Sunday, November 23, 2014

American University Visits UFO Fantasyland

On the evening of November 12, 2014, a three-hour mini UFO symposium was held at American University in Washington, DC, featuring some of today's best-known "serious" UFOlogists. Many UFO proponents had great hopes that this event might result in "a crack in the wall" (journalist and UFO blogger Billy Cox' term) of supposed UFO suppression, and open the floodgates to allow "scientific" UFO studies everywhere. Cox writes,
[American University] international relations professor Patrick Jackson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at the School of International Service... has volunteered to sub for PBS science reporter Miles O’Brien (scheduling conflict) and moderate AU’s three-hour panel discussion “UFOs: Encounters by Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials.” This is a free public event extending from an honors colloquium taught by cinema professor John Weiskopf. The lineup includes USAF veteran Charles Halt (the Bentwaters incident), retired NASA scientist Richard Haines (National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena founder), Roswell investigator Thomas Carey, and New York Times bestselling author Leslie Kean... “How often does an honors class take a serious look at UFOs? John Weiskopf is to be commended for making this happen,” states Kean. “American University is breaking ground here which could help encourage other universities to do the same. Many people and departments at AU are rallying around this event and they all take the subject seriously. I hope this will pave the way for the academic community to become more objective and rational about this subject.”
I wasn't there and there's no video to watch, so I must rely on the accounts of others, especially a report by Michelle Basch on the website of WTOP, the all-news radio station in Washington, DC:  "UFO experts say 'we are not alone.'  To judge from this, it looks like the presenters forgot that part about appearing "scientific," and spun a lot of wild tales.

Best-known of the speakers was Leslie Kean, author of the 2010 book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. For those not familiar with the UFO literature, her book is superficially convincing, mainly because of what it ignores: all facts that go against her tidy little picture. To get an idea of what she left out, see my book review, "‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations."

 Leslie Kean promoting the Costa Rica UFO photo of 1971 at AU. Credit: Michelle Basch, WTOP
In the photo above we see Kean presenting one of her "best" cases to the American University audience: the well-known Lago de Cote UFO photo from Costa Rica in 1971. Taken from a government mapping aircraft, the photo was analyzed by Dr. Richard Haines (who was on the panel) and Jacques Vallee, who wrote,
our analyses have suggested that an unidentified, opaque, aerial object was captured on film at a maximum distance of 10,000 feet. There are no visible means of lift or propulsion and no surface markings other than dark regions that appear to be nonrandom... There is no indication that the image is the product of a double exposure or a deliberate fabrication.
Costa Rica UFO, 1971
The problem with this UFO is that nobody saw it, it simply turned up on the film. The veteran UFOlogist and "psychic" Ray Stanford recently suggested that the object is a flashlight, and was "superimposed" on the film. He does not suggest how this was done, by whom, or why. Stanford has written and said a lot of weird things over the years, so until he provides a more convincing argument for this I'm not taking it too seriously. However, Bryan Bonner and Matt Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society have analyzed the photo, noting that
While the report [of Haines and Vallee] did look into the possibility of some type of debris on the film or its film plane back-plate was discussed and disregarded, they never looked at the camera itself.

The camera system has a very unique optic system that looks very similar to the object in the photograph.

Because there were no eyewitness reports from the ground or the members of the mapping team there is not much of a chance of this being an object of approximately 683 feet in size or even something that was an actual object of any size flying in the air beneath the plane.

The problem that report had with the object not creating a shadow is easily explainable if the image was created by the optics of the camera and not a physical object below the plane.

The object in the image appears to have been created by reflections of ambient light inside the optics of the camera system caused by a unique combination of the type of camera system, angle of the plane to the light, position of the sun and possibly the angle of the light coming from the surface of the water located beneath the plane.
In other words, this "UFO" is a lens flare, which I think is exactly right.

The "classic" UFO photo from Petit-Rechain, Belgium, "authenticated" by Haines and others, and published by Kean - now a confessed hoax

Another "classic" UFO photo which is in Kean's book, and was likewise "authenticated" by Haines and others, but not presented at American University, is the famous UFO photo from Petit-Rechain, Belgium. The man who took this photo, now identified as Patrick Marechal, admitted in July, 2011 that it was a hoax. He said that he has “managed to fool the whole world with a silly model made of styrofoam."

Also not mentioned by Kean at AU was her humiliating high-profile promotion in 2012 of a  "UFO" in a video of an air show in Chile that is obviously just a fly, under the triumphal banner, "Is this the case that UFO skeptics have been dreading?" Immediately Kean began taking heat about this, much of it from UFO proponents, who were astonished to see how trustingly Kean accepted assurances from Chilean "government officials" (and probably even some "pilots" and "generals") that the Fly UFO video had been studied and authenticated by experts. She traveled down to Chile, twice, to meet with "government officials" and get UFO information from them.

It has occurred to me that by oversight I did not report Kean's final statement on the Fly UFO Video on this Blog; here it is. In her Huffington Post article, "Two New Reports on the Chilean "UFO" Videos Produce Conflicting Results," Kean notes that UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee studied the video and concluded that the "UFOs" were indeed bugs. However, Richard Haines (again) proclaimed the objects to be genuinely unidentified. In the end, she concluded that the Fly UFO video was "something that science cannot determine." Science enables us to land a spacecraft on a fast-moving comet millions of miles away, but its methods apparently cannot distinguish a video of an extraordinary flying object from that of a fly.
A strange metallic flying object - Lucilia Sericata, the common  Green Bottle fly
Michelle Basche writes, 
The most riveting presentation of the night came from retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Charles Halt, one of the witnesses of a famous series of UFO sightings in England in 1980 known as the Rendlesham Forest incident.
Halt says he went into the forest to check out a report that a UFO had landed there. He saw three indentations in the ground that were spaced evenly, and a Geiger counter showed abnormally high levels of radiation in the area.

During this investigation, Halt says, he and several other military members saw a flying, oval-shaped object that glowed bright orange and red, and seemed to be dripping like molten metal.

"We're standing there in awe. I said, 'There's got to be an explanation. Ball lightning, or who knows what.' It starts to move. It moves towards us. It comes into the forest. It's moving through the trees horizontally, bobbing up and down as necessary to miss the trees. I'm thinking, ‘Oh boy. I wish I hadn't come out here. This is really getting beyond me.'"

He says they watched it for a few minutes, until something happened.

"Suddenly and silently, it explodes into five white objects like fireworks, and it's gone."
Again, this sounds impressive, until you compare what Halt is claiming now with what he initially said immediately following the incident, as the British skeptic Ian Ridpath has done. For example,
one of the starlike objects supposedly moved overhead and sent down a laser-like beam to their feet. Halt has told this astounding tale in many interviews, but this astonishing occurrence is missing from the [original] memo and tape. Instead, the memo and tape simply refer to the objects as being about 10 degrees off the horizon, nowhere near overhead.
In other words, Halt keeps making up stuff to make the story more exciting. Also, Ridpath shows that the "radioactivity" did not measure above the normal background levels, a fact that Col. Halt surely must know by now, but keeps telling as part of his story, anyway.

Which brings us to, The Roswell Slides!

I have not mentioned anything yet on this Blog concerning the controversy that began over a year ago concerning two supposedly newly-discovered slides from about 1947, allegedly showing Roswell aliens that were dissected or something. That's because few have even heard about these alleged Roswell Slides, and nobody has yet seen them, outside of a small circle calling itself the "Roswell Dream Team" (which some suggest is turning into a nightmare). How can you discuss or evaluate something you're not allowed to see? And if you suspect that the "Dream Team" is holding out on the slides for some big bucks media contract, well, then you must have a suspicious nature. And you'd be correct.
AU UFO panel member Tom Carey
Be that as it may, the longtime Roswell investigator and author Tom Carey was on the American University UFO Panel, and the cat is now definitely out of the bag. Michelle Basche wrote,
one of the speakers used the occasion to reveal evidence he called a "smoking gun."

"We have come into possession of a couple of Kodachrome color slides of an alien being lying in a glass case," author and researcher Thomas Carey told the near-capacity crowd in Abramson Recital Hall.

He's been researching the 1947 Roswell incident since 1991.

"What's interesting is, the film is dated 1947. We took it to the official historian of Kodak up in Rochester, New York, and he did his due diligence on it, and he said yes, this filmstrip, the slides are from 1947. It's 1947 stock. And from the emulsions on the image, it's not something that's been Photoshopped like today. It's original 1947 images, and it shows an alien who's been partially dissected lying in a case."

Carey says the being looked like what he thought an alien from the famous Roswell incident would look like.

"3 and a half to 4 feet tall, the head is almost insect-like. The head has been severed, and there's been a partial autopsy; the innards have been removed, and we believe the cadaver has been embalmed, at least at the time this picture was taken. The owners of the slide -- it's an amazing story. The woman was a high-powered Midland, Texas, lawyer with a pilot's license. We think she was involved in intelligence in World War II, and her husband was a field geologist for an oil company."

Carey says he plans to reveal the images early next year.
Obviously the Roswell Slides is rapidly turning into one of those periodic mega-controversies that tears UFOlogy asunder. Already, an obviously-agitated Billy Cox, replying to Carey, is demanding "now let's see them pix!", and he compares the matter to the now-infamous alien autopsy hoax of 1995.

The famous Alien Autopsy hoax.
Now the Roswell Slides are being reported in the tabloid Daily Mail in the UK, and from here it's off to the races. Unsourced but obviously based on the WTOP report, The Mail quotes Carey's sensational "smoking gun" claims made to the American University audience.

Gratuitous alien image accompanying the Daily Mail story on the Roswell Slides (from YouTube video "Grey Alien - Teil 2von2",
So, did the UFO seminar at American University succeed in creating a "crack in the wall" to allow 'UFO truths' to trickle out? The conference organizers had full control over the viewpoints presented - nobody was invited who might dissent from Leslie Kean's Party Line. After ten days, the result was exactly one (uncritical) news media report on the panel, and a few obscure Blog postings. Had there been anyone on the panel who might have presented a dissenting view, such as you find here, the panel's facade of  'objective scientific UFO research' could not have been maintained. And since it has now been widely noted that one of the panelists, Tom Carey, went full Monty into "smoking gun" UFO fantasyland, it's a safe bet that the people at American University will soon wish that they had never opened this Pandora's Box.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

FBI Releases its Files on Dr. James E. McDonald

Dr. James E. McDonald (1920-1971) was a noted atmospheric scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, but today is best known for his tireless advocacy of UFOs. More controversial than most UFO advocates, McDonald's methods were confrontational, and he did not get along well even with many who shared his beliefs about UFOs, like J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee. McDonald came under intense scrutiny and criticism from arch UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass, who not only criticized inconsistencies in McDonald's statements, but accused him of mis-using funds from his government contracts to conduct his UFO research (which criticism turned out to be substantially correct). This has led to irresponsible suggestions that Klass virtually 'hounded' McDonald to his tragic suicide. As we will see below, McDonald's suicide didn't have anything to do with Klass, or UFOs.

Dr. James E. McDonald

Interestingly, we see the FBI expressing little interest, and no concern over McDonald's involvement with UFO claims. Remember, these FBI papers were secret at the time they were written, and nobody expected them to someday be released. If a government UFO coverup existed, we'd expect to find statements like "He's getting too close to learning our secrets, we must stop him."

However, we see that the FBI was concerned over McDonald's minimal contact with someone (whose name is redacted) known to have involvement with Soviet intelligence (see pages 6-9). They apparently concluded that it did not mean much, but were interested to check up, anyway. During the cold war, it was not at all unusual for Soviet "diplomats" or scientists in the U.S. to make contact with leading American scientists and engineers, to potentially learn as much as they can about the latest developments in U.S. science and technology. Philip J. Klass told me of being approached I believe twice by such individuals, and this is reflected in Klass' own FBI files.

In fact, it appears that McDonald's minimal contact with Soviet interests involved UFO research, via the UN! As we read on p. 26,
[redacted; obviously an FBI source at the U of A] said that he has no doubt whatsoever of the subject's loyalty to this country. He said he feels certain the subject's contact with the Soviet representative at the UN Secretariat in mid-1968 in connection with the subject's "UFO studies" was completely innocuous... At this point it does not appear that an interview of Professor MCDONALD would be productive and could possibly result in embarrassment to the Bureau.
In all likelihood, McDonald was simply asking the Soviets for any UFO information they might have, a perfectly innocent and reasonable query. The FBI seemed inclined to drop the matter, except for one concern. As we read on p. 10:
It appears that Professor MC DONALD's letter to [redacted1: probably the Soviet representative at the UN] (contents of which are not known) might have been in itself an innocuous, sincere contact on the part of Professor MC DONALD; however, in view of his background and [redacted2] long time leadership in "New Left" activities in the Tucson area, it is quite probable that Professor MC DONALD would be highly susceptible to an approach made by a Soviet intelligence, particularly concerning a research done in his field, of atmospheric physics.
I am just about certain that [redacted2] originally read "his wife's". About six months after McDonald's suicide, UFO author and researcher Jacques Vallee wrote in his diary, now published as Forbidden Science (Vol II, pp. 110-111):
Mike Jaffe reached Betsy McDonald in Tucson; they had coffee together and compared their life stories. The truth is that it wasn't because of his eyes that Jim McDonald had been put in the hospital. His first suicide attempt had left him blind, and there was nothing the doctors could do about it. Instead he was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, to try and prevent a new phase of depression...
The note he left for Betsy said he was sorry he hadn't found her at home when he came to pick up the money. He left instructions to gather the rest of the cash and dispose of the gun. Jim killed himself out of frustration and love. His wife had gone headlong into politics. She belonged to a radical leftist group, not unlike the Venceremos at Stanford. They gave out weapons to Black revolutionaries. [emphasis added]
This was the height of the Vietnam War, and while most anti-war protests were peaceful and perfectly legal, at least some groups were bent on fomenting violence and revolution. And these groups were being watched very closely by the FBI.

Another obvious reference to Betsy McDonald is on p.31 of the FBI file:
In October 1968, [redacted: obviously Betsy McDonald] reportedly attended the SDS National Convention in Boulder, Colorado, and was overheard telling a group in Tucson upon her return that she favored violence, if necessary, to achieve the goals of the SDS.
Quoting a redacted source from the U of A, an FBI paper from May 26, 1969 states (p. 11):
he recently received information that Professor JAMES E. MC DONALD is "disenchanted" with [redacted1, probably "his wife's"] constant "New Left" activities and they plan to separate. He further said he has heard that [redacted2] This information has not been confirmed through other sources,
In all likelihood, "redacted2" refers to what I heard from J. Allen Hynek soon after McDonald's suicide - that McDonald's wife had been having an affair - and he took it extremely hard. This is more than two years before McDonald's suicide. Obviously, his marital difficulties had been brewing for some time.

On p. 23, the redactor slipped a bit, and left "Subject's wife" in the text:
Applicant-type investigation of subject in 1962, favorable re loyalty, character, and reputation. Subject's wife is active in Students for a Democratic Society and peace movement. Subject is disenchanted with [redacted: probably "his wife's"] "New Left" activities and separation planned.
Vallee's diary entry (referenced above) concluded:
Jim plunged into his research: UFOs, effects of supersonic transports on the atmosphere, the possible destruction of the ozone layer... He did it out of despair, with no humor, no ability to distance himself from what he was studying. Jim had even researched his own case very scientifically, as he did everything: He had gathered detailed statistics about suicide. 
Other papers hint at other problems the FBI had with McDonald (p. 44-63). Apparently he had signed a petition in 1961 of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (soon to be made notorious by one of its zealots, Lee Harvey Oswald),  protesting the U.S. "hostility" to Cuba, and calling for an end to the trade embargo (p. 67). McDonald was also involved with the ACLU, which the FBI apparently considered a subversive organization. Worse yet, he had been a public critic of the Air Force as far back as 1959, concerning its placement of ICBM sites near Tucson. He claimed this placed civilian populations in unnecessary danger in the event of war.

One thing that was not found in the McDonald FBI files: any reference whatsoever to Philip J. Klass.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Scientist Photographs Plastic Alien at Area 51

Boyd Bushman of Tucson, Arizona said he was a retired Senior Scientist for Lockheed Martin, whose career spanned over forty years. (However, his alleged connection with Lockheed Martin has never been demonstrated.). Shortly before he passed away on August 7, 2014, he made what is being called a 'deathbed confession' relating his alleged experiences with Area 51, UFOs, aliens and anti-gravity.

The video of Bushman's UFO claims had been played well over 1 million times on YouTube, before it was removed because of copyright infringement claims by one "Chris Mooney." (Not the same Chris Mooney who writes about conservatives' supposed "War on Science," yet ignores the liberals' War on Science - anti-GMO, anti-vaccines, etc.) We don't know who this Mooney is. The 32-minute video turned up a few other places on YouTube, but was also removed. You can see part of his video here.
Boyd Bushman with one of his alien photos

The website of the famous late-night paranormal talkmeister, Art Bell, proclaimed "Dying Senior Scientist Reveals Insider Truth About Area 51, Aliens, UFO’s and Anti-Gravity." Bushman's principal claims, as summarized by Youtube commenter Nuno Reis, are:
some UFOs and Aliens are stationed at the base.

He explains that from space there is a special flight path to Area 51.

With their advanced technology they can travel much faster than light. The aliens who control these ships come from a planet 68 light years from Earth. [and they make the journey of 68 light years in about 45 minutes!!]

The aliens who are working at the base are about 1.5 meters long and up to 230 years old.

They have five fingers, which are 30 percent longer than ours, and five toes, which stuck together.

They have three ribs on each side and three vertebral columns.

The aliens communicate through telepathy.

Finally Bushman reveals that Area 51 is working together with the Russians and the Chinese and their research is mainly focused to anti-gravity.
Another of Bushman's alleged alien photos
Bushman also claims that in 1947 a U.S. Air Force pilot shot down a flying saucer over New Mexico, killing several aliens. The military, of course, recovered the craft.

Bushman's "alien spirit" photo
Most interesting are all the photos, supposedly of UFOs and aliens that he claims his friend took at Area 51, using a camera he provided. In fact, Bushman claimed that his camera was given to the aliens, who obligingly took photos out the window during a UFO trip, then returned his camera (although it's doubtful that the aliens, traveling so much faster than light, could actually see anything). Weirdest of all is a "spirit photo" that supposedly shows the ghost of an alien that died.
However, as soon as Bushman's video was posted on the popular UFO site The Black Vault, others began submitting photos and even a video of seemingly-identical aliens, albeit plastic ones.

YouTube commenter Eric Oulette provides this photo of a toy alien looking very much like Bushman's.

Another reader submitted this photo of a toy alien purchased at the K-Mart.

YouTube user John Hutchison (JonnOfMars) posted this video showing a toy alien he purchased several years back. Hutchison was involved with some of Bushman's earlier videos, so this "coincidence" cries out for explanation.

However, not everyone was willing to accept that Bushman's Close Encounter was of the Plastic Kind. Perhaps the plastic aliens are accurate representations of the real ones? Some have even suggested that the toy alien could be intended as a step toward 'disclosure' of real aliens: "Who knows how and to whom these things are revealed?"

Bushman's involvement with Lockheed Martin has, of course, again raised the old canard that Ben Rich, former director of the Lockheed Skunk Works (developers of highly-classified secret aircraft) supposedly said in at least one of his lectures that "We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects, and it would take an act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity... Anything you can imagine, we already know how to do." This quote, however, has never been authenticated.

Researcher Curt Collins goes into such claims in detail in two postings on his Blog Blue Blurry Lines (First. Second). Aviation historian Peter Merlin has the full story in his account in Tim Printy's Sunlite E-zine (Vol 5 nr. 6, p. 17) In brief, it seems that Rich liked to make jokes about ETs in his lectures to entertain his audience, such as "The Skunk Works has been assigned the task of getting E.T. back home." Anyone taking such comments seriously has completely misunderstood their context.

(Revised Nov. 10, 2014)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Special Report: The Trent UFO Photos - the "Best" of All Time - Finally Busted?

Once again, farmer Paul Trent's famous UFO photos from McMinnville, Oregon are a hot topic in UFOlogy. Kevin Randle discussed the photos on his Blog A Different Perspective, and a torrent of comments from researchers followed. Not just frothy opinion, but highly detailed, meticulous comments about the camera angle and position, the weight and size of the hypothetical model, the load on the wires and a possible bend in them, etc. Ultimately this is important, but such matters are unlikely to give us a final answer. There is one thing about this case that everyone can probably agree with: as Randle says, "there are only two conclusions to be drawn about the pictures taken in McMinnville, Oregon. They either show a craft from another world, or they are a hoax. I do not see a third possibility."

1950: The Origin of the Photos

On May 11, 1950, farmer Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon snapped two photos of an object that he claimed was a flying saucer (the term "UFO" hadn't been invented yet).  There are inconsistencies in Mrs. Trent's accounts of where her husband was when the object was first spotted, and who went inside to get the camera. They did not immediately tell anyone about the photos, or rush them off to be developed. Instead, the film containing the invaluable flying saucer photos was left in the camera until Mother's Day, so that a few unexposed frames would not be wasted. More general information on the photos is on my web page .
Trent Photo #1 (scan of first-generation print)
After the photos had been developed, a reported who came to interview the Trents found the irreplaceable negatives lying "on the floor under the davenport, where the Trent children had been playing with them."

Trent Photo #2 (scan of first-generation print)
The story first appeared in the local newspaper the Telephone-Register. This led to a sensational national story in the June 26, 1950 issue of Life Magazine, then one the largest-circulation magazines in America.

Life Magazine article. Photos are cropped, removing wires.

William K. Hartmann and the Condon Report, 1968

The famous (and to some, infamous) Condon Report included the Trent Photos in its section of Photographic Case Studies as Case 46.  The principal investigator was William K. Hartmann who, incidentally, was the first person to come up with the presently-accepted theory about the origin of the earth's Moon.

This analysis attracted a lot of attention from UFOlogists, particularly because of Hartmann's conclusion that 
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. It cannot be said that the evidence positively rules out a fabrication, although there are some physical factors such as the accuracy of certain photometric measures of the original negatives which argue against a fabrication.  
Hartmann acknowledges, however, that a fabrication is possible: 
The object appears beneath a pair of wires, as is seen in Plates 23 and 24. We may question, therefore, whether it could have been a model suspended from one of the wires. This possibility is strengthened by the observation that the object appears beneath roughly the same point in the two photos, in spite of their having been taken from two positions. This can be determined from irregularities, or "kinks," in the wires. The wires pass between the camera positions and the garage (left). We know from the change in orientation of the object that it moved, or was re-oriented by hand, between exposures. The possibility that it is a model hanging beneath a point on the wire suggests a further test: Is the change in distance of the object in Plates 23 and 24 equal to the change in distance from the wires? Measures of the disk indicate that it is about 8% further away in Plate 24. Measures of the irregularities in the wires indicate that they are further away from the camera in Plate 24. The amount of the latter increase from the wires (measured by the separation of rather ill-defined "kinks") is less certain than the distance increase from the disk, but it is measured to be about 10%. These tests do not rule out the possibility that the object was a small model suspended from the nearby wire by an unresolved thread.

Given the foregoing analysis, one must choose between an asymmetric model suspended from the overhead wire, and an extraordinary flying object
The sole factor suggesting that the object is distant is a measured anomalous brightness on the underside of the object in Photo 1, compared with the brightness of the shaded underside of the oil tank. The assumption is that, in the case of a model, the two shaded regions ought to have about the same brightness. Since the underside of the object is brighter than the underside of the tank, the assumption is that atmospheric scattering is the cause, and hence the object is at a significant distance from the camera.

When I read this, I immediately thought of at least one other possible explanation for the anomalous brightness. When observing bright stars or planets in telescopes, we invariably see light scattered by the optical system from bright objects into adjacent dark areas. The same thing happens in cameras. The technical term for this is veiling glare. The cheaper the optical system, the more light that tends to get scattered, and Trent's camera was a budget model, not professional quality. This is especially troublesome when fingerprints or other smudges accidentally get onto the lens, which certainly happens to me, and probably to most other people.

The significance of this is that while the dark underside of the object is immediately adjacent to the bright sky, the bottom of the tank is in a large, dark area of the photo. Hence one would expect more light from the surroundings to spill over into the bottom of the "UFO" than into the bottom of the oil tank.

I was an undergraduate at Northwestern at this time. I decided to test this hypothesis by photographing a concrete light pole in the daylight, with the top of the pole surrounded by bright sky, while its bottom was against a much darker background. I found a professor who had a densitometer in his lab, and would show me how to use it. I measured a series of photos and, while the top of the pole was only a little brighter than its bottom with a clean optical system, the addition of just a little petroleum jelly to degrade the optical system greatly increased the amount of veiling glare - spilled-over light - in the photos.

UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee has measured the original Trent negatives. He argues that, while veiling glare is indeed present, it isn't enough to account for the anomalous brightness. But even if that conclusion is correct, if any of Hartmann's assumptions are incorrect, the photometry results are meaningless. Among the possible violations of those assumptions:
  • If the object is translucent, allowing light from the sky to pass through.
  • the object has a mirror surface at the bottom, thus we are seeing a reflection of the bright ground, and not a shaded surface.
  • If the underside of an object suspended several feet above the ground from the wires receives much more illumination than that of a tank near the ground, next  to a wall. (I would expect this to be true.)
Very sharply defined shadows in both photos - obviously cast by sun.
There are very distinct shadows on the garage in both photos, although the Trents claimed that the photos were taken around sunset. The problem is that the wall faces east, and the sun is in that position (about 90 degrees azimuth) about 8:20 AM PDT. If the photos were actually taken in the morning, then the Trents were lying about the circumstances of the incident. I found that, measuring the shadows, we can greatly restrict the size of the object casting the shadows. In fact, it is so small that it is almost certainly less than one degree:
The angle abc above represents the radius of the illuminating body. Assuming these measurements, it is the arctangent of .004, which is 0.229 degrees. This matches extremely well with the known average apparent radius of the sun, which is approximately .25 degrees. Even an undetected reduction of 20% in the size of the shadows in the photo, which is highly unlikely, allows the radius of the illuminating body to be no larger than 0.46 degrees (diameter 0.92).
The maximum possible diameter of the illuminating body is thus shown to be less than one degree, and is probably closer to one-half degree. The area of a one-degree circle is less than 0.025% (1/4,000) that of the quarter sky facing the garage wall.
A bright cloud in full sunlight is only about 10 times the surface brightness of the sky surrounding it.[3] Furthermore, during and after sunset, the sunlight in the landscape has traveled a very long path through the atmosphere, and has thus been very evenly scattered and diffused. According to the astronomer M. Minnaert, by about 10 minutes after sunset, the sky and landscape in the east is dull and of uniform hue. Even a half-hour before sunset, clouds in the east assume a dull red color.[4] To attribute the illumination in the photos to a bright cloud, or to a bright hole in the cloud cover, especially after sunset, would require a surface brightness of these remarkable clouds on the order of magnitude of thousands of times that of the surrounding sky, which is inconceivable. It is particularly implausible that such illumination could exist around the time of sunset.
Conclusion: Because of the small maximum angular size of the illumination body and its intense brilliance, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the shadows in the Trent photographs are cast directly by the sun.
Maccabee still maintains that the shadows on the garage were cast by a bright sunset cloud, even though the McMinnville weather station recorded perfectly clear skies at 7:00 PM on May 11, 1950 (the last observation of the day). His illustration of that argument is below. I have seen and photographed such clouds myself, I am not saying that they do not exist. However, look at the board Maccabee sets up to try to replicate the shadow of the eaves on the Trent garage. The board casts a decent shadow for a few inches below the point where it touches the wall, then as the board moves slightly farther from the wall, the shadow quickly fades to invisibility. At the point where the shadow disappears, at the top of the support pillar, the board is only 8 inches or so from its shadow. The end of the eaves on Trent's garage were approximately twenty inches from the wall (I measured this on a building of similar construction), yet the shadows are still sharp and distinct. This is because they were cast by the sun, small and very bright, not a large, diffuse cloud. If Maccabee can find a sunset cloud that can cast sharp shadows of such boards at twenty inches, then I might be prepared to accept his argument.

Maccabee's illustration of a bright cloud casting a shadow at sunset. But the shadow is too diffuse to allow it to be seen when the board casting it is some twenty inches from the wall.

Carpenter's truck mirror, and Trent #2

In 2004, researcher Joel Carpenter (1959-2014) created a website on the McMinnville photos, making a very good case that the object was directly beneath the overhead wires, and close to the camera. He suggests that the object was a mirror from an old truck. I have restored Joel Carpenter's original McMinnville photos website (fixing only the links), and placed it on the Internet Archive.

One of Carpenter's findings is that Trent's camera was surprisingly close to the ground when the photos were taken. For some bizarre reason, Trent did not stand up but instead crouched down to photograph his UFO. Carpenter explains,
Instead of moving toward the object and shooting the photos from eye level in the unobstructed front yard, he shot the two photos up, from a very low level, from the back yard. For reasons explained above, it seems likely that he actually used the viewfinder on the body of the camera while kneeling. The overall geometry of the positions and the attributes of the camera suggest that he was attempting to frame a nearby object in such a way as to maximize the amount of sky around it and enhance its apparent altitude.
In other words, Trent walked away from where the UFO was supposed to be, and instead walked toward where the presumed model was hanging from the wires, and crouched down close to the ground to make his "UFO" appear distant.

 Since the camera moved a significant distance between Photo 1 and Photo 2, can the two Trent photos possibly be viewed as a stereo pair, to reveal the object's distance? In 2010 an anonymous researcher calling himself Blue Shift did so on Above Top Secret. He writes,
This is another cross-eyed stereo pair. That means you need to back away from the monitor a little bit, cross your eyes, and try to line elements up in each picture until you get them together and in focus. Try it first with the oil tank. That has been shrunk to size and aligned to make it a little easier.

Unfortunately, the two photos were taken some distance apart and with the photo on the right a few steps forward. So it'll take a little practice for you to line up some of the other elements, like the bush by the driveway, the telephone post, and maybe even the far away ridge...

Now just for the hell of it, line up the saucer. It won't be exact, because they're at a different tilt in each photo, but do what you can. Got it?

Now "look up" at the overhead wires. Curiously enough, they line up at the same relative distance as the saucer! That's interesting, don't you think? And if you look around the image, as well as the other available images of the yard -- the ones with the ladder -- the wires are not far away at all, but are actually closer to the camera than the oil tank. So if the UFO saucer lines up at that point, then there's a pretty good chance that the UFO is actually pretty close to the camera, also.

Well, certainly the UFO could have moved and somehow by pure chance managed to get a stereo separation of exactly the same distance and at the same relative angle as the overhead wires. That would be amazingly coincidental, wouldn't it?
The Trent photos as a stereo pair, by "Blue Shift" on ATS. The "UFO" is seen to be small, and relatively close.

Another way of demonstrating the same thing: a montage by David Slater demonstrates that when the two Trent photos are overlaid so that the wires are lined up, the images of the “UFOs” line up as well. Both these demonstrations show that the “UFO” appears to be fixed with respect to the overhead wires.

The Trent photos overlaid, by David Slater. "UFO" and wires all line up!
 In 2013 a group of French skeptics (IPACO) did an in-depth investigation of the McMinnville photos. They began with the usual description of the line of sight to the object in each photo, presumed suspension methods, etc. They concluded that the object is a small model.

More interesting is the second part of the report, completed two months after the first part: Evidence of a Suspension Thread (page 29). They do not claim to detect the suspension thread directly, but instead statistically:
The basic idea is that if there are traces of a thread in a picture’s pixels, above an object hanging from this thread, and if this trace is « buried in noise » within the sky’s background (noise due to atmospheric diffusion and/or to the digitizing process), it should be possible to increase the signal-to-noise ratio thus uncovering the thread, by summing pixels along columns parallel to the thread.
They concluded, "For the TRNT1 picture, the presence of a negative peak (thread darker than the sky) was clearly observed which matched exactly to the supposed attachment point, with a significant difference of 2,38 sigma, for a tilt angle equal to -11°.... Application of the same method to the second picture TRNT2 provided comparable results, with a tilt angle of -10.29 ° and results of over 2.5 sigma."

 Bruce Maccabee and Brad Sparks have written responses to the French report. Maccabee objects that "Regarding the photogrammetric analysis,  I showed that the sighting lines did not cross under the wires and they did not refute this." This comment is a bit odd, because

A) nearly everybody else who has investigated the question has come to the opposite conclusion, including William K. Hartmann and Claude Poher. The IPACO report says "The relative position may obviously be considered as nearly constant, which can only be explained, from a geometric point of view, if the object was effectively hanging from the wire OR if its movement between both shots was following precisely its sighting line."

B) The IPACO report based their measurements largely on a map provided by Maccabee.

Sparks objects that 
"These French debunkers have incomprehensibly asserted that the UFO and wires are "black bodies" to which they apply "radiometry" -- which is the science of measurement of heat.  They claim to derive an estimate of distance from this. They apparently have no idea what they are talking about.... They have confused photometry (light measurements) with radiometry (heat measurements from black body heat radiation, thermal emissions)." 
Technically, he is correct.  However Sparks does not consider the possibility that the problem is simply the result of a bad translation from the original French. If you read the paper, it is obvious that they are using the word "radiometric" to mean the brightness of the pixels, and not any supposed heat emitted by the object. Their measuring technique is valid, even though the English description of it isn't. If the "French Debunkers" had substituted the proper word  "densitometric"  for "radiometric", and "dark bodies" (meaning, opaque and not self-luminous) for "black bodies" (which has a very specific meaning in physics), the objection vanishes.

Now, another researcher has weighed in. Jay J. Walter of Phoenix, Arizona, the author of the suspense horror novel Blood Tree, did his own investigation. Working from high-resolution scans of first-generation prints that I sent him (scans now posted on the Internet Archives for anyone to research), he did his own photo enhancement using the venerable program ArtGem. He said that even using a 4.2ghz quad core 64bit processor with 8 gigs of system RAM, he was still getting "out of memory" errors. However, he persevered, and produced the following photos, appearing to detect portions of a suspension thread above the object in both photos. The purported string cannot be seen across its entire length, which is consistent with the French skeptics only being able to detect it statistically. It is significant that Walter and the French team were working with different scans.
Jay J. Walter's possible detection of a suspension string in the first Trent photo, its position illustrated by the drawn-in string in the bottom photo.
Walter's suggestion of a string in the second Trent photo. I had to convert these photos from TIFF to JPG format in order to post them, which loses some details.

Walter's apparent string seen in its proper orientation.
Another of Walter's purported discoveries is what he calls a "logo," an apparently flat area with two holes, where it appears a logo plate might be attached, or possibly even a handle. Is this real, or is it simply  "pareidolia" - seeing a pattern where none exists? Confirmation is needed.
Did something once attach here to the object in Trent photo #2?

Walter suggests that the object in question is an appliance motor shroud, approximately eight inches in diameter. "I think Trent walked to the garage one evening, tied a string to an appliance motor shroud via an old bolt, tossed the shroud over a wire and tied the other end of the string to an anchor near the ground, then took the two pictures.  Logical, practical, and so much less effort for him than other theories.  People just do what they do and Trent wasn't going to go to too much effort just to fool his banker buddy."

But wait - there's more! In the words of UFO researcher Martin Shough on UFO Updates, "I am hearing rumours that certain researchers, one of whom is no stranger to this List, are on the brink of publishing an analysis which they believe is proof of a hoax. I have it on the authority of a third party - a 'usually reliable source' - that cunning digital enhancement has revealed the presence of a string or wire support."

I have been in contact with this Mystery Researcher, who has not authorized me or anyone else to reveal his findings. He was planning to write a book exposing three major UFO photo cases as hoaxes, one of course being Trent. However, he says this plan has been abandoned, and he is  uncommunicative about the details of his work. I do not have proof of what he says about the string. However from the seriousness with which he has undertaken other investigations, I am inclined to believe that he has indeed found it.

Do these new findings finally debunk the Trent photos? They would, provided they can be independently confirmed by other researchers, using other high-resolution scans from first-generation prints, or else the original negatives. Until then, people will continue to argue about such matters as the gauge of the wires, and whether the model, if it were a model, would have to be five or six inches in diameter.

                                                              (updated October 5, 2014)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Project Moon Dust, and Westar 3 (1979-072B)

One well-known "mystery" in the UFO lore involves a fireball sighting in Bolivia in 1979, followed by the discovery of two mysterious spheres.

One of the allegedly mysterious spheres found in Bolivia
Jenny Randles wrote about this in her 1987 book, The UFO Conspiracy, pp.133-134.

But the biggest promoter of this case has been Ryan S. Wood, who includes the two telexes about this incident as part of his "Majestic Documents," and ties it to "Project Moondust," which was a Cold War operation to recover Soviet space debris, but is supposed by some UFOlogists to be a secret military operation to recover debris from crashed UFOs. He Wood writes, 
Most of the mystery associated with these incidents is in the practically impossible landing of these objects. The two objects were reported to be on fire, made a loud whistling sound and then exploded. However, “in the area where they’ve been found, there were no signs of the impact and it looks as though the spheres landed smoothly.” How did the spheres negotiate a smooth landing? Certainly they are not terrestrial space debris [emphasis added]. More mysterious yet, is the presence of a “silent aircraft” with three lights that appeared later the same evening, hovering above the explosion area. What was the craft doing? Who contracted it to be there and why? Was it an extraterrestrial craft or man-made? The incidents’ association with project MOON DUST intensifies these questions; what was the level of involvement of MOON DUST personnel and what did they hope to gain or hide in Bolivia? Where are the spheres today?
 Sorry, Mr. Wood, but the mystery is solved - and it's not extraterrestrial.  Back on April 18, I wrote about satellite expert Ted Molczan's list of visually-observed decays of satellite orbits, which at that time had resulted in 54 "unexplained" UFO cases being explained as known satellite re-entires. Well, Molczan has been at it again, and has determined that the Bolivian fireball and debris fall of August 10, 1979 was the result of the decaying orbit of "the second stage of Delta 149, that launched Westar 3 on the same day" (official designation 1979-072B / 11490), containing "two helium pressurant spheres, made of titanium." While acknowledging that we do not have "official" orbital data from NORAD for this object, Molczan notes that reconstruction of the orbit from the best available sources place the decaying rocket booster directly over the region at the time the fireball was seen.

Molczan's illustration, "Approximate re-entry track of 1979-072B relative fireball sighting and sphere locations."

Friday, July 18, 2014

JAL 1628: Capt. Terauchi's Marvellous "Spaceship"

A recent email circulating among certain UFO researchers asked, where is the best on-line statement of the skeptic's position on the famous JAL 1628 sighting by Capt. Terauchi on Nov. 17, 1986? Despite it being one of the most celebrated cases in the recent UFO literature, it turns out that there wasn't a lot. To remedy this perceived lack, I scanned all of the press clippings and other papers in my file on the case, and placed it on the Historical Documents page of my website. It contains original press clippings from when the case was first reported, a press release by CSICOP, FAA information, and a "Summary White Paper" about the case by Philip J. Klass. (Page numbers given refer to this PDF document. MUFON, it turns out, has scanned some 377 pages relating to this case, now available in John Greenwald's The Black Vault).
Capt. Terauchi (from People Magazine).
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on December 30, 1986, "The crew of a Japan Air Lines cargo jet claimed that a UFO with flashing white and yellow strobe lights followed them across the Arctic Circle in route from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Tokyo" (p.1). On January 1, 1987, that paper reported, "A veteran pilot whose UFO sighting was confirmed on radar screens said the thing was so enormous that his Japan Air Lines cargo jet - a Boeing 747 - was tiny compared with the mysterious object" (p.2). In fact, Terauchi said that the object was larger than an “aircraft carrier.” Feeling the heat, the FAA soon re-opened its investigation of the incident. "The reason we're exploring it is that it was a violation of airspace," said FAA spokesman Paul Steucke. "That may sound strange, but that's what it was" (p. 4).

The FAA reviewed its data, and found reasons to doubt its earlier statements. By Jan 8, the press was reporting,
The FAA has concluded that the unidentified object on radar now appears to be an unexplained split image of the JAL Boeing 747 and not a separate object .... The review of radar data indicates that no second object was present and represents a reversal of earlier FAA statements that a second object was confirmed on radar. "The bottom line is that this tells us that we don't have any radar confirmation of the object that the pilot said he saw," Steucke said (p. 5).
The scanned documents from MUFON include a detailed technical analysis from the FAA of the “uncorrelated primary return” on the radar (p. 50-53).

Philip J. Klass investigated, and soon CSICOP issued a Press Release, written by Klass (p. 7):
 At  the  time  the UFO incident began near Ft. Yukon, the JAL airliner was  flying  south  in  twilight  conditions  so  that  an extremely bright Jupiter  (-2.6  magnitude) would have been visible on the pilot's left-hand side, where  he first reported seeing the UFO, according to Klass. Jupiter was  only 10 degrees above the horizon, making it appear to the pilot to be at  roughly  his  own  35,000  ft.  altitude.  Mars,  slightly lower on the horizon, was about 20 degrees to the right of Jupiter but not as bright....Although  the  very  bright  Jupiter,  and less bright Mars, had to be visible  to JAL Capt. Kenjyu Terauchi, the pilot never once reported seeing either  -- only a UFO
 Many  of  the  colorful  details  of  the incident carried by the news media, largely based on the six-week-old recollections of the pilot of JAL Flight  1628,  are  contradicted by a transcript of radio messages from the pilot to FAA controllers while the incident was in progress. For  example, news media accounts quoting the 747 pilot said that when he  executed  a  360 degree turn, the UFO had followed him around the turn. But  this  claim  is contrary to what the pilot told FAA controllers at the time.
An interesting historical footnote: in the press release, Klass credits "astronomers Nick Sanduleak and C. B. Stephenson, of Case   Western   Reserve  University,  in  Cleveland,  for  their  valuable assistance  in  computing  the  positions  and bearings of bright celestial bodies relative to the 747 airliner at the time of the incident." In February 1987, the month after this press release was issued, southern hemisphere astronomers discovered Supernova 1987a, in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It was the brightest supernova seen from Earth since 1604, easily visible to the naked eye. Researchers discovered that the progenitor star (before the Supernova explosion) was a blue giant star known as  Sanduleak -69° 202. Yes, that Nick Sanduleak (1933-1990). He catalogued the stars of the Large Magellanic Cloud. He also discovered Sanduleak's Star, a very unusual object in the Large Magellanic Cloud, with a "giant, highly-collimated bipolar jet." In his spare time he attended CSICOP conferences, where I met him several times, a very friendly fellow. Unfortunately, he died of a cardiac arrest a few years after this.

The FAA issued an in-depth report, with primary references and interviews included. Unfortunately, the FAA charged $194.30 for the complete package, including all written records, photographs, and all tape recordings. It wasn't exactly a best-seller: not too many people were sufficiently interested to send in almost $200 for information about a UFO report. In fact, it sounds very much like the FAA constructed this expensive package to deter the many persons badgering them for information on the case. But that didn't deter Philip J. Klass.

Capt. Terauchi's UFO, as he reported it

Klass wrote an article in The Skeptical Inquirer, Summer 1987: "FAA Data Sheds New Light on JAL Pilot's UFO Report." It was reprinted in the book, The UFO Invasion (Prometheus Books, 1997), Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell, eds.

Klass wrote,
The FAA data package reveals Terauchi to be a "UFO repeater," with two other UFO sightings prior to November 17, and two more this past January, which normally raises a "caution flag" for experienced UFO investigators. The JAL pilot is convinced that UFOs are extraterrestrial and when describing the light(s) Terauchi often used the term spaceship or mothership.
 During his January 2 interview with FAA officials, Terauchi said that he believed the "mothership" intentionally positioned itself in the "darkest [easterly] side" of the sky because "I think they did not want to be seen." This enabled the UFO to see the 747 "in front of the sunset and visible for any movement we make." In his report to the FAA, he expressed the hope that "we humans will meet them in the new future"... [On January 11] he again reported spotting unusual lights in roughly the same area while on a repeat flight from Paris to Anchorage...
[Terauchi] always failed to mention that two other aircraft in the area that were vectored into the vicinity of the JAL 747 to try to spot the UFO he had been reporting were unable to see any such object... [Flight Engineer Yoshio Tsukuba] "was not sure whether the object was a UFO or not"... When the copilot [Takanori Tamefuji] was asked if he could distinguish these lights "as being different" from a star, he replied: "No."
Bruce Maccabee has written a very long report (as is his habit) on the JAL 1628 UFO. If you want to read every detail of Capt. Terauchi's account, it is here. Maccabee wrote,
CSICOP was not finished with the case.  Evidently even Phil Klass could see that his Jupiter-Mars explanation had failed. In the Summer, 1987 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer he published a new analysis.  [Actually, Jupiter was still part of Klass' analysis, but the fainter Mars was not.] This time the lights were explained as reflections of moonlight from the clouds and “turbulent ice crystals.”   (Recall that the air crew reported thin clouds below them.)   According to Klass the turbulent ice crystals “could have generated flame-colored lights” and “this would also explain why the undulating lights would periodically and suddenly disappear and then reapper as cloud conditions ahead changed.  When the aircraft finally outflew the ice clouds and the initial ‘UFO’ disappeared for good (the Captain) would search the sky for it, spot Jupiter further to the left and conclude it was the initial UFO.”  Klass attributed the airplane radar sighting to “an echo from thin clouds of ice crystals.”
KLASS’s explanation verges on scientific garbage.  There is no reason to suppose that moonlight reflected off ice crystals in the clouds would generate “flame colored lights.”   Klass’ explanation certainly could not account for the heat which Terauchi felt on his face.  Nor would it explain the distinct arrays of flames or lights associated with two independently flying objects that appeared ahead of the plane and ABOVE for many minutes (the clouds were reported to be below the plane).
While I tend to agree that moonlight reflecting off clouds would probably not make a very good "UFO" display, there are so many sources for 'lights in the sky' (including 'lights on the ground,' which Terauchi agreed with the FAA was an explanation for his January 11 UFO sighting) that once the main "UFO" has been demoted from a giant "mothership" to 'unexplained lights,' it no longer impresses us as much of a mystery. Even J. Allen Hynek was dismissive of  'lights in the sky' UFO reports. The bottom line is, Terauchi's own flight crew saw only 'lights,' and other aircraft checking out the situation saw nothing unusual.

Artist's conception of Capt. Terauchi's UFO

The case merits a chapter (#22) in Leslie Kean's book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. Written by John J. Callahan, he claims that Terauchi's crew "both saw it, too." Of course this is false - they saw only lights, not the giant spaceship that Terauchi reported. Callahan also claims that "it flew alongside his jet" after he turned, but (as Klass notes), this contradicts what Terauchi told FAA controllers at the time. Callahan ices the cake with his claim that the CIA has over 30 minutes of radar data confirming Terauchi's UFO, but they refuse to release it, to prevent public panic.

How credible is Callahan’s account? In 2011, UFO Blogger Ryan Daube wrote,
At this point, Callahan’s credentials and story has never actually been independently confirmed. In fact, back in 2007, as we were attempting to verify his claims, we contacted CIA Science Analyst Ron Pandolfi. Ron admitted that both he and Maccabee had in fact attended an FAA meeting like the one Callahan described. However, he did not recall anyone making any statement that the meeting never happened, or that the data should be covered up…. We contacted Maccabee and he also confirmed that he was at such a meeting and received all of the data for his analysis and report, but he also did not recall anyone at the meeting trying to cover it up.

We reported this contradiction to Leslie Kean of the Coalition for Freedom of Information – the only listed contact for Callahan – and she initially did not believe us. Therefore, I put her in direct contact with Pandolfi and Maccabee, who both told her exactly what they told us. Kean refused to let us speak directly with Callahan to resolve the discrepancy, and eventually refused to cooperate regarding getting any clarification from Callahan.

In fact, Kean completely ignored the contradictory witness statements that she received first-hand, and instead went on to publish a book in 2010 titled UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record, where she repeated Callahan’s testimony in full on page 222, and even focused on the “this never happened” statement.

She completely left out the fact that she had received direct testimony from both a CIA analyst and Bruce Maccabee, stating that they were at such a meeting that matched the meeting John described, and that no one said anything about covering-up.
So much for the credibility of John Callahan. And of Leslie Kean.

Kean is enormously impressed by pilot sightings, which she describes as “a unique window into the unknown.” She writes that pilots “represent the world’s most experienced and best-trained observers of everything that flies… these unique circumstances potentially transform any jet aircraft into a specialized flying laboratory for the study of rare anomalous phenomena.” Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the late USAF Project Blue Book consultant who Kean repeatedly cites as a respected UFO authority, came to exactly the opposite conclusion. On  page  271  of his 1977 book The Hynek UFO Report, he  wrote, “Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses.” Kean actually quotes from other pages of that book, but makes absolutely no mention of Hynek’s low opinion of pilot sightings.

Re-reading Terauchi's own statements about the incident, I don't think that anyone could call him an unbiased or objective observer. 

(Revised July 24, 2014).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Looking for Mr. Goodape - The Sequel

While watching a film about hikers in the high Sierras, I was reminded of the time I went camping there with the late, great Cryptozoologist Erik Beckjord (1939-2008), perhaps best-known for his "paranormal Bigfoot" theories. Beckjord claimed to know the very spot where Bigfoot "lived" and was most likely to be seen, and that is where we camped. I wrote the story of this little adventure in my Psychic Vibrations column in The Skeptical Inquirer,  November/December, 1999. It is reprinted below. Some people might object that a posting about Bigfoot is out of place on a Blog called "Bad UFOs." I disagree. Bigfoot and UFOs have been linked together so many times that they seem to go together, like love and marriage, or a horse and carriage. (See, for example, the wild talk about Bigfoot and ETs given by Kewaunee Lapseritis at the 2014 International UFO Congress).

Beckjord never publicly revealed the location of his Bigfoot site, to protect Bigfoot from "evil people." Get your GPS ready, I'm going to show you where it is.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

Looking for Mr. Goodape (Psychic Vibrations, Nov/Dec, 1999)

Erik Beckjord poses with Bigfoot
Over a period of more than twenty years, veteran Bigfoot chaser Erik Beckjord of the Sasquatch Research Project has camped with other researchers at a remote spot in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains between Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe, at an altitude of 6,400 feet. He describes it as a “window site” where, he says, evidence of Bigfoot is almost routinely seen. “At this site we have obtained photos of weird aliens, bigfoot, gargoyles, etc that we never saw when we clicked the camera. We hear bigfootsteps. FIND BF tracks. Hear roars, wails, screams, some as close as fifty ft. Hear heavy breathing outside tents. Have strange shape-shifting ‘humans’ come by camp,” he claims on his website .

If this doesn’t sound like the kind of encounter you’d expect to occur in Bigfoot country, it is because Beckjord, unlike many Bigfootologists, maintains that “Bigfoot is not as simple as you think it is. Yes, it looks like an erect ape. It smells, sometimes, and it leaves tracks - sometimes. But it never dies... Bigfoot then, seems to be an alien shape-shifting being that may possibly be able to slip into alternate dimensions or worlds. We think.”

Beckjord, who operated the short-lived UFO Museum in San Francisco, has been proclaiming for years that all skeptics were too timid and closed-minded to actually go out into the woods and confront the Bigfoot evidence for themselves. Because I got tired of hearing this, and because I hadn’t been out camping for a while, I agreed to join the search. “Bring your lady friend,” Beckjord urged me. “Bigfoot loves women!” She unfortunately was not able to join us, but she was kind enough to loan me her Jeep.

When the time came to depart, Beckjord was hours late for our initial rendezvous. Indeed, all his planning for the big Bigfoot expedition seemed at best haphazard. Driving up to the mountains, we had to make frequent stops for him to purchase items he didn’t bother to get in advance.  By the time we finally reached the entrance of the Bear River Reservoir area of the El Dorado National Forest, darkness had overtaken us. Beckjord - who claimed to have been to the Bigfoot “Window Area” so many times he could find it in his sleep - led us around dusty, unpaved Forest Service roads for an hour and a half before reaching a dead-end and admitting that we had made some wrong turns. We camped the first night right where we found ourselves. The sky was clear and dark, the Milky Way spectacular. We saw an extremely brilliant reflection from an Iridium satellite that looked as bright as a magnesium flare, appearing much more spectacular than any I’d seen before because of the very dark skies. Beckjord says that he had observed an event like this while researching Crop Circles in England in 1997 but considered it a UFO. Before we retired, he loudly played a tape of a human infant crying (which sounds eerie in the wilderness!), claiming that is sometimes successful in attracting Bigfoot. He then set up two “Bigfoot detectors”, infrared sensors that beep if the signature of a person or a large animal is seen. The detectors were silent until he went out to turn them off the next morning.
With the help of daylight, we easily located Bigfoot’s paranormal “Window Site” (Beckjord doesn’t want me to disclose the exact location, lest “evil people” go there and cause unspecified harm). Finding the road leading into the site in even worse shape this year than before, it would obviously be accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles, which seemed to rule out taking in Beckjord’s 1978 Ford station wagon. While we are studying the obstacles between our vehicles and the site, we meet a friendly fellow with a four-wheel drive truck, who offered to carry Beckjord’s equipment past the impassable stretch of road. Afterward, Beckjord speculated in his email Bigfoot newsletter that perhaps the helpful stranger was not at all what he appeared to be:  “Sort of a Good Samaritan MIB but in jeans. Now, was he CIA, MIB, MIJeans, a shapeshifter, or a tulpa, complete with truck?” Apparently, these days shapeshifters have the capability to take on not only animate forms, but become motor vehicles as well. 
We set up camp right at the shore of Bigfoot’s pond, bypassing a more comfortable camping site a hundred yards away at the other pond because Bigfoot allegedly doesn’t show up at that one. Unfortunately, Bigfoot seems to have chosen to make his home in a low-lying area with nearby brackish water, probably one of the most heavily mosquitoed areas of the forest. This suggests the possibility that Bigfoot, if he exists, may be a lower form of life. We looked all around the site, but didn’t see or hear much except flies and mosquitoes. 
Even animal life is sparse around there because there is so little food in the high-altitude forest. Later, Beckjord decided not to allow the road obstacles to deter him from bringing his old station wagon to the site. He nearly made it over road holes, rocks, and streams until his car was solidly captured by a huge mudhole. I towed it out with the Jeep. 

Beckjord had arranged with a group of psychics to help us see Bigfoot by projecting their powers toward us one evening at 9:30 PM. We were instructed look for flashes of light on the horizon. The time came and went, but nothing happened.

Much of the supposed “Bigfoot evidence” at this site is photographic in nature. That is, even if you go there and don’t see anything, faint images of Bigfoot or other anomalous creatures allegedly turn up in the grain of photos you take. In previous years, a supposed Bigfoot had been glimpsed in photos, preferring to lurk under certain trees. I strolled around the pond to examine carefully the area under the Bigfoot trees. Alas, no evidence of anomalous apes was to be seen. We then climbed to the top of the ridge on the other side, where in previous years footprints and other “evidence” of Bigfoot activity had been seen. Alas, the proof still eluded us. 

During the whole four days I spent in the Bigfoot “window area,” nothing, alas, out of the ordinary was seen, heard, felt, detected, or smelled. This is not surprising: the presence of skeptics is known to have a serious dampening effect upon all manifestations of things paranormal. Another factor hindering Bigfoot activity was that fact that there was no woman in the party, at least during the time I was there. If we saw anything at all even a little bit unusual, it might have been several rocks that, by a stretch of the imagination (a big stretch), look like Bigfoot faces or skulls, when the viewing angle and the illumination was just right. Beckjord attributes this to shape-shifting tulpas that temporary inhabit the rocks and alter their appearance, in an attempt to communicate; I attribute it to the workings of an overzealous imagination.
 Beckjord relates how, years before, he persuaded a camera crew from CBS News to spend two days at the site. Absolutely nothing unusual was heard or seen during this time (the crew dutifully reported the search, nonetheless). But as soon as the crew had departed, “all hell broke loose” and Bigfoot was heard to scream, move about, break branches, etc. Therefore it was not surprising that it was only after I had left that Beckjord obtained what he claims is a photo of Bigfoot (or at least the shadow of one) on one of the Bigfoot trees across the pond. Not that it would have mattered even if I were there, since the “evidence” was not seen until later, when the film was developed. (My photos, on the other hand, show only bushes, trees, rocks, and leaves. Perhaps my imagination is insufficiently developed to discover the paranormal beings hiding within them.) 

Beckjord’s website now announces the return, “flushed with victory,” of “The Great Sierra Bigfoot Expedition 1999.” It proudly displays the photo of the shape of “Bigfoot” straddling a split tree trunk. He also announced the “preliminary finding” that the “half-Bigfoot” allegedly photographed at the site in 1978 (apparently its lower half never materialized) “was found to have been bridging a ten foot gap between two trees, resting on a dead 2 inch branch!” The significance of this finding is not explained. 
Beckjord's caption: "Note possible Bigfoot, with crossed arms and widespread legs, and a sort of
 Gumby-face, in center of photo.  BF not seen at the time, photo by Erik Beckjord.
  It is possible that this is of a spiritual Bigfoot being, rather than a flesh and blood model. "
As for me, I will do my best to contain my disappointment at not seeing anything paranormal. Maybe the best way to do so would be to get a T-shirt made up: I went on the Great Sierra Bigfoot Expedition of 1999, and all I found were mosquitoes.

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Afterwards, Beckjord wrote,

 One skeptic, Robert Sheaffer, of CSICOP, did, to his his credit, spend five days there, but, as predicted, no activity was experienced, perhaps to due to the mind-set of skeptics, as broadcast mentally by the human brain. However, on that trip, 1999, a family group replaced Sheaffer onsite, and one of the children claims to have made a sighting of a Bigfoot type creature on top of a cliff, on the other side of a creek. Also, once the skeptic left, some photos were taken that produced a very tall humanoid image of marginal quality. 
 Skepticism repels Bigfoot every time! Beckjord mounted yet another 'expedition' to the site in 2004, in which he claims to have recorded more "paranormal" images of Bigfoot in the trees.
Beckjord claimed to have captured nine paranormal creatures in this photograph. Can you see them? I can't.
On July 22, 2008, Jon Erik Beckjord succumbed to cancer. He was sixty-nine. He was a "larger than life" figure, in a way that is difficult to explain if you didn't know him. He was the closest thing Cryptozoology has ever had to a Hunter S. Thompson. Physically imposing (some suggested that he was Bigfoot), there was his celebrated fistfight with the late conspiracy theorist Bill Cooper (and no, I don't know how it started, or who won). He was arrested and jailed at least once. There was the matter of the money he persuaded a rich girlfriend to give him to make a Bigfoot movie (but there never was a movie). His devotion to Bigfoot and the paranormal was nothing less than an obsession that drove his life. Yet he did not, so far as I'm aware, make stuff up. He could back up every claim he made with "proof," even if his "proof" was ridiculous.

It will do no harm if I now reveal the “secret Bigfoot site” to be at 38.538409 deg latitude, -120.193252 longitude. This is within the Bear River reservoir area of the El Dorado National Forest in northern California. The elevation is 6294 ft. The current photo on Google maps (presumably taken in the midst of the current California drought) looks much drier than when we were there. The campsite was at the edge of a shallow pond, but that area now looks dry.

Google Maps will even give you directions to get almost all the way to the campsite. You start out on CA route 88 going east from the Gold Rush town of Jackson, CA, heading up into the mountains, and turn into the Bear River Reservoir Area. Google can even tell you which little forest roads lead to it. Happy Bigfoot hunting! (And remember to bring mosquito repellent.)

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