229. Editorial Note

The U.S. Air Force had been developing the concept of plastic balloon reconnaissance since 1946. After studying the use of plastic balloons as carriers of photographic and electronic reconnaissance equipment since 1948, the Air Force by 1953 was experimenting and testing the balloons directed at the Soviet bloc. By the middle of 1954 the Air Force had test-launched over 500 reconnaissance balloons in Project Moby Dick and had by fall 1954 drawn up a basic operational concept for all future important reconnaissance programs. On March 23, 1955, Air Force headquarters assigned the Strategic Air Command to undertake a pioneer reconnaissance of Soviet territory. (Memorandum of conversation by Robert F. Packard, July 22; National Archives, RG 59, INR Files: Lot 61 D 67, Genetrix; John T. Bohn, “History of the First Air Division,” unpublished history done in SAC History Division, Office of Information, Headquarters, SAC, November, 1956, vol. 1, pp. 2–3)

Project Genetrix, the codename ultimately adopted for the first U.S. Air Force large-scale, unmanned, high altitude balloon intelligence operation, was conceived and designed by the RAND Corporation for the Air Force as a means of overcoming the lack of photographic and meteorological intelligence on the Soviet bloc land mass. SAC was charged with operational responsibility for Genetrix. The plans for Genetrix initially called for free flight of balloons from west to east across the Soviet land mass from launching sites in either England, northern Europe, or the eastern Mediterranean. On June 28, the Air Force requested concurrence of the Department of State for conducting negotiations with German, Norwegian, and Turkish authorities to obtain cooperation on Genetrix activities on their territories.

[Page 715]

By August 19, the German and Turkish Governments had assented to the operation, and, according to the Ambassador to Norway, the Norwegian Government was expected soon to accept the U.S. plans for Genetrix operations within its boundaries. (Memorandum of conversation by W. Park Armstrong, Jr., November 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1955–60, 700.5411/11–2955; memoranda of conversation by Robert F. Packard, July 22 and August 22; both ibid., INR Files: Lot 61 D 167, Genetrix)

While British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden consented to cooperation on Genetrix, he told President Eisenhower on August 19 that if Genetrix followed soon after the Geneva Foreign Ministers’ conference scheduled for October, the Soviet Government could conceivably contrast the balloon operation with the President’s aerial inspection proposals made at the July summit conference. Consequently, President Eisenhower agreed on August 23 to postpone the initiation of Genetrix from November 1 until after the United States could assess the results of the Geneva Foreign Ministers’ meeting. (Memorandum by W. Park Armstrong, Jr., August 23; letter from Secretary of State Dulles to Sir Robert Scott, British Embassy, August 23; copy of an undated letter to President Eisenhower from Sir Anthony Eden, noted as received by the President on August 19 in a memorandum by John W. Hanes, Jr., August 24; all ibid.)

President Eisenhower described his proposal on mutual aerial observation to the Soviet Government in Geneva on July 21 and in his July 27 White House press conference. (Public Papers: Eisenhower, 1955, pages 713–716, 731–733)