J. Ruppelt (July 17, 1923 September 15, 1960) was
a United States Air Force officer probably best known for
his involvement in Project
Blue Book, a formal governmental study of
unidentified flying objects. He is generally credited with
coining the term "unidentified flying object",
to replace the terms "flying saucer" and
"flying disk" - which had become widely
known - because the military thought them to be "misleading
when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance.
For this reason, the military prefers the more general,
if less colorful, name: unidentified
flying objects. UFO
(pronounced Yoo-foe) for short."
was the director of Project
Grudge from late 1951 until it became Project
Blue Book in March 1952; he remained with
Blue Book until late 1953. UFO researcher Jerome
Clark writes, "Most observers of Blue
Book agree that the Ruppelt years comprised the project's
golden age, when investigations were most capably directed
and conducted. Ruppelt himself was open-minded about UFOs,
and his investigators were not known, as Grudge's
were, for force-fitting explanations on cases."
life and career
was born and raised in Iowa. He enlisted in the Army Air
Corps during World War II, and served with distinction
as a decorated bombardier: he was
awarded "five battle stars, two theater combat ribbons,
three Air Medals, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses".
the war, Ruppelt was released into the Army reserves.
He attended Iowa State College
he earned an Aeronautical Engineering degree.
Shortly after finishing his education, Ruppelt was called
back to active military duties after the Korean War began.
was assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center
headquartered at Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base. Incidentally, the base
had also headquartered two formal unidentified flying
object investigations: Project
Sign (19471948), which had come to
favor the extraterrestrial hypothesis before being replaced
Grudge (19491951), which had a debunking
mandate. Though not initially involved with Grudge,
Ruppelt quickly learned that the project was facing troubles
when high-ranking officers disapproved of the direction
it had taken.
With Blue Book
Grudge was ordered
dissolved, and Project
Blue Book was planned to replace it. Lt.
Col. N.R. Rosengarten asked Ruppelt to take over as the
new projects leader, partly because Ruppelt "had
a reputation as a good organizer", and had helped
get other wayward projects back on track. though he was
initially scheduled to stay with Blue
Book for only a few months, when Project
Grudge was upgraded in status in late 1951
and renamed Project
Blue Book, Ruppelt (then a Captain) was
kept on as director when normally, such an upgrade would
require the appointment of at least a Colonel to oversee
the project; this may well be a testament to Ruppelt's
leadership and organizational skills.
quickly implemented a number of changes in the late stages
Grudge, which were carried over to most
of his tenure with Blue Book.
He streamlined the manner in which UFOs were reported
to (and by) military officials, partly in hopes of alleviating
the stigma and ridicule associated with UFO witnesses.
that factionalism had harmed the progress of Project
Sign, Ruppelt did his best to recruit open-minded,
but objective and neutral personnel to staff Blue
Book. He tried to avoid the kinds of open-ended
speculation that had led to Signs
personnel being split among advocates and critics of the
extraterrestrial hypothesis. Ruppelt sought the advice
of many scientists and experts, and issued regular press
releases (along with classified monthly reports for military
most importantly, Ruppelt also ordered the development
of a standard questionnaire for UFO witnesses, hoping
to uncover data which could be subject to statistical
analysis. He commissioned the Battelle
Memorial Institute to create the questionnaire
and computerize the data. Using case reports and the computerized
data, Battelle then did a massive scientific and statistical
study of all Air Force UFO cases (completed in 1954 after
Ruppelt had left Blue Book)
and known as Project
Blue Book Special Report No. 14. Battelle
scientists found that even after stringent analysis, 22%
of the cases remained classified as "unknown"
and that these were different from the "knowns"
at a very high level of statistical significance. The
Battelle study also found that the best cases were twice
as likely to be classified as unknowns as the worst cases.
Ruppelt's tenure, Blue Book
investigated a number of well-known UFO reports including
the so-called Lubbock
Lights and two highly-publicized radar-visual/jet-intercept
cases which occurred over Washington D.C. in late July
1952 (see 1952
Washington D.C. UFO incident), which triggered
the largest press conference since World War II to stop
public panic. Also during Ruppelts tenure with Blue
Book, most UFO cases were attributed to prosaic
causes, but about twenty-five percent were deemed "unknown".
As cases with little or no corroborative evidence were
generally excluded from consideration during Ruppelt's
tenure with Blue Book,
the remaining unknowns arguably constitute some of the
best-known, best studied, yet still perplexing UFO reports
of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Air Force would be charged with a cover-up of UFO evidence.
Ruppelt insisted, however, that at least during his tenure,
conflict and confusion would be more accurately descriptive
than to suggest that a deliberate cover-up was taking
place. Ruppelt once wrote that the Air Force's approach
to the UFO question "was tackled with organized
confusion." In defending General Samford's press
conference on 29 July 1952, after the big UFO flap at
Washington National Airport, Ruppelt wrote that "his
[Samford's] people had fouled up in not fully investigating
the sightings." Astronomer and Blue
Book consultant J.
Allen Hynek thought that Ruppelt did his
best, only to see his efforts stymied. Hynek wrote "In
my contacts with [Ruppelt], I found him to be honest and
seriously puzzled about the whole phenomenon."
requested reassignment from Blue
Book in late 1953 shortly after the Robertson
Panel issued its conclusions (based partly
on the panel's official report, Ruppelt's Blue
Book staff was reduced from more than ten personnel
to three, including Ruppelt). He retired from the Air
Force not long afterwards, then worked in the aerospace
industry. In 1956, he worked as a research engineer for
Northrop Aircraft Company, according to publisher information
in the online version of his 1956 book The
Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.
The book is notable because it was, for several subsequent
decades, the only account of Air Force UFO studies written
by a participant. It remains arguably one of the most
level-headed books about UFOs. Hynek suggested that Ruppelt's
"book should be required reading for anyone seriously
interested in the history of this subject." In
the book, Ruppelt detailed his time with Projects
Grudge and Blue
Book, and offered his assessments of some
UFO cases, including a portion he thought were puzzling
and unexplained. Ruppelt also revealed much insider material
and thinking, including the existence of previously unknown
classified documents and studies, such as the Robertson
Keyhoe asked Ruppelt to join to serve as
an adviser to NICAP
Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena).
Ruppelt had recently suffered a heart attack, and declined
Keyhoes offer. Ruppelt's book indicates that Ruppelt
held some dim views of Keyhoe and his early writings;
Ruppelt noted that while Keyhoe generally had his facts
straight, his interpretation of the facts was another
question entirely. He thought Keyhoe often sensationalized
the material and accused Keyhoe of "mind reading"
what he and other officers were thinking. Yet Keyhoe cites
conversations with Ruppelt in later books, suggesting
that Ruppelt may have occasionally advised Keyhoe.
1960, the expanded edition of Ruppelt's book (20 Chapters)
was published by Doubleday & Co.. The only change
from earlier editions came in three more chapters which
largely echoed the Air Force's position that there was
nothing unusual about UFOs. Ruppelt seemed to have abandoned
his early views that some UFO reports seemed mysterious
and unexplained, and he declared UFOs a "space age
myth". In an unusual manner, the date of the publication
was omitted. The book, with the 1956 copyright note and
the 1955 date of Ruppelt's Foreword, made the new edition
appear to be the original edition. Only the dust jacket
gives any hint that this is the second edition of the
and others would suggest that Ruppelt had caved in to
Air Force pressures to change his public statements about
UFOs. Others argued against this, noting that Ruppelt
had more than demonstrated his objectivity, and might
have simply reached a conclusion after careful consideration
of the evidence. Clark
reports that Ruppelt's widow asserted that her husband's
investigation of the contactee movement soured his opinion
of UFO phenomena. Ruppelt's discussion of the contactees,
particularly George Adamski,
is arguably the most interesting portion of the revised
died of a heart attack on September 15, 1960, at the age