Truth, Tales and Catalogues.
Peter Rogerson

This article first appeared as Peter Rogerson’s ‘Northern Echoes’ column in Magonia 62, February 19978

Truth, Tales and Catalogues

In his 25 Years Ago column in the pages of the previous issue of our esteemed organ, John Rimmer paid handsome tribute to the notorious INTCAT. which used to (dis?)grace the pages of the old MUFOB and the early editions of Magonia. It was truly a child of its time, a time of naive youth, when I actually thought you could tidily separate positive and negative cases.

It was as I worked on INTCAT, and in the many discussions with my collaborators on the project, that I began to realise that things were much more complicated. There were no unambiguously positive cases, and not all negative verdicts were secure. Getting half an ear on the often passionate debates in the French ufological circles of the time about the revisionist studies of the 1954 wave was a real revelation. Even today British and American ufologists blithely quote cases from that period that their French colleagues have dismissed as hoaxes 20 years ago. The reason is largely that little of this literature has ever been published in English.

You note I said collaborators. I had help from a number of overseas ufologists such as Richard Heiden, Jacques Bonabot, Ted Bloecher, Alain Gamard, Dave Webb and Barry Greenwood, not all of whom by any means shared my own opinions – it does of course go without saying that I received no help, interest or encouragement from BUFORA whose officials adopted their usual attitude of  ’if we can’t run it, we don’t want to know’. In any case occult speculation, not hard slog, was their forté at the time.

After spending the best part of a decade on INTCAT, I largely abandoned the whole project in the early 1980′s, keeping my hand in with the odd speculative article. This was the period of my transition from ‘New Ufologist’ to sceptic. My current incarnation as book-reviewer-in-chief has done little to assuage my scepticism.

Reading through book after book one encounters time after time statements to the effect that X, Y or Z happened to A, B and C. What this means at best is that A has produced a narrative which purports to be his or her memory of certain experiences which s/he alleges B and C also encountered. Investigator D may get similar memorates from B and C, but often not. More often a precis of D’s report appears in a book or magazine, from which it is further summarised by author E, who is then quoted by F who is quoted by G.

Every one of these stages produces problems. We surely know enough of the problems of perception to know that even in the tiny proportion of cases in which we have real-time reporting either by tape, mobile phone or notebook, there are likely to be distortions. The task of translating perceptions into words, which must depend on the verbal skills and cultural background of the reporter, will lead to even more distortions.

But 99% of the cases reported in anomaly literature are not real time reports, but memorates of past events, maybe only hours in the past, but in many cases years earlier. Here we encounter all the problems of memory, its distortions, false memories, confabulation, etc. The task of organising what may be difficult-to-express memories into coherent narratives will introduce still further problems. What I said about real time reports applies in spades. Especially when memories are ambiguous, vague or very anomalous, there is likely to be recourse to cultural narrative-telling traditions.

The standardisation of abduction and NDE memorates is probably occurring here. Narrators make use of words, phrases, and whole chunks of narrative from similar stories they have read or heard. A tendency to tabloid speak may take place. Narrators may believe that a good narrative ought to have certain features. These may include conversion themes such as ‘I was a sceptic until…’, ‘I was shown a photo of great aunt Mabel and the figure I saw in my kitchen was her’ or ‘the policeman who investigated said his superiors knew all about this but weren’t permitted to reveal…’, or the linking of discrete imagery into a coherent narrative.

Even now the processes have hardly begun. If a narrative is investigated, the investigators almost invariably supply their own agenda, they will often supply the witness with new vocabulary and imagery with which to express their ideas, in many cases they will supply a ready made ideology (ETHism, spiritualism, belief in conspiracies etc., etc.) around which the witnesses may organise their experiences. Where there are multiple investigations, the later investigators may be simply relayed the propaganda of the first to get on the scene.

Even the narrative itself will probably have been changed. This still applies when the same investigators interview the witness on several occasions. One should also note that witnesses may tailor their narratives to different investigators, depending on the latter’s sex, age, apparent friendliness, appearance, education, compatibility with the witness, personal beliefs, etc.

Next come the problems which occur when the investigators reduce what may be a mass of recordings or notes into a publishable narrative. They may be guided by what parts of the narrative agree most with their own beliefs or agendas; more subtly they will be guided by what they think the witness experienced, what mental imagery the witnesses’ narrative(s) conjure up in their heads. The published narrative will also be affected by the education, literary and verbal skills and life experiences of the investigators, and those of the assumed audience.

When other writers use this first-generation narrative as a basis of their own précis, further selection, bias and misreading are likely to occur. This can go on for numerous generations of narrative production. The final result that we see in any given book may therefor bear very little resemblance to what ‘actually happened’. Moreover we can never discover exactly what ‘actually happened’ – we weren’t there and in the witnesses’ mind(s). We may on the basis of past experience make good guesses. Certainly in many UFO cases in particular, we might be able to work out to our satisfaction what might have stimulated the original perception. But, we are never going to be in a position of proving, on the basis of narratives alone, that any given event is truly anomalous.

By the time we get to catalogue-type precis, we must give up any notion of positive and negative and recognise that at best we are getting nothing other than very reduced and probably very biased collections of folk stories. They may still say something of our general cultural beliefs however.


Chicago Cats and Plastic Bags.
Frank John Reid

From Magonia 93, September 2006

In Magonia 92, Peter Rogerson reviews Merrily Harpur’s Mystery Big Cats, and says:

“What could be more symbolic of the ordinary, secular, profane, and artificial than a black plastic bag? But this bag, like a deserted old house, is going to the wild. Perhaps in that setting there is dropping of the of the guard and a momentary apprehension of what a truly awesome terrible and wholly other thing a black plastic bag really is, an experience which evokes “massive shock and awe”. Such an emotion is quite inconsistent with our idea of a black plastic bag, and indeed if plastic ba-s routinely evoked feelings of shock and awe we could never deal with them on a day to day basis, therefore the image is replaced by something much more appropriate to the feelings evoked.”

This powerfully evokes memory of an experience of my own, which I know you will deeply ponder for minutes.

In the wee hours of a March morning in 1994, I ate at an all-night restaurant at the intersection of Western and Montrose Avenues, Chicago. At about 4:30 a.m. I left, to walk east four blocks to Lincoln Avenue, where I would turn south to get to an all-night supermarket.

My reason for thusly shopping was threefold: a) I’ve always been rather nocturnal, b) it’s really a safe area, especially on a very cold, windy night, and c) I’m nuts. I was on the south side of the street, and across the street is a biggish park (Welles Park) with a lot of space open for winds.

As I was crossing the side-street bordering the last of the four blocks, I looked ahead and saw something at first delightful. I must here describe this last, short block before Lincoln Avenue: on one half of the block are two or three storey buildings, set back behind small lawns. A grassy strip with regularly spaced trees borders the curb. An alley cuts the block in half. The second half-block is a single, cliff-like eight-storey apartment building (shops and restaurants at ground level). There was nothing but concrete and a couple of lightpoles from building to curb.

Some of this half-block length is a bus stop; for some reason, there were no cars parked in the two legal parking spaces near the alley. This clean sweep was part of the micrometeorology that produced a very neat little whirlwind taking up over half the width of the sidewalk.

I could see this “debris-devil” because it swirled, counterclockwise, a load of trash just above the sidewalk: urban grit, last year’s leaves, scraps of paper, a few small bags, and one long length – maybe six or eight feet – of what looked like black tissue paper (but I suppose it was ultra-thin plastic). The debris-devil was slowly coming towards me, and I remember wondering what it would feel like to walk through it, if it lasted.

At that moment a cat walked out of the alley.

Even in the sodium-light of our streetlights, I could tell it was an orange-and-white-striped tabby. It walked a few feet, stopped, and casually looked at the advancing debris-devil as you or I might look at an odd truck. But as the whirlwind neared the alley’s mouth, microconditions changed. It sped up, and tightened, like a whirling skater drawing in her arms. That stretched-out swath of black tissue-plastic was drawn together. One end curled around itself. The other end was caught in the ascending vortex, and (very like a cobra rearing on a turn-table) began rising up, higher, higher.

That cat went absolutely rigid. I could hear it thinking: “Oh. My. God!” Instantly head and tail changed places, and the cat bounded into the alley.

As it came to the alley, the whirlwind collapsed, and its debris (tissue plastic and all) slid into the gutter. When I passed the alley, I looked into it. A few hundred feet down was the cat, looking back over its shoulder at me.

I am always polite to cats (they are Royalty), so I thought but did not say: “You shoulda called Ghost Busters!”

If I’m asked, I say that I’ve never had a Close Encounter, but I have observed someone else having one.

Mr. Rogerson may existentialize the incident (“wholly other”?). He may psychologize it (innate cobra template?), or psychosocialize it (too many TV wildlife programs?). He may Meadenize it (electrifying, if not electrified?) He may de-scientize it (since the city put up a handsome inadequate shelter at the bus stop, will the micro-meteorology ever repeat?). But damn it! there was something technological involved – way beyond the technology of the witness’s species – even if any question of “intent” is … rather theological.

P.S. I suppose I gotta clarify. If you occupy my Standpunkt, you have a mildly amusing anecdote. If you occupy the cat’s Standpunkt, you are in a desperate muddle as soon as you are tossed any of a variety of challenges. Such thoughts may give paws to the critic.



Fireflies: The X-15 ‘UFO’ Sighting Controversy.
Curtis Peebles

 From Magonia 78, June 2002

Between late November and mid-December 2001, the UFO UpDates Internet mailing-list saw an exchange of postings regarding the UFO sighting made by Maj. Robert White on his July 17, 1962 flight in an X-15. This provides a case study of belief, the interactions between believers and sceptics, how evidence is presented, and how it is accepted or rejected.


Although there are similar exchanges on other UFO reports every day on the various news groups, what makes this example different is the availability of data from the X-15 flight itself This includes the pre-flight plans, the transcripts of the in-flight radio messages and the post-flight debriefing, as well as flight data such as the Mach numbers, altitudes, and dynamic pressure on the vehicle. This, along with the historical context of the sighting, provides a benchmark against which the differing statements can be measured.

The thread began with a November 29, 2001 posting by James Oberg, which objected to a reference to the X-15 sighting in Filer’s Files 16 from April 1999. George Filer had said that the object was greyish in colour and 30 to 40 feet away, but did not mention that the object was tumbling and looked like a piece of paper. [1] Oberg commented that “engineers postulated he was seeing ice flaking off the engine nozzle, super-cooled by the liquid oxygen propellant and broken loose by the firings of the X-15′s attitude control thrusters once it was in space. This explanation came to satisfy everybody in the X-15 program, especially in hindsight when nearby tumbling ice flakes became a common sight on orbital missions.” [2]

Don Ledger made the initial reply to Oberg’s posting by saying, “Flakes of ice in the vacuum of space I can buy into but not within the atmosphere at supersonic speeds – and thirty to forty feet away tumbling in front of the pressure wave – which incidentally should be well aft of the X-15. That’s one strong piece of ice flake. NASA et al seem to be getting away with the ice flake explanation for a lot of sightings and to be honest-I think it’s getting a bit old.” [3] This issue, the dynamic pressure on the X-IS at the time of the sighting, became central to the subsequent debate the following day, November 30.

The issue was taken up by David Rudiak, who had been critical of Oberg’s earlier postings. Rudiak wrote that, “White reached an altitude of about 60 miles travelling about 4,000 mph. I don’t know at what point in his trip he sighted the object. Let’s assume it was at his maximum altitude of 60 miles. There’s not much atmosphere up there, but it’s also not a true vacuum. Meteorites made of rock and metal, not to mention satellites, start burning up at this altitude, but not this flat, fragile, completely non-aerodynamic ‘ice flake.’ “Yeah right!” he continued, “Furthermore, besides this flat ‘ice flake’ being impervious to vaporisation by frictional heat, it was also immune to frictional drag. After breaking off the engine in the rear, it somehow migrated forward to be seen tumbling outside of White’s side porthole.”

Rudiak then turned sarcastic, writing, “It’s truly amazing what ‘ice flakes’ are capable of doing in the imagination of a debunker. The physical properties of such ‘ice flakes’ are so remarkable, I’m surprised NASA doesn’t make our spacecraft out of them. Why use metals and ceramics when we could use ‘ice flake’ skins, thus eliminating frictional drag and re-entry problems, all with one simple, inexpensive material?” He concluded by saying, “I don’t know what it was either and am likewise open to reasonable suggestions. But `ice flakes’ strike me as physically impossible under the given circumstances.” [4]

Lan Fleming, a supporter of the face on Mars, took a different tack. Based on data from a French space website, he noted, “White’s X-15 flight in July of 1962 reached an altitude of 96 kilometres, which technically at least, qualifies as a space flight. There is probably still some atmospheric drag at that altitude, but probably not enough to prevent ice particles from ‘hovering’ near the plane for some time rather than being swept away quickly.” He then raised a different issue, noting, “I do wonder, however, where the water vapour that could form such ice particles came from. If there’s little air at an altitude of 96 km, then there also isn’t much water vapour in that rarefied air that could condense into ice particles. X-15 flights were very brief, so I would think waste water was not being dumped overboard, eliminating another possible source of ice. The ice would probably have to have formed while the plane was at lower altitudes. But this plane was moving at hypersonic speeds which generate enough friction at lower altitudes to require the plane’s skin to be constructed from heat resistant alloys. How does atmospheric water condense into ice on such a hot surface?” [51]

There was a series of postings on December 1. Rudiak sent a long and critical response, which centred on the issue of dynamic pressure. After noting that White’s flight reached 60 miles altitude, he continued:

“Is 60 miles up considered ‘space’? No, and furthermore Oberg knows it. If it were ‘space.’ then NASA would be conducting its orbital space missions there – save a helluva lot of energy, for one thing, boosting objects into orbit.

“Whv doesn’t the space shuttle or the international space station fly only 60 miles up’? Too much residual air friction, that’s why. In fact, the unshielded space station would start burning up and dragged out of orbit in no time, just like meteors start burning up at 60 to 70 miles altitude…

“At sea level, standard pressure is 760 mm of mercury. For every 10 miles increase in altitude, air pressure falls by a little over one order of magnitude. At 60 miles, the pressure has dropped nearly 10 million times.

“While that might count as a near vacuum in a lab on Earth, that’s not the way an object travelling thousands of miles per hour experiences it. There is still significant frictional drag and heating, even for a streamlined, metallic craft designed to travel at hypersonic speeds like the X-15. 60 miles is still considered to be within the Earth’s atmosphere and, even though very rarefied, is not space.’ Some people might call it the ‘edge of space.’

“Enter Oberg’s paperthin ‘ice flake’ that supposedly broke off a rear nozzle, then floated forward, and tumbled outside Bob White’s X-15 window. What chance does an ice flake have of surviving in such an environment (60 miles up, travelling about 4000 mph) and doing the things that Oberg claims it could do’? About as much chance as the proverbial snowball in hell!

“In the real world, a thin, non-acrodynamic sheet of ice like that would have been dragged backward and disintegrated almost instantaneously.

“Instead of dealing with the science and FACTS, Oberg has to resort to ridicule. You see, it’s not his explanation that’s ridiculous, it’s those ufologists who don’t have enough sense to recognise a true, prosaic explanation, even though it’s scientifically impossible under the actual conditions of the sighting (which Oberg won’t even acknowledge).”

Rudiak concluded by saying, “In Oberg’s response, we find two Klassic staples of debunking technique: l. Any `explanation,’ no matter how stupid or impossible, is prefcrable to none. 2. Even if a valid objection is raised to the aforementioned ‘explanation’ never admit error. Instead evade, stonewall, ridicule, obfuscate, whatever, such as ‘Do you have any evidence he wasn’t in space’ or ‘Oh, what do you expect of Ufologists — they just ncvcr accept a true, prosaic explanation.’” [16]

Ledger made two postings, the first of which brought the issue of a cover-up into the debate. He said, “White’s strained remark about that there are ‘things’ out there seems to be one of those guarded remarks made by someone who has been told ahead of time to not use certain terms over an un-protected radio source. I’m sure that when White saw this ‘thing’ that his knowledge of his own environment., aerodynamics and possibly a fair grounding in physics, would have ruled out a prosaic explanation of the event …. ” [7]

In a second posting, sent soon afterwards, Ledger returned to the dynamic pressure issue, saying, “You would have thought that more consideration would have been given to what this was since it was in close proximity to a vehicle motoring along at 4,000 mph. A sparrow impacting the leading edge of a wing (or windshield) on a light aircraft travelling at only 130 knots can lead to disaster. It always amazes me how these reports get blown-off by the bevy of high priced talent associated with each individual project. Or does it?” [8]

Fleming also made a posting on the issue of dynamic pressure. He wrote that the atmospheric pressure at 60 miles might “actually be about 10 times higher” than what Rudiak had calculated. Based on a speed of Mach 5.45, or about 3,500 miles per hour, he wrote, “The pressure that blowing air exerts on a stationary object is the air density times the square of wind velocity. So the pressure exerted by air 60 miles up against an object travelling at 3,500 mph is equivalent to the pressure exerted by a wind blowing at 14 miles per hour at sea level air pressure.” He added,”That seems too high to allow a flake of ice to appear to hover rather than being swept away, but a more substantial chunk of ice still might hover near the aircraft for a substantial period of time.” He continued to doubt that there would be water to form such flakes, and wrote, “It does seem that the standard ice particle explanation used to explain away all alleged space shuttle UFOs is being forced to fit a very different situation.” [9]

These postings, in turn, led to a number of replies by Oberg on December 2. Of these, two addressed Rudiak’s objections. The first, regarding his comment about spacecraft with “ice flake skins,” Oberg suggested that Rudiak “spend more time reading reality-based books and articles about real aerodynamics and space operations,” rather than “be so overwhelmed bv reality-free imaginations.” Oberg noted that the reason meteors are incandescent at 60 miles was due to their high speeds, which he said were around 10 to 20 miles per second. He continued, “The X-15 at its high point is moving at most only a few hundred feet per second.” Oberg concluded by writing, “The fix for this is for you to learn more about the subject, not make fun of ideas you can’t seem to understand.” [10] Regarding a second comment by Rudiak, on the ice flake disintegrating under the high dynamic pressure and temperature, Oberg repeated his comment that the X-15 was travelling at only a few hundred miles per hour. [11]

Concerning Fleming’s doubts about ice forming at high altitude during the X-15′s flight, Oberg noted, “Both around the cryo-tanks and the super-cold propellant lines, ice always formed while the X-15 was on the carrier plane. Atmospheric condensation at those altitudes was common.

Once out of the atmosphere dif,ferent kinds of jets were fired to point the X-15. They also could have effects on things tucked away in the aft end, for example.” [12] Oberg also said that Fleming’s calculations of a 14 mile per hour equivalent wind speed on the X-15 were based on wrong assumptions about the initial conditions. [13]

Oberg sent a reply to Ledger as well, about the issue of the ice flake drifting in front of the X-15. Oberg noted, “Actually, once exo-atmospheric, the X-15 itself points itself in any random direction using wing-mounted jets. It can do this to point instruments, or for sightseeing, and ultimately to line itself up for re-entry. During this time, even something flaking off its back end can easily wind up in front of the cockpit window as the spacecraft rotates.” [14]

Oberg concluded by sending an e-mail which listed a number of Internet sites and quotations regarding the X-15. In this posting, he said, “…speeds on such missions reached 3,600 mph. Since engine cut-off was about 25 miles, with a vertical rate of 3,600 mph, you can see how at a 32 ft per sec per sec deceleration, the upward fall lasts about 150 seconds and traverses 40 miles straight up. All the way, it’s a ballistic regime and anything coming off the vehicle travels along with it over the arc and back down.” [15]

The believers were quick to challenge Oberg’s statements on the X-15′s speed, flight path, and manoeuvres. Fleming, for instance, noted on December 2, “You seem to be assuming that on its high-altitude flights, the X-I5 was going straight up and then fell straight down, with almost no velocity relative to the ground at the high point of its trajectory.” He continued, “I assumed instead that the plane probably was on a parabolic trajectory, maintaining a hypersonic speed at the highest point.” Referring to a drawing of an X-15 flight which showed such a path, Fleming concluded “…then White’s speed at the highest point in his trajectory, 60 miles up was 3,370 mph, perhaps a little lower due to frictional energy losses. The pressures would still be on the order of a wind blowing at more than 10 miles per hour at sea level. No ice flake is going to hover near the aircraft with those pressures acting on it.” He also added, “These flights lasted less than five minutes, so if something hung around long enough for White to notice it, it must have been visible over a fairly wide range of altitudes. It might have been visible at lower altitudes where the air is denser, not just at the top of his trajectory while White was technically in space.” [16]

Rudiak echoed these comments on a December 3 posting, saying, “This is very strange physics, Jimbo…. According to you, the X-15 had a vertical velocity equal to its total velocity, meaning it would have been travelling straight up!” He continued, “When you make ridiculous statements like this, it just further hurts your credibility as being an aerospace expert. Instead the term ‘pelican science’ starts to come to mind.” Rudiak added that if the X-15 had been flying at only a few hundred feet per second, “…then Oberg’s ice sheet hypothesis might be saved. The effective near-vacuum ‘wind’ at 60 miles would then be reduced by 2 or 3 orders of magnitude from the hypersonic velocities assumed by Lan Fleming and myself.” He continued that “…such low velocities at peak altitude seem to be just more baloney from Jim Oberg, along with his 40 miles and 3,600 mph straight up,”‘ then added “…Oberg probably made up that low velocity figure, perhaps in an attempt to save his ‘ice sheet’ explanation.”

Rudiak also addressed the questions of the X-15′s manoeuvring, and the source of the ice. He noted that Oberg had failed to provide any evidence of extreme manoeuvres, and that it seemed unlikely that White would have manoeuvered very much, as he had to be correctly positioned for re-entry. Rudiak dismissed the possibility that ice formed on the liquid oxygen tank could have been the source of the object. He noted, “After engine burnout, the tanks would be empty. No more ice would form, particularly in the extremely and conditions of these altitudes.” [17]

Rudiak expanded on these comments with a December 5 posting. He said Oberg “…made statements about the X-15 that were so grossly erroneous, no real aerospace expert should ever have made them, no matter how rusty his memory may have been. They were more like embarrassingly erroneous. One wonders if he is even writing his own material anymore.” Rudiak continued with a list of what he called “…the bone-headed errors he (or his shill) made.” These included, Rudiak wrote, claiming that White’s flight reached a top speed of 3,600 miles per hour. “In reality,” he wrote, “it was Mach 6.04 or 4,070 mph, which I determined after only a few minutes search on the Net.” He concluded the listing by saying, “But look at his shoddy performance here: no facts, no science, just error on top of error, some of it no doubt deliberate, trying to bolster his shaky `ice crystal’ theory. He doesn’t sound like much of an expert at all nor someone obsessed with getting at the truth.”

In the same posting, Rudiak repeatedly raised the issue of dynamic pressure. In one case, he accused Oberg of “split hairs about this being ‘space’ and not in the atmosphere. Yes, this was a near-vacuum, but at the X-15 hypersonic speed, there was still significant friction and a breeze blowing. That’s a very important point, one Oberg tried to sweep under the rug, by talking of this being ‘space’ and falsifying the actual velocity of the craft as being only hundreds of feet per second instead of thousands. The effective wind, though not strong, would be sufficient to rapidly sweep away any small, non-aerodynamic debris coming off the craft (which would limit any sighting of such debris to only a few seconds). It would probably also be sufficient to quickly break up any thin sheets of ice into smaller pieces.”

Rudiak suggested that paint chips or metal debris might hold together under such dynamic pressure, but that this, too would still have been blown away by the wind. He also noted that, “The complete tape of Bob White’s flight along with data about the craft when this was all happening (where exactly was it, how was it oriented, and exactly how fast was it going) are all important pieces of information, none of it provided to the royal us.” Rudiak concluded that, “Oberg has basically been caught with his pants down, but he will never admit that he totally screwed up if not deliberately and seriously misrepresented the actual situation… He’s like the school bully copying the class nerd’s quiz, then beating him up later for not getting all the answers right. Do your own damn work, Jimbo.” [18]

Oberg contacted the Edwards AFB History Office, and Dr. Ray Puffer supplied him with the transcript of White’s postflight debrief The section of the December 6 posting dealing with the sighting is as follows:

“After engine shutdown I engaged angle of attack hold at 6 degrees alpha, and I seemed to hold this all right. It wasn’t long after I went through 220,000 that I disengaged angle of attack hold and just continued on over the top. It seemed like a hell of a long time to get over the top…. While I was level I started noticing some things and I said, ‘Now wait a minute they must be inside the cockpit,’ but they were outside the cockpit. It looked like perhaps it might have been residue or frost or very small little things going by. I was paying attention and focusing on what these things might have been, and one time a piece of something about the size of my hand, which looked like a piece of paper, went past just going along with the airplane. It was there, there was no question about it.”

Q: “Do you think it. was frost?”

A: “This thing looked too big for that. It looked like a piece of paper, almost the size of your hand”

Q: “Whereabouts in relation to the airplane?”

A: “Just off to the left side, right on the window level. The other ones were out on the right side, little somethings but I couldn’t distinguish what they were. There was no question about it.”

Q: “Did it come from the nose perhaps?”

A: “Well, I thought the other small ones came from the nose, but this other one just stayed there. Okay, going ahead now, my inertial indicator went above 300,000 ft., but I don’t know how high I got. This looked like I was quite a bit higher than the last flight because I could just look out and — you know what the pictures look like when the guy is flying in orbit, well that’s what it looked like.” [19]

Rudiak replied a few hours later, again stressing the effects of dynamic pressure. He remarked, “The ‘little things,’ assuming they were debris off the nose, I assume would drift along the stream lines and pass within inches of the cockpit windows, which sounds like what White is describing. But how did this other flat thingee get way out there, even if it came off the nose’? It should drift right past the windows along with the little things.”

After noting White’s comment that the paper-sized object seemed too big to be frost, Rudiak wrote, “So why did Oberg claim this was ice? White realised it couldn’t be ice. Furthermore, remember Oberg’s song and dance about this was ice formed from the rearward liquid oxygen tank or fuel lines? Obviously even if ice had survived and then later dislodged, it can’t move forward, one of the major objections to the ice theory from the beginning by the gullible UFO believers.”

Rudiak did not limit his critical comments to Oberg. He had gone to the Edwards AFB History Office three years before to research several reported UFO incidents at the base, and met with Dr. Puffer. Rudiak wrote, “Puffer, like Oberg, is a knee-jerk UFO debunker who loves to laugh at the gullible UFO buffs.” The base logs had no mention of the incidents, as Dr. Puffer had told him beforehand. Rudiak concluded that this showed, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” in that sensitive information would not be mentioned in logs, but be handled through other channels. [20]

As the exchanges with Rudiak were going on, Oberg called Bill Dana, a former X-15 pilot and the retired chief engineer at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre. Oberg wrote that “He recalled White’s story well. Bob was concerned, at first, he thought he was flying through a field of these objects going by his window, he told me. Turned out, it was ice coming off something – an APU exhaust, I recall, or some cryogenic transporter.” [211

This, in turn, led to a series of exchanges with Fleming which overlapped the postings by Rudiak. Fleming's first reply raised the issue of a cover-up. He wrote, "Maybe too much time passed between when Duran [sic] was a test pilot and when he was a NASA bureaucrat. His ‘recollection’ sounds more like the spindoctoring of the latter rather than the plain-talking expected from the former.”

Fleming again raised the issue of where the ice might have come from. “Guessing that the acronym APU means attitude propellant unit or something similar,” he noted that the X-15′s thruster rockets used hydrogen peroxide. Fleming continued that they “emitted superheated steam as the exhaust product. It seems unlikely to me that steam would freeze into ice flakes under near-vacuum conditions on surfaces that had been heated to over 1,000 degrees centigrade during passage through the lower atmosphere only seconds before.” He added, “Anything that White saw ‘going by his window’ was moving from the nose toward the tail, and it is not at all likely to have been ice flakes.” [22]

Oberg replied to Fleming’s comments within a few hours. He wrote, “I’m disappointed with your readiness to reject the firsthand comments of people who were right there, with vague allegations of ‘spindoctoring’, a suggestion of deliberate fraud.” Oberg also noted that “APU” actually stood for “Auxiliary Power Unit.” The three APUs on the shuttle burn hydrazine to move the control surfaces and the main engines. He added, that “water vapour is a by-product,” then continued, “Both water and hydrazine freeze readily in space because of robust evaporative cooling, despite sunlight or structural temperatures.” Oberg also added that the X-15′s thrusters also emitted water as a by-product. [23]

Fleming reiterated his conclusion that neither the X-15′s thruster rockets nor its APUs could have produced ice. He wrote, “Since the APUs used extremely hot hydrogen peroxide as fuel, it seems unlikely that their exhaust could be a source of ice for the same reason that the thrusters seem to be an unlikely source of ice. In any case, the APUs were positioned behind the cockpit and ice from that location wouldn’t have got in front of the cockpit.” [24]

In another follow-on posting, Fleming also defended his comments about Dana, saying, “Spin-doctoring isn’t fraud. If it was, they’d have to build more prisons to hold all the bureaucrats and politicians who do it. Dana (sorry about getting the name wrong), said that the object White observed turned out to be ice, giving the impression he’s talking about the results of some investigation, but without exactly saying it. It could not have turned out to be ice because that simply doesn’t make sense.” He concluded that, “Given White’s obvious excitement over his observation, it’s odd that it seems to have aroused so little interest among project scientists.” [25]

On December 8, Fleming sent a posting on his calculations on how an object would behave under the assumed dynamic pressure. He wrote, “If the object was about 7 inches long in the direction of the wind and had a density of around 3g/cc (like some paints) it could have been moved about 2 feet in 5 seconds and 8 feet in 10 seconds by wind pressures equivalent to those of a 10 mph wind at sea level.” Such a speed, Fleming concluded, meant the object would be out of sight from the X-15 in 30 seconds, and its movements would have been easily visible to White from 40 feet away. Fleming concluded they would probably never know what the object was, as “The documentation of any conclusions about the nature of the object reached by X-15 project scientists seems to have gone down the rabbit hole.” [26]

The December 8, 2001 postings marked the effective end of the debate over the X-15 sighting. Personal attacks were made on Oberg for the next week, but these contributed nothing to the question of what had happened on the flight. Ironically, despite the many thousands of words exchanged over the key point in the debate, this was never settled. What exactly was the dynamic pressure on the X-15 at the time of the sighting? To answer this question, we must look at the historical background, and the flight data.

Major Robert White and his son
Major Robert White and his son

The historical background to Major White’s X-15 sighting began nearly five months before. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn was launched on the first US orbital spaceflight. As his Mercury spacecraft went from the night side of the Earth into daylight on its first orbit, Glenn noticed thousands of very small, luminous particles swirling around the spacecraft. They were moving slowly, at a speed Glenn estimated to be 3 to 5 miles per hour from ahead of the spacecraft, but he did not think they were originating from it. As the Sun rose, the objects became harder to see. Because of their yellow-green colour, Glenn called them “fireflies.” [27]

Some thought they were a natural phenomenon of the upper atmosphere, while others believed the fireflies were paint chips or ice from the Mercury spacecraft. The Soviets soon announced that the second Soviet cosmonaut, Gherman Titov, had also seen fireflies during his August 1961 spaceflight. Titov said that he first noticed them from his booster rocket, and later from the retro rockets. The Soviets dubbed them the “Glenn effect.”

The third firefly sighting was made on April 30, 1962, during an X-15 flight by NASA research pilot Joe Walker, which reached an altitude of 246,700 feet. After the X-15 landed, film from an aft-facing camera showed several fireflies. They were described by a NASA spokesman as “barbell shaped, bright-orange in colour, and passing in groups up to six behind the X-15.” Opinion ranged from “definitely something up there,” to “film spots,” to “sun rays on the lens.”

The Walker X-15 sighting was publicised at the National Conference on Peaceful Uses of Space, held in Seattle on May 10, 1962. When asked at the meeting about the sighting, Walker replied, “I don’t feel like speculating about the nature of these objects. All I know is what appeared on the film in later study. I saw nothing myself during the flight of this nature. From what we can tell, they seem to be disk-shaped, or perhaps even cylindrical. But it’s impossible to estimate their size or their distance from the camera.” Soon afterwards, Paul Bikle, the director of the NASA Flight Research Centre (now the NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre), said, “It was either paint, or frost, peeling from the fuselage and going back.” [28]

Soon afterwards, on May 24, 1962, Scott Carpenter was launched into orbit aboard a Mercury spacecraft. During his three-orbit flight, he also saw fireflies during each sunrise. To Carpenter, the objects looked more like snowflakes than fireflies, and did not seem luminous. They also came in a wide range of sizes, brightness, and colours. Some were white, some were gray, and one looked like a helical shaving from a lathe. Thev seemed to be moving at different speeds, but were not moving out and away from the spacecraft. At dawn on his third orbit, Carpenter was reaching for an instrument when his gloved hand bumped against the capsule’s hatch. A shower of fireflies then drifted past his window. A second tap on the hatch produced another group, as did a third tap on the wall. The outer skin of the Mercury spacecraft was covered with ice from the water cooling system and/or the hydrogen peroxide jets. This, and not some high-altitude natural phenomenon, was the cause of the fireflies. [29]

Overshadowed by the Mercury orbital flights, the X-15 program continued to fly at higher speeds and altitudes. Walker’s April 30 flight had set a new world altitude record, while Maj. Robert White had become the first man to fly Mach 4, 5, and 6 in a winged aircraft. In early July 1962, White was preparing to set a new altitude record of over 50 miles. The seventh flight of X-15 #3 was planned to have an engine burn time of 80 seconds, which would accelerate it to 5,150 feet per second. This was sufficient for the X-15 to reach a peak altitude of 282,000 feet, at which time it would have slowed to a speed of 4,200 feet per second. The goal of the flight was to make the second test of the MH-96 flight control system. [30] The first three attempts to make the flight had to be aborted after the B-52 took off, due to technical problems. Another attempt was cancelled before takeoff on July 14, due to a request by the Atomic Energy Commission. They were conducting a low-yield nuclear test at Yucca Flat, code-named Small Boy. Not until July 17 was everything ready. [31]

The X-15 was launched from the B-52 at 9:31 a.m., at an altitude of 45,000 feet over Delamar Dry Lake in Nevada. White successfully ignited the rocket engine, and the X-15 accelerated in nearly level flight. After 30 seconds, the X-15 had reached a speed of Mach 2.1, but it was flying at only about 43,000 feet, rather than the planned 53,000 feet. Due to its high speed and lower-than-planned altitude, the maximum dynamic pressure (also called max q) reached about 850 pounds per square foot (psf). White then pitched the X-15 up, establishing a 41 degree climb angle, and engaged the MH-96 pitch hold. The X-15 accelerated upwards, but as it did so, the dynamic pressure dropped rapidly as the air became thinner.

The engine shut down after an 82 second burn (two seconds longer than planned), at a speed of Mach 5.2. The X-15′s altitude was 159,000 feet, but the dynamic pressure on the vehicle had dropped to below 40 psf. White said later at the debrief that he shut the engine down manually, although the log for engine #103 lists a burnout due to fuel exhaustion. In either case, there still was residual liquid oxygen and liquid anhydrous ammonia in the X-15′s tanks. White abruptly went from a 4 G acceleration to being weightless at engine shutdown. The residual propellant was also weightless, and floated in the tanks. After burnout, White engaged the MH96′s alpha hold, and the X-15:

NASA 1: “You’re going higher by our plot than anticipated and this is putting you farther down range.”

White: “Ventral is engaged, speed brakes coming open.”

NASA 1: “OK, looks like you’re about the peak and speed brakes out.”

White: “Roger.” “There’s a lot of things out there.”"Absolutely is!” “What’s my angle of attack’?”

NASA 1: “We don’t have any better presentation than he does. We’re coming back down through, approaching 285. Anticipate a position in correction turn to the right whenever you have the ability to do so.”

White: “Roger absolutely the view.”

NASA 1: “We’re still not getting much on angle of attack.” White: “OK, it’s going to start going back, here we go.” [33]

The X-15′s speed as it reached the peak altitude was about Mach 4.8 (4,500 feet per second). As the X-15 began its descent, its speed again began to increase. The vehicle did not show measurable dynamic pressure until it had descended to about 270,000 feet. To the X-15 program engineers, during this two minute period, the vehicle had experienced zero psf dynamic pressure. The onboard instrumentation was not sufficiently accurate to measure the minute pressure from the residual traces of atmosphere. Nor was any effort made to calculate the dynamic pressure, as it had no importance for the research goals of the flight.

Using atmospheric density tables, it is possible to calculate that the dynamic pressure on the X-15 at maximum altitude was about .02 psf Variations in atmospheric temperature and density would change this by no more than 30%. (The value would therefore range, at most, from .014 to .026 psf. ) The dynamic pressure of a 10 mile per hour wind at sea level is .256 psf. This is at least 10 times greater than the dynamic pressure actually experienced by the X-15 at 314,750 feet. Simply put, the air was too thin, and the X-15 was flying too slowly for there to be meaningful dynamic pressure. An ice flake would not be immediately incinerated or broken up, but rather would remain intact. A low density ice flake would be affected more by the fractional dynamic pressure than the more massive X-15. The relative motion for an ice flake would be just under 3 miles per hour at most. This is much smaller that had been calculated using the 10 miles per hour assumed wind speed. An ice flake would appear to White to be flying more or less along with the X-15, particularly as he had to remain focused on flying the vehicle. [34]

The X-15 was accelerated by the Earth’s gravity as itfell, and as a result, it actually reached its highest speed during the descent — Mach 5.45 at about 120,000 feet. This was equivalent to 3,757 mph, or 5,510 feet per second. During the re-entry, an angle of attack of 20 degrees was maintained, followed by a 5 G pullout. The dynamic pressure also increased as the X-15 descended into thicker air. Max q during the descent reached 1,186 psf, at an altitude of 65,000 feet and a speed of just over Mach 3.7. White glided back to a successful landing at Rogers dry lake. The flight had only taken 10 minutes and 20.7 seconds. [35]

As a result of the new altitude record, Major White was awarded astronaut wings. Air Force regulations then defined ‘space’ as beginning at an altitude of 50 statute miles (264,000 feet). It was not necessary to go into orbit to be considered an astronaut. [36] There were thirteen such space flights made during the X-15 program. A total of eight X-15 pilots exceeded 50 miles; Maj. Robert White (1 flight), Joe Walker (3 flights), Maj. Robert Rushworth (1 flight), Capt. Joe Engle (3 flights), Jack McKay (1 flight), Bill Dana (2 flights), Maj. Pete Knight (1 flight), and Capt. Mike Adams (1 flight). NASA research pilots Walker, McKay, and Dana, being civilians, were not eligible for astronaut wings. [37]

Press attention soon focused on the flight. In its July 27, 1962 issue, Time magazine carried an article on the X-15 program. This included the statement, “But for White and his fellow X-15 pilots, the greatest reward for their work is the satisfaction of probing the mysteries inside the sky. In last week’s flight Bob White found a new mystery for scientists to puzzle over: through the X-15′s thick left quartz window, he saw a strange sight: ‘There ARE things out there,’ he radioed enthusiastically over his voice radio. There absolutely is.”‘ The article continued that it was a slowly tumbling hand-sized object, that Major White thought it was about 30 to 40 feet away, greyish in colour, and that he had no idea what it was. [38]

This was followed in early August, when a group of newspaper reporters was brought to Edwards AFB to see the various research activities, including an X-15 flight. They interviewed White about the sighting, and saw a film of the object from a camera aboard the X-I5. United Press Intemational reporter Douglas Diltz wrote that, “A possibility the X-15 encountered strange phenomena in space arose today with scientists unable to identify a mysterious object….” He quoted a scientist as saying, “It is impossible to explain the object’s presence at this time. As a matter of fact, we aren’t even sure what White saw and the camera photographed were two different objects.” Diltz wrote that the film showed “an object that darted above and behind the plane.” [39]

Another reporter on the trip was James Goodloe, a staff writer with the Birmingham (Alabama) Post Herald. In his article, Goodloe wrote, “White said the object moved gradually toward the rear on the left and was about 30 to 40 feet from the plane. He said he doesn’t know what it was but he said he doesn’t attach any particular significance to it.” The article also had a photo taken from the X-15 film. It showed an irregular white object against a black sky, as it tumbled above and behind the X-15. [40]

Although it is a subjective impression, none of the news articles seemed to hype the sighting, but rather used it to give colour to the story. Diltz also talked about Maj. Robert Rushworth’s low speed/low altitude X-15 flight on August 9th, while Goodloe wrote about the use of F-104 aircraft for landing practice, and described the X-15′s design and shape. The Time magazine article did not use the term ‘fireflies’, but this seemed to be context of the sighting. None of the articles indicate the object was anything more than a natural phenomenon.

The records also do not indicate that either Major White or any of the X-15 personnel attached any importance to the sighting. Major White’s comments about the sighting amounted to half a page of text in a six page report. Although the term ‘fireflies’ was not used in the report, the question asking if White thought the object was frost indicates this is what the engineers were thinking. Although White did not think it was frost, John Glenn also thought the same way. Major White’s report was a detailed description of the X-15′s and MH-96′s behaviour during the flight. He talked about the angle of attack and sideslip measurements becoming inaccurate at high altitude, the view outside the windows, a yaw oscillation he experienced during re-entry, his assessment that if the stability augmentation system (SAS) failed at high altitude, “You can toss in the towel,” the pain in his arm during re-entry due to its cramped position, his concerns about overshooting the lake bed, his comparison of the SAS and MH-96 systems, the difficulty of holding a heading at peak altitude, and similar operational issues. [41]

The X-15 program was a fast-paced effort, with several flights being planned at the same time. It was necessary to quickly analyse the flight data, identify any potential dangers, and incorporate the data into later flights. This was a difficult, time consuming task with only slide rules and mechanical calculators. The yaw oscillation during White’s re-entry was deemed a concern, and plans were made for a later X-15 flight to check this out. The sighting itself was a curiosity which did not affect the research program. UFO believers were interested, however, and the X- 15 sighting was soon incorporated into the belief system. The August-September 1962 issue of The UFO Investigator, the newsletter of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), carried a short article on Major White’s sighting titled, ‘AF Criticizes NASA Release of Mystery Object Photo.’ It quoted a letter to a NICAP member from Maj. Carl R. Hart, who was described as the “AF official UFO spokesman.” Major Hart said, “As usual, NASA has gone out on a limb on this,” and added, “The news story was the first intimation the AF had of the problem.” The article stated that NASA scientists “frankly admitted” that they “could not explain the object or its presence in space.” The release of the photo was described as following a three-week investigation and questioning of Major White. [42]

Both X-15 sightings, the initial one on Walker’s April 30 mission and Major White’s sighting, were mentioned in NICAP’s 1964 report, The UFO Evidence, Major White’s sighting was described as being of an object “like a piece of paper” which followed the X-15 for about 5 seconds, and which then “darted above and behind the plane.” [43] The wording was the same as Diltz’s newspaper story on White’s sighting. The X- 15 sighting would be mentioned from time to time over the next four decades, until the postings began on UFO UpDates in late November 2001.

As a case study in the interaction between believers and sceptics, several points can be made. The first has to do with evidence. The believers’ estimate of the dynamic pressure on the X-15 was based on the rate at which atmospheric density drops as altitude increases. As a result, they calculated that the X-15 experienced the equivalent of a 10 to 15 miles per hour wind at sea level. As the postings continued, this estimate became accepted as fact. The believers argued that an ice flake would be quickly swept away and/or be destroyed. Since the object kept pace with the X-15, it had to be anomalous. The estimate they were drawing this conclusion from, however, was based on a rough rule of thumb, and the result was an order of magnitude or more in error.

A related point is how evidence is accepted or rejected. The believers argued that no ice could survive the heat and vibration of the climb, that there were no sources of water to form new ice at high altitude, and no means to freeze it, as the propellants had been completely used up. Oberg argued, based on his experience as a shuttle ground controller, that the hydrogen peroxide used by the thruster rockets and APUs produced water vapour, and that this would freeze in the vacuum conditions. This was rejected by the believers. An additional factor, not recognised by either side, was that even after burnout, there was still propellant in the X-15′s tanks. In many photos of X-15 landings, frost can be seen on the underside of the vehicles. This formed during the approach despite the heating of reentry. Thus there was a means for water vapour to freeze.

A further point is that of research. The postings had to be responded to quickly. There was little time for extensive archival research, and there was a tendency to make “off the cuff” comments – examples of this being Oberg’s statements about the X-15′s low speed at peak altitude and its manoeuvres, and Rudiak’s remarks about meteors burning up at 60 miles and the X-15 not being in space. Oberg contacted the Edwards AFB and Dryden History Offices. None of the other protagonists did so. The majority of the research was done on the web, which has significant weaknesses. Based ori web data, Rudiak said that the X-15′s top speed on the July 17, 1962 flight was Mach 6.04. This web data was in error, as the fastest X- 15 #3 ever flew was Mach 5.73. Fleming was correct in saying that the flight’s top speed was actually Mach 5.45, but he had no way of knowing that this actually occurred during the descent, after the sighting, and not during the climb. The critical data, such as the transcripts and the flight data, were not available on the web.

The debate over the X-15 sighting also points out the central role, and usefulness, of the idea of a cover-up to believers. The issue entered the postings almost immediately, and remained throughout. It was used to explain away the lack of any evidence of an extraordinary event_ It was used to explain away Dana’s recollections about what had occurred. It was used to explain away the contradiction of a secret sighting of an alien spaceship being freely discussed with newspaper reporters. Finally, it was used to conclude that the truth about the sighting would never be known, as this had been hidden away beyond all chance of recovery by the allpowerful conspiracy and its legions of evil minions. Thus the belief system is preserved.



1. Filer’s Files #16 1999, archived at under the date April 24, 1999. The email listed regarding this thread are also archived at this URL, on the dates and with the forwarding times listed.
2. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (November 29, 16:28:55 ).
3. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Ledger (November 29, 23:59:07).
4. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Rudiak (November 30, 22:34:27).
5. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Fleming (November 30, 22:47:17).
6. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Rudiak (December 1, 02:51:47).
7. Re: Filers Files #48 – 2001 Ledger (December 1, 10:53:40).
8. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Ledger (December 1, 11:08:22).
9. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Fleming (December 1, 15:50:32).
10. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (December 2, 10:11:44).
11. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (December 2, 10:18:04).
12. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (December 2, 10:17:57).
13. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (December 2, 14:29:27).
14. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (December 2, 10:21:50).
15. Misunderstanding The X-15 Ersatz UFO Controversy Oberg (December 2,10:32:06).
16. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Fleming (December 2, 14:29:25 ).
17. Re: Misunderstanding The X-15 Ersatz-UFO Rudiak (December 3, 06:52:05).
18. Re: Misunderstanding The X-15 Ersatz-UFO – Rudiak (December 5, 00:27:17).
19. Re: More On The X-15 – Oberg (December 6, 08:58:34). “Angle of attack,” also called “alpha,” refers to the angle between the airflow and the wing. This measurement is independent of an aircraft’s climb angle. White’s climb angle was 41 degrees (measured relative to the horizon), while the X-15′s angle of attack was 6 degrees (measured relative to the airflow). “Alpha hold” refers to a feature on X-1 5 #3′s MH-96 adaptive flight control system. The pilot could set the angle of attack, as well as the pitch, yaw and roll, and the system would automatically hold it.
20. Re: More On The X-15 – Rudiak (December 6, 16:30:46).
21. Re: More On The X-15 – Oberg (December 5, 00:15:48).
22. Re: More On The X-15 – Fleming (December 5 13:29:55)
23. Re: More On The X-15 – Oberg (December 6, 15:53:47).
24. Re: More On The X-15 – Fleming (December 6, 16:16:26).
28. “X15 Film Shows Mysterious Objects,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner May 11, 1962, and “Just What Was It X-15 Photographed Way Up There?,” Desert Wings, May 18, 1962. Edwards AFB History Office X-15 newspaper file.
29. Swenson, et al, This New Ocean, p 452, 453.
30. X-15 Flight Request Flight No. 3-7-13, X-15 Flight Data Flights 3-1 to 3-15, Dryden History Office. None of the documents related to the flight were ever classified.
31. Flight Research Center 1962 Daily Diary, Dryden History Office file # 1-3-10-1 A-6.
32. X-15 Flight Request, Time history of Mach number, altitude, and dynamic pressure based on radar data for flight 3-7-14, and Beatty radar tracking plot, X-15 Flight Data Flights 3-1 to 3-15, Dryden History Office, and X-15 Research Airplane Flight Record, Dryden History Office file # L1-6-9B-12.
33. “Altitude Record Flight” pilot transcript, X-15 Flight Data Flights 3-1 to 3-15, Dryden History Office. A segment of this was also posted in Re: More On The X-15 – Oberg (December 7, 09:20:18).
34. All calculations of dynamic pressure were done by Dr. Kenneth W. Iliff, who was an X-15 research engineer.
35. Time history of Mach number, altitude, and dynamic pressure based on radar data for flight 3-7-14, and X-15 Research Airplane Flight Record, Dryden History Office.
36. Dennis R. Jenkins, Hypersonics Before the Shuttle A Concise History of the X-15 Research Airplane (NASA 2000), p 61, 62, 117.
37. Tim Fumiss, Manned Spaceflight Log New edition (London: Janes 1986) p 15-16, 20, 23-25, 31, 33-34, 43, 46-48, and Robert Godwin, X-15 The NASA Mission Reports (Burlington, Canada: Apogee Books, 2000), 392. Maj. Mike Adams’ astronaut wings were awarded posthumously. During the ascent on his November 15, 1967 flight, an electrical problem and vertigo distracted Adams. As X-1 5 #3 (the same vehicle Major White had flown) reached its peak altitude of 266,000 feet, its nose was pointed 15 degrees to the right. With no significant dynamic pressure on the vehicle, the X-1 5 continued to follow a ballistic trajectory, and there was no change in the flight path. Apparently due to the vertigo, Adams mistook a roll indicator for a sideslip (heading) indicator, and turned the X-1 5 farther to the right until it was 90 degrees to the flight path. It was re-entering the atmosphere sideways. At 230,000 feet, and a speed of Mach 5, the dynamic pressure had increased, and the X-1 5 went into a flat spin. This continued for 43 seconds, at which time the X-1 5 was at an altitude of 120,000 feet and going Mach 4.7. Some combination of pilot action, aircraft stability and the MH-96 control system caused the X-1 5 to recover from the spin. Tragically, the X-1 5 immediately began a pitch oscillation (nose up and down). The MH-96 system was saturated, making the pitch oscillation self-sustaining and increasing in severity. The X-1 5 was descending at 160,000 feet per minute and dynamic pressure was increasing at a rate of nearly 100 psf per second. The g-forces increased to +1- 15 Gs, and, at an altitude above 60,000 feet, the X-1 5 broke up. Maj. Mike Adams was killed in the crash.
38. Re: Filer’s Files #48 – 2001 Oberg (November 29, 16:28:55 ).
39. Douglas Diltz “X15 Sky Mystery Grows,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner (August 9, 1962) Edwards AFB History Office X-1 5 newspaper file.
40. James Goodloe, “To X-15 Pilot Space Object Still Resembles Paper,” Birmingham Post Herald (August 10, 1962) Edwards AFB History Office X-15 newspaper file.
41. “Altitude Record Flight” pilot tr•anscript, X-15 Flight Data Flights 3-1 to 3-15, Dryden History Office.
42. “AF Criticizes Release Of Mystery Object’ Photo,” The UFO. Investigator (August-September 1962), p B. 43. Richard H. Hall, editor, The UFO Evidence (New York: Bames & Noble Books, 1997), p 139.



Transformation of Ufology, part 2.
A look behind the scenes
Matt Graeber

<<< Continued from Part One

(e-mails from the Ufological upper crust) 

Let’s see what the ‘List’ and the lLeaders’ have to say about this growing internet UFO group phenomenon in their midst. How do they feel about their own organizations dwindling membership, declining journal subscriptions and public appeal in the age of the internet saucer-hucksters? (I have changed the names of the e-mail writer’s on this topic to avoid embarrassing the complacent and/or woefully inattentive). Most e-mail entries cited herein have been capsulized and edited by the author. Additional comments byme in italics.

Matt Graeber to Albert Benson, (a pseudonym) 12/12/2005

Albert, I’m wondering if the list members would be willing to post something on the growing internet presence of the Wisconsin group ( BUFO), that is attempting to” Turn” the Carbondale hoax of 1974 into another Roswell-like incident. There seems to be a rash of crash and non-crash saucer stories that are being promoted as Roswell-like events. If the list would log on to “carbondale,pa. ufo crash”, they can see for themselves how outlandish the yarn has become.

Mr Benson did contact his friends and colleagues on the list concerning the request. Here are several of the replies he received on the matter.

From Rick Yost to Albert Benson & the list: 12/16/2005

Hey Al,

“Particularly the ectoplasm and orbs they found at the portal”….

“The Carbondale crash was first promoted by the late flying saucer evangelist Robert D. Barry. He was PR man for the late right wing preacher Dr Carl McIntire’s 20th Century Reformation Hour ministry. Barry operated its one man press arm. He later had a weekly Saturday midnight TV show, “ET Monitor” on McIntire’s TV station.” They are both passed, now, but looks like other nuts are milking it.”

“By the way, Barry was the first one to report in 1989, about the same time same sort of claims were first made about Roswell, that the Kecksburg PA crash involved the recovery of alien bodies. He later withdrew that claim as an error, which was a surprise to me since I don’t think Bob ever heard a UFO story he didn’t like.” 

I wonder how many young saucer enthusiasts ever heard of the Reverend Carl McIntire or, knew that the Roswell story didn’t include alien bodies until 42 years after the incident was first reported?
Albert Benson to Rick Yost & the list: 12/16/2005

Rick, I’m not talking about Kecksburg, but the Carbondale hoax of 1974. If you are interested to find out more about this blatant nonsense, log on to <carbondale,pa. ufo crash>, and check out the buffoonery at any BUFO site or link. Those pushing this hoax as ” Pennsylvania’s Roswell” are without doubt in need of an urgent reality check”.

To Albert Benson, Rick Yost & the list from Scott Morris a major UFO group leader: 12/16/2005

” My observation of Barry, who used to write regularly for Saga and its UFO magazine, was than nearly everything he said – excluding perhaps banal observations about the weather – could be automatically discarded. Too bad that one of his tall tales is still with us.”

I think the people who log on to the Carbondale UFO crash site should be alerted to this observation by one of Ufology’s major group leaders and long-time researchers.

From Albert Benson to the list 12/17/2005

” It’s bad enough that the bizarre crowd at BUFO ( Burlington UFO & Paranormal Radio) is pushing the Carbondale hoax of 1974 as a genuine occurrence, but they’re not content to confine their idiocy to that alone. Now they’re involved in an internet fantasy asserting that the little town of Olyphant PA. which is located about six miles from Scranton, is situated at the “centre of the universe” and modelled after ancient Egypt by alien race! This would almost be funny if it weren’t for the fact that for the uninformed public and the media, this is what passes for the face of Ufology.”

Albert Benson continues,

“And this type of crap only makes it more difficult to convince the scientific community that the UFO phenomenon is a real mystery that merits the most serious investigation on their part.”

Scott Morris replies on 12/18/2005

Al,” I agree that this is pretty dumb, but it doesn’t amount to anything consequential, much less a problem with scientists. My experience is that scientists who are so willing are perfectly able to separate Ufology’s sensible claims from the absurd ones. Scientists who are hostile simply use the latter as an excuse not to bother with the more substantive issues. Hard as it may be for some to believe, not all Ufologist’s problems are Ufologist’s fault.”

“The Carbondale silliness is perhaps worth noting, but nothing to get worked up about. UFOs and Ufology were long ago relegated to the fringes, and something relegated, even if unjustly, is going to attract fringe types. Surely, we have better things to do with our time than to waste it with ritual denunciations of the many nut jobs and liars who are out there, and have always been out there. They’re certainly an irritation, but they’re also no more than a sideshow.” 

Yet another valuable observation that is limited to the list membership. Scott is correct to point out that the list has far better things to do with it’s time than denounce the internet kooks…However, one wonders ” What might they do that they haven’t already done over the course of the last sixty years?
From Tim Connolly (a list member) to Albert Benson & the list: 12/18/2005

“At least this kind of thing provides fodder for ” Ufology-ology”, which consists of remote-viewing history texts which will be written on distant planets in the future of a parallel universe. 

Egads, more material for BUFO to promote!
Joel Simpson (a list member) chimes in: 12/18/2005

“Watch any established field on investigation ( nutrition, astronomy, genetics, linguistics, etc.) and you’ll always find the same sort of nuts looking for attention, and a great deal of confusion in the media…..” I agree with Tom that the tern “Ufology” as understood by the world at large ( not just by us) covers every conceivable aspect of modern culture, from Bermuda Triangles to flying lights, crystal skulls, dogu statuettes, Uri Geller, exobiology and Nostradamus. I’d rather avoid using it. When asked I certainly never say I research UFOs, and usually mumble something about “A strong interest in cataloguing unidentified phenomena recorded throughout history. 

I fully understand Joel’s embarrassment, and it’s too bad that those visiting BUFO/Carbondale sites and links are not privy to his insightful and candid remarks.

 I would also like to point out that Ufology is not actually an established field of investigation, rather, it is an investigative (and occasionally obsessional) hobby that has produced little if any evidence to verify the physical presence of UFOs in our skies. I certainly wouldn’t put it up there with Astronomy or Genetics, etc. 

 * * * * *

Baseless rumours and distortions that are left unchecked foster beliefs, expectations, fears and suspicions that not only are completely unwarranted, they are dangerous too

So, the question arises, why should the serious UFO researchers feel obligated to point out the absurdities, inconsistencies, contradictions and the fabrications of the many internet saucer zealots, charlatans and hucksters? The answer is quite simple. Not to do so is a failing of character, ethics and moral compass that would serve to protect the unsuspecting and the ill-informed from the distortion of repeatedly reading and hearing about, and finally accepting as true, the suspicions, fabrications and “delusions” that have been bandied about and thrust upon them via the net regarding the true nature of the phenomenon.

For baseless rumours and distortions that are left unchecked foster beliefs, expectations, fears and suspicions that not only are completely unwarranted, they are dangerous too. I’ve read lies about the character and professional efforts of an acting police chief who diligently worked shoulder-to-shoulder with UFO field investigators during the Carbondale PA incident of ’74, while also managing to professionally serve and protect his community, the many volunteers and the policemen under his supervision at the site.

Only to have his name and efforts dragged through the BUFOrian muck and malicious fabrications about him by internet saucer-hucksters like Mary Sutherland, and her investigator Ronald T. Hannivig who not only never met or interviewed the acting police chief, they were not even present at the scene while the incident was being investigated in 1974.

Yet, these same self-appointed experts also alleged that the acting police chief (Francis X. Dottle), wantonly participated in a cover up of the incident by tossing bogus evidence into a pond. They even went so far as to post the malicious remark that this fine public servant was not then (At the time of the incident), nor is he now, a friend of the people in the community he served.

These silly fabrications appeared at the <http://carbondale,pa.ufo crash> site which you may log on to and read for yourself. I ask, is it really inconsequential that a man’s reputation be besmirched by individuals who may be totally deluded and lacking any scruples? Should serious UFOlogists continually turn a blind eye to this sort of behaviour and self-serving promotional propaganda because it might be unpleasant, beneath their dignity and embarrassing to deal with?

Is it not shameful to remain silent and allow this sort of chicanery to infect the minds of young and elderly ill-informed people who search the net for reliable information on the phenomenon? I’ve even received two e-mail forwards from a researcher in which the communiqués sender claims that one internet huckster is involved in fraudulent online business practices and directly involved in the suicide death of a teenage group member.

Naturally, there are two sides (or more) to every story, so I’m currently attempting to learn and verify more about the matter. I’ll report my findings in a future Carbondale Chronicles entry for those who are interested in this rather shocking and sad story.

Is there not a lesson to be learned in the fact, that few European politicians and intellectuals of the day took the national socialist movement in Germany very serious when it first came on the political scene. So, impressionable young people, far too young to remember who Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill were, sit at their computer’s keyboard and unwittingly log on to saucer-huckster sites who are like sharks lurking in the internet’s waters for careless surfers to happen their way.

Interestingly, my grandson’s high school French teacher recently told me that 65-70% of his students thought that Germany had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1965 or 67. So, should the serious UFO researchers simply assume that this kind of historical ignorance is limited to today’s high school students? How could serious ufologists be so blind (and passive) as to believe that their not setting the record straight on the chicanery and many lies about the UFO enigma is matter of little or no consequence? If that’s the case, why the hell do they even bother to research the phenomenon at all?

If one thinks it’s silly to compare the absurd online UFO propaganda to that of the Nazi’s, one might do well to recall that well over fifty percent of the adult voting population of this country believe in the ‘reality’ of UFOs and would probably support a candidate who shared in their saucer enthusiasm. Perhaps a candidate who would simply promise to release any and all government papers on UFOs could win a close election, especially if that candidate were also a popular entertainment or sports celebrity.

So, while the studious UFO researcher’s utilize the same internet technology to e-mail pithy and complimentary notes for each others enjoyment, and an occasional pat on the back- many youthful UFO enthusiasts slip into the jaws of the saucer-hucksters deception, delusions, lies and distortions. In fact, in some cases they may even be gobbled up by a hucksters chronic, habitual and/or pathological lying.

But, the rub lies not in exposing the internet huckster(s) as a blemish on the face of Ufology.. it lies in the fact that many serious UFO researchers and organization leaders themselves have participated in their own brand of saucer-huckstering over the years (directly and indirectly- unwittingly and consciously). Moreover, calling attention to the speck in the eye of an internet huckster might provoke a response from the debunkers about the beam in the eye of the UFO organization and/or its leadership.

So, it seems that the boundaries between the proponent UFO camps are not very well defined any longer. There once was a sharp line between the organized groups and the kooky contactee movement. Now it just seems that some of the saucer group leaders and experts are more eloquent spokesman, (a.k.a. Classier salesman) than the internet throng. Yet all seem to be well-versed in the art of putting a particular “Spin” on a UFO incident or the phenomenon in general.

Considering that the organized groups have been doing so for almost 60 years, does point to a habitual behaviour pattern, especially since that pattern of behaviour has produced absolutely no incontrovertible evidence or data concerning the phenomenon’s true nature or origin.

What we have is a great deal of speculative fantasy, which stems not from hard spikes discovered in an objective database but, all-too-human wants, needs and desires concerning the phenomenon’s assumed importance and meaningfulness to mankind, and the equally-assumptive importance of the researcher’s own investigative efforts.

This near-obsessional behaviour pattern was first established by the baby-boomer ” Nuts and Bolts” school of Ufology which is presently on the verge of extinction. The bare bones of their contribution to Ufology will be that they successfully managed to dangle a promised carrot before the noses of the American public, the media and themselves for six decades.

It was they who pampered, endured and invited the hucksters of Ancient Astronaut tales and Bermuda Triangle yarns to their conventions and symposia. They even participated in the proliferation of Saucer-Crash Fantasies and the Abduction Mania. They did all this to promote membership numbers, draw larger crowds to their conventions, make book deals and seek increased journal subscriptions.

One asks, how much ‘objective researching’ is to be found in these business pursuits? ( e.g., what percentage of the monies collected actually went for research, after operating costs and salaries for the group’s top brass were siphoned away?) Moreover, if the internet hucksters are following in the path of the old guard with better and far more dynamic internet UFO presentations to entice the curious and the gullible, is that not but an extension of the sins of UFOlogists past?

The sociologists and folklorists of the future will look back upon the late 20th and early 21st.century’s transformation of Ufology into an “unbridled” entertainment industry (or “UFOOLogy” as it is more accurately described) and realize that the two terms differ only in the addition of one vowel. Ufology is no longer, nor has it ever truly been a purely pseudoscientific pursuit – it has blossomed into a full-blown sub cultural entertainment industry that has profound romantic appeal within our youthful society. Its roots lie in America, which Dr Carl G. Jung once called the land of science fiction and fantasy – but the American UFO malaise is now becoming a pandemic that has spared throughout the entire planet through the world wide web.

The fossil remains of it all will point to a mid-20th century belief in the existence of and pursuit of phantoms of the skies. 21st century UFOOlogy will probably seek out the phantoms through paranormal or spiritually-based investigative avenues, assumptions and beliefs – some of which may be serious, while most will probably be pure humbug. However, the answer will always seem to lie just beyond their grasp, around the next corner, over the next hill. (Much like the nuts and bolts camp’s carrot).

Such is the nature of true phantoms; they antagonise, mesmerize and befuddle the blind man who senses their presence but, can offer no definitive description of them.. except for hearing the curious beating of their wings and catching a faint whiff of their fleeting presence. Could it be that UFOs are modern man’s harpies?

The pantheon of UFO experts will continue to come and go, along with the parade of witnesses and the few remaining organized saucer groups. The UFOs however, will persist and endure the many ups and downs of UFOOlogical fantasy, theorizing, speculation and assumption – and in time, a new generation will take up the quest and start swinging their white canes at the fleeting phantoms. Could it possibly be that the canes will always be far too short, and the answer to the riddle of the UFOs will simply remain beyond our physical and mental grasp?

Example No.5 (UFOs from inner-space?)

Perhaps in some strange way “the UFOs are but a reflection of ourselves”, as James Moseley suggests – aimlessly flitting about like the modern man’s hopes, fears and aspirations on the phenomenon. Perhaps our ancestors were better equipped to assimilate these “signs in the skies”, for in their lifetimes things like these aerial displays were not only anticipated and readily interpreted, they were actually prayed for.

Have we somehow lost touch with the facility of mind that once fostered beliefs in visions, portents, divine warnings and angels yet, search the skies to once again experience? Or is it all just a growing new age mysticism and religiosity appearing in the guise of technological marvels that homotechnos currently beholds in awe, wonder and masked reverence?

Has the emotional and spiritual nature of our inner being been schooled out of us by the customs, demands and the technological advancements of modern-day living? Indeed, does everyone really think that such powerful human emotions would simply dry up and blow away because it was no longer chic or, politically correct to speak of them?

The organized group elites may scoff at such thoughts, in the same manner which they scoff at the internet huckster movement in their midst. They seem to have an overly confident Col. George Armstrong Custer attitude about what they perceive to be nothing more than a small hostile encampment that they “look down upon” from their lofty UFO research headquarters. However, their status in saucerdom, with the press, the entertainment media and the American public’s focus of interest is most assuredly headed for UFOOLogy’s happy hunting grounds.

– Matt Graeber


Transformation of Ufology, part 1
UFO Idols with feet of clay
Matt Graeber

PART ONE: UFO Idols with Feet of Clay

There has been a great deal written about the ’ Transformational Effects’ of the UFO experience upon the observers and the interfacers with alien creatures. Many times these incidents are alleged to have produced an enhanced form of spiritual awakening, heightened awareness, or a realisation of one’s cosmic connection with the universe and its many intelligent life forms. In extreme instances, the UFO experience is even said to have produced “Hybrid” half-human and half-alien beings that are presently walking amongst us.

This folly is further expanded by a form of unbridled one-upmanship, in which stories are routinely topped by more outlandish and embellished yarns, and we even find that not only have some fellows claimed to have discovered and identified more than 86 separate alien species presently visiting our planet but, there is an American abduction expert who proclaims that the “Greys” (small statured bulbous-headed alien creatures), actually absorb life-sustaining nutrients in the air through their skin.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, the expert doesn’t mention the rather delicate matter of how the Greys might un-absorb their body’s waste materials. Perhaps, they don’t, and that’s why they smell so horrid on the numerous military base’s autopsy tables!?

But, rather than rehashing the claims and the counter-claims which these many yarns have provoked from the saucer zealots, UFO enthusiasts, sceptics and debunkers – I will discuss the “Transformation of Facts” that the unobjective UFOlogists quite often bring to fore concerning their misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the significance of their truly poor quality reports.

It was then that I first realized that pointed questions and opposing points of view were not very welcome within the established UFO group community… 

Example No.1  (A blast from the past!)

I attended a UFO conference which was held in a high school auditorium at Pottstown, Pa. back in the early 70′s, and the director of the UFO group speaking at the event presented a number of photographic slides of purported UFOs for the audience to view. Many of the photos were images from rather old cases and were frequently written about by the popular UFO authors of the day. However, several were new to me and I found myself particularly interested in one slide that featured a pair of copper-coloured disks flying in tight formation amidst the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky.

The disks were photographed from an approximate angle of about 40-45 degrees, and showed the pair of identical copper-coloured craft from the bottom with a pronounced leading and side edge. I was taken by the fact that this photo was very clear, well-cantered in the frame, and did not have any distortion which might have been attributed to the craft’s movement, camera movement, or the blurred, fuzzy and slightly out-of-focus character of many other UFO photos also being displayed.

When the speaker’s presentation ended, and the lights were rekindled in the school’s auditorium there was a question and answer period in which inquiries were fielded by the speaker. At one point during this period, I raised my hand and asked the speaker if he might share a bit more information about the photo of the copper-coloured UFOs with us. He readily admitted that he didn’t know very much about the photo’s origin except that it came from a small village in South America.

I asked if he could tell us something about credibility the person who took the photo, when it was taken, where it might have been taken and how it ended up in the assortment of photos he had presented. The speaker seemed to be a little stunned by my questions and replied that the photographer is unknown and presumably died in a mudslide that destroyed his entire village.

The speaker didn’t know the name of the village or, the date of the disaster. He also didn’t know when the photo was taken. So, it would be virtually impossible to link the photo to a mudslide catastrophe that was published in newspapers somewhere in South America without at least knowing the approximate location or year of the incident. Even with knowing that, it would still be an investigative stretch to assume one positively knew anything about the reliability of the photos themselves.

When I mentioned the fact that these photos were probably not the best examples for audience presentation, an obviously annoyed lady seated in the front of the auditorium challenged my statement with a rather vehement remark. It was then that I first realized that pointed questions, and opposing points of view were not very welcome within the established UFO group community. (i.e., it appeared that many of the conference attendees hadn’t come to learn anything. They just wanted their preconceived beliefs on UFOs to be confirmed and/or bolstered by the presenters).

Interestingly, I had collected coins as a youngster, and suspected that these copper discs were actually coin planchets that hadn’t been struck at the mint. (viz, American Revolution period large cents), for both appeared to have well-defined nicks along their outer edges, much like circulated coins viewed under magnification. I never got to mention this to the speaker, who shrugged off my questions by proclaiming that “he thought” the photos were interesting and that’s why he presented them at the conference. In other words, the UFO photos were not investigated for authenticity and photographer credibility before being presented to the audience.

I later reproduced the appearance of the UFO photo, by placing two large cents on a piece of transparent Plexiglas and viewed them from a similar angle with the sky as the background. The result was astonishingly similar to the mysterious South American photo shown at the Pottstown conference. This was the first of many disappointing experiences with the fawning group enthusiasts and their leadership I would have during my eight year stint as the director of UFORIC the Philadelphia-based UFO Report & Information Center, 1972-80. (Although, I’ve been semi-active in the field for the last 33 years). 

EXAMPLE No.2 (Implants anyone?)

I attended a speaking engagement at a gathering of the Society of American Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1976 – in which I was to follow an elderly gentleman who had been researching UFO reports for decades. As I entered the dining room of the hall I encountered a young man assisting the primary speaker (we’ll call him Mr.Compton), who was quite visually handicapped and poking about in a upright dining room cabinet which doubled as the speaker’s podium and had a microphone affixed to it’s top. Inside the cabinet small oil and vinegar bottles were stored before being placed on the dining tables with the dinner salads.

Although the young man was repeatedly telling the speaker that only vinegar and oil bottles were stored in the cabinet, the legally blind speaker persisted in rummaging about in the cabinet as if looking for something else to be there. (It was quite strange and an oddly-amusing affair). I do not recall learning what Mr. Compton actually thought might have been nestled within the cabinet.

As the speaker finally settled down behind the podium and the microphone was adjusted to his satisfaction, the lights in the dining room dimmed and the slide presentation and the experts lecture simultaneously began. The first slide was a photo of an unfurled American flag. Mr. Compton said, “I always show this slide first because I believe in truth!” A voice from somewhere the darkness chimed in with something about “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” but, Mr. Compton didn’t seem to be distracted by this comical comment as he continued, “I’ve been investigating UFO reports for many years, and let me make it perfectly clear… I’m no contactee! However, I do know a few, and if you listen to what I have to say you will be endowed by the friendly saucers and able to protect yourself from the hostiles”

Then a barrage of slides was shown in rapid succession with a quick explanation concerning the photographer/witnesses credibility and the date and location of the alleged incident. Many of the photos were quite old and were obviously borrowed from UFO books and group journals. Most were poorly centred in the frame, blurry and of quite distant or small objects.(Were they insects on the wing, birds, Frisbees or alien space ships, stars or planets, it was quite difficult for anyone to tell with any degree of certainty).

Then Mr. Compton warned the audience of the dangers of approaching the Globe, Football-shaped and Bee Hive-like UFOs and how to thwart their attacks with a common hand-held flashlight. Apparently, one could also use the flashlight to perform a ‘UFO Friendship Test’, which was fully explained in Mr. Compton’s 32 page pocket-sized booklet which was on sale in the rear of the hall.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Mr. Compton’s presentation concerned his revelations concerning a middle-aged woman (Mrs. Brotmann), who was out walking her beagle puppy at sunset on a summer’s eve when she was struck down by fleeting a 2.5 to 3 inch diameter UFO.

According to Compton, Mrs Brotmann had just been bending over while adjusting her puppy’s collar and as she was starting to straighten up she was shocked to see the tiny UFO flying straight towards her face. She tried to take evasive action but, the glowing UFO was travelling so fast that it hit her squarely in the forehead knocking her to the ground, lodging itself in her brain! A bit dazed and bewildered Mrs Brotmann finally regained her composure and was amazed to realize that there wasn’t a mark on her face to show where the UFO had entered her cranium. Amazingly, after this incident Mr Brotmann’s IQ was greatly enhanced and according Mr Compton she is now an engineer (Type not specified).

Would it be a stretch of sceptical speculation to point out that the flag slide and the ‘engineer’ connection in the Mrs. Brotmann story seems to be a bit ‘American’ Society of Mechanical and Electrical ‘Engineers’ directed!?

An obviously concerned lady seated near the podium asked Mr Compton if he had taken Mrs Brotmann to the hospital to have x-rays taken of her head injury. Compton quickly replied that he wanted to do so but, Mrs Brotmann flatly refused treatment because of the voices in her head. Apparently, these were the voices of the UFO operators who did not want their presence publicly revealed. Moreover, the x-rays would be lethal to the tiny Venusians who reportedly have been visiting Earth since the dawning of mankind.

This was the very first of the many so-called implant stories I’ve heard of over the years. Compton dates the alleged incident to the early fifties. Naturally, I was quite shocked by the character of Mr. Compton’s presentation and followed up with a rather capsulized talk on investigative methods employed at UFORIC. After this experience I decide to avoid public speaking engagements on UFOs, press interviews and I rarely participated in radio talk show programming on the phenomenon. However, I did answer questions from the public over the phone at UFORIC because we were in fact, a UFO ‘report and information’ centre.

While the above may sound too bizarre to be a factual account, I can assure you that it is quite factual, and that even stranger/wilder yarns are presented at many UFO conferences and websites. So, is there any wonder why mainstream scientists feel that something is not quite right about these wacky UFO experts and enthusiasts? Is there not a reason to suspect that they avoid and ignore the subject for fear of being associated with the kooks and crack pots who have always populated the largely unchecked and totally unregulated Ufological landscape.

Moreover, why is it that if someone does question the validity of a reported incident, the UFO groups generally do not appreciate and applaud that individual’s objectivity and tenaciousness – rather, they label him or her a sceptic and debunker while leaping to the defence of many less than credible eyewitnesses and fantasy-prone self-proclaimed UFO experts who bandy these yarns about.

All this while the so-called serious ufologists have never proven that UFOs actually exist in the nuts and bolts sense of the word in 60 years of intensive inquiry, by thousands of group members and field investigators- not to mention the combined efforts of hundreds of professional consultants in the disciplines of metallurgy, psychology, optics, astronomy, biology, etc. etc.

Moreover these same groups invite Abduction Experts. Implant Researchers and Reversed Engineering promoters to their conferences to speak about aliens absorbing nutrients through their skin, telepathic communiqués from benevolent alien races, and the mass production of hybrid babies aboard colossal motherships which are reportedly laden with human foetuses in liquid-filled jars. (What utter and nonsensical drivel!)

What are we to think of these deluded folks who inflict themselves and their half-baked theories upon the unsuspecting public, the all-to-eager UFO group members and press with “wild” and completely “bogus” UFO tales? What are we to think of so-called serious research UFO group leaders who stand by and permit these same individuals to thrust themselves upon their membership? I actually came across a fellow (we’ll call him Fred), who had achieved some degree of acclaim in UFO circles with his outrageous crashed saucer investigations, alleged alien and MIB encounters, not to mention his own abduction report. Fred was actually an individual dealing with serious mental heath issues.

Yet, Fred and the small group he is an important member of has a growing internet following consisting of many young people who are Yahoo members, and quite a number of senior citizens who are interested in the group’s specialized senior services, such as prayer groups for those with spiritual, emotional and physical wants and needs.

Additionally, Fred had proudly posted information about his own improving mental health status and active MH volunteer contributions on the internet for all to read yet, other UFO researchers continually posted his UFO stories and reports at their sites, often thanking Fred for his contribution to ‘serious ufology’. Fred was even the focus of an article in a leading European UFO magazine. Obviously, all had taken his reports at face value and never looked into the matter of his health and veracity before listing such hokum as credible UFO sightings and alien encounters reports.

I guess that a schizophrenic could have a reliable sighting experience but, how would one be able to establish such a report as factual vs. hallucinatory in nature?

So, the question immediately arises, who is at fault here? The mental patient or the shoddy UFO researcher’s who post such potentially delusional material for UFO enthusiasts to read and readily accept as reliable data? Even the very best computer virus scans and firewalls cannot protect a serious researcher’s UFO database from that sort of contamination.


The entire alien affair reminded me of a time as a youngster, when I first saw an authentic ‘Jackolope’ at a hunting lodge. From what I later learned a taxidermist was producing the spoof-creature (A jack rabbit with small horns) for hunters who wanted to bamboozle less-experienced sportsmen in their group

EXAMPLE No.3 (The fossil remains of Mythical Creatures and Saucer Pilots).

In a 1996 book on the discovery of many mythical creature fossils, a Texas fellow, said to be a palaeontologist, is suspected of actually sculpting and otherwise fabricating the so-called skeletal remains of mythical creatures, which included mermaids from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, leprechauns and several other creative works. Although the books titled clearly identified it as being about the discovery of  ‘mythical’ creatures, one of the major UFO group leaders of the day was so may captivated by a photograph of the alleged skeletal remains of a small creature that was imbedded in a concave plaster of Paris cast. (Sort of like a little alien on the half-shell).

The ufologist thought that the skeletal remains closely resembled those of a downed saucer pilot who reportedly crashed his spacecraft just prior to the turn of the 20th century at Aurora, Texas. Indeed, a UFO report involving the landing of two cigar-shaped objects at Ledonia, Texas was reported to have happened on April 16th 1897, and the Aurora crash (about a hundred miles away) was said to have occurred the following day. The fossil find story was cautiously but, favourably promoted in the UFO group’s journal where it received wide attention by the membership. After all, if the group’s leader thinks there’s something to this story. Well, there must be something to it.

As time passed, and the story started to unravel, the group leader decided to retire albeit, without ever fully-acknowledging that he’d been mistaken about the significance of the bogus alien fossil finding at Ledonia. Jim Moseley of the zany UFO newsletter Saucer Smear, had been gently chiding the ‘Czar’ as he called the group leader about the bogus fossil; and I even drew a cartoon concerning the controversy which compared the fossil to that of Warner Brothers cartoon character ‘Marvin the Martian’, who as you may recall is actually Bugs Bunny’s outer-space nemesis.

The entire alien creature fossil affair reminded me of a time as a youngster, when I first saw an authentic ‘Jackolope’ at a hunting lodge. From what I later learned a taxidermist was producing the spoof-creature (A jack rabbit with small horns) for fun-loving hunters who wanted to bamboozle their sons and younger, less-experienced sportsmen in their group. It’s the hunter’s equivalent of “Snipe Hunting” with young boy scouts at camp for the first time.

So if we find such ‘ufoology’ flourishing at the very top of the heap in the sub cultural community of Saucerdom or (Saucerdumb), take your pick. One wonders, how deeply might such a malady infect the group’s internet list membership and the independent serious UFOlogists who look to these groups and lists for database resources? 

EXAMPLE No.4 (On the Demise of 20th Century Style Ufology)

While hearing from a researcher about the recent ‘Mexican Roswell’ report”, nd the sad state of contemporary ufology in general, the subject of the Carbondale, Pa. 1974 UFO crash came up. He was somewhat amazed to learn that a small group from Wisconsin had managed to revive the long-ago hoax, and was currently claiming it to be a genuine saucer crash that was covered up by the military and the government. In fact, they wanted people to think ‘Carbondale/Roswell’, since they believed the case was actually much more significant than Roswell, and had many more reliable eyewitnesses. (Claims which are not only completely incorrect, they’re absolutely ridiculous too!).

This group ( BUFO), is headed by an aggressive internet impresario (Mary Sutherland), who not only dabbles in saucers but, also operates an online match-making service and prayer services for those in need, while also featuring psychic readings for those daring enough to peek into their future, at very reasonable rate of just $2.95 per minute. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg on her UFO and paranormal internet enterprises which include an abductee support group and an array of items for sale at her online store and Gift Shoppe in scenic Burlington, Wisconsin.

The serious UFO researcher, who had long been studying a particular variety of UFO sighting seemed to be somewhat dismayed that all this was going on while most of the fellows he had been contacting on ’ The List’ probably felt that the Carbondale case was indeed a complete and clumsy hoax. Additionally, the Wisconsin group had established a dominate presence on the net at the <carbondale, pa. UFO crash> site, and was even skilfully promoting their crash and cover up yarns on internet radio (audio) and TV (video) links.

Of course, there is a so-called Mexican Roswell, the Kecksberg, Pa. incident which is often touted a Pennsylvania’s Roswell. The Carbondale, Pa. hoax which the Wisconsin group is actively attempting to turn into a Roswell tourist and entertainment industry – and of course, even the Rendlesham Forest case is being foolishly called the UK’s Roswell.

It seems that if you prefix or suffix the name of any downed or un-downed saucer story with the word ‘Roswell’, the story automatically takes on an added dose of mystery, conspiracy and authenticity which far over-shadows any amount of obviously embarrassing evidence that might dismiss the entire incident as a fabrication or misidentification.

For many in the UFO community, Roswell is the line in the sand over which brutally vehement controversy rages. There is little middle ground on the topic, either you believe or you do not! If you do not, you are labelled a sceptic, a debunker and someone who has simply gone over to the other side.

Even though I never publicly said I do not believe the Roswell incident is very accurately portrayed in the vast saucer literature. I have become something of a piranha in the field simply because I questioned the veracity of two alleged star eyewitnesses concerning the Roswell incident. (Both of whom were later discredited and believed to have been discredited by other proponent UFO researchers).

Continue to Part Two >>>


UFO Evidence in an American Reservoir.
Alan W. Sharp

From Merseyside UFO Bulletin, volume 6, number 1. July 1973

Alan W, Sharp takes a critical look at the classic Loch Raven Dam Case

On the evening of Sunday October 28, 1958 two friends* were out driving in the outskirts of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, at about 10.30 p.m.The winding road took them past Loch Raven Dam on an allegedly dark, moonless, clear and starry night, bereft of any bright planets. No wind eras reported so that calm conditions likely prevailed.

No information is given in the original report by Jacques Vallee concerning the existence of human habitations or street lights (except that staff in a ‘nearby’ restaurant heard an explosion at 10,45 p.m.) but of course there is always some light in the vicinity of any large town. Nor is any such information available in the more recent treatment by Hynek (2), who incorrectly places the reservoir in Delaware (Appendix I, p 239). Neither of these authors offers any explanation for the UFO sighting which the two friends Mr C and Mr S, then made as they approached the first bridge across the lake. The case is presented as yet another mysterious item of alleged UFO evidence.

Rounding a right-handed bend they approached the bridge from a northerly directions with a cliff on the left and the water to their right only to see, floating above the bridges a mysterious and alarming “egg-shaped” object about 100 feet in diameter and about the same in height at an estimated 75 to 100 feet above the superstructure of the bridge, a modified Pratt truss steel structure about twenty feet high at the top points of its two independent spans. Thus the UFO was, according to Messrs C and S, one hundred feet or more off the ground at roadway levels though it seems likely that this figure was an  overestimate.

On first noticing the hovering UFO the men were travelling at between 20 and 30 m,p.h. at a distance of some 200 to 300 yards from the bridge, but speed was immediately reduced to around 10 – 12 m.p.h, Eventually when the car was a mere 25 yards from the bridge it suddenly stopped, the engine went dead and all the lights went out, just as well, perhaps for otherwise the intrepid friends, who thought the object might have been some sort of ‘blimp’ (balloon) would have found themselves on the bridge more or less immediately under the UFO!

Turning the ignition on failed to energise the starter motor, and Messrs C and S were now “pretty frightened”. Nevertheless they contrived to observe the UFO through the windscreen (which must have been difficult in view of the UFO’s — by then –presumably highly elevated position) for an unspecified length of time before getting out of the car and running behind it for some protection. (How this position helped is hard to see if the object under surveillance was so close so high and so large as it was reported to be.)

After a further lapse of about half a minute during which they were now “terrified” (S) the UFO which had “been glowing with an irridescent glow” seemed to flash “a brilliant flash of white light”, (C )and seemingly gave off a terrifically bright light, (S) whilst “at the same time we felt a tremendous heat wave” (S) and both “felt
 heat’ on our faces” (C) -  but: “It didn’t seem like the heat of a burning object but something like an ultraviolet light or some kind of radiation”. (S)Concurrently with the flash of bright light there was a loud noise, described as a “dull explosion” by C and as a “tremendous thunder” by S. This was the sound heard by the other people in a ‘nearby’ restaurant. “Then very quickly, so that you couldn’t get the proper sequence of events the object started to rise vertically. The only different feature it had while it was moving was that it was very bright and the edges became very diffused so that we couldn’t make out the shape as it rose. It took from five to ten seconds to disappear from view completely. We were very frightened”.

The two men thereupon got in their car, which now functioned normally, and drove home poste haste to report their experiences to the police. They asked the policemen if they had noticed if the witnesses face’s were red but the police said they had not., Subsequently the two men went to a local hospital for a check-up and a doctor said C’s face was slightly red but S’s was not. Next day S said that his face was noticeably a little redder. He later remarked: “I hoped what I did see would add to the national interest or national information that would maybe help understand these things a little better. I do know there are at least such things now as UFOs”.’

The experience had become a UFO sighting of the ‘close encounter’ type and displayed a good many familiar, awesome overtones; putting these aside however, what did the sighting amount to?

Two men saw an unexpected object which they considered bore some resemblance to a Naval ‘blimp’ stationary a short distance above the ground. After a few minutes they witnessed a bright flash of light from the object and simultaneously heard the sound of an explosion. The object then quickly rose up and disappeared.’
The answer is simple. The UFO was a balloon, a large partly deflated balloon carrying a payload. The payload was jettisoned by the activation of an explosive charge (3) and the balloons lightened of its burden, quickly rose up out of sight. The battery on the balloon evidently run down, was unable to provide much current to the balloon’s light until after the severance when the light came on and illuminated the underside of the fabric.

No doubt the payloads which might already have been partially submerged, disappeared into the lake, probably. on the north side of the bridge judging from a photograph in Vallée’s book, but the men were too excited to hear any splash there may have been. Presumably this payload is still lying on the bottom of the reservoir. Someone should go and retrieve it, just out of interest. It might also be of some scrap value.

As far as the car electrical malfunctioning is concerned, if Venus can perform this feat from a distance of over twenty million miles why not a balloon from a hundred feet or so? One is reminded of the case mentioned by Craig on page 761 of the Condon Report (4) where a cylindrically-shaped balloon released from Boulder, Colorado, eventually found its way to the Azores where it was sighted – and stopped all the clocks! For some reason one never reads of the most likely reason for malfunctions of car electrics, namely loose or dirty contacts and run-down batteries. Such things are common sources of failure, especially in autumn and winter. Why do the cars (often) start again after a while? Because the contacts have improved and/or batteries recover sufficiently when relieved of load for a time.

My advice to ufologists? Do not take too much notice of ufological electrical failures in cars and, if you live within striking distance, go and recover the lost treasure of Loch Raven, provided the authorities haven’t beaten you to it. They may not have done so, however for the good reason that neither the USAF nor Project Blue book evaluated the sighting at the time and no-one (including Drs Vallée and Hynek) has been able to do do since.


  1. VALLEE, JACQUES and JANINE, Challenge to Science. Neville Spearman, London. 1966. (pp 191-194)
  2. HYNEK, J ALLEN, The UFO Experience; a scientific enquiry. Abelard Schuman. 1972. (pp 215, 221, 222)
  3. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. Bantam Books. 1969. (pp 755-760)
  4. Ibid,, pp 760-761

* The witnesses have subsequently been named as Philip Small and Alvin Cohen


Roy Dutton responded to Alan Sharp’s article in the following issue,  August 1973

Whilst attempts to remove the elements of mystery from UFO stories are to be welcomed, in my view Alan Sharp stretches the bounds of credibility too far in his rationalisation of the Loch Raven Dam incident. (MUFOB 6.1)Alan Sharp’s first error seems to be his interpretation of the word ‘blimp’, used by the witnesses to describe the object. ‘Blimps’ were not merely balloons but non-rigid airships, used by the US Navy for coastguard and other duties as recently as the mid-1960s. Since these things patrolled the Eastern seaboard, one would expect residents in the Baltimore area to have been well acquainted with them, even at night.Familiarity with Navy blimps could account for the fact that the Loch Raven witnesses continued to travel on towards the object, despite its unusual location and unfamiliar appearance. From the description of the object, they probably interpreted what they saw as a three-quarters frontal view. It is my guess that initially they were eager to get as close as possible, because the opportunity

 to witness an airship some 280 feet long and having a mean maximum diameter of about 80 feet (typical dimensions for a USN blimp) can be guaranteed to draw a crowd anywhere in the world. Only when the car engine died and the sights went out would their excitement become anxiety, and by then they had approached too close to the object for comfort.
Assuming that the underside of the object was in some way illuminated, as the report implies, the witnesses should then have been able to discern whether the thing hovering virtually overhead had the necessary excrecences to qualify as a blimp – an underslung cabin, engine nacelles and, perhaps, large control surfaces at the rear. I suggest that when the witnesses finally clambered from, and crouched behind the car, they had become very convinced that the object was not what they had originally assumed it to be, and naturally felt extremely vulnerable with only the windscreen separating them from ‘it’.

From this point in the incident it must be conceded that the subsequent events were witnessed by two men in a state of near panic. The obsessional concern for their faces after the flash of the explosion and the subsequent facial reddening could be attributed to an induced state of hysteria. (This should not be interpreted as implying inherent emotional instability; it could happen to anyone after a traumatic experience of the kind described.)

Alan Sharp’s explanation of the explosion seems attractive at first, but it is difficult to believe that so much explosive energy would be required to jettison a payload package, even one of large proportions; and surely, an airship would jettison ballast (water) to gain height. Consequently, it is my view that although the jettison idea may be just compatible with the met. balloon theory, it is an improbable suggestion for an incident involving an airship, unless the craft involved had been conducting some clandestine military experiment.

Finally, I wish to deal with the subject of car electrics. During some thirteen years of motoring I have never known an electrical failure of the kind described in this report. The fact is that although such failures are not impossible, they are highly improbable.
Consider the case of the faulty or run down battery. From my own experience, as soon as the engine is running above tick-over speeds, which is usually the case when the car is moving and in gear, the dynamo will continue to supply power to all the electrical equipment, even when the battery has been completely flattened. Further, since it is possible to remove the battery altogether after starting the engine, loose or corroded battery terminals seem to be irrelevant in the context of the Loch Raven report.

I suggest that only a large induced back-E.M.F., a massive short circuit of the electrical supply (albeit for a short period), or an improbable sequence of faults and chance events could produce such a complete systems failure as the one described.To conclude, without the failure of the oar electrics it would be reasonable to believe that the witnesses had seen a USN airship in unusual circumstances, (The Wallops Island Naval weapons testing stationer is only 100 miles or so to the south of Baltimore, and this thought must have occurred to the Blue Book investigators) but as events stand, in my view the Loch Raven object must surely remain unidentified. 


Seeing Things. Patrick Harpur

From Magonia 42, March 1992

I have always felt uneasy about the complacency with which ufologists repeat the assertion that 90% (or 95%) of UFO sightings are misidentifications of ordinary aerial objects such as stars, planets, birds, clouds, aircraft, etc. (I don’t believe in weather balloons); or else of natural phenomena such as patches of light, optical reflections etc. (whatever they are). I don’t like the superior air which creeps into reports of UFOs which turn out to have one of these simple explanations. It reminds me of a school seniority system: the scientists look down on the ufologists for believing in UFOs, and the ufologists, who want to become (of all things) scientists, look down on poor benighted passers-by who mistake simple weather balloons (or whatever) for what they are pleased to call genuine UFOs.

At a Magonia conference in Mortlake some years ago, we listened briefly to a radio phone-in on UFOs which happened to coincide with the conference. How we all hooted when Val of Peckham rang in to say that she had been disturbed by a weird light in the sky! It had seemed to be watching her, it was definitely intelligent, she had come over all funny, etc. It was obvious from her description that the light in question was a planet. John Rimmer, our kindly host, quelled the derision by reminding us that Val’s experience was in a sense the very stuff of ufology — indeed, that many of the eminent ufologists present had been seized by the subject through just such an encounter, mistaken or not. We were suitably chastened. 

And so we should be. After all, if I may lapse for a moment into fancy existentialist talk, Val had been confronted in her fallen inauthentic condition with a sense of the uncanny. This idea plays a key part in Heidegger’s philosophy, for uncanniness is the hallmark of those moments in one’s life when, as he says, angst brings Dasein (being-there) face to face with its terrible freedom — either to dwell in inauthenticity or to make a bid for self-possession. (More particularly, the uncanny is the summons of conscience, at which we experience a primal guilt — Schuld– at the fact that the source of our being is a nothingness or, rather, that our being necessarily implies the possibility of non-being. Guilt, then, may play a part in people’s reluctance to report uncanny experiences, usually put down to simple fear of ridicule… ) 

However, I didn’t get you here to show off my profound grasp of existentialism. I just want to suggest that Val had the kind of experience we all have at some time, especially as children: that of seeing a world we had been told was dead, as alive, intelligent, watchful (we all remember the sinister dressing-gown, up to no good on the back of the bedroom door). In other words, that way of seeing the world, and being seen by it, which has been derisively labelled ‘animism’, is not the prerogative of poor benighted primitives (or even of children), but an experience of reality which can strike at any time, just as it struck a couple (one of whom was, of all things, a scientist) who were driving from Shropshire to Cheshire one night in October 1983. They were lengthily and systematically hounded by an aerial object which shone menacing beams of light into their car, terrifying them. In a state of shock, and after much thought, they reported it to (of all things) the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, who passed the report on to Jenny Randles, who kindly wrote it down for us. It turned out that the couple had misperceived the moon. 

Perhaps ufology should be less concerned with the nature of the object than with the nature of perception. Here, for instance, is another well-known case of misidentification: 

“…do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea? 0 no, no, I see an Innumerable Company of the Heavenly Host crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”‘

The percipient is of course the visionary poet and artist William Blake. The ‘disk of fire’ is the sun. Blake insisted that his poems were not mere figures of speech but true accounts of the natural world, transformed (invariably personified) by the power of the creative imagination. He could see the sun perfectly well as everyone else does, as a golden Guinea; but he could also see its deeper reality as a heavenly host. He distinguished between seeing with the eye and seeing through it.

I’m not saying that there are no such things as visual errors. We’ve all seen lights in the sky which might have been UFOs, but which on closer inspection turned out to be aircraft lights or whatever. But even such simple misidentifications are not wholly neutral or without significance. They are like visual equivalents of Freudian or, more accurately, Jungian slips: they point for a moment to the Unknown which lies both in our depths and in the heights of the sky. Even when we see with and not through the eye, as it were, we are already imagining what we see. Blake’s description of the normal sun is already embroidered by a simile, ‘like a Guinea’. The whole world is an imaginative construct. There’s no such thing as a simple unadorned perception, nor a simple misperception — let alone Val of Peckham’s sighting, charged as it was with potentially frightful significance.

Was Val satisfied with the explanation that her sighting was ‘only a planet’? Was she not made to feel a little foolish, even a little cheated? And what of ‘Mrs A’ of Hollington, West Sussex, who was watching television on 4 October 1981, when she felt ‘compelled’ to go to the window, only to see a large bright yellow object in the sky? Joined by her daughter-in-law Janette, the two women watched astonished for half an hour as the object wobbled, pulsated and repeatedly changed shape. Several times, as an aircraft passes nearby, the object emitted smoke and hid itself behind a cloud. Janette saw lights on, and structural sides to, the object. Both women suffered severe recurrent headaches over the following weeks — a sure sign of a close encounter — and Mrs A experienced a 14-hour blackout four days after the sighting. The witnesses were convinced they had seen a spacecraft piloted by aliens. Investigation revealed that the object had been the moon. 


If Blake had been running the phone-in when Val of Peckham rang in, he would not have told her that she had misidentified a planet; he would have said she was privileged to have glimpsed the awesome form of foam-born Venus rising in splendour from the sea of night

The usual ‘explanation’ for such lunatic experiences is ‘projection’. The term, derived from Freud and the early Jung, is taken to mean that images from the unconscious are thrown forward, by-passing consciousness, on to the world or on to objects in the world (the night sky makes a particularly handy screen) where they are perceived as something external. This has come to mean that the images are ‘only subjective’ but are wrongly seen as objective. (Jung became much more equivocal about projection as a result of his alchemical studies.)

However, as Lee Worth Bailey, among others, has argued (in ‘Skull’s Lantern: psychological projection and the Magic Lantern’, Spring, 1986), the idea of ‘projection’ is a metaphor drawn from the model of the magic lanterns which caused so much excitement in the 19th century. While the common people were astounded and terrified by the slide-shows which tended to project images of ghosts and demons, experts and debunkers delighted in exposing the ‘fraudulence’ of these images. Scientists like David Brewster (d. 1868) published widely read descriptions of how the magic lanterns worked and went on to claim that all so-called visions and apparitions were attributable to them. He asserted that ancient priestcraft employed similar devices to trick people into believing that gods and daemons exist when they were, in fact, only projected delusions.

This notion was to influence Freud who deprecated visions as ‘nothing but projections’. And, naturally, just as we tend to model the psyche on our own machines (it’s computers now), so it was not long before the magic lantern became the model for our own heads out of which subjective images were projected on a soulless world of objects. The psyche became restricted to the skull, and any of its images encountered outside became delusions which had to be withdrawn back inside. Thus the autonomous myth-making imagination was reduced to a kind of cine-projector which mechanically threw out fraudulent visual, images — and to hell with the powerful affecting visions of poor benighted bystanders.

I suggest that the idea of projection won’t wash. It’s simply the corollary of Locke’s equally erroneous description of the mind as a ‘blank sheet of paper’ which passively receives the stamp of external sense impressions. We should rethink our epistemology along the lines of a Blake, understanding that our primary mode of perception is imaginative. We simultaneously see and transform the world. As the ancients knew, the moon is not just a barren planet but a dangerous goddess liable to induce delusions or revelations, madness or mystical experience; and if my two examples are anything to go by, she potentially still is.

We have been brought up with a literal-minded world-view. We demand that objects have only a single identity or meaning. We are educated to see with the eye only, in single vision. When the preternatural breaks in upon us, transforming the profane into something sacred, amazing, we are unequipped for it. Instead of seizing on the vision, reflecting on it — writing poetry if necessary — we react with fright and panic. Instead of countering like with like, that is, assimilating through imagination the complexity of the image presented to us, we feebly phone scientists for reassurance. We are told we are only ‘seeing things’ and so we miss the opportunity to grasp that different, more primordial order of reality which lies behind the merely literal.

I’m not suggesting that we strive only to see the world as visionaries. To perceive all aerial objects as angels — to see only the heavenly host sun and not the guinea sun — leads to the madhouse. It is just as literal-minded as seeing a light in the sky as only a ball of hot gas or a barren planet, or an extraterrestrial spacecraft. This, too, is a kind of madness, albeit established and called normal. The remedy is to cultivate a sense of metaphor which, as its etymology suggests, is the ability to ‘carry across’ — to translate one view of the world in terms of another. Sanity is the possession of what Blake called ‘double vision’, which allowed him, for example, to see “with my inward eye … an old man grey / With my outward a thistle across the way.”

If Blake had been running the phone-in when Val of Peckham rang in, he would not have told her that she had misidentified a planet; he would have said she was privileged to have glimpsed the awesome form of foam-born Venus rising in splendour from the sea of night. She might then have been emboldened to prise wider that momentary crack in literal reality and to enter that other, imaginative Reality which alone infuses the world with beauty and terror. We don’t need to see UFOs in order to enter that Reality because, to the poetic imagination, everything in the sky –stars, birds, clouds, balloons — is a UFO whose final reality can never be known.

The Case of the Little Man of Renève. Hilary Evans

If, ten years ago [1976], you had been a subscriber to the highly reputed Phenomenes Spatiaux, you would have been pleased to find that dramatic sightings were not confined to the sensational media. For here was a case which, while there were no indications of a UFO, certainly seemed to involve an entity not of this world.

As so frequently happens, the case dated from thirty years earlier; though as happens less rarely, the witness gave interesting reasons for the delay, as we shall see. Regrettably it was a single-witness observation: on the credit side was the fact that the solitary witness was the local curé, know in the report at the Abbé X. He served as parish priest in the small village of Renève, a village of fewer than 400 inhabitants near Dijon, from 1936 to 1947. This was his account:

“On a fine afternoon in April 1945 I went out hunting for mushrooms. Towards 6pm I was on my way home when I saw a likely-looking spot, and I was actually on my knees for a closer inspection when I suddenly saw a little fellow 15 to 17 cm tall, running swiftly to one side of me, He seemed out of breath and alarmed, though not so much so as to prevent him passing within 30cm of me, giving me an intense look as he did so.

“My first reaction was to grab hold of him, but I didn’t because of a sort of stalk or spike which he carried, which was taller than him by about 2cm. He disappeared into a nearby copse, without my being able to stop him, much as I would like to have entered into communication with him. I returned home kicking myself for not having made more of my opportunity.”

He planned to return the following day either in hope of seeing the entity again, or at least of seeing if there were any traces, but bad weather prevented him. He described the entity as ‘a miniature man’, with a man’s proportions, seemingly of 70 to 75 years of age. It was grey-haired, bearded, chubby-cheeked and with a very expressive face. It was wearing a one-piece suit, seemingly of rubber, although thirty years later he felt it might have been plastic.

The entity made no sound during the twenty seconds the sighting lasted. The priest had the impression that it was both nervous of and curious about himself. He never felt any doubt that he had seen something ‘real’ – not a ghost or a visionary being, not a robot.

What did he think it was? At the time, influenced by recent reading on the subject of evolution, he felt that he had seen some kind of primitive being related to man, that had failed to evolve. But when he told his story he was met with indifference, even scepticism. “It’s no fun being considered mentally sick or subject to hallucinations,” he said, so he gave up trying to tell people about his experience; but he always hoped that one day a learned society might take an interest in the case.

“Had anyone reported a flying saucer or something of that sort in the area,” he said in 1975, “I would have thought along different lines, and not been sidetracked into thinking it was some offshoot of the human species; instead I would have concluded that this remarkable apparition was an extraordinary being. In such a case, of course I should have behaved quite differently – I’d have hurried to report it to the gendarmes, so that they could investigate it formally.”It was a great relief to him when, having learnt of the existence of GEPA, the French group which publishes Phenomenes Spatiaux, he found people ready to listen seriously and sympathetically to his story and, moreover, provide him with a plausible explanation for what he had seen.

But just how plausible was that explanation?

Enter ADRUP.

Reneve falls within the area covered by ADRUP, the Association Dijonnaise de Recherches Ufologiques et Parapsychologiques. ADRUP consists of a small group of enthusiastic researchers who interest themselves in anomalous happenings of all kinds, publishing their findings in Vimana 21, an excellent review which combines lively writing with solid documentation.

Apart from coping with new cases as they come in, ADRUP also reviews outstanding cases of the past, and carries out such counter investigation as may be feasible. The last time anything remarkable happened at Renève was back in the sixth century, when a Visigothic princess named Brunehaut was punished for her misdeeds by being dragged naked behind an untamed horse until she died. The more recent case of the Abbé X seemed more susceptible to re-examination.

ADRUP’s members felt that GEPA had come somewhat prematurely to their conclusion that the priest had encountered an extraterrestrial. After all, no UFO had been seen, the entity had never left the surface of our planet; and that though creatures of that size do not normally wear clothing, many dog-owners provide their pets with winter coats, to say nothing of organ-grinders’ dogs and other showbiz canines.

At the same time, ADRUP saw no reason to doubt that the Abbé had indeed seen a very real ‘something’. Their investigations established that the priest was still alive, though no longer living at Reneve; and they were able to interview him. What bothered them was a certain ambiguity about what he thought he had seen. Though he had abandoned the ‘unevolved human’ hypothesis in favour of the ‘extraterrestrial’ according to the report in Phenomenes Spatiaux, and though he now referred the ADRUP investigators to the article there – “You’ve only got to read what M. Fouéré has written, it’s very good” – this seemed to be contradicted by something else he said, to the effect that it hadn’t been an extraterrestrial: “You mustn’t think of it as a little green man”. In other words, even if the entity had come from a flying saucer, it was essentially human in appearance. Even if he had managed to grab hold of it, he told ADRUP, he wouldn’t have exhibited it at fairs, it was a human being …

On the way home, turning over in their minds what the priest had said, the investigators’ minds began to consider possible alternatives. And perhaps it was his remark about fairs which got them thinking on the lines of a monkey that might perhaps have escaped from a circus. For the appearance of some kinds of monkey is remarkably human, and moreover, human in the way that a very old man looks, grey-haired and bearded.

So ADRUP started looking into the possibility that there had been a circus in the Reneve area. But letters to every possible source of information produced negative replies. 1945 was, after all, the final year of the war in Europe, and few if any circuses had got going, and there were none reported in the Dijon area. Additionally, the kind of monkey most often featured in circuses wasn’t the most likely one to match the Abbé’s description.

But further talks with the villagers opened up another line of investigation. M. Huot the butcher, knife in hand, told them that in 1945 a regiment from French North Africa had been stationed in the neighbourhood. A new train of thought suggested itself: African regiment … African continent.. exotic animals… monkeys … What about a regimental mascot?

The next task was to establish which African regiment had been stationed near Reneve; which brought them up against bureaucracy as only the French know it. Each department they contacted dodged the question on grounds of official secrecy or some such, until eventually they found themselves back where they began.Then luck came their way. A local historian, who had previously said he was unable to help them, phoned to say he’s just remembered that there had been a girl of the district who had married a soldier from the regiment that had been stationed locally. The wedding had taken place at a church 7km north of Renève. A visit to the mayor not only confirmed the marriage but produced the present whereabouts of the couple. And a letter brought them some suggestive information.The husband, then in Regiment CTA 154 of the Armée de l’Air, had been stationed at Reneve from the end of 1944, through the early months of 1945 (the Abbé had had his experience in April 1945). And yes, there had been a regimental mascot - a German Shepherd dog.

BUT the dog had been stolen (Query: who in their right minds would steal a German Shepherd dog from a regiment of tough soldiers? But we’ll let that pass …); and to replace the dog they’d found a monkey.

And not just any old brand of monkey, but one of the marmoset type which was most liable to resemble the Curé’s ‘little man’. The grey hair, the beard, the wrinkled face but chubby cheeks, the frightened but inquisitive eyes, all matched. The sticking up spike could have been the creature’s tale; and as for the clothes, yes, said the soldier, they would often dress it up in clothes. And he added that it was perfectly possible that the monkey might have escaped from where he was kept in a mill not far from where the priest had seen his entity.It was, to say the least, a remarkable coincidence that, at the time of the priest’s sighting, there should have been in the vicinity a monkey of the kind most likely to be described as ‘human’ in appearance, wearing clothes, liable to be wandering around on its own, and just the right size.


The Moral

So ADRUP send their dossier to the Abbé for his comments. He wrote back, politely but firmly: “Your theory is ridiculous, and stems from pure imagination. I am sorry to be in total disagreement with your theory, which quite simply doesn’t ring true. So let your little monkey rest in peace, and let the little humanoid of Reneve rest in peace …”Oh yes, there is a moral there.

It’s All In The Mind. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 15, April 1984

This article was originally a paper presented at the second Anglo-French UFO conference held in Brighton, 30th March – 1st April 1984

It would appear that in certain quarters this magazine has gained the reputation of being part of the ‘it’s all to the mind brigade’, whatever that might menu. It seems worthwhile therefore to give a résumé of the sort of ideas about which Magonia Editors are speculating.

First, it must be realised that Magonia is not a monolith. Although we exchange ideas so much that it sometimes becomes impossible to say with certaintly who first thought of what, the Editors do have different views, and fit what follows I can therefore only speak for myself.

When I first became interested in the subject as a schoolboy in the early 1960′s I naturally supported the ETH, and was a hardcore supporter of the ‘nuts and bolts’ school. Having been weaned on Aimé Michel and Donald Kehoe I had no time for contactees. During these early years I read most of the old books on the subject, and swallowed most of the ufological clichés.

My parents were none too happy about my chosen hobby, and warned that many people who believed in ‘flying saucers’ were cranks. With the rashness of youth I disregarded their warnings; but when, in the autumn of 1968, I and a couple of school-friends joined the local flying saucer society I found my parents were right, and that many ufolologists were cranks!

My parents were none too happy about my chosen hobby, and warned that many people who believed in ‘flying saucers’ were cranks

Not only that, but I soon discovered that by reading a dozen or so books on the subject I had obtained as good, or better, a grasp on the subject as people who had allegedly been studying UFOs for 25 years. Many of the members appeared to have read nothing beyond George Adamski, and appeared to have been entranced since about 1952. It occurred to me that many seemingly impressive cases may actually have been investigated by people like this. My doubts grew. It was probably the Apollo 8 moonshot that destroyed my naive faith in the ETH. The idea of electromagnetic spaceships visiting the Earth seemed somehow absurd.My disillusionment made me increasingly open to the ideas of John Keel, whose articles had been appearing in FSR; and John Michel’s Flying Saucer Vision had reawakened an interest in folklore. It was in this climate that I encountered MUFORG Bulletin, and its successor, MUFOB. I was an instant convert!

By now I had also examined Fort’s data for 1904/05, which set UFO reports in a radically new context. I had also begun to take a serious interest in parapsychology, and I soon realised that serious psychic researchers thought along very different lines from the occult gibberish which circulated In UFO groups. The final synthesis was easy. Ufologists had argued that the UFOs had always been with us, and deeply involved with human culture, and acted like apparitions. The answer seemed simple. UFOs were created by people, they were products of the human imagination, and were hallucinatory, like apparitions.

I still thought along fairly radical lines, involving collective hallucinations, psi, idea patterns and a collective unconscious possibly able to alter the physical environment. Over the intervening years I have been forced to de-escalate hypotheses as it became clear that a far wider range of cases can he explained in ‘normal’ terns than was once thought possible.There are however still a fair number of cases among the 5000 or so in INTCAT which resist interpretation in terms of simple misidentification. These are cases in which an object (with or without humanoids) is observed in someone’s backyard for example, where if the record is a true one, and the report is not a hoax, then it must be either a subjectively real or an objectively real occurrence.

At this point it might be useful to lay aside one of the great red herrings which still crop up in such discussions; the notion that only the mentally ill have hallucinations. There is little evidence to support this idea, which has recently been resurrected by Ian Cresswell [1]. On the contrary, it is generally recognised that psychotic subjects tend to have auditory hallucinations [2], rather than visual.Though interpretation is a matter of dispute, there is no doubt that many people have apparitional experiences [see 3,4,5,6]. Similarly, there is no doubt that people have ‘out of the body’ experiences [see 7, 8] which are also best thought of as being hallucinatory in nature.

The hallucinatory theory of apparitions developed historically because ghosts wore clothes, and were sometimes accompanied by animals or artifacts. Also ghosts could sometimes be seen by one person but not by another. Clearly this tended to dispute the traditional idea of ghosts as temporarily materialised spirit forms, as spirit clothes and spirit carriages are most unlikely. Furthermore, anything actually perceived by means of photons reaching the retina would he visible to all ably sighted people in the vicinity. So if apparitions are not perceived by means of photons, they are by definition hallucinatory.

Various psychic researchers have tried to find ways of accounting for apparitions by non-hallucinatory means [9,10] but without success. On critical exarnination their theories turn out either to mean nothing at all, or to introduce hallucinations by the back door, albeit hallucinations of a rather particular kind.Everyone has one kind of hallucination – dreams, which can be intensely vivid. It is usually assumed that one can tell the difference between sleep and waking, but this might well depend on context. If one wakes up in bed, the previous out-of-context experiences can easily be judged to be dreams.Certain kinds of hallucinatory experience account for a high proportion of apparitional lore. The most common of these are hypnogogic and hypnopompic imagery, and false awakening. These experiences are discussed in the various works of Dr. Peter McKellar  [11, 12, 13].

They were perhaps first extensively treated in a ufological context by John Rimmer and myself in the study of ‘Miss Z’ [14]. The most complete exposition of hypnopompic and hypnogogic experiences in a UFO context is that by the Australian researcher Keith Basterfield [15]. Though Basterfield’s arguments are probably too compressed to convince those who have not closely followed the same lines of reasoning, they are still impressive.

Some critics of Basterfield have tried to argue that hypnogic and hypnopompic experiences are so fleeting that they could not possibly generate UFO experiences. However, an examination of both the standard works by McKellar, and the literature on apparitions, clearly suggests that some of these experiences can be quite prolonged. One critic has gone so far as to suggest, apropos of false awakenings, that people who can’t tell the difference between their dreams and bring awake are stark staring bookers – or words to that effect! Not having had a vivid false awakening, myself, I put this view to a friend who has. He was quite emphatic that the only was to distinguish a false awakening from ‘reality’ was by context. A false awakening was not a hazy dream, but absolutely realistic.

My friend’s false awakening, involved him getting up, shaving, having breakfast, going to work, exactly as in ‘real life’. Eventually he became able to recognise minute differences in a clock. He then realised he was dreaming, and was able to initiate a ‘lucid dream’. If such a false awakening had happened whilst he was sleeping in a chair, and the dream had ended with him ‘returning’ to the chair, there would have been no way in which he could have determined that it was in fact a false awakening.

After a long drive the motorist will commonly report that at some point in the journey he ‘woke up’ to realise that he had no awareness of some proceeding period of time

Other circumstances in which hallucinatory effects can occur include driving at night, piloting a jet plane and watching a radar screen [16, 17, 18]; all circumstances in which UFO experiences are known to occur. ‘Highway Hypnosis’ is a recognised psychological description, as is the ‘time-loss’ which leads motorists to fear UFO abduction. As Graham Reed points out: “After a long drive the motorist will commonly report that at some point in the journey he ‘woke up’ to realise that he had no awareness of some proceeding period of time” [19, p.18]. Reed relates this experience to a loss of attention to surrounding scenery which tends to occur on long, straight stretches of road. It is not difficult to envisage this happening if the subject’s mind was preoccupied with other topics – a frightening UFO experience, say?

A very high percentage of close encounter cases involve people driving through rural areas at night, when conditions are just right for illusions, distortions of judgement, and hallucinations. Although very few such cases are publicised, conversations with motorists will often elicit details of a variety of hallucinatory / illusionary effects, including bizarre distortions of the landscape (compare with the Biet Bridge case), hallucinations of figures crossing the road, etc. No doubt the famous ‘phantom hitch-hiker’ of popular folklore has its origins in the ‘phantom companions’ experienced by fatigued drivers.

The nocturnal driver’s UFO experience is often initiated by a sense of either physical danger (‘a plane’s going to crash on me’) or social danger (‘the cops are after me’). In such situations an explanation in terms of ‘flying saucers’ can be a temporary relief. Since the publicity given to the Betty and Barney Hill story, however, the fear of abduction by space people has grown considerably, and may run in definite, media inspired, social panics.

As Allen Hendry has shown (20] the presence of multiple witnesses in closed groups can lead to mutually reinforced fantasies and panic. In many such cases the published summaries may obscure rather than illuminate the process of mutual reinforcement. An excellent example of this is provided by the Travis Walton case [21]. My interpretation of this is simple: I believe that Walton and colleagues saw some sort of light. Walton jumped out to investigate, whereupon the others, seeing a dash of light and Walton fall, drove off. They then began, probably unconsciously, to escalate the solidity and ominous nature of the threat, in order to justify their panic. By the time they reached the authorities they had no doubt convinced themselves that they had seen a detailed, structured object.

The explanation of Walton’s own experience, I would suggest, was rather similar. Clearly he received a shock of some kind and went into a fugue state, from which he recovered a couple of days later. The abduction sequence was probably a dream triggered by the same fears – though it was probably embellished and polished at a later date.

The emotional reactions encountered in the regression of ‘abduction’ victims is very closely paralleled by those who have undergone regression to ‘past-lives’ [22]. In both these cases such fantasies can generate real physical effects – weals, scars, etc.

Celia Green and Colin McCarthy, in their studies of apparitions, out of the body experiences and lucid dreams, connected these together as examples of ‘metachoric experiences’, in which the percipient’s whole environment is replaced by an hallucinatory one. It is interesting to divide these experiences into two types:

1. ‘Magonia’ intruding into the percipient’s real (apparitions, religious visions, CEIII’s)

2. Percipient intruding into ‘Magonia’ (OOB’s, near-death experiences, abductions, past lives).

The second type involves a much more complete break with consensus reality, and can generate profound symbolism and powerful emotional responses.If metachoric experience can be generated by external stimuli then we may have a clue to some of the truly extraordinary cases of misperception in which the moon and Venus appear to generate extreme effects. Could a misperception of the moon induce a metachoric experience in which all sorts of bizarre effects could be encountered? I think it highly probable that the ‘true’ UFO experience is this subjective experience which manifests itself along a continuum from misperception, triggered hallucination, metachorlc experience, dream, hoax, fiction.

If profound subjective responses can be generated by the moon or advertising planes, then they can equally be produced by plasmas, earthquake lights, or a wide spectrum of poorly understood phenomena

Before outraged readers object that this does not account for XYZ, let me make it clear that I am not placing any real limitation on the kind of phenomena both physical and psychological which might trigger such experiences. If profound subjective responses can be generated by the moon or advertising planes, then they can equally be produced by plasmas, earthquake lights, or a wide spectrum of poorly understood natural phenomena. If so, then scientific advance may be able to isolate further ‘core’ phenomena.

Nor can a discussion of mechanism really dispose of matters of ultimate causation. I cannot prove, for example, that demons are not giving people metachoric experiences, or causing them to misinterpret the moon as a spaceship; although I don’t think they are. Nor could anyone prove it: some areas are beyond rational analysis, and must presumably be taken as articles of religious faith.

It must be further emphasised that the UFO experience is not ‘all in the mind’ in the sense of being the product of the imagination of isolated individuals. It is a social and cultural phenomenon much more than a psychological one. The whole problem of the content of the kind of experiences I have been discussing is wholly unresolved. Why, for example, should hypnogogic imagery involve ‘faces in the dark’? What are the reasons behind the transcultural stereotyping in UF0 experiences?In recent years the interests of the Editors of this magazine have been increas-ingly concentrated, not on individual anomalous experiences, but on the social context within which such experiences take place, and which generates them. The experiences both condition, and are conditioned by, the beliefs of society by a process of mutual feedback. Within a social context many apparently ‘absurd’ beliefs and experiences have depth and meaning.

Research along these lines is still severely hampered because so many people in different academic disciplines remain ignorant of each others’ work and ideas. So long as this situation persists there will be a role for the non-specialist, who is not tied to a rota of routine professional reading, and who can speculate freely where academic reputations fear to tread.


  • 1. CRESWELL, Ian S. ‘Objections to the BT Hypothesis’, Magonia 11.
  • 2. WEST, Donald J. ‘Visions and Hallucinatory Experiences; a comparative appraisal’, International Journal of Parapsychology, Winter, 1960.
  • 3. TYRELL, G N M  Apparitions, Duckworth, 1953.
  • 4. GREEN, Celia and Colin McCREEERY, Apparitions, Hamilton, 1975.
  • 5. McKENZIE, Andrew, Apparitions and Ghosts. Barker, 1971.
  • 6. McKENZIE, Andrew, Hauntings and Apparitions, Heinemann, 1982.
  • 7. GREEN, Celia. Out of the Body Experiences, Ballantine, 1973.
  • 8. BLACKMORE, Susan. Beyond the Body, Heinemann, 1902.
  • 9. HART, Hornel, et. al.  Six Theories of Apparitions
  • 10. ROGO, D Scott  An Experience of Phantoms, Taplinger, 1974.
  • 11. McKELLAR, Peter. Imagination and Thinking Cohen A West, 1950.
  • 12. McKELLAR, Peter. Experience and Behaviour, Penguin, 1968.
  • 13. McKELLAR, Peter. Mindsplit, Dent, 1979.
  • 14. ROGERSON, Peter and John RIMMER. ‘Visions In the Night’, MUFOB, ns.4.
  • 15. BASTERFIELD, Keith. Close Encounters of an Australian Kind Reed, 1981.
  • 16. WILLIAMS, R. W. ‘Highway Hypnosis, an hypothesis’, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 1965.
  • 17. LUWIG, Arnold M. In TART, Charles (ed.) Altered States of  Consciousness, Wiley, 1969.
  • 18. BROWNFIELD, C. Isolation: Clinical and Experimental Approaches, Random House, 1968.
  • 19. REED, Graham. ‘The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences Random House, 1968
  • 20. HENDRY, Allen. The UFO Handbook, Doubleday, 1979.
  • 21. BARRY, Bill. Ultimate Encounter, Pocket Books, 1978.
  • 22. WILSON, Ian. Reincarnatlon, Penguin, 1902.

 Read this article in conjunction with Jacques Scornaux’s presentation at the same conference, ‘The Rising and limits of a Doubt’

The Rising and the Limits of a Doubt. Jacques Scornaux

From Magonia 15, April 1984

This article was originally presented as a paper at the Anglo-French UFO Conference held in Brighton in February 1984

Over the past few years a growing number of French ufologists have become increasingly doubtful about the existence of UFOs as a genuinely original physical phenomenon. I should like to analyse briefly the origins and limits of this doubt.

The first French ufologist to have said “the emperor has no clothes” was Michel Monnerie, in two hotly debated books. [1] He was until then a very classical ufologist, and a member of the editorial board of Lumieres dans la Nuit, the leading UFO magazine in France, from which post he was fired after publication of his second book. Monnerie’s reasons for doubting can be Summarized in two main arguments:

1. The non-specificity of the residue of unexplained cases – in other words the lack of distinction between explained and unexplained cases: exactly the same patterns and the same characteristics appear in both sets of cases. Indeed, cases with typical UFO effects have been explained: electro-magnetic effects, landing traces, humanoids, effects on animals, physiological effects, etc. I personally have investigated with friends a case which involved two witnesses, a burnt trace in a field and a howling dog – it was the rising moon: The unexplained cases have no unique peculiarities.

2. The continuity between the trivial and the extraordinary: for any phenomenon it is possible to define a set of median, or most probable characteristics (for size, colour, speed, etc.). But all these parameters are distributed about the median, and sometimes the appearance of a phenomenon is very far from the median, because of the inherent variability of the phenomenon, because of had sighting conditions or misrepresentation by the witness. It follows that the further the characteristics are from the median, the less will people be able to recognise the true nature of the phenomenon. For Monnerie, UFOs are situated at the ends of the distribution function, at the ends of a bell-shaped curve. They are thus ‘fringe phenomena’ of a larger set of phenomena, but their peripheral location is not perceived as such because ufologists remove the more central part of the curve, where the less strange phenomena are identified by the witnesses themselves or by the field investigators. Ufologists, Monnnerie says, arbitrarily call the minor misinterpretations ‘false UFOs’ and the major ones ‘true UFOs’, and do not realise that there is a perfect continuity between the two series, and that the difference between them is of degree not of nature.

But by what process does a well-balanced person (even sceptical ufologists accept that psychological cases are rare) interpret an unrecognised phenomenon as a high strangeness UFO? According to Monnerie, when there is a lessening of attention or if the witness becomes anxious, he lives in a sort of daydream. He distorts the observed phenomenon and transposes it through the unconscious influence of a rumour or myth. One of the great myths of our time Monnerie says, is the extraterrestrial concept, because it is so well suited to our scientific and technological civilization. But it must be emphasised that this type of serious misinterpretation is not pathological, and can happen to anyone. A physical support, a real object which is not identified, is always necessary; it is not a perception without object, it is not an hallucination.

Monnerie’s hypothesis was not exactly welcomed by French ufologists. But now, some years later, the situation has markedly changed. Why? It happened that as time went by an increasing number of allegedly “hard” cases – great “classics” of ufology – have been explained, not by sceptics, but by ufologists themselves. Let’s quote some examples: the well-know Leroy, Kansas, “calfnapping” case of 1897 has been explained by Jerome Clark as a hoax [2]; the famous photograph from Salem, Massachusetts, 1952 has been explained by Hynek as a reflection of lights on a window [3]; the very complex case of San Jose de Valderas, Spain, which involved two allegedly independent photographers and an object left on the ground by the UFO has been explained by Claude Poher and myself as a hoax [4].

There are serious doubts also about the renowned UFO accident case at Ubatuba – it might be an accident indeed, but involving a rocket launched by the Brazilian Army [5]. Almost all of the often quoted sightings by American astronauts have received very mundane explanations, and Hynek himself has admitted it [6]. The complex set of sightings in the north of France on October 3rd, 1954 was in fact caused by the moon (in one of these cases the moon allegedly landed, and later took off!) [7]. As a last example, the intricate French case of Taize in 1972, which had the honour of being published in FSR [8], has recently been explained by Bertrand Meheust as powerful lights around a house on the other side of the valley.

Apart from facts like these, more theoretical studies also reinforced sceptical attitudes. Several authors pointed out the many analogies of UFO sighting details with the occupations, the psychology and the fields of interest of the witnesses involved, or with traditional and classical symbols (9]. Let us also mention Alvin Lawson’s experiments: imaginary abductions induced by hypnosis gave the same details as the allegedly real abductions aboard UFOs (10]; this Is a good example of non-specificity [11].

Above all there was, for French ufologists, Bertrand Meheust’s book [12]. Meheust is not a sceptic, but the many similarities he points out between science fiction and UFOs in fact support the psycho-sociological hypothesis: almost all the UFO patterns were already present in SF novels before the Second World War (shapes, behaviour, types of entity, solid lights, physical effects, etc.). Why then search for an exotic explanation, if human symbolism and inventiveness are quite sufficient?

Firstly, it goes without saying, but goes even better for saying it, that the kind of doubt I am speaking about has absolutely nothing in common with the attitude of the lifelong sceptics

But this new and pervasive form of scepticism has its limits. Firstly, it goes without saying, but goes even better for saying it, that the kind of doubt I am speaking about has absolutely nothing in common with the attitude of the lifelong sceptics. The doubt of some French ufologists is only based on a thorough analysis of the facts and not on prejudice. No-one amongst these new French ufologists has any scientific or philosophical prejudice against the possible existence of extraterrestrial visitors or paranormal phenomena. I am certain that they are ready to reverse their attitudes if the facts require it.

Secondly, I and most of my colleagues continue to believe that there remains a small residue (although much tinier than we believed some years ago) of unexplained sightings (or perhaps we have to say more cautiously “not yet explained sightings”). But if explained and unexplained cases reveal the same patterns, what distinguishes these residual cases? Well, essential characteristics which are external to the phenomenon: number and quality of witnesses, multiple independent witnesses, psychological circumstances that exclude a hoax, or the absence of a suitable support for a misinterpretation.Let’s recognise that the reasons why we consider such and such a case as genuine are often difficult to make explicit: it is more a feeling than clear-cut reasoning. This is not to say that it is pure belief, but it may alas appear as belief to sceptics, for we have no real proof. Statistical evidence, as presented by Jacques Vallee, James McCampbell, or Claude Poher, is no longer valid, because many cases on which they are based have now been explained, and we often lack sufficient information on the remaining ones [13].

As I wrote some years ago [14], our ufological quest is a quest for the non-transmittable: although we may squire a personal conviction, we cannot pass this conviction on to ‘good faith’ sceptics (or at least not to many of them). All cases, even the ‘hardest’ ones, contain elements that legitimate a doubt. For instance, the famous Boianai, New Guinea, sightings appear at first glance to be very ‘hard’: many witnesses, object seen at short distance for some time, with humanoids and many observable details. However, Hynek had to concede that a doubt remained, because the position in the sky, and the time of disappearance of the main UFO fitted the movement of Venus [l5].

This continuing absence of really convincing proof (the problem is the same in parapsychology) is too general in this kind of phenomena to be merely bad luck. To me, it has only two possible explanations: either there is no new physical phenomenon – this is the psycho-sociological hypothesis described above – or we are faced with a phenomenon which deliberately escapes proof, that is, a phenomenon characterised by what my friend Bertrand Meheust called – in English in his French book! – “elusiveness”.

To try and solve this dilemma, I think that one of the most urgent tasks for ufologists is to attempt to determine whether the non-specificity is really total. Are there patterns which would be unique to the unexplained cases? Perhaps some details which do not appear in science fiction may be unique, like some types of physical traces, or sudden disappearances or the fusions and dislocations of UFOs. This is one of the main reasons why French ufologists recently launched the ‘Concreting Operation’, that consists of defining new and more severe credibility criteria for selecting really solid cases. Indeed it appeared that cases which figured high in the usual credibility scoring were nevertheless explainable.These new criteria, which are presently being developed by a small group of French researchers, fall into four categories: criteria concerning the phenomenon characteristics, concerning the sighting conditions, concerning witnesses, and concerning the field investigation.

More generally speaking, ufologists have now to think about the following question: what methods would allow us, on the basis of UF0 sighting reports and without prejudice about the solution, to distinguish phenomena relevant to behavioural sciences from phenomena relevant to physical sciences, and to distinguish, in the two subsets, known from new phenomena?

In any case, there is no reason to despair. I see at least two certainties in the present state of ufology: 

1. Ufologists are unanimous, even the most sceptical, on the fact that most UFO sightings have at their base a real physical stimulus that was genuinely not recognised by the witness. Hoaxes and hallucinations are rare.

2. In any event, UFO reports remain an unresolved problem and testify to the existence of at least one unknown phenomenon. Indeed, even if all the reports were triggered by the misperception of a known phenomenon (this is the minimal hypothesis) the distortion of reality would be so great and so frequent that this particular type of misperception would be in its own right an important new phenomenon, which would deserve a thorough study. This remains true even if there is a physically originated residue, because the numerous serious misrepresentations have to be explained in any case.

Because of this second certainty, ufology would not disappear if there were no new physical phenomenon. A psycho-sociological phenomenon of misinterpreted and distorted perception may be less appealing than an extraterrestrial or parapsychological one, but when it has the extent and persistence of the UFO phenomenon, is nevertheless revolutionary from the standpoint of present theories in the behavioural sciences. This, is clearly emphasised by the near absence of thorough studies of UFOs in the human sciences literature. Apart front Jung’s hook, there are practically no books, PhD theses or scientific journal articles about sociological aspects of UFOs [16]. This absence is quite strange in view of the rich study material UFO reports provide for behavioural sciences. Some sociologists even manage to write whole books on modern myths, of rumours in our society, without any allusion to UFOs! It is as if UFOs were put, as Meheust puts it, into “semantic-brackets”.

The extent and persistence of the UFO phenomenon, is revolutionary from the standpoint of present theories in the behavioural sciences

I think that this profound reluctance stems from the central dogma of the most influential school of thought in present day sociology, namely that man is an essentially rational being, whose behaviour is in most cases entirely predictable. The UFO phenomenon is an ideal case to point out the pervasiveness of myths, of irrational behaviour, even in our technological society (and to demonstrates the falseness of this dogma) because it is new (so new we can study its origin and development), frequent and perceptive (that is, based on a false perception, contrary to most myths and rumours which are based only on false reasoning and which can he qualified as cognitive). For these reasons it is also ideal for understanding the function that myths fulfil in our society. This is really revolutionary, but perhaps more in a political than a scientific sense, because both capitalist and Marxist theories are based on the assumption that man is rational. Both give a pre-eminent role to economic causes in human behaviour, and economic reasons are essentially rational.

Thus we ufologists are in any event revolutionaries! However, let us not exaggerate our power: of course we cannot seriously shake the rationalist or “economistic” dogma of our society, but we may and must be watchers, collecting and preserving as much information as we can, in the hope that sometime in the future mankind will be sufficiently adult to study these data without any prejudice in either direction [17].

References for this article will be added shortly