Page 19 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - May/June 2022 Edition
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Meet J. Allen Hynek                                                                               19

          Meet J. Allen Hynek, the                       base, which was only 60 miles away in Dayton,” Perhaps not surprisingly, its report, issued at the
                                                         Hynek later wrote. “With some obvious end of 1949, concluded that the phenomena
            Astronomer Who First                         embarrassment, the men eventually brought up posed no danger to the United States, having
                                                         the subject of ‘flying saucers’ and asked me if I resulted from mass hysteria, deliberate hoaxes,
             Classified UFO 'Close                       would care to serve as consultant to the  Air mental illness or conventional objects that the

                     Encounters'                         Force on the matter… The job didn't seem as witnesses had misinterpreted as otherworldly. It
                                                         though it would take too much time, so I also suggested the subject wasn’t worth further
                                                         agreed.”                                         study.
             When the U.S. government
                                                         Little did Hynek realize that he was about to Project Blue Book is born
            tapped the academic to help
                                                         begin a lifelong odyssey that would make him
         investigate UFOs, he was initially              one of the most famous and, at times,            That might’ve been the end of it. But UFO
             a skeptic. But not for long.                controversial scientists of the 20 century. Nor  incidents continued, including some puzzling
                                                         could he have guessed how much his own           reports from the  Air Force’s own radar
                                                         thinking about UFOs would change over that       operators. The national media began treating the
                                                         period as he persisted in bringing rigorous
        It’s September 1947, and the U.S. Air Force has                                                   phenomenon more seriously; LIFE magazine
        a problem. A rash of reports about mysterious    scientific inquiry to the subject.               did a 1952 cover story, and even the widely
        objects in the skies has the public on edge and                                                   respected  TV journalist Edward R. Murrow
                                                         “I had scarcely heard of UFOs in 1948 and, like
        the military baffled.  The  Air Force needs to                                                    devoted a program to the topic, including an
                                                         every other scientist I knew, assumed that they  interview with Kenneth Arnold, a pilot whose
        figure out what’s going on—and fast. It launches
                                                         were nonsense,” he recalled.
        an investigation it calls Project Sign.                                                           1947 sighting of mysterious objects over Mount
                                                                                                          Rainier in  Washington state popularized the
                                                         Project Sign ran for a year, during which the    term “flying saucer.”  The Air Force had little
        By early 1948 the team realizes it needs some
                                                         team reviewed 237 cases. In Hynek’s final
        outside expertise to sift through the reports it’s                                                choice but to revive Project Grudge, which soon
                                                         report, he noted that about 32 percent of        morphed into the more benignly named Project
        receiving—specifically an astronomer who can
                                                         incidents could be attributed to astronomical
        determine which cases are easily explained by                                                     Blue Book.
        astronomical phenomena, such as planets, stars   phenomena, while another 35 percent had other
                                                         explanations, such as balloons, rockets, flares or  Hynek joined Project Blue Book in 1952 and
        or meteors.
                                                         birds. Of the remaining 33 percent, 13 percent   would remain with it until its demise in 1969.
                                                         didn’t offer enough evidence to yield an         For him, it was a side gig as he continued to
        For J. Allen Hynek, then the 37-year-old director
                                                         explanation. That left 20 percent that provided
        at   Ohio    State    University’s   McMillin                                                     teach and to pursue other, non-UFO research, at
        Observatory, it would be a classic case of being  investigators with some evidence but still      Ohio State. In 1960 he moved to Northwestern
                                                         couldn’t be explained.                           University in Evanston, Illinois, to chair its
        in the right place at the right time—or, as he may
        have occasionally lamented, the wrong place at                                                    astronomy department.
                                                         The  Air Force was loath to use the term
        the wrong one.
                                                         “unidentified flying object,” so the mysterious  As before, Hynek’s role was to review the
                                                         20 percent were simply classified as             reports of UFO sightings and determine whether
        The adventure begins
                                                         “unidentified.”                                  there was a logical astronomical explanation.
                                                                                                          Typically that involved a lot of unglamorous
        Hynek had worked for the government during
                                                         In February 1949, Project Sign was succeeded     paperwork; but now and then, for an especially
        the war, developing new defense technologies
                                                         by Project Grudge. While Sign offered at least a  puzzling case, he had a chance to get out into the
        like the first radio-controlled fuse, so he already
                                                         pretense of scientific objectivity, Grudge seems  field.
        had a high security clearance and was a natural
                                                         to have been dismissive from the start, just as its
                                                         angry-sounding name suggests. Hynek, who
                                                         played no role in Project Grudge, said it “took as                      (Continued on Page 20)
        “One day I had a visit from several men from the
                                                         its premise that UFOs simply could not be.”
        technical center at  Wright-Patterson Air Force
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