Edward J. Ruppelt (July 17, 1923 – September 15, 1960) was a United States Air Force officer probably best known for his involvement in Project Blue Book, a formal governmental study of unidentified flying objects. He is generally credited with coining the term “unidentified flying object”, to replace the terms “flying saucer” and “flying disk” – which had become widely known – because the military thought them to be “misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance. For this reason the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-ef-oe) for short.”
Ruppelt was the director of Project Grudge from late 1951 until it became Project Blue Book in March 1952; he remained with Blue Book until late 1953. UFO researcher Jerome Clark writes, “Most observers of Blue Book agree that the Ruppelt years comprised the project’s golden age, when investigations were most capably directed and conducted. Ruppelt was open-minded about UFOs, and his investigators were not known, as Grudge’s were, for force-fitting explanations on cases.”
Early life and career
Ruppelt was born and raised in Iowa. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and served with distinction as a decorated bombardier: he was awarded “five battle stars, two theater combat ribbons, three Air Medals, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses”.
After the war, Ruppelt was released into the Army reserves. He attended Iowa State College where, in 1951, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering. Shortly after finishing his education, Ruppelt was called back to active military duties after the Korean War began.
He was assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
With Blue Book
When Project Grudge was ordered dissolved, Project Blue Book was planned to replace it. Lt. Col. N. R. Rosengarten asked Ruppelt to take over as the new project’s leader, partly because Ruppelt “had a reputation as a good organizer”, and had helped get other wayward projects back on track. Though he was initially scheduled to stay with Blue Book for only a few months, when Project Grudge was upgraded in status in late 1951 and renamed Project Blue Book, Ruppelt (then a Captain) was kept on as director.
Ruppelt wrote that the Air Force’s approach to the UFO question “was tackled with organized confusion.” In defending General Samford’s press conference on 29 July 1952, after the big UFO flap at Washington National Airport, Ruppelt wrote that “his [Samford’s] people had fouled up in not fully investigating the sightings.” Astronomer and Blue Book consultant J. Allen Hynek thought that Ruppelt did his best, only to see his efforts stymied. Hynek wrote “In my contacts with [Ruppelt] I found him to be honest and seriously puzzled about the whole phenomenon”.
After Blue Book
Ruppelt requested reassignment from Blue Book in late 1953 shortly after the Robertson Panel issued its conclusions (based partly on the panel’s official report, Ruppelt’s Blue Book staff was reduced from more than ten personnel to three, including Ruppelt). He retired from the Air Force not long afterwards, then worked in the aerospace industry. In 1956 he worked as a research engineer for Northrop Aircraft Company, according to publisher information in the online version of his 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Hynek suggested that Ruppelt’s “book should be required reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of this subject”. In the book, Ruppelt detailed his time with Projects Grudge and Blue Book, and offered his assessments of some UFO cases.
In 1956, Donald Keyhoe asked Ruppelt to join to serve as an adviser to the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) . Ruppelt had recently suffered a heart attack, and declined Keyhoe’s offer. Ruppelt’s book indicates that Ruppelt held some dim views of Keyhoe and his early writings; Ruppelt stated that while Keyhoe generally had his facts straight, his interpretation of the facts was another question entirely. He thought Keyhoe often sensationalized the material and accused Keyhoe of “mind reading” what he and other officers were thinking.
In 1960 the expanded edition of Ruppelt’s book (20 Chapters) was published by Doubleday & Co.. Ruppelt declared UFOs a “space age myth”.
Ruppelt died of a heart attack on September 15, 1960, at the age of 37.