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Leonard W. Grayson - The Montana Man Who Built a Flying Saucer

Created Friday 21 April 2023


A few months ago a UFO blogging website wrote a much better post on the topic that includes images of newspaper snippits, photos of the invention, and information that I wasn't able to uncover during my own research. Please check it out if you're interested in this topic! "Flying Saucers from Montana: The Leonard Grayson Story" by the STTF.

UPDATE: New sources courtesy of the Internet Archive. Nothing too crazy, just a few more sources in the pile.
An entry for the film's copyright exists in the Library of Congress' Copyright Office, particularly in a directory for "Motion Pictures 1960 to 1969".
A similar entry exists in another copyright directory "Catalog of Copyright Entries 3D Ser Vol 21 Pts 12-13".
An entry for the aircraft itself exists in the The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum directory of airplanes : their designers and manufacturers, published in 2002.
I believe I had already used this source in some way, but here's the scanned version of it rather than purely text-based. The industrial manifest of Montana, published in 1966. Courtesy of the Montana State Library of Helena via the Internet Archive. Sadly no pictures of the invention.
Leonard W. Grayson is also mentioned in the Montana industrial horizons published by the Montana State Planning Board and Production Surveys of Montana in 1966.
A student newspaper from University of Montana talks about the Grace-N-Air, the Montana Kaimin, May 24, 1978, on page 4 (page 5 of the PDF).

I first stumbled upon this story when taking a Montana History class at my local college. We had two research papers to make for the class, so for the first one I chose the history of UFOs in Montana as a subject. This research led me to discover the existence of Leonard W. Grayson and his amazing invention, the "Grace N' Air", and the odd series of events surrounding it. I obsessively collected as much information as I could and used it to write the second research paper.

What follows is a revised version of the research paper I originally submitted.

This is the story of a Montana man named Leonard W. Grayson and his fantastic flying saucer-like machine named the Grace-N-Air. The machine he created was completely unlike any other known flying machine of its time and had garnered significant attention, and yet both he and his invention have fallen into obscurity.

The following paper was my best attempt at gathering and consolidating the bits and pieces of information I could find on him and his invention. When I first wrote this I had laid out the general chronological events and then wrote down some odd specifics I came across along the way. It's not optimally written, and if someone with better writing skills would like to pick up the torch and make something more robust from the sources I dug up, please do so. I currently lack the resources or inclination to pursue this story further, but I'm positive that there's more out there to uncover.

I occasionally put down my speculations based off the evidence. I have marked speculations with <> brackets. Annotations will be within [] brackets.
(Also because I didn't feel like learning a new annotation style, I had initially annoated my paper in APA which is kinda dumb. I've since changed the inline citations to numbers for ease of use. Also please note that some of the sources required me to use my college account to access, which means their information may not be accessible by default).

Leonard William Grayson was born on February 21, 1918 [3] in the town of Antelope, Montana [1]. While details on his early life are scarce, it is known that he worked as a railroad telegrapher before coming up with the idea for the Grace-N-Air in the August of 1954 [9] and that he was living in Cascade, Montana at the time [14]. He also had a knowledge of aerodynamics from his attendance of multiple Air Force schools [14], but it's not specified when he attended them.
(As an added aside, he had experience constructing and testing model aircraft for the Boeing wind tunnel complex in Seattle, but the exact time frame is unstated. The 1966 article says it was "recent", so likely after 1954)[14].

It was in 1954 that a key concept for the Grace-N-Air, the “rotating rings and blades” instrumental to the invention’s flight, came to Grayson in what was described as “almost as a vision” [9]. On October 20, 1955, Grayson would file a patent for his invention [12]. In either 1956 [14] or 1959 [9], Grayson and his wife Lucy successfully developed a functional, flying model. In either July of 1960 [14] or the spring of 1960 [9], Grayson would show off a larger, person-carrying model of his invention in Cascade, where it flew either three feet [14] or five feet into the air [9]. On May 3, 1960 (which possibly falls under the same time frame that Grayson showed off his invention), Grayson’s patent application was granted and his patent was published [12]. Sometime later, he and his wife would move to the town of Dillon [9], which was home to the newspaper that would report frequently on Leonard Grayson’s exploits: The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner.

Starting in 1965, reports on Leonard Grayson’s flying saucer would start appearing in the The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner. On May 17, a report stated that Grayson would be displaying the Grace-N-Air at the first annual Montana Inventors’ Council, which was to be held in Lewiston on May 21 [10]. A follow-up report on the convention states that it was the second most popular invention at the event [5]. A year later, Grayson moved to Bozeman and teamed up with students of MSU’s film department to create a film showcasing his invention [14]. While it's not exactly specified how this came about, <it's possible Grayson showing of his invention at the Montana Inventors’ Council the previous year had something to do with it>.

Sometime in March, 1967, Grayson displayed his invention at an Inventors Congress [6]. Interestingly, the model he showed at this event was developed with the assistance of MSU’s engineering department [6], which demonstrates Grayson’s ongoing relationship with MSU. The Grace-N-Air won a sweepstakes award at the Inventors and Manufacturers Exposition held in Missoula [11], and the Montana Inventors Congress saw enough potential in the Grace-N-Air that they dubbed it “the ultimate in family transportation” [11][16]. By this time, Grayson was working for MSU’s civil engineering department as a laboratory technician [11][16]. <It seems that Grayson had a fairly solid relationship with MSU at this time>. In early May, Grayson and his son attended the Utah Inventors Congress and displayed the Grace-N-Air there as well [16]. As stated by a later report, this showing resulted in “widespread newspaper and television coverage” [18], but whether this coverage was primarily Utah-based or extended elsewhere in the country is unknown.
In late June, the Grace-N-Air film produced by MSU students was finally finished and was planned to make its debut at MSU on the 22nd and later be shown in Dillon on the 24th and 25th [18]. This viewing had likely played out, as on the following two days The Dillon Daily Tribune would run an ad in their paper advertising the Dillon showings of the Grace-N-Air movie [7][8]. The same advertisements stated that the viewer had not only heard about the Grace-N-Air via newspapers, but also radio and TV [7][8], which indicates that there was a larger-scale advertising campaign for the Grace-N-Air and/or the Grace-N-Air movie.

After this point reports on the Grace-N-Air become scarce. It is possible that this drop in reports on the Grace-N-Air are more related to my limited means of researching this topic, but there might be a more specific reason behind it. During the same month of one of the last reports on the Grace-N-Air [4], Grayson formed a company titled ‘Grace-N-Air’ [13][9]. Grayson formed this company due to lacking the funds necessary develop the Grace-N-Air [9].

The last report on the Grace-N-Air reveals that Grayson’s business was ultimately dissolved after Grayson had to fight several legal battles to prevent his business partners from taking his patent from him [9]. The report overall gives a short summary of Grayson’s beginning and later years of work involving the Grace-N-Air, before ending with a statement saying that despite the unfortunate circumstances Grayson faced, he still strives towards making the Grace-N-Air a reality [9]. This was less than two years before Grayson’s death.

Sometime in the February of 1980, Grayson and his wife Lucy boarded a small plane piloted by Lloyd R. Weir and with his wife Mary Weir as a fellow passenger [17]. The plane was flying from Hamilton, Montana to Mesa, Arizona, but on February 19, the plane vanished [17]. Several days later, wreckage of the plane was found in the Grand Canyon, and the bodies of the four passengers were located and identified [15]. Leonard Grayson was only 61 years old at the time of the plane’s disappearance, and his wife Lucy was 56 [17].

This story of Leonard Grayson admittedly has several gaps. Why exactly he and his wife went on a plane trip to a town in Nevada is unknown, as well as the fate of the several flying saucer models he created. However, a lot of interesting information has presented itself in the newspaper reports of Leonard Grayson and his flying saucer. Grayson had apparently presented the Grace-N-Air twice at the Pentagon and made an impression there [9]. Grayson also claimed officials from the Department of Defense in particular were interested in his idea [6]. However, despite the interest and impressions, Grayson would receive no monetary support from the Pentagon [9].

Another interesting aspect of Grayson’s story is the foul-play involved. After Grayson showed off a larger model of his invention in Cascade, Montana in 1960, it was apparently destroyed by vandals [9].

The other aspect of foul-play comes in the form of the business Grayson formed to support the development of his invention. His business partners had apparently tried to take his patent from him, which resulted in several legal battles over the lifetime of the business [9]. This apparently had halted development on the Grace-N-Air [9], <which would explain its absence in news reports following 1968>. The Grace-N-Air film by MSU itself was made with the intent “to provide interest so that the vehicle can soon be put into production” [16]. <It seems that Grayson was struggling to get funding for his invention>, as before the creation of his company he had sent out several “letters and proposals” concerning his invention but none of the parties he sent them to were interested [9]. With both of these factors in mind, and with the Grace-N-Air company formed with the primary motivation of gaining necessary funds for the development of the Grace-N-Air itself [9], <it is likely that Grayson had originally planned to gain the interest of another organization in order to fund the development of the Grace-N-Air>. <With the minimal amount of news coverage after the movie’s release and Grayson’s struggles to gain interest, it seems that these plans had fallen through and that he formed his own company as a result. However, whether or not this speculation is at all accurate remains uncertain>.

As far as I can tell, it seems the Grace-N-Air has almost vanished from history. An entire 25-minute long movie was made on the Grace-N-Air, but how it was received and its current whereabouts are uncertain (from my research anyway). Not to mention that there seemed to be a time where the Grace-N-Air was a bit of a sensation, and yet I only heard of it after stumbling upon it while researching ‘flying saucers in Dillon.’ However, the patent still exists, and various news reports give valuable information on the models shown and the capabilities and potential of the Grace-N-Air itself. Plus, while I could not locate the movie itself, a brief description of the movie was given in another newspaper report.

(As an aside, in my original paper I forgot to emphasize that the Grace-N-Air had a striking resemblance to a flying saucer. It was how I found it in the first place, since the term "flying saucer" would frequently be mentioned alongside the Grace-N-Air, and the term was used in its advertising for the movie. While clear pixtures of it are hard to find, the patent is pretty clear in showing its resemblance. This resemblance combined with the unusual way Grayson got the idea for it in the first place... raises questions to say the least).

Whereas the models themselves had amazing capabilities in their ability to fly, the real amazement comes from the sheer potential of the Grace-N-Air. It would have been able to hover and move in any direction, even vertically [14]. It would have been able to drive on the ground [14][12], and it would have been able to reach a flying speed over 300 miles per hour [5][16]. <While these are likely estimations of the Grace-N-Air’s potential capabilities and not actual recorded tested values>, Grayson’s knowledge of aerodynamics [14] gives these estimations some credibility. The Grace-N-Air gains it flying capabilities from two large rings spinning in opposite directions with blades attached, and the design itself does not need an axis for the rings to spin [14] . Additionally, multiple models have been made of the invention: a 30-inch diameter model which was also the first working model [14]; a 21-foot diameter model that was shown off in Cascade [14] and destroyed by vandalism [9] ; another possible 21-foot diameter model used in the filming of the Grace-N-Air movie [18] ; and supposedly a 125-foot diameter model that was in Bozeman at some point in time [6] . The exact fate of these models (aside from the one shown in Cascade) is unknown.

As for the movie itself, it was planned to be filmed in color and have a runtime of 25-minutes [14] . It contained both footage of tests featuring a 21-foot diameter model of the Grace-N-Air as well as animation to demonstrate the Grace-N-Air’s potential [18] . MSU had named it “Film of the Year” and it was planned to be shown in the Wilson School auditorium in Bozeman on June 22, 1967 [18] . It was also planned to be shown twice on June 24 and June 25 in the WMC auditorium in Dillon [18] . As the Dillon showings were later advertised in The Dillon Daily Tribune [7] [8] , <it is likely that the Bozeman showing followed through>, but so far I have not been able to find any specific details concerning these showings or how popular they were.

While this is the end of the information I was able to gather on Leonard Grayson and the Grace-N-Air, there is still more out there to be gathered. Grayson had to engage in legal battles with his business partners over his patents, which means that records of these legal battles likely exist somewhere. Plus, the Grace-N-Air movie could still exist somewhere in some archive, and it is also possible that some of Grayson’s models could have remained intact. While this may be the end of the paper, there is still a lot out there on this subject that has yet to be uncovered. Ultimately, this is only a small fraction of the story of the life of Leonard William Grayson and his flying saucer, the Grace-N-Air.


[1] Ancestry. (n.d.). Leonard William Grayson (1918 - 1980). Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/leonard-william-grayson_58125589

[2] Ancestry. (n.d.). Lucy Conn (1923 - 1980). Retrieved from https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/lucy-conn_63133367

[3] AncientFaces, LLC. (2019, February 6). Leonard Grayson (1918 - 1980). Retrieved from https://www.ancientfaces.com/person/leonard-grayson/79302216

[4] Dillon Inventor Receives Award. (1968, April 26). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 1. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[5] Dillon Inventor Scores Hit at Lewistown Show. (1965, May 25). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 1. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[6] Ex-Dillonite Has Flying Saucer at Inventor’s Meet. (1967, March 24). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 1. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[7] Flying Saucers? … No! It’s the “GRACE-N-AIR” [Advertisement]. (1967, June 22). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 6. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[8] Flying Saucers? … No! It’s the “GRACE-N-AIR” [Advertisement]. (1967, June 23). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 4. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[9] Follow your dream. (1978, November 24). Tribune-Examiner, p. 8. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[10] Grayson Displaying At Inventors’ Council. (1965, May 17). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 2. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[11] Grayson’s Grace-N-Air Wins Inventors’ Crown. (1967, March 27). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 1. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[12] Grayson, L. W. (1960). Patent No. US2935275A. Retrieved from https://patents.google.com/patent/US2935275?oq=leonard+grayson

[14] MSU Completing Movie on Grayson Aeronautic Invention. (1966, May 13). The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 1. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[15] Plane wreckage found. (1980, February 28). Yuma Sun, p. 29. Retrieved from https://access-newspaperarchive-com.hctproxy.lib.umt.edu:7443

[16] Tom Grayson Attends Utah Inventors Congress At University of Utah. (1967, May 26). Wescolite, p. 1-2. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

[17] Utah searched for plane. (1980, February 24). Yuma Sun, p. 2. Retrieved from https://access-newspaperarchive-com.hctproxy.lib.umt.edu:7443

[18] Grace-N-Air Film To Debut Thursday at Bozeman School (1967, June 21), The Dillon Daily Tribune-Examiner, p. 1. Retrieved from http://montananewspapers.org

I realized that the links I used in the References section were not the most convenient, so a while back I had compiled a much more robust set of links that contained all of the research materials I had discovered.

Newspapers documenting Leonard Grayson and Grace-N-Air:

Grace-N-Air Patent:

Grace-N-Air Business:


Details of Death:
These are "hur dur college student only" links, but I had downloaded the PDFs. Currently I'm not sure if it's legal to share said PDFs. If someone could find an alternative and more open source for these articles I'd be much obliged.

Grand Canyon Map + Info from it: http://carto.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=9359a0790ffe4bc09edd6b9c17a43b90
The deathly details
4 victim(s) died in this incident on or about 2/19/1980.  The incident occurred on or near Westside of Powell Plateau and the cause of death is described as .

Leonard Grayson's Cessna crashed due to possible icing in overcast and heavy rain and snow conditions. All four aboard (from Montana) were killed on impact. Private flight. Canyon crash. Possible pilot error.
Source: Arizona Daily Sun, February 28, 1980. Incident report #80-0415

Lloyd Weir, (pilot), Mary Wier, Leonard Grayson, Lucy Grayson

Online People Records

Other Documentation




Other/Family Life: