Donald Keyhoe

Donald Edward Keyhoe (June 20, 1897 – November 29, 1988) was an American Marine Corps naval aviator,[2] writer of many aviation articles and stories in a variety of leading publications, and manager of the promotional tours of aviation pioneers, especially of Charles Lindbergh.

Donald Edward Keyhoe
Born(1897-06-20)June 20, 1897
DiedNovember 29, 1988(1988-11-29) (aged 91)
ResidenceLuray, Virginia, US
Alma materUnited States Naval Academy
Spouse(s)Helen Gardner

In the 1950s he became well known as a UFO researcher, arguing that the U.S. government should conduct appropriate research in UFO matters, and should release all its UFO files. Jerome Clark writes that "Keyhoe was widely regarded as the leader in the field" of ufology in the 1950s and early to mid-1960s.[5]

Early life and career

Keyhoe was born and raised in Ottumwa, Iowa. Upon receiving his B.S. degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1919, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

In 1922, his arm was injured during an airplane crash in Guam. During his long convalescence, Keyhoe began writing as a hobby. He eventually returned to active duty, but the injury gave Keyhoe persistent trouble, and, as a result, he retired from the Marines in 1923. He then worked for the National Geodetic Survey and U.S. Department of Commerce.

In 1927, Keyhoe managed a very popular coast-to-coast tour by Charles Lindbergh. This led to Keyhoe's first book, 1928's Flying With Lindbergh. The book was a quick success, and led to a freelance writing career, with many of Keyhoe's articles and fictional stories (mostly related to aviation) appearing in a variety of leading publications.

Keyhoe returned to active duty during World War II in a Naval Aviation Training Division before retiring again at the rank of Major.

Writing for the pulps and glossies

By the time his UFO books appeared, Keyhoe was already a well-established author, with numerous appearances in the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. Four of his short stories were printed in Weird Tales, one of the most prestigious of the pulps: "The Grim Passenger" (1925), "The Mystery Under the Sea" (1926), "Through the Vortex" (1926) and "The Master of Doom" (1927). He also produced the lead novel for all three issues of a short-lived magazine called Dr. Yen Sin: "The Mystery of the Dragon's Shadow" (May/June 1936), "The Mystery of the Golden Skull" (July/August 1936) and "The Mystery of the Singing Mummies" (September/October 1936). The Doctor was opposed by a hero who could not sleep.[6]

Keyhoe wrote a number of air adventure stories for Flying Aces, and other magazines, and created two larger-than-life superheroes in this genre. The first of these was Captain Philip Strange, referred to as "the Brain Devil" and "the Phantom Ace of G-2." Captain Strange was an American intelligence officer during World War I who was gifted with ESP and other mental powers. His existence has been perpetuated beyond Keyhoe's stories as a minor member of the Wold Newton universe.[7]

Keyhoe's other "superpowered" flying ace was Richard Knight, a World War I veteran who was blinded in combat but gained a supernatural ability to see in the dark. Knight featured in a number of adventure stories set in the 1930s (when the stories were written).

Other series he wrote included the "Eric Trent" series in Flying Aces and the Vanished Legion in Dare-Devil Aces, and two long-running series: "The Devil Dog Squadron" in Sky Birds and "The Jailbird Flight" in Battle Aces.

Many of Keyhoe's stories for the pulps were science fiction or Weird Fantasy, or contained a significant measure of these elements — a fact that was not lost on later critics of his UFO books.[8]

He was also a freelancer for Saturday Evening Post, The Nation, and Reader's Digest.

Flying Saucers Are Real

Following Kenneth Arnold's report of odd, fast-moving aerial objects in the summer of 1947, interest in "flying disks" and "flying saucers" was widespread, and Keyhoe followed the subject with some interest, though he was initially skeptical of any extraordinary answer to the UFO question. For some time, True (a popular American men's magazine) had been inquiring of officials as to the flying saucer question, with little to show for their efforts. In about May 1949, after the U.S. Air Force had released contradictory information about the saucers, editor Ken Purdy turned to Keyhoe, who had written for the magazine, but who also, importantly, had many friends and contacts in the military and the Pentagon.

After some investigation, Keyhoe became convinced that the flying saucers were real. As their forms, flight maneuvers, speeds and light technology was apparently far ahead of any nation's developments, Keyhoe became convinced that they must be the products of unearthly intelligences, and that the U.S. government was trying to suppress the whole truth about the subject. This conclusion was based especially on the response Keyhoe found when he quizzed various officials about flying saucers. He was told there was nothing to the subject, yet was simultaneously denied access to saucer-related documents.

Keyhoe's article "Flying Saucers Are Real" appeared in the January 1950 issue of True (published December 26, 1949) and caused a sensation. Though such figures are always difficult to verify, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, the first head of Project Blue Book, reported that "It is rumored among magazine publishers that Don Keyhoe's article in True was one of the most widely read and widely discussed magazine articles in history."

Capitalizing on the interest, Keyhoe expanded the article into a book, The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950); it sold over half a million copies in paperback. He argued that the Air Force knew that flying saucers were extraterrestrial, but downplayed the reports to avoid public panic. In Keyhoe's view, the aliens — wherever their origins or intentions — did not seem hostile, and had likely been surveilling the earth for two hundred years or more, though Keyhoe wrote that their "observation suddenly increased in 1947, following the series of A-bomb explosions in 1945." Dr. Michael D. Swords characterized the book as "a rather sensational but accurate account of the matter." (Swords, p. 100) Boucher and McComas praised it as "cogent, intelligent and persuasive."[9]

Keyhoe wrote several more books about UFOs. Flying Saucers from Outer Space (Holt, 1953) is perhaps the most impressive, being largely based on interviews and official reports vetted by the Air Force. The book included a blurb by Albert M. Chop, the Air Force's press secretary in the Pentagon, who characterized Keyhoe as a "responsible, accurate reporter" and further expressed guarded approval for Keyhoe's arguments in favor of the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Such endorsements only cemented the belief, held by some observers, that the Air Force's mixed messages about UFOs were due to a cover up.

Carl Jung argued that Keyhoe's first two books were "based on official material and studiously avoid the wild speculations, naivete or prejudice of other [UFO] publications."[10]

Others have disagreed with Keyhoe's assessments. In his 1956 book, Edward J. Ruppelt wrote, "the Air Force wasn't trying to cover up", and declared that "The problem was tackled with organized confusion".

Ruppelt's book indicates that Ruppelt held some dim views of Keyhoe and his early writings; Ruppelt noted that while Keyhoe generally had his facts straight, his interpretation of the facts was another question entirely. He thought Keyhoe often sensationalized material and accused Keyhoe of "mind reading" what he and other officers were thinking. Yet Keyhoe cites conversations with Ruppelt in later books, suggesting that Ruppelt may have occasionally advised Keyhoe.

The NICAP era

In 1956, Keyhoe cofounded the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). He was one of several prominent professional, military or scientific figures on the board of directors, which lent the group a degree of legitimacy many of the other contemporary "flying saucer clubs" sorely lacked. NICAP published a newsletter, The UFO Investigator, which was mailed to its members. Although the newsletter was intended to be published on a regular monthly basis, due to financial problems it was often delivered on a more erratic basis. For example, in 1958 four issues were published, but only two issues were published in 1959.[11]

NICAP founder Thomas Townsend Brown was ousted as director in early 1957 after facing repeated charges of financial ineptitude. Keyhoe replaced him; he was only slightly better at managing NICAP's finances, and the organization often faced financial shortfalls and crises throughout Keyhoe's twelve years as director.[11] Even so, it would remain the largest and most influential civilian UFO research group in the United States from the late 1950s to the late 1960s.[12]

With Keyhoe in the lead, NICAP pressed hard for Congressional hearings and investigation into UFOs. They scored some attention from the mass media, and the general public (NICAP's membership peaked at about 15,000 during the early and mid-1960s) but only very limited interest from government officials.

However, there was increasing criticism of the Air Force's Project Blue Book. Following a widely publicized wave of UFO reports in 1966, NICAP was among the chorus which called for an independent scientific investigation of UFOs. The Condon Committee was formed at the University of Colorado with this goal in mind, though it quickly became mired in infighting and later, in controversy. Keyhoe publicized the so-called "Trick Memo", an embarrassing memorandum written by the Condon Committee coordinator which seemed to suggest that the ostensibly objective and neutral Committee had determined to pursue a debunking operation well before even beginning their studies.

Television appearances

On January 22, 1958, Keyhoe appeared on a CBS live television show the Armstrong Circle Theatre to speak on the topic of UFOs. Keyhoe charged that a U.S. Congressional committee was evaluating evidence that "will absolutely prove that the UFOs are machines under intelligent control". However CBS stopped the audio portion of the live broadcast. Herbert A. Carlborg, CBS Director of Editing stated "this program had been carefully cleared for security reasons".[13]

On March 8, 1958, Keyhoe appeared on The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC and spoke about flying saucers, contactees and the details of the Armstrong Circle Theatre censorship, which he blamed on the Air Force rather than CBS.[14]

Later life

NICAP's membership plummeted in the late 1960s, and Keyhoe was blamed by critics within NICAP for the organization's decline. Some NICAP members accused him of incompetent handling of NICAP's finances and personnel, and of being too authoritarian in his leadership style. By July 1969 NICAP was facing bankruptcy, and Keyhoe was forced to lay off five of NICAP's nine staff members.[15] Additionally, The UFO Investigator, the organization's newsletter, which was edited and published by Keyhoe, gradually moved from being delivered on a reliable monthly basis in the mid-sixties to an increasingly erratic and unreliable delivery schedule, which angered many NICAP subscribers. In 1969 Keyhoe turned his focus away from the military and focused on the CIA as the source of the UFO cover up. However, NICAP's Board of Governors, headed by Colonel Joseph Bryan III, investigated NICAP's finances and found that Social Security taxes had been withheld from employee's paychecks, but not reported to the government, and that some NICAP members had not paid their annual dues for years, but were still receiving copies of The UFO Investigator and enjoying full NICAP membership rights.[16] In December 1969, in what was described as a "stormy meeting", the board forced Keyhoe to retire as NICAP chief.[17] Colonel Bryan became the new director of NICAP. Under Bryan's leadership, NICAP disbanded its local and state affiliate groups, and by 1973 it had been completely closed.[18]

In 1973, Keyhoe wrote his final book about UFOs, Aliens from Space. It promoted "Operation Lure", a plan to entice extraterrestrials to land on Earth, and described the problems Keyhoe had getting information from government agents.[19]

Beyond this book, Keyhoe had little contact with ufology as he settled into retirement. However, he did speak at several UFO conferences after his ouster from NICAP. In 1981 he joined MUFON's board of directors, but his membership was essentially in name only because of his declining health, and he had little to do with the organization. Donald Keyhoe died in 1988 at the age of 91, and was buried in Green Hill Cemetery in Luray, Virginia.

Several of Keyhoe's books are now in the public domain and are available online.


  • Flying with Lindbergh, 2003 (reprint), Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 0-7661-4294-9
  • The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950), 2006 (reprint), Cosimo Classics, ISBN 1-59605-877-3
  • Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), Henry Holt and Company, NY
  • The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, 1955, Henry Holt and Company, NY
  • Flying Saucers: Top Secret, 1960, G.P. Putnam & Sons, ASIN B000EB427C
  • Aliens from Space: The Real Story of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1973, Signet Press, ASIN B000HYOMMG
  • The Vanished Legion, 2011 (reprint), Age of Aces, ISBN 0-9820950-6-6
  • Captain Philip Strange: Strange War, 2011 (reprint), Age of Aces, ISBN 0-9820950-8-2
  • The Complete Adventures of Richard Knight Volume 1, 2011 (reprint), Altus Press, ISBN 1-6182700-7-9
  • The Complete Adventures of Richard Knight Volume 2, 2017 (reprint), Altus Press,
  • Captain Philip Strange: Strange Enemies, 2012 (reprint), Age of Aces, ISBN 0-9820950-9-0
  • Captain Philip Strange: Strange Operators, 2014 (reprint), Age of Aces, ISBN 978-1-937590-02-4
  • The Complete Adventures of Eric Trent, Volume 1, 2016 (reprint), ALtus Press, ISBN 9781618272829
  • Captain Philip Strange: Strange Spectres, 2016 (reprint), Age of Aces, ISBN 978-1-937590-08-6
  • The Jailbird Flight: Dead Man’s Drome, 2015 (reprint), Age of Aces, ISBN 978-1-937590-04-8

See also


  1. "Donald Edwards Keyhoe." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 5th ed. Gale Group, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library. Document Number: K1656000899.
  2. Donald E(dward) Keyhoe. (April 30, 1998)Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library. Document Number: H1000053777.
  3. "Donald E. Keyhoe, 91, Exponent of U.F.O.s". The New York Times. December 3, 1988. p. 33. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  4. "UFO Investigator, Author Donald E. Keyhoe, 91, Dies" (Fee). The Washington Post. December 2, 1988. p. d.06. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  5. Jerome Clark, The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. Visible Ink, 1998. ISBN 1-57859-029-9
  6. "Captain Strange, the Brain Devil! Character sheet for an almost forgotten pulp hero. – HERO Games Discussion Boards". Hero Games. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  7. Hutchison, Don (1995). The Great Pulp Heroes. Mosaic Press. ISBN 0-88962-585-9.p. 188
  8. "Recommended Reading," F&SF, Fall 1950, p.83
  9. C.G. Jung (1958). Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. p. xiii.
  10. (Peebles, p. 162)
  11. (Peebles, p. 141)
  12. – De Void – The mainstream media's lonely UFO web log. –
  13. The Mike Wallace Interview with Major Donald E. Keyhoe, 3/8/1958
  14. (Peebles, p. 231)
  15. (Peebles, pp. 231-232)
  16. (Peebles, p. 232)
  17. Denzler, Brenda (2003). The Lure of the Edge: Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs, and the Pursuit of UFOs. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23905-9.p. 17
  18. Charles William Bahme (1992). PennWell Books (ed.). Fire Officer's Guide to Disaster Control. p. 463. ISBN 0-912212-26-8.

Further reading

  • Jerome Clark, The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial; Visible Ink Press, 1998
  • Edward J. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
  • Ann Druffel, Firestorm — Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight For UFO Science, Wild Flower Press, Columbus, 1997, ISBN 0-926524-58-5 (passim, especially pp. 450–474)
  • Michael D. Swords, "UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War" (pp. 82–122 in UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, David M. Jacobs, editor; University Press of Kansas, 2000; ISBN)
  • H. W. Wilson, Current Biography, 1956, February 1989
  • Curtis Peebles, Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth; New York: Berkley Books, 1995.
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