Sunday, July 15, 2012

Can We Learn Anything From UFO Photos ?, part five.

Still wallowing about in "ancient times" on this topic, but those times are probably when we learned the most from the film evidence. And, as usual, my own files emphasize that relatively unclouded period.

Red Bud, IL: April 23, 1950.

Some people seem to like this case a lot. For all I know this is a good case, but by my criteria it is not. The reasons for that are simple: this photo was not reported to anybody who could be called an objective outsider for nine years. When it was reported, the story was given to about the worst source one could pick: Ray Palmer. First a letter, then a story with photo, appeared in Palmer's Flying Saucers Magazine in 1959. Palmer of course did no follow-up and apparently no one else did either. So all we have is a nice tale and one photo shot from a person whom we don't know even by interview. Pretty weak sauce. If there IS an interview by a responsible party somewhere, and what might count as a marginal field investigation therefore, I could increase confidence somewhat in this. But I know of nothing.

The story as told is simple. An amateur wildlife photographer [named] is strolling through the hills, camera thankfully at the ready, when he is "shocked" to see a domed disk object almost directly overhead. This would make this a rare close encounter photo, if it had been taken immediately. It hovered without motion for a time, during which the awe of the thing blanked out the photographer's awareness that he had a camera right in his hand. When the thing began to move, he snapped out of it enough to get one picture. Upon shooting this one frame, the UFO [which had been moving very deliberately] then shot away with lightning speed. Later developing the picture and deciding that he was sane afterall, the photographer showed it to a few friends separately, and got rousing mockery. This then is why he did not report it to anyone else.

If this case was a real one, it could have been very solid through investigation. This is because the writer claims to have heard that there were at least three nearby witnesses to the same thing. And he even named them. Again, should there be a more-or-less "hidden" case report of these matters I will happily upgrade the photo. As of now it is only an interesting story, which sold Ray Palmer some magazines [he put it on his cover].

McMinnville. Some say that this is the siege gun of UFO photos. I am not THAT wild in my praise, but the pictures seem to have survived an intense series of debunker batterings over time --- and I doubt that it will ever cease.

There have been arguments about nearly everything in this case, which attests to the threat that the debunkers see in it. There are arguments about the date, the time of day, who saw what from where, you name it. To me the facts of interest are more simple: Evelyn Trent saw a metallic disk in the sky and called to Paul to bring his camera and look. The usual delay in shooting to "gasp" about what was up there occurred, and then one picture of the thing essentially standing still, and a second just as the thing began to move away, were taken. Rather quickly then, the object accelerated and rose rapidly upwards.

Trent was interested in this but not markedly so. He finally told his barber who put one or the other of the prints in the shop window. Then the newspaper went wild, and the family bankers at least as wild [my brother had to chase Paul down to get that photograph from him, one said]. Paul Trent was extremely unconcerned about the photos and allowed the friends to do whatever they wanted with them. It was the banker who insisted on making contact with LIFE magazine, who then took the photos back east. [from which the negatives never returned, I believe]. If one was trying to turn the case into a hoax, you could not use profiteering as a motive. In fact, the character and behavior of Paul and Evelyn Trent reveal no type of hoaxing motive at all. Jim McDonald contacted Mr. and Mrs. Trent and their old banker on separate occasions in the early part of 1969. Everything about those interviews was consistent with a pair of everyday folks with everyday concerns, taking a pair of decidedly non-everyday photos, but not exploiting them. The banker told McDonald:

"I've known the family for forty years... You don't need to worry one bit about that picture... Not a bit of a question about it... He's not that kind of fellow at all... You can believe anything that he told you... He took the picture and never even showed it to anyone for a long time. He wasn't going to do anything about it at all. Ralph had to chase him down to get that photo... I haven't a doubt in the world . I'd gamble my life on it".

This sort of a character testimony means more to me than almost anything, because it almost zero's out the hoax hypothesis. Armchair reputation-smearers like Menzel or Klass might like to smear Trent [both at least indirectly did], but they were forced to do so since if one accepts the pictures as honest, all their simple no-mysteries views of the world are screwed. All they'd have left would be some military project which happened to be hovering over Oregon looking like a [currently] unflyable metallic disk.

These are the distant and close-up views of the one shot of the disk. The obvious thing to claim would be that this is a model hanging from one of the wires going from the house to the garage. A lot of people have looked for the suspending wire. Bill Hartmann of the Colorado Project, Ground Saucer Watch with its image enhancers, and The Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Nothing. Current debunker Robert Sheaffer of CSICOP is still whining --- this is the only description which seems accurate --- that even though no one can find them that they are nevertheless there. A "modern" theory of the things as something small just thrown into the air finds no support at all as far as I can read from a variety of UFO analysts or the earlier analytical work. I'm not going to go into detail on this latest thing as I rather like the fellow who proposed the idea, even though I disagree completely.

These are the regular and blow-up versions of the second photo. Neither Paul nor Evelyn remembered seeing the tower on the top. Paul said: I was so busy trying to get the pictures taken, that I wasn't looking at it too well. Bill Hartmann said this in the final Colorado report: "This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological, and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses." Hartmann goes on with a sentence doing his science-professor best to be objective by saying that of course he cannot absolutely rule out anything.... but you know that he thinks that this was a true UFO disk in the sky.

Hmmmm..... what can you learn by looking at UFO photos? Maybe more than a lot of us want to know.

A few years later, the picture at the top of this collage appeared under mysterious circumstances, claiming to have been taken in Rouen, France. Naturally it was compared [with great enthusiasm] to the McMinnville photo on the lower right. Because it had no proper story to go with it, I've paid it no mind. Recently people have decided that it is a hoax derived by "heavily altering" the McMinnville photo. Well, I'm sorry, but putting forward a hypothesis like that is laughable. We could take almost any picture and by "heavy altering" turn it into Mickey Mouse. Maybe it was just a bad choice of words, but it certainly puts one off about the hypothesis. Against my better judgement, I decided to look a little closer at the two images. I cannot come anywhere close to matching the shadow patterns on these two things. Shadings are backwards to one another not only left/right and top/bottom in places, but flipping the thing gets the tower leaning the wrong way plus plus plus.... If this is a "heavily altered" fake, it's not only heavily altered but done so rather insanely. But what do I know? I don't care about the Rouen thing anyway without a report and investigation.

Lubbock. Oh boy, here we go again....

Lubbock is a very contentious situation for most UFO history researchers but not for me. For me the "Lights" were a "good" mystery, unsolved right through today. I base this outrageous positive assessment on merely one thing: I read all the documents. And weirdly, I don't believe that many have.

Lubbock, TX: late August through early September 1951. Citizens begin reporting groups of greenish-white, glowing objects flying overhead. As the phenomenon seemed to repeat itself, many people got out of doors to see if they too could spot the aerial mystery.

Among those who did were the famous group of Texas Tech science and engineering professors. These guys were completely fired up about the mystery, and for a long time considered it "true" [that is, NOT birds nor planes, nor balloons et al]. After they and most of Lubbock had gotten thoroughly excited by this, a 19-year-old, having difficulty sleeping one evening, saw an array of lights pass overhead. He had heard that when that happens, more may yet come. So outside he went, with camera, to look for them. And two more flights did fly over. Carl Hart shot four pictures as you see above. The pictures are unlike bird flight formations in that they are far too geometric. Another Texas Tech professor [of zoology] dismissed the birds hypothesis for the majority of the reports publicly. Hart's pictures particularly could not be dealt with by the birds concept. Debunkers were left with what they usually are left with: Hart hoaxed the film. To debunk the entire Lubbock Lights case, they then combined birds with hoax to get the job done.

Analysis of the case therefore is split into two paths: attacking Carl Hart and his photos, and dismissing all the citizen reports as misperceptions of common things. These two are almost independent of one another: one could have a mystery lights flyover caught on camera by Carl Hart while the rest of the reports were errors, or you could have mystery group flyovers while Carl Hart's photos were hoaxed. The first scenario would be very Out Proctor or at least creepy when you think of it, but the second could be plausible --- a hoaxster inspired by previous events.

People have "gone at it" on the photos since they arrived. I haven't made a whole research project on this, but what I've read indicates to me that neither the USAF nor Ground Saucer Watch nor some other commentators can find anything really wrong with the pictures --- other than statements like they don't know how he got off four shots. I've read nothing in his narrative which indicates to me that he was impossibly time stressed, but I wasn't there and don't know his camera's limitations. Kevin Randle re-interviewed Hart a small number of years ago, and he still sticks precisely with his story as he told it then.

Well, let's shrug our shoulders for the moment and say "maybe". What about all the other sightings??

A big controversy sprang up right among Lubbockers themselves as to whether this was anomalous or just some sorts of birds like plovers or ducks or even bugs. Some people surely saw groups of birds at night and saw wings and heard bird sounds. Fine. That would be exactly as expected for excited persons looking for something. Other people were taking a more analytical approach. The professors were collecting data as they could, and some observers were being more calm in their reports [for example insisting that they specifically focussed on whether any sounds were going on or if there were signs of wings extended from the glowing disk shape].

The professors ended up with a behavior which made me laugh because it is so typical of my tribe. They couldn't figure this out. But as professors they really wanted an answer. Also, this thing was grinding on, and they were getting unwanted publicity. They wanted out. Solution?: create a bail-out "explanation" and write Ed Ruppelt at Wright-Patterson that they'd solved the case. Which they did. They asked Ruppelt NOT to publish their solution because they were embarrassed at being fooled by this. He honored that. Their "solution" [based upon nothing determinable from the record] was either "Ducks" or "Moths" as far as I can see. Since formation-flying moths are about as preposterous an idea as a drunk comedian could invent, let's drop that and say "Ducks".

But as the football analyst says: Not so fast, my friend!!

Another Texas Tech prof, a mathematician, was also among those interested. He also was on the watch and had talked this over with his father-in-law who lived a little ways away. One evening he spotted three overflights. He notified his father-in-law who went out and saw and made rough measurements. With the measurements that Professor R.S. Underwood and his father-in-law made, a triangulation was possible. The resultant trigonometry said: slightly over 2000 feet high and 700 mph AT THE LOW END of the error bar.

Almost as the ridiculous "conclusion" of a Theatre of the Absurd play, Underwood's report to Ruppelt on this went to Wright-Patterson during a very busy time and was piled in with a box full of general correspondence AND NEVER READ! We only know about it because many years later it was going to be thrown out post Blue Book's closing, and a visiting UFOlogist asked if it was alright if he take the box for historical interest. Man, you could hardly make this stuff up.

700mph ducks "ain't gonna cut it". And I see no indication in the actual military record that the USAF thought so either. The reason is that just at that time, two unimpeachable witnesses saw a "flying wing" pass over their heads near Albuquerque NM. The sketch at the left is the drawing from one of the witnesses.

New Mexico military intelligence was VERY interested in this. They got Carl Hart's photos and showed them to their Sandia witnesses. Both said, yes, that's very much like what we saw. Hmmmm... this is a Blue Book "Unknown" case. THIS was something that the USAF thought REALLY happened. And "just coincidentally" Lubbock people were seeing birds flying in similar rigid geometry and Carl Hart was photographing them? And Professor Underwood was measuring the thing at 700mph? [of course WE are smarter than all of them, since only we are reading all the pieces.]

Of course we had made a flying wing ourselves, or John Northrop had --- several in fact. According to aviation history, the flying wing program was in its last gasping death throes and perhaps none was flight worthy anymore. Again, according to aviation history, the last flights of a flying wing were around a limited area of California/Arizona/Nevada and nowhere near New Mexico nor Texas. Still, the USAF asked anyway: you guys flying the wing out here? Answer: none of the wings are in the air.

To say that this endpoint of our little Lubbock adventure leaves me more boggled than the beginning is putting it mildly. I have in my hands two pieces of information that I can't shake: RSUnderwood has done a clever job of calculating us into the flying machine levels of height and speed, and two very solid witnesses from Sandia have seen a flying wing overhead. Surrounding that are all the other things which people spend all their time talking about --- things not at the core of my view of the case, but which take great strength from "my" core. Lubbock SEEMS to have happened, and the Albuquerque thing seems to have happened, and they seem to be very like one another. Yet, our own technology was just being sent to the bunkers. What in the heck went on?? Did we cover up the fact that our flying wings were doing a lot more flying beyond what the history books say? And were they already so highly engineered as to be basically soundless? OR....

Did "somebody" play a colossal joke on us with a technology imitator flyover of a design that we just gave up on???

Now, THAT'S Out Proctor!!!


  1. When Ed Ruppelt was getting ready to take-off from Lubbock at the end of his "Lubbock Lights" investigation, he talked with a rancher sitting in the seat next to him -- who was"wearing a Stetson hat and cowboy boots" -- about a meteor that Ruppelt himself had seen the night before as it flashed over most of the southwest. This conversation led to to other things and is one of my favorite moments in Ruppelt's seminal "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects":

    "This led to a discussion of other odd happenings and left a perfect opening for him to bring up the Lubbock Lights. He asked me if I'd heard about them. I said that I had heard a few vague stories. I hoped that this would stave off any detailed accounts of stories I had been saturated with during the past five days, but it didn't. I
    heard all the details all over again.

    As he talked on, I settled back in my seat waiting for a certain thing to happen. Pretty soon it came. The rancher hesitated and the
    tone of his voice changed to a half-proud, half-apologetic tone. I'd heard this transition many times in the past few months; he was going
    to tell about the UFO that he had seen. He was going to tell how he had seen the bluish-green lights. I was wrong; what he said knocked
    me out of my boredom.

    The same night that the college professors had seen their formation of lights his wife had seen something. Nobody in Lubbock knew about
    the story, not even their friends. He didn't want anyone to think he and his wife were "crazy." He was telling me only because I was a stranger. Just after dark his wife had gone outdoors to take some sheets off the clothesline. He was inside the house reading the paper. Suddenly his wife had rushed into the house, as he told the
    story, "as white as the sheets she was carrying." As close as he could remember, he said, this was about ten minutes before the professors made their first sighting. He stopped at this point to
    tell me about his wife, she wasn't prone to be "flighty" and she "never made up tales." This character qualification was also standard
    for UFO storytellers. The reason his wife was so upset was that she had seen a large object glide swiftly and silently over the house.
    She said it looked like "an airplane without a body." On the back edge of the wing were pairs of glowing bluish lights. The Albuquerque [Sandia]
    sighting! He said he didn't have any idea what his wife had seen but he thought that it was an interesting story.

    It was an interesting story. It hit me right between the eyes. I knew the rancher and his wife couldn't have possibly heard the
    Albuquerque couple's story, only they and a few Air Force people knew about it. The chances of two identical stories being made up were
    infinitesimal, especially since neither of them fitted the standard Lubbock Light description. I wondered how many other people in Lubbock, Albuquerque, or anywhere in the Southwest had seen a similar UFO during this period and hesitated to mention it."

    I've always loved this section, especially his recounting of the usual manner and added asides he'd come to know well from talking with people who had UFO "tales" - waiting for that "certain thing" to happen, that "half-pround, half-apologetic tone."
    That, and the image from the rancher's story is striking and beautiful -- a woman out hanging clothes on a warm Texas night, 61 years ago, watching a strange object glide silently overhead. . .

    1. Classic stuff from "Saint Edward". How anyone insists on bashing him about anything mystifies me. And how anyone can seriously maintain that Ruppelt didn't firmly believe that there was something very real and important in the UFO phenomenon even more so.

  2. 'This sort of a character testimony means more to me than almost anything, because it almost zero's out the hoax hypothesis.'

    Prof I found this observation quite amusing simply because it's the comment of a banker and I can imagine Phil Klass turning in his grave thinking if only bankers'd had the reputation then they have now he could've nuked this guy's character testimony out the water.

    Though of course all such evidence's inevitably dismissed as anecdotal anyway (in spite of the fact the arch hero of all such rationalists/skeptics Darwin's work is end to end anecdotes [as indeed're all scientific papers unless we verify them for ourselves]).

    'We could take almost any picture and by "heavy altering" turn it into Mickey Mouse.'

    Which of course is an approach often taken to 'discredit' all such unruly data: viz drawing a rust coloured matchstick man on a sheet of toilet paper 'proves' the Turin Shroud is fake [though I'd be extremly intrigued to know what your 'eye' makes of that particular set of religious data].

  3. I don't know if I'll ever address the Shroud issue here. I used to know a great deal about this [even the "chemistry"] when the topic was really in focus twenty or more years ago, but lately the reality of an ancient Shroud has slipped somewhat out of the center ring of anomalous/paranormal claims --- though not because anything has been "solved" in my view. The types of actual "scientific" testing done on the Shroud [which is almost the only thing that one could in theory productively comment upon] has been so undisciplinedly done [on both sides] that it is a mess to unravel. The nearly inconceivable joke of the carbon daters getting a piece of the Shroud which wasn't even part of the main object but a later sewn-on patch beggars the imagination for either incompetence or uncooperativeness. So the Shroud would take a new major research look by me and I don't think that I have the time. The main thing to remember about the Shroud is that it is only a crutch for people who don't have much true faith. In the big picture it is not, or should not be, important.

  4. dear prof

    the part "glide swiftly and silently over the house" , is it a bit like the strangeness of the usual UFO sighting ? the form is a flying wing but the silent part indicate that its not a man made aircraft (unless its a blimp/balloon/flying wing with engine trouble)

    the imitator you mention , didnt FSR got some cases where these 'imitators' also imitate human objects like cars and aircraft ?




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