Saturday, July 7, 2012

Can You Learn Anything From UFO Photos?, part three.

I got stuck with this case file in my hand and couldn't get rid of it, so I'll do the post on this famous film.

This is the Great Falls Montana film of 1950. It's a story worth telling in some detail.

Nick Mariana was a radio announcer and a minor media personality, who also owned a minor league baseball team in Great Falls, MT. One day he was visiting his ballpark [during the season] and was just looking over the empty stands anticipating the next game. Surveying the pure blue skies just before noon, he discovered that they were not empty. Two metallic ellipses [disks] were flying there. They were going slow. Mariana called his secretary out to be a co-witness. As she watched, he sprinted down to his car in the parking lot, grabbed his camera and began filming {Some write-ups of the case say the secretary saw the disks first and called Mariana but that detail is of little relevance}.

Mariana shot about thirty feet of film, all he had in the camera. In doing so, he slowly panned the camera, keeping the two objects nearly central to the frame. He was used to his camera and the shots were well done. He had the film developed and immediately began to show people [in the press and at a couple of clubs] what it looked like.

Here are two close-in-sequence frames [ one in pretty much normal shading for the pre-noon sunny day; one darkened to bring the two objects out clearly]. Encouraged by the good reception that he got from friends and local people, he informed the local USAF base [Malmstrom] and they came to visit. Mariana and the secretary were interviewed, both being judged solidly dependable people, and Mariana gave up the film original to them without objection. His attitude about this changed later.

The film had a good sweep of action associated with it, and the objects passed over and behind a few structures. They did not pass in front of any, however, leaving analysts only guessing at actual size, distance, speed. Nevertheless, this was a good film "opportunity".

Wright-Patterson's Project Grudge didn't think so. Unfortunately for Great Falls/Mariana, the Commanding Officer of Air Materiel Command at the time was [then] Colonel Harold Watson, a good soldier, but one of the biggest jerks that the USAF ever produced when it came to UFOs. Watson and his Grudge underlings [Lieutenant JJ Rodgers and Captain Roy James] were so antipathetical to the idea that they disregarded the job at hand even to disobedience of direct statements of USAF Director of Intelligence, Charles Cabell [without his knowledge of course.] Watson and Rodgers "handled" Mariana's film by dismissing it as "too dark to see anything and analyze". Well, you're seeing it yourselves. Watson and Rodgers lied.

Watson then did worse. He enjoyed getting big name news personalities to interview him, and being "quotable". This time it was renown news and radioman Bob Considine. In that interview, Watson blasted everything about UFOs, especially the witnesses and the sympathetic writers [think Keyhoe]. He was particularly harsh with Nick Mariana to the point where Mariana said that the subsequent article by Considine cost him several supporters for his ball team. Mariana ultimately sued over this loss. When Ed Ruppelt came to WR-PAT, he heard all the laughing scuttlebutt about this, and that Watson was fond of bragging that "he had completely snowed Bob Considine".

Mariana wasn't laughing. Added to his anger from the mockery, he said that he found that his film had been shortened by Project Grudge, about thirty frames clipped off the front end. There has been a huge debate about this. This is what I think happened : the film comes into the project. Rodgers sends it to the film lab without any particular care nor enthusiasm [this was exactly his persuasion about UFOs according to Ruppelt]. At the lab, the tech cuts off a piece for easy analysis, looks at it, decides it's not worth much [especially given the vibes coming from Rodgers and Watson], and sends it back. The "sample" is either filed or trashed or just lost in the shuffle. When Ruppelt took over the project about a year later, he couldn't even find a file on the case.

Mariana could have been correct about this "subtraction" from his film. The first frames were also the most important since that was when the objects were closest. Mariana says that part of the film showed "disks" not just lighted forms like disks. We actually have a third-party arbiter on this point. Mariana had shown the film to others in Great Falls before surrendering it to Malmstrom. One of these showings was written up in the Great Falls Leader the following day of the meeting. Here's the quote:

"He showed the film to the Roundtable last night. Members attending said the films show something, obviously not airplanes, in the air. They appeared to be two flattish, circular disks about 8 to 10 feet across and flew from the ballpark to disappear beyond the General Mills tanks." The everyday folks say: Disks.

Late 1951 came along and there was a sea-change concerning UFOs. Cabell had discovered the malfeasance of Watson and Rodgers about Project Grudge. Watson got reassigned, and was replaced by Colonel Frank Dunn [top], a good open-minded officer. Rodgers was slid sideways at the Wright-Pat Intelligence group, now called Air Technical Intelligence Center {ATIC}. In his place after a brief stint by a good young officer [Jerry Cummings], entered UFOlogy's favorite USAF guy, Edward Ruppelt. These men, whether they "believed" in UFOs or not, believed in doing a good job.

At the Pentagon the change was just as dramatic. Officially there was no such thing as a "UFO desk" but in practice there certainly was. Into that seat went Major Dewey Fournet [top], a very competent and UFO-sympathetic officer. Above him in the chain leading to the Director of Intelligence himself, were two very UFO-enthusiastic colonels, Bill Adams [above] and Weldon Smith. Dewey had a lot of pro-UFO "insulation" to do his work.

The UFOs cooperated, and the summer of 1952 saw a huge wave. Pentagon interest was high. Fournet, along with support from persons like Stephon Possony [directly in the DIs central office], began to study UFOs in creative ways. His biggest idea was to study UFO cases showing motion [such as formation flying] which forced the analyst to admit that what was being witnessed had intelligence behind it. Among the cases he was interested in was Great Falls. In October of 1952, Colonel Dunn of ATIC wrote a VERY diplomatic letter to Nick Mariana asking to use the film again. Mariana, still angry about the Watson treatment, demonstrated his real character by allowing it. Thus the film came back to ATIC and beyond to the Naval Photo Interpretation Center [NPIC] for analysis in a serious manner. NPIC at that same time was spending far more analysis time with the much more complicated Tremonton, Utah film, which Dewey also requested.

By this time several things were going on: 1). ATIC was doing its own look-see and re-interviewing witnesses. This gave Ruppelt a chance to actually look at the case details. He and the ATIC analysts almost immediately saw that the report was not of Birds, Bugs, or Balloons, but could only be explained away by light from some technology. The potential technology was two USAF jets from Malmstrom in the air at the time. The alternative theory then was that Mariana filmed either reflections off the jets or their afterburners. ATICs opinion on this was pretty simple. Ruppelt said bluntly in his book that they knew all about the planes, knew where they were, and that they were nowhere near the area where the camera was pointed. The original witnesses had already said that they had seen the planes elsewhere in the sky.

2). Don Keyhoe was being clued into both the Great Falls and Tremonton films situation by new public information officer Al Chop on orders from Fournet, Adams, and Smith above him. Keyhoe was given to understand that the intelligence stack at that time was excited about the two films and was pushing to use them as a tool to force a more open attitude about the UFO mystery. Release was possible [with accompanying USAF commentary] as early as the first months of 1953.

3). The CIA was now heavily involved by Presidential order, since August 1st. This led to a long convoluted mess [read the book for the drama], which ended with the infamous "Robertson Panel", above. At this panel, NPIC presented its analysis of both films. Fournet presented his Motions Study. All of this was rejected without any study at all. This stunned Allen Hynek, who attended as a called consultant, and shocked him into an understanding that whatever was going on here it was not science.

Because of the Panel, the "Sea" changed again rapidly and an entirely new and deliberately manipulative policy towards UFOs began. Naturally no release of sympathetic USAF statements on the films occurred.

Later, 1956/7 a movie production company wanting to do a fact-based dramatization of the UFO mystery bought the rights from Mariana to use his film. The movie directors/owners sent the film to McDonnell-Douglas for them to do an analysis [the Pentagon, now a VERY hostile place, was utterly unaware of this]. McDonnell-Douglas handed the job over to Dr. Robert ML Baker of UCLA [above]. Baker did a tremendous analytical job on the film. Suddenly, Greene-Rouse Productions presented ATIC with a monograph of a couple dozen pages of serious physics and geometry to comment upon. Back at ATIC, Harold Watson had been re-installed, in keeping with the new debunk-at-all-costs policy. The head of Project Blue Book was its worst, by which I mean openly dishonest. This was George Gregory. They were caught with their pants down by Baker's study. Baker was properly scientific/academic in his language. He tried his darnedest to make some kind of AF jet reflection fit the geometry, but felt that such an hypothesis was "severely strained" if even possible [and remember Ruppelt's and Mariana's remarks about the planes]. Baker ended up viewing this as a very likely unknown flying object film, but admitted that one could never absolutely prove such a thing. That last remark was the only thing that Watson said he agreed with when he wrote back to Baker.

Later, in 1967, came the Colorado Project, and its photo analyst was William Hartmann. Hartmann was a hard sell, but an honest man, unlike some on the project. Hartmann too analyzed the Great Falls film, and read Baker's monograph. Hartmann's approach to the case was somewhat different, but he arrived at the very same conclusion: not Proof, but very strong indications of a true unknown technology.

Ruppelt/ATIC, NPIC, Fournet, Baker, Hartmann... no mundane explanation; leading hypothesis= two metallic flying disks slowly flying in formation over Great Falls Montana.

What do we learn by UFO photos?? Isn't the above enough??

I'll leave you with a comment from the United States' most In-the-know photo interpreter: Art Lundahl of NPIC. In 1970, Art met quietly with Jim McDonald and Dick Hall in Washington. McDonald asked him about the Montana film. Answering from his days back at NPIC:

"Art said that what he saw on film, the UFO was very impressive. Much clearer than on TV [meaning, if you'd just watched the movie "UFO" you'd get nothing like the actual film]. Showed disks clearly. Said has never since seen the Great Falls films shown in a form as clear as that."

Well, right on, Arthur!!

Folks, I'm absolutely melting in WVA. May take a vacation, may not... see you with more whenever....


  1. Prof at least in those days when a photograph or film was taken it was basically straight chemistry verses photons so whatever was there was captured verbatim.

    These days though with flight controllers using software which already filters out 'noise' (such as what it takes to be 'odd' but non-potentially dangerous 'cloud formations' or 'unusual' 'insect swarms' or 'flocks of birds' before things even reach their screens and digital cameras stuffed with algorithms which automatically take twenty years off you and give you a facelift and a sex change and a change of ethnicity if on balance it thinks you looks more 'Mexican' than 'Egyptian' (not to mention CIA/MI6 software which automatically photoshops sticks of dynamite onto the chest of anyone attending weddings in the Middle East).

    The worst of it's it's just as bad the other way so even if the perfect shot was actually captured you'd never know for sure whether the designer of the software merely overzealously installed algorithms designed to pick out anything UFO-like (explaining why all those hotdogs at the barbecue ended up looking like Flash Gordon rockets and the baked potatoes versions of ET's mothership).

  2. Modern photos, especially still shots but even pictures moving, are really problems given the technology. That is why even moreso today than before, the film is only as good as the report and its investigation --- with the film being a secondary issue.



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