Cartoon Truth:

CIA's most-read publication -- on UFOs

No worries. It was a spy plane all along.
No worries. It was a spy plane all along.

You know all those reports of UFOs in the 1950s, and how it seemed as though the American public had gone a little star crazy? Well, we can thank the CIA for that.

     A report on a government spy program that resulted in erroneous UFO sightings was the most-read document on the CIA website in 2014, according to the agency’s Twitter account. The report, "The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974," was written in 1998 by Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach of the history staff at the Center for the Study of Intelligence.
     Nearly 300 pages long, it contains some redacted sections but otherwise describes a U.S. Air Force and Navy plan in the late 1940s to get aerial photographs of the Soviet Union.To stay clear of Soviet fighters, the military needed to fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet, the report says. By 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a program to send aircraft over the Soviet Union.
     Along the way, common governmental problems surfaced. For example: Who was in charge? How would the country pay for this thing? Officials wondered what they should call a top-secret spy plane (when they didn’t want to admit that they had a top-secret spy plane in the first place). They didn’t want to call the aircraft a bomber or fighter or transport plane.
      They decided it should come under the “utility aircraft” category. There were two other utility aircraft, known as U-1 and U-3. The new aircraft would be the U-2.
      But there was another problem. When the government started testing the U-2, an “unexpected side effect” occurred, the report said. There was “a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).”
     At the time, commercial aircraft flew at altitudes of 10,000 to 20,000 feet. Military aircraft operated at altitudes below 40,000 feet.
     The sightings generally occurred “in the early evening hours from pilots of airliners flying from east to west," the report said. "When the sun dropped below the horizon of an airliner flying at 20,000 feet, the plane was in darkness. But, if a U-2 was airborne in the vicinity of the airliner at the same time, its horizon from an altitude of 60,000 feet was considerably more distant, and, being so high in the sky, its silver wings would catch and reflect the rays of the sun and appear to the airliner pilot, 40,000 feet below, to be fiery objects.”
     No one believed manned flight was possible at that altitude, so no one expected to see an aircraft up there.
     Pilots and observers on the ground wrote letters to the Wright Air Development Command in Dayton, Ohio, which was to investigate the phenomenon. The Air Force began operation Blue Book, which collected reports of UFO sightings. Checking the reports against U-2 logs, investigators eliminated the majority of UFO reports -- although they could not tell the letter writers why.

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