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The Roswell Dummies: “He’s dead! He’s dead!”

In 1997, three years after the Air Force published its report suggesting that what came down on the Foster Ranch, Lincoln County, New Mexico in early July 1947 was a Mogul balloon designed to monitor for early Soviet atomic tests, its staff came up with a new theory for the Roswell affair. This one addressed the highly controversial issue of bodies having been found on the ranch and near to the huge debris site discovered by rancher William Brazel. The 1997 report was titled The Roswell Report: Case Closed. Although I don’t personally endorse the Air Force’s angle on the bodies, I did at least read the report from start to finish. Over the years, though, I have come across more than a few people in Ufology who didn’t even bother reading what the Air Force had to say – which is certainly not the best way to evaluate the data, correct or not. So, I figured that today I would share with you what the Air Force had to say in its 1997 report. In a foreword to the report, Sheila Widnall, the Secretary of the Air Force at the time, said the following:

“The ‘Roswell Incident’ has assumed a central place in American folklore since the events of the 1940s in a remote area of New Mexico. Because the Air Force was a major player in those events, we have played a key role in executing the General Accounting Office’s tasking to uncover all records regarding that incident. Our objective throughout this inquiry has been simple and consistent: to find all the facts and bring them to light. If documents were classified, declassify them; where they were dispersed, bring them into a single source for public review. In July 1994, we completed the first step in that effort and later published The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert. This volume represents the necessary follow-on to that first publication and contains additional material and analysis. I think that with this publication we have reached our goal of a complete and open explanation of the events that occurred in the Southwest many years ago. Beyond that achievement, this inquiry has shed fascinating light into the Air Force of that era and revitalized our appreciation for the dedication and accomplishments of the men and women of that time. As we celebrate the Air Force’s 50th Anniversary, it is appropriate to once again reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to make ours the finest air and space force in history.”

On its decision to finally address the matter of the bodies allegedly found on the Foster Ranch, the Air Force began as follows: “The July 1994 Air Force report concluded that the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army Air Forces, did indeed recover material near Roswell in July 1947. This 1,000-page report methodically explains that what was recovered by the Army Air Forces was not the remnants of an extraterrestrial spacecraft and its alien crew, but debris from an Army Air Forces balloon-borne research project code named Mogul. Although Mogul components clearly accounted for the claims of ‘flying saucer’ debris recovered in 1947, lingering questions remained concerning anecdotal accounts that included descriptions of ‘alien’ bodies. The issue of ‘bodies’ was not discussed extensively in the 1994 report because there were not any bodies connected with events that occurred in 1947. The extensive Secretary of the Air Force-directed search of Army Air Forces and U.S. Air Force records from 1947 did not yield information that even suggested the 1947 ‘Roswell’ events were anything other than the retrieval of the Mogul equipment.”

The Air Force then got to the point: “Subsequent to the 1994 report, Air Force researchers discovered information that provided a rational explanation for the alleged observations of alien bodies associated with the ‘Roswell Incident.’ Pursuant to the discovery, research efforts compared documented Air Force activities to the incredible claims of ‘flying saucers,’ ‘aliens’ and seemingly unusual Air Force involvement. This in-depth examination revealed that these accounts, in most instances, were of actual Air Force activities but were seriously flawed in several major areas, most notably: the Air Force operations that inspired reports of  ‘bodies’ (in addition to being earthly in origin) did not occur in 1947. It appears that UFO proponents have failed to establish the accurate dates for these ‘alien’ observations (in some instances by more than a decade) and then erroneously linked them to the actual Project Mogul debris recovery. This report discusses the results of this further research and identifies the likely sources of the claims of ‘alien’ bodies. Contrary to allegations that the Air Force has engaged in a cover-up and possesses dark secrets involving the Roswell claims, some of the accounts appear to be descriptions of unclassified and widely publicized Air Force scientific achievements.”

The military expanded: “Air Force activities which occurred over a period of many years have been consolidated and are now represented to have occurred in two or three days in July 1947. ‘Aliens’ observed in the New Mexico desert were probably anthropomorphic test dummies that were carried aloft by U.S. Air Force high altitude balloons for scientific research. The ‘unusual’ military activities in the New Mexico desert were high altitude research balloon launch and recovery operations. The reports of military units that always seemed to arrive shortly after the crash of a flying saucer to retrieve the saucer and ‘crew’ were actually accurate descriptions of Air Force personnel engaged in anthropomorphic dummy recovery operations. Claims of bodies at the Roswell Army Air Field hospital were most likely a combination of two separate incidents: 1) a 1956 KC-97 aircraft accident in which 11 Air Force members lost their lives; and, 2) a 1959 manned balloon mishap in which two Air Force pilots were injured.”

That amounted to the Air Force’s final words: nothing stranger than crash-test dummies, and not a single alien anywhere in sight. Let’s now jump back and see how, specifically, the Air Force reached that conclusion. The report stated: “The most puzzling and intriguing element of the complex series of events now known as the Roswell Incident, are the alleged sightings of alien bodies. The bodies turned what, for many years, was just another flying saucer story, into what many UFO proponents claim is the best case for extraterrestrial visitation of Earth. The importance of bodies and the assumptions made as to their origin is illustrated in a passage from a popular Roswell book: ‘Crashed saucers are one thing, and could well turn out to be futuristic American or even foreign aircraft or missiles. But alien bodies are another matter entirely, and hardly subject to misinterpretation?'”

In a section of the Air Force’s report titled “Test Dummies Used by the U.S. Air Force,” the Air Force provided the following words: “Since the beginning of manned flight, designers have sought a substitute for the human body to test hazardous new equipment. Early devices used by the predecessors of the U.S. Air Force were simply constructed parachute drop test dummies with little similarity to the human form. Following World War II, aircraft emergency escape systems became increasingly sophisticated and engineers required a dummy with more humanlike characteristics.” The Air Force continued with a history of how and under what circumstances the military decided to make good use of crash-test dummies: “During World War I research and development of the first U.S. military parachute was underway at McCook Field, Ohio. To test the parachute, engineers experimented with several types of dummies, settling on a model constructed of three-inch hemp rope and sandbags with the approximate proportions of a medium-sized man. 30 The new invention was soon known by the nickname ‘Dummy Joe.’ Dummy Joe is said to have made more than five thousand ‘jumps’ between 1918 and 1924.

“By 1924, parachutes were required on military aircraft with their serviceability tested by dummies dropped from aircraft. For this routine testing, several types of dummies were used. Parachutes were individually drop- tested from aircraft until the early stages of World War II, when, due both to increased reliability and large numbers of parachutes in service, this routine practice was discontinued. Nonetheless, test dummies were still used frequently by the Parachute Branch of Air Materiel Command (AMC) at Wright Field, Ohio, to test new parachute designs.”

The Air Force then turned its attention to the matter of what was undertaken in the 1949 and onward era (which is decidedly strange, indeed, since the Roswell affair occurred midway through 1947, two years earlier): “In 1949, the U.S. Air Force Aero Medical Laboratory submitted a proposal for an improved model of the anthropomorphic dummy. This request was originated by the renowned Air Force scientist and physician John P. Stapp, now a retired Colonel, who conducted a series of landmark experiments at Muroc (now Edwards) AFB, Calif., to measure the effects of acceleration and deceleration during high-speed aircraft ejections.”

As the Air Force noted: “Stapp required a dummy that had the same center of gravity and articulation as a human, but, unlike the Ted Smith dummy, was more human in appearance. A more accurate external appearance was required to provide for the proper fit of helmets, oxygen masks, and other equipment used during the tests. Stapp requested the Anthropology Branch of the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field to review anthropological, orthopedic, and engineering literature to prepare specifications for the new dummy. Plaster casts of the torso, legs, and arms of an Air Force pilot were also taken to assure accuracy. The result was a proposed dummy that stood 72 inches tall, weighed 200 pounds, had provisions for mounting instrumentation, and could withstand up to 100 times the force of gravity.

“In 1949, a contract was awarded to Sierra Engineering Company of Sierra Madre, Calif., and deliveries began in 1950. This dummy quickly became known as “Sierra Sam.” In 1952, a contract for anthropomorphic dummies was awarded to Alderson Research Laboratories, Inc., of New York City. Dummies constructed by both companies possessed the same basic characteristics: a skeleton of aluminum or steel, latex or plastic skin, a cast aluminum skull, and an instrument cavity in the torso and head for the mounting of strain gauges, accelerometers, transducers, and rate gyros. Models used by the Air Force were primarily parachute drop and ejection seat versions with center of gravity tolerances within one quarter inch.”

Now, we get to the heart of the matter: the Air Force’s rationale for believing that Roswell’s “alien bodies” were really nothing stranger than dummies. The report states: “Over the next several years the two companies improved and redesigned internal structures and instrumentation, but the basic external appearance of the dummies remained relatively constant from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. Dummies of these types were most likely the ‘aliens’ associated with the ‘Roswell Incident.’ Anthropomorphic dummies were transported to altitudes up to 98,000 feet by high altitude balloons. The dummies were then released for a period of free-fall while body movements and escape equipment performance were recorded by a variety of instruments. Forty-three high altitude balloon flights carrying anthropomorphic dummies were launched and recovered throughout New Mexico between June 1954 and February 1959. 44 Due to prevailing wind conditions, operational factors and ruggedness of the terrain, the majority of dummies impacted outside the confines of military reservations in eastern New Mexico, near Roswell, and in areas surrounding the Tularosa Valley in south central New Mexico. Additionally, 30 dummies were dropped by aircraft over White Sands Proving Ground, N.M. in 1953. In 1959, 150 dummies were dropped by aircraft over Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (possibly accounting for alleged alien ‘sightings’ at that location).

The Air Force expanded: “For the majority of the tests, dummies were flown to altitudes between 30,000 and 98,000 feet attached to a specially designed rack suspended below a high altitude balloon. On several flights the dummies were mounted in the door of an experimental high altitude balloon gondola. Upon reaching the desired altitude, the dummies were released and free-fell for several minutes before deployment of the main parachute. The dummies used for the balloon drops were outfitted with standard equipment of an Air Force aircrew member. This equipment consisted of a one-piece flight-suit, olive drab, gray (witnesses had described seeing aliens in gray one-piece suits) or fuchsia in color, boots, and a parachute pack.  The dummies were also fitted with an instrumentation kit that contained accelerometers, pressure transducers, an ocscillograph, and a camera to record movements of the dummy during free-fall.”

Since the final portion of the document concludes the Air Force’s report on why its personnel were as sure as they could be that the strange bodies were really dummies, I’ll present it without interruption: “Recoveries of the test dummies were accomplished by personnel from the Holloman AFB Balloon Branch. 53 Typically, eight to twelve civilian and military recovery personnel arrived at the site of an anthropomorphic dummy landing as soon as possible following impact. The recovery crews operated a variety of aircraft and vehicles. These included a wrecker, a six-by-six, a weapons carrier, and L-20 observation and C-47 transport aircraft — the exact vehicles and aircraft described by the witnesses as having been present at the crashed saucer locations. On one occasion, just southwest of Roswell, a High Dive project officer, 1st Lt. Raymond A. Madson, even conducted a search for dummies on horseback.

“On a typical flight the dummies were separated from the balloon by radio command and descended by parachute. 57 Prompt recovery of the dummies and their suspension racks, which usually did not land in the same location resulting in extensive ground and air searches, was essential for researchers to evaluate information collected by the instrumentation and cameras. To assist the recovery personnel, a variety of methods were used to enhance the visibility of the dummies: smoke grenades, pigment powder, and brightly colored parachute canopies. Also, recovery notices promising a $25 reward were taped to an exposed portion of a dummy. 59 Local newspapers and radio stations were contacted when equipment was lost.

“Despite these efforts, the dummies were not always recovered immediately; one was not found for nearly three years and several were not recovered at all. When they were found, the dummies and instrumentation were often damaged from impact. Damage to the dummies included loss of heads, arms, legs and fingers. This detail, dummies with missing fingers, appears to satisfy another element of the research profile: aliens with only four fingers.

“What may have contributed to a misunderstanding if the dummies were viewed by persons unfamiliar with their intended use, were the methods used by Holloman AFB personnel to transport them. The dummies were sometimes transported to and from off-range locations in wooden shipping containers, similar to caskets, to prevent damage to fragile instruments mounted in and on the dummy. Also, canvas military stretchers and hospital gurneys were used (a procedure recommended by a dummy manufacturer) to move the dummies in the laboratory or retrieve dummies in the field after a test. The first 10 dummy drops also utilized black or silver insulation bags, similar to ‘body bags’ in which the dummies were placed for flight to guard against equipment failure at low ambient temperatures of the upper atmosphere. On one occasion northwest of Roswell, a local woman unfamiliar with the test activities arrived at a dummy landing site prior to the arrival of the recovery personnel. The woman saw what appeared to be a human embedded head first in a snowbank and became hysterical. The woman screamed, ‘He’s dead!, he’s dead!'”

The Air Force came right to the point, making an authoritative statement: “It now appeared that anthropomorphic dummies dropped by high altitude balloons satisfied the requirements of the research profile.” Of course, the UFO research community was not impressed and scoffed at the idea that those who claimed to have seen alien bodies had actually witnessed nothing stranger than a crash-test dummy. It’s eye-opening to note, though, that when the report was released in July 1997 (the 50th anniversary of the incident) even the mainstream media doubted the odd theory. Indeed, they noted that the bulk of the report was focused on the usage of dummies in the 1950s and certainly not in 1947. At the July 1947 press conference,  a journalist asked the following question: “How do you square the UFO enthusiasts saying that they’re talking about 1947, and you’re talking about dummies used in the 50’s, almost a decade later?”

Air Force spokesman, Colonel John Haynes replied, slightly and noticeably awkwardly: “Well, I’m afraid that’s a problem that we have with time compression. I don’t know what they saw in ‘47, but I’m quite sure it probably was Project Mogul. But I think if you find that people talk about things over a period of time, they begin to lose exactly when the date was.” End of story.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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