Keyhoe graduated in 1920 from the U.S. Naval Academy with a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He flew balloons and airplanes for a few years until he was injured in a crash in Guam. He retired, worked for the government for some time, and eventually became a freelance writer. During World War II he was recalled to active duty with the rank of Major and served at the Pentagon.
After the war, Keyhoe personally test-flew a wide variety of aircraft and evaluated their performance and features for True Magazine. When the Kenneth Arnold sightings were reported in 1947, Keyhoe was skeptical. When he was asked to investigate in 1949 and interviewed numerous fliers as well as military officers in the Pentagon, he discovered expert observers had seen the unexplained discs, many at close range.
He remained skeptical, but interviewed many more pilots and military officers and discovered many of them had sightings and close encounters. He soon became convinced the phenomenon were real, that they came from outer space, and the government was trying to cover up the truth.
His article “Flying Saucers Are Real” in the January 1950 issue of True Magazine became one of the most widely read and discussed articles on the subject in history, and caused a cultural sensation. He later expanded the article into the book The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950), which reached an even larger audience. He later followed with Flying Saucers From Outer Space (1953), Flying Saucer Conspiracy (1955), and Flying Saucers: Top Secret (1960).
In January 1957 Keyhoe became director of the newly formed National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in Washington, D.C., which encouraged congressional hearings and gave serious publicity to the UFO mystery throughout the 1960s.
He was ousted as NICAP’s director in December 1969, but remained on the board of governors. By then, government agents reportedly had infiltrated NICAP and the character of the organization changed greatly in the following years. NICAP became little more than a report collection agency, many members resigned, and in 1980 was shut down for good.
Donald Keyhoe was one of the most prominent researchers in ufology in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. His books and numerous articles on UFOs convinced countless people UFOs are real. Because of him, many of those readers became UFO researchers who are still active today.