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Center for Inquiry
: Skeptical Inquirer magazine
: July/August 1995 : Buy this back issue
The Roswell Incident
and Project Mogul
As reported in the January-February 1995
Skeptical Inquirer, a September 1994 Air Force report strongly
supported the theory that the "UFO" debris found by rancher Mac Brazel
in 1947 northwest of Roswell, New Mexico, was in fact a remnant of a
balloon flight launched as part of a top-secret program called Project
Mogul. The possible connection between the Roswell Incident and Mogul
was first realized by researcher Robert G. Todd, and independently by
Karl T. Pflock.
Recently, Charles B. Moore, one of three surviving Project Mogul
scientists identified in and interviewed for the Air Force report, spoke
to the New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR) in Albuquerque. He
discussed the background of the project, the New York University (NYU)
balloon flights, and the Roswell connection. He provided new details that
would appear to virtually clinch the idea that the debris Brazel found was
indeed from one of the Project Mogul flights that Moore helped launch.
What follows is based on Moore's presentation, his answers to audience
questions, subsequent meetings and discussions with him, documents he
provided, and a monograph he is preparing on these flights.
Moore, professor emeritus of physics at New Mexico Institute of Mining and
Technology in Socorro, was a graduate student working for NYU back in
1947. The Mogul project was so classified and compartmentalized that even
Moore didn't know the project's name until Robert Todd informed him of it
a couple of years ago. The unclassified purpose of the project was to
develop constant-level balloons for meteorological purposes.
Its classified purpose was to try to develop a way to monitor possible
Soviet nuclear detonations with the use of low-frequency acoustic
microphones placed at high altitudes. No other means of monitoring the
nuclear activities of a closed country like the USSR was yet available,
and the project was given a high priority. One of the NYU tasks was the
development of constant-level balloons for placing the acoustic
microphones aloft. After some preliminary flights in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, in April 1947, which failed due to high winds, the project
moved to New Mexico.
In June and early July 1947, numerous NYU balloon flights were launched
from Alamogordo Army Air Field in New Mexico. Some of these flights
consisted of very long trains containing up to two dozen neoprene sounding
balloons, having a total length of more than 600 feet.
Moore makes a strong case for the hypothesis that NYU Flight #4, which he
helped launch on June 4, 1947, was the source of the debris Brazel found
on the Foster ranch, and therefore the source of the "Roswell Incident"
itself. Many of the materials used in Flight 4 bear striking similarities
to pieces of the Roswell debris. A diagram of an earlier, similar flight,
Flight #2 (launched April 18, 1947, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) shows
the balloon train. No such diagram is available for Flight 4; since no
altitude data were obtained for it, it was not included in formal NYU
reports. However, Moore says the configuration for Flight 4 was quite
similar to that shown. The large octahedral objects at top left and bottom
middle are radar reflectors, which were used for tracking. Several small
aluminum rings for handling the lines are indicated; the "payload" (a
sonobuoy) was supported by slightly larger rings. The cluster of neoprene
sounding balloons extended for hundreds of feet in flight.
The debris Brazel picked up--and which was later taken to Fort Worth,
Texas, for inspection by Brigadier General Roger Ramey, the Air Force
commander there--matches NYU Flight 4 in several different ways. Some of
the debris consisted of patches of a smelly, smoky gray, rubber-like
material, which is consistent with the neoprene balloons used in NYU
Flight 4. Much of the Roswell debris--sticks, metallic paper, and
strangely marked tape--is similar to material used for the radar
reflectors. When Warrant Officer Irving Newton saw the debris in General
Ramey's office, he recognized it as pieces of a radar target. Moore points
out that the Ramey photographs show parts of more than one reflector;
Flight 4 contained three Signal Corps ML-307B RAWIN targets.
Many witnesses of the debris described tape with flower designs or
hieroglyphics on it. Moore recalls that the reinforcing tape used on NYU
targets had curious markings. "There were about four of us who were
involved in this, and all remember that our targets had sort of a
stylized, flowerlike design. I have prepared, in my life, probably more
than a hundred of these targets for flight. And every time I have prepared
one of these targets, I have always wondered what the purpose of that tape
marking was. But . . . a major named John Peterson, laughed . . . and
said 'What do you expect when you get your targets made by a toy
The radar targets contained small eyelets. Moore showed the NMSR audience
a similar target with the eyelets. In an article in the Roswell Daily
Record on July 9, 1947, rancher Brazel described the debris as having no
strings or wire, but as having eyelets for some sort of attachment.
While many UFO proponents claim the wreckage shown in General Ramey's
office was just a weather balloon switched for the "real debris," Moore
pointed out that the radar targets used by NYU were unlike anything flown
in New Mexico before and that "they were not available in Fort Worth to be
substituted for the debris in General Ramey's office." Warrant Officer
Newton was able to recognize the debris in General Ramey's office because
he happened to have used an early version of the same targets while
serving as a weatherman in Okinawa. The earlier-model targets Newton used
did not have the reinforcing tape with the pinkish-purple flower designs.
Brazel's daughter, Bessie Brazel Schreiber, in a 1979 interview conducted by
author William Moore (no relation to Charles B. Moore), described some aluminum
ring-shaped objects in the debris that looked like pipe intake collars or the
necks of balloons. (The mention of the rings appears in William Moore's
transcript of the interview, but was not included in his book The Roswell Incident.) She
estimated that they were about 4 inches around, and said she could put her hand
through them. Charles Moore points out that Flight 4 carried several
3-inch-diameter aluminum rings for assisting with the launching of the balloon
train, as well as larger rings used to hold the sonobuoys. These were cut from
cylindrical tubing stock, and then chamfered to prevent damage to the ropes.
Sheridan Cavitt, the CIC (Counter-Intelligence Corps) officer who
accompanied Major Jesse Marcel to the debris field, described a black box
in the wreckage. Moore says the NYU crew routinely packed batteries for
the acoustic equipment in black boxes. There has been some speculation
that the black box might have been a radiosonde, but Moore pointed out
that radiosondes are usually white to prevent absorption of heat.
On June 4, 1947, Flight 4 was launched, and tracked as far as Arabela, New
Mexico, only 17 miles from the location of the debris field on the Foster
ranch. Flight 4 was still aloft when the batteries ran down, and contact
was lost. Brazel reported that he found the debris on the ranch on June
14, 1947, although most UFO proponents put the time of this discovery as a
few weeks later, in early July. Brazel didn't take the debris into Roswell
until July 7, 1947, by his own account; this date is disputed as well.
Recently, Charles Moore has developed a brand-new line of evidence even
further supporting a link between the Roswell Incident and Project Mogul.
UFO researcher Kevin Randle recently provided Moore with National Weather
Service wind data for early June 1947. Moore, who has lived and breathed
atmospheric physics most of his adult life, analyzed this data in detail.
His analysis deals with three NYU flights : Flight 4 (June 4, 1947),
Flight 5 (June 5), and Flight 6 (June 7). The Weather Service wind data
are compatible with what is called a baroclinic weather system moving
through the area. As this "trough aloft" slowly passes by, the winds aloft
will shift from blowing toward the northeast, then toward the east, and
then toward the southeast. At very high altitudes, however, this type of
system produces high-level winds in the upper troposphere at cross
directions to those at lower levels. Furthermore, the prevailing winds in
the stratosphere during the summer months blow toward the west, while
those in the transition region just above the tropopause blew toward the
northwest during the early part of June 1947. For example, Flight 5
proceeded mainly east as it rose through the troposphere; when it entered
the stratosphere, however, it was carried to the northwest. After some
balloons burst and Flight 5 descended, it again headed in an easterly
direction until it landed.
When Moore used the Weather Service wind data and NYU altitude information
to simulate the probable paths of the flights with recorded ground tracks
(Flights 5 and 6), his results agreed quite reasonably with the measured
balloon paths--Flight 5 drifted mainly to the east, landing near Roswell,
while Flight 6 took a more southwesterly route. Moore then extended his
analysis to Flight 4, the Roswell candidate. He used the wind data for
June 4, 1947, and assumed the flight reached altitudes comparable to those
of the subsequent two flights (which were made with very similar balloon
Moore's analysis indicates that after Flight 4 lifted off from Alamogordo,
it probably ascended while traveling northeast (toward Arabela), then
turned toward the northwest during its passage through the stratosphere,
and then descended back to earth in a generally northeast direction.
Moore's calculated balloon path is quite consistent with a landing at the
Foster ranch, approximately 85 miles northeast of the Alamogordo launch
site and 60 miles northwest of Roswell. Furthermore, the debris was strewn
along the ground at a southwest-to-northeast angle (as reported by Major
Jesse Marcel); this angle is entirely consistent with Moore's analysis.
Charles B. Moore has been repeatedly criticized in the UFO literature for
changing some of his earlier statements. He was interviewed for William
Moore's book on the Roswell Incident. After hearing Bill Moore's
description of the wreckage (including details of supposed 10-inch furrows
running some 500 feet), Charlie Moore responded by saying: "Based on the
description you gave me, I think that could not have been our balloon."
Balloon trains like Flight 4 were far too light to make large furrows in
the ground. The issue is not that Charles Moore said the wreckage couldn't
have been a balloon--it's that he said his flights couldn't have plowed
the alleged "furrows." On another note, Moore and other Mogul participants
originally thought the debris Brazel found must have been from one of
NYU's polyethylene balloon flights from early July 1947. He held this
opinion until just a couple of years ago. These large, transparent
polyethylene balloons were used for the first time ever in the summer of
1947 and would have looked strange even to experienced balloon watchers.
However, after seeing the reports and photographs from 1947 for the first
time, Charles Moore realized that Flight 4 was a much better candidate for
the Foster ranch debris than a polyethylene balloon. So he has changed his
opinions on the incident, but only because better data became available.
Atmostpheric physicist Charles B. Moore displays a radar reflector
similar to those carried aloft on trains of balloons in Project Mogul
experiments he helped launch from Alamogordo Army Air Field in New
Mexico in June and early July 1947. New York University Flight #4
carried three of these reflectors and before being lost was tracked to
within 17 miles of the spot where rancher Mac Brazel later recovered
debris that prompted the famous "Roswell Incident" case.
Moore's presentation included fascinating details on the background of
Project Mogul. He noted that the discovery of the acoustic "duct" between
the troposphere and the stratosphere came about as a result of a World War
II era analysis of globally propagated sound waves produced by the
volcanic explosion of Krakatoa in 1883. In one of their flights, he said
the NYU crew attempted (without success) to detect explosions from the
British destruction of German installations on the island of Helgoland
(off the north German coast) in April 1948. While UFO proponents allege a
lack of contemporary references to "Project Mogul Balloon Flights," Moore
says the project was so compartmentalized that such references simply may
not exist. Any mention of these flights will instead be labeled as NYU
constant-level balloon research.
Several UFO authors claim that the wreckage, and possibly alien bodies as
well, were secretly flown to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio for analysis. By
coincidence, Moore says he and the rest of the NYU balloon crew stayed
over at Wright Field the evening of July 8, 1947, en route back to New
Jersey, just as the Roswell story was breaking. Moore says they first
learned of the incident while in Dayton, and figured that it was probably
caused by one of their recent polyethylene balloon flights.
The September 1994 Air Force report indicates that the Brazel debris also
made its way to Wright Field. During an Air Force interview of Mogul
participant Colonel Albert C. Trakowski, he recalled a July 1947 telephone
call from Colonel Marcellus Duffy, who was stationed at Wright Field and
was intimately knowledgeable about both Project Mogul and military weather
equipment. Duffy told Trakowski that a fellow from New Mexico came to
Dayton, woke him up in the middle of the night, and showed him the debris.
Colonel Duffy told the fellow, "It looks like some of the stuff you've
been launching at Alamogordo."
What is the bottom line on the Roswell Incident, NYU, and Project Mogul?
In Moore's words, "When the wind information is coupled with the
similarities in the debris described by the eyewitnesses--the balsa
sticks, the 'tinfoil,' the tape with pastel, pinkish-purple flowers, the
smoky gray balloon rubber with a burnt odor, the eyelets, the tough paper,
the four-inch-diameter aluminum pieces and the black box--to the materials
used in our balloon flight trains, it appears to me that it would be
difficult to exclude NYU Flight 4 as a likely source of the debris that W.
W. Brazel found on the Foster ranch in 1947."
About the Author
Dave Thomas is a physics and mathematics graduate of New
Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and is currently a senior scientist
at Quatro Corporation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is vice president and
communications officer of New Mexicans for Science and