Evidence that the US military planned to harness the power of ball lightning
The announcement came in May 2006 that – after decades of secretly investigating UFOs – the Ministry of Defence had come to the conclusion that aliens were not visiting Britain. The MoD’s claims were revealed within the pages of a formerly classified document – entitled Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region, and code-named Project Condign – that had been commissioned in 1996 and was completed in February 2000.
Released under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act thanks specifically to the work of FT contributor Dr David Clarke and UFO researcher Gary Anthony, the 465-page document demonstrated how air defence experts had concluded that UFO sightings were probably the result of “natural, but relatively rare phenomena” such as ball lightning and atmospheric plasmas. UFOs, wrote the still-unknown author of the MoD’s report, were “of no defence significance”.
Inevitably, many UFO investigators claimed that the MoD’s report was merely a ruse to hide its secret knowledge of alien encounters, crashed UFOs, and high-level X-Files-type conspiracies. And although the Government firmly denied such claims, the report did reveal a number of significant conclusions of a genuinely intriguing nature.
The atmospheric plasmas which were believed to be the cause of so many UFO reports were “still barely understood”, said the MoD, and the magnetic and electric fields that emanated from plasmas could adversely affect the human nervous system. And that was not all. Clarke and Anthony revealed that “Volume 3 of the report refers to research and studies carried out in a number of foreign nations into UAPs [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena], atmospheric plasmas, and their potential military applications.”
That such research was of interest to the MoD is demonstrated in a Loose Minute of 4 December 2000 called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) – DI55 Report, which reveals: “DG(R&T) [Director-General, Research & Technology] will be interested in those phenomena associated with plasma formations, which have potential applications to novel weapon technology.”
This was further borne out in an article on Condign written by James Randerson and published in the Guardian on 22 February 2007 (“Could we have hitched a ride on UFOs?”). It stated in part: “According to a former MoD intelligence analyst who asked not be named, the MoD was paranoid in the late 1980s that the Soviet Union had developed technology that went beyond western knowledge of physics. ‘For many years we were very concerned that in some areas the Russians had a handle on physics that we hadn’t at all. We just basically didn’t know the basics they were working from,’ he said. ‘We did encourage our scientists not to think that we in the West knew everything there was to be known.’”
And it wasn’t just the British Ministry of Defence and the Russians who recognised the potential military spin-offs that both plasmas and ball lightning offered – if they could be understood and harnessed, of course. Official documentation that has surfaced in the United States reveals that only two years after pilot Kenneth Arnold’s now-historic UFO encounter over the Cascade Mountains, Washington State, on 24 June 1947, the US military secretly began looking at ways to exploit such phenomena.
While the US Air Force was busying itself trying to determine whether UFOs were alien spacecraft, Soviet inventions, or even the work of an ultra-secret domestic project, the US Department of Commerce was taking a distinctly different approach. In its search for answers to the UFO puzzle, the DoC was focusing much of its attention on one of the most mystifying and controversial of all fortean phenomena: ball lightning.
A technical report, Project Grudge, published in 1949 by the Air Force’s UFO investigative unit detailed the findings of the DoC’s Weather Bureau with respect to ball lightning, which it believed was connected to normal lightning and electrical discharge. The phenomenon, said the DoC, was “spherical, roughly globular, egg-shaped, or pear-shaped; many times with projecting streamers; or flame-like irregular ‘masses of light’. Luminous in appearance, described in individual cases by different colours but mostly reported as deep red and often as glaring white.”
The Weather Bureau’s study added: “Some of the cases of ‘ball lightning’ observed have displayed excrescences of the appearance of little flames emanating from the main body of the luminous mass, or luminous streamers have developed from it and propagated slant-wise toward the ground… In rare instances, it has been reported that the luminous body may break up into a number of smaller balls which may appear to fall towards the earth like a rain of sparks. It has even been reported that the ball has suddenly ejected a whole bundle of many luminous, radiating streamers toward the earth, and then disappeared. There have been reports by observers of ‘ball lightning’ to the effect that the phenomenon appeared to float through a room or other space for a brief interval of time without making contact with or being attracted by objects.”
Possibly unknown outside of official circles – until I made the discovery at the US National Archives, Maryland, two years ago – is the fact that a complete copy of the Air Force’s Project Grudge document was, somewhat surprisingly, shared with US Army personnel at the Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, in early 1950.
Even more surprising is a curiously-worded entry contained in the covering letter from the Air Force to Edgewood staff that accompanied the Grudge report: “You are aware we have already discussed with Mr Clapp the theoretical incendiary applications of Ball-Lightening [sic] that might be useful to the several German projects at Kirtland. Useful data should be routed to Mr Clapp through this office.”
Precisely who the mysterious Mr Clapp was, I have thus far been unable to determine; however, the fact that he is described as ‘Mr’ is a strong indication that he was not a member of the military. ‘Kirtland’ can only be a reference to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Named in 1942 after Roy C Kirtland – the oldest military pilot in the Air Corps – the base is located in the southeast quadrant of Albuquerque, New Mexico, adjacent to the Albuquerque International Sunport airport, and employs over 23,000 people. Moreover, Kirtland AFB has been the site of numerous mystifying UFO incidents since the late 1940s.
As for the reference to “the several German projects” apparently in place at Kirtland at the time, this is almost certainly related to the US Government’s controversial Operation Paperclip which, in the post-World War II era, saw countless German scientists – some of whom were Nazis, and many of whom were engaged in advanced aerospace research – secretly offered employment in the US, and particularly at military installations in New Mexico, such as the White Sands Proving Ground.
So, can we assume from the hints contained in this letter that by early 1950 some sort of combined Army-Air Force project, or at the very least, an exchange of information, was underway at Edgewood Arsenal – possibly working in tandem with a similar project at Kirtland Air Force Base – to try to understand and harness the power of ball lightning?
The answer would appear to be yes. Documentation has disclosed the identity of a project nicknamed Harness-Cavalier, the purpose of which was indeed to understand and capitalise on the true nature of ball lightning, and which, from 1950 to at least the mid-1960s utilised the skills of personnel from Edgewood Arsenal, Kirtland Air Force Base, and also Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio.
Via the Freedom of Information Act, a whole host of documents from the files of Harness-Cavalier – now numbering more than 120 – have surfaced, demonstrating that those attached to the project were kept well-informed of any and all developments in the field of ball lightning, and particularly how it might be exploited militarily.
Such documentation includes: “Theory of the Lightning Ball and its Application to the Atmospheric Phenomenon Called ‘Flying Saucers”, written by Carl Benadicks in 1954; “Ball Lightning: A Survey”, prepared by one JR McNally for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee (year unknown); DV Ritchie’s “Reds May Use Lightning as a Weapon”, which appeared in Missiles and Rockets in August 1959; and “An Experimental and Theoretical Program to Investigate the Feasibility of Confining Plasma in Free Space by Radar Beams”, which was written by CM Haaland in 1960 for the Armour Research Foundation, Illinois Institute of Technology.
The strongest evidence that confirms Edgewood Arsenal’s deep interest in the potential use of ball lightning on the battlefield can be found in a December 1965 document entitled “Survey of Kugelblitz Theories for Electromagnetic Incendiaries”. Written by WB Lyttle and CE Wilson, the document was prepared under contract for the US Army’s New Concepts Division/ Special Projects at Edgewood.
According to the opening words of the report: “The purpose of this study was to review the theory and experimental data on ball lightning, to compare the existing theory and experimental data to determine whether ball lightning is a high or low energy phenomenon, and if it is a high energy phenomenon define an effective theoretical and experimental program to develop a potential incendiary weapon.”
Lyttle and Wilson continue: “Three major categories were established for the purpose of grouping the numerous theories on the subject. These categories are the classical plasma theories, the quantum plasma theories, and the non-plasma theories. A theoretical and experimental Kugelblitz program is recommended by which the most promising high energy theories could be developed so that a weapons application could be realised.”
As far as the specific theories that the authors addressed were concerned, these included the possibilities that ball lightning might conceivably be explained as (a) a “plasma created by a lightning strike and maintained by electromagnetic standing waves”; (b) a “non-plasma phenomenon… in the form of a highly ionised gas”; and (c) the “nuclear theory”, which was “based on the assumption that the content of the ball is radioactive carbon-14 created from atmospheric nitrogen by the action of thermal neutrons liberated by a lightning strike”.
Although it was conceded that many of the theories required further research to substantiate them (or otherwise), Lyttle and Wilson did state that “since the high energy Kugelblitz is clearly the only type weapon of importance, we believe that the major effort should be expended along these lines”.
One of the areas that the authors addressed was how man-made ball lightning might be controlled in the air and directed to a specific battlefield location: “If Kugelblitz is to be developed as a distinctive weapon, a means of guiding the energy concentration toward a potential target must be achieved. Some preliminary considerations on this subject have resulted in the idea of applying laser beams to such a task.”
They elaborated that “modulation of the vertical component of laser incident” would indeed permit “control of the Kugelblitz” and concluded that “forces necessary for guidance only will depend on local charges, as well as the net Kugelblitz charge and wind forces.”
Such was the pair’s belief that the possibility of turning ball lightning into a laser-guided weapon was theoretically achievable, that they stated: “The problem is a difficult one, but some light is beginning to appear on the subject. A concentrated analytical and experimental effort should be made soon as the implications of successful work could be far reaching. Only an adequately planned programme, utilising a full-time, competent staff with adequate equipment, can hope to succeed within a reasonable time period.”
In essence, that is the gist of the document. Of course, it raises a number of issues: research at Edgewood had apparently begun in early 1950, yet the “Survey of Kugelblitz Theories for Electromagnetic Incendiaries” document written in 1965 was still very much theoretical in nature. In other words, it could reasonably be argued that throughout that 15-year period, very few practical advances had been made in terms of turning ball lightning into a military weapon. On the other hand, the very fact that the project was allowed to continue for such a long period of time – and possibly longer – is an indication that it was considered of real value to the US military.
And it should also be noted that Lyttle and Wilson were merely contracted to write a report on their own findings on ball lightning and the possibility of harnessing it for the military’s ever-burgeoning arsenal. There is no available evidence to demonstrate that they were provided with any background data on the earlier years of Edgewood’s interest in this particular field. “Need to know”, it seems, was the order of the day.
BALL LIGHTNING UFOS?
Of course, the biggest question of all must surely be: does such research continue to this day? Maybe; and if so, that same research might go some way towards demystifying some of the high-profile alleged UFO incidents that have been reported in recent years.
The controversial events that occurred deep within, and around, Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, in late December 1980 (FT204:32–39) are viewed by many ufologists as prime evidence that aliens exist. It should be noted, however, that the entire area surrounding Rendlesham was for years a veritable hotbed of classified military activity.
For example, the nearby coastal strip of land known as Orford Ness was home to Britain’s early radar-based research in the 1930s. As World War II loomed, much of that work was transferred to RAF Bawdsey, several miles south of Orford Ness, but still on the fringes of Rendlesham Forest. And sensitive projects continued to be developed in the area for many years, such as “Cobra Mist” – an “over the horizon” radar system developed in the late 1960s to provide advance warning of any attempted aerial attack on the British Isles.
And perhaps much more of a secret scientific nature was afoot, too.
On 13 January 1981, Colonel Charles Halt of the US Air Force, a prime witness to the curious events in Rendlesham Forest, wrote a one-page memo to the Ministry of Defence that outlined a wealth of extraordinary UFO-like activity in the area that spanned the course of several nights.
In Halt’s own words: “…a red sun-like light was seen through the trees. It moved about and pulsed. At one point, it appeared to throw off glowing particles and then broke into five separate white objects and then disappeared. Immediately thereafter, three star-like objects were noticed in the sky… the object to the south was visible for two or three hours and beamed down a stream of light from time to time.”
To this writer, at least, reports of beams of light seen in conjunction with moving lights that emitted glowing particles, sound very much like someone putting into practice the theoretical plans cited within the pages of the “Survey of Kugelblitz Theories for Electromagnetic Incendiaries” document, namely the control and utilisation of ball-lightning phenomena via lasers.
Indeed, Halt’s reference to the object in the woods appearing “to throw off glowing particles” sounds astonishingly like the words the US Weather Bureau used back in 1948 to describe ball lightning: “It has been reported that the luminous body may break up into a number of smaller balls which may appear to fall towards the earth like a rain of sparks. It has even been reported that the ball has suddenly ejected a whole bundle of many luminous, radiating streamers toward the earth.”
Was some sort of clandestine experiment of the type envisaged in the 1965 Edgewood Arsenal documentation secretly undertaken in Rendlesham Forest in 1980? It should be noted that practically all those implicated in the affair were members of the US military. In view of this, it may very well be an indication that someone was very interested in determining the psychological reactions of military personnel when confronted by phenomena perceived to be both extremely unusual and potentially extraterrestrial in origin.
There is one final issue that may be of relevance to this latter point: the Edgewood Arsenal’s Bio-Medical Laboratory was, from 1952 to at least 1974, the site of a series of controversial experiments that involved the extensive testing of hallucinogens such as LSD, THC, and BZ (see FT213:48–52), as well as a dizzying variety of chemical and biological agents, on military personnel. That some of the military witnesses to the Rendlesham events reported having been drugged by unknown officials in the immediate wake of the affair, might not be as unbelievable as it initially sounds.
So, we have a combination of hallucinogens, laser-guided weaponry, a “New Concepts Division”, and the harnessing of ball lightning, all connected to the Edgewood Arsenal – a distinctly heady brew.
We would do well to realise that these new revelations pertaining to secret ball-lightning research may ultimately help to shed some welcome, if controversial, light on key elements of the UFO mystery.
By Nick Redfern