Estimate of the Situation
The Estimate of the Situation was a document supposedly written in 1948 by the personnel of United States Air Force's Project Sign - including the project's director, Captain Robert R. Sneider - which explained their reasons for concluding that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was the best explanation for unidentified flying objects.
As late as 1960, USAF personnel stated that the document never existed. However, several Air Force officers, and one consultant, claim the report as being a real document that was suppressed. Jenny Randles and Peter Hough describe the Estimate as the "Holy Grail of ufology" and state that Freedom of Information Act requests for the document have been fruitless.
Though Sign investigated earlier UFO reports, historian David M. Jacobs writes that the highly publicized Chiles-Whitted UFO Encounter of July 24, 1948 "had a great impact at Sign". In that encounter, two experienced airline pilots claimed a torpedo-shaped object nearly collided with their commercial airplane. Sign personnel judged the report convincing and compelling, partly because the alleged object also closely matched the description of an independent sighting from The Hague a few days earlier.
According to Michael D. Swords, Sign personnel "intensely investigated" the Chiles-Whitted sighting for several months. Despite the lack of physical evidence, some Sign personnel judged this and other UFO reports quite persuasive, and concluded that UFOs could have only a non-earthly source.
The project members reasoned that they had several dozen aerial observations that they could not explain, many of them by military pilots and scientists. The objects seemed to act like real technology, but their sources said they were not ours. The flying fuselage encounter [Chiles-Whitted] intrigued them. The Prandtl theory of lift indicated that such an odd shape can fly, but it would need some form of power plant advanced well beyond what we could build (e.g., nuclear)."
Given that there was no evidence that either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. had anything remotely like the UFOs reported, Sign personnel gradually began considering extraterrestrial origins for the objects.
Swords argues that this consideration of non-earthly origin was "not as incredible in intelligence circles as one might think." Because many in the military were "pilots, engineers and technical people" they had a "'can do' attitude" and tended to regard unavailable technologies not as impossibilities, but as challenges to be overcome. Rather than dismissing UFO reports out of hand, they considered how such objects might function. This perspective, argues Swords, "contrasted markedly with many scientists' characterizations of such concepts as impossible, unthinkable or absurd."
According to Ruppelt, the Estimate was rejected by Vandenberg primarily due to lack of supporting physical evidence, and was "batted back down" the chain of command. In a letter dated November 3, 1948, Cabell wrote to Sign, via McCoy, describing flying saucers as real, but rejecting the interplanetary hypothesis and asking for another Estimate.
The conclusion appears inescapable that some type of flying object has been observed. Identification and the origin of these objects is not discernible to this Headquarters. It is imperative, therefore, that efforts to determine whether these objects are of domestic or foreign origin must be increased until conclusive evidence is obtained. The needs of national defense require such evidence in order that appropriate countermeasures may be taken.
McCoy responded in a somewhat defensive letter dated November 8, 1948. He noted that many of the UFO reports were misidentified everyday phenomena (see Identified flying object), but also restated the rejected ideas of the Estimate without explicitly endorsing the interplanetary hypothesis; as Swords writes," [Project Sign] just had their knuckles rapped, so they defended themselves."
[T]here remains a certain number of reports for which no reasonable everyday explanation is available. So far, no physical evidence of the existence of the unidentified sightings has been obtained...The possibility that the reported objects are vehicles from another planet has not been ignored. However, tangible evidence to support conclusions about such a possibility are completely lacking...
When Sign personnel refused to abandon the interplanetary hypothesis, many were reassigned, and Sign was renamed Project Grudge in 1949. According to Ruppelt, "The Estimate died a quick death. Some months later it was completely declassified and relegated to the incinerator. A few copies, one of which I saw, were kept as mementos of the golden days of the UFOs."
The first public report of the Estimate was in Captain Edward J. Ruppelt's 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.
In intelligence, if you have something to say about some vital problem you write a report that is known as an "Estimate of the Situation." A few days after the DC-3 was buzzed [the Chiles-Whitted UFO report], the people at ATIC decided that the time had arrived to make an Estimate of the Situation. The situation was the UFOs; the estimate was that they were interplanetary!...It was a rather thick document with a black cover and it was printed on legal sized paper. Stamped across the front were the words TOP SECRET...It contained the Air Force's analysis of many of the [UFO] incidents I have told you about plus many similar ones. All of them had come from scientists, pilots, and other equally credible observers, and each one was an unknown ...When the estimate was completed, typed, and approved, it started up through channels to higher command echelons. It drew considerable comment but no one stopped it on its way up.
Clark notes that "No copies of this near-legendary document have surfaced since."
Ruppelt's 1956 book, which first publicly disclosed the Estimate, was cleared by the Air Force. Clark writes, that as late as 1960, Air Force officials denied that the Estimate was real, despite the fact that censors had approved Ruppelt's book a few years before. According to Clark, the U.S. Air Force later formally admitted the Estimate was real, but Clark's bibliography does not make clear what statement or document confirmed the Estimate's reality.
Additionally, according to Clark, the Estimate's existence was confirmed by U.S. Air Force Major Dewey J. Fournet, who as an Air Force major in the Pentagon served as liaison with official UFO project headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Fournet has been described as being "unimpressed" with the Estimate, and was furthermore quoted as describing the ET conclusion as an "extreme extrapolation" based on scant evidence.
An Air Force consultant, astronomer Dr. Allen Hynek, also verified the Estimate’s existence.
- Clark, Jerome (1998). The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial.
- Dolan, Richard M. (2002). UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Cover-up 1941–1973.
- Jacobs, David M. (1975). The UFO Controversy In America.
- Hoyt, Diana Palmer (2000). UFOCRITIQUE: UFO's, Social Intelligence and the Condon Committee (Thesis). External link in
- Hynek, J. Allen (1972). The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry.
- Randle, Kevin (1989). UFO Casebook.
- Randles, Jenny (1994). The Complete Book of UFOs: An Investigation into Alien Contact and Encounters.
- Ruppelt, Edward J (1956). The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. External link in
- Swords, Michael D. (2000). UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War.