Alien-Hunting Agents Seek the Truth About UFOs in 'Project Blue Book'
By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | October 10, 2018
NEW YORK — During the 1950s and 1960s, were extraterrestrials visiting the United States? At the time, a spate of panicky sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) thought to be "alien" in origin were reported across the country, prompting the U.S. Air Force to create a top-secret program dedicated to the investigation of unexplained phenomenon related to UFOs.
Under the code name "Project Blue Book," the Air Force documented and scrutinized 12,000 UFO sightings from 1952 to 1969, led by J. Allen Hynek, a former astronomy professor at The Ohio State University. The project's efforts — set against a suspenseful undercurrent of political intrigue — come to life in a new dramatic television series, which shares some of the long-buried secrets of this mysterious initiative.
At a New York Comic Con (NYCC) panel on Oct. 6, actors and creators of the History channel's "Project Blue Book" introduced the audience to the story of federal agents hunting UFOs and the manipulation of the truth happening behind the scenes. Based on declassified files in the federal archive — including 700 cases of UFO-related incidents that remain unsolved — the series confronts a question that still fascinates humans decades after the project's end: Are we alone in the universe?
Each of the perplexing and unsettling UFO sightings that appears in the series is based on an actual event described in the recently declassified government records, executive producer and writer Sean Jablonski told the panel audience.
"Every case you see — that really happened," Jablonski said.
One standout incident took place in Washington, D.C., in July 1952. The repeated appearance of mysterious radar blips prompted the Air Force to launch a group of fighter jets to intercept what they thought were unidentified aircraft, according to Jablonski.
But the blips vanished every time the jet fighters drew close, only to reappear when the jets pulled away from the blips' presumed location, one of the pilots reported in an oral history recorded in 1999.
The founder of "ufology"
"Project Blue Book" stars Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger in HBO's "Game of Thrones") as Hynek, the scientist recruited by the Air Force to investigate UFO sightings and related phenomena. Though Hynek was a UFO skepticwhen he began working for the Air Force, much of what he saw and heard over his years with the project defied easy explanation. Eventually, the experience transformed him into a passionate believer in UFO encounters representing possible contact with alien life, Gillen told the panel audience.
In fact, Hynek went on to become what is now known as a "ufologist" (UFO expert). He authored several books about UFOs, founded the Center for UFO Studies — a private organization for scientific UFO investigation — and served as a technical advisor for one of the most iconic films about UFOs, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)
The series also reveals that working on Project Blue Book brought unexpected conflicts for Hynek. Even when his investigations of baffling UFO-related incidents raised more questions than they answered, Air Force agents pushed for debunking and quick closure, frustrating his efforts to uncover the facts about what people saw, according to Gillen.
"He just wanted to find the truth," Gillen said.
But was the U.S. government after the truth? In the show, Hynek soon learns that his Air Force colleagues aren't really interested in getting to the bottom of events that seem impossible to understand. Instead, they seek tidy, reassuring explanations that tell the public there is nothing to be alarmed about. The government's deliberate deviation from witnesses' accounts and evidence — essentially creating "the original 'fake news'" — was an integral part of the "Project Blue Book" narrative, executive producer and writer David O'Leary told the panel audience.
"On the subject of UFOs, part of the story is the cover-up, the lying, the misinformation campaign to control public perception," O'Leary said.
"Project Blue Book" premieres on the History channel on Jan. 8, 2019, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, 9 p.m. CT.
Top-Secret UFO Program Revealed in TV's 'Project Blue Book'
By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | January 8, 2019
Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have long inspired curiosity and speculation, but when did our fascination with UFOs really take off? A new television drama explores the origins of the UFO phenomenon, drawing from the incredible true story of the U.S. government’s decades-long investigation of reported UFO encounters.
The secret program — dubbed Project Blue Book — launched in 1952 and was monitored by the U.S. Air Force until the project's termination in 1969. During that time, experts investigated more than 12,000 reports of UFO sightings, of which over 700 remain unexplained, according to records in the National Archives.
Now declassified, the most intriguing of these unsolved cases are revisited in the History Channel series "Project Blue Book." Premiering tonight (Jan. 8) at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT., the show offers UFO aficionados and skeptics alike a peek at how it all began.
Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger on HBO's "Game of Thrones") stars as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the real-life professor and astrophysicist who acted as the science adviser for Project Blue Book, and who is known to many as the "father of UFOlogy," show creator and executive producer David O'Leary told Live Science.
In the series, Hynek joins Air Force officials to investigate and explain sightings of peculiar lights in the sky, mysterious glowing fireballs, "flying saucers" and even purported extraterrestrials, History Channel representatives said in a statement.
"The government had to respond to the fact that military pilots, commercial airline pilots, police officers — people with trained eyes — were seeing objects in the sky that they couldn't understand," O'Leary said.
But as "Project Blue Book" unfolds, Hynek comes to an unpleasant realization: His scientific curiosity about UFOs may run counter to a government agenda that wants to bury events that prove unthreatening, but nonetheless truly defy explanation, O'Leary said.
During the period in U.S. history that gave rise to Project Blue Book, global superpowers were testing the boundaries of military technology, the likes of which had never been seen before. For obvious reasons, the U.S. Air Force wanted to keep tabs on all UFO sightings — which could represent previously unknown weapons — in the interests of national security, according to O'Leary.
However, hundreds of the UFO sightings investigated by Project Blue Book proved impossible to explain at all.
An incident that took place Sept. 12, 1952 (and is featured in the series), involved three boys in Flatwoods, West Virginia, who witnessed a fiery red light streaking overhead, followed by a loud crash. A local newspaper reported at the time that when the boys approached the scene, they glimpsed "a 10-foot monster with a blood-red body and a green face that seemed to glow," later dubbed "The Flatwoods Monster," the History Channel recounted.
Another unexplained sighting was documented in Lubbock, Texas, on Aug. 30, 1951; a teenager photographed a V-shaped arrangement of lights in the sky, now known as the Lubbock Lights, according to the History Channel.
Other unnerving encounters with UFOs were directly observed midair by pilots, who are trained to recognize unexpected sights that may appear during challenging flight conditions. This makes their descriptions of UFOs harder to dismiss as delusional, and fueled Hynek's efforts to get to the bottom of these baffling events, O'Leary explained.
Case reports dramatized by the show feature a range of witnesses, from lone civilians, to individuals representing the military and law enforcement, to groups of people all reporting the same sighting, executive producer and showrunner Sean Jablonski told Live Science.
"By the time you get to the finale, there's a mass sighting by credible witnesses that actually prompts the president to get involved. So you go, 'Well, that's just undeniable.' And it's historically accurate," Jablonski said.
Though the real Project Blue Book ended decades ago, interest in UFOs has scarcely dimmed. In fact, the U.S. government has continued to monitor and analyze UFO reports to this day, Live Science reported in 2018. The work took place under a secret program called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), and it spanned decades despite official statements that federal UFO investigations ended with the demise of Project Blue Book in 1969.
"UFOs are a mystery that's still unsolved at this point," Jablonski said. "Once you open your mind up to the idea of the UFO phenomenon, then you have to ask 'Who's flying them?' And then you have to talk about alien life. It unmoors you from a reality that most people live in their whole lives."
The first episode of "Project Blue Book" airs tonight (Jan. 8) on the History Channel at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.