UFOs in History: Operation Charlie> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6]


7. Conclusion
The most intriguing reference to Operation Charlie is found not in the pages of a newspaper, but in the memoirs of the one-time head of Project Blue Book, Captain Edward Ruppelt. In his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, published in 1956, the retired officer devoted several pages to a description of an intelligence briefing document drawn up by Project Sign staff early in 1948. This was the legendary ‘Estimate of the Situation’ which listed a number of unexplained sightings and concluded that the most probable explanation “was that they [flying saucers] were interplanetary.” The estimate travelled upwards to the highest echelons of the US Air Force where the Chief of Staff, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, batted it back. “The general wouldn’t buy interplanetary vehicles [and] the report lacked proof,” wrote Ruppelt. “Some months later it was completely declassified and relegated to the incinerator.” [26]

Controversy has surrounded the status of the Estimate ever since Ruppelt wrote these words. Not one single copy appears to have survived, and some have suggested it never existed. However, Ruppelt describes reading one copy that had escaped destruction, and he described it as “a rather thick document with a black cover...stamped across the front were the words TOP SECRET.”

Included in the Estimate was a collection of UFO reports that preceded Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of 24 June 1947. The report’s authors used these to support their interplanetary theory, arguing that pre-Arnold sightings could not be dismissed as hype or rumour triggered off by media stories. Among the cases used to prove this point were “the English ‘ghost airplanes’ that had been picked up on radar early in 1947.” [27]

This investigation into the British records has established that six months before Kenneth Arnold’s sighting, the RAF had logged its first official report of an ‘unidentified flying object.’ Furthermore, by July 1947 when the first sightings of ‘flying saucers’ were made in the USA, the Air Ministry remained unable to explain the intruder it had logged in January of that year. This implies that an exchange of intelligence on ‘unidentified flying objects’ between the USA and UK began in 1946-47 with the ghost rocket and ghost planes. Cold War historian Richard Aldrich writes that air power was the cutting-edge of post-war strategy “and it was appropriate that Anglo-American air intelligence was in turn the cutting edge of Western intelligence co-operation.” (28)

Air Intelligence files relating to ‘Operation Charlie’ cannot be traced at the Public Record Office or the RAF Air Historical Branch at Bentley Priory. However, documents at the US National Archive show the Air Ministry’s Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence), Air Vice Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst, working closely with his opposite number in the US Army Air Force (General George McDonald) during the ‘ghost rocket’ alarm in 1946. Whilst the Swedes were asking the RAF “to take all possible measures to prevent the Americans finding out about Swedish full co-operation in investigating the mysterious missiles,” Elmhirst was discreetly passing all intelligence on the subject to McDonald in Washington [28] . Given the level of co-operation that existed between the allies post-war, we can be confident that a dossier on what Ruppelt called ‘the English ghost planes’ (Operation Charlie) would have been shared at the highest level with the Americans when Project Sign was created. What the study contained and concluded remains a mystery.

Copyright 2002 David Clarke

Acknowledgements: We wish to thank all those who have assisted this research including Group Captain William Kent, Flight Lieutenant David Richards, Flight Lieutenant Geoff Easterling, Martin Shough, Jan Aldrich, Steven Payne and Mike Hooks of The Aeroplane.


  1. Personal communication from G. Easterling, 27 August 2002.
  2. Daily Mail (London), 29 April 1947: Associated Press report, 30 April (Portland Oregonian, 30 April 1947, Los Angeles Times, 1 May 1947).
  3. Personal communication from Sir Edward Fennessy CBE, 28 November 2001.
  4. Personal communication from D. Richards, January-February 2001.
  5. Richards, op. cit.
  6. PRO AIR 29/1370: Operations Record Book: Eastern Sector HQ, Horsham St. Faith, January 1947.
  7. PRO AIR 29/1597: Operations Record Book: RAF Trimley Heath, January 1947.
  8. PRO AIR 25/1113: Operations Record Book: HQ No 11 Group, Bentley Priory, January 1947.
  9. Air Ministry memorandum, 8 August 1947 copied by US Army Air Force to FBI.
  10. PRO AIR 29/1369: Operations Record Book, RAF Neatishead, January 1947.
  11. Richards, op.cit.
  12. Air Ministry memorandum, 8 August 1947.
  13. PRO AIR 29/1930: HQ Northern Signals Area: Operations Record Books, RAF Skendleby, RAF Humberston, January 1947.
  14. PRO AIR 29/1369
  15. PRO AIR 29/1370.
  16. Personal communication from Group Captain William Kent, RAF (retired), 24 June 2001.
  17. PRO AIR 29/1369 and AIR 29/1370.
  18. PRO AIR 29/1370.
  19. PRO AIR 29/1369.
  20. Kent, op. cit.
  21. Personal communication from Mike Hall, Montgomery County Historical Society, 1 October 2000, quoting from Hynek’s papers.
  22. Hall, op. cit.
  23. PRO AIR 29/1967: Operations Record Book: HQ Southern Signals Area, May 1947.
  24. Kent, op. cit.
  25. Yorkshire Post (Leeds), 30 April 1947.
  26. Ruppelt, Edward. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (New York: Doubleday, 1956), p. 41.
  27. Ruppelt, op. cit.
  28. Aldrich, Richard. The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War secret intelligence (London: John Murray, 2001), p. 213.

[prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6]


“Unless stated otherwise the material on this site is owned by the authors and is copyright protected. Material can be used as long as appropriate credit is given. We will vigorously pursue and expose plagiarists.”