Estimate of the Situation

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The Estimate of the Situation was a document written in 1948 by the personnel of United States Air Force's Project Sign - including the project's director, Captain Robert R. Sneider - which explained their reasons for concluding that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was the best explanation for unidentified flying objects. The report's conclusions were rejected by General Hoyt Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, for lack of proof.[1]

As late as 1960,[2] USAF personnel stated that the document never existed. However, several Air Force officers, and one consultant, claim the report as being a real document that was suppressed. Jenny Randles and Peter Hough describe the Estimate as the "Holy Grail of ufology" and state that Freedom of Information Act requests for the document have been fruitless.[3]

Chiles-Whitted Encounter[edit]

Though Sign investigated earlier UFO reports, historian David M. Jacobs writes that the highly publicized Chiles-Whitted UFO Encounter of July 24, 1948 "had a great impact at Sign".[4] In that encounter, two experienced airline pilots claimed a torpedo-shaped object nearly collided with their commercial airplane. Sign personnel judged the report compelling, partly because the alleged object also closely matched the description of an independent sighting from the Hague a few days earlier.[1]

According to Michael D. Swords,[5] Sign personnel "intensely investigated" the Chiles-Whitted sighting for several months. Despite the lack of physical evidence, some Sign personnel judged this and other UFO reports quite persuasive, and concluded that UFOs could have only a non-earthly source.[citation needed]

Swords writes,

The project members reasoned that they had several dozen aerial observations that they could not explain, many of them by military pilots and scientists. The objects seemed to act like real technology, but their sources said they were not ours. The flying fuselage encounter [Chiles-Whitted] intrigued them. The Prandtl theory of lift indicated that such an odd shape can fly, but it would need some form of power plant advanced well beyond what we could build (e.g., nuclear)."[5]

Given that there was no evidence that either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. had anything remotely like the UFOs reported, Sign personnel gradually began considering extraterrestrial origins for the objects.[citation needed]


The purpose of the document was described in a 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, which was written by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, the director of the later-established Project Grudge and Project Blue Book. Ruppelt writes:

In intelligence, if you have something to say about some vital problem you write a report that is known as an "Estimate of the Situation". A few days after the DC-3 was buzzed, the people at ATIC decided that the time had come to make an Estimate of the Situation. The situation was the UFOs; the estimate was that they were interplanetary![1]

Swords argues that this consideration of non-earthly origin was "not as incredible in intelligence circles as one might think." Because many in the military were "pilots, engineers and technical people" they had a "'can do' attitude" and tended to regard unavailable technologies not as impossibilities, but as challenges to be overcome. Rather than dismissing UFO reports out of hand, they considered how such objects might function. This perspective, argues Swords, "contrasted markedly with many scientists' characterizations of such concepts as impossible, unthinkable or absurd."[5]


According to Ruppelt, Estimate was rejected by top brass:

... the Top Secret Estimate of the Situation was working its way up into the higher echelons of the Air Force. It got to the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff, before it was batted back down. The general wouldn't buy interplanetary vehicles. The report lacked proof. A group from ATIC went to the Pentagon to bolster their position but had no luck, the Chief of Staff just couldn't be convinced.[1]

In a letter dated November 3, 1948, Major General C.P. Cabell wrote to Project Sign:

The conclusion appears inescapable that some type of flying object has been observed. Identification and the origin of these objects is not discernible to this Headquarters. It is imperative, therefore, that efforts to determine whether these objects are of domestic or foreign origin must be increased until conclusive evidence is obtained. The needs of national defense require such evidence in order that appropriate countermeasures may be taken.[6]

Colonel Howard McCoy responded in a somewhat defensive letter dated November 8, 1948.[7] He noted that many of the UFO reports were misidentified everyday phenomena (see Identified flying object), but also restated the rejected ideas of the Estimate without explicitly endorsing the interplanetary hypothesis; as Swords writes," [Project Sign] just had their knuckles rapped, so they defended themselves."[citation needed] McCoy wrote:

[T]here remains a certain number of reports for which no reasonable everyday explanation is available. So far, no physical evidence of the existence of the unidentified sightings has been obtained...The possibility that the reported objects are vehicles from another planet has not been ignored. However, tangible evidence to support conclusions about such a possibility are completely lacking...[citation needed]

When Sign personnel refused to abandon the interplanetary hypothesis, many were reassigned, and Sign was renamed Project Grudge in 1949. According to Ruppelt:

The estimate died a quick death. Some months later it was completely declassified and relegated to the incinerator. A few copies, one of which I saw, were kept as mementos of the golden days of the UFOs.[1]


Clark notes that "No copies of this near-legendary document have surfaced since." According to Clark, the U.S. Air Force later formally admitted the Estimate was real, but Clark's bibliography does not make clear what statement or document confirmed the Estimate's reality.[2]

Additionally, according to Clark, the Estimate's existence was confirmed by U.S. Air Force Major Dewey J. Fournet, who as an Air Force major in the Pentagon served as liaison with official UFO project headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.[2] Fournet has been described[by whom?] as being "unimpressed" with the Estimate, and was furthermore quoted as describing the ET conclusion as an "extreme extrapolation" based on scant evidence.[8]

An Air Force consultant, astronomer Dr. Allen Hynek, also verified the Estimate's existence. [9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ruppelt, Edward J (1960). The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (2nd ed.). Doubleday & Company.
  2. ^ a b c Clark, Jerome (1998). The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 9781578590292.
  3. ^ Randles, Jenny (1994). The Complete Book of UFOs: An Investigation into Alien Contact and Encounters. Sterling Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0806981321.
  4. ^ Jacobs, David M. (1975). The UFO Controversy In America. Indiana University Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0253190062.
  5. ^ a b c Swords, Michael D. (2000). UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War. p. 93.
  6. ^ Cabell Memo To AMC - 3 NOV 1948
  7. ^ McCoy Memo - 1948
  8. ^ Greenwood, Barry. "UFOS: GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT, SECRECY, AND DOCUMENTS". PROJECT 1947. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  9. ^ Hynek, J. Allen (1972). The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. Henry Regnery Company. ISBN 0-8094-8054-9.