MIGHTY MOVIES

Here's what 'Project Blue Book' creator, David O'Leary, has to say about UFOs

Project Blue Book is a mystery series about U.S. Air Force-sponsored investigations into UFOs from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. Dr. Allen Hynek teams up with Captain Michael Quinn to gather evidence to explain a plethora of phenomenons happening across the United States. I had the opportunity to sit down with the Creator of the series, David O'Leary, for an interview.

The show's third episode premieres tonight, January 22, at 10/9c on HISTORY.


What inspired you to write on the topic of UFOs?

UFOs have been a lifelong passion for me, to be honest. I grew up in New York City and I remember going to E.C.E.T. as a little kid and leaving Reese's Pieces on my window sill. When I was nine years old, I dragged my father to see this famous UFO encounter movie called Communion, [which is] a book that they turned into a movie starring Christopher Walken. I dragged my father to this scary, real-life abduction movie when the it came out in 1989.

Given the fact that, in many cases, people are embarrassed or reluctant to talk about [their experiences,] I very quickly came to assess, these are not attention-seekers looking a weird form of fame, but they genuinely encountered something strange and they're trying to make sense of it.

My focus, initially, was sort of present day, what was happening with UFOs in the 80s and 90s -- that's when I really started to educate myself. America has this sort of strange and mysterious history in regards to this phenomenon. You can't look at that without looking at the premier official investigation into UFOs, which was of course, Project Blue Book.

It baffled me that, for 17 years, between 1952 and 1969, the U.S. Air Force was officially looking into these matters and going out there and investigating cases. What baffled me even more was the fact that the chief scientific adviser of Project Blue Book, a civilian astrophysicist who is a complete UFO skeptic with a trained eye, tries explain what people are seeing in the sky and emerges on the other side as a believer. Not only in the notion that UFOs represent an intelligence in our skies that we have yet to understand, but also in the fact that Project Blue Book was, in part, a disinformation campaign.

He spent the rest of his life going out there and investigating cases and wrote several books on the subject.

I thought, what if we did a television show rooted in fact, where every week we looked into these different cases that happened and examine them just like Hynek examined them in Project Blue Book?

The cast includes many high-ranking officers who deny Hynek’s findings. How true-to-life are these responses from the military?

Very accurate. One of the people I was able to meet was the last living director of Project Blue Book, his name is Lt. Colonel Robert Frend. He was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II and he's 98 years old. He worked with Hynek and Project Blue Book. He was instrumental in the information on a day-to-day basis — what did Project Blue Book look like? How did it function? How did they get reports? How did it work when they went to examine cases? How did cases come in?

He spoke to high-ranking men who could come and go as they please that would take their files, examine their files, and change their files. [On one hand,] there was the public face of Project Blue Book and then there were the generals who controlled Project Blue Book with their own agenda. Our main characters are the men stuck in the middle.

(HISTORY)

These sightings began at the start of the Cold War. Did our deadlock between the Soviet Union influence the decisions to keep the investigations classified?

Oh yeah, majorly. UFOs, even during World War II — they would call them "foo fighters" then — both sides of the conflict were seeing things in the sky. Each side was convinced that the other side had some sort of technology that would emerge once the war was over. The war ended and nobody claimed responsibility for what they were seeing. Certainly, as we move into the 50s, five or six years after World War II, most historians believe that that's when the modern UFO era began — Roswell, Kenneth Arnold, "flying saucers" was coined, all that. It became again this notion of: Is what we're seeing in our sky some sort of weaponry? Aircraft? Intelligence-gathering device that the other side has that we've miscategorized?

A lot of sightings would occur over military bases and weapons tests and that was a genuine fear. "Oh my gosh, the Russians have a technology that is surveying our bases!" UFO sightings were also happening in Russia, but they were not as well known. The U.S. Government was the only one that launched an official investigation into these matters, at least at first.

It became this idea that flying saucers might be man-made technology that we couldn't fathom yet, and that they were built by our enemies. That was just as scary as anything. On the show, we tried to remain true to that aspect of it. Are we dealing with the Russians or not?

(HISTORY)

I’ve worked for the government before and it is incredibly hard for them to admit to investigations, even if they're declassified. Were there any barriers in your way when you were gathering research for this project?

Fortunately, through the Freedom of Information Act, the Project Blue Book files are now in the National Archives and are searchable online. Although this was not always the case. It used to be, for many many years, the only way to access these files was to literally go to Washington D.C. and ask for them, one at a time.

Another barrier that I think is sort of interesting is that the official [statement] from our government is Project Blue Book. The official answer today is, "Listen, we've looked into this matter for 17 years, from 1952 to 1969, until Project Blue Book was closed after it was deemed that UFOs do not pose a threat to National Security." The Truth is, that's not when the government stopped investigating UFOs. The New York Times did this incredible piece on the $22-million-per-year program where they were researching UFOs. It became clear that the seriousness with which the military takes UFOs has never gone away, it's just been removed from the public sphere all together.

Now they claim that that program is closed as well, but what can you believe if they said this matter was put to rest in 1969 and then you find out as recently as a couple of years ago, there's another program looking into the matter, too. They were willing to spend $22 million of taxpayer money researching this — and that's just what we know about. I'm sure there are many others.

There's a good probability some of our audience may have had grandparents stationed on bases that appear during the show’s timeline. What locations can we expect to see in the arc of the show?

We go to Fargo, North Dakota, to look into a famous case that happened near a military base there. We to go to Texas, West Virginia... I don't want to give them all away because I want people to be surprised by the cases we examined. Even if we give some of them away in the trailer, we still travel the country. We wanted to showcase the totality of this phenomenon across the country, and we go to Washington D.C. itself at one point.

What I think is nice about each episode is that they end up having a particular flavor to it. If we're going into the South, you feel it. If we're in the Pacific North West, you feel it. If we're in the middle of the country or a big city like D.C., each episode has a different vibe.

Of course, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, plays a huge role [because] that's where Project Blue Book was based in Dayton, Ohio.

(Wright-Patterson Air Force Base)

Do you personally believe that we are not alone in the universe?

I do, I 100% believe we are not alone in the universe. I think the fact that we're one planet, orbiting in one solar system, amongst many solar systems, in one galaxy amongst many galaxies says enough. There is a line on the show that I wrote,

"The probability of us being alone in the universe is zero."

That is something I certainly believe.

[However,] in regards to what UFO themselves are, I keep an open mind. I'm in the Dr. J. Allen Hynek camp of thought. I really do believe that UFOs are real and that they do represent an intelligence in our skies that we have yet to understand. I'm as open to [the idea] as he was, but he never explicitly said "aliens."

He expresses an extraterrestrial hypothesis among others, such as inter-dimensional phenomenon, time travel, suggesting that UFOs are a life form that evolved on the planet that we are yet to understand, or extraterrestrial artificial intelligence. He lays out all these different theories.

Is there anything you'd like to say to our service members and veterans?

I'm so happy and feel so fortunate that we can talk to you guys as a military representation in film and media. There's so much show content written [in that area], and I know our actors did a ton of research, especially Michael Malarkey, who plays the young Air Force Captain. He really wanted to understand what it was like being in the Air Force back then — he actually grew up in Ohio and had a friend stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He asked if he could hop into a plane because he needed to know how it feels to really fly and be one of those guys.

I've gotten close with Michael Harney, who plays one of our generals on the show. His character was originally inspired by a few different generals and General Hoyt Vandenberg. He went down the rabbit hole: Who are these men? What is it like to be that high-ranking of an official? What kind of weight of the world do they hold?

To the viewers and the readers of We Are The Mighty, we really do make the effort to get the military aspects of the show correct. I'm sure there's going to be something we failed at, but we did have military advisers.

There are plenty of skeptics, believers, and people in between. The show walks that fine line. Even if people say we went deep into X-Files territory or something like that from the trailer, they will be pleasantly surprised to see not everything is as it seems. There are always two answers to every story because the truth is, simply, we don't know. The show tries to keep an open mind while rooted in real-life findings.

The third episode of the hit series, Project Blue Book, premieres on HISTORY on January 22 at 10PM PST, 9 central. Be sure to catch new episodes each week as they're released!