Thursday, September 25, 2014

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

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

1950: The Origin of the Photos

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

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

Life Magazine article. Photos are cropped, removing wires.














William K. Hartmann and the Condon Report, 1968

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpenter's truck mirror, and Trent #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2013 a group of French skeptics (IPACO) did an in-depth investigation of the McMinnville photos. They began with the usual description of the line of sight to the object in each photo, presumed suspension methods, etc. They concluded that the object is a small model.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, July 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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


Capt. Terauchi's UFO, as he reported it


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

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

Artist's conception of Capt. Terauchi's UFO

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

(Revised July 24, 2014).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Looking for Mr. Goodape - The Sequel

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

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


* * * * * * * * * * * * 


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * * * * *  
Afterwards, Beckjord wrote,

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

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


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


* * * * *



Saturday, May 31, 2014

Welcome, Space Brothers! - Unarius Hits the Cinema

The headquarters of the Unarius Academy of Science in El Cajon, CA.

The Unarius "Academy of Science" is well-known in UFOlogy as one of the few survivng institutions from the Contactee glory days of the 1950s. It was founded in 1954 by Ernest L. Norman (1904-1971) and his wife Ruth E. Norman (1900-1993, sometimes fondly known as "Spacecraft Ruthie"). Wikipedia says,
The organization purports to advance a new "interdimensional science of life" based upon "fourth-dimensional" physics principles...Since Ruth Norman's death in 1993, the organization has struggled, particularly since 2001, when a space-fleet landing prophesied by [her successor] Charles Spiegel in 1980 failed to occur. Unariuns believe in immortality of the soul, and that all people have past lives. They also believe that our solar system was once inhabited by ancient interplanetary civilizations. The aliens are said to be “human beings” who have lived on Earth and on other planets outside our solar system. They are said to be more advanced than humans, spiritually and scientifically.
Ernest L. Norman claimed to be a psychic, and to channel cosmic messages. After his death, his wife concentrated on the show-business aspects of spreading the message of Interplanetary Peace and Love.


Ruth Norman, in full interplanetary regalia

But lest you think of Unarius as an irrelevant relic, let us point out that now there is a Unarius Film Festival going on in Los Angeles this weekend, and it is reported to be selling out!
Bootlegged and coveted by collectors for decades, these films have never before been presented as works on the large screen — until now. This full-immersion weekend includes core Unarius members onstage for live Q&As, the world theatrical premiere of Unarius’ 1979 16mm masterwork The Arrival, highlights from their massive archive of public access videos — plus a Unarius costume exhibit, pop-up reading room, workshops, and tea house on Cinefamily’s back patio.
 There is talk of repeating the Unarius festival in other cities.

Unarius is conveniently located just a short drive from where I live. I'm also conveniently close to the Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee, CA. It's a very "enlightened" neighborhood! I took some photos at a Unarius ceremony in a park in El Cajon in 2005:

A Majorette leads the procession of Interplanetary Ambassadors







Friday, April 18, 2014

UFO, or Satellite Re-Entry? Finally, a List!

As "UFO Realists" (meaning, those of us who think that facts matter when it comes to evaluating UFO claims), we all realize that at least some dramatic UFO reports are misperceptions of objects burning up upon entering (or, in the case of satellites, re-entering) the earth's atmosphere. We know, for example, about the Zond IV re-entry in 1968, widely seen across the United States, and widely reported as a UFO, with "impossible details" added to what was actually visible.

Ted Molczan of Toronto, Ontario, is perhaps the world's leading civilian authority on observing earth satellites, and calculating their orbits. He is a principal contributor to the SEESAT list, the principal on-line forum of the world's serious amateur satellite watchers. Whenever observers disagree about which satellite has been seen, a pronouncement from Molczan will usually settle it. 

Supposed "Mothership" UFO, Yukon Territories, Canada, December 11, 1996
In April, 2012, Molczan was consulted about the famous Yukon "Mothership UFO" reports of December 11, 1996, which were touted as a "Top Ten" UFO case, and strongly promoted by Stanton Friedman, the "Flying Saucer Physicist." Molczan discovered that it matched perfectly with the flaming re-entry of the second stage of the rocket that had launched the Russian satellite Cosmos 2335 earlier that day. I wrote a Blog entry about this, with emphasis on the spurious details that had been added to the reports.

Previous to this, Molczan had little interest in, or exposure to, UFO reports, although a few of us skeptics had been in occasional contact with him. But this incident piqued his curiosity,  and he began to investigate: how many other reported UFO cases can be tied to satellite re-entries? Apparently, the answer was, "lots," and the result was this list, the first of its kind. It hopes to list every natural satellite re-entry (a naturally-decaying orbit, as opposed to controlled re-entries) that has been visually observed, and reported. It now runs to 20 pages of reports. Not all of the observations are taken from UFO reports. Many are from scientific observers, or press reports. Also, it does not include meteor sightings, no matter how spectacular. So famous bolide sightings like the Great Lakes Fireball of December 9, 1965 (a.k.a. the "Kecksburg UFO Crash") are not in the list.

Molczan has promised to keep the list updated, as new information becomes available. The latest copy will always be here:




Molczan recently wrote, 
I identified three more 1980's sightings just last night, all of them unsolved Australian UFO cases. That brings to 54 the number of UFOs I have identified as re-entries, beginning with the 1996 Yukon case nearly two years ago.

The comprehensive set of web pages that I intend to be the final product of this research will include general information on the science of re-entries and reports on selected individual sightings. A working prototype of the latter is the identification of David Biedny's childhood UFO sighting in Venezuela in 1974, which he and his brother disclosed on the Paracast in 2006: http://satobs.org/reentry/1974-060B/1974-060B.html
So at least 54 "UFOs" have become "IFOs," thanks to Molczan's efforts. And that "working prototype" page is pretty darn impressive! So if you are researching a historical UFO case,  you'd do well to check this list, to see if Molczan has anything about it. And a hearty cheer for Ted Molczan, for all this great work!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Carl Sagan, Laurance Rockefeller, and UFOs


 UFO researcher Shepherd Johnson of Virginia was researching Carl Sagan's papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.


He found a fascinating attempt by Laurance Rockefeller to draw Sagan into his pro-UFO advocacy (Johnson posted this to the Facebook group UFO Updates). The American billionaire Laurance Rockefeller (1910 - 2004) was the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the brother of Nelson Rockefeller. His UFO "disclosure initiative" is well-known in UFO circles. According to Wikipedia, 
 In 1993, along with his niece, Anne Bartley, the stepdaughter of Winthrop Rockefeller and the then-president of the Rockefeller Family Fund, he established the UFO Disclosure Initiative to the Clinton White House. They asked for all UFO information held by the government, including from the CIA and the US Air Force, to be declassified and released to the public. The first and most important test case where declassification had to apply, according to Rockefeller, was the Roswell UFO incident. In September 1994, the Air Force categorically denied the incident was UFO-related. Rockefeller briefed Clinton on the results of his initiative in 1995. Clinton did produce an Executive Order in late 1994 to declassify numerous documents in the National Archives, but this did not specifically refer to UFO-related files.
There are still conspiracy theories going around about Rockefeller's UFO "disclosure initiative" being suppressed by shadowy powers.

In addition to funding UFO research, Laurance Rockefeller also funded research into Crop Circles, and ESP.



SETI has no data, says Rockefeller's argument, but UFOlogy does. Sagan's reply was brief and pointed:


"A million reports that the Earth is flat has no veridical value on the shape of the Earth." - Carl Sagan.