Project Magnet was an unidentified flying object (UFO) study program established by the Canadian Department of Transport (DOT) on December 2, 1950, under the direction of Wilbert B. Smith, senior radio engineer for the DOT’s Broadcast and Measurements Section. It was formally active until mid-1954, and informally active without government funding until Smith’s death in 1962.
The ultimate goal of the project was to apply any findings on the subject of geomagnetism to the possibility of exploiting Earth’s magnetic field as a source of propulsion for vehicles. Smith and his colleagues in government believed that UFOs, if real, might hold the key to this new source of power.
A small-scale undertaking, Magnet used DOT facilities, with some assistance from personnel at the Defense Research Board (DRB) and the National Research Council. Smith eventually concluded that UFOs were probably extraterrestrial in origin and likely operated by manipulation of magnetism.
Smith had been interested in UFO reports since about 1947, when, according to a friend, he first alleged to have received “mental messages from space people.”
While Smith was attending a radio engineer’s conference in Washington, D.C., in September 1950, two influential books on UFOs were published, one by Variety magazine columnist Frank Scully called Behind the Flying Saucers, about crashed New Mexico saucers and recovered alien beings, and another by U.S. UFO researcher Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, The Flying Saucers are Real, accusing the U.S. Air Force of concealing vital information about flying saucer reality. Smith had some theories about how the saucers might obtain their energy and propulsion through magnetic means, but before committing any time or money first wanted to know whether UFOs were real. Smith contacted the Canadian embassy and asked officials there to conduct inquiries into the matter. An interview was arranged by the embassy military attaché with Dr. Robert Sarbacher, a U.S. physicist, missile expert, and consultant to the Defense Department’s Research and Development Board. In Smith’s notes and a later memo summarizing a briefing by Sarbacher and possibly another unnamed source, it was asserted that:
The saucers existed.
The substance of Scully’s book was correct.
The matter was the most highly classified subject in the U.S. government, ranking even higher than the H-bomb.
It was considered of tremendous significance by the government.
A small group headed by Dr. Vannevar Bush was looking into the “modus operandi” of the saucers (see Majestic 12).
Other aspects of the saucers were being investigated, including possible “mental phenomena” .
This led Smith to lobby his agency for funding to study UFOs. Smith’s memo of November 21, 1950, also said he had discussed the matter with Dr. Omond Solandt, head of the Canadian Defense Research Board, who agreed that the work should go forward as rapidly as possible and offered full cooperation of the DRB.
This development led in turn to the creation of Project Magnet, which was formally approved on December 2, 1950, by Cmdr. C.P. Edwards, with two major goals:
- Collection and analysis of high quality data to draw conclusions about UFOs;
- Application of any data recovered to practical engineering and technology.
In June 1952 Smith issued a preliminary report arguing that UFOs likely came from intelligent, extraterrestrial sources and almost certainly manipulated magnetism for flight. A 1953 report reiterated these conclusions.
In late 1952 Project Magnet released a large weather balloon with a bright magnesium flare attached, to see whether it might be reported as a UFO. It was not.
Also in April 1952 the Canadian government established Project Second Storey, a parallel UFO research project, with Smith also involved. It consisted of a group of scientists and military officers who met periodically to consider the UFO question and to recommend government action. Smith reported to Second Storey on some of Project Magnet’s findings and conclusions.
Based on his preliminary findings, Smith lobbied for a better equipped research facility. In November 1953 Project Magnet established what Arthur Bray called “the world’s first ‘flying saucer sighting station’ at Shirley’s Bay, outside Ottawa.” The Shirley’s Bay facility contained some expensive, highly sensitive equipment, including a gamma ray detector, a magnetometer, several radio receivers, and a gravimeter; each of these was wired to a graph paper device to record anything they might detect and an alarm system to alert personnel to any notable fluctuations. Smith also acquired a small staff, though they all worked on their own time: physicist James Wait and telecommunications expert John Hector Thompson (both of the DRB), J.T. Wilson of the University of Toronto, and G.D. Garland of the Dominion Observatory. The Shirley’s Bay station attracted significant mainstream press attention.
At 3.01 p.m. on August 8, 1954, the Shirley’s Bay instruments recorded a substantial gravimetric variation. The day was overcast, and Magnet’s personnel were unable to witness any UFOs that might have been flying overhead.
Following unwanted publicity about the incident, DOT officials formally ended Project Magnet two days later. A press release from the Controller of Telecommunications conceded “that DOT had been engaged in the study of UFOs for three and a half years, that considerable data was collected and analyzed, but it had not been possible to reach any definite conclusion, and since new data simply confirmed existing data there seemed little point in carrying the investigation any further on an official level.” It went on to say that Project Magnet would be allegedly discontinued along with any further study of UFOs, although Smith would continue to collect future data “on a purely unofficial basis.” A memo was also sent to Smith the same day instructing him to discontinue the DOT activities.
According to Smith’s account, press inquiries into the project had embarrassed DOT officials and those working on the project. A memo dated June 1954 indicates that public exposure already had led to the decision to discontinue Magnet as an official government-sponsored project, although Smith would be allowed to “continue on his own free time, not on Departmental time. He may continue to use Departmental equipment not otherwise in use.”
Smith was allowed to use the Shirley’s Bay facilities with his own funding and did so until his death in 1962.
This is all part of the ridicule that the governments surrounded any UFO research project. Remember, WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO KNOW!