Long story short: the first two series of the X-Files? This episode is that in 22 minutes.
We open on a blurry dot moving over a desert landscape. Nimoy assures us that this is the clearest footage of a UFO.
I’m going to be a little boring and pause right here to remind everyone that the terms ‘UFO’ and ‘spacecraft’ are not synonymous. UFO means ‘unidentified flying object’. You see something moving through the air and you don’t know what it is? That’s an unidentified flying object – at least until you identify it. I – a died in the wool unbeliever – once stood slack-jawed for about five minutes marveling at a glowing flying object that I could not identify – until it turned somewhat and I saw that it was an advertising blimp. But for those five minutes it was, to me, a UFO.
Glad I got that out of my system. Because the next bit is just. Plain. Awesome.
Nimoy gives us some flying saucer boilerplate about the number of sightings, ‘but why haven’t we captured any.’ But for once, Mr Spock’s dulcet tones aren’t the interesting thing here. We see footage of the American desert whizzing past, as if taken from a fast-moving aircraft. Then some stock footage of a rocket. Then stock footage of a rocket exploding. Then bits of ‘debris’ – mostly metallic trash and off-cuts – is thrown into the air, to rain down on small section of desert, slightly surprising a nearby tortoise. Then, a man in a grey uniform comes and starts picking up the pieces and putting them into a canister.
Nimoy’s narration starts talking about rumours in the American South-West
It’s Roswell, isn’t it? What we just saw was a thirty-second re-enactment of Roswell. It’s like a high school film club version of the Roswell crash and it is delightful.
Back to the boilerplate. Photos of ‘flying saucers’, Nimoy talking about sightings back to 1947, claiming a connection between rocketry/A-bomb testing and UFO sightings. ‘The flying disks became the Pentagon’s nightmare,’ Nimoy says over footage of radar stations. Apparently the saucers were too fast for Air Force planes to intercept and could ‘shut down guided missiles.’
I’m not sure how much detail to go into here. If you know something of UFO lore then this is all very standard stuff. If you don’t, they’re heading through their background information at breakneck speed.
Now we’re talking about Project Blue Book. This was the US Air Force’s investigation into UFO phenomenon. Col Belgrave of the USAF (a man who looks exactly like a USAF colonel should look) basically gives the USAF position straight into camera. 95% of UFOs ended up being identified as ordinary phenomenon. A small number were not. But, he says, no evidence was discovered of a threat to US security, and no evidence was discovered of extraterrestrial vehicles on Earth.
So we cut from him mid-explanation to Peter Gersten, a lawyer who sued some US government agencies for access to documents related to UFOs. Wikipedia says that the documents he got to see were heavily redacted, but still he claims that they prove that UFOs can gain unrestricted access to national secrets and nuclear installations. He looks fairly respectable, but he’s exactly as twitchy as you’re thinking.
Next up is Ray Fowler, wearing the most impressive check jacket I’ve ever seen. Ray’s introduced as a UFO researcher and yes, he’s genuinely one of the most famous UFO researchers out there. He says there’s definitely a military cover up, and he knows this because people in the military told him.
There’s something about this statement that doesn’t quite sit right. Can’t quite put my finger on it…
Fowler plays up his past working for government agencies. I can’t find supporting confirmation of that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true – although I’m not entirely certain it’s relevant.
From Fowler, back to the USAF. Col Robert Friend. I’d like to go into a lot more depth on this guy because holy crap did he have a fascinating life. Friend was one of the legendary Tuskagee Airmen, the first group of African-American combat pilots. At the time In Search Of… interviewed him, Friend was an engineer on the Space Shuttle project. He died in 2019 at the age of 99, surrounded by family and having lead a very full life. But he was also head of Project Blue Book from 1958-63, so that’s all we talk about here during his too-brief screen time. Sigh. He says he has no knowledge of a cover-up and that many UFO groups are unhappy that he found no evidence of flying saucers.
Back to Roswell, looking at military debris in desert. The son of Roswell witness Dan Wilmot retells his father’s story. It’s as interesting as a man telling a second-hand story while pointing at an empty sky can be.
Next photos of newspapers, while Nimoy tells of debris discovered in the desert, initially said to be flying saucer fragments and later explained as bits of a weather balloon. We talk to Jesse Marcel, another USAF guy, who had been in charge of atomic test security. He says that he went along with the weather balloon story even at the time. He re-enacts his own journey across the desert to the remote crash site. We intercut between him and the ‘debris’ from earlier. It’s adorable. The tortoise is moving through bits of bent aluminium while Marcel talks about how strange the metal he found was – very thin but incredibly tough. So not much like the cheap junk In Search Of… littered the desert with, exactly.
Back to Gersten. He points to a document marked ‘UNCLASSIFIED’. He says that the FBI claimed that the crash was of an experimental kite, not a balloon. Not sure of relevance? Maybe just one of those ‘the official story keeps changing’ deals, I guess. Marcel straight-up says that the debris was not from this earth.
Footage of A-bomb. About bloody time! Then a rocket launch, a U-2 spy plane. Nimoy talks about the perfect secrecy of the Manhattan Project and how other secret projects were successfully secret. Awkward segue to captured enemy aircraft being sent to Wright-Patterson Airbase. It’s so secret, Nimoy claims, one time they didn’t let Barry Goldwater in. To me, that just shows that base security had good taste.
(Brief pause to let the two eighty-year-old readers who got that joke to have a little chuckle. Okay, back to the article.)
Nimoy in a fawn windcheater drives a military jeep past a chain-link fence bearing a sign saying “TOP SECRET US GOVERNMENT PROPERTY”. Hell, yeah! It’s cut to look like he’s driving past Wright-Patterson. Maybe he is, but my money would be on somewhere closer to LA.
Nimoy hops out. No more pussyfooting around the issue! Straight to camera, he says that there are rumours of alien spacecraft parts being stored there along with frozen alien bodies. Where? The mysterious Hangar 18. Dun dun DUN!
And the episode is only half-over and I’m eleven hundred words in. I think this is going to have to be my first two-parter.
“If there was a cover-up, they were very successful for keeping it from me.” – Colonel Friend.
Nimoyness: 10/10, Stock footage: 9/10, Electronic music: 10/10, Hearsay and supposition: 10/10, Crappy reenactment: 11/10. Overall: 50/50. High Distinction