Ian Ridpath’s UFO skeptic pages

Report of the UK government’s
Flying Saucer Working Party (1951 June)

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 (1885–1959) who was then Chief Scientific Adviser at the MOD. The remainder of the introductory note below is based on The National Archives’ guide.

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 2002 January 1 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 Working Party’s conclusions

The Flying Saucer Working Party’s 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.

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Content last revised 2021 January