The Roswell Incident

It was a long slow railway journey from Manchester to Bangor, in the days when carriages had compartments. There were four of us an elderly business men, me, a middle aged American and a young chap in an RAF uniform. Conversation was started by the elderly businessmen saying that he was a pilot in the RAF during the war.

Well it was a long journey and somehow the conversation got round to flying saucers. At one point the young RAF chap mentioned Roswell, the American gave a big smile.

The following is the story he told, obviously not word for word but all the basic details. He did mention names, which I can't remember, it was not the sort of situation where one sits with pencil and paper taking notes. If anyone had been taking notes I don't think he would have said anything.

" The American had once worked for Bell corporation on life support systems for fighter pilots. He had been doing this for some years when a new team was set up with a new leader to work on space projects following Kennedy's announcement about going to the moon. The new team leader as an ex-us air force man. The new team was to work with the newly formed NASA on life support for astronauts. It was a small team of keen young men the eldest being the new boss. The group got to know each other quite wll and had all signed the official secrets act as part of the job, so conversation was not hampered by having to be careful about waht they said, as they did outside their work.

It seemed that the new team boss had worked at Edwards Air Force Base and the expermintal test centre at Groom Lake when the Rosswell incident happened.

The air force at the time were carrying out high altitude tests with rocket plains that were carried to a altitude by a B56 bomber. The rocket plains was then dropped, fired its rocket and shot skyward into the upper atmosphere. These were the first X craft. The air force wanted to use plains to get into space and one unspoken priory was beating the navy who were using rockets to get into space.

The Bell X-1, originally designated XS-1

One of the major things worrying both pilots and medical scientists at the time was the affect of radiation at high altitude. Pilots knew the risks of flying but dying of radiation exposure years later or becoming impotent was something else. It was even suggested by some that the intense radiation above the atmosphere would instantly kill a pilot.

It was agreed that some sort of test was necessary, it was no good sending rats or mice up, that had been done anyway, it had to be something like a human pilot, it had to be a monkey.

Now doing any kind of experiment on monkeys gives all sorts of bad reaction of the public and press alike, so it was decided what ever they did it would be kept top secret. There was two reasons behind this thinking, first the monkey would have to be killed after the flight so its internal organs could be examined for radiation damage. Second if it all went wrong and there was negative publicity the airforce would loose their funding and it would all go to the navy and Von Browns rockets. The air force did not think rockets were the long term future of space flight.

They had not figured out what to do, they could not go outside for help and could not get a monkey to fly an x plain. What they did have however was large weather balloons.

The trouble with weather balloons is that they don't have much lift and when they go too high they heat up expand and burst.

Well eventually they decided to use a lightweight non pressurised capsule, this they could make on base. This meant making the monkey a small pressure suit, this again could be cobbled together on base from a full sized pilots one. Getting the weight down meant they could use three balloons to give enough ground lift and have enough expansion not to burst at high altitude. To prevent excessive overheating they would cover the top half of the balloons in aluminium foil glued to netting.

The whole thing would be tracked by radar and an on board beacon. It would also be followed by chase plains. At the peak altitude a link would be blown and the balloons realised leaving the capsule to parachute back to the ground. On paper it all looked good.

It was decided in the end to send two monkeys, one to carry out an autopsy on and a second to keep alive to see what any long term health affects it might suffer. There was the small problem of as they say in cooking, first get your monkey. Well its America and money talks, two chimpanzees were obtained by someone on the base and no questions were ask. Rumour had it they were from a travelling circus, they were scruffy individuals and apparently quite old and past their useful working life.

Well the balloon went up, literally in this case, on a very still dawn the 6th July 1947. They did not have the sophisticated monitoring that they have these days but they had a signal that monitored the hart rate of the chimps.

The balloons barley had enough lift to carry the capsule which was dished shaped to give it a good radar reflection. It rose very slowly almost taking forever to rise in the still air, then the suns rays hit it and it started to rise faster. About twenty miles up it started to head south west much faster than it should. Although they had the aluminium reflector material over the top of the balloon the sun was low in the sky and as the balloons got higher the suns rays were falling on part of the lower sections and one balloon was getting larger than the others. They had no way of rotating it them. It was up over 35 miles but heading too far south, if it went much further there was a possibility of it coming down beyond the desert in a populated area. The signal was sent to release the balloons form the capsule. Nothing happened. The case plains were armed but the balloon was now beyond their ceiling.

The balloon was way out of sight and still climbing, the beacon tracker was still working and radar still had a vague location lock on it. Nallis base alerted all USAF bases down range in the direction the balloon was travelling. The were to keep a lookout for a weather balloon with a top secret instrument package, it was to be tracked and not let out of US air space. It was hoped that the balloons would be reaching a height where they would explode and the parachute would deploy.

No one will know what actually happened but the tracking signal stopped moving and the radar signal was lost. A specialist team was dispatched from Nellis but Rosswell base was nearest so they were put on a high security alert and told to find the balloon and capsule if it was intact and secure the area to await the arrival of the specialist team. All civilians were to be kept away and security was paramount.

The recovery went well the crash site located and secured. The specialist recovery team arrived. The capsule was smashed to pieces and the chimps were dead. They were quietly taken away by the recovery team as were the bits of the capsule and as much of the balloon as they could find.

It was all kept pretty quiet at the time, which was not difficult as everyone was aware of the cold war with Russia and a bit paranoid about the communists so no one was going to be un-American and talk about secrets.

Autopsies were carried out on the chimps and no significant levels of radiation were found and no organ damage other than that consistent with a fatal crash. It gave the doctors and flyers the reassurance they had been wanting, it was safe from the radiation point of view to carry on with the high altitude flying. The ultimate aim was to get into orbit and land back again in an aeroplane.

The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the early 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data to be used aircraft and spacecraft design.

It was not till much later that the cover-up story emerged, well in a way it was a cover-up, they were covering up a mistake about a military secret project that went wrong. That was fairly normal. Why it was covered up as less normal, there were pensions at stake. Very senior people had authorised this experiment and at the very least they would be kicked out of the service, demoted or court-martialled. There was only a small group of people who knew the whole story, so the lid could be kept tight as they all would be losers. Not only that, it was a necessary experiment. Later Von Brown was to send a chimp up strapped to the nose of a rocket in the Mercury project before they scent up their first astronaut, Commander Alan Shepard.

Its not certain who started the UFO story weather it was an individual or miss information by the airforce. Although it diverted focus it was a bit unfortunate because the UFO people don't let go, even though the people involved have long gone. The chimps were cremated the capsule destroyed, there was not much paperwork to speak of and any trail or trace was systematically removed. Everyone was under the official secrets act and those at Roswell were made to sign also and as most were patriots would not break a state secret. Not that they knew much anyway. "

Well that's the story as told, none of us listening were particularly surprised by the story as I none of us believed in flying saucers. The ufologists will not believe it anyway but there again it does not really matter what they think.

Although high altitude X craft project was abandoned in favour of Von Browns rockets when Kennedy committed to go to the moon, eventually the project was to be significant in forming the basic designs of the space shuttle.

A Tony on the Moon site