Years before the X-Files appeared on TV, there was Project U.F.O.
, produced by Jack Webb
, famous for creating Dragnet and many other popular television series. The show features two U.S. Air Force investigators with the Foreign Technology Division at Wright-Patterson AFB, charged with investigating UFO sightings. The first season starred William Jordan
as Maj. Jake Gatlin alongside Caskey Swaim
as Staff Sgt. Harry Fitz. Jordan was a rather nondescript leading man, while Swaim, who had never had any significant acting experience before landing the role, added diversity as a Southerner
with a pronounced accent. In season two, Jordan was replaced by Edward Winter
as Capt. Ben Ryan. Many of the episodes were loosely based on case files from the Air Force's Project Blue Book
, which ran from 1952-1970.
only ran for two seasons, from 1978-1979, and was never re-aired in the USA, nor was it released on video.
Considered by many to have been an inspiration for the X-Files, the series is mostly forgotten today, except for being nightmare fuel
for many Gen Xers. Even though the series suffers from a lot of cheap 1970's TV special effects, and somewhat stilted dialogue, it's still a fun watch, especially for those who probably remember watching it while hiding behind the couch.
The show takes the unique approach of making the UFO's themselves characters in the show. Unlike many historical UFO sightings, where the unknown aircraft can be ethereal and strange, the alien spacecraft of Project U.F.O. were very much nuts & bolts
The entire series is currently available for viewing on YouTube.
The series premiered on February 19th, 1978, just after Star Wars and Close Encounters had been in theaters and got the American public excited about science fiction all over again.
1 - "Sighting 4001: The Washington D.C. Incident"
Based loosely on the Mantell UFO incident
, and the 1952 Washington Flap
2 - "Sighting 4002: The Joshua Flats Incident"
After several prominent citizens of Joshua Flats report seeing a U.F.O., Air Force investigators turn, after getting nowhere with the adults, to a frightened 11-year old boy. Gatlin and Fitz try to investigate the reported sightings, but are hindered by curious sightseers and townspeople who are reluctant to reveal any information. Trying to determine whether or not the sightings were a hoax, Gatlin and Fitz surmise that the answer might lie with young Pauley Ramirez, if he would only break his silence.
For some reason this episode terrified the crap out of seven year old me, and the UFO seen in this episode, or variations of it, appeared in my nightmares for so many years that I completely forgot the source of them. You can imagine how I felt at seeing my old dream nemesis once again as an adult, only to quickly realize it was nothing more than a plastic model aircraft carrier turned upside down, with a bunch of junk glued on it!
3 - "Sighting 4003: The Fremont Incident"
Loosely based on the Lonnie Zamora sighting
in New Mexico.
4 - "Sighting 4004: The Howard Crossing Incident"
An honorable ranching family is assaulted by glowing green blobs. Based on the Kelly-Hopkinsville incident
5 - "Sighting 4005: The Medicine Bow Incident"
Based on the Chiles-Whitted UFO encounter.
6 - "Sighting 4006: The Nevada Desert Incident"
When an Air Force Lieutenant sees four metallic flying objects and a huge mother ship, he reports the sighting but finds that his claims have jeopardized both his career and his marriage. He sticks to his story that, while alone at dawn in the desert, he was stranded when his car stalled. While checking the engine, he saw four glowing, disk-shaped objects hanging in the sky. Then they took off in different directions, followed by a large mother ship. But, upon reporting his sighting, he finds his wife doesn't believe him, and his father-in-law, a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, is sitting in judgment on a hearing board.
I thought this was one of the better episodes.
7 - "Sighting 4007: The Forest City Incident"
Some enterprising aliens looking for antique bottles are interrupted by some meddling teenagers and a couple of hobos. This episode was parodied in Mad Magazine.
8 - "Sighting 4008: The Desert Springs Incident"
Gatlin and Fitz investigate the case of elderly Emma Smith, who claims that she has been offered a trip to Venus by 2 aliens. She says they promise to take her to her husband, who has been missing for 3 years. Elsewhere, a writer and his friend tell Gatlin and Fitz that they and their dates saw an immense UFO pursuing them as they rode down from the top of a mountain in an aerial tram at a California resort in Desert Springs.
The special effects of the red-hot UFO are particularly hokey.
9 - "Sighting 4009: The French Incident"
John Tanner, son of Presidential envoy Carleton Tanner, is driving with his French-born wife, Michelle, in the small village of Brebeuf, France when they see an other-worldly vehicle hovering on a cushion of light. As Michelle watches in horror, an alien figure beckons to her husband, and he disappears inside the vehicle. Because the abducted man was the son of a Presidential envoy, Gatlin and Fitz are ordered by the White House to investigate the incident.
Another good episode.
10 - "Sighting 4010: The Waterford Incident"
A strange sighting is reported by several students at Waterford Military Academy, headed by Col. Max Delany. The boys claim a saucer flew over their school, discharging strands of an 'angel hair' substance that turned their hands green when they touched it, and the military school becomes enveloped in a strange web-like substance left behind by the UFO. Gatlin and Fitz investigate the incident, and also a case told to them by astronomer Dr. Virginia Paulson, who puts them in touch with Darryl Biggs, a young man who sighted a triangular-shaped vehicle in the woods while hunting. Based on the Cisco Grove UFO sighting.
Guest stars are Dr. Joyce "I brought my own mic!" Brothers and Robbie the Robot!
11 - "Sighting 4011: The Doll House Incident"
Carl Youngstrom, a caretaker for Senatorial candidate Frederick Flanagan, is working on a doll house for his grand-daughter when his room is filled with the 'heavenly glow' of an alien craft. Stepping outside to investigate, Youngstrom is confronted by 2 aliens who hand over an alabaster jug they wish filled with water. In exchange, they offer a lotus-shaped loaf of bread which they want him to eat. He saves part of it as physical evidence of the encounter to show Blue Book investigators. Based on the Eagle River UFO Encounter
12 - "Sighting 4012: The Rock and Hard Place Incident"
While dining at a restaurant with Theresa Ball, Major Gatlin is alerted to a UFO sighting at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, less than 30 miles away. Within seconds, Gatlin, Fitz and more than 100 diners have a spectacular sighting of their own as a UFO leaves a trail of exploding colors over the restaurant. As Gatlin and Fitz probe the amazing sighting, they find themselves under investigation by the government. For some reason, both Jack Webb and Steven Spielberg must think there is a mountain range on the border of Indiana and Ohio.
12 - "Sighting 4013: The St. Hillary Incident"
In one of Project Blue Book's most challenging cases, 2 nuns, Sister Lucy and Sister Anne, report they sighted a UFO and communicated with aliens who left a cryptic message about their return.
This episode has a couple of (unintentional) Star Trek references in it. Maybe Will wasn't the first Riker to meet aliens?
William Jordan leaves the show and is replaced by Edward Winter. The show's theme music is also replaced by a (terrible
) disco-sounding tune. This season is regarded by some fans as being the weaker of the two. One other change is that in many episodes of this season, the Project Blue Book investigators discover a conventional explanation for the sighting, only to find out in the last two minutes that aliens were involved after all.
14 - "Sighting 4015: The Underwater Incident"
Capt. Ben Ryan, an ex-fighter pilot, has been assigned to head the Air Force's Project Blue Book, replacing Major Jake Gatlin. He is teamed with Harry Fitz who is newly promoted to Tech Sergeant. When 2 men who run a charter service claim their boat was rammed by a UFO that streaked out of the sky and crashed below the ocean's surface, Ryan and Fitz join forces with the Coast Guard and the Pacific Institute to investigate the incident.
15 - "Sighting 4017: The Devilish Davidson Lights Incident"
Samantha Klein is enjoying a barbecue at the home of 2 fellow college professors when they sight and photograph 2 strange bluish-green V-shaped UFO's. The California coastal town of Davidson is abuzz with the news. Ryan and Fitz arrive the following night, just in time to miss a second mass sighting. While the Blue Book team investigate the mysterious appearances, the residents of Davidson turn off their lights to wait for the return of the UFO's. Based on the Lubbock Lights UFOs. Interestingly, the model UFO created for this episode is reminiscent of the Hudson Valley UFO which happened 4 years after this aired.
16 - "Sighting 4016: The Pipeline Incident"
The 3-man crew of an Alaskan cargo plane is crossing the Yukon border when they see a target closing in on them at an incredible speed. The brilliant glowing white object performs bizarre maneuvers and gives chase before disappearing. When Ryan and Fitz investigate, navigator Tim Jenkins relates the story of the UFO chase. Later, he mysteriously changes his story about the UFO sighting and claims he saw a weather balloon, even though Ryan and Fitz know that no weather balloons were in the area and NORAD picked up the UFO on its radar. Yes, that's Randolph Mantooth as Tim, who starred in Emergency! also produced by Jack Webb.
17 - "Sighting 4018: The Incident on the Cliffs"
A young woman with a history of mental illness sees 4 bright blue and white UFO's while standing on a cliff on the coast of Maine. Lisa Forman waits for the return of the blinding lights, which spiral around her at incredible speeds. Ready for the strange visitors, she films them and produces evidence that Project Blue Book considers to be real. This is another one that seriously freaked me out as a little kid.
18 - "Sighting 4019: The Believe It or Not Incident"
An engineering student claims he was warned by a laser blast and musical notes that aliens will take over Earth unless the world's pollution is not cleaned up. Student Roy Layton tells Blue Book investigators Ryan and Fitz that he had contact with a 300-foot-long vehicle ringed by a thousand pulsating lights. he claims that the aliens told him they have been observing Earth for hundreds of years, and could breathe easily in the atmosphere at first. Since the increase in pollution, the aliens have not been able to breathe Earth's air, Layton says, and they warned him that unless the situation is corrected, they will take over the planet - by force if necessary.
19 - "Sighting 4022: The Camouflage Incident"
A businessman films a UFO after it attacks him and two other men but he does not want to part with the evidence. Also, a man claims to have UFO debris in his garage.
20 - "Sighting 4020: The Island Incident"
Ted Saunders, a brilliant doctor who works on a small South Pacific island, comes to the attention of Project Blue Book, after he and 3 island fishermen sight a huge mothership and a smaller UFO emerging from it. Ryan and Fitz are sent to investigate, but run into trouble from Manuku, the leader of the island people. The island people interfere with the investigation and the 3 fishermen change their story and deny having sighted anything out of the ordinary. Spoiler: the ending is pretty corny.
21 - "Sighting 4021: The Superstition Mountain Incident"
Young Charlie Higgins and his girlfriend, Laurie, are watching an eclipse of the sun when they sight a UFO, which deposits 2 egg-shaped metallic artifacts inside a mine. Analysis proves them to be pure magnesium, a form of the metal rarely found on Earth. After the sixteen-year-old student from South Dakota finds the magnesium, he is warned by a gypsy to be careful in telling anyone about the "Overlords" visit. So, how did that giant UFO shrink down and contort itself into that tiny little tunnel?
22 - "Sighting 4023: The I-Man Incident"
A large but extremely delicate UFO hovers over a 10-year-old girl on a beach and plays her a startling message, which echoes a signal sent from Earth 15 years before. Young Cindy Harper was walking along the beach when she sighted the wondrous vehicle that then played a Morse code message to her. One goof: an F-4 Phantom somehow turns into an F-106 Delta Dart several times.
23 - "Sighting 4024: The Scoutmaster Incident"
A Vietnam veteran with a dark secret has a dangerous encounter with a UFO, but insists that Project Blue Book is making too much out of the sighting. High School teacher Andy McMurtry had been leading a group of Explorer Scouts when they saw the strange lights and a flaming crash. When Andy went to investigate, he received mysterious burns from the craft. Ryan and Fitz find Andy a cooperative witness at first, but then the Vietnam veteran becomes strangely reluctant to reveal any more information. Based on the Florida Scoutmaster Incident. Cheap 1970's TV special effects or not, even 35 years later this one is still creepy.
24 - "Sighting 4026: The Atlantic Queen Incident"
Steve Rollins, Executive Officer of the luxury liner Atlantic Queen, has a UFO sighting while the ship is returning home from its latest crossing. Ryan and Fitz are notified and fly to Boston and are taken by helicopter to the deck of the Atlantic Queen. Once there, they encounter the ship's Captain, who believes the Executive Officer has invented the UFO story to further his own career. That night Ryan and Fitz are visited in their cabin by former tv comic Ollie Hyers, who provides confirmation of Rollin's story and adds his own incredible account of a night-time encounter with a visitor from the UFO. The production in this one comes off as pretty cheap, as the Atlantic Queen is represented on screen by no less than three different ships from file footage.
25 - "Sighting 4025: The Whitman Tower Incident"
Shortly after an air traffic controller at the Los Angeles Airport spots a mysterious blip on his radar screen, several residents of a luxury apartment building, known as the Whitman Tower, are startled by the appearance of a UFO outside their windows. Ryan and Fitz fly to Los Angeles to question the witnesses and ascertain the facts in the case. One of the witnesses, Mr. Rashoon, reports he saw only some red beams of light. The other residents, a family named Ryerson, give a more detailed description of what they saw. Their version includes the sighting of 2 beings with horse-shaped heads and medallions around their necks bearing horse images. Ryan and Fitz next head to San Pedro to search for additional witnesses and try and separate fact from fiction in this bizarre case. Probably the weakest conventional explanation of the whole series. Agoraphobia induced hallucinations? Seriously? Oh well, I guess we know where Mister Ed came from
26 - "Sighting 4014: The Wild Blue Yonder Incident"
Student pilot Kay Galloway sights a UFO while flying a T-34 and recklessly dives to Earth trying to chase it, and then faces expulsion from school and humiliation from her fellow students. Because of the unique configuration of the T-34, Galloway's teacher doesn't see the UFO, and doesn't believe her story. Accused of buzzing a restricted area, Galloway is brought before an honor board at school which could recommend her expulsion. With no other witnesses to her sighting, Galloway is certain she'll be expelled, not realizing her boyfriend, Douglas Detwiler, is keeping important information from her and the honor board.