Abducted in Space: The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy and the Vanishing X-15 Pilot’s Return.

Curtis Peebles
Magonia 91, February 2006

In the article ‘The Case Of the Vanishing X-15 Pilot,” I investigated the claim. made by Dr. Robert Wood in a 1968 telephone conversation with Dr. James G. McDonald, that Douglas test pilot Gene May “was abducted during an X-15 flight in the early 1960s. May and the aircraft were released after three hours, according to Dr. Wood, and landed safely at Edwards AFB.

The story was included in Ann Druffel’s book Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald’s Fight For UFO Science. I also discovered a similar account, heard by an X-15 engineer attending a Giant Rock flying saucer convention in the early 1960s. In fact, the stories were bogus on several levels, including the fact that Gene May never flew the X-15 aircraft. [1]

Soon after publication of the article in Magonia 88, two very different responses to the article were received. Both involved science fiction stories, but which were published in magazines not normally associated with this literary form. The stories not only give insights into the X-15 abduction. but also into the birth and development of the abduction myth, as well as the outlook of believers. The first came in an email from Luis Gonzalez. in which he noted a possible “cultural source” for the tale of the in-flight abduction of an X-l5 pilot. He recalled that Jacques Vallee had mentioned the story “Control Somnambule” written by William Sabrot and published in the May 1962 issue of Playboy. In the story, an astronaut is abducted in space, examined for several hours, and then returned after being hypnotised to forget everything. [2] The similarities with the X-15 abduction story were obvious.

The Playboy Abduction

‘Control Somnambule’ is told in the form of a letter from Amos P. Fineman. MD., a psychologist, to General James Kearny of the directorate of Air Force Intelligence. It described the statements made by astronaut ‘Captain Paul Davenport’ under deep hypnosis. Davenport was launched by a Saturn C-I booster with a high energy second stage and a Centaur third stage. He was the sole occupant of a stripped down Apollo capsule making a flight around the Moon. Just before the Apollo capsule goes around the far side of the Moon. he releases a high-intensity flare, which can be seen from Earth, and fires a solid fuel rocket to go into orbit. As the capsule loops back around the Moon, Davenport radios he has the Earth in sight, has released another flare and that the solid fuel rocket has fired to break him out of lunar orbit. Davenport then says. “Hello. You blue beautiful old … ” Then there is only silence; no voice communication, no life support telemetry, no radar tracking of the Apollo capsule. The Sugar Grove radio telescope and the Jodrell Bank receiver attempt to contact the capsule, but with no success. It has vanished completely.

And then, five hours and 54 minutes after he vanished, Davenport radios “…earth, here I come.” completing the sentence he began just before he disappeared. The telemetry and radar tracking of the capsule also resumes as if nothing had happened. Davenport is immediately asked about the nearly six hours without contact. and he is astonished. He says that there had been no interruption at all. He could not explain why contact was lost or what had happened during that period. The flight continues without further problems, and a successful splashdown is made in the Atlantic. The loss of communications was initially blamed on an intense storm of highly-charged subatomic particles. This deflected the radar signals, and caused the electronic equipment to stop and Davenport to black out. Then a technician, ‘Harry Wyckoff’ discovers the timing tracks on the spring-operated cockpit camera film stopped at one set of coordinates, then began again at a much later set. Wyckoff also finds the film has been cut. and then spliced. There are four frames showing an empty cockpit.

Wyckoff reports the discoveries and Fineman is brought in to the case. Fineman takes Davenport, now under hypnosis, back to the moment when the capsule disappeared. Davenport says, “Gravity… I – I’m feeling gravity – and there’s been an interruption from the Sunnyvale monitoring station…. It’s a – a ship. Dead ahead. As though I’m tailing it…. I’m moving up on it …. There’s a hatch opening – and – I’m going into it. The spaceship – I’m inside it.” Davenport describes being in the hangar-like spacecraft. and then saying “…those are people?” Fineman asks him to describe the aliens, but he says. “Can’t see a thing. B1urred.” Davenport is frightened as he is taken out of the capsule and lashes out. He then says “They’re talking to me. Soothingly. Quietly. One of them …. he’s patting me on the head – like I’m a scared dog or something. An infant.”
Davenport describes being stripped naked. and then undergoing an internal examination with a fluoroscope and detailed external physical examination. A mold is also made of his body. Davenport is then taken into an ‘operating room’
The spacecraft which captured Davenport’s capsule is itself entering a much larger spaceship. He says. “This thing is bigger by far than the [USS] Forrestal. It’s like a mountain of metal.” Again, Fineman asks him about the aliens, but Davenport replies. “No. I can see everything, else – this wall. Metal. Warm. And this room – low table. Bright lights. Like a lab maybe? Wall with a big chart, or graph on it. But not them. I can’t see them …. Blur. Just a blur.”

Davenport describes being stripped naked. and then undergoing an internal examination with a fluoroscope and detailed external physical examination. A mold is also made of his body. Davenport is then taken into an ‘operating room’ and wires are placed on his temples. As Fineman watches “…on each side of his head the hairs stood straight, out the skin over the temples became completely white. bloodless.” Davenport goes limp, and Fineman concludes he had been put into “a deep. electrically induced coma” aboard the alien ship. His pulse rate is a quarter of normal, and his body temperature is also low. Under hypnosis. Davenport is reliving the physiological reactions to his experience.

Fineman notes “…a spasmodic shudder of his stomach muscles.” and opens Davenport’s shirt. Fineman sees. “A fine red line ran from his breastbone down to his lower abdomen. Even as I watched, the vivid red streak faded until it became a thin white scar line that might have been only a creased imprint from the couch. And, in a moment. even that vanished: nothing remained but matted hair.”

Slowly, Davenport’s pulse and heart rate and breathing return to normal. He then said “They are telling me — When I return to flight, I will not remember. I will not — remember…” Davenport continues that the aliens are trying to dress him in his spacesuit. They have difficulties, and Davenport goes through the motions of adjusting the clips and snaps, then lowers the helmet onto his head. He describes being put back into the capsule, then lies still on the couch. Davenport finally says ‘Hello, you big beautiful old earth.” He is back aboard the capsule, sixty hours from re-entry. Fineman asks him. “How about the big, spaceship … the operating room?’” Davenport replies. “I don’t follow you at all, friend.” The experience was over. Davenport’s memory of the six hours had been obliterated at the conscious level.

Fineman requests that Davenport undergo a gastrointestinal examination. During the interview. Davenport had described signs of appendicitis before the launch, but he had dismissed it as pre-launch excitement. The g-forces of launch made the pain worse, but after orbiting the Moon Davenport said the symptoms had vanished. The fluoroscope shows a long, thin line on his abdomen where the mark had appeared during the hypnotic session. Additionally, the end of the large intestine glowed. Exploratory surgery showed that Davenport’s appendix had been removed. Additionally there was a long row of regular geometric figures – triangles, loops, dots, and dashes outlined in a pale blue ‘tattoo’ on his large intestine.

Eineman’s conclusion was that the experience related by Davenport under hypnosis were real. He and the capsule had been captured by an alien ‘scout’ ship in mid flight. Fineman suggested that the scout had been attracted by the flares released as the capsule went around the Moon. This scout had radar deflecting devices. to conceal it from the tracking stations, as well as the subatomic force field which completely stopped the capsule’s on-board instrumentation. Davenport’s inability to see the aliens was apparently due to “some brilliant emanations” which blurred his vision.

Davenport was then transferred to the huge ‘mother ship’. In the course of an examination, his diseased appendix was discovered. Davenport was taken to an operating room, and it was removed. The aliens used an instantaneous tissue regeneration process to heal the surgery, which caused the area to glow under the fluoroscope. At the same time, the tattoo markings were placed on his large intestine. Once Davenport was revived, the aliens put him into a trance, then gave him a post-hypnotic suggestion to forget everything which had happened. He was then dressed, put back in the Apollo capsule, and released back into space on the return trajectory.

The aliens’ effort to conceal their abduction of Davenport and his capsule failed because the cockpit camera was spring operated, and was not affected by the subatomic force field. They cut and re-spliced the film, but could not alter the markings on the edge of the film. Additionally, leaving the four frames showing an empty cockpit was a serious mistake, as the capsule’s hatch could not be opened from the inside.

Fineman’s letter (and thus the story) concluded by drawing the analogy of zoologists capturing a few animal specimens, attaching tags, and then releasing them back into the wild. The tag includes a request for the finder to send such data as the date the animal was captured, its location, size, weight, and similar information. This would be used to collect data on their growth patterns, life span, migration patterns, and similar questions. He concludes by writing: “Do you follow me? It would appear from Davenport’s queer ‘tattoo’ that he was seized in flight, swiftly and expertly examined – inside and out – tagged, and then released. “By whom – and for what purpose – remains to be seen.” [3]

The story ‘Control Somnambule’ contains many of the elements of later abduction mythology. There is ‘missing time’, a strange scar, use of hypnosis by both the aliens to conceal the abductees’ experiences, and by a psychologist to recover them. There are also physical examinations and operations by the aliens, the early 1960s predecessors of ‘implants’ or ‘tracking devices,’ while the tattoo could only be described as ‘hieroglyphics.’ Abduction-type stories have been noted in both 1930s science fiction magazines and fairy lore. [4] Peter Rogerson even briefly mentioned the Playboy story in his article, ‘Notes Towards a Revisionist History of Abductions, Part 2, Fairyland’s Hunters.’ He noted, “Missing time, abduction and medical examination all featured together in a piece of fiction, ‘Control Somnambule….”‘ [5]

The timing of ‘Control Somnambule’ in relationship to the origins of abduction stories is interesting. The Betty and Barney Hill abduction occurred during the night of September 19/20, 1961. The Hills could not have been influenced by ‘Control Somnambule’ as it was not printed until the following spring. Sabrot could not have been influenced by the Hill abduction story, either, as it also had not yet been published. The first account was in the January-February 1962 issue of the NICAP newsletter, The UFO Investigator. But this did not include anything about their alleged abduction. The Hills did not go to see Dr. Benjamin Simon until December of 1963, and The Interrupted Journey, describing their experiences, was not published until 1966. [6]

What is occurring are two independent views of what would happen to a human taken aboard a flying saucer. If the aliens were here to study humans, presumably just as human zoologists would examine captured animals, aliens would run a battery of tests on captured humans. There are differences between the Hill abduction and Sabrot’s science fiction story. What Betty Hill described differed little from existing early 1960s medical technology. In contrast, the fictional Davenport abduction had the tissue regeneration device and an electron scalpel for treating his appendicitis.

‘Control Somnambule’ suggests another possible influence on abduction stories – nature documentaries. Sabrot was quite explicit in drawing parallels between human zoological studies of wild animals and what was done to Davenport by the aliens. The scene in which he is reassured by the aliens brings to mind a similar image of a captured gazelle being calmed by a wildlife researcher. This also reflects the status of the human astronaut vs. the aliens. Davenport may be the first human to orbit the Moon, but he is the one playing the role of the gazelle.

It is also worth noting that, as a cultural influence. nature documentaries would likely be more familiar than science fiction stories to mass audiences in the early 1960s. Long before the Animal Planet satellite channel existed, there were televisions shows such as Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. These would have made the procedure of trapping, examining, tagging, and then releasing a wild animal a common cultural image.

The David Howard abductions suggest a possible example. He recalled screaming in terror when he was first abducted in 1983. Then a voice inside his head reassured him, “Don’t be afraid. We’re not here to hurt you.” His legs were then painfully clamped; probes were stuck in his side, then he was turned over and a “tracer” was put in his brain, to allow the aliens to locate him. Howard said, “You’re treating me like an animal.” The alien replied, “Well, you are an animal.”

Davenport’s experiences in ‘Control Somnambule’ have differences from the structure of later abduction stories, such as Howard’s. In these, the abductees frequently describe having conversations with the aliens, being taken on tours of the ship, visiting the aliens’ home world, or receiving celestial wisdom. In ‘Control Somnambule,’ the aliens did none of these things. But, then again, the zoologists don’t explain to the gazelles what they are doing either. [7]

What influence ‘Control Somnambule’ had on the May abduction story is problematic. In both, the X-15 and the Apollo spacecraft disappeared for several hours, then reappear where they should be. Both the X-15 pilot and the Apollo astronaut tell their stories to a psychologist. Both the bare bones account by Dr. Wood, and the more detailed version told by the Giant Rock speaker, took place after the story was published. (1968 in the first case, and probably 1963 or 1964 for the Giant Rock story.) However, the other story elements, such as X-15 vs. Apollo moonshot, or early 1960s vs. near future, are very different. There is a better source of the May abduction story.
Mr. Reid’s article could be considered a post-modern academic treatise, a stream of consciousness essay, or as an example of typing at the top of one’s lungs
“What it is ain’t exactly clear…

I was surprised to open my copy of Magonia 89 and find Frank John Reid’s article ‘Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes.’ [8] This soon turned to bemusement as I read the article. Mr. Reid, the history consultant at the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), took great offence to my article on the May abduction. Mr. Reid’s article could be considered a post-modern academic treatise, a stream of consciousness essay, or as an example of typing at the top of one’s lungs.

Mr. Reid’s assessment of the May abduction is contradictory. On one hand, he dismissed the story as too trivial and unimportant to be worthy of checking, yet it was still important enough for Wood to pass on to McDonald, for Druffel to include in her narrative, for Mr. Reid to write his defence of their actions, and for him to attack me for ever bringing it up.

Mr. Reid engaged in total irrelevancies, such as reminiscences about his Catholic childhood, his reading of the book Angela’s Ashes, an incident in which the book’s author recalls tearing out a page in a magazine as it dealt with birth control, and a long and pointless story about losses of Liberty ships during World War II. These take up much of the first half of the article, and have nothing to do with the May abduction. [9]

Mr. Reid also never actually says the May abduction story is true. He never explicitly says that Gene May really did fly the X-15, that he really was abducted by a flying saucer in mid-air, and that he and his X-15 were released and landed at Edwards AFB after being missing for three hours. But I have observed that believers seem to feel compelled to defend a UFO sighting with “great vengeance and furious anger” whenever doubts about it are raised. [10]

The result is another contradiction by Mr. Reid. He defends the May abduction story without saying it is true. He does so with a science fiction story.

Graham Doar’s ‘The Outer Limit’, was published in the December 24, 1949 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. In the story, a test pilot named Bill with the rank of Captain is making a maximum speed run in the ‘X2JTO’ aircraft. He jettisons the turbojet-powered take off assembly, which parachutes to the ground, then begins firing the plane’s eight rocket engines. The plane has enough fuel for ten minutes with all eight rockets firing. Bill passes through Mach 5 and is still accelerating. As he ignites the eighth rocket, “the sunlight glinted on some object far ahead and above him.” He does not believe in flying saucers, and concludes, “Whatever this object was, this metallic ellipsoid turning slowly above him, it wasn’t a ship. He knew that.” Bill still has six minutes of fuel left, and decided to take a closer look. He points the nose of the plane toward the object. The X2JTO is forty miles high when it disappears from radar.

Ten hours pass with no trace of plane or pilot. Bill’s commanding officer, a Colonel named Hank, has concluded that both have been lost. The F-80 chase planes reported that they had lost sight of the X2JTO about the time the fourth rocket was fired. Everything was going well, they reported. Then the colonel’s telephone rings and an excited sergeant reports that the X2JT0 is about to land. [11]

When the colonel meets with Bill, the first question he asks the pilot is, “I’ve got to know – how you stretched ten minutes’ fuel to keep you in the air over ten hours?” Bill tells him “Well, Hank, I chased me a flying saucer. And I caught it. Or rather it caught me.” Bill says that he was flying at 200,000 feet and about 4,000 miles per hour when he went after the object. He continued, “It must have been going at about half my speed. I caught up fast. It was – oh – egg shaped and perfectly smooth. No visible openings anywhere.” Bill tells the colonel that he made two passes to look the object over, and had started a third, when “There was a humming sound – a kind of gentle vibration – and I blacked out. I was heading straight at the thing, Hank, and I felt this – sort of twang, as though I’d run into a harp string, and the – the black came down over me. I thought – I felt it coming for a spilt second – I thought….”

Bill comes to inside the ship. He describes it as being full of “incredibly intricate-looking machinery,” which was deafeningly loud. As with Davenport in ‘Control Somnambule’ thirteen years later, Bill cannot see the aliens, but says “They were – just presences.” The aliens use telepathy to communicate. Bill says that they sought to impress him with how far they had travelled and how difficult the trip had been, in order to make clear “the importance, the absoluteness of their message.” By this point, the colonel is sure that Bill’s experience was a delusion, brought on by stress, and he calls in Major Malcolm Donaldson, who is a psychiatrist, to treat Bill’s condition.

With both the colonel and Donaldson present, Bill describes the aliens’ threat. The aliens had long ago discovered atomic power, and experienced wars which nearly destroyed their civilisation. “Now,” Bill says, “they have outlawed war throughout the sectors of space they patrol, and anywhere else they can reach. Whenever their detector system picks up traces of an atomic explosion, they send a patrol…” Arriving at Earth, he continues, “They found wars and rumours of war. Factories busily turning out atomic weapons. So they quarantined us. This intergalactic board of health decided we were infected with a communicable disease. They sealed us off from the rest of space until we were well.”

Bill explains that the aliens had established a layer of particles about a hundred miles up. Radioactive fallout from an atomic bomb explosion drifting upward will enter this layer, and when their concentration exceeds that of the normal background activity, the particles in the layer will begin to fission, and the Earth will be incinerated. After the aliens were finished with their warning, Bill heard the ‘harp twang’ again, and found himself back in the X2JTO as it glided toward the base. The interview ends, and Bill is taken back to his quarters. The colonel is convinced the pilot has had a mental breakdown. Donaldson is about to leave. Before he does, however, he says, “Oh colonel. There is one thing. It’s outside my field, but I’m curious. How did he keep that plane in the air for ten hours – with only ten minutes’ fuel?” [12]

Mr. Reid summarises the story, and then describes a chain of events:

“1) In 1950, had anyone – an insider, or just an assiduous reader of public rocketry info – wanted to take Doar’s story as a roman a clef, or just fiction about a real person, a reasonable candidate for `Bill’ would be Gene May. “Of course there are fictionalising differences (e.g. the near future, Bill’s much younger than May, etc.) But Peebles tells us May “was also involved in the initial test flights of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. This aircraft used both a jet engine and a rocket engine, and was designed to fly above Mach 4…

“2) In the early 1960s, a speaker at the annual Giant Rock contactee/New Age circus transformed the more-flight than fuel tale into an X-15 incident, claiming to have been in the ground crew. According to Peebles’s source the pilot wasn’t named. But an insider/fan wouldn’t guess Gene May, who was long out of the game – he’d opt for one of the publicised X-15 pilots….

“3) In 1968, an apparently reliable colleague from Vandenberg Air Force Base told Dr. Wood the X-15 version. So how did Gene May – whom the ‘colleague’ claimed to know, having details of his career right – climb back into the cockpit?” [13]

Mr. Reid then answers his own question by ascribing the ‘colleague’s’ actions to ‘malice,’ then to hatred, and finally opts for him to be part of a vast conspiracy against ufology. Mr. Reid continues: “It might be joker’s malice, no more than the urge to twit. It might be that someone hated Wood’s guts, and wanted him to embarrass himself – or hated McDonnell-Douglas, Wood’s employers… Or it may have been the pale malice of an intelligent asset supplying disinformation ….So yes, there are low-level intelligence assets, and it’s just possible Wood ran into one.” [14]

Going step by step through Mr. Reid’s proposed chain of events shows its flaws:

1) Mr. Reid suggests that Doar’s science fiction story could have been interpreted as a true story. In reality, the description of the fictional X2JTO rocket plane has nothing in common with the D-558-II, or any existing or planned aircraft. Mr. Reid notes that, in the story, the X2JTO has a jet-powered first stage, which separates at high altitude and parachutes to a landing. The D558-II originally carried a J34 jet engine within the centre fuselage. The two air intakes were in the forward fuselage, and the downward pointing exhaust pipe exited on the underside of the aft fuselage. The LR8 rocket engine was mounted in the extreme end of the fuselage. The jet engine could not be jettisoned, or parachuted to a landing. [15]

The illustration of the X2JTO in the story, done by Melbourne Brindle, does nothing to encourage belief in the story as true. With fat delta wings, oval rocket nozzles, and single fin, it resembles an Oldsmobile hood ornament. Visible on the side of the fuselage is a row of piston engine exhaust pipes, such as on a propeller-powered P-51 Mustang. [16]

Mr. Reid suggests that readers might think that the ‘Bill’ in the story was actually Gene May. He also seems to imply that May’s retirement from test flying in December 1949 would add to this belief. Again, these are unsupported speculations on his part, and there are reasons against them. ‘Bill’ has the military rank of captain, while May was a civilian contractor test pilot, and had not flown in the military. It is also doubtful that May’s retirement was publicised.

Mr. Reid also notes that among the “fictionalizing differences” is that Doar’s story takes place in “the near future.” In reality, a key story element is counter to this, and would be apparent to readers at the time. Bill comments that “We’ve exploded – five, is it? – atomic bombs. Maybe seven?” [17] In December of 1949, a total of nine atomic bombs had been exploded. They were Trinity (July 1945), Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945), Crossroads Able and Crossroads Baker (July 1946), Sandstone X-Ray (April 1948), Sandstone Yoke and Sandstone Zebra (May 1948), and Pervaya Molniya (August 1949). This would date Bill’s fictional abduction to between the end of July 1946 and early May 1948.

2) In his brief account of the Giant Rock story, Mr. Reid proclaims that an ‘insider/fan’ would have picked one of the real X-15 pilots as the one who was abducted. The reason given was that May had long been retired, but no evidence is offered to back his speculation. When Gene May’s name became connected with the X-15 abduction story is not known. It may have been mentioned in the book the speaker was selling, but this has not been tracked down. It may not have occurred until Dr. Wood heard the story several years later. [18]

There is evidence that use of a bogus X-15 pilot’s name would not have caused suspicions among UFO believers. Dr. Wood worked for McDonnell Douglas, and was directly involved with the company’s space activities. Yet May’s name did not trigger any suspicions. CUFOS itself provides another example. J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee’s book The Edge Of Reality has a list of astronaut UFO sightings. This includes a May 30, 1962 sighting of five disk-like objects by X-15 pilot Joe Walton. There was no X-15 pilot named ‘Joe Walton’, and no X-15 flight was made on this date. The actual pilot was Joe Walker, and the flight date was April 30, 1962. Yet again, no suspicions were raised, and the story was used. [19]

3) Mr. Reid then suggests that Dr. Robert Wood was the victim of a government disinformation plot. As proof of this conspiracy, Mr. Reid offers a personal recollection of a suspected Soviet agent attempting to infiltrate an Eastern European emigré group. This is yet another irrelevant story. But by invoking ‘disinformation’, he transforms the false May abduction story into ‘proof’ of government plots and cover-ups. Mr. Reid ends the article by congratulating himself: “The X-15 business is more ambiguous than Mr. Peebles’s ringing sermon would have it. I find real history (like real life) oft annoying that way, and God’s motto seems to be `What’?” [20]
The real event that ‘The Outer Limit’ was probably based on had nothing to do with the D-558-II, Gene May, or late 1940s rocketry. Rather, it was the death of Capt. Thomas F. Mantell in January 1948, nearly two years before the story was published

How Gene May Was [Probably] Abducted

Reading ‘The Outer Limit’, I was struck by how well it matches the X-15 abduction story told nearly two decades later. In both, the pilot of a high performance research aircraft vanishes without a trace for several hours, then reappears suddenly. The pilot is then interviewed by a psychologist, and describes being taken aboard a flying saucer. The key story element, that the aircraft lands long after its fuel would be exhausted, is central to both tellings. The implication is that ‘The Outer Limit’ was the original inspiration for the May abduction story.

The real event that ‘The Outer Limit’ was probably based on had nothing to do with the D-558-II, Gene May, or late 1940s rocketry. Rather, it was the death of Capt. Thomas F. Mantell in January 1948, nearly two years before the story was published. Mantell went chasing after a bright metallic-looking object in a Mustang fighter, blacked out from lack of oxygen, and crashed. The remark by Bill in ‘The Outer Limit’ that the object was flying at half his speed was similar to one of Mantell’s transmissions. Finally, Mantell, like the fictional ‘Bill’, was a captain. [21]

While The Saturday Evening Post had a massive circulation, ‘The Outer Limit’ reached a much wider audience then just the magazine’s subscribers. Mr. Reid suggested that the story may have been dramatised on one of the early science fiction radio or television shows, but did not check. [22]

An Internet name search showed that Doar’s story “may be the most often used science fiction story in radio.” ‘The Outer Limit’ was dramatised five times on radio and twice on television. This began less than two months after its original publication. The CBS radio anthology program Escape was first, broadcasting its interpretation on February 7, 1950. This was followed on April 8, 1950 by another version, which was the premiere episode of Dimension X. Dora was in good company, as this radio show also used stories by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and other noted writers of the era. ‘The Outer Limit’ was used yet again by the program Beyond Tomorrow on April 18, 1950, then by Suspense on February 15, 1954 and X Minus One on November 16, 1955. Several of these shows also reran their ‘The Outer Limit’ episodes at later dates. [23]

‘The Outer Limit’ was the pilot episode of one of the earliest adult science fiction television programs, Out There on October 28, 1951. Doar’s story again appeared on Robert Montgomery Presents on January 26, 1953. The cast included Jackie Cooper and Robert H. Harris. This was only six months after the ‘invasion of Washington’ during the Great Flap of 1952. Robert Montgomery Presents was one of the highest rated television programs during this period.

How the aliens were presented in the original story and the radio shows differs. In The Saturday Evening Post story, Doar told the story through the thoughts and comments of the three human characters. The aliens were ‘off stage’, in the form of log entries. In the Escape dramatisation, test pilot ‘Bill Westfall’ meets the aliens ‘Xegion’ and ‘Zyll’, who deliver the warning that their force screen will explode once enough atomic particles accumulate. The Dimension X version, in contrast, leaves the audience to wonder if test pilot Steve Weston is delusional, if he was abducted by aliens, and just how he kept the aircraft aloft for ten hours after it ran out of fuel. The Dimension X script also adds a new plot twist. A nuclear weapon is scheduled to be tested at midnight. Weston is assured that the test will be postponed. This was just a ruse to reassure the agitated test pilot. As the show ends, it is thirty seconds to midnight. [24]

Given the number of times the ‘The Outer Limit’ story was dramatised, and the large audience these broadcasts would have reached, it is reasonable to speculate that the Giant Rock speaker heard the story, updated with the real X-15, and told it as an ‘I was there’ first hand account. It can further be speculated that the person who told Dr. Wood the abduction story had learned of the Giant Rock account, either second hand, or from attending the convention. At some point in the process, Gene May replaced the fictional ‘Bill’, ‘Westfall’, and ‘Weston’ as the abducted pilot. Although speculative, this provides a direct connection between Doar’s 1949 story and Dr. McDonald nearly two decades later. This also makes no assumptions about whether or not people thought th story was true, if they thought Gene May was involved, and does not involve the Men in Black.

“The Outer Limit” also gives insights into the development of the flying saucer myth. This is an element of the mythology that Mr. Reid rejects as ‘heresy’. Bill, like the later contactees, is carrying a celestial warning from the heavenly beings to stop nuclear testing. He, like the contactees, was also specially selected to be the messenger. In the Escape script. Zyll warns Westfall that atomic war “would upset the balance of the entire universe, throw all space into chaos.” The later contactees would have the ‘space brothers’ making similar comments. These story elements suggest that the ideas and concepts of a proto-contactee mythology already existed at the dawn of the flying saucer era. What the story lacks, however. is the mysticism of the contactees.

The offence that Mr. Reid took at my article may also trace its roots to a clash of cultures. It was inexplicable to Mr. Reid as to why I jumped on what he saw as a throwaway incident in the McDonald book. What he did not understand was that I was a child of the space age, and the X-15 was part of that childhood. I can recall seeing documentaries on the X-15 in the early 1960s. With such a cultural background, and being familiar with such research aircraft as the X-l5 and D-558-II, it was inexplicable to me that the Gene May X-15 abduction story would ever have been believed.

Other examples of these cultural differences appear in Mr. Reid’s article. Several times, he makes comments which indicate a lack of familiarity with the design and capability of the D-558-II. As part of his argument that ‘The Outer Limit’ was believed by some readers to be a fictionalised true story, he quotes me as saying: “But Peebles tells us May ‘was also involved in the initial test flights of the Douglas D-558II Skyrocket. This aircraft used both a jet engine and a rocket engine, and was designed to fly above Mach 4….” [25]

The fictional X2JTO in ‘The Outer Limit’ was captured by the alien spaceship at a speed of Mach 5, which is close to the performance claim made by Mr. Reid for the D-558-II flown by Gene May. There is, however a problem with this quote. What I actually wrote was:

“He was also involved in the initial test flights of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. This aircraft used both a jet engine and a rocket engine, and was designed to fly above Mach l.” [26]

  1. Curtis Peebles, ‘The Case Of The Vanishing X-15 Pilot,’ Magonia 88, (May 2005), p. 3-7.
  2. E-mail, June 15, 2005 from Luis Gonzalez to John Rimmer.
  3. William Sambrot, ‘Control Somnambule’, Playboy (May 1962), p. 63, 66, 128-133. William Sambrot was born in 1920, but no other biographical information was found. Sambrot wrote science fiction short stories between 1953 and 1967. His themes included aliens among us stories, fantasy, and Cold War thrillers, many of which were published in The Saturday Evening Post. The paperback book Island Of Fear and Other Science Fiction Stories (Pocket Books, 1963) was a collection of his work. Sambrot showed a working knowledge of space technology in his stories. The C-1 booster in ‘Control Somnambule,’ for example, was a real Saturn rocket in development at that time.
  4. Martin Kottmeyer “Entirely Unpredisposed: the Cultural Background of UFO Abduction Reports,” and David Sivier, “Indexing The Machine Elves: Fairyland Motifs In UFO Narratives,Magonia 90 (November 2005) p. 14-17 are just a few of the articles dealing with these similarities.
  5. Peter Rogerson, “Notes Towards a Revisionist History of Abductions: Part 2, Fairyland’s Hunters,”  The source cited is Jacques Vallee’s book Confrontations (Souvenir Press, 1990) p.190.
  6. ‘UFO’s Cause Panic, One Death’. The UFO Investigator (January-February 1962), 2.
  7. Peter Brooksmith, Alien Abductions (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1998), p. 7-9, 13:-17,126, 127). Howard’s “abductions,” which continued for 13 years, were the result of narcolepsy. They occurred only when he was asleep. He observed, “…they were inside my head.”
  8. Frank John Reid, ‘Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes’, Magonia 89, (August 2005), p. 16, 17.
  9. ibid, p. 16 columns 1, 2, and the first half of column 3.
  10. ibid, p. 16, last half of column 3, and “Ezekiel 25:17,” spoken by Samuel L. Jackson, Music From The Motion Picture Pulp Fiction, (MCA, 1994), track 16.
  11. Graham Doar, “The Outer Limit,” Saturday Evening Post (December 24, 1949), p. 22, 23, 72. Doar was born in 1912. An author’s profile suggested that the story’s theme was based on him celebrating his 33rd birthday on August 6, 1945; the same day Hiroshima was bombed. “The Outer Limit” was the high point of his time as a writer. An internet name search indicated he had only four more stories published: “They Won’t Believe Me” (Amazing Stories May 1951), “No Price Too Great” (Fantastic Adventures December 1951), “Who Knows His Brother” (Startling Stories February 1952), and “So Wise, So Young” (Amazing Stories June-July 1953).
  12. ibid, p. 67, 68.
  13. Reid, ‘Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes’.
  14. ibid.
  15. Scott Libis, Douglas D-558-Z Skyrocket (Simi Valley: Navy Fighters, 2002), p. 5661. This was the configuration of the D558-I1s flown by Gene May. All of Gene May’s flights were ground take-offs. This greatly reduced the maximum speed which could be reached.
  16. Doar, ‘The Outer Limit’, p. 22, 23. The designation “X21T0″ matched no actual U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, or company designation system.
  17. Doar, “The Outer Limit,” p. 67 column 3, second full paragraph. “The Outer Limit” was also reprinted in Big Book of Science Fiction (New York: Crown Publishers 1950). This is the hardcover edition; the paperback edition of this title does not include it. A more recent reprint is The Classic Book of Science Fiction (New York: Bonanza Books, 1982).
  18. Reid, “Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes,”
  19. J. Allen Hynek, Jacques Vallee, The Edge Of Reality (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1975), p.63.
  20. Reid, “Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes,” p. 17, column 3.
  21. The most easily available account of the Mantell incident is the study on UFO UpDates: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/ufoupdates/listers/mantell.html
  22. Reid, “Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes,” p. 16 column 3.
  23. ‘Page 11′, http://www.sperdvac.org/Page%2012.htm and ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ http://www.old-time.com/otrlogs2/bt.log.txt. Beyond Tomorrow was originally titled Beyond This World, and “The Outer Limit” was its audition show. The program debuted on April 5, 1950, and lasted three shows. ‘The Outer Limit’ was the programme’s last show, broadcast only ten days after the Dimension X version.
  24. “Page 11″ and “Robert Montgomery Presents Episode Guide, 1953″ web page.
  25. Reid, “Curtis Peebles, The X15 And Angela’s Ashes,” p. 17, column 2.
  26. Peebles, “The Case Of The Vanishing X-15 Pilot,” p 7 column 3 second full paragraph. As noted in [15] all of Gene May’s D-558-II flights were ground take offs. This meant the fully loaded D-558-II had to roll across the lakebed, lift into the air, and climb to high altitude before beginning the high-speed run. In addition to being very dangerous, this used up much of the onboard fuel, limiting the airplane’s speed to just over Mach 1. It was not until 1950, after May had retired, that the D-558-I1s were modified for air launch from a B-29. The fastest flight ever made in a D-558-II reached Mach 2.005. This was made on November 20, 1953, by NACA pilot A. Scott Crossfield in the D-558-II #2. This was the first Mach 2 flight by a piloted aircraft, and the only Mach 2 flight ever made by any D-558-II. Both D-558-II #1 and #2 had their jet engine and jet fuel tank removed, and replaced by larger rocket fuel tanks. The D-558-II 3 was also modified for air drop, but retained the dual jet/rocket propulsion system. Details of the Mach 2 D-558-II flight are in: Curtis Peebles “Risk Management in the X-Planes Era D558-II vs. X-1A at Mach 2,” Quest Volume 11, Number 4, 2004, p. 40-47.