The "Report of Air Force Research Regarding the 'Roswell Incident'" is a 23-page synopsis reflecting the Air Force opinion on the supposed crash of an extraterrestrial craft that occurred in July 1947. The report is a preemptive response to an audit instituted by the General Accounting Office (GAO) on behalf of Congressman Steven Schiff (R-N.M.) to resolve the matter. Issued on September 8, the full report consists of 33 attachments, including a list of locations and records searched (Atch. 13) and a highly significant, signed sworn statement by Lt. Col. Sheridan Cavitt (Atch. 17), the sole survivor among those who actually viewed the debris field. The report is divided into sections highlighting the original reporting and evolution of the Roswell incident, the Air Force search strategy and methodology, and what the Roswell incident was and was not.
It should be stated that one should approach this report with an open and unbiased mind, although the image of the fox denying his activities in the chicken coop (i.e., "there are no UFOs; you don't see any, do you?"), even as he coughs up feathers while telling the story, seems inevitable. And indeed, early reactions of some of the Roswell principals as well as those who frequent the online ufological newsgroups have been practically unanimous in a negative, knee-jerk response.
Why should this be the case? Further, and most importantly, what did the Air Force investigation find? From all appearances, and contrary to what many may believe, the Air Force conducted a fairly massive research effort. A number of archives and records centers, which cover the breadth of the continental United States, were reviewed. From this effort, only one official Army Air Forces (AAF) document mentioning UFOs and Roswell in July 1947 was located, which was a small section in the "July Historical Report" for the 509th Bomb Group and the Roswell AAF that mentions answering inquiries on the "flying disc" (found to be a radar tracking balloon).
Air Force researchers subsequently looked for documents during the time period relating to balloons, since that was originally the official explanation for the Roswell incident. Records were located on a then Top Secret Priority 1A balloon research trial named Project Mogul, developed to monitor Soviet nuclear testing. Two major finds emerge: first, the Project Mogul balloons sported radar targets consisting of aluminum "foil" or foil-backed paper, balsa wood beams coated with glue to enhance their durability, acetate and/or cloth reinforcing tape, twine, brass eyelets, and purplish-pink tape with symbols on it. These materials are not inconsistent with the debris that was found. Second, Flight 4, launched on June 4, 1947, was never recovered and likely came to rest some miles northwest of Roswell.
Of course, this is unlikely to sway those who believe what was found was in fact a crashed flying saucer. One cannot help but think of their stalwart convictions and adamant stance that "x" or "y" happened and that the Air Force is engaged in an ongoing cover-up. In fact, the Air Force acknowledges this accusation and realizes some individuals will still insist on their role in the "cosmic Watergate." But certainty regarding any event is problematic.
Researcher David Lane (see the Journal of Humanistic Psychology , Fall [1984, 24-4], pp. 75-89) has suggested that the feeling of certainty is a complex result of sensory input and integrative action of the brain that, ultimately, is immeasurable and undefinable. Lane termed this the "Chandian effect" after his guru Pandit Faqir Chand. Thus, people may be angered by any suggestion that their interpretation of an experience (e.g., "the foil wouldn't burn and couldn't be crushed") may not be real, based on the self-confirming nature of the experience itself.
We must recall what was happening culturally during the time frame of the Roswell event. Kenneth Arnold's sighting and the media reporting that ensued touched off a frenzy in "flying saucers" that has yet to be equaled. Here was a subject that was brand new to almost all Americans, and they played it to the hilt.
Frank Scully notes in Behind the Flying Saucers that the Air Force claimed July 1947 as a banner month for practical jokers. There are, however, some difficulties with the report. There are biases in the characterizations of the reports of "pro-UFO" researchers, some blatant and obvious, others subtle and insidious.
And inevitably, questions arise. For example, why didn't the Air Force interview Walter Haut, public information officer at the 509th Bomb Group, or Glenn Dennis, a local mortician who took an enigmatic phone call about preserving bodies exposed to the elements? And, why didn't the Air Force recover the Project Mogul balloon when it was a TOP SECRET endeavor, regardless if the materials in its construction were unclassified?
Overall, the report is likely to engender a firestorm of disbelief among ufologists. Nonetheless, it does seem highly improbable that the Roswell incident, if extremely anomalous or extraterrestrial, could be buried without a true, unequivocal document to that effect. (For those individuals interviewed, any previous oath of secrecy taken was removed.) It seems unlikely that the Roswell Declaration now circulating in ufological circles, which requests an Executive order declassifying all Roswell documents, will be successful in producing any "new" information. Ufologists will merely reiterate that there was no paperwork to begin with or that it is in the hands of a rogue intelligence group. For now, the next step is awaiting the GAO audit, "Records Management Procedures Dealing With Weather Balloon, Unknown Aircraft, and Similar Crash Incidents." For the future, nothing is likely to change.