General Nathan F. Twining and the Flying Disc Problem of 1947

Eric Wojciechowski

In 1947, the United States was dealing with reports of flying discs in its airspace. Were they a secret U.S. program or of foreign origin? General Nathan F. Twining signed a letter confirming the existence of the discs but admitted to not knowing their origin. Did the discs ever really exist?

 


On September 23, 1947, an extraordinary letter titled “AMC Opinion Concerning ‘Flying Discs’” was signed by Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining of the United States Air Material Command (AMC) and sent to Air Force Brigadier General George Schulgen per his request to understand what was going on regarding reports of “flying discs.” The extraordinary part was the conclusion that the flying discs were “something real and not visionary or fictitious.”

At the time, the United States was being inundated with reports of unidentified aircraft or flying saucers. World War II had recently ended, a Cold War was ramping up, and the world’s remaining powers were quickly developing new technologies to overtake one another (particularly the United States and Russia). As a result, when reports of unidentified strange aircraft were coming in, the U.S. military had to ensure a foreign threat wasn’t present.

In early July 1947, the Army Air Force Intelligence Collections Division, located in the Pentagon, began an investigation with Lieutenant George Garrett assigned to lead the gathering of information. After collecting several UFO reports, Lt. Garrett, with assistance from FBI liaison S.W. Reynolds, prepared an estimate document of the situation wherein they concluded that patterns in the sightings suggested real aircraft and questioned whether the UFOs were secret technology of the United States itself. The estimate was signed off by Lt. Garrett’s superior, Chief Collection Branch Colonel Robert Taylor III, and passed on to other military heads to inquire on the elusive disc’s origins.

On September 23, 1947, Lieutenant General Twining signed off on the AMC response to the inquiry, the “AMC Opinion Concerning ‘Flying Discs,’” which read, in part:

a. The phenomenon is something real and not visionary or fictitious.

b. There are objects probably approximating the shape of a disc, of such appreciable size as to appear to be as large as man-made aircraft.

c. There is a possibility that some of the incidents may be caused by natural phenomena, such as meteors.

d. The reported operating characteristics such as extreme rates of climb, maneuverability (particularly in roll), and motion which must be considered evasive when sighted or contacted by friendly aircraft and radar, lend belief to the possibility that some of the objects are controlled either manually, automatically or remotely.

The language is very much like Garrett’s original inquiry letter, suggesting Twining and his team simply cut and pasted the sections showing agreement. Following this section are some “common descriptions” of the objects: being “circular or elliptical,” some flying in formations of more than one, and other commonalities. The AMC Opinion finishes with questions pondering the origin of these craft: Were they a secret U.S. project or possibly from a foreign nation?

In its closing, the AMC Opinion recommends “a detailed study of this matter to include the preparation of complete sets of all available and pertinent data.”

In the aftermath of this letter, a detailed study was set up called Project Sign. Said project folded in 1949 after preparing a final report that was inconclusive. It stated that the sightings were probably of actual aircraft but the origins were unknown. The possibility of their being domestic (and if not, foreign) was offered, but, in general, it was concluded something real was in the air, and it was suggested further study as to what they were, where they were coming from, and what kind of threat (if any) they posed was needed

At this point an extraterrestrial hypothesis was still on the table, although it was frowned upon and eventually discarded. A new study, Project Grudge, replaced Sign and then morphed into Project Blue Book. In 1969, the Condon Committee once and for all closed the official, public, government-run study of UFOs, and Project Blue Book was terminated.

On October 1, 1947, within a week of signing off on the AMC Opinion, Twining went from his position as Lieutenant General of the AMC to commanding general of the Alaskan Department. After several more subsequent placements, on August 15, 1957, Twining ended up the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he served until retirement.

The question remains: Did Twining ever get an answer on the origin of the UFOs so convincingly accepted as real in the 1947 AMC Opinion letter?

After Twining retired in 1960, he set about writing Neither Liberty Nor Safety: A Hard Look at U.S. Military Policy and Strategy. The book, published in 1966, gives details on what he saw that threatened the United States, how it came to be, and where he thought military strategy and policy should go. Surely if Twining still considered flying discs a reality (and a threat), it’s logical to suspect we’d see something in this book.

A Secret U.S. Flying Saucer Program?

Twining wrote that in the late 1940s there was a rivalry between the Air Force and Navy over appropriations. As a result, Congress got involved in 1949 and decided the Air Force would have priority in receiving funding for the new B-36 bomber. The Congressional report reads, in part, “It is the unanimous judgment of the committee that the B-36 bomber was selected and procured regularly, based on an honest conviction that it is the best available aircraft for its purpose in the defense of the United States today” (emphasis added). And after noting that no “collusion, fraud, corruption, influence or favoritism played any part whatsoever in the procurement of the B-36 bomber,” the report continues, “There has been very substantial and compelling evidence that the Air Force selected and procured this bomber solely on the ground that this is the best aircraft for its purpose available to the nation today” (emphasis added).

If the U.S. military had amazing flying saucers back then, this statement makes no sense.

Twining remarked that in 1950, the United States announced the atomic bomb would not be used during the Korean War. This announcement was followed by communist response of a “major attack on all fronts.” Twining wrote, “It is possible that this national decision not to use our best weapons, and our concomitant decision to so advise the masters of Red China, changed the course of history in Southeast Asia” (emphasis added).

Twining wrote:

Up through 1960, “strategic deterrence” was the real teeth in the policy of containment. Strategic deterrence, until the advent of the ballistic missiles, meant only one thing—the U.S. Strategic Air Command: the bombers, the tankers for mid-air refueling, the trained crews, the support structure, the organization, the plan, the will, and the weapons … . From the end of World War II, and the hasty demobilization that followed, until the fall of 1949, military support of United States foreign policy rested on a capability for atomic retaliation, and upon little else.

In discussing the policy of containment of the Soviet Union and communism from 1950 to 1960, Twining wrote:

Our government elected to use the most effective form of firepower which was available. That was nuclear energy … the force-in-being was tailored for use of, and reliance on, nuclear weapons. The force for tomorrow, in the research and development stage, was also tailored for the use of nuclear firepower. Conventional TNT and .30-calibre type firepower was retained, but the specific military directive for defense of NATO Europe provided for the use of nuclear weapons from the outset of war; and U.S. military planning for major confrontation in any other part of the world was also predicated on the use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, over a ten-year period our total U.S. force structure was methodically tailored to the use of nuclear weapons. There really was no other way in which the military services could have even partially met the demands of the U.S. national policy. (emphasis added)

In summary, according to Twining, nuclear bombs and the means to deliver them (bomber aircraft and ballistic missiles) were America’s best defense against an aggressive spread of the Soviet Union. He made no mention at all about flying saucers.

In the section of the book titled “Acquisition of the New Combat Aircraft,” Twining wrote that ballistic missiles took precedent over advancing bomber technology. And research and development of aeronautical technology was stifled due to “cost/effectiveness, the ‘building-block approach’ to new systems, and the maintenance of capability to ‘exercise later options.’” This approach “tended to slow down military technology of all kinds, particularly progress in the aeronautical sciences.”

This suggests that any revolutionary, new, or advanced aircraft such as that described in the AMC Opinion were not part of the U.S. arsenal.

Twining describes what the United States had regarding air power, noting that from 1945 to 1956, sixteen bomber-type aircraft were tested along with another dozen designs partially developed. He wrote, “The over-all program resulted in the bombardment force of Boeing-built B-52’s, Boeing-built B-47’s, Convair-built B-58’s, Martin-built B-57’s, North American-built B-45’s, and the Douglas-built B-66’s.”

Regarding fighter technology, Twining wrote that after World War II up to 1956, twenty-three types of fighters were developed. From these, only three were selected for service: the F-84, F-86, and the 100 Series. He wrote, “Between 1956 and the end of 1964, a nine-year gap, there was no ‘first flight’ of a new production series of high-performance USAF fighters.”

American B-29 bomber

 

Soviet TU-4 bomber

 

Twining does discuss what he calls special things done with fighter aircraft technology such as the U-2 and SR-71 as well as the TFX series fighter airplane. However, that’s it.

If in any place in this book U.S. owned and operated flying saucer technology from 1947 or later was going to be discussed, the “Acquisition of the New Combat Aircraft” section would have been it. As if to drive home the fact that nothing quite as fantastic as flying discs were available, Twining wrote, “I am certain of one thing today—performance of the Air Force mission in the future stands in jeopardy because that service is not permitted to build enough experimental or prototype aircraft under today’s politically oriented cost/effectiveness programs.”

A Soviet Union Secret Flying Saucer Program?

Twining reported on the 1947 Finletter Committee, established by President Truman to prepare a proper aviation policy. The committee’s report, Survival in the Air Age, says that “if other nations develop the means of direct assault on the United States by supersonic piloted aircraft, the threat to this country will be serious, even though these vehicles are not equipped with atomic or comparable weapons.” That’s an if at the beginning of that quote. Had there been Soviet flying saucers already screaming through the skies, it’s doubtful there would be an if.

Twining wrote that after World War II, the Soviets were progressing quickly in technological prowess. He wrote that they were concentrating on “aircraft production, the development of nuclear weapons, and on the exploitation of rocket technology. Two B-29 bombers forced down in the Soviet Union were impounded, taken apart, analyzed, and a copy reproduced by the U.S.S.R. became known as the TU-4.” Why would the Soviet Union want a B-29 if they had the saucer?

Finally, Twining wrote about a June 1956 trip to the Soviet Union where he was accompanied by a group of people including “individuals who were well qualified in aircraft evaluation, intelligence, operations, research and development, and training techniques.” The purpose of the trip was to witness a review of Soviet air capabilities. Twining wrote that the party attended an air show, an engineering school, an aircraft-engine manufacturing plant, an assembly plant, and other places of similar interest. At the conclusion of the tour, Twining noted how the party concluded the Russians had “come a very long way in the last few years in their research and development efforts, particularly as applied to weapons systems.” But nothing of great urgency is mentioned—certainly nothing regarding any technology that rivaled that of the United States.

Nowhere in Neither Liberty Nor Safety does Twining show the slightest concern that the United States was overtaken in air superiority by the Soviet Union, let alone having its airspace invaded by Stalin’s flying saucers. If the Soviet Union did possess such aircraft, surely Twining would have mentioned it in the book as a reason new instead of building-block technology was necessary and why such technology should be pursued regardless of cost.

Was an Extraterrestrial behind the Flying Saucers?

Twining quoted a 1947 paper by Major General Orville A. Anderson discussing what constituted a threat to the United States:

We know that our only possible military enemy in the foreseeable future is a land mass power—operating on interior land and river lines of communication. We know that this power, geographically and economically, is not particularly vulnerable to sea blockade and strangulation.

Then afterward, the Soviet Union is discussed, which fits these criteria.

Interpretation of “Soviet saucer”

 

Throughout Neither Liberty Nor Safety, Twining is clear the danger remained the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Nothing at all is referenced regarding a threat, extraterrestrial or otherwise. Twining summed up using the words of General Omar T. Bradley addressing the 81st Congress in 1949: “We assume that the only dangerous force in the world today is Communism” (emphasis added).

An objection could be made that because flying saucers weren’t a threat, Twining’s book wouldn’t mention them because it wasn’t part of the subject matter. And it’s also true that major U.S. government studies from the Robertson Panel to the Condon Committee concluded there were no threats from UFOs; fair enough. The best we can say at this point is that Twining finished his career and passed away without relying on flying saucer technology in defense of the United States nor advising against a strategy to defend against the same nor even bothering to mention them, even as possible alternatives to existing military aerospace technology. For all intents and purposes, regarding General Twining, it turns out they never existed as a fully functional, viable option.

Also, let’s not forget that if the United States had such technology, people such as Wernher Von Braun and other scientists wouldn’t continue working with chemical rocket technology. Or as Richard Thieme told the DEF CON 21 audience in 2013, “When Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 and walked on the moon, said to me with a very straight face, ‘Richard,’ he said, ‘If we can do what they (UFOs) can do, they would not have sent me to the moon in a Tin Lizzie.’”

From all the available evidence, it appears that in 1947, the U.S. military was accepting anecdotal reports of flying saucers at face value. Perhaps they did so as a precaution to ensure no foreign threats were present. Missing something such as advanced enemy aircraft over one’s own territory could have been disastrous. The United States engaged in several studies to ensure the matter was not a threat. No threat was ever found, and officially the subject was closed two decades later. And at least in the recommendation and analysis of General Nathan F. Twining, a national defense policy was not prepared with them in mind as if the matter never existed at all.

 


Further Reading

  • Biography of General Nathan F. Twining. Available online at https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/105367/general-nathan-f-twining/.
  • DEF CON 21 – Richard Thieme – The Government and UFOs A Historical Analysis. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8k5kGbCR0M.
  • Swords, Michael, et al. 2012. UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry. San Antonio: Anomalist Books.
  • Twining, Nathan F. 1947. AMC Opinion Concerning “Flying Discs.” Letter to Commanding General, Army Air Forces. September 23.
  • ———. 1966. Neither Liberty Nor Safety: A Hard Look at U.S. Military Policy and Strategy. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

In 1947, the United States was dealing with reports of flying discs in its airspace. Were they a secret U.S. program or of foreign origin? General Nathan F. Twining signed a letter confirming the existence of the discs but admitted to not knowing their origin. Did the discs ever really exist?   On September 23, …

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