UFO Conjecture(s)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Purity and Psychology of Early UFO Reports

These excerpts from NICAP's assessment(s) of UFO accounts prior to and right after Kenneth Arnold's iconic "flying saucer" sightings indicate how clean UFO sightings in the 1947 time-frame were, and why most were not ballyhooed:

           "Published records have referred to a total of forty-nine UFO reports for the period June 1st through June 24th, by more than seventy-five witnesses, two thirds of whom have been fully identified. These figures raise an interesting question: why did none of these seventy-five witnesses report their unusual observations until after Arnolds story had been published? In a number of those reports, the witnesses tried to account for their initial silence. Richard L. Bitters, editor of the Wapakoneta (Ohio) Daily News, reportedly felt that his sighting of June 23rd was simply not a news story, and did not publish it until two weeks later when he changed his mind at the height of the wave (III-6); on the same night, two other Ohio residents made a similar sighting but delayed reporting it "until others had told of seeing them" (Case 28); E. B. Parks, of Hazel Green, Alabama, felt that the phenomenon he observed about the same time was "so unusual that it was not reported for fear others would disbelieve the account of it" (Case 29). Richard Rankin, who had not attached any "otherworldly" significance to his sighting of June 23rd (or 14th) at Bakersfield, California, assumed that he was observing the Navy’s experimental "Flying Flapjack," the XF5U-1, even though "I couldn’t make out the number or location of the propellers, and I couldn’t distinguish any wings or tail" (II-3) so he hesitated to describe what he had seen "until others were reporting the same thing." And so it went: if the reason for not reporting these earlier sightings at the time they occurred is not exactly stated in every case, it is at least implicitly apparent the witnesses were afraid to report them because they were so unusual.  

The Element of Fear

            The 1947 UFO wave is perhaps the most fascinating of any to examine because of its unique position at the very beginning of the contemporary period of UFO activity in this country. There were no "attitudes" about UFOs in June 1947. There were no preconceptions, no misconceptions, no "policies" by either press or public, or by any official agencies, and certainly no pattern existed concerning the phenomenon by which comparisons might be made. Few people recalled the reports of "ghost rockets" over Sweden during the summer of 1946, and it was only during the crest of the 1947 wave, on July 6th and 7th, that any connection was made with those earlier phenomena. A few World War II veterans, who had observed "foo fighters" over Germany and in the South Pacific during the war, were now reminded of those earlier incidents by the widespread reports of flying saucers. But for most witnesses, the experience of observing strange aerial manifestations was completely without precedent and profoundly baffling. 

            We now know that after 1947 it could be expected that a UFO witness might be afraid to report a sighting publicly for fear of ensuing ridicule and intimidation.  This is a reaction we have come to expect, one of the many psychological complexities of the UFO phenomenon that has developed out of prevailing public and official attitudes over a long period of time. But in 1947 there were no such precedents to create this type of fear; these witnesses had seen something unaccountable and their fear was of the unknown, a reaction to something totally new and unexpected. There was no place, outside of science fiction, for this kind of inexplicable experience: the appearance of some new phenomenon was not just frightening, it was against all common sense, and if something in someone’s experience does not make any sense, it is not likely that this experience is going to be made public, at least not until it is discovered that others have shared the same baffling experience. And so to many, it must have come as something of a relief to read of Kenneth Arnold's sighting, and to discover that they had not taken leave of their senses and were not the only ones to have come face to face with something they were quite unable to explain or understand."

Here are examples of sightings [from NICAP] that show, as I see it, how UFO sightings in the early 1947 period were reported without an interpretive patina that could mar the essence of the accounts:

 Reports Before June 1947

            As early as the middle of April 1947, at the Weather Bureau in Richmond, Virginia, a U. S. Government meteorologist named Walter A. Minczewski and his staff had released a pibal balloon and were tracking its east-to-west course at 15,000 feet when they noticed silver, ellipsoidal object just below it. Larger than the balloon, this object appeared to be flat on bottom, and when observed through the theodolite used to track the balloon, was seen to have a dome on its upper side. Minczewski and his assistants watched the object for fifteen seconds as it traveled rapidly in level flight on a westerly course, before disappearing from view. In the official report on file at the Air Force's Project Blue Book, at Wright-Patterson Field, in Dayton, Ohio, this sighting is listed as Unidentified. 

            Another early sighting in the official files is the report by Byron Savage of Oklahoma City -- like Arnold, a businessman and private  pilot. He had seen an object about six weeks before Arnold, on May 17th or 18th, and his report was one of the first to receive widespread  attention in the newspapers immediately after Arnold's report had appeared. The Oklahoma City Times gave it prominent space on June 26th. At the time of his sighting, Savage had been out in his yard it was dusk, and the sky was still light, when he saw an object “come across the city from just a little east of south  … its altitude was very high somewhere around 10,000 feet, I couldn’t be sure. Funny thing about it, it made no noise. I don't think it had kind of internal combustion engine. But I did notice that right after it went out of sight, I heard the sound of rushing wind and air. I told my wife right away, but she thought I must have seen lightning.“ He further described the object as being of “a shiny, silvery color,” and very large -- “bigger than any aircraft we have.” He said it was “perfectly round and flat.” In the Blue Book file he described the object as appearing ellipsoidal in shape as it approached, and completely circular while passing directly overhead, on a course toward the northwest. In this account he said that it appeared “frosty white,” and that its speed was about three times as fast as a jet. It disappeared from view in about fifteen to twenty seconds. Although the sighting details provided by Savage are far more complete than those given for many of the official cases listed by Blue Book as “explained,” this report falls in the category of Insufficient Information. 

            Another case in the Air Force Blue Book files occurred on May 19th, sometime between twelve thirty and one p.m., at Manitou Springs, Colorado. Seven employees of the Pikes Peak Railway, including Navy veteran Dean A. Hauser, mechanics Ted Weigand and Marion Hisshouse, and T. J. Smith and L. D. Jamison, were having lunch when Weigand noticed a bright, silver-colored object approaching rapidly from the  northeast. It stopped almost directly overhead and the group of men watched it perform wild gyrations for a number of minutes. Hauser said that the object, after having approached in a straight line, “began to move erratically in wide circles. All this time it reflected light, like metal, but intermittently, as though the angle of reflection might be changing from time to time.” It was difficult to get a clear idea of its shape, and even viewing it through binoculars did not appear to “bring it any closer.” They estimated its height at one thousand feet. For twenty minutes they watched it climb, dive, reverse its flight course, and finally move off into the wind in a westerly direction. “It disappeared in a straight line in the west-northwest in a clear blue sky,” Hauser reported.  At no time did anyone hear any noise. An account of the sighting appeared in the Denver Post of June 28. The next day the Post reported that the witnesses had been interviewed by representatives of the 15th Air Force headquarters and the results of the investigation would be sent on to Washington. The results, perhaps unknown to the witnesses even to this day, were “possible birds.”

(The "birds explanation" in the report right above came after the fact, and was part of the loony explanations that so-called "experts" eventually imparted to flying saucer and UFO reports.)

In the 1940s and early 1950s, citizens, who had been solicited to keep their mouths shut during WWII (about lots of things, many mundane, such as what manufacturers were making in their factories or how food stuffs were being rationed) had a hesitancy to be public about strange things they experienced or saw.

This wasn't an instilled fear of government reprisal but, rather, a mind-set left over from the codicils of WWII behavior.

People were inclined to be closed-mouth.

Moreover, there wasn't an inclination to be socially bombastic. Such boorish displays of attention-seeking didn't pop up until the 1960s.

So, in the 1947 to 1957 time-frame, UFO reports, aside from those by contactees, remain grist for investigation.

Within them lie clues to the nature -- the core nature -- of the UFO phenomenon.

While Roswell clutters the purity of those early UFO reports, Roswell, itself, is a fount of interesting information -- something did indeed happen near there in July 1947 -- but the incidents inside the Roswell story have been compromised by UFO researchers who've larded the tale with their biases and inept investigations, mostly or all) after 1978.

While Roswell is a source for some insight to the UFO phenomenon, it's those other 1947 reports and sightings, because they haven't been besmirched by ufologists, which contain information that's ripe for investigation, even now.

A forensic look at the 1947 wave (of UFO sightings), apart from Roswell or Arnold's sighting can be useful for those who want to clarify the historicity of UFOs or want to determine what UFOs are or were.

It's UFO archaeology and/or paleontology; ufology should be abandoned as the rubric under which new UFO aficionados operate.

And Roswell should be left to those who think they can unravel the event(s) from the mythology and detritus that has accumulated over the years and continues to pile up in 2013.