Thursday, December 21, 2017

About those "Glowing Auras" in the Pentagon Infrared UFO Videos

Following up on the media's DeLonge Overload we wrote about three days ago, there is a lot to report. 

The program collected video and audio recordings of reported U.F.O. incidents, including footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves (emphasis added).
This struck me as a monumentally stupid thing to say, especially since a "glowing aura" was also visible in the "Groundbreaking" Chilean Helicopter Infrared video released by the "experts" in the Chilean government UFO investigations, that Leslie Kean (one of the authors of the current New York Times article) promoted so eagerly. (In that case, the "aura" was called an "envelope".) That video has conclusively been shown to depict a distant jet aircraft whose position had been misjudged.
An image from the "Groundbreaking" Chilean UFO video promoted by Leslie Kean in January 2017, later shown conclusively to be a distant jet aircraft. Kean's Chilean "expert" labeled the object's "envelope" (envoltura).
An infrared photo of John Lester Miller
I figured that these "auras" were almost certainly some kind of image processing artifact, a possibility that seems not to have occurred to the Pentagon "experts." So I consulted John Lester Miller of Cascade Electro Optics, the guy who literally "wrote the book" on Infrared Imaging. He had helped me investigate the Infrared UFOs that turned up in a video over the Bay of Campeche, Mexico in 2004, which turned out to be distant flares from burning oil wells. When I asked Miller what those "auras" might be, he replied,  

I know exactly what the glowing aura is a common image processing artifact called "ringing"....Frankly, I'm surprised the ATFLIR has it, we worked hard at [my previous company] to mitigate/eliminate this artifact.  When in "white Hot" you will see that the aura around it is dark, and when in Black hot, it is brighter than the background.  This is the image processing algorithm compensating for the large signal on neighboring pixels where the signal is not there, the algorithm doesn't know the shape of the object, and over-processes the neighboring pixels.  Very common when an object (like jet engines) are images over a cold background (like high altitude clouds).
So when various UFO "experts" talk about a "glowing aura" surrounding the objects, they are in fact admitting, "We don't know anything about infrared imaging, and we did not consult with anyone who does."

Miller says that the objects are likely distant jet aircraft, but we can't see them clearly enough to be sure. Which is itself an interesting question - why is the quality of these videos so terrible?
What perplexes me  (and is telling) is why all these IR UFO videos have such lousy quality.  Modern IR images look like Hi Def black and white TV.   All of these are out of focus, need uniformity correction and generally are crap.  We should be able to make out a shape and even count the engines, or see landing gear if deployed. A sales guy would never show a prospective customer anything like these.
Very good observations, indeed! Why are there no good, clear infrared images of UFOs, in sharp focus?

One of the two Infrared videos recently released by the Pentagon is labeled by DeLonge as the "Gimbal video."  He writes that "The filename “GIMBAL” seems to be traceable to the unusual maneuvering of the UAP," thereby proving that he has no idea whatsoever what he is talking about. Miller explains that "Gimbal is just a generic term for any electo-optical system (infrared, visible or laser) that has a two dimensional pointing mechanism."

In the days since that New York Times story burst on the scene, attention is starting to turn to the following puzzling lines in that story:
Contracts obtained by The Times show a congressional appropriation of just under $22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011. The money was used for management of the program, research and assessments of the threat posed by the objects.

The funding went to Mr. Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, which hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program.

Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena. 

Bigelow's company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of artifacts gathered from UFOs? That does not seem to be possible, but that is exactly what the Times story says. How many tons of alleged UFO artifacts must Bigelow have to need to modify buildings to store it?

Speaking of alleged UFO artifacts in Las Vegas,  I wrote in my Psychic Vibrations column (Skeptical Inquirer), January/February, 2013, concerning a UFO discussion panel held at the The National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. They had a special exhibit on "Area 51."
During the question and answer session, Las Vegas skeptic John Whiteside asked about the supposed “authentic alien artifact” in the Area 51 exhibit. The moderator referred the question to reporter George Knapp, in the audience, who (scandalously) was the source of that “artifact.” Knapp has made a career out of reporting on weird stuff like alleged saucers at Area 51, Robert Bigelow’s Haunted Ranch in Utah, etc. Who had verified that supposed artifact? The Russians, and others. Who exactly? No answer. The moderator encouraged the two to take the discussion off-line afterwards. Immediately after the close of the questions, Whiteside says he was approached by Jim Brown who identified himself as the Acting Director of the Museum. Brown berated him for asking such a question, claiming that it threatened their funding. If a Museum’s funding is threatened by asking a legitimate question, the fault lies not with the questioner, but with the Museum. Whiteside went looking for Knapp after this, no more than five minutes later, to find that he had quietly slipped out the door.
I'm thinking it's very likely that this was one of the same "UFO artifacts" that Bigelow had. If so, one would scarcely need to modify any buildings to house it.

Lee Speigel's photo of the supposed "Authentic Alien Artifact" in the Area 51 exhibit of theNational Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas.

Following up on my comments in the previous posting that MUFON board members apparently did not know that Bigelow was in essence funneling federal dollars to them (lord knows that Bigelow has enough spare dollars of his own), the following has come to light. In 2011 former MUFON director James Carrion wrote,

Mr. Bigelow did not fund MUFON’s work for BAASS, instead “sponsors” that Bigelow revealed to John Schuessler but not to the other MUFON Board Members put up the money.
We can now conclude quite definitely that the unnamed "sponsor" was in fact the federal government. Carrion also wrote,

John Schuessler, MUFON Board Member and former International Director was offered a U.S. government security clearance allegedly related to his consulting work for Mr. Bigelow. Now whether John was actually given that clearance, I can’t say for sure, but I was one of the people interviewed as part of his background investigation.
From which we can reasonably conclude that John Schuessler did know that MUFON was receiving federal funding through Bigelow, but other MUFON officials did not.

Monday, December 18, 2017

DeLonge Overload - And a Secret Federal UFO Investigations Program!

So much exciting stuff to write about, I scarcely know where to begin. I will assume that by now, everyone here has read or heard about the recent big UFO story in the New York Times. If not, here are the links for you to read about this:

This "UFO disclosure" is what Tom DeLonge has been promising for some time, and it looks like he has finally delivered something, although apparently it falls far short of what some people were expecting. DeLonge says that three UFO videos have been released, but he shows us only two. You can see them here on his website, along with his commentary.
GIMBAL video
2004 Nimitz FLIR1 video

I won't make any detailed comments about these videos yet, as many people are now looking into them very carefully, and we should know a lot more soon. I will write about them as soon as some definitive information is available. Over on Metabunk, Mick West makes a good case that these images show distant jets. In fact, they seem quite similar to the "Groundbreaking UFO video" that Leslie Kean (one of the authors of the New York Times UFO article) obtained from Chile's UFO investigations group early this year, quite conclusively shown to have been a distant jet aircraft whose position had been misjudged.

An image from the "Groundbreaking" Chilean UFO video promoted by Leslie Kean in January 2017, later shown conclusively to be a distant jet aircraft. Kean's Chilean "expert" labeled the object's "envelope" (envoltura). According to the New York Times story, the objects in the newly-released UFO videos are surrounded by a "Glowing aura"!

The most surprising "revelation" to me was that almost $22 million in federal funds were (reportedly)  secretly spent in investigating UFOs. According to the New York Times story,
The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space...
Contracts obtained by The Times show a congressional appropriation of just under $22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011. The money was used for management of the program, research and assessments of the threat posed by the objects.

The funding went to Mr. Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, which hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program. [emphasis added]

Bigelow Aerospace received  almost $22 million in federal funds to study UFOs? What happened to this money?? How was it spent?

Bigelow Aerospace "hired subcontractors"??? WHO were these subcontractors, and what research did they produce? Contracts invariably have specifications of work and deliverables. What deliverables were produced? Now that the UFO program is no longer classified, the public has a right to see whatever reports and analyses it has produced using taxpayer money.

Bigelow received his initial federal UFO funds in late 2008, and the one obvious (in hindsight) use of them was (ironically) the contract he signed with MUFON in February, 2009 to fund their "STAR Team Rapid Response UFO Investigation Unit." 
The STAR Team Impact Project (SIP) was a MUFON program funded in part by Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS) where MUFON was subcontracted to provide information from the CMS data base (website) and witness reports related to the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) directly to BAASS.

MUFON had a contract with BAASS (per the terms of the contract agreement) MUFON provided data from sighting reports that were submitted to MUFON CMS website in exchange for BAASS paying funds directly to MUFON each month. This Contract was sometimes referred to as a Purchase Agreement (purchase of information) and the project was referred to as the SIP Project (STAR Team Impact Project).

Part of this money was used to directly fund the STAR TEAM, which consisted of paid investigators who would be deployed to investigate the most compelling cases and a dispatch operation that would work continuous shifts to monitor the activity of the cases coming into the CMS website.
Unfortunately, Bigelow's deal with MUFON quickly turned sour. According to Richard Lang, who was the manager of the STAR Team, the deal soon got tangled up in financial controversy and audits, and was terminated in January, 2010. He says that MUFON only received about $324,000 total from Bigelow, a small fraction of the money Bigelow received from the federal government.

So far as I am aware (and I talk to a lot of MUFON people), none of them were aware that Bigelow was in essence passing federal funding onto them. In fact, I am sure that some of them will be upset that Bigelow was, in essence, making them unknowingly participate in a federally-funded investigation.

Data on the Federal Elections Committee website shows that Bigelow was a campaign contributor to Harry Reid.

That "Searchlight Leadership Fund" is also tied to Harry Reid, and there have been accusations of corrupt practises concerning it. In fact, accusations of corruption have long dogged Reid, who was the leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate. In 2016 Reid made the "surprise announcement" he was retiring from the Senate, in the wake of a  2015 Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s report, which found that 
 Reid pressured a compliant DHS official to override normal departmental procedures and rush through 230 EB-5 foreign visa applications, thereby freeing up $115 million the applicants invested in the SLS Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The report did not, however, reveal the now confirmed fact that the owner of that casino project had hired Reid’s son, Rory Reid, to provide legal representation for the project.

It seems very implausible that it would be possible for Bigelow to spend over $21 million in analyzing two (or maybe three) videos of purported UFOs. How was this money spent?

DeLonge may think that he has opened up a locked box to let secrets out and sunshine in. But in fact, he has just opened a giant Can of Worms.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Socorro Again: Did Zamora Simply Make the Whole Thing Up?

In the previous posting, we talked about all of the new controversies swirling around the "classic" 1964 sighting of an alleged landed UFO by Patrolman Lonnie Zamora in Socorro, New Mexico. Was it a student hoax from the adjacent New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology? Was it the landing of a propane hot air balloon? A piece of space hardware being tested? Extraterrestrials?

The issue is that there are serious problems with all proposed explanations for what Zamora reportedly saw, prosaic or otherwise. The big problem is that Officer Chavez reportedly arrived at the site just three minutes after the sighting, and both of them were soon walking in the area where the object reportedly set down, leaving marks. Whatever craft reportedly landed there sure disappeared quickly.

Lonnie Zamora

Problems with Student Hoax Theory: How exactly did they pull it off, presumably using a balloon? How did they get rid of the balloon so quickly? For that matter, how did they disappear themselves from Zamora's sight so quickly? It would have to be like a magician's disappearing act. Also, serious attempts to investigate the student hoax theory have turned up plausible rumors and implications, but so far no solid and demonstrable facts.

Problems with a Propane Hot Air Balloon: Again, the main problems is having the balloon disappear so quickly. Some investigators claim that a balloon would have to move against the wind to move as Zamora recounted.

Problems with a Test of Space Hardware (Lunar Surveyor, or Lunar Excursion Module): Could not arrive and depart so quickly. The tests of the Lunar Surveyor were carried out towing the vehicle below a helicopter, which would surely have been visible and obvious. The LEM was reportedly tested near Socorro, but not until at least a year after the Zamora incident.

Problems with an Extraterrestrial Craft. Again, we have the problem of simply too little time for a device of any construction to blast itself away completely out of sight in a short time, while leaving behind very little disturbance or evidence of its departure - IF it is following the laws of physics.

To examine that question, we need to refer back to a "classic" 1967 peer-reviewed UFO article in Science [157, 1274] by astronomer Dr. William Markowitz, "Physics and Metaphysics of Unidentified Flying Objects." I wrote about it in some length in 2012  when discussing "Is Interstellar Travel "Preposterous"? Markowitz' article was obviously intended as a reply from the astronomical community to Hynek's letter published in Science the previous year, arguing that UFOs were worthy of scientific study [154, 329, 1966]. Markowitz cites some obvious inconsistencies in Hynek's statements about UFOs.

What Zamora reportedly saw.
Markowitz writes,
First I consider the physics of UFO’s when the laws of physics are obeyed. After that I consider the case where the laws of physics are not obeyed. The specific question to be studied is whether UFO’s are under extraterrestrial control... If an extraterrestrial spacecraft is to land nondestructively and then lift off, it must be able to develop a thrust slightly less than its weight on landing… if nuclear energy is used to generate thrust, then searing of the ground at 85,000 deg C should result, and nuclear decay production equivalent in quantity to those produced by an atomic bomb should be detected. This has not happened. Hence, the published reports of landing and lift-offs of UFO’s are not reports of spacecraft controlled by extraterrestrial beings, if the laws of physics are valid.

We can reconcile UFO reports with extraterrestrial control by assigning various magic properties to extraterrestrial beings. These include ‘teleportation’ (the instantaneous movement of material bodies between planets and stars), the creation of ‘force-fields’ to drive space ships, and propulsion without reaction. The last of these would permit a man to lift himself by his bootstraps. Anyone who wishes is free to accept such magic properties, but I cannot.

Longtime UFO author and Roswell investigator Kevin Randle wrote a very surprising Blog entry on December 9 titled "Lonnie Zamora as the Hoaxster" (sic). What makes this surprising is that Randle had just published a book a few weeks earlier titled  Encounter in the Desert: The Case for Alien Contact at Socorro. Randle appears to have gone from "Zamora saw aliens" to "Zamora probably just made it all up" in about sixty seconds. He wrote,
According to what we know, no one else saw the landed craft. No one else saw it lift off and disappear in seconds. No one else saw the little beings near the craft. All of this came from Zamora and if he wasn’t telling the truth about it, well, then, the hoax becomes easier to accept. Just assume that he hadn’t really seen all these things, and some of the arguments about the alien nature of the craft and its capabilities are no longer relevant. The whole thing becomes much simpler to explain in terrestrial terms...
Although many rejected the idea that Zamora had created the hoax on his own for some unknown reason, the Zamora hoax explanation is by far the simplest. It eliminates the need for a balloon either hot air or helium filled, it eliminates the need for other participants to create the illusion of something landing there, and it explains the lack of physical evidence that the hoax scenario should have left behind. If Zamora had done it, he just needed his shovel and a tape measure. Then he called the station to make his report and request that Chavez come out to meet with him. This also explains why none of those other people who said they had seen something ever came forward. All the rest of it, from the alien creatures, the banging of the hatch, the red symbol… all of it was so much window dressing created by Zamora.
And while that theory is applauded for its simplicity, it fails when other facts are figured into it. We can begin with the three telephone calls into the police station...I like this idea, that Zamora hoaxed it by himself because of the simplicity of it. However, when we add in other factors, all the factors, it seems that the theory is flawed. Hector Quintanilla suggested the solution for the case would probably be found in Zamora’s head, and had he hoaxed the thing, then Quintanilla had it right. But Zamora never suggested to anyone that he had made up the story, his friends and his actions that night seem to argue against hoax, and there is no real motivation for him to have created the hoax that included the landing site.
So while Randle goes a long way towards the theory that Zamora just made it all up, he doesn't quite go all the way down that path.
Hynek and Klass at the 1984 CSICOP Conference, at Stanford. They were not always buddy-buddies!
(Photo by Gary Posner).

One important point not previously noted is a comment about Socorro made by Blue Book scientific Consultant Dr. J. Allen Hynek. In a letter to arch-skeptic Philip J. Klass dated 23 January 1967, Hynek writes:
No matter what we say about the Zamora case, it is still, because of its one-witness character, a low-order case. It is a [Sigma]5 C4 case in my classification system: taken at face value the report has a high strangeness index, but a low credibility rating primarily because I do not go above 5 in my scale of 1 to 9 if there is only one witness. (p. 102 of the Socorro case documents scanned by Paul Dean,  emphasis added)
Note that Hynek judged the credibility of the Zamora case to be just 4 on a scale from 1 to 9. So to those who cite Zamora's reported 1964 sighting at Socorro as among the 'best ever,' we remind them that Hynek, who investigated the incident in depth, in person and on site, called it "a low-order case."

Friday, December 1, 2017

Socorro 'Student Hoax' Tempest in a Pentagon Teapot (or something)

Well, the iconic 1964 reported sighting of a landed object with two occupants by Patrolman Lonnie Zamora in Socorro, New Mexico is certainly back in the news! Veteran UFOlogist Kevin Randle has written a new book about the case, and former Roswell Slides promoter Anthony Bragalia claims to have finally proven his earlier suggestion that Zamora was the victim of a hoax perpetrated by students at the nearby New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMIMT).

Randle's new book is Encounter in the Desert: The Case for Alien Contact at Socorro. I confess I have not yet read it, so I won't comment on it. "Mrherr Zaar" commented on the Facebook group UFO_Pragmatism,
"I submit it does not present a single argument FOR [alien contact] at all. It is ultimately an exercise in explanatory nihilism which merely assumes that if something is unidentified that takes one “very close” to it immediately being extraterrestrial. (p. 249) He does not address any of the obvious problems. Zamora does not report seeing aliens – “Saw two people in white coveralls very close to the object. One of these persons seemed to turn and look straight at my car and seemed startled--seemed to jump quickly somewhat… I don't recall noting any particular shape or possibly any hats, or headgear. These persons appeared normal in shape--but possibly they were small adults or large kids.” Implicitly they are not wearing spacesuits or air supply face masks or protective gear like dozens of other ufo humanoid reports in the early decades. They seem okay with breathing our atmosphere. They don’t seem to be grays or reptoids or insectoids or a more distinctly alien shape."
As noted in my 2012 Blog entry A Socorro Student Hoax Confirmed?,  Bragalia was arguing that the incident was a student hoax perpetrated on Zamora, who the students did not like because he was a buzz-killer for their hijinks. On November 27, Bragalia published his latest piece on the incident (Link and commentary at

The newest wrinkle in Bragalia's tale is this:
This author has found and spoken to an involved perpetrator of the Socorro UFO hoax, a student at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 1964. Using resources and clues obtained over years, the identification was not easy. There were many missed opportunities, embarrassing moments, and awkward calls.

There is also major disappointment over what was not shared and what cannot be shared. I cannot tell you with 100% assurance exactly how the hoax was performed (I was not told, but I will make a good attempt later in this piece). And I am unable, due to the requested anonymity, to tell you the names of involved people. But what I did learn is perhaps equally as important, just as enlightening.

The individual did not reach out to me – I contacted him by phone. Retired and in his 70s, he is a man of accomplishment. Though he never denied being a perpetrator, he also does not want his name associated with the event. How many of us would want to recount our youthful follies to our children? Who amongst us would wish our names on the net, revisiting embarrassing moments during our late teens or early twenties? Where are those of us who will come forward to publicly explain our tricks and lies from college?
And that is where it sits. If we believe that Mr. Perp replied truthfully to Bragalia, and that Bragalia correctly reported it to us, then we have something that resembles a confession. Except that we don't know who is making the supposed "confession," or exactly what he is confessing to. So, Believe it or Not.

In support of his "student hoax" claim, Bragalia provided the following photo, with the caption "The Small Figures in White Coveralls, New Mexico Tech Physics Department in the Mid-1960s." 

Definitely NOT from New Mexico Tech!
However, French skeptic Giles Fernandez pointed out that he had discovered several years earlier that this photo actually shows physics students from UC Davis visiting Intel, and suiting up in special 'clean room' suits, designed to prevent contamination of silicon wafers used in the manufacture of integrated circuits. It has nothing to do with Socorro or NMIMT. When this was pointed out to Bragalia, he blamed the error on his Webmaster, and said that the caption was being changed to "The Small Figures in White Coveralls, Similar to New Mexico Tech Physics Department in the Mid-1960s" (emphasis added). Why tech students in 1964 would be wearing suits similar to those used in contemporary Clean Rooms, designed to filter out the tiniest submicroscopic particles, was not explained. Or maybe he simply meant that the students had white overalls, like plumbers and handymen sometimes wear. How incredible would that be?

Arguments in favor of the "student hoax" explanation
  • The late Stirling Colgate, physicist and former President of NMIMT, said in a letter to Linus Pauling that he knew the Socorro UFO incident to be a student hoax. When questioned by Bragalia about this, Colgate reportedly acknowledged the hoax, but was evasive and refused to give any details or to discuss the matter further. 
  •  Dr. Frank Etscorn, New Mexico Tech administrator and behavioral psychologist, reportedly affirms the event to be a hoax. One of his graduate students reportedly investigated and solved the "mystery" of what happened, and who was involved. Unfortunately, further details are not available.
  • In a long 1965 letter to Dr. J. Allen Hynek (who investigated the Zamora incident in person shortly after it occurred), noted UFO skeptic Dr. Donald Menzel and his co-author Lyle Boyd wrote
    "We come back to the speeding car, which started the whole business. We certainly would like to know more about this. You have made it clear that Zamora was a gruff type, who enjoyed giving out tickets. It seems entirely reasonable that he might have antagonized some of the local teenagers, who devised a hoax to get even. This explanation, I might add, independently occurred to both Lyle and myself. The whole thing could easily have been planned to come off about as it did. The car came into his line of sight from a side road. Which side road? Could it have been from the direction of the flame and roar? Apparently Zamora thought he knew the occupant of the speeding car (Vivian Reynolds?) Was this driver ever found and questioned as to what he heard or saw? Did Zamora have a regular patrol route so that his approximate whereabouts would be known at a given time?
    In other words, we see as the most likely possibility that someone planned the whole business to "get" Zamora."(p. 142 in case documents scanned by Paul Dean).
    One interesting thing that doesn't seem to have been discussed is the existence of an "aircraft graveyard" belonging to NMIMT quite near the site of the incident. The UFO investigative group Ground Saucer Watch (GSW) of Arizona wrote up "Socorro - New Mexico Revisited," published in the UFORA Newsletter, July-August, 1982 (p. 131 in the same scanned documents). They wrote,

    As the investigators were leaving the actual site, they noticed an area approximately 1 3/4 miles away, which gleamed in the sunlight. Extracting binoculars from their vehicle, they viewed what appeared to be an abandoned aircraft junkyard. Later, they discovered that the aircraft were part of the property of a local technical school - New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. This information was obtained from a clerk who works for the City Court system. He warned the researchers not to enter the storage area, because two men were recently convicted of breaking into this property. GSW's team became curious and decided a closer look at the area was warranted. They traveled on a road through the technical school's campus and came upon a barrier.
    Walking some distance away from the road they found a point at which the contents of the storage area could be viewed. To their amazement, the area contained a large variety of both segmented and intact aircraft. There appeared to be some Navy and Marine jet fighters, some Bell "X" aircraft and a nose section of a large ballistic missile.
    GSW determined that the property did indeed belong to NMIMT. They contacted C. B. Moore, professor of atmospherics, and a man who plays a significant role in UFO history quite independent of this, primarily because of his connection with Project Mogul. Moore told them that the junked aircraft were part of the Terminal Effects Program, which began in 1947, with most of the aircraft arriving during the 1950s. Moore replied to GSW that he had investigated the Zamora incident on his own, "and can assure you that there is little probability that it had anything to do with students or the Institute. If we can believe Officer Zamora (and there is no reason except for the strangeness of the observation that we should not), then it appears that he saw a Lunar Landing Module (LEM) but his observation was at least 12 months before the module was first tested here." A very strange comment, indeed!

    I am not suggesting that the aircraft graveyard necessarily played any part in this incident, but it is a damn peculiar thing to discover so close to a possibly aerospace-related incident. Might the scattered aircraft and missile parts have been used to create a hoax saucer? Might the area have afforded hoaxers a place to operate, and to hide?
Arguments against the "student hoax" explanation
  • How did the students make the balloon disappear so quickly?
  • How did the two students in white overalls make themselves disappear, especially since Zamora and Officer Chavez were walking the site of the alleged landing just a few minutes later? This would seem to require something like a magician's disappearing act.
  • Dave Thomas, founder of the skeptical organization New Mexicans for Science and Reason,  is a NMIMT graduate. To look into the possibility of a hoax originating with NMIMT students, he set up an internal website available only to those who are students, employees, or alumni of NMIMT. Its purpose was to allow people to tell what, if anything, they knew about the 1964 Zamora incident. While a few people expressed the opinion that it was a student hoax, there was no specific or useful information obtained from anyone. This strongly suggests that no 'student hoax' existed. 
Thomas has suggested an interesting possibility of what Zamora may have seen. According to documents obtained from the White Sands Missile Range, "on April 24, 1964, there were special tests being conducted at the north end of the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) involving a helicopter used to carry a Lunar Surveyor around for some tests... Surveyor was a three-legged, unmanned probe, which was used to learn about the moon before the Apollo program got there....The Surveyor tests were done with a small Bell helicopter that supported the craft from its side... The tests missions were manned by a helicopter pilot and a Hughes engineer - two persons, in white coveralls." Not only does the time of day of this planned test (morning) not match Zamora's sighting (which occurred just before 6 PM), but this is a long way from Socorro, about 80 miles as the helicopter flies. Still, as Thomas notes, "things don't always go "according to plan," and many tests which have defied completion by morning have been known to somehow get finished up in the afternoon." The possibility of the Surveyor testing cannot be ruled out.

What do I think Zamora saw?
A brand new way to fly in 1963
In 1996, engineer Eugene Robinson of Indiana University suggested that what Zamora saw was an early version of a propane-powered hot air balloon.  This  explanation has been largely ignored by UFOlogists. It was not even mentioned by Randle in his Socorro book. When asked why, he replied that it was a "non-starter." I'm not so sure about that.

The propane hot air balloon is a familiar sight today, but back in the mid 1960s it was quite new, as this article in Popular Mechanics (published just one year before the Socorro incident) shows.
"As of this writing, two of these new balloons have been sold and a third is on order... Raven is coming out with a new, larger model with an old-fashioned wicker basket that can carry two men standing up. Price tag: $5000." 
Popular Mechanics, April 1963.

The propane burners on such a balloon make a loud "woosh," as Zamora described hearing. It seems quite likely he may have seen an experimental two-man propane hot air balloon briefly land, then take off again. In fact, that suggestion seems to best match the details Zamora reported. Might this two-man balloon be what Zamora saw?

Some of Robinson's comments on the incident:
  • The reported flame colors (blue and orange) agree with the propane flame used by hot-air balloons.
  • Zamora never saw the full shape clearly. He lost his glasses before it rose enough.
  • He never saw the platform. It was behind terrain, then he lost his glasses.
  • The dust Zamora saw here could have come from the burner blast.
  • The envelope went straight up as it lifted and centered over the platform.
  • The envelope remained in this position until it had enough lift to raise the platform off the ground.
  • Once the platform lifted off the ground, the wind moved the balloon horizontally.
Given all these conflicting yet plausible explanations, it is difficult to say for sure what Zamora saw. Unless someone can explain convincingly exactly how the supposed "student hoax" was carried out, I will assume that the unexpected landing of a newfangled propane hot-air balloon is the most likely explanation for this classic UFO incident.