The book The Presidents and UFOs: A Secret History from FDR to Obama says:

Prior to the 1980 election Carter had stated in a news conference that the U.S. had developed “an invisible plane” which at the time was the highly classified stealth program.

I'm skeptical since this is a UFO book. However, the 26 August 1980 Tampa Bay Times says:

The Democratic administration, countering charges of national military weakness, responds with rhetoric of its own and lets it be known we have developed a wondrous new weapon, an "invisible plane" code-named "stealth" whose configuration defies enemy radar.

Also, the Congressional Record says:

President Carter was accused by the Republicans of jeopardizing national security for political gain when he disclosed the “invisible plane” program.

My question is did President Carter use the exact words "invisible plane" to characterize a US military plane?

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    Given that you found confirmation in two non-UFO sources, why are you still skeptical about it? Aug 1, 2018 at 1:56
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    @Fizz I want to know if it is an exact quote of the President himself (as opposed to a paraphrase, or a quote from someone else in his administration).
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1, 2018 at 1:57
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    Why is that an interesting question? It's matter of PR terminology, it's not like he meant it literally. Aug 1, 2018 at 1:58
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    @Fizz Not everybody will agree what questions are interesting. I think it's of historical interest how stealth planes were characterized.
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1, 2018 at 2:01
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    How many times did Trump say the F-35 was invisible n 2018? Oct 30, 2020 at 21:41

1 Answer 1


I found an interview with Carter published in 1999; it's not clear to me when the interview was actually taken, but it certainly was after 1990 because he mentinoed the Gulf War. Anyway, in this interview Carter said:

And the fact that we developed... and I even announced, during my last year in office, that we had developed the technology for the Stealth aircraft, which makes them totally impervious to any sort of defense - there's no way to see them in the sky with radar - and so I don't think there's any doubt about that.

It seems a little odd he says he announced it, when by more detailed accounts it was Harold Brown, his secretary of defence, who did it, on Aug 22, 1980. Carter probably meant his administration by "I".

Anyway, in the interview Carter says something that's reasonably close to "invisible by radar", so not just "invisible". For what it's worth, the press coverage at the time of disclosure used similar terminology, such as "radar-invisible plane" (Washington Post headline) or "virtually invisible aircraft" in the Armed Forces Journal. The more official term "Stealth" was also employed both by Carter (in the above snippet) and by the press of the time.

The 1980 disclosure created a political scandal at the time, after Reagan (and others) attacked it. Carter was forced to defend Brown's disclosure in a letter to Congress, so in this sense Carter did get more personally involved.

Another interesting twist is that (as DavePhD discovered) the congressional investigation into the leaks concluded that the aforementiond Armed Forces Journal article was pushed through and partly conveived by undersectrary William Perry in collaboration with the Journal's editor, who had already obtained a lot of relevant information from unclassfied sources, but had delayed publishing them at Perry's request. The Journal article was published on purpose just before Brown's press conference (and in fact mentions the imminence of Brown's announcement).

  • It was really announced two days earlier on 20 August 1980 when the September issue of Armed Forces Journal was released, which quoted defense official. The Journal said "Since early 1978, the United States has been test flying several versions of virtually invisible new airplanes, both in manned and unmanned versions" and that "planes are virtually invisible to air-defense radars, to infrared or other electronic or acoustic detection systems" . Then many papers on the 21st had titles like "invisible planes" quoting from the Journal newspaperarchive.com/kenosha-news-aug-21-1980-p-5
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1, 2018 at 12:23
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    Under Secretary Perry insisted on 18 August that Schemmer (the editor) publish the information by 21 August, even though Schemmer objected to publishing the information at all. cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/…
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1, 2018 at 13:38
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    This is a CIA copy of the AFJ article cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/…
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1, 2018 at 13:52
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    Yes, everything leads to the conclusion that it wasn't Carter directly, and only news media used terms like "invisible plane", "invisible aircraft", "invisible bomber". I like the part of the AFJ article that discusses a Washington rumor "that the Pentagon invented 'transparent' paint to make airplanes invisible".
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1, 2018 at 13:59
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    I'd also point out that it's entirely possible that the military just used "invisible" as shorthand. Since the only way you are going to take one of those aircraft out is via systems that use radar, being able to physically see it with human eyeballs at any particular time is irrelevant to the more practical considerations. Aug 1, 2018 at 17:33

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