Roswell: Balloons and Dummies, But No Aliens

June 25, 2021Lauren Coontz

Adobe stock image.

June 24 marked the 24th anniversary of the Air Force’s final report on the “Roswell Incident,” which occurred in 1947 at a remote airfield that had been closed for two decades by the time the report came out.

Sometime in the next day or so, yet another report is due from the Pentagon on several more accounts of “unidentified aerial phenomena.” The widespread obsession with UAPs (aka UFOs) dates back to July 8, 1947, when reports of a flying disk crashing on a dairy ranch outside sleepy Roswell, New Mexico, first emerged.

And in some ways, the obsession still hasn’t gone away.

Like most Roswell rumors, the supposed “alien bodies” at the long-closed airfield were not even close to real. Photo by Frank Pierson, courtesy of Wikicommons.

The Roswell crash traces to Roswell Army Air Field. Built as a flight school in its World War II days, it was eventually renamed Walker Air Force Base and closed during the Vietnam War. But it took two more decades to close the door on Roswell-related rumors. The 1947 incident — the crash of a “disc”-like object and strange “debris” retrieved and photographed from the site — led to tales of strange flying objects and reports of alien bodies.

The Roswell Incident, as it came to be known, is one of the most thoroughly examined and debunked rumors of alien activity in UFO history. But, like many myths, it began with a few kernels of truth.

The Roswell Incident “debris” was likely part of an ongoing series of experiments by New York University researchers using a weather balloon. Specifically, the mysterious disc and the debris were probably the experiment’s fourth balloon, according to professor Charles B. Moore, who was a graduate student during the test flights. In 2017, he detailed the contents of the weather balloons and what they were made of to the Skeptical Inquirer for the Center for Inquiry. The wreckage may have looked like space-age material, but really it was foil glued to paper and held together with wooden dowels. 

Maj. Jesse A. Marcel holds foil debris from Roswell, N.M., though not from a UFO. Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections.

The NYU project also led to another of Roswell’s rumors: alien “bodies.” In 1947, the Air Force and the scientists dropped human-shaped dummies from high altitude research balloons testing the atmosphere in a classified operation code-named “Mogul.” Project Mogul piggybacked off the NYU project to probe the high-altitude intersection of air between the troposphere and the stratosphere portions of the Earth’s atmosphere. 

The NYU project was not classified, but Mogul was. Mogul used highly sensitive microphones attached to the NYU balloons to test the possibility of detecting long-distance sound waves from Soviet nuclear test launches. As such, the Air Force treated the loss of the dummies as a secret, fueling later conspiracies.

In addition to using “anthropomorphic dummies” in occasional experiments, two later unfortunate events added to the “bodies” myth: A series of accidents killed 13 people near Roswell — 11 in a single crash, and two others from yet another failed weather test.

Aliens — not! Actually, these creepy “anthropomorphic dummies” were dropped from atmospheric testing balloons in 1947. Photo courtesy of the US Air Force.

From these mostly boring and occasionally tragic moments spread over a decade in a mostly empty desert, rumors emerged. And it took four more decades to get the rumors sorted out.

Released in 1994 and 1997, the Air Force’s two Roswell reports total over 1,200 pages of interviews with the involved Air Force personnel and eyewitnesses, as well as photographs of items that witnesses may have mistaken for “flying disks” or “alien bodies.”

The first report, released in July 1994, contains almost 1,000 pages of information that definitively puts the myth of aliens crashing in Roswell to bed. Titled The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert, the Air Force General Accounting Office (GAO) and a member of Congress initiated the investigation to “determine if the U.S. Air Force, or any other U.S. government agency, possessed information on the alleged crash and recovery of an extraterrestrial vehicle and its alien occupants.” 

In 1997, the Air Force released a 232-page addendum to the 1994 report, including further interviews and eyewitness accounts. Titled Roswell: Case Closed, it further dispelled the American myth, and the Air Force closed the case on Roswell once and for all.

Read Next: The ‘Drowned Mona Lisa’ Who Became the Face of CPR Mannequins

Lauren Coontz
Lauren Coontz

Lauren Coontz is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. Beaches are preferred, but Lauren calls the Rocky Mountains of Utah home. You can usually find her in an art museum, at an archaeology site, or checking out local nightlife like drag shows and cocktail bars (gin is key). A student of history, Lauren is an Army veteran who worked all over the world and loves to travel to see the old stuff the history books only give a sentence to. She likes medium roast coffee and sometimes, like a sinner, adds sweet cream to it.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
The Speed Project: Vet Team To Run in Lawless, Invite-Only Ultramarathon

For the first time, a team of (mostly) US veterans and active-duty service members will run in The S...

March 23, 2023Jenna Biter
uranium-based ammo ammunition Ukraine UK depleted uranium
A Look At the Uranium-Based Ammo the UK Will Send to Ukraine

The British defense ministry on Monday confirmed it would provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

March 23, 2023Associated Press
Zaporizhzhia Ukraine Russia
Ukraine: Russia Hits Apartments and Dorm, Killing Civilians

“Russia is shelling the city with bestial savagery,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a Telegr...

March 22, 2023Associated Press
cold brew coffee soda float
The Bitter Barista's Cold Brew Coffee Soda Float

Today, we combine the best of both worlds with this indulgent recipe, smashing together our love of coffee and ice cream with a cold brew coffee soda float!

March 21, 2023Heather Lynn
abrams tanks ukraine
US Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery to Ukraine War Zone

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or ...

March 21, 2023Associated Press
Coffee Or Die Photo
US: War Crimes on All Sides in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

March 20, 2023Associated Press
military pilots cancer rates
Higher Cancer Rates Found in Military Pilots, Ground Crews

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft b...

March 20, 2023Associated Press
whiskey pour
Veterans Lead the Way Among America’s Growing Craft Distilleries

American veterans are taking the lessons they learned in the military and changing the craft distilling industry.

March 20, 2023Mac Caltrider
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved