Robert Todd, who was one of those who initially found the MOGUL connection to Roswell

Chapter 8: Not a Simple Weather Balloon

By Timothy Printy 1999 UPDATED November 2008

The debris picked up by Mac Brazel and flown to Fort Worth by Jesse Marcel Sr. appears to be one in the same. For years, the only official word on what was found was that provided at the infamous Fort Worth Press Conference. Despite the efforts of authors to make it appear that the debris had to have originated from an alien spaceship, most of the descriptions are of mundane materials such as wood, tin foil, and tape. It all sounds very ordinary and only years later does the material take on fantastic properties. Jesse Marcel Jr. recalls that his mother felt the debris was so ordinary that she simply swept the debris out the back door once her husband had left! Also, if the debris was so impregnable, how did it shatter into thousands of pieces?

By 1994, the Roswell investigators and their supporters had felt they accumulated enough evidence to have congress investigate the matter. It was New Mexico Congressman, Steven Schiff, who asked the General Accounting Office to look into the allegations. This forced the United States Air Force to research the incident. For years, the Air Force had dodged the whole event simply because it was considered a waste of time and not in their interest. Now they were directed by Congress to reveal the truth. Prior to these events, two researchers, Robert Todd and Karl Pflock had begun to uncover what the Air Force was about to determine. The source of the debris was from a TOP SECRET project called "MOGUL". In early 1995, the US Air Force released a lengthy report called The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert. The entire report centers on the efforts of New York University scientists who were developing balloon arrays to fly at constant altitudes in the stratosphere. These balloons were to carry aloft a microphone, which would be used to listen for sounds produced by the explosion of a Soviet nuclear weapon. While the project’s original goals were never achieved, it did advance research into the development of materials for high altitude balloons. The Air Force investigators interviewed several of the key people on the project and, fortunately, several of them were still alive to fill in any missing details. What they revealed was quite extraordinary and bears a striking resemblance to the debris described by a majority of the witnesses in the Roswell Incident.

(HQ USAF Fact)

One of the scientists involved in the project, Professor Charles B. Moore had even been consulted in The Roswell Incident. He was asked if any of his balloons could produce gouges in the earth and the amount of debris described by the witnesses. His response was, "There wasn’t a balloon in use back in ‘47, or even today for that matter, that could have produced debris over such a large area or torn up the ground in any way" (Berlitz and Moore 41). The authors even included a photograph of flight 11-A in their book on page 42. Berlitz, Moore, and Friedman did not realize how close they really were to the answer. However, what they failed to do was show Professor Moore the description that Mac Brazel had given to the Roswell Daily Record. When Robert Todd showed Professor Moore the description, he immediately recognized it as the debris from one of his balloon flights.

Professor Moore holding an ML-307 radar reflector (Thomas)

Professor Moore considers his balloons part of the New York University balloon project and not part of MOGUL because his flights were used only develop the balloons that would fly at constant altitude. He never heard of the code name MOGUL until Robert Todd revealed it to him in 1992. The NYU team original started testing in the northeast United States. However, due to wind problems and interference from air traffic, it was decided to move the testing out west to New Mexico. The team arrived in Alamogordo in the end of May and the first launches occurred in early June of 1947. While at Alamogordo, they were to test the microphone system out by monitoring the V-2 flights being launched there. Meanwhile, Professor Moore’s team was to concentrate on getting his balloons to maintain level flight in the stratosphere. They preferred to use the new polyethylene balloons for their tests because the neoprene ones would tend to burst as the sun in the upper atmosphere heated them. Unfortunately, they still had not received these new balloons and Professor Moore was left to use numerous neoprene balloons tied together in a single train. Along with the balloons was the instrumentation and tracking packages. Many of these flights were tracked using a radiosonde. However, the first flight launched did not include one because the radiosonde was too heavy to transport in the first plane flights out to New Mexico. Instead, it was decided to use radar reflectors in the hope that the radar at Alamogordo would be able to follow the balloons. The type of reflector used was a model ML-307B, which looked like a box kite with several triangular sections. Irving Newton was familiar with this type of reflector because he used them in Okinawa and stated they resembled "a child’s jack...with aluminum foil between the legs" (Kolarik). According to Professor Moore, there were three such reflectors attached to the first flight launched in New Mexico. They had used the same configuration two flights earlier from Pennsylvania. The flight had difficulties in launching and it seemed like the configuration would be adequate for their first try. This flight carried no return to tags because, according to Professor Moore, they were "throw away flights" (HQ USAF FACT Attachment 23). The first flight launched from Alamogordo was designated flight #4. All previous flights had been launched in the Northeast. There are no records for flight #4 in the NYU reports. However, there is an entry for flight #5 on June 5, 1947. The reason for no entry into the records is because the radar operators failed to track the radar targets. Their inexperience in tracking such devices resulted in no useful data being obtained from the flight and it was not incorporated in the final report. However, Dr. Crary did record the launching of a balloon flight just before flight #5 in his personal log:

Jun 4 Wed. Out to Tularosa Range and fired charges between 00 and 06 this am. No balloon flights again on account of clouds. Flew regular sonobuoy up in cluster of balloons and had good luck on receiver on ground but poor on plane. Out with Thompson pm. Shot charges from 1800 to 2400. (HQ USAF FACT Attachment 32/Appendix 17)

Thus there was a balloon flight that day and it fits the chronology of flight #4 as Professor Moore recalls. There is no drawing of the balloon train for flight #4. However, as previously stated Professor Moore states they used the same configuration as Flight #2, which contained three radar reflectors. Professor Moore recalls tracking this balloon configuration all the way to Arabella, New Mexico. Due to the lack of any data, the balloon cluster was left to drift off and the chase plane returned back to Alamogordo. After the failure to track the radar reflectors, the NYU group decided it was best to switch to the raidosondes for tracking. Verifying this is the fact that Flight #5 shows no reflectors and has a radiosonde attached. As for the wayward Flight #4, it was never recovered simply because the NYU group felt that there was no need to do so. All the materials used were considered dispensable but in hindsight, they felt it was better to retrieve the materials on all future flights. This way, any failure of equipment could be evaluated. After flight #4, it was determined that return tags be attached so that the civilian population could call in case an errant balloon cluster would touch down on somebody’s property.

ML-307 radar reflectors suspended underneath a balloon flight (HQ USAF Case)

The real key to the mystery of the debris are the statements about the tape with the purple figures/pinkish purple alien hieroglyphics. The original ML-307 radar reflector was considered to have too many weak points in it and the foil would not adhere to the wooden struts. So the ML-307B was a modification of the original design, where the manufacturer was directed to use tape to ensure the foil remained attached to the balsa wood. The reflectors used on the NYU flights were war surplus and at the time of the construction, any tape was chosen to perform the modification. In this case, the tape used had purple figures on it. Dr. Moore reproduced these figures and it showed flower-like symbols, diamonds, bows/arcs, and circles. Many of the project people recall the purple tape. According to Colonel Trakowski, it was a Major Jack Peterson who was in charge of procuring the targets:

Jack monitored the procurement of these radar targets, and I believe Ed Istvan either worked for or alongside Jack Peterson, and I remember when they finally... Now this was all not under my purview, but I worked in the same building with them, and I knew Jack very well, he was a very good friend and we talked and joked with each other a lot. I remember so clearly when the contractor for these targets was selected, and Jack thought it was the biggest joke in the world that they had to go to a toy manufacturer to make these radar targets. Then it was even a bigger joke when it turned out that because of wartime scarcities of materials, the tape that they used to assemble these targets, the reflecting material on the balsa frames, was some kind of a pinkish purple tape with a heart and flower design on it. This was, again, a big flap. (HQ USAF FACT Attachment 22)

The photographs of the debris in General Ramey’s office happen to show the remains of at least one ML-307 radar target. Professor Moore adds that the debris actually is from several targets and not just one. Again, this indicates the debris is from flight #4 because the NYU project was the only group in New Mexico using balloon trains with multiple targets.

Professor Moore's drawing of the figures he remembers seeing on the tape (Thomas)

Jesse Marcel Jr.'s recollections of the figures on the "I-beams" (Randle and Schmitt 175)

After the debris left Ramey’s office, we now discover what happened to it. Recall that General Dubose remembers putting the debris on a plane to Washington, D.C. After this the debris found it’s way to Wright Air Force base where Colonel Marcellus Duffy was asked to identify it. Colonel Duffy told Robert Todd:

While stationed at Wright Air Force Base in 1947, I received a call at home one evening saying that what was currently being described by the press as a ‘flying saucer’ was being flown to Wright Field and would be brought to my home that evening for identification. I identified ‘the flying saucer’ as a weather observation balloon. I’m reasonably sure this is the one found by that rancher near Roswell, but can’t swear to it. (Saler, Ziegler and Moore. 178)

In a follow-up letter, Colonel Duffy added that he should have stated it was "weather observation equipment" because there was lots of material associated with weather equipment, which included "a corner reflector" (Saler, Ziegler and Moore. 178). Confirming this tale is Colonel Albert Trakowski, who was in charge of security for project MOGUL. He stated that he received a phone call from Duffy in 1947, where he stated "this sure looked like some of the stuff that you (Trakowski) launched from Alamogordo" (HQ USAF FACT Attachment 22). Recently, several ufologists have questioned Trakowski's and Duffy's recollections. They point to a recently found message sent to a reporter to talk to Duffy in New Jersey. If Duffy were in New Jersey, how could he have been in Ohio to see the material? While I can't verify the location of Duffy on the date in question, I also notice that Duffy was with Watson Labs and Mogul project officer until 1947 and transferred to Ohio in January of that year. The source of the message may have been using six-month old information since Duffy appears to have been stationed in Ohio at the time of the incident verifying his story. A check of records for Duffy's whereabouts for July 1947 should not be too difficult and those suggesting that Duffy was lying/mistaken about the events should attempt to verify this to prove their point.

It now appears that the debris recovered is from flight #4 of the NYU balloon project. This was the conclusion of the USAF after their investigations and the conclusions of Robert Todd. Karl Pflock also felt that some of the debris was from project MOGUL but he still held out for a saucer crash because of the testimony of some key witnesses. After further revelations, Pflock has since determined that there was no saucer crash and that flight #4 was the only debris recovered by Mac Brazel and Jesse Marcel Sr. Despite claims that the General Ramey was involved in a cover-up, nothing can be farther from the truth. Many of the quotes from contemporary sources do not have Ramey saying it was definitely a weather balloon. Instead, he is quoted as identifying the debris as coming from a radar target and balloon/weather balloon. While not exactly a weather balloon, the debris in the photographs was from a series of balloons and radar reflectors. While he was not exactly correct, he did not lie about what was found.

Needless to say the response from the "Crash" authors was immediate and they began to question the report. For years, they had proposed that the witnesses had handled debris from an actual flying saucer. They rallied the faithful into a chorus of catcalls and trivializing of the report. However, they overlooked many of the obvious answers to their objections in an effort to make it seem that the report was flawed. Today, there are a significant number of UFOlogists, who have decided that the Project MOGUL explanation fits. It seems only the Roswell faithful and those who have invested a significant amount of time writing about the subject are hanging on to the UFO crash scenario.

Many of these arguments against MOGUL can be found in my Popular Roswell Myths webpage. Almost all the crashed spaceship proponents knee-jerked at the possible explanation for the incident.  Having spent thousands of hours and printed numerous books and movie deals, is it any wonder that they would try and find reasons, no matter how trivial, to reject the possibility that it was not an alien spaceship crash? 

The pro-crashed saucer advocates have taken their best shot. Unfortunately, they can not stand up to the documentation concerning NYU project. Their strong desire to grasp any minor point and inflate it to make it appear that the NYU balloon train could not fit the descriptions is a smoke screen designed to help the faithful maintain their conviction and not jump ship. However, the coincidences associated with the NYU flights and the events described by many of the witnesses are too close to ignore. Is it mere coincidence that the general description of the debris given by many witnesses is similar to the materials that Dr. Moore used in his flight #4? Is it mere coincidence that flight #4 was never recovered and that it was last seen in the area near the debris field? Is it mere coincidence that the alien hieroglyphics were purple/pink, the same color as the figures on the tape used by the reflectors? Is it mere coincidence that the NYU project was active in the New Mexico area at the correct time? Is it mere coincidence that the photographs of the debris in Ramey’s office show the same type of radar reflectors used by the NYU project? In the words of Professor Moore,

When the wind information is coupled with the similarities in the debris described by the eyewitnesses - the balsa sticks, the ‘tinfoil,’ the tape with pastel, pinkish-purple flowers, the smoky gray balloon rubber with a burnt odor, the eyelets, the tough paper, the four-inch diameter aluminum pieces, and the black box - to the materials used in our balloon flight trains, it appears to me that it would be difficult to exclude NYU flight 4 as a likely source of the debris that W. W. Brazel found on the Foster ranch in 1947. (Frazier, Karr, Nickell ed. 119)

It is clear that the author’s will never accept the flight #4 answer because they claim that they have overwhelming evidence to support their claim that an actual alien spaceship crashed near Roswell. With the 50th anniversary of Roswell fast approaching, investigator Kent Jeffrey launched an initiative designed to release all information concerning the Roswell Incident from government files. However, Kent also chose to duplicate the efforts of the authors and the US Air Force and see if he could find new information to shed more light onto the mystery that is Roswell. What Kent found out was unexpected and created even more controversy in the UFO community.

Works Cited

Berlitz, Charles and William Moore. The Roswell Incident. New York: Berkley, 1988

Frazier, Kendrick ,Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell ed. UFO Invasion. Amherst: Prometheus, 1997

HQ USAF. The Roswell Report: Case Closed. Washington: D.C., US Government, 1997

HQ USAF, The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert. Washington D.C.: US Government, 1995

Klass, Philip. "GAO Revised Roswell Report at Rep Schiff's Request." Skeptics UFO Newsletter, September 1996

Kolarik, Robert. "The Roswell Incident: 50 Years of Controversy", San Antonio Express Online. Internet. Available WWW: (Dead Link)

Randle, Kevin and Donald Schmitt. UFO Crash at Roswell. New York: Avon, 1991

Saler, Benson, Charles Ziegler, and Charles Moore. UFO Crash at Roswell: Genesis of a Modern Myth. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1997

Thomas, Dave. "Roswell UFO Crash and Project Mogul". Skeptical Inquirer Magazine. July/August 1995. Available WWW:



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