Declassified: Air Force plans for a flying saucer

This mysterious saucer from the 1950s was meant to fly at speeds of up to Mach 4. Most mysteriously, it was designed by... Canadians.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
3 min read
Black ops: Project 1794, as the saucer was known, was a vertical takeoff and landing craft designed by Canada's Avro. National Archives

Even if you're not a conspiracy theorist, and you don't believe that aliens have visited us or the U.S. government has developed alien-grade technology, recently declassified images from the National Archives are like a giant WTF.

They reveal Air Force plans to build a flying saucer. Also, it was going to outsource the work. And not to aliens, to Canadians.

A 1956 document entitled "Project 1794, Final Development Summary Report" from the Records of United States Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations includes several remarkable schematics.

The flying saucer was apparently meant to be contracted to now-defunct Avro Aircraft of Ontario, which is still famous in Canada for its Arrow, a supersonic fighter aircraft whose production was abruptly halted in 1959.

A National Archives blog post presents images from the Avro report, as seen in the gallery below. The company stated that Project 1794 was meant to be a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) craft that could reach a top speed of Mach 4. It was to have a range of 1,000 nautical miles and a ceiling of more than 100,000 feet.

Aside from a flying saucer being too cool for school, why would the U.S. government want one? One reason could be that as Cold War tensions heated up, there were fears that ICBMs would wipe out air bases. Thus, a VTOL aircraft that could take to the skies from underground hangars without a runway would be essential.

"It is concluded that the stabilization and control of the aircraft in the manner proposed -- the propulsive jets are used to control the aircraft -- is feasible and the aircraft can be designed to have satisfactory handling through the whole flight range from ground cushion takeoff to supersonic flight at very high altitude," Avro said in the report.

It added a cost estimate of $3,168,000 for 18-24 months, which is about $26.6 million today.

Project 1794: Plans for an Air Force flying saucer (images)

See all photos

A prototype variant of the saucer funded by the U.S. Army, which sought a low-flying VTOL craft, was known as the Avrocar.

It flew 3 feet off the ground, but performed poorly in testing, only reaching speeds of 35 mph, and was ultimately canceled in 1961. To the chagrin of Canadian aeronautical engineers, Avro was closed the following year. One of the Avrocar prototypes is now on display in a secure part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The Avro report coincided with the UFO sightings craze of the 1950s, which followed the 1947 Roswell Incident. The timing wasn't lost on the National Archives.

"Curiously," the post states, "these pictures bear a strong resemblance to 'flying saucers' in popular science fiction films made during the years these reports were created: 1956 and 1957."

So does this disprove all conspiracy theories about the government having access to alien tech? If it had really cannibalized a crashed UFO to build its own saucers, why would it have outsourced production to Canada?

Unless that was just a cover story. The truth -- and you know it's out there -- surely lies buried in the National Archives.

"The images here are from selected reports in just two boxes of this collection," the Archives blogger adds. "The entire series is available for historians to research."

(Via Wired)