68 – Hot Air

(1951)

In the fall of 1951, the Brown family flew from Honolulu to San Francisco, where Linda remembers seeing her first television, a coin operated model in the lobby of the hotel where they stayed. Joseph, now nineteen years old to Linda’s seven – was captivated by the flickering grey images of professional wrestling, featuring such stars as Gorgeous George, and kept feeding quarters into the set in the lobby until Josephine finally relented and rented a set for their room. 

“Joe didn’t really have much use for a seven year old sister,” Linda recalls, “but I was good for one thing: He would watch very carefully all of the wrestling moves on the TV, and then try them all out on me!” 

The family stayed briefly in San Francisco, where Linda encountered such modern marvels as cable cars. Then they drove down the coast to Los Angeles, enjoying along the way the many natural wonders of the Golden State, like snow in the mountains and their first earthquake. 

In Los Angeles, Townsend reconstituted the Townsend Brown Foundation at 306 N. Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. He teamed up once again with Bradford Shank, the Manhattan Project veteran who had been part of the operations before Brown spirited his family away to Hawaii in 1947. 

Besides Brown and Shank, a third individual named Mason Rose signed on as the principal promoter of the enterprise. Rose compiled a ‘white paper’ that explained the Biefeld-Brown effect as it was applied to Brown’s tethered saucers, which the Foundation demonstrated from their facility on Vermont Avenue. The document describes how the saucers are levitated and propelled, and suggests the course of further research: 

Through the utilization of the Biefeld–Brown effect, the flying saucer can generate an electrogravitational field of its own which acts against the earth’s field. 

This field acts like a wave, with the negative pole at the top of the wave and the positive pole at the bottom. The saucer travels like a surfboard on the incline of a wave that is kept continually moving by the saucer’s electrogravitational generator. 

Since the orientation of the field can be controlled, the saucer can thus travel on its own continuously generated wave in any desired angle or direction of flight. Control is gained by switching charges rather than by control surfaces. 

This is the clearest description yet how an electrically generated, synthetic gravitational field can lift, propel and control a flying vessel. With this explanation, the Townsend Brown Foundation invited visitors to see a demonstration of their flying saucers and began soliciting private funds for the venture. 

* 

The cover of the April 7, 1952 edition of LIFE magazine provided Mason Rose with a headline that would expand the reach of the enterprise. Just above the bare left shoulder of a saucy Marilyn Monroe, the headline reads: 

There Is A Case for Interplanetary Saucers

Marilyn Monroe and Flying Saucers on the cover of LIFE – April 7, 1952

Inside, the accompanying story⁠1 took its lead from an August, 1951 UFO sighting called the Lubbock Lights, in which a V-shaped formation of lights were “considered by the Air Force the most unexplainable phenomena yet observed.”

The article began with Kenneth Arnold’s encounter with “saucer-like things… flying like geese in a diagonal chainlike line” in the summer of 1947 and went on with a “Top Ten List” of subsequent incidents. 

Such popular media coverage supplied Mason Rose with a perfect cover for injecting Townsend Brown into the public fascination with UFOs, space aliens and cover-up conspiracy theories. After the LIFE story hit newsstands, Rose invited the Los Angeles press core to see some flying saucers for themselves. The demonstration was so impressive that on April 8, 1952, the Los Angeles Times ran an article above the fold on the front page of the second section with the headline… 

 

Flying Saucers Explained

Beneath a photo of Shank, Brown, and Rose, the article⁠2 describes: 

Two metal-plexiglass disks, suspended from a central pylon, swung through slow circles in a darkened room yesterday as spokesmen for a new university sought to convince newsmen that they have solved the flying saucer mystery.

Los Angeles Times April 4, 1952

“We have hesitated to divulge our findings,” said Mason Rose, president of the University for Social Research,” because they read too much like science fiction.”

Substance of the alleged discovery, credited to inventor Townsend Brown, is that saucers operate in a field of ‘electro-gravity’ that acts like a wave with the negative pole at the top and the positive pole at the bottom.

“The saucer travels like a surf board on the incline of a wave that is kept continually moving by the saucers electrogravitational generator,” explained Bradford Shank, third spokesman for the group claiming knowledge “almost too sensational, too spectacular.” 

The Times stopped short of dismissing the demonstration as a crack-pot scheme, but does cast some aspersions on the trio’s credentials. On reporter asked Shank, 

“Do you have a degree in this field?” 

“No, Shank replied, “I’m free of those encumbrances. That’s why I find it so easy to talk in these new terms.”

The Canyon Crier, a weekly circulated primarily through the Hollywood Hills offered a more skeptical account. Along with its reporter, the Crier sent along a Cal-Tech physicist, Dr. Stanley Frankel. The Crier’s April 10, 1952 edition offered its own take on what appeared two days earlier in the Times:

Hill Scientist & Crier Investigate
Secret Behind The Whirling Disks

Bug-eyed at the recent article in LIFE magazine about the possibility of extra-terrestrial visitors hovering mysteriously over the earth in bright flying saucers, we accepted with somewhat quaking enthusiasm an invitation to attend a flying saucer demonstration last week at 306 N. Vermont Ave., right here on earth.

We marched into a handsome suite of offices which read “Townsend Brown Foundation” and were escorted with some 20 other members of the press to seats in a room with two aluminum saucers.

In one corner, a sinister looking device with two arms stood. Struck us as maybe an extra-terrestrial personality for a moment, but Dr. Frankel pointed out its Model T-type condensers and murmured calmly that it seemed like a harmless balance device. 

Just as we were beginning to find the suspense unnerving, a husky, dynamic looking chap stepped up to the blackboard and introduced himself as Dr. Mason Rose, who turned out to be president of a “University of Social Research.” 

“With proper development,” said Dr. Mason Rose, piercing us with an intent look, “the discoveries of the Townsend Brown Foundation can be applied so that man will be able to travel in space possibly within ten years.” 

How much money was needed, asked a reporter.

Dr. Mason Rose said he thought about a half-billion would do it, and even as little as two and half to three million could build a gravity-free laboratory right now! 

We clutched the fifty-cent piece in our pocket and settled back thoughtfully. 

The article continues in this tongue-in-cheek manner, explaining how the Biefeld-Brown effect, could “propel an object with no machinery or no moving parts.” As the demonstration proceeded, Dr. Frankel, became “even more bemused” – especially with Bradford Shank “a scientist who was unfettered in his thinking by any degree.” Finally, 

A man in a blue suit got up next. Turned out to be Townsend Brown himself, who invited us affably into the other room. “Come see them fly with your own eyes,” he said simply.

We went next door into a room which was bare except for a pole with two arms about seven feet high from which hung two metal disks with plastic rings around them, suspended by electric wires. 

We felt a chill. Here we were – in on the very first public demonstration of what makes flying saucers fly. A historic moment. “What hath Brown wrought,” we cackled nervously. 

Shank said we would now see the disks propelled by electrogravitational force, just as they believed the observed flying saucers in the heavens to be propelled. “Don’t come within one foot of the disks!” he warned earnestly. They’re loaded with 100,000 volts of electricity.” 

As the lights gradually dimmed, an unearthly green glow started to emanate from the disks. “The corona effect,” breathed Shank. 

“Smell the ozone,” sniffed our physicist from Cal-Tech. 

Our scientist companion, Dr. Frankel, suddenly pushed out a hand after a disk had passed. “Quite a little electric wind observable,” said he politely. 

Mr. Shank said that, uh, he’d never observed electric wind before. 

Dr. Frankel thrust his hand out behind a disk as it flew past again. “Definite electric wind,” he smiled courteously, and snatched his hand back, whispering reassuringly to us, “I’m afraid these gentlemen played hooky from their high school physics classes….” 

Frankel then asked Shank, 

“Have you ever tried your demonstration in a vacuum?” 

“Oh no,” replied Mr. Shank. “Too expensive. Take a hundred thousand dollars.”

Dr. Frankel leaned toward us. “Last I heard, vacuum pumps were selling for a couple hundred dollars….” 

The lights went on. The disks stopped whirling. We snatched a sandwich courteously provided by the Townsend Brown Foundation and went down into the street. 

“Electric wind,” said Dr. Frankel. “It’s a regular demonstration in every high school lab in the country. The corona discharge heats the air and the resultant wind propels the object.”

You mean hot air?” we asked incredulously.

“Hot air,” smiled Dr. Frankel. 

Dr. Frankel was exactly right. He had witnessed the fluid dielectric version of Townsend Brown’s inventions – not the solid dielectric version that had been compromised at Pearl Harbor. 

The wounded prairie chicken was playing its part perfectly. 

*

The charade was working on the FBI, too. 

Townsend Brown was still on the FBI’s radar, though the file had been relatively dormant since being opened in the wake of his discharge from the Navy in 1942. At the time, the Bureau concluded that despite such defects of character as being an “impractical dreamer” who “traveled with a group which did considerable drinking” and running around “with other women while married” that there was “no information of a derogatory nature with respect to Subject’s Americanism” and the case was closed. 

Now the file was reopened to investigate the possibility of fraud. A synopsis from May 29, 1953 reported: 

Two wealthy Los Angeles men concede loss of more than $60,000 invested in Townsend Brown Foundation for scientific research. Support withdrawn when promised efforts failed to materialize and investors’ suspicions aroused that principals lack sincerity. Investment broker refused to participate in raising one and one-half million dollars for Townsend Brown Foundation experiments because “the people looked like a bunch of gyps and the spiel was too good.” A financier refused to invest when he realized he was being high-pressured, although claims and predictions made to him were never investigated. Another prospective investor admittedly lacked enough electronics knowledge to evaluate claims made by BROWN and [redacted] but reasoned that if true, financing would have been readily gained from the government or other responsible institutional type source. 

The synopsis describes the “luxurious, aesthetic offices of the Foundation, engraved stationery,” and titles of “Doctor” that were all designed “to entice wary, credulous persons.” The names are all blacked out, but one of the promoters, presumably Mason Rose, is described as… 

…too glib. A real huckster. An engineer who consulted for months with the subjects left them because of their unscientific, un-business-like, selfish attitudes. 

The file has this to say about the Foundation’s business practices:

Foundation bills for equipment, supplies, and services settled to the detriment of creditors in 1952 despite sufficient funds supplied by investors. 

and concludes:

An attorney visitor to the Foundation headquarters believes subjects are either frauds or security risks. His reasoning – they discuss their business openly with strangers who might invest, yet claim discoveries of secret and vastly important military significance. 

The rest of the one-hundred-plus pages of the FBI’s report goes into considerable detail about specific instances where the Foundation entertained prospective investors and offered insights into its perilous finances. 

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1 LIFE Magazine April 17, 1952There Is A Case For The Flying Saucers

2 Flying Saucers ‘Explained’  – Los Angeles Times April 8, 1952

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