On October 7, 1965, reports of a dozen flying objects over the Edwards Air Force Base sent a F-106A fighter jet scrambling in pursuit. Nothing turned up. According to a statement by on-duty pilot Darryl Clark — per records now hosted by the Nuclear Connection Project, an organization devoted to UFO research (take that as you will). Here’s how it went down:

“I grabbed the binoculars and got a better look. The UFO was about 10 miles northwest of my position at first sighting. It continued South until it was almost due west of me. There it made a 90 (degree) right turn and started to climb at a 45 (degree) to 50 (degree) angle. All I could see was the pulsating (not rotating) light and what appeared to be a small cloud pushed by a vehicle I could not see.

The UFO never leveled off. It just continued to climb. Aircraft always show movement in relation to the stars, but as this light moved higher it seemed to become stabilized with the stars. In other words, it appeared to move right out into space until it finally passed out of view.”

Reports of alien flying saucers and flashing lights weren’t uncommon around Edwards: Area 51 was a remote part of the base. Project Blue Book, government program that rounded up the 12,000 reports of unidentified flying objects since 1948, including the 1965 Edwards report. Four years later, the Air Force shut down Project Blue Book, declassifying most of the information, including 40 minutes of a 6-hour-long recording taken on October 7.

The Edwards Air Force Base incident marked the tail end of the UFO craze, an artifact of Cold War paranoia and crappy early radar systems. Project Blue Book, for its part, concluded that “there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

The event remains resonant because the witnesses were extremely credible. It is not in doubt that they saw something — though it remains unclear what exactly that something was. The fact of the report’s existence — and the existence of myriad similar reports — does, however, confirm that there was a massive government conspiracy to cover up, well, something. People weren’t exactly sure just what, or the people quoted in documents weren’t anyway. Just because the truth was out there didn’t mean it was filed away beneath some four-star general’s desk.

It was an anxious era, and word of the incident and Edwards didn’t make it any less so. What sounded serious then, now reads like fan fic. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. History quiets most of our fears while creating new ones.

Photos via Flickr.com/AK Rockefeller

Ben is a science journalist who's excited to be alive just before the future. In addition to Inverse, his work has appeared at The Washington Post, Salon, Ars Technica, and The Los Angeles Times.