Project Sign: The Dawn of Government UFO Investigations

In the twilight of the 1940s, America found itself grappling with a phenomenon that shook its scientific and military establishments: Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). To understand and potentially debunk this enigma, the United States Air Force instituted an investigative initiative called Project Sign.

Born from the remnants of World War II and the beginnings of the Cold War, the American public was consumed by a curious mix of fear, fascination, and skepticism concerning the subject of UFOs. The increasing number of mysterious sightings prompted the U.S. military to undertake an official study of these occurrences. Thus, Project Sign was launched in 1948, taking its place in history as the first of several government efforts to demystify the UFO phenomenon.

Initially dubbed ‘Project Saucer,’ the effort was rechristened ‘Project Sign’ to convey a more neutral approach to the investigation of UFO sightings, signaling an intention to probe the events scientifically without prejudging their origins or nature.

Project_Sign_report.pdfThe investigative team, composed of military officials and scientific consultants, poured over numerous reports of UFO sightings, including documented accounts from reputable sources like military pilots and air traffic controllers. Each event was meticulously analyzed, considering potential explanations such as misidentification of conventional aircraft, atmospheric phenomena, or outright fabrications.

Interestingly, amidst the team’s rigorous scientific analyses, a controversial hypothesis began to take shape. A faction within the Project Sign staff posited that the UFOs might not be of terrestrial origin, but rather, extraterrestrial. This stance, known as the “Extraterrestrial Hypothesis” (ETH), sparked fierce debates within the project team. This hypothesis, although not formally endorsed, did find its way into a status report.

However, as 1948 drew to a close, the ETH lost traction within Project Sign. The project itself transitioned into Project Grudge, marking a notable shift in the U.S. government’s approach to UFO investigations. The focus moved away from the idea of extraterrestrial origins and towards conventional explanations for UFO sightings, including misinterpretations, hoaxes, and psychological incidents.

Despite this shift, Project Sign’s legacy and its brief flirtation with the ETH had a lasting impact on UFO studies. It gave birth to a line of thought that dared to consider the extraordinary as a possible explanation for these sightings. A section of the populace and certain researchers continued to argue for the ETH, citing the Project Sign era as a period of open-minded investigation into the UFO phenomenon.

The echoes of Project Sign can still be heard in contemporary discourse on UFOs. Recent admissions by the U.S. government about the existence of UFO study programs like the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), and the release of previously classified military videos of ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ (UAPs), seem to echo the scientific curiosity and openness that characterized Project Sign’s early days.

Project Sign represents a significant milestone in the exploration of UFOs. It was the first substantial, government-backed inquiry into the phenomenon that had gripped public curiosity and concern. Even though Project Sign was eventually superseded by Project Grudge, the mission to comprehend UFOs persisted.

Project Grudge initially approached UFO sightings with skepticism, but it eventually made way for Project Blue Book. The latter was the longest-running of the Air Force’s UFO research initiatives, lasting from 1952 to 1969. Project Blue Book amassed thousands of reports during its operation, concluding that most sightings were misconstrued natural phenomena or identifiable aircraft, with a small percentage being categorized as unexplained.

However, the pursuit of knowledge about UFOs did not end there. After Project Blue Book was discontinued, new investigative projects came to light, some publicly acknowledged and others hidden. The unveiling of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) in 2007 revitalized public interest in the government’s activities related to UFOs, even though the program was officially ended in 2012.

Many aspects of UFOs remain a mystery. The extensive and often controversial history of their study, starting with Project Sign, is a testament to their ongoing intrigue. As we conclude our review of Project Sign, we are eager to explore the narratives of Project Grudge, Project Blue Book, and the AATIP in future articles. By studying these projects, we continue our commitment to understanding the unidentified, honoring the spirit of those first investigations started decades ago.