UFO Conjectures

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Heflin Photos: Pro or Con

Dominick, a regular here, was irked by my mention that the Heflin UFO photos were hoaxed.

Here are two of the photos:



Dominick wrote this comment in my CIA/UFO posting, previous to this one:

"Rich, you can't just say that you are "in the hoax camp" without dealing with the photo-analysis that was done in JSE 2000 article. Deal with the finding of particulate matter in the photos. Deal with the difficulty of shooting a toy train wheel without confederates. Deal with the hazing and blueing which suggests strongly that the object filmed was a considerable distance from the camera. Deal with the smoke-ring photo...why fake it at all? No one, including Tony, has effectively dealt with any of this. Now unless we actually deal with these issues, we can't in good debate just simply say (and be taken seriously) that we are "in the hoax camp."

BTW, there is one "serious analyist" who does think that the Heflin photos are of some real craft in the sky. Me. I did not start that way. But an editor at the Orange County Register who knew of my interest in UFOs(and where I had previously written an economic policy piece) asked me do an OP/Ed on the Heflin photos back in 2009. And when I dug into the case, and especially into the photoanalysis, I became reasonably convinced that the photos were of some distant craft of the dimensions estimated by Heflin. (That Op/Ed appeared in the OCR on November 8, 2009). Was it ET? Probably not. But I'm reasonably convinced that it was a real flying object and that Heflin did not and, indeed, could not have faked it. And I'll stand by that until someone, anyone, deals effectively with the issues raised above." 

The Heflin photos have been discussed many times in the UFO community and on the internet.

One popular analysis is this one by Ann Druffel:


This is Richard Hall's exquisite take:


And here is Anthony Bragalia's observation about Heflin's photos (and a few other "famous" UFO images):


Again, from the copies of the photos, one can make analyses. The original Polaroid's are not needed to create a judicious, sensible analysis.

Of course, having the originals in hand would allow for additional information, but enough is provided by the copies for an adequate evaluation.

The toy-train wheel explanation makes sense to me, but Dominick isn't so moved by that determination.

And the smoke-ring photo baffles. Why was it created as a contrivance or what did it represent if it was an authentic image of the craft departing?

I see the apparent dust-raising below the craft in Image One above, but it isn't exactly below the object.

And like the Lee Harvey Oswald plaint about how many shots could he get off in the few seconds during which JFK was shot, how was Mr. Heflin able to get so many shots (four), using a Polaroid camera, before the UFO departed?

(This is the same question that presents itself about the famous Trent/McMinnville photos.)

The Heflin photos, like almost everything else UFO-related, creates controversy, and open-ended interpretations.



  • Part 1
    Rich wrote:

    “And the smoke-ring photo baffles. Why was it created as a contrivance or what did it represent if it was an authentic image of the craft departing?”

    OK, I’ll take on the challenge of describing a complex and obscure fluid dynamics phenomenon without the use of mathematics.

    Let’s start with the concept of the vortex. A vortex is a pattern of fluid flow that has two main defining characteristics. First, it has a line, or axis around which the fluid flow is determined. Second, the flow field has radial symmetry around the axis.

    Consider an example that most people are probably familiar with, a vortex (or whirlpool) that forms in a bathtub drain when the tub is being emptied. Imagine a line, centered on the middle of the drain hole and extending vertically upward; this is (at least approximately) the axis of the vortex. When the drain vortex is fully established, the flow field has a high degree of symmetry. If one were to move out in an arbitrary radial direction from the axis, pass through the wall of swirling water that forms the boundary of the vortex, and measure the velocity of the water at, say, 1 inch from the axis, one would discover that the velocity at that point would be predominantly circulatory (i.e., circling around the axis) with a small component of velocity heading radially inward toward the axis. The defining characteristic of a vortex is that, if you went out the same distance (i.e., 1 inch) in any other random radial distance, you would measure the same combination of circulatory and radial velocity. In other words, the flow looks the same at the same distance from the axis, regardless of which radial “spoke” you happen to be on. So that’s a simplified description of a vortex (We’re half way done).

    By Blogger Larry, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • Part 2

    It can be derived mathematically and shown experimentally that a vortex axis cannot begin or end in the middle of the body of fluid. In the case of the example just discussed, the vortex axis terminates on top at the interface between the water and the air and on the bottom at the interface between the water and the tub. A special case that is permitted by the mathematics is where the vortex axis is bent around such that one end terminates at the beginning of the other end. Imagine a snake curled around and biting its own tail. In this case, the vortex axis becomes a ring or circle. (I use the term circle, in the topological sense; it is a closed loop, but need not be perfrectly circular). The resulting flow pattern is referred to as a ring vortex in order to distinguish it from the more general case of a vortex that forms around an axis with discrete end points.

    Ring vortices can form whenever a sudden jet of fluid is introduced into a relatively undisturbed body of the same fluid. A cigarette smoker blowing a smoke ring is a common example. At the interface between the jet of fluid and the undisturbed fluid, fluid on the inside of the jet is trying to move forward while fluid on the outside is trying to remain stationary. This difference in velocity between the inside and outside of the jet, together with the viscosity of the fluid initiates a localized rotary flow which is (more or less) the same everywhere on the closed line that defines the boundary of the jet. In other words, the axis of a ring vortex forms around the circumference of the jet. The famous 1957 photo of a ring shaped “UFO” at Fort Belvoir, VA has, I believe, been pretty well identified as a smoky ring vortex produced when 55-gallon drums filled with pyrotechnics were detonated on the ground, thus producing a sudden upward directed jet of air and combustion products.

    Another common case where ring vortices are formed is in the generation of lift on aircraft wings. As an aircraft accelerates down the runway, it is normally at a zero angle-of-attack condition—not generating any lift. This is in order to reduce the takeoff run to the minimum possible. As soon as takeoff speed is reached, the control yoke or stick is pulled back and the aircraft rotates to an angle-of-attack that suddenly generates enough lift to get the aircraft off the ground. At the instant that lift starts being generated, a stable ring vortex forms around the wing. Theoretically, according to the mathematics, one part of the vortex axis remains fixed in the air over the runway at the location where the wing first started generating lift, another part remains attached to the wing (and parallel to the wingspan) and the two lines connecting the stationary vortex to the wing vortex stretch along the flight path as long as the wing is generating lift. It is, in fact, those two trailing vortices that stretch between the wing and the location where the wing first started generating lift that give the structure to contrails behind high-flying aircraft.

    In the Heflin case, the formation of a ring vortex is consistent with a circular planform object suddenly and impulsively accelerating upward and either pushing or pulling a body of air along with it. Such a condition would logically be expected to produce a localized jet of upward moving air which would naturally form into a ring vortex.

    By Blogger Larry, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • Thanks you Larry, for the dissertation,

    Now let me be simplistic, to keep the comments from going off into a further display of esoteric information.

    Why black smoke?

    Doesn't that indicate a rather primitive propulsion system?

    For me, the question of why a craft would sit idly (supposedly hovering, although that is questionable, based upon the alleged debris field beneath it) for such a prolonged period of time, only to be photographed, apparently?

    And if the supposed craft departed as you suggest, why didn't Heflin snap a Polaroid of the area into which it disappeared?

    After all he took four shots of the thing, allegedly resting in the sky; why not take a photo of that sky after the craft departed?

    I appreciate your comment Larry, considering your expertise about aerospace devices.

    But I don't want to end up with a blog like Kevin Randle's where people overwhelm readers with their expertise, smothering the gist of what is intended.

    I posted this, as noted, to get some feedback about the photo.

    That I inserted an aside about the smoke ring (because Dominick brought it up), shouldn't open the door to a massive discussion about that aspect of the sighting.

    Let's try to see what clues we can find in the photos or about the photos, from the copies, to determine if there's reason to think they may be faked.

    The smoke ring is interesting, but not conclusively able to confirm whether or not Heflin concocted the photos.

    It's a nice tough if he did, but otherwise the ring photo merely confuses the issue.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • Rich, just to clarify, Heflin took 3 pictures of the UFO "resting in the sky." The 4th photo, the smoke ring, was taken after he drove down the road (to where the UFO was last seen...about an eight of a mile away). He got out of his truck and took the photo. (Where he took that photo was verified by some tree/branch matching.)

    But, again, let me repeat that the absolutely key bit of information from the photo-analysis is this: the smoke ring appears composed of exactly the same "black particulate matter" that trails behind the UFO IN PHOTO THREE. Why is this important? It's crucial because it connects photo 3 with the smoke ring photo 4 and this connection strongly supports the veracity of Heflin's encounter. How he could have faked this connection between the two photos (remember this is 1965) is beyond my comprehension.

    I guess the skeptics would say that it's just all smoke from that smoking train wheel.

    By Blogger Dominick, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • The smoke ring, Dominick, is fascinating, whether real or contrived.

    It's an element that favors the authenticity of Heflin's photos.

    Why work to create such an image, which would do little to make the "disks" more real....unless Heflin had a writer's fictive imagination, and added such an image for novelistic reality, which I doubt was the case. However....

    Your point about the connection between photo three and the ring photo is intriguing.

    One point to consider is the shape of the disk....unlike other UFO descriptions mostly.....and primitive in design, assuming that an alien culture would have craft of an more amenable shape for travel through space.

    (Larry might address that.)

    I hope some skeptics back up my hoax belief with something more substantial than my lame observations.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • Rich asked:

    “Now let me be simplistic, to keep the comments from going off into a further display of esoteric information.

    Why black smoke?”

    It's probably not smoke (at least in the conventional sense of the word).

    It has been proposed that the dark gas and particulate matter that is sometimes seen in the vicinity of metallic UFOs consists of oxides of Nitrogen. Nitrogen and Oxygen are the two predominant constituents of air and can combine with each other in a large variety of proportions to form different chemical compounds, most of which show up in smog. The chemical reaction of Nitrogen and Oxygen requires an energy source to drive it. A field of ionizing radiation surrounding a UFO could do it (solar radiation is the natural process that drives the formation of NOx complexes in the atmosphere).

    It is well known that the high radiant power surrounding, for example, meteorites and lightning strikes also produces NOx compounds. It's not that esoteric.

    By Blogger Larry, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • Just an observation:

    Since these are Polaroids, there is no negative roll to conclusively prove that the photos were taken consecutively or at the same time or even on the same day. We relay on Heflin's account of how he took the photos. But, his account can't be verified.

    The smoke ring might or might not be related to the UFO photographed.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • Larry wrote: “It's not that esoteric.”

    I take that back. Actually it is esoteric. Sorry about that.

    PG wrote: “The smoke ring might or might not be related to the UFO photographed.”

    Yes, always a possibility. However, it is a bona fide ring vortex with some kind of dark gas/particulate matter entrained in it. It’s not easy to create them on a whim to substantiate hoaxed photos. More importantly, why would he choose an esoteric phenomenon that he and most others would not even think to associate with a UFO, to substantiate his case?

    Rich wrote: “One point to consider is the shape of the disk....unlike other UFO descriptions mostly.....and primitive in design, assuming that an alien culture would have craft of an more amenable shape for travel through space.

    (Larry might address that.)”

    Again going back to Paul Hill, if his conjecture is correct, he made the point that these metallic looking Unconventional Flying Objects don’t “fly” in the sense that we were using the term in 1947 (or even today, for that matter). A conventional flying vehicle of the kind that we aerospace engineers know how to build requires and relies on a highly structured flow of air around the vehicle to create lift, reduce drag, and stabilize it. We utilize the air to fly. “True UFOs” as Hill defines them don’t really seem to care very much about the air they are moving through. They seem to treat the air (and water, for that matter) around them as a detail or nuisance that must be dealt with, rather than an intrinsic part of how they get around. For that reason, the exact outer contour of the object whether simple (“primitive” as Rich says) like the Heflin object, or more complex, like bi-convex, domed objects doesn’t matter as much as it does in a conventional airplane.

    The one characteristic that “True UFOs” at least in the early era seem to have in common is rotational symmetry (or at least approximate symmetry) around a principal axis of the object. This suggests that that geometric axis of symmetry is also the axis of symmetry along which his “acceleration field” operates. Kind of like a helicopter rotor; it generates a force aligned along the rotor shaft, which is also the geometric axis of symmetry of the rotor disc. The rotor shaft can be tilted in different directions according to how much one wishes to travel vertically as compared to horizontally. However, the important point is that the axis along which the lift is being generated should pass through the center of mass of the entire vehicle in order to maintain stability.

    The simplest configuration that creates this condition is when there is one “force field generator” at the center of the object and the rest of the mass of the object is distributed evenly in a radial direction around that center. The Heflin object certainly would satisfy that condition.

    However, other configurations are possible, just as it is possible to have more than one rotor on a helicopter (think of the current fad of quadrotor UAVs) it would be possible to have more than one “force field generator” on a “true UFO”, as long as the resultant force vector of all the generators acting in concert passed through the center of mass of the vehicle. Most of the black triangle reports that depict 3 patches of light spaced near the vertices of the triangle would seem to satisfy this criterion pretty well.

    Concerning the travel of something like the Heflin object through space, nearly everything just stated about travel through the air would seem to apply. There are no conventional spacecraft subsystems visible—no solar power arrays, no thermal control radiators, no high-gain antennae, no main rocket thrusters or attitude control thrusters. It is as if the object doesn’t care about the fact of being in the vacuum of space—it is just a detail or perhaps a nuisance.

    By Blogger Larry, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • "Riddle recounts that the man had told him that "his neighbor he knew had rigged up a toy train wheel and some monofilament fishing line, hung them out of his truck window, shot them and would maybe just take them to the paper for some fun.""


    The 'vortex' is irrelevant, since there is nothing indicating what created it. A regular military jet might have created it.

    I have to wonder what more it would take to convince Larry...

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Tuesday, February 26, 2013  

  • "Objection, your Honor. Witness Parakletos is engaging in hearsay; indeed, double hearsay, with no way to verify anything that has been asserted. Violates all of the rules of evidence. 'Best evidence' is the actual photos themselves and Heflin's account, repeated several times without contradiction, of how they were taken."

    His Honor: "Objection sustained."

    By Blogger Dominick, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • This is yet another case of those who believe will continue to believe despite lack of corroborating evidence and those who doubt will continue to doubt because the only supporting evidence is an uncorroborated story.

    The photos are irrelevant and prove nothing. It simply comes down to whether one believes Heflin's story of them or one doesn't. There's nothing to be gained from further discussion.

    I will note, however, if that thing in the photo is really an alien spacecraft, somebody please enlighten us as to how they crossed the interstellar void in a piece of tin that appears salvaged from a junkyard.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • PG...

    AS usual, your salient comments mirror my thoughts.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • "His Honor: "Objection sustained." "


    We're not dealing with a criminal trial here.

    If you heard from someone who heard from someone else that your wife was out on the town the night before, behaving in a less-than-monogamous fashion...right down the the DETAILS of her undergarments...you would NOT be objecting to hearsay. You'd understand the probabilities involved, and act accordingly...

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • We're getting sidetracked here, an inherent problem with UFO buffs; they can't keep to the gist of a topic, which, in this case, is the authenticity of the photos, not the credibility of the photographer -- significant but unnecessary if only the photos are the issue at hand.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • RR,

    The photographs do not exist in a vacuum. The guy enjoyed model trains. That gave him reasonable access to the train wheel.

    And the return of the photos by some mysterious person some decades later is laughable.

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • I agree, P. that those elements of the episode are important, but I was trying to keep the discussion focused on only the photos themselves, to prevent a clutter of information that detracts from the hard evidence.

    The hear-say stuff is interesting and establishes a mind-set and opportunity to hoax perhaps, but it's the photos I want to deal with, and only the photos.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • You want to deal purely with the photos. These have been examined and re-examined many times over, as have other UFO photos. Some 'analysts' believe going over and over such photos will somehow prove them authentic. Nothing will ever prove them authentic (in the sense they represent a genuinely new phenomenon unknown to science).

    The majority will be proven fakes, but a few will escape and remain unknown, i.e. until some future date when further analysis finally unmasks their identity.

    Not a single one (not ONE) will prove to be of a visiting ET craft.
    You would have to physically capture one to prove this - some chance!

    PG's comments look superficially correct, until you realise that Adamski's craft was only a 'scout ship' not the interplanetary or interstellar mother ship. Roswell's tinfoil, sticks and rubber object? Likewise - it was merely something the ETs used to descend through the earth's atmosphere, not the big mother craft. And so on. Heflin's 'saucer' was simply another 'scout craft', this time shaped like a toy train engine!

    Stephen Darbishire's photos? Again, these are identical (so certain analysts told us) to Adamski's craft. Look at all that analysis, done decades ago. Dammit, that boy was only 13, wasn't he? And he even fooled Prince Philip. Some guy!

    There is Trent, there is Heflin, there is Trindade, there is Gulf Breeze, there is..... None have really survived.

    And so it goes on. The ETHers have an answer to each and every objection, if need be.

    Such is ufology (eh Gilles?).

    By Blogger cda, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • Christopher:

    You have got to set aside your gripe with the pro-ET crowd.

    It's the UFO phenomenon we're hoping to get a clue about.

    The phenomenon's explanation may be extraterrestrial, in some sense.

    Or it's something altogether different, such as a material hallucination (whatever that might be).

    Photos of the phenomenon, real photos, might proffer something that tells us what the phenomenon is.

    The ET crowd may have condemned us to a profound red-herring, or they may be right.

    You think they aren't.

    But setting aside the ET premise for UFOs and removing the bogus photos while cleansing the UFO lore of made-up witness testimony or its pathological outbursts should get us closer to what UFOs may be.

    We're just trying to gather "evidence" -- pure evidence -- from the crime scene(s).

    This means we have to scout Roswell for nonsense and duplicity.

    We have to eliminate phony photos and fictive witness account.

    We have to pry, from the wreckage of inept UFO researchers, that which is false, misleading, or errant.

    That's what those of us stoked by flying saucers and UFOs are trying o do.....you are one of us.

    But you are busy contending with the ET people....so busy that you've lost sight of what brought you to flying saucers and UFOs so many years ago, over their in Great Britain.

    Me? I'm just trying to winnow out the asses who show up to confuse or to push forward their ignorant ramblings.

    Once we get their bellowing off the stage, and we find what is true in the UFO detritus, we're a step closer to assuaging the curiosity that brought us to the UFO topic in the first place.

    So, please, forget about the Randles, the Rudiaks, the Bragalias et al. and help us find what is real in UFO-land and what isn't.

    That would be a boon.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • The Heflin photos show a UFO. It's unidentified. Heflin never claimed it was an interstellar vehicle. And neither have I. In fact, Heflin thought he might have photographed some experimental craft from a near-by Marine base. Could be. Could have been some early "drone" like aircraft that the Navy and CIA were working on.

    Why do the skeptics (of the photos and Heflin's story) always bring up the fact that the depicted craft doesn't look like it crossed the Universe to get here? That's NOT the point! The point, as Rich has correctly asserted, is to deal with the photos and the photoanalysis to determine whether there is any obvious faking. My review of the evidence is that NO ONE has found any obvious faking (no strings, for example). The pictures hold up as images of something fairly substantial, fairly distance from the camera, with several extraordinary anomolies (the black particles in several of the photos) that lend substantial credence to the story that Heflin told, and retold, without contradiction for years. He shot 3 photos of something flying in the sky on August 3, 1965. What that thing was remains a mystery. Perhaps someone on this blog will help us solve it.

    By Blogger Dominick, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • Dominick has the controversy in perspective.

    The photos could be of something prototypical as I've suggested for Arnold's iconic sighting and that of Lonnie Zamora in Socorro.

    Or the photos could be contrived as some skeptics have set out to prove.

    Like the Trent photos, the issue of authenticity remains.

    And while going over the photos again and again, as CDA points out, doesn't get us far, however....

    Maybe someone will discover something that shows the photos were not concocted (or hoaxed), or that they were.

    It's an exercise in analytics, that's all.

    And we love analytics, obviously.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 27, 2013  

  • I've brought this up years ago the last time I ran across commentary about the Heflin photos, but the "dust cloud" in photo 1 is anything but. It’s not a dust cloud, but a cluster of weeds growing next to a water canister used in the irrigation for that field (the canister is the pylon in the center of the "dust.") I'm from the area and back when this part of Orange County was still primarily agricultural, you would see these types of irrigation systems (and canisters) everywhere. Weeds love growing where there is water spillage and that's what you're seeing here - silhouetted against the darker tilled soil.

    By Blogger Chris Barrus, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • Thanks Chris...

    I've seen that explanation (yours?) but forgot it.

    It might be a clue of some sort, if the UFO were real.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, March 05, 2013  

  • Hello there

    Im just wondering how this can be considered real. It seems a little odd that a person is travelling in a car with his camera in 1965 and surprisingly spotting the UFO. Seems like a setup if you ask me.

    If you watch the clouds on the two pictures you'll notice that there are no simularities.

    By Blogger Christian, at Friday, March 08, 2013  

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