Report of the UK government’s Flying Saucer Working Party (June 1951)
In 2002 January The National Archives at Kew, southwest London, released the
only known surviving copy of the final report of the UK government’s Flying Saucer Working Party. The Working Party had been established in October 1950 and their five-page
report is dated June 1951. UFO proponents have long contended that the truth
about UFOs would be found in secret government documents such as this.
In a research guide, The National Archives outlines the background to the report, including the
pivotal role of Sir Henry Tizard who was then Chief Scientific Adviser at the
MOD. The remainder of the introductory note below is based on The National
Tizard decided that the subject of UFOs should not be dismissed without some
proper official investigation. Accordingly, he agreed that a small Directorate
of Scientific Intelligence/Joint Technical Intelligence Committee (DSI/JTIC)
working party should be set up to investigate the phenomenon. This was dubbed
the Flying Saucer Working Party.
The Flying Saucer Working Party
The Flying Saucer Working Party was set up in October 1950, but operated under
such secrecy that its existence was known to very few. Nevertheless, there were
two clues that such a study had been carried out. The first was in the
Secretary of State for Air’s response to Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous 28 July 1952 memo in which he enquired ‘What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What
is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience’. The response, dated 9 August 1952, began ‘The various reports about unidentified flying objects, described by the Press as
“flying saucers”, were the subject of a full Intelligence study in 1951’.
The second clue was in a minute dated 29 May 1959, written by an official in S6
(a now-defunct MOD division whose responsibilities for researching and
investigating UFOs were latterly taken on by DS8, Sec(AS) and now DAS). This
minute contained a sentence which read: ‘The subject was reviewed by the J.I.C. some years ago and their views agree with
a more extensive review carried out by the Americans’. This minute can be found at the National Archives in file DEFE 31/118.
Terms of reference
There was some considerable discussion and debate about the terms of reference
of the Flying Saucer Working Party. The final version read as follows:
1. To review the available evidence in reports of ‘Flying Saucers’.
2. To examine from now on the evidence on which reports of British origin of
phenomena attributed to ‘Flying Saucers’ are based.
3. To report to DSI/JTIC as necessary.
4. To keep in touch with American occurrences and evaluation of such.
The five-man working party was headed by one of the MOD’s scientific intelligence branches, and all the members were specialists in the
field of scientific and technical intelligence.
The working party’s conclusions were set out in a five-page document dated June 1951 and bearing
the designation DSI/JTIC Report No. 7. It was entitled ‘Unidentified Flying Objects’ and classified ‘Secret Discreet’. The report was made available at the National Archives on 1 January 2002 under
reference DEFE 44/119. Some of the key National Archives file references containing the Report and
related DSI/JTIC discussions are DEFE 10/496, DEFE 41/74 and DEFE 41/75.
The report concludes that all UFO sightings could be explained as misidentifications of ordinary objects
or phenomena, optical illusions, psychological delusions or hoaxes. The main body of the report ends with the following statement: ‘We accordingly recommend very strongly that no further investigation of reported
mysterious aerial phenomena be undertaken, unless and until some material
evidence becomes available’.
The report was duly considered by the DSI/JTIC and it was recommended that in
view of its sceptical conclusions, it should be regarded as a final report. It
was further suggested that the working party be dissolved with immediate
effect. This was agreed, thus bringing to an end the MOD’s first UFO research project. It would be another 45 years before a follow-up
study was undertaken, codenamed Project Condign.