Project Silverbug

Project Silverbug

The day the air force seemed to take flying saucers seriously by announcing that they were building some of their own. Or was it all a grand plan of disinformation?

On February 16, 1953, the Canadian minister of defense released information to the Canadian House of Commons that Avro-Canada, a Canadian aircraft manufacturing company, was engaged in developing plans for a “flying saucer” that would be able to fly at 1,500 miles an hour and to take off and descend vertically. Avro projected that their proposed vehicle would make all other forms of supersonic aircraft obsolete.

On February 15, 1955, the Air Technical Intelligence Center, together with the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, revealed that the air force proposed building jet-propelled “flying saucers” under the code name of Project Silverbug. Circular and saucer-shaped, like the classic UFOs that civilians had been sighting since at least 1947, the largest of the proposed saucers would weigh 26,000 pounds and would be powered by radically advanced jet engines that would be able to lift the craft to an altitude of 36,090 feet in about one minute and 45 seconds. The cruise speed of these remarkable vehicles would be Mach 3.48 and their operating ceiling would be 80,600 feet. By way of comparison, today’s F-15 fighter jet has a similar performance range, but it was developed more than twenty years after the proposed saucers of Project Silverbug.

The air force declassified its secret project in order to inform both civilian and military intelligence on the matter of flying saucers and to jog FBI, CIA, and other intelligence units to increase their efforts to learn if the Soviet Union was working on similar aircraft. After all, the Soviets had also captured a number of the same caliber of German scientists who had been toiling for the führer night and day toward the last days of World War II. These brilliant scientists and engineers had worked desperately to create circular craft with a newly perfected jet-engine propulsion system in order to reestablish the air superiority that they had once commanded. Prior to Germany’s surrender, the Allies had bombed nearly all of the Nazi air-base runways into cinder blocks, but these circular craft needed no runways. They could take off straight up and land straight down—VTOL, vertical-takeoff-and-landing.

For some UFO researchers this rare disclosure from the air force seemed proof that the German occult Vril Society really had made contact with extraterrestrials who gave the Nazis their technological advantage at the onset of World War II. Others spoke of the Nazi discovery of a downed UFO and the intense work of German scientists and engineers to reverse-engineer the alien spacecraft.

While the source for the technological know-how that allowed the U.S. Air Force to announce plans for such an astounding aerial vehicle will remain controversial, a June 1955 issue of Look magazine carried an article disclosing the information that Avro-Canada had been developing a saucer-shaped craft since 1953. According to the article, the Avro project had been abandoned because of the estimated $75 million development costs. Canadian John Frost began work on the Avro-Canada Y-2/Private Venture 704 project based on his having researched various Nazi saucer projects and had designed a “radial flow” jet engine.

There was great enthusiasm for saucer- or sphere-shaped aerial vehicles that could accomplish vertical takeoff and landing. As Brig. Gen. Benjamin Kelsey, deputy director of research and development for the U.S. Air Force, noted, contemporary aircraft “spend too much time gathering speed on the ground and not enough time flying in the air.” VTOL aircraft would not require runways and landing strips, and they could easily be stored in underground, bombproof shelters, elevated to the surface when needed.

In 1958, after such dramatic advance promotional efforts on the part of the U.S. Air Force and Avro-Canada, the physical results were represented in the Avrocar. Instead of a radical new jet engine, the circular platform of the Avrocar was lifted into the air by many small conventional jets. An analysis of the initial test flights concluded that the vehicle was underpowered and unstable. The ambitious plans to create a flying saucer were abandoned, and the vehicles themselves were relegated to displays at the Smithsonian and Wright-Patterson.

Conspiracy theorists, however, maintain that the feeble demonstration of the Avrocar was an exercise in public disinformation. They believe that the air force continued to develop the saucer-shaped superships at Area 51 in Nevada and that many of the huge “mother-ships” sighted in the skies recently have been our very own human flying saucers.