Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ben Rich, Area 51 & Taking ET Home

In his autobiography, Skunk Works, Ben Rich wrote that while Lockheed was developing the stealth plane, 
Ben Rich

"Some of our senior engineers thought it might be easier to build a flying saucer. The problem was how to build one… We don't know how to do that. The Martians wouldn’t tell us.” 

Rich had a sense of humor, and he could engage in some boastful sensationalizing (BS for short) to improve a story.

It came from Area 51

The myth of the Skunk Works super technology is closely tied to the lore of UFOs. The stories told by Paul Bennewitz were repeated by John Lear, who grafted Area 51 onto the narrative. Shortly afterwards, Bob Lazar surfaced to spotlight Area 51, which soon gave rise to stories of the legendary Aurora.

The Area 51 "Interceptors," Jim Goodall and John Andrews were involved in pusrsuing this, as well as Andrews' friend Lee Graham, who got tangled in the MJ-12 document circus. Andrews and Goodall tried to coax Stealth secrets and UFO stories out of Ben Rich, but he mostly responded in friendly deflecting replies. If Ben Rich ever made extravagent statements about Lockheed spacecraft, there's no indication that it was anything more than words.

Kooks and Charlatans

On the forum Above Top Secret, ATSZOMBIE asked about the Skunk works legends,
Ben Rich, stated during a 1993, Alumni Speech at UCLA, 
"We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects and it would take an Act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity...Anything you can imagine, we already know how to do." 
A traceable context for the quote, if he actually did gave it? 

Peter Merlin

There were several floundering answers, but using the screen name Shadowhawk, aviation historian Peter Merlin joined the conversation:

Ben Rich is constantly misquoted as saying "We now have the technology to take E.T home." That is not what he said. 

At the end of his presentation he showed his final slide, a picture of a disk-shaped craft – the classic “flying saucer” – flying into a partly cloudy sky with a burst of sunlight in the background and he gave his standard tagline. It was a joke he had used in numerous presentations since 1983 when Steven Spielberg’s "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," a film about a young boy befriending a lost visitor from space and helping the alien get home, had become the highest-grossing film of all-time. Rich apparently decided to capitalize on this popularity. By the summer of 1983, he had added the flying saucer picture to the end of a set of between 12 and 25 slides that he showed with his lecture on the history of Lockheed's famed Skunk Works division. 

Rich had long used a standard script for his talks, tailoring the content as necessary to accommodate his audience. Since most Skunk Works current projects were classified, it didn’t matter whether he was addressing schoolchildren or professional aeronautical engineers; he always ended the same way. At a Defense Week symposium on future space systems in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 1983, he said, “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what we have been doing for the last 10 years. It seems we score a breakthrough at the Skunk Works every decade, so if you invite me back in 10 years I’ll be able to tell you what we are doing [now]. I can tell you about a contract we recently received. The Skunk Works has been assigned the task of getting E.T. back home.” The audience laughed, as it was meant to do. 

If something is successful, it is worth repeating. Rich gave an identical speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, on September 6, 1984, and continued using his script during successive appearances. Sometimes he refined the details a bit. “I wish I could tell you what else we are doing in the Skunk Works,” he said, wrapping up a presentation for the Beverly Hills chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution on May 23, 1990. “You’ll have to ask me back in a few years. I will conclude by telling you that last week we received a contract to take E.T. back home.” 

Three years later he was still using the same line and the same slide. “We did the F-104, C-130, U-2, SR-71, F-117 and many other programs that I can’t talk about,” he proclaimed during a 1993 speech at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, home of Air Force Materiel Command, the organization responsible for all flight-testing within the Air Force. “We are still working very hard, I just can’t tell you what we are doing.” As usual, he added his by now infamous punchline, “The Air Force has just given us a contract to take E.T. back home.” 

Within the UFO community, Rich’s words, and additional statements attributed to him without corroborative proof, have become gospel. He is named as having admitted that extraterrestrial UFO visitors are real and that the U.S. military has interstellar capabilities, and although nearly two full years passed between Rich’s UCLA speech and his death in 1995, some believers have touted his comments as a “deathbed confession.” It was nothing of the kind. 

Rich, a brilliant scientist, apparently believed in the existence of other intelligent life in the universe, though only as something distant and mysterious. In July 1986, after Testor Corporation model-kit designer John Andrews wrote asking what he thought about the possible existence of either manmade or extraterrestrial UFOs, Rich responded, “I’m a believer in both categories. I feel everything is possible.” He cautioned, however, that, “In both categories, there are a lot of kooks and charlatans – be cautious.” 

Merlin goes on to say in another comment:

The main point of my earlier posts was simply that Ben Rich did not say what some people claim he said. Most of his so-called quotes are not traceable back to a reliable source. The Keller/Harzan accounts of his 1993 UCLA speech are based solely on memory and were only reported years after the event. The overall description of Rich's presentation matches (for the most part) his standard script, though I'm not sure that I believe he ended that talk with a discussion of the F-117A. By 1993, he was ending with the YF-22 winning the Advanced Tactical Fighter fly-off competition, something the Skunk Works was justifiably proud of at the time. Perhaps he mentioned it earlier in his UCLA speech, or maybe Keller and Harzan simply forgot. It is not really important. I won't hold it against Keller and Harzan that they describe his UFO slide as a black disk flying into space, rather than as a metallic flying saucer in a cloudy sky with a sunburst. Their description is not bad for being based on memory, and I was just looking at a photocopy of the original slide last week. Quoting Rich as saying, "We have the technology to take E.T. home" is a close but memory-distorted version of what he actually said, as evidenced by his presentation scripts, which he followed closely. 


Merlin later greatly expanded the material, providing documentation in an excelent article for Tim Printy's SUNlite,
 "Taking ET Home: Birth of a Modern Myth." See pages 17-19 at


  1. I believe the truth always lies somewhere in between the two extreme sides of skepticism. While this article casts doubt on Ben Rich's comments regarding us having the technology to take ET home based on his eccentric personality, it has not successfully proven that his statements were all in fact hollow.
    The eccentric character reference in terms of Rich's tendency to exaggerate, cannot be applied to a few others of Rich's status who have expressed similar conclusions from the inside.
    In addition, it is difficult to believe that a man warning John Andrews about Kooks and Charlatans in a written reply letter to be such a hypocrite.
    I am one who personally do not believe that true objective skepticism exists as long as human beings are behind a badge. This refers to scientists as well who are only neutral when it comes to submitting the lab results.
    My point is that while one person leans towards defending a belief, the other person tends to do the same to move the line towards his/her disbelief.
    I will credit the blog/article in pointing out the distinction between having the technology to take ET home and having been successful in building a craft with that technology to achieve such task. From this conclusion, it is quite possible that certain exotic off-world components and abilities are not yet within human reach. For example, if one or more of such crafts require advanced psychic abilities to navigate them, it is reasonable to assume that we've not developed such inherent abilities to a level where navigating a space would be possible.

  2. It certainly appears Merlin has done all the requisite investigation, and demonstrated that statements attributed to Rich cannot be irrefutably credited to him. Ergo, they are very likely "after-the-fact" misinterpretations, misquotes, misattributions, and/or fabrications. Merlin's work is not skepticism. It's real research of the kind sorely lacking and usually rejected among UFO enthusiasts.

    1. I was delighted to have Peter Merlin document this. Before I was interested in the Cash-Landrum case, I'd been looking into the alleged aviation-military aircraft connections, and there's much overlap. If there's anything to it, it's a better kept secret than the suspected UFO cover-up.

      It could be that these fantastic things exist as blueprints, but there's just nothing beyond talk to show they were built and have flown.

    2. You would have to have been there to hear him, see his body language, and most importantly, his tone of voice to conclude whether he was in fact joking or being serious. A person can do both with humor and it’s only in the non-verbals that we can tell which is the speaker’s objective. Just reading what he said gives us no actual definitive answer.

    3. Anonymous, Steve Justice was there with Ben Rich at Lockheed, knew him, and heard his lectures with the hyperbole and jokes. Justice talks about the UFO technology legends in this link. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-6-steve-justice-talks-about-his-journey-from-lockheed/id1517910497?i=1000486673975