Released in 1980, Hangar 18 was arguably Hollywood’s first UFO conspiracy movie. Its plot features many aspects of the real-life UFO enigma, including specific details from allegedly authentic top-secret UFO-related government documentation.
Hangar 18 continues to provoke discussion within the UFO community, in part for the fact that it was released in 1980. It was in this year that details of the Roswell incident began to filter into the popular consciousness with the publication of Charles Berlitz and William Moore’s The Roswell Incident—the first book on the Roswell subject. Equally significant in 1980, and undoubtedly connected to the Roswell developments, was the quiet insertion into the UFO community of the term “MJ-Twelve.” This term, along with its variant, “Majestic Twelve,” has now assumed permanent residency in popular culture, having featured in films, TV shows, comic books and video games.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD…
Hangar 18 begins in Earth orbit as NASA is preparing to launch a satellite under the watchful eye of the US military. Just as the satellite is launched from the space shuttle, however, it collides with a UFO, killing a NASA astronaut in the launch bay. This is witnessed by the other crew in the shuttle, our heroes Bancroft and Price, (played by Gary Collins and James Hampton). Upon their return to Earth the men seek answers but soon realize their government has instigated a cover-up, and that they too are being kept in the dark.
We learn that, following the collision in orbit, the UFO made a controlled landing in the Arizona desert, where it was captured by the US military. The craft is soon transported to the top secret Hangar 18, where it is studied by NASA scientists (lead by Darren McGavin). Onboard the craft, the scientists make a series of startling discoveries:
• The alien pilots, although dead, are physically undamaged and are almost exactly human in appearance. The scientists conclude that the aliens visited Earth in ancient times, that they were seen as gods, and that they interbred with Earth women and “jump-started” human life as we know it today.
• A human woman is also onboard the craft in stasis. When removed by doctors, the woman awakens in a state of terror. We assume she is an abductee.
• In the ship’s data files, the scientists find glyphs similar to those used by ancient Earth civilizations. The scientists also discover extensive aerial surveillance footage of Earth’s power plants, military bases and major cities. The aliens, it seems, have been taking an active interest in our technological capabilities.
Meanwhile, Bancroft and Price are dogged in their pursuit of the truth and are targeted by the government for assassination. Price is killed, but Bancroft survives and eventually finds his way to Hangar 18 and aboard the alien spacecraft. Around this point, the NASA scientists finally decipher the alien glyphs, which indicate that the beings were planning to return to Earth en masse in the near future.
Before any of this information has a chance to sink-in, government agents fly a remote-controlled jet filled with explosives into Hangar 18, the goal being to kill all involved in the cover-up, thereby permanently burying the secret. However, unbeknownst to the government hit squad, several of the NASA scientists, as well as Bancroft, are inside the alien craft when the hanger explodes. The craft, it turns out, is invincible, and the survivors inside decide to let the truth be known. The film ends with UFO Disclosure.
Ancient Astronauts and Christianity
Hangar 18’s depiction of human-looking extraterrestrials is particularly interesting, as is the idea that these beings jumpstarted the human race—these very same details were to appear three years later in a “secret” Air Force report shown to UFO writer and journalist Linda Moulton Howe as part of her preparation for a documentary on UFOs.
On 9 April 1983, during a meeting at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Air Force Office of Special Investigations Officer Richard Doty presented Howe with a document, the front cover of which read:
"BRIEFING PAPER FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ON THE SUBJECT OF UNIDENTIFIED AERIAL VEHICLES (UAVs)"
Doty told Howe that she was to read the document at the request of his superiors, but stressed that she was forbidden from taking the document with her and from taking notes of any kind.
The weighty document detailed many aspects of the UFO phenomenon and included a list of UFO crash/retrievals. The list included two separate incidents near the Roswell region in 1947, and another in 1949, which resulted in the capture of a live extraterrestrial that was taken to Los Alamos National Laboratories. Apparently, the being was held captive before it died of unknown causes in 1952. Other crashes listed in the document included Aztec New Mexico, Kingman Arizona, and Loredo Texas.
Most shocking to Howe was a paragraph that said the extraterrestrials had manipulated DNA in an evolving primate species to create Homo sapiens. Elsewhere in the document it was noted that the ETs had created a being on Earth whose purpose was to teach humans about love and non-violence. Howe was astonished: “We are talking about Jesus Christ,” she said to Doty, who said nothing in response, but who, she asserts, looked deeply uncomfortable.
The author and researcher Mike Clelland has pointed out that the parallels between the content of Hangar 18 and the report shown to Linda Moulton Howe are so striking that “The document that Howe saw could very well have been written by Darren McGavin’s character from what he learned in the movie.” Clelland observes:
We have a reporter [LMH] being shown a secret document by the Air Force in 1983, the conclusion is that they [officialdom] wanted this information floated out to the public. Three years earlier we have the movie Hangar 18 “floating” out the same information in the guise of an action film.
In 1971, Sunn Classic Pictures started to produce and distribute feature films and documentaries about UFOs (with an emphasis on Ancient Astronauts) and other paranormal/psychic phenomena. Titles included the aforementioned Ancient Astronaut-themed The Outer Space Connection (1975), The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena (1976), The Bermuda Triangle (1979), based on Charles Berlitz’s non-fiction book linking UFOs to the disappearance of ships and aircraft; Beyond Death’s Door (1979), about life after death; and, in 1980, Hangar 18. Sunn Classic Pictures also had a strong focus on religious documentaries, with titles including: In Search of Noah’s Ark (1976), In Search of Historic Jesus (1979), and a TV series that ran from 1978 to 1979 called Greatest Heroes of the Bible.
The Mormon connection
Sunn Classic Pictures was established in Utah as a Mormon-run company with Raylan Jensen as its first President. Many of the studio’s writers, producers, and directors also were Mormons, including Robert Starling (writer of In Search of Historic Jesus, and who in later life would make an educational documentary about the Mormon Church), and Charles E. Sellier Jr., one of Sunn’s most successful writer/producers and also a co-founder of the studio with Raylan Jensen. As a producer, Sellier would make only family-friendly G-rated films “out of Mormon conviction.” His credits for Sunn notably included The Bermuda Triangle and Hangar 18. In 1997, Sellier wrote UFO, a non-fiction book examining the UFO enigma in the context of a government cover-up.
It makes sense that a Mormon-run film studio should exhibit an interest in UFOs. Mormon cosmology holds that the Earth is not unique, but just one of many inhabited planets, each created by Jesus for the purpose of bringing about immortality and eternal life. Mormon leaders have taught that the inhabitants of these planets are almost identical in appearance to humans – just as the alien beings in Hangar 18 are extremely human-like (a point dwelt upon in the film’s plot).
Also worthy of mention in this discussion is “Kolob,” a heavenly body described in Mormon scripture as a star, but which is generally regarded by Mormons as a planet. It is said to be the closest place in the universe to the throne of God. In the context of science-fiction, the popular Ancient Astronaut-flavoured TV series Battlestar Galactica (1978–1979 and 2004–2009) incorporates many Mormon cosmological beliefs into its overarching narrative. This is because the creator of the show, Glen Larson, was himself a Mormon. In the TV series, the planet Kobol (as opposed to Kolob) is the birth place of the human race where the “Lords of Kobol” are held sacred.
An LDS educational agenda?
In the Mormon text, Doctrines of Salvation (1:62), tenth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Joseph Fielding Smith, states:
“We are not the only people that the Lord has created. We have brothers and sisters on other earths. They look like us because they, too, are the children of God and were created in his image, for they are also his offspring.”
Smith began his LDS Presidency in 1970, the year prior to the establishment of Sunn Classic Pictures.
Also relevant is a quote by LDS Apostle Neal A. Maxwell. In his book, A Wonderful Flood of Light (p.25), Maxwell wrote: “We do not know how many inhabited worlds there are, or where they are. But certainly we are not alone.” Between 1970 and 1976, the formative years of Sunn Classic Pictures, Maxwell served as the LDS Commissioner of Church Education, which is responsible for providing religious and secular education for people of all ages, both LDS and non-LDS.
The question is...
The key question relating to Sunn Classic Pictures (and one that, for now, remains unanswered) is this: was the studio’s alien-themed output simply a reflection of Mormon ideals and beliefs held by the studio’s core writers/producers/directors (as well as an attempt on their part to cash in on the ever-popular subject of UFOs), or, was it a more lofty strategy on the part of Mormon Church itself to subtly educate the public about an aspect of the Mormon faith which, in the century of the UFO, was becoming both increasingly taboo and increasingly relevant (i.e. life on other planets and its possible links to humanity)?
Whatever the truth behind its production, Hangar 18 remains a fascinating and entertaining movie—a must-see for any self-respecting UFO conspiracy buff. Check it out.