On February 4th, 2023, a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of South Carolina following the object’s unimpeded flight across the continental United States. Within an 8-day period following this controversial event, three more aerial objects, all of them initially classified as ‘unidentified’, were spotted and summarily shot down over the Beaufort Sea north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; the boreal forest of Canada’s Yukon Territory, between the historic communities of Dawson City and Mayo; and Lake Huron near the Michigan-Ontario border, respectively. The pilots sent to shoot down the Alaskan object purportedly gave conflicting descriptions of their target, some of them allegedly stating that it “interfered with their sensors,” and that it had no identifiable system of propulsion. An anonymous high-ranking Canadian official allegedly told the press that the object shot down over the Yukon was “cylindrical and silverish gray,” unmanned, and floating. And the Lake Huron object was described as octagonal in shape, “with strings hanging off”. When asked by the press whether these three objects were also Chinese spy balloons, General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), made the dramatic statement, “We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” adding that he had not yet ruled out the possibility that the objects might be extraterrestrial in nature.
The tantalizing statements issued by VanHerck and other government and military spokespersons led to rampant speculation on social and alternative media. Some suspected that the unidentified flying objects were extraterrestrial aircrafts, come to Earth either to observe a world on the brink of nuclear war, or as the advance scouts of an extraterrestrial armada scheduled for an imminent invasion of the blue planet. Others put forth the theory that all three of the UFOs, like the object shot down on February 4th, were spy balloons sent by China as part of a military test. Others still proposed the sensible but prosaic explanation that the objects were private air balloons which the military failed to identify, or which the military pretended to misidentify in an effort to distract the North American public from more serious problems at home and abroad. And a few proposed a connection between the incident and Project Blue Beam, a theory developed by Canadian journalist Serge Monast in the 1990s which holds that NASA, in coordination with the United Nations, intends to stage a fake extraterrestrial invasion in order coerce the nations of the world to unite under one banner.
Any attempt to make sense of this most recent UFO flap ought to be supplemented with the knowledge that, since at least the early 1950s, the militaries of both Canada and the United States have attempted to build their own flying saucers. This is not baseless conjecture born from the dark recesses of the internet, but rather a well-documented fact which first came to public attention exactly 70 years to the day before the recent downing of the Yukon UFO. On February 11th, 1953, the Toronto Star leaked that the airplane manufacturing company Avro Canada was in the process of building a fully-functioning flying saucer in their Toronto factory. This aircraft-in-progress was designed to take off and land vertically, and to fly horizontally, by means of a centrifugal turbine, and was expected to be in the air by late 1955 or early 1956.
We know today at the Avro flying saucer project was headed by Jack Frost, a British inventor and aircraft designer who had worked on several gliders, jets, and fighter planes that saw action in WWII. Theorizing that a thin pancake-shaped aircraft with a circular engine could potentially be far more aerodynamic than the conventional airplane, Frost put together a team of maverick scientists in 1952 and set to work designing a real life flying saucer. The project operated under the auspices of Avro Canada, with funding provided by Canada’s Defense Research Board.
From the outset, this commercial experiment operated like a top secret government project. The work took place in an old military building near the main Avro Canada factory, which was guarded day and night by security personnel. Although team members typically needed a special pass card to enter the workplace, the crew made an exception when Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, a high-ranking British general famous for his service in WWII, toured the Avro plant with Air Marshal Wilfred Curtis, the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, in company with Avro’s chairman, president, and general manager.
Although Canada’s Defense Research Board pulled its funding shortly after the leak to the Toronto Star, Frost found a new patron in the United States Air Force, which resurrected the Avro Canada project in 1955. The work of Frost and his fellow scientists culminated in the 1958/’59 construction of two prototypical flying saucers called “Avrocars.” According to John B. Macauley, the Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Defense, who broke the news to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in April 1959, “I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years I’ve spent in aviation, and that’s most of my life… [They are built to] skim close to the ground, dart between trees, dip into small valleys and generally hug the earth’s surface.”
The Avrocar was repeatedly tested and modified throughout the summer, autumn, and winter of 1959, with discouraging results. Frost and company went back to the drawing board in 1960, and produced a new set of prototypes which were tested in the summer of 1961. Unfortunately, the newer model proved difficult to handle, and presented a range of design flaws.
Following this last setback, the U.S. Airforce withdrew its funding, and Avro Canada’s flying saucer project was no more. Despite this crushing blow to his research aspirations, Jack Frost and other similarly-minded aerospace engineers retained an unshakeable belief that the future of aeronautics lay in the flying saucer concept. For example, John Burton, one-time chief metallurgist of the British shipbuilding company Cammel-Laird, told the press in 1959, “It has long been recognized by aerodynamics experts that the saucer is the near perfect shape for maximum lift, speed and maneuverability in flying. Prototypes, while still in the experimental stage, have been successfully flown, and it’s just a question of a short time before they will be in production.”
Bob Lazar and Area 51
Did U.S. and Canadian work on the flying saucer project die with the Avrocar, or has it proceeded in secret? In south-central Nevada, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, at the edge of a salt flat called Groom Lake, lies a highly classified United States Air Force base popularly known as Area 51, where some say the U.S. Airforce has been building flying saucers for decades. Among the most outspoken proponents of this theory is a self-styled American physicist named Bob Lazar, who claims to have worked at Area 51 in the late 1980s while he was living in Las Vegas. In his 2019 autobiography Dreamland, Lazar stated that he had been assigned to a program called Project Galileo, which, according to a briefing he was required to read during his orientation, entailed reverse engineering the propulsion system of an extraterrestrial craft.
“As I read on,” Lazar wrote, referring to the aforementioned document, “a few other things became clear. Though no dates were given, it was clear to me that the project was not in its infancy. Some references were made to past attempts to understand the nature of the power and propulsion system. Several attempts had been made to reproduce the kind of system that had come into their hands, but with no success.”
On his first day of work at Area 51, Lazar claimed he was shown the reactor of the flying saucer he had been hired to reverse engineer, which he and his new work partner deduced was powered through the manipulation of antigravity. On his second day on the job, he was shown a man-made flying saucer which was stored in a hangar at the front of the facility’s laboratory. He described the saucer as “a cylindrical craft, typical of the ‘flying saucers’ that I’d seen depicted in blurry photos and in TV shows and the movies. As I got nearer, I saw an American flag emblazoned on one its flanks. The flag was printed in reverse, so that if you were looking in a mirror the image would be correct. I thought that I understood better at that point. This was an experimental terrestrial aircraft.”
Deeper into their employment, Lazar and his partner were allegedly given permission to inspect a real flying saucer like the one from which the antigravity reactor was taken, which was stored in another hangar on site. “The familiar saucer shape of the craft,” Lazar wrote, “like an inverted soup bowl resting atop a second one, sat on the paved floor of the hangar. It had no landing gear or other structure that might have supported its weight while on the ground. From what I could discern, it was approximately fifty feet or so in diameter and was roughly twenty feet tall. Where the two soup bowl discs met, the skin of the craft had a kind of rounded rim before the curves rose and fell to the narrower top and bottom… Where the two ‘halves’ of the craft met, I could detect no seam. The same was true of the entire exterior of the vessel. I saw no panel lines, no welds, no rivets or other fasteners… I ran my hand along the surface… The skin of the craft felt like a metal – cool to the touch and very, very smooth. It was dark aluminum in color, monochromatic across its entire surface except for the four black rectangles near to the top of the upper dome-like portion.”
The two scientists proceeded to enter the craft, the interior of which Lazar described as very cramped, and composed of the same seamless material as the exterior. The interior was divided into three levels, the lowest of which contained three seats resembling flower petals in shape. The second level appeared to be the engine room, for lack of a better term, and the third level, which Lazar and his colleague were forbidden from entering, was supposed to be the cockpit.
After witnessing several test flights of the flying saucer in the spring of 1989, Lazar suddenly and mysteriously lost all contact with his handler, who had hitherto regularly phoned him at his Las Vegas home when he was required to come in to work. When strange men in suits began watching his house, following him across town, and breaking into his car and home, Lazar decided to violate his non-disclosure agreement with his employers and tell three friends about his experiences at Area 51. In order to prove the veracity of his extraordinary claims, he took those friends out to the desert on three consecutive Wednesday nights to witness flying saucer test flights which were scheduled to take place. When questioned by journalists, all three friends affirmed that they witnessed a large, glowing, disc-shaped craft rise into the air, perform a variety of simple maneuvers, and then descend.
Following that breach of protocol, which his employers discovered, Lazar was interrogated, threatened, and attacked by military operatives. Fearing for his life, he requested an interview with local TV journalist George Knapp, now famous for his work on the Coast to Coast AM radio show, hoping that by going public with his story, he might somehow achieve some security. Ever since the resultant TV expose on Area 51, in which an anonymous Lazar appeared in silhouette under the pseudonym ‘Dennis’, the former physicist claims to have suffered an endless series of indignities at the hands of shadowy government agents, including the systematic erasure of his education and employment records. It is the severity of this treatment, Lazar believes, which has prevented his former colleagues from similarly blowing the whistle on the secrets of Area 51.
As might be expected, Bob Lazar’s claims have been subject to controversy, believed by some and dismissed by others. One of the story’s most prominent proponents is George Knapp, whose privacy was allegedly illegally invaded by government agents following the 1989 ‘Dennis’ interview. Among its chief detractors was the late eminent ufologost Stanton T. Friedman, who believed he successfully exposed Lazar as a fraud.
Is the U.S. Airforce really building flying saucers at Area 51? Did the legacy of the Avro Canada project truly end with the Avrocar? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
- “Canada Builds a Saucer,” by Curtis Fuller in the September 1959 issue of Fate
- Avrocar – Canada’s Flying Saucer: The Story of Avro Canada’s Secret Projects (2001), by Bill Zuk
- Dreamland: An Autobiography (2019), by Bob Lazar