Monday, April 17, 2023

A Flying Saucer Named Floyd

In honor of the 57th Anniversary of a truly "classic" case, I am posting an analysis from my book UFO Sightings (Prometheus Books, 1998). This analysis was first published in my 1981 book The UFO Verdict (also Prometheus, which can be "borrowed" online from the Internet Archive library), and was republished with only minor additions and updates.

In the late 1970s I made a very Deep Dive into this case, which was being promoted big-time. Here is the result. 

A Flying Saucer Named Floyd 

We now turn to the story of a famous flying saucer whose name is Floyd. Very few flying saucers can boast of proper names, but that is not the only reason that Floyd is famous. Floyd reportedly was chased by two sheriffs policemen for eighty-six miles through Ohio and Pennsylvania just before sunrise on the morning of Sunday, April 17, 1966 . They say it played cat-and-mouse with their car even as they traveled at speeds of up to 103 miles per hour. Several other Ohio and Pennsylvania officers say that they saw the object too. The late Dr. James E. McDonald, an atmospheric physicist who launched a crusade for scientific recognition of UFOs, considered this case to be one of the most impressive on record and he has endorsed the Floyd papers as "an outstanding contribution to present knowledge of the UFO phenomenon." [1]. Allen Hynek (dubbed by several national magazines the "Galileo" of UFOlogy [2]), cited this case in his book The UFO Experience as the prime example of a "close encounter of the first kind." Floyd received his name from Deputy Sheriff Dale F. Spaur, 34, of the Portage County, Ohio, Sheriffs Police. He tired of referring to the object he reportedly sighted as "?" and began calling it by his own middle name. Coining this name for the UFO doubtlessly proved to be quite a time-saver, because Deputy Spaur had to repeat his story many times in the weeks following the morning that he and Deputy Sheriff Wilbur Neff, 26, reportedly chased an unknown object. The number of semi-independent witnesses to this incident (linked only by radio) is truly impressive. If all of these "reported" observations can be verified as actual observations, consistent in time,speed, and direction, then the UFO chase that began in Portage County, Ohio, must be regarded as one of the strongest possible proofs for the reality of the UFO phenomenon.

In the weeks and months leading up to the "Great UFO Chase of April 1966," the country was in the grip of a wave of mounting UFO excitement. Sightings had begun in the summer of the previous year, and the momentum was slowly building. The news media had been filled with reports of UFO sightings, gradually leading up to the "Incident at Exeter" wave in the fall of 1965 (chapter 10). During the winter sporadic sightings continued, only to explode in March of 1966 with a rash of sightings in Michigan. Nearly a hundred people, including police officers and college students, reported seeing glowing objects hovering over fields and marshes. Hynek hastened to Michigan, where he reported that "the entire region was gripped with near hysteria" about UFOs. Making the rounds with some police officers, Hynek confessed that "occasionally even I thought I glimpsed 'it,'" so heavily UFO-laden was the atmosphere. Police officers excitedly radioed "I see it" back and forth from car to car. Stopping at an intersection, they frantically gestured skyward, indicating a "moving" object, only to have their multiply-witnessed UFO shot clown by astronomer Hynek as the bright star Arcturus. [3] 

On March 25, just three weeks before the Floyd incident, Hynek created a nationwide sensation by proposing "swamp gas" as an explanation for many of the Michigan sightings. Michigan Congressmen Gerald R. Ford and Weston Vivian, outraged by the Air Force's handling of the sightings, demanded a congressional investigation into the matter, a demand that was widely echoed by journalists and radio-TV commentators. It is against this turbulent background that the stage was set in April 1966 for the Ohio UFO chase. The major investigative role in this case was played by William B. Weitzel, a philosophy instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. At the time he was chairman of NICAP's Pennsylvania Unit No. l. The previous year Weitzel had received much attention for his investigation of the famous Beaver County, Pennsylvania, UFO photograph, taken by the Lucci brothers, which Weitzel pronounced to be "one of the most valid of the UFOs on record." (However, three years later, the chief photo analyst for the Condon Report, Dr. William K. Hartmann, had no trouble duplicating these photos by holding a plate on his hand, and illuminating it with a flashlight. Subsequent investigation has left little doubt that the Beaver County photos are in fact a hoax. But there is no record of Weitzel withdrawing his endorsement of them. Shortly after the famous Ohio chase, when Weitzel showed Spaur the as yet unrefuted Beaver County photographs, Spaur pronounced the hoax UFO in the photos to be "almost identical to the one we saw." [5] )

Unfortunately, Weitzel's enthusiasm for the UFO phenomenon caused him to overlook some obvious inconsistencies in the evidence and, worse still, to be blind to significant changes in the witnesses' stories as time passed. Nonetheless, Weitzel's interpretation of the Ohio UFO chase is universally accepted among serious UFO investigators as being the definitive account. Yet before I made my own analysis, no one appears to have taken the trouble to critically examine Weitzel's account of the incident, for if one had one could not possibly have overlooked the highly significant inconsistencies it contains. On Sunday morning, April 17, 1966, at 4:50 A.M., Portage County Deputy Sheriffs Dale Spaur and Wilbur Neff were at the scene of a traffic accident along Route 183 near Atwater Center, Ohio, where an automobile had smashed into a utility pole. The driver had been injured. Spaur and Neff had called in an ambulance and a tow truck, and when these had departed the policemen had remained for a short while to talk with the repairman who was working on the damaged lines. Sunrise was just under an hour away and, even though it was still quite dark, the purple glow of dawn was steadily brightening in the east. The sky that morning was quite clear, and the brilliant planet Venus was shining like a searchlight in the east-southeast. Near its maximum elongation from the sun, the bright morning star was a beautiful and striking sight to early risers. About 4:50 a report came in over the police radio that a woman in Summitt County, to the west, had reported seeing a strange bright object, "higher than a streetlight but lower than an airplane," reportedly headed east, toward Portage County. (The sheriff's police of the various counties operate a statewide radio linkup, and hence can listen in on reports that do not originate in their own county.) From the description of the object and from its supposed direction of "travel," it seems quite likely that the UFO the woman reported seeing was simply the planet Venus. Misidentifications of this type are quite common, as UFO proponents readily admit, especially during periods of intense UFO excitement. The three men good-naturedly joked about the reported UFO sighting; the "weird ones" are really out tonight, Spaur observed.

Officers Spaur and Neff then got into their car, Cruiser P-13, and drove off. They started "east" on Route 224, or so Spaur said in his testimony to the Air Force. [6] But he must have meant to say west, because he never would have reached the starting point of the chase had he actually gone east from the scene of the accident. Spaur confuses east with west a second time when he tells of encountering an old car by the side of the road two miles "east" (actually west) of Route 183. This may seem to some to be nit-picking, but the accuracy of Spaur's ability to recall directions is of crucial importance to his later testimony, when he describes the UFO as appearing at nearly every point on the compass. This east-west mix-up, made twice and not corrected until a transcript of the interview had been prepared ("I was a little mad at this point" is how Spaur later explained the error; Neff was present, but failed to correct him), demonstrates that we must allow room for error in Spaur's recollection of the reported behavior and travel of the UFO. Traveling west (not east) on U.S. Route 224, the the police officers saw a car parked on the other side of the road. They made a U-turn. and pulled up behind it. Cruiser P-13 was now facing east. Deputy Spaur walked up to the car while Neff remained behind, standing next to their cruiser-standard police procedure. Scouting the area, Spaur looked behind him - to the west - and reportedly saw a bright object in the sky coming as if from the wooded area on the side of the road. Spaur called out to Neff, who also observed the object. It appeared to be coming toward them. It reportedly passed overhead, making a noise like an "overloaded transformer." In Spaur's earliest written UFO testimony, signed just hours after the chase, he suggests that the humming that was attributed to the UFO "might have come from a power line." But in later versions of his story, all doubt concerning the origin of the sound appears to have vanished. During the chase itself, the object reportedly made no sound whatsoever. Upon first sighting the object, Spaur was "mildly surprised,” according to Weitzel. He mused that this must be the UFO that he had heard so much about. But when the object appeared to come toward them, the two officers became frightened and scrambled back into the car. They reported that the object, large and glowing, had stopped in the east, directly ahead of them.

There is good reason to doubt that the object moving from west to east was as low and as close as the deputies reported, for it was sighted by another witness more than a hundred miles away. The declassified Project Blue Book records contain a report filed by a woman in Vandalia, Ohio, to the southwest of Ravenna, describing a starlike object that "swiftly" crossed the sky, traveling from west to northeast. A possible discrepancy exists in the time of the report, which is given as 5:30 A.M., some twenty-five minutes later than the time of the deputies' sighting. But because of the great similarity of the two reports, and their proximity in location and time, it seems likely that both describe the same event.

Apparently a brilliant meteor streaked across the predawn sky, visible over a wide region. It did not pass just over their heads, as Spaur and Neff believed, but was many miles up. Experience has shown that it is impossible for anyone to be accurate in judging the distance from such an object. Witnesses will often report "close encounters" with objects that later turn out to have been many miles away. Klass cites several incidents of this tvpe. One of them involves an experienced airline flight crew that reported a near-collision with an object that turned out to have been a brilliant daylight meteor, at least 125 miles north of their position. [7] So bright was the object, Spaur says, that the entire area around their car was lit up. Since it was now 5:07A.M., less than forty minutes before sunrise, there is no doubt whatsoever that the area around their car was indeed lit up, though not necessarily by any UFO. Only the brightest stars, those of the first (and possibly second) magnitude, remained visible at this time. Venus, however, nearly five magnitudes (ninety times) brighter than a first-magnitude star, was still shining like a beacon in the east. By a remarkable coincidence, this is exactly where Spaur reported the UFO was hovering. If a genuine UFO had indeed been present, the deputies should have seen two bright objects in the east at this point, Floyd and VĂ©nus. But they saw only one. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Floyd was Venus, at least at this point. The planet Venus does not, of course, zip rapidly from west to east, but there is no compelling reason to believe that a single object was responsible for every aspect of this complex UFO sighting. (In fact, there are some excellent reasons not to believe this, as we shall see.)

The officers had been alerted a few minutes earlier that a UFO was supposedly in the vicinity. Add to this the nationwide hysteria that had prevailed for the past few weeks, and you have the optimum psychological conditions for sighting UFOs. Every planet and every airplane is scrutinized as a potential interloper. The two men must have taken their eyes off the object that moved from west to east as they scrambled into their car. When they looked up and saw Venus ahead of them, they mistakenly concluded that it was the same object they had just sighted. From the time they entered the car, until after they crossed the Pennsylvania line, their attention was riveted to a brilliant object in the east-southeast: unquestionably the planet Venus. Spaur hit the button on his microphone and radioed back to headquarters that the unidentified object, "the one that everybody says is going over," appeared to be hovering in front of their car. The radio operator asked Spaur if he was carrying his service revolver. He was. "Take a shot at it" was the helpful suggestion. (The radio operator later explained that he thought the object might be a weather balloon, and that a bullet might bring it down.) Spaur decided against that course of action, because he believed the object to be "as big as a house," and he didn't want to risk angering it. After ascertaining that they did not have a camera with them, the two deputies were ordered to keep the object in sight until a camera car could be dispatched to photograph it.

Spaur put the cruiser in gear, inched forward a little, and then a funny thing happened. Floyd appeared to inch forward too. This should not surp1ise us if we remember that celestial bodies appear to "pace" a moving vehicle. Every child at some point asks his parent why the moon seems to be "following" their car, and it is a wise parent who can explain, in simple terms, that a distant body like the moon or Venus shows no noticeable displacement due to the motion of the vehicle, as nearby objects do, and hence appears to follow the observer. (This explanation, however, appears to be beyond the comprehension of some of the well-known "scientific" UFO investigators, who naively interpret every reported following of a vehicle by a bright celestial bodv as a "close encounter of the first kind.") No matter how fast Cruiser P-13 approached the object, Floyd appeared to move away at exactly the same speed. Spaur, a former race-car driver, quickly picked up speed and roared after the object. The Great UFO Chase was on. 


This is the route taken on the morning of April 17, 1966 by two Portage County, Ohio police officers, who chased a supposed UFO into Pennsylvania at speeds of up to 103 MPH. The direction of travel of the officers almost precisely matches the apparent direction of Venus, suggesting that they were in fact chasing that brilliant morning star.

The two policemen raced eastward on U.S. Route 224 (which later merges with Ohio Route 14) at speeds up to 103 miles per hour. Floyd, ever obliging, appeared to follow this road exactly, reportedly just a few hundred feet in front of their car. For over twenty miles the• reportedly chased the object due east, over an almost perfectly straight road. Yet nowhere along Route 14-224 did they report seeing Venus. This was truly a remarkable feat of non-observation. Deputy Neff reported that between Atwater Center and Deerfield Floyd kept a bearing somewhat south of east. This exactly describes Venus's position, which was then at an azimuth of about 115°. Meanwhile, a very understandable confusion between Route 14 and Route 14A sent the camera car down 14A, miles away from the position of Cruiser P-13. Had the two police cars actually met, one suspects that the chase might have ended a great deal sooner than it did. Shortly after passing Atwater Center, Spaur observed that the UFO bad "gained altitude," which is exactly what Venus was gradually doing. From the initial sighting at 5:07 to the time they reached Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, at about 5:45, Venus rose from an elevation of 12" to 19". Anyone watching Venus during this interval would have seen it rise slowly and steadily. This is exactly what Floyd is said to have done during that interval. At Deerfield Circle, Spaur says that he had to pass between two big trucks: "between a tractor and a trailer" is how he describes it. Yet neither of these drivers seems to have noticed a giant UFO, "as big as a house," which reportedly passed just a few hundred feet over their heads. The two deputies likewise encountered "occasional traffic" (in Weitzel's phrase) between Canfield and Columbiana, around which they had to maneuver at very high speeds. But again we have no indication that any of these other drivers saw anything at all unusual. Crossing from Portage to Mahoning County, on the bridge over the Berlin Reservoir, the UFO reportedly "picked up probably another 150 feet." (Venus had risen a little too.) Floyd allegedly wavered from the south side of the road to the north side, and then back again as they entered Mahoning County. However, a careful examination of a map reveals that the road curves to the south, then north again, at this point. This will cause an object keeping a fixed bearing to behave exactly as was described. Indeed, every change in direction attributed to Floyd appears to correspond to a turn made by the UFO chasers. 

At Canfield, as the deputies turned south-southeast on Ohio Route 14-46, the UFO was reported by Neff to "come across in front of us" over to the left side of the cruiser, then afterwards return to the right side. This again suggests to anyone who examines the map that the object kept a constant bearing. After turning south on Route 183, Spaur reports that the object appeared to be due north. Venus cannot, of course, appear in the north, any more than a policeman driving south at breakneck speed can possibly see an airborne object directly behind him (which, by the way, would then be chasing him, causing one to wonder why, if this account is correct, Spaur did not stop and set up a roadblock). Spaur's mixup of his directions, and his later "improvements" to his original UFO narrative, serve to caution us against taking such reported details too literally. As soon as they made the next turn, and headed east, Floyd promptly returned to his favorite position in the southeast, exactly where Venus ought to have been seen. It is well known that UFOs are supposed to stop automobile engines, short out headlights, and cause radio equipment to fail, but Floyd displayed none of these disagreeable characteristics. Not only did cruiser P-13 perform like a tiger, cruising smoothly at 103 m.p.h. despite the UFO's alleged nearness, but its radio operated perfectly, so well, in fact, that officers throughout Ohio listened to every detail of the chase. Not surprisingly, many of them looked for the object, and some imagined that they saw it too. Police Chief Gerald Buchert of Mantua, Ohio, was twenty miles north of where Floyd was reported to be. But when he went outside. he thought he saw it too, and he even managed to obtain a photograph. Afterward, Weitzel was keenly disappointed to discover that Buchert's supposed UFO photo turned out to be nothing more than a processing defect. Buchert described the position of his UFO with respect to the moon (which was then a thin crescent, low in the sky). It matches perfectly with the known position of Venus. But Weitzel hesitates at concluding that Police Chief Buchert's UFO was in fact Venus, because the UFO was reported to wobble around a little. Floyd. meanwhile, if it really were where Spaur claims it was, would have been more nearly due south and would have appeared to Chief Buchert to be just skirting the horizon if it were visible at all. It would not haw been at the 10°-plus altitude he reports. To the south, in Salem, three police officers drove to the top of a hill in the hope of seeing the UFO, which was reportedly heading directly into their town. They, too, incorrectly believed P-13 to be approaching on Route 14A, when it was in fact nearly ten miles to the north on Route 14-224. But it does not matter that the Great UFO Chase never reached Salem, for these officers claimed that they saw the object too. They reported seeing three jet airplanes, coming from the north, chasing the object at a terrific speed.

Weitzel ignores the obvious absurdity of equating an object supposedly thousands off feet in altitude traveling south at jet-airplane speed, with something reportedly just above the ground, traveling east no faster than an automobile. Instead, he cites the Salem report as further confirmation of Spaur's observations. Even more improbable is the report coming from police headquarters in Salem, telling of an airplane pilot's voice, loud and dear, which reportedly burst in over the police radio, saying, “l'm going down for a closer look... it's about forty-five feet across." [8] The Salem incidents demonstrate the intensity of the UFO hysteria that exploded into a fever pitch in Ohio that morning. As Spaur and Neff passed Canfield, the UFO reportedly gained altitude once again (as did Venus, the object they have still failed to notice). Outside East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania line. Patrolman Wayne Huston was listening to the chase on his radio. He realized that P-13 was not far from his present position and was closing in fast. Spaur told Huston where to look to see the UFO, and Huston duly acknowledged seeing it. Huston reportedly watched the object approach from the northwest - which Venus could never have done - but Weitzel makes this same claim about Pennsylvania Officer Frank Panzanella, a claim I subsequently found to be quite incorrect. It can be shown, however, that Huston's account of the object's approach is internally inconsistent. Huston claims that he first sighted the object when cruiser P-13 was about five miles away. But he told Weitzel that the UFO appeared to pass overhead in a matter of seconds, leaving him little opportunity to observe the object. If Huston actually did spot Floyd when it and its pursuers were reportedly five miles away and if the object's speed did in fact match P-13's 80-85 m.p.h. velocity at this point, Huston would have had the object in view for at least three and a half minutes. This would give him plenty of time to observe the object carefully and to describe its appearance over the radio, for he was standing outside his police cruiser, extension microphone in hand. But since he reports that the object approached in '"seconds," leaving no time to study its appearance, either Huston's account of the object's approach is seriously in error or else he could not have been observing the same "Floyd" that Spaur and Neff were reportedly chasing. Weitzel ignores this contradiction in his search for confirmation, as does Hynek, who considers Huston's account of the object's approach to be the most critical part of the case. Huston, alone in his cruiser OV-1, joined in the chase as Spaur and Neff roared by. He said that he probably never would have caught up to them if they had not been delayed in traffic on the narrow, winding road. None of the occupants of the cars that slowed them down (who were of course unaware that a wild UFO chase was in progress in the next lane) has ever come forward to confirm the allegation that a giant UFO flew just over their heads, being followed by two speeding police cars. Coming into Chippewa, Pennsylvania, near Beaver Falls, Huston reports that the chasers were again forced to slow down in traffic, because of a 6:00 church service that was about to begin. Not one of these fine and sober early-rising citizens subsequently reported having seen a giant flying saucer, as big as a house, buzzing the top of their church steeple. [9]

Approaching Brady's Run Park, near Beaver, the UFO chasers encountered so much traffic that they were forced to stop. Huston turned on his siren. A Volkswagen had exited from the park, triggering a traffic signal. Three trucks were approaching the traffic light, now red, from the east, and two more trucks waited at the light, ahead of the two cruisers, forcing them to suddenly screech to a halt. (Floyd, ever obliging, was reported to slow down and wait whenever his pursuers were delayed in traffic.) None of these other six drivers seemed to take the slightest notice of the giant UFO which, if the officers' account is to be believed, flew not far over their heads. [10] Shortly after the three officers crossed the state line, the UFO was reported to have elevated a little more, achieving its greatest altitude of the en tire chase. It also became difficult to see. This is not hard to understand. As Venus rises higher in the sh, the sun also rises, making the planet more difficult to see against the brightening sky. When they crossed the state line, the sunrise was only five to ten minutes away. Venus is bright enough to be seen even after sunrise, but around sunrise the planet becomes much more difficult to see. No longer conspicuous, one must search for a moment in order to find it. Thus at this point in the chase they lost sight of Floyd. Spaur expressed the fear that it had eluded them for good. Spaur was driving in unfamiliar territory. He had to rely on Huston's instructions, telling him where to turn and when to slow down. This left him little time to watch the UFO. "We thought we'd lost it," Spaur later reported. "This will be it, we're going to lose it right here," they thought. The Great CFO Chase might weil have ended here. But Floyd (or Fate) had other plans. A half-hour earlier, around 5:20 A.M., Conway, Pennsvlvania, Patrolman Frank Panzanella left a restaurant where he had stopped for a cup of coffee after finishing a night's duty. As he drove up the hill on 11th Street in Conway, heading northeast, he reportedly saw an object to his right (in the east) which looked like a "reflection [of sunlight off a plane." He stopped upon reaching the top of the hill (he was still inside the town) and noted that the object was not moving. Panzanella then turned around, came back down the hill, and parked his cruiser at the Atlantic service station on 10th Street and Route 65, where there were fewer nearby buildings. He watched the object for about thirty minutes. From this position, the rooftop of a nearby house provided an excellent reference that has enabled later investigators to pinpoint the apparent position of the object. lts elevation when first sighted was only about 11 degrees, and it remained just a few degrees south of due east.

Panzanella's testimony is also touted bv UFO proponents as an independent confirmation of the observations of the other policemen. After all, he had not been listening to the frenzied UFO chatter over the Ohio police radio channels. But they ignore the fact that the object sighted by Panzanella was reportedly observed to the east of Conway, Pennsvlvania, at the same time that Floyd was reportedly hovering above the hood of Cruiser P-13, which was still in Ohio to the west. Even the staunchest UFO enthusiast would find it difficult to explain how an object supposedly in Ohio might be seen to the east by someone in Pennsylvania. Whatever it was that Panzanella saw (a high-altitude balloon is a good possibility), it could not possibly have been Floyd, if Spaur's account of the object's position is correct. This irreconcilable discrepancy poses an obvious difficulty to those who wish to prove that a UFO was actually being chased. How to resolve it? An erroneous statement will do nicely. Weitzel asserts that Panzanella first sighted the object in the southwest [11] (he later changed this to "west" [12]), even though the map in his own report to NICAP plainly shows otherwise - east. Weitzel also claims that Panzanella drove dawn the hill to avoid a "collision." This seems improbable in light of that officer's April 17 interview with reporter Tom Schley, in which Panzanella said that, when he sighted the UFO from the top of the hill, he "hadn't thought much about it at the time." [13] Weitzel's statements flatly contradict the signed testimony that Panzanella gave to NICAP, which unambiguously indicates the object as being in the east, and makes no mention whatsoever of any near-collision. That a person driving northeast (which is indeed "uphill," exactly as described) could hardly fear a collision with an object supposedly coming from the southwest seems never to have been noticed. Even if we accept the claim that the object did indeed arrive from the west, it reportedly arrived far too soon for it to have conceivably been Floyd, because Panzanella's sighting began when the UFO chasers were still dozens of miles to the west. That Panzanella's account of the reported direction of the object's arrival should be so grossly distorted in a way that just happens to better fit in with Spaur's account casts strong doubt upon the similar testimonv - arrival from the northwest - attributed to Huston. It also raises some very interesting questions: Who is responsible for these misrepresentations, the investigators or the witnesses? Did the witnesses actually change their stories, or were they altered without their knowledge or consent? Did Panzanella perhaps gradually change his story with each retelling, subconsciously wishing to please those persons who were conferring celebrity status upon him? Or was it deliberately misrepresented to make it fit better with the "known" facts? This incident provides an excellent example of how the accounts of UFO sightings to be found in even the most respected and supposedly reliable UFO sources are often grossly in error. When all of the facts appear to fit together so well, it may be because some of them have been reshaped. Near Rochester, Pennsylvania, UFO chaser Dale Spaur had finally lost sight of the object. The sun had just risen, and Venus faded meekly into the sunlit sky. But after emerging from a series of bridges and tunnels, first Huston, then Spaur claim to have seen Floyd once again. But it wasn't the same Floyd: "it had lost probably half its altitude," Spaur reported. [14] This is most significant. When Venus faded to near-invisibility, the UFO chasers transferred their attention to some other object, almost certainly to the same object that Panzanella, now only about five miles away, was watching. At this time Venus had an apparent altitude of about 20 degrees. If Floyd-Venus were to lose "half its altitude," that would put it near the 11 degree apparent altitude of the object reported by Panzanella.

The Great UFO Chase passed through Freedom, Pennsylvania. and entered Conway. Spaur's cruiser was running low on gas. They spotted Panzanella sitting in his cruiser, parked at a gas station on the other side of the road. The two automobiles made U-turns, parked behind Panzanella, and the three men got out. Panzanella at first was hesitant to admit that he'd been watching something unusual, until Huston exclaimed, "We've been with it all the way from Ohio!" The four policemen watched the object, and later sketched its position with respect to a nearby rooftop TV-antenna, the thin crescent moon, and Venus, which was still faintly visible. Hynek and other UFO proponents make much of the fact that Floyd was reportedly seen at the same time as Venus, implying that the object being chased could not possibly have been that brilliant planet. But they neglect to mention that the simultaneous sighting of the two objects did not occur until the very end of the chase, after the UFO had reportedly "lost half its altitude." Prior to this time, Venus was supposedly not seen at all; only Floyd was visible. This, of course, is absurd. Why should Venus only be spotted after it had faded to near-invisibility after the sunrise and be totally ignored at the beginning of the chase, when it was the most conspicuous object in the heavens? Another compelling reason for believing that the deputies were chasing Venus is seen when the path thev chose is plotted on a map. As a result of the UFO chase, Spaur's cruiser P-13 ended up forty-nine miles east and twenty-five miles south of its original position. This corresponds to an average direction of travel of 117 degrees (to the east-southeast). The average apparent azimuth of Venus was 115 degrees during this same interval. Thus we see that the UFO chasers followed a route exactly as if they were chasing Venus; approaching an intersection, they would turn onto whatever road took them closest to the apparent direction of that brilliant planet. What was the object to which the UFO chasers transferred their attention after Venus faded from prominence? The overwhelming probability is that the object was a high-altitude research balloon launched by some university or research agency. Such balloons can travel many hundreds of miles, and they can be almost impossible to trace. The accounts of the object almost perfectly describe the appearance of such a balloon. Upon first seeing it, Panzanella said he thought the object was a reflection of the rising sun off an airplane; reflections from a balloon look quite the same. The period of maximum visibility of such a balloon is, of course, just before sunrise or just after sunset, when the balloon is in direct sunlight because of its altitude but when the sun is below the horizon for ground-based observers. On several occasions I have seen high-altitude balloons under these circumstances, and their appearance is nothing short of dramatic: a dazzlingly brilliant star, shining by reflected sunlight in a bright twilight sky. Panzanella's observation that the object slowly increased in altitude exactly describes the familiar behavior of a balloon being warmed by the rays of the rising sun; the gases inside gradually expand, causing the balloon to rise slowly. Deputy Spaur later told the Air Force investigators that, as they stood watching Floyd from the gas station in Conway, Panzanella reached the radio operator in nearby Rochester. He requested that the airport be contacted to see if a jet interceptor were available to take a closer look at the object. When the response came back that two planes were supposedly going to be sent up (they never were), the UFO reportedly accelerated straight upward-as if it had heard what had been said-and quickly disappeared. "When they started talking about fighter planes, just as though that thing heard every word that was said, it went (psshew) straight up. And I mean it didn't play no games, it went straight up," Spaur reported. [15] This of course strongly suggests that the object was under intelligent control and did not wish to be closely examined.

Weitzel, Hynek, and Blum have accepted as fact the claim that the object shot "straight up" in this manner. [16] If this is true, it would appear to rule out any natural explanation for the object. But this claim directly contradicts the testimony given by all three of the officers available for interview immediately after the sighting, Neff having gone "into seclusion." This contradiction has been ignored by all of the "scientific" UFO investigators, even though this information is readily available in the NICAP files. Indeed, one of these interviews was conducted by one of Weitzel's key UFO collaborators, Tom Schley of the Beaver Count_, Times. In three separate newspaper interviews, which must have taken place within hours of the end of the chase: (1) Spaur said that they watched the object at Conway for about twenty minutes. It was still visible when he and the others went inside to make a telephone call. When they came back outside, they were unable to find it [17] (2)Huston said that when the police officers left, "the object was still hovering." [18] (3) Panzanella said that the four of them stood watching the object until it was "barely visible" after it had risen higher in the sky [19]. Furthermore, Spaur and Neff, in filling out a UFO sighting report. were asked, "Did the object disappear while you were watching it?” Both men answered no.[20] Thus we see that this extremely significant original testimony strongly suggesting that the object was a balloon, has been carefully ignored by UFO proponents. They prefer to have us think that the object behaved as if it were under intelligent control and contained a sophisticated propulsion system, when in fact it faded into invisibility exactly as a balloon does when the sun rises higher. Here we see a second major instance in which a witness in this case appears to have altered his original testimony, or has had it altered for him. It is significant that the testimony is always changed in such a way as to increase the strangeness of the object. This incident should serve as a warning against accepting any UFO testimony too uncritically, especially after it has been repeated many times. Stories told by UFO witnesses, like fine wines, tend to improve with age. After the UFO had faded from view, the four officers stopped at the police station in Rochester, where they spoke briefly with an Air Force officer by telephone. Spaur, Neff, and Huston then returned to Ravenna, the Portage County seat. The stationhouse was bombarded with phone calls and reporters. Although no announcement of the chase had been made, apparently some reporters who cover police beats had been listening on the radio, and the story was quickly picked up by the wire services. William Weitzel arrived later that same day, as did a number of other UFO investigators and newspaper reporters. Interviews were obtained with each of the principal witnesses except Neff. (Neff was quoted in a Pittsburgh newspaper article, however, which also stated that the object "greatly interested Deputy Neff, who reportedly believes in flying saucers." [21] ) Spaur was obviously exhausted, yet he was anxious to cooperate with the investigation. There can be little doubt that Spaur and the other witnesses at this phase were quite sincere in their account of the sighting. They plainly believed that they had indeed been chasing a giant UFO.

In 1966 the Air Force was on the UFO hot seat. There was nothing they would have liked better than to ignore the Great UFO Chase and indeed forget about the whole UFO business, but this was impossible. The great public clamor for answers to the UFO enigma caught the Air Force squarely in the middle. Many persons had accused the Air Force of covering up the supposed truth about the reality of UFOs. The demand for a congressional investigation into UFOs-and the Air Force's handling of them - grew daily. Hardly anyone had a good word for the Air Force on the subject of UFOs (and perhaps deservedly so). They were criticized by some for being too negative about UFOs and by others for even bothering with such things in the first place. And criticism is the one thing that a bureaucracy-whether military, government, or otherwise-simply cannot live with. It is the very nature of the bureaucratic animal to do its utmost to keep popular dissatisfaction with it to an absolute minimum. It knows that when the situation gets too "hot" somebody must be sacrificed, a scapegoat to be offered up in an attempt to placate the public furor. Criticism jeopardizes not only promotions but next year's budget as well. Thus all controversies must appear to be resolved, all questions must appear to be answered, regardless of the actual facts. This is the real reason for the Air Force's often hasty investigations of UFOs, for its practice of grabbing at the first explanation for a UFO sighting to come along, regardless of whether it fits the facts. The U.S. Air Force was not attempting to explain UFOs, to cover them up, or to do anything except to get out of the spotlight. The day after the sighting, Spaur received a brief, low-keyed telephone call from Major Hector Quintanella Jr., head of the Air Force's Project Blue Book. According to Spaur, the conversation began with Quintanella requesting him to "tell me about this mirage you saw." [22] Quintanella appeared to be unfamiliar with many of the significant details concerning the incident, although the story of the chase had been widely reported in the papers and on radio and TV; certainly one would expect the Air Force's chief UFO investigator to keep himself at least reasonably well informed on such significant developments. Spaur was disappointed at what he felt was the brevity and superficiality of Quintanella's telephone interview. Several days later, after an almost negligible investigative effort, the Air Force released its conclusion: the deputies had seen the Echo satellite and had then transferred their attention to Venus, which they then "chased" into Pennsylvania.[23] While this hypothesis appears to be at least partially correct, as the present analysis shows, Quintanella had based his conclusion upon a superficial analysis of a very complex UFO sighting, and he was unable to defend his analysis when it was challenged. In fact, the Blue Book file on this case actually contains a "Memo for the Record" that states, "Definitely not Echo 1 or Echo II. They were over the southern hemisphere at the time of the sighting." Blue Book was unable to establish the presence of any bright satellite over Ohio at that time. The superficiality of the Blue Book investigation is further revealed by their half-hearted attempt to determine the position of the Pegasus satellites. They gave up after two phone calls, convinced that the information was not available. [24] Yet James Oberg was able to locate these records for me without difficulty some ten years later. Neither Pegasus nor any other bright satellites had been visible.

Weitzel and the other UFO proponents correctly jumped all over Quintanella for the many aspects of the sighting he had ignored, for example, the alleged changes in the object's direction and the simultaneous sighting of Floyd and Venus. There was in principle no reason that Quintanella could not have launched an in-depth investigation into the sighting, and after a period of weeks or months he might have produced an entirely satisfactory explanation for every major aspect of the sighting. But the news media pressure was on. The Air Force didn't need the correct answer in six months, when all the headlines would have been forgotten and the crisis would be past. They needed an answer in a hurry, any answer: Congress was beginning to stir! After chatting with Spaur for a few minutes on the telephone, the Air Force would have been perfectly happy to let the incident die right there: superficial investigation, superficial conclusion. But the pro-UFO forces, led by William Weitzel, were stirring up a storm. Ohio Congressman William Stanton began to pressure the Air Force for a reevaluation of the incident, and he was joined by a number of other prominent local citizens. Political clout, the only force capable of prevailing against bureaucratic inertia, began to work its magic: Quintanella would travel to Ravenna to interview the witnesses. It seems that both sides intended to play silly games with this interview. Quintanella came only because he had to, out of concern for the Air Force's public image. He did his best to "snow" Spaur and the other deputies with impressive scientific facts and figures that sounded none the less convincing for being absurd and incorrect. Spaur, meanwhile, had evidently been carefully "coached" by the pro-UFO forces. (Weitzel and several of his UFO colleagues were in the building at the time, but they were not permitted to be present at the interview.) Someone else clearly must have prepared little speeches for Spaur, which he recited in singsong fashion, and not very successfully at that. The ensuing interview, recorded by Weitzel, reveals the depth to which the "science" of UFOlogy can sink when it degenerates into a game and is played by partisans who are more interested in scoring points than in finding the truth. "Venus, Venus," muttered Quintanella as he rattled some papers, "Venus today rises at 02:49 in the morning, and it rises at 110 degrees azimuth and 25 degrees elevation." This is absurd. On the morning of the chase, Venus rose at about 4:00 A.M., at 100° azimuth; the figures he cites are not correct for the day of the interview either. The Major also seems to have forgotten that, by definition, everything always rises at exactly zero degrees elevation! Quintanella was obviously putting on a show to impress the deputies. "It doesn't have to rise low on the horizon," he added knowledgeably, "it can rise high. But it's on the ecliptic, yes, it's always on the ecliptic." Spaur was snowed. "Okay, so it's on the ecliptic," he meekly conceded. (I wonder if either of the two men could have defined the ward ecliptic.) Score one for Quintanella. But Deputy Spaur was not prepared to give up without a fight. He had been provided the ammunition that (it was hoped) would permit him to demolish the satellite-Venus hypothesis, if he could only deliver it without slipping up. "First of all," Spaur boldly began, "as I understand it, a satellite orbits at about seven thousand, three hundred and sorne miles an hour, to seven thousand, five hundred. I may be wrong." He is. Spaur had rattled off the numbers admirably, but he had accidentally left out a syllable throughout his recitation: satellites orbit at seventeen thousand miles an hour not seven thousand. But no matter, because Quintanella didn't know the difference. Score one for Spaur. "Second of all," Spaur continued, any satellite that came as low as Floyd reportedly did would quickly burn up in the atmosphere. This is true, but totally irrelevant, since UFOlogical experience clearly indicates that there is little relationship between the estimated altitude of an unidentified object and its actual altitude.

"Second of all," continued Spaur (he meant "third of all"), "our satellite doesn't stop and go, and go up and dawn." "No, they zig-zag," Quintanella soberly stated. The Major paused for a moment and realized what an idiotic thing he had just said. A correction: they only appear to zig-zag, he somewhat sheepishly restated. Score another for Spaur. 

"Second of all" (by now Spaur should have reached "fourth of all"), 'Tm under the impression that Venus rises out of the east as the morning star. Now this is probably another thing that's wrong, I'm not sure." Spaur is quite correct, but he should have stuck to his guns: he who equivocates is lost. "Depends ... depends," Quintanella slyly asserted, "sometimes it'll rise right over you." That is ridiculous, of course, but Spaur was defeated; his pro-UFO allies were not present to come to his rescue. "Oh, okay," he reluctantly conceded. Score another for Quintanella. In the end, the interview counted for nothing. No minds were changed because none were open for an impartial examination of the evidence. Both NICAP and Quintanella stubbornly held to their previously stated positions, each of them refusing to take note of the serious inconsistencies in their own analyses. We are fortunate, however, that the Great UFO Chase has afforded us an unparalleled opportunity to observe both the Air Force's Project Blue Book and the pro-UFO forces in action and to note the shortcomings of each. Although the Air Force happened upon a substantially (though not completely) correct hypothesis to explain the sighting, they did not assemble enough information to justify their conclusions. Hence they were incapable of defending them when challenged. It must be conceded that even though the NICAP forces led by William Weitzel had reached an erroneous conclusion and defended it vehemently, there is no question that the thoroughness of their investigation was more impressive than the slipshod work done by the Air Force on this case. 

Even the aftermath of the Great UFO Chase was suitably dramatic. Six months after the incident, on October 9, 1966, the Associated Press issued a story by John De Groot that was widely carried in newspapers from coast to coast. It alleged that the flying-saucer incident had changed Spaur's life into a "nightmare." In it we read that his personal life was shattered by the publicity and ridicule that descended upon him in the wake of the Great UFO Chase. "He is no longer a deputy sheriff. His marriage is shattered. He has lost forty pounds. He lives on a bowl of cereal and a sandwich each day." Spaur was depicted as living in a lonely motel room, estranged from his wife and children, having literally no money left from his meager paycheck as a painter after he paid for his motel room and court-ordered child support. And he blames everything on Floyd: "Saucer... ##@@!' Spaur said bitterly. If he could change any or all of his past life, he reflected. only one thing would need to be changed: "the night we chased that damned thing."

The scene in "Close Encounters" where police cars chase UFOs was obviously inspired by this case.

 I do not claim to have any inside information concerning the private life of Dale F. Spaur, either before or after the UFO chase. Nonetheless, it does seem to me that it is all too convenient for a lonely and bitter man to blame all of the troubles in his life on a flying saucer. It cannot be denied that the publicity following in the wake of such a famous UFO incident may well prove to be difficult and upsetting. But to suggest that such an incident alone could be responsible for turning an otherwise healthy family life topsy-turvy is exactly the sort of psychological crutch to which a person in a difficult situation might well cling. There are too many instances in which reports of famous UFO sightings do not cause such disastrous upheavals in the witnesses' lives to lead one to believe that the UFO incident was the only reason for this unhappy outcome. (Spaur's personal difficulties in the wake of his UFO sighting appear to be the inspiration behind UFO-buff Steven Spielberg's portrayal of the Neary family breakup after the father's UFO sighting in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Another scene in this movie, where several police cars chase a UFO across a state line, is an obvious dramatization of Spaur's experience.) 

Daniese Spaur filed charges of assault and battery against Dale on August 2, but when the case came to trial on October 17, it was dismissed by the prosecutor, with the costs to be paid by the complainant: Daniese wound up paying $14.90 in court costs. The results of the "divorce" proceedings are even more curious. Daniese Evonne Spaur vs. Dale Floyd Spaur, Court of Common Pleas, Ravenna, Ohio, October 21, 1966: "The court finds that no common-law marriage existed between the parties. Therefore it is adjudged and decreed that this case be dismissed at plaintiff's cast." Apparently Dale and Daniese had never actually been married! [25] 


Following publication of the De Groot story, Spaur appears to have completely vanished. In 1972 the Dayton Daily News attempted to locate him for a follow-up story, without success.[26] Spaur reportedly turned up at a meeting of a UFO organization in Cleveland in February of 1975. He claimed to be earning a living as a professional race-car driver in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was still hoping for a reevaluation of his UFO chase. [27] The latest accounts say that Spaur is now living in a small town in West Virginia. (Weitzel had earlier noted Spaur's racing experience, which reportedly "paid off" during the chase. Spaur's enthusiasm for automobile racing might go a long way toward explaining the zest with which he pursued a supposed UFO at speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour.) 

Such is the story of the flying saucer named Floyd. It is a classic sighting. It is also full of holes. Dr. J. Allen Hynek rated this case as a "strong unidentified." Hynek writes, "I have presented aspects of this case in sorne detail because although it is just one of a great many similar cases, it is a fine example ... of a Close Encounter of the First Kind." [28] Hynek's evaluation of this case is especially perplexing. During March of 1966 he witnessed firsthand the "near hysteria" (his own words) over UFOs in Michigan, as police officers imagined celestial objects to be brilliant "moving" UFOs. But when the same scenario was repeated a month later in Ohio, Hynek, who was not present this time, reached the conclusion that the policemen must indeed have sighted a genuine UFO! The late Dr. McDonald considered the evidence assembled in support of this case to be "outstanding." Yet none of these recognized UFO authorities seemed to take the slightest notice that Spaur was revealed in the De Groot piece to be a UFO "repeater," a clear sign that a person's UFO testimony had best be taken with a grain of salt. It is remarkable how readily such well-known UFO "experts" can be misled by inaccurate data, inaccurate reporting, and a powerful will to believe. In UFOs and the Limits of Science, Ronald Storv examines and rejects an abbreviated prepublication version of this analysis, maintaining that the Spaur case "stands as one of the 'top ten,' an embarrassment to the Air Force and to the UFO debunkers." [29] If this tattered and torn case is held forth as one of the ten most convincing of all time, it demonstrates dramatically how flimsy the many thousands of weaker ones must be. After reading The UFO Verdict, however, Story wrote me that he has lost confidence in several of his "top ten" cases, and planned to say so publicly.

1. James E. McDonald's endorsement was given to NICAP, October 30,1966. 

2. J. Allen Hynek was called the “Galileo of UFOlogv" by Newsweek, November 21, 1977, p. 97;
the "Galileo of UFO Studies" bv Oui, April 1977, cover. 3. Hynek, "Are Flying Saucers Real?" Saturday Evening Post, December 17, 1966, p. 20. 4. Flying Saucers (New York: Look Special Publication, Cowles Communications, 1967), p. 39. 5. Edward U. Condon, Scientific Study of Unidentified Objects, Case 53;
supplement to Ravenna Record Courier, April 18, 1966. 6. Spaur and Neff's interview with the Air Force's Project Blue Book was taped by William Weitzel, and copies were widely distributed. 7. Philip]. Klass, UFOs Explained (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 42. 8. William Weitzel, "Into the Middle of Hell," UFO Reports, October 1967, p. 45. 9. East Liverpool (Ohio) Review, April 18, 1966. Interview with Huston. 10. Weitzel, Report of NICAP Pennsylvania Unit No. 1, April 8, 1967. 11. Weitzel, Report to NICAP, June 23, 1966. 12. Weitzel, UFO Reports, October 1967, p. 41. 13. Tom Schley, Beaver County Times, April 18, 1966. 14. Project Blue Book interview, May 10, 1966. 15. Project Blue Book interview, May 10, 1966. 16. Hynek, The UFO Experience, chapter 8; Blum, Beyond Earth, chapter 9. 17. Cleveland Plain Dealer, April18, 1966. 18. East Liverpool Review, April18, 1966. 19. Beaver County Times, April18, 1966. 20. U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book files. 21. Pittsburgh Post Gazette, April 18, 1966. 22. Weitzel, UFO Reports, October 1967, p. 44. 23. Weitzel, UFO Reports, p. 45. 24. Memo for the record, Project Blue Book files. 25. State of Ohio vs. Dale Spaur, State Case No. 62775; Court of Common Pleas, Case no. 34849. 26. Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, May 26, 1972. 27. Joseph Wittemer, personal Correspondence. 28. Hynek, The UFO Experience, chapter 8. 29. Ronald Story, UFOs and the Limits of Science (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1981),
p. 173. 30. Personal correspondence from Ronald Story, August 6, 1981.