Ground where the ‘strange’ materials were allegedly found."


With the reports of strange bodies recovered near Roswell relegated to the world of the crash test dummy, the Air Force then focused its attention upon the claims (many of which surfaced from Roswell mortician W. Glenn Dennis) that alien bodies were taken to the base hospital at Roswell Army Air Field following the events of the summer of 1947.

The relevant section of The Roswell Report: Case Closed runs to no less than 50 pages and I would urge anyone with an interest in the case to review it in depth. For the sake of space, however, I cite the Air Force’s conclusions on this particular aspect of the affair: "Claims of bodies at the Roswell Army Air Field hospital were most likely a combination of two separate incidents," asserted the Air Force.

The former incident occurred on 26 June, 1956, when an Air Force refueling plane caught fire while in flight and crashed, killing all eleven crew members. The corpses of the crewmen were soaked through with fuel and burned beyond recognition, and some even lost numerous body parts. Some autopsies of the victims were conducted at civilian facilities, and the report suggests that this incident was the source of the claim that the military had retrieved gruesome, alien bodies that were described as "black" and "very mangled" by witnesses.

The second incident that the Air Force believed led rise to the claims that alien bodies were transported to the base hospital occurred on 21 May, 1959, when Air Force Captain Dan Fulgham suffered a serious head injury when the balloon he was piloting crash landed in New Mexico. His head, severely swollen with blood, was described by one associate as "just a big blob," and the USAF suggested that Fulgham’s condition may have caused a civilian observer at Walker Air Force Base hospital to later report seeing an "alien creature" enter the facility. (2)


At the time of its release, the conclusions of the Air Force’s (final...?) report provoked a furor of controversy – for two key reasons. While there is absolutely no doubt that tests utilizing anthropomorphic dummies were widespread in New Mexico and in the Roswell region, the Air Force’s report largely and very carefully glosses over the fact that these particular tests did not begin until the early 1950s. Likewise, the two events that the Air Force asserted led to the legends of alien bodies taken to the Roswell Army Air Field hospital occurred in the late 1950s and long after the purported incident of 1947.

This was an issue not lost on the media during the Air Force’s press conference at the Pentagon that accompanied the release of the report in July 1997. When asked by a reporter, "How do you square the UFO enthusiasts saying that they’re talking about 1947, and you’re talking about dummies used in the 50's, almost a decade later?" Air Force spokesman, Colonel John Haynes replied: "Well, I’m afraid that’s a problem that we have with time compression. I don’t know what they saw in ‘47, but I’m quite sure it probably was Project Mogul. But I think if you find that people talk about things over a period of time, they begin to lose exactly when the date was." (3)

Notably, too, in the wake of the report’s release, Associated Press revealedthat no less a source than the project officer at Holloman Air Force Base, Lt. Colonel Raymond A. Madson, (Ret.) wasn’t buying the latest Air Force explanation of what occurred in Roswell in July 1947 – despite the fact that Madson was cited in the report prepared by the Air Force. (4)

Neither was Roswell/UFO author and researcher, Stanton Friedman, who stated: "One of the silliest official USAF stories is the crash test dummy nonsense. I spoke in person with Colonel Madson, whose picture is in the Case Closed volume and was heavily involved in the research program. He is adamant that the explanation doesn’t fit. Remember that the dummies had to be the same height and weight as air force pilots. None were dropped anywhere near the two crash sites and none were dropped earlier than 6 years after the 1947 events.” (5)

And according to Walter Haut, the man who issued the original press release from Roswell Army Air Field in July 1947: “It’s just to me another cover-up. If you’re dropping a dummy, any dummy would know what a dummy looks like.” (6)

In essence, the material related above represents the current state of play with regard to the U.S. Air Force's stance on the issue of bodies associated with the events on the Foster Ranch, New Mexico in early July 1947.

The Air Force stands firmly behind its Mogul and crash test dummy explanations, UFO proponents assert that this is all part of a huge and on-going conspiracy designed to hide the fact that an alien spacecraft crashed at Roswell, and the general public and the media look on with a mixture of interest, puzzlement, bemusement and amusement.

To this day, a decade and a half after the "Crash Test Dummy Report" was published, the USAF has not changed its stance on the nature of the bodies found in and around the Roswell area in the summer of 1947.

1. Report of Air Force Research Regarding the Roswell Incident, Colonel Richard L. Weaver, United States Air Force, 1994. The Roswell Report: Fact Vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert, Colonel Richard L. Weaver, United States Air Force, 1995.

2. The Roswell Report: Case Closed, Captain James McAndrew, United States Air Force, 1997.

3. United States Air Force Press Conference, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., July 4, 1997.

4. "Dummies Weren't Classified, Says Retired Colonel," Associated Press, 5 July 1997.

5. Scientist Challenges Air Force Regarding UFOs,



Bruce Duensing said...

My suspicion is that the USAF is not stupid and that as always they are not the team leader. This all began with now we say this and now we don't. The whole affair was to create a scenario that was intentionally ambivalent. The Mogul "explanation" continues this strategy. It was an intentional ploy to bee seen as a red herring, keep the ball up in the air. It is easier to create dissonance to hide what happened than to say what happened, which is still a security issue. Why? Three words. Domestic counter intelligence.

Nick Redfern said...


Yes, those are excellent points.

There's no doubt that the 2 reports (and particularly the dummies one) RAISED rather than LOWERED suspicions about what happened at Roswell.

And the AF had to know that would happen.

There has definitely been some weird mind-game activity afoot.

alanborky said...

Nick if it'd've been 'dummies' found in the desert especially in unusual 'technological' circumstances then surely the image witnesses would've gone with at the time wouldn't've been flesh and blood dimuinutive aliens but 'Mechanical Men from Mars'.

I mean you work your way through movie history alone and your talking the mechanical woman from Metropolis, robomen from the likes of Flash Gordon, the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

I've long suspected the US themselves used the possibility they might've recovered alien technology to wind up Stalin so I'm inclined to agree with Bruce.

The crash test dummies 'explanation' might've been a deliberate ploy to inflame the story by putting it out with paraffin.

Then again it might've just been some smart arse thinking everybody's a yokel but me - as soon as they hear some sort of a logical explanation the whole story of the bodies'll die.

Nick Redfern said...

Yeah, that's a good observation re the robotic look of them. I suspect there were several motivations behind that report - one being to actually amp up the controversy, for reasons not yet entirely clear...