During the middle part of the 20th century, the U.S. Air Force cataloged 12,618 UFO sightings. It was part of a program, Project Blue Book, that aspired to subject the reports to scientific analysis to see if UFOs posed a threat to national security. In retrospect, such an endeavor seems quixotic (it was shut down in 1969 after a review led by University of Colorado physicist Edward Condon determined it had yielded basically nothing of scientific value) but at the time, with the chill of the Cold War and the bewildering onrush of new technologies, it presumably seemed more reasonable.
The Project Blue Book files were declassified several years back but accessing them has generally required a trip to the National Archives in Washington. Last week, after two decades of battling for their release under the Freedom of Information Act, UFO researcher John Greenwald posted the records, 130,000-plus pages worth, to his online database, The Black Vault.
The documents contain no evidence of extraterrestrial activity. Not in the skies over Dallas, not anywhere else in the country. (Whether this is because the evidence simply doesn't exist or because it has been systematically suppressed by the government is, of course, always open for debate.)
Locally, the reports are more instructive as a glimpse of the mid-century zeitgeist. It was a time when respectable, educated people -- college students, doctors, engineers, etc. -- would become curious or frightened enough about something they spotted in the sky to contact the Air Force. And it was a time when the U.S. government, with a responsiveness foreign to the modern American, would take them seriously.
We've compiled the Dallas sightings contained Project Blue Book files (most of them, anyways) in the document at the bottom of the page. Here are a few samplings:
October 28, 1952
An Air Force pilot two months removed from combat operations in Korea was waiting for a commercial flight at Love Field when he spotted an unusual glow in the sky.
There was considerable air traffic in the vicinity (normal Love Field activity) and there was enough light that aircraft were identifiable as the general type when viewed in the southwest, the sun to the rear. I first noticed an orange colored light which appeared to be nothing more than the exhaust or running light of an aircraft. Then, I noticed the the light gave off an exhaust trail similar to that of an afterburner. I watched the light in its descending path for about four seconds when it seemed to fire a number of "rockets" and vanished.
The sighting was also witnessed by a Navy veteran/professor from Arlington State College (now UT Arlington) and his wife.
Dr. ____ and I reported the sighting to the U.S. Weather Office at Love Field who apparently did not know what to do about it. No information was written down, nor did the individual concerned take our names. Nothing was said concerning any condition, meteorological or otherwise, which might account for the sighting."
The Air Force was willing to listen but classified the report as "probably astronomical (meteor)."