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Scientific Braintrust Tackles UFO Mystery

B. Ann Slate, Saga’s UFO Report, Vol. 3, No. 2, June 1974 (Credit: Michigan MUFON)

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Summary: Recently, without fanfare, some of our most distinguished space and aeronautic experts gathered to exchange data on Unidentified Flying Objects - and their confidential reports show that many scientists have seen aerial phenomena that could only be labeled UFOs

Recently, without fanfare, some of our most distinguished space and aeronautic experts gathered to exchange data on Unidentified Flying Objects - and their confidential reports show that many scientists have seen aerial phenomena that could only be labeled UFOs


Dr. Jacques Vallee observed: I think the current belief among most flying saucer enthusiasts that the unidentified flying objects are craft used by visitors from another planet masks the real, infinitely more complex nature of the intelligence and technology that gives rise to the sightings. The things we call unidentified flying objects are neither objects nor flying."


"It is safe to assume that no intelligent life elsewhere from outside of our solar system has any possibility of visiting Earth in the next 10,000 years," said the late Edward Condon in 1969, after having just spent a half million dollars on a two-year Air Force sponsored UFO study at the University of Colorado.

"When does one start counting?" responded the astute American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the nation's largest professional society of engineers and space scientists involved in the technologies of rocket, aeronautic, and marine systems.

As a result of Condon's negative conclusions after a study of 117 UFO cases examined in detail, the AF decided UFOs were of no further official interest and dropped the investigation they'd carried on since 1947 - only to have it opened up again by a group of the most highly-trained scientists in the country.

The AIAA, after analyzing the final report of the Colorado Study, noted that 30 percent of those 117 cases could not be identified and that the opposite conclusions could just as easily have been drawn. "A phenomenon with such a high ratio of unexplained cases should arouse sufficient scientific curiosity to continue its study," they stated.

Thus, while certain individual and open-minded specialists had already gone on record stating that the study of UFOs was of prime importance, the general public was not aware that a braintrust called the AIAA UFO Subcommittee was formed in 1967. This elite team of 11 was headed by Dr. Joachim P. Kuettner of the World Meteorological Organization. Other members of the team included scientists from TRW Systems, Hughes Aircraft, Martin Marietta, Georgia Institute of Technology, Meteorology Research, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, U.S. Army Electronics Command, McDonnell Douglas Missile and Space Systems, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When this scientific subcommittee was formed, special care was taken to insure that none of its members was prejudiced in his thinking about UFOs. Their examination of the Condon Report noted the marked differences in 1he conclusions drawn by the authors of the various chapters and Condon's summary.

"It discloses many of his (Condon's) personal conclusions. Making value judgments was no doubt one reason why Condon was asked to handle the project. One is happy to obtain the judgment of so experienced and respected a man but one need not agree with it!" the Subcommittee stated in the AIAA publication of November 1970.

They urged that a continued effort with an emphasis on improved UFO data collection be made, invited AIAA members to bring cases to their attention, stressed that the public and social aspects of the UFO controversy had subsided only temporarily but would continue to demand answers, and requested that Air Force files be fully declassified and opened for inspection.

During the next few years, specific cases were analyzed in detail and presented to AIAA members in the society's bulletin. The well-known Lakenheath, England, Radar-Visual Case of 1956 (which began when the Ground Controlled Approach radar installation called Radar Air Traffic Control Center and inquired, "Do you have any targets on your scopes traveling at 4,000 miles per hour?"), was called "one of the most disturbing UFO incidents known today."

Peter A. Sturrock, Professor of Space Science in Engineering and Professor of Astrophysics in Applied Physics at Stanford University (an AIAA member), was intrigued that most UFO sightings were reported by laymen. Sturrock realized it was this fact that caused skepticism within the scientific community since some of the reports were so bizarre that the sighting was discredited because of the non-technical background of the witnesses. He wondered if scientists and engineers would disclose their UFO accounts when asked to do so under appropriate circumstances. (Those "appropriate circumstances" meant setting up a closed, in-house situation where anonymity was guaranteed.)

In April 1973, a questionnaire was mailed to 1,175 AIAA members of the San Francisco Chapter. The survey asked if an aerial phenomenon was ever witnessed which could not be identified and, if so, requested a description of the sighting. It also inquired if the event had been reported to the authorities, and asked for a brief statement of the witness's scientific training.

The poll drew 423 responses, 36 percent. While some said their observations might have been caused by a barium cloud experiment, St. Elmo's fire, a rocket launch, or rocket trail, the majority of sightings, from men with technical training, indicated the observance of unknown aerial phenomena precisely like UFO reports from laymen.

It's interesting that, as Sturrock sums up his findings for the AIAA publication of May 1974, he states, "In no case did a scientist go on public record as having seen a strange phenomenon that he could not explain and (which) might be related to the UFO phenomenon. So it appears from this survey, that if you want to find out whether scientists see UFOs, you must ask them and you probably must guarantee them anonymity."

Who can blame these highly trained and professional space experts for not talking about their experiences, such as the following case coming out of the survey concerning telepathic contact, when the attitude toward UFO contactees is still one of disbelief and ridicule (Recall during the early Air Force Pro­ject Blue Book investigations, Capt. Edward Ruppelt, who managed that office, promptly filed all reports concerning creatures or contact in the wastebasket!)

The survey findings lists the following as "Report 18" and concerns the narrative account of someone we'll call Mr. Smith who had his first encounter with UFOs in 1945 while on official duty in Belgium. Mr. Smith gave his technical background "Colonel: associated with Research and Development; trained observer with background in Intelligence." The weather was clear with excellent visibility. There were no hostile or friendly aircraft within the area protected by IAZ rules of engagement in effect. The large bright object, showing white and yellow lights with occasional flashing red and blue ones, traveled a rectangular course for about 15 minutes and then made a very fast vertical escape. It was not picked up by radar or any other electronic devices.

But that was only the beginning for UFOs and Mr. Smith. His statement for the survey continues: "Los Altos, Calif. (at home, Aug. 12, 1972). 1011 hours. Clear weather. Excellent visibility. Prior to the sighting I received telepathic communication to go to the kitchen window and witness the flight of four UFOs. The telepathic communication continued. Four silver vehicles observed about Mt. Bielawski (elevation 3,231 feet) on Skyline Drive several miles south of Mountain View, Calif. This observer requested visible manifestation by vehicles. Vapor trails formed by four vehicles operating in intricate maneuvers. Vehicles disappeared on steep ascending and receding course. Sighting lasted about 3 minutes."

Mr. Smith was to be contacted another time, in February 1973, as he was driving his car. The telepathic message said "they" would be in the vicinity of the San Luis Reservoir the following day. He states the weather was clear with excellent visibility. There were no aircraft, balloons, or parachutes in the area. Then, according to Mr. Smith, a large ball of light with a diameter estimated at 20 feet and at an altitude of 2,500 feet moved across the sky from north to south from out of nowhere. The light emanating from the object was described as golden. While observing the UFO, Mr. Smith was advised by his telepathic contact that what he was observing was one of "their" probes. He watched the craft for about two minutes until it disappeared behind a mountain peak.

While Mr. Smith's accounts for the AIAA survey were unique in that they involved mental contact, the other reports that came in from members indicated many strange brilliant objects had been seen; objects that maneuvered in such a manner that these space scientists could not. reconcile them with any known modern aircraft or device with which they were familiar.

Sturrock concluded: "This survey certainly achieved its chief aim. It shows that a sample of scientifically­trained persons report aerial phenomena similar to so-called UFO reports."

In January 1975, the AIAA held its 13th Aerospace Sciences Meeting in Pasadena, Calif. For three days, brilliant men from across the country met to exchange technical papers and hear the latest research developments in various disciplines.

But of major interest, judging by the full house in Room 124, was Session 8A-The UFO Symposium - conducted under the Division of Space and Atmospheric Physics. The guest speakers were some of the most eminent UFO authorities of our time: Dr. J. Allen Hynek, astronomer and former Air Force UFO consultant; Dr. Jacques Vallee, astrophysicist and computer scientist; Dr. David Saunders, psychologist; Dr. Fred Beckman of the University of Chicago; Ted Phillips, landing trace expert; and Chairman of the Subcommittee, Dr. Joachim P. Kuettner.

Beckman, photographic analyst for Dr. Hynek's Center for UFO Studies, presented various pictures taken of UFOs around the world, the latest involving a multi-witness sighting of an object in Japan which is currently being studied at the Center. This was followed by one of the most dramatic highlights of the meeting - the showing of a 12-second film which captured in flight a thirty-foot diameter, metallic, oval-shaped flying saucer. Taken in April 1966, the object is shown racing across the sky with the mountains of Catalina Island off southern California visible below the craft. Filmed by a professional photographer on assignment in the area to take scenic aerial shots for documentaries, he was strapped into a special vibration-resistant chair mounted on the side of a helicopter.

As they neared the southern tip of the island at an altitude of 1,000 feet, the cameraman first saw the UFO about five miles away; he thought the object was a balloon. When the UFO was about two miles from the helicopter, he realized whatever the silver object was, it was something very unusual and he began filming it. His biggest regret was that he stopped photographing when he did.

"After only a few seconds, it passed out of view, sort of behind the helicopter. I have been sorry ever since that I didn't tell the pilot to turn around and follow it ... but it probably would have been out of sight by then and we were on a tight shooting schedule."

The film didn't emerge until recently. At the time the object was photographed, Project Blue Book was under heavy public criticism for its handling of sightings and cartoons appeared across the country leveling ridicule at the "swamp gas" explanation for UFOs. The photographer wanted to keep a low profile until the film could be viewed and authenticated in a less emotional climate. Currently this revealing motion picture is being subjected to computer analysis.

Also utilizing the computer and basing his conclusions on its findings, Dr. David Saunders has gone on record predicting the next UFO flap will occur in December 1977 around Moscow or Iran (60 degrees east longitude). He said that an extrapolation of this sort was made possible by examining the approximately five-year cycles of the sighting waves which have occurred over the past 30 years. A former key scientist for the Condon Committee, Saunders blasted the project for its bias and prejudiced findings in his book, "UFOs? YES!

Speaking before the AIAA Symposium, Dr. Saunders refuted the findings of another scientist who had proposed that only low-income and less educated people report seeing flying saucers. In his computerized study (UFOCAT) of 18,122 cases (including 315 occupant incidents), encompassing more than 3,053 counties, Saunders found "More reports per capita are made by the better educated counties."

Dr. Jacques Vallee, author of Challenge to Science and Anatomy Of A Phenomenon, also used data processing methods to present his lecture on the basic patterns in UFO observations. The following conclusions were drawn from 50,000 international cases:

57 percent of all reports made were under clear sky conditions;

The phenomenon under study presents the optical characteristics of a real physical phenomenon as observed by the witnesses;

Worldwide sightings are of considerable duration, often in excess of five minutes and commonly lasting up to 20 minutes. These UFOs could not be interpreted as meteors, balloons, stars, aircraft, birds, or satellites;

Sightings increase about five p.m. and reach a maximum about nine p.m. This decreases until a secondary maximum wave begins again at three a.m. and returns to a low level at six a.m.;

With all other factors constant, witnesses are only in a position to observe one in 14 close approaches of the phenomenon to the surface of the Earth. This means, in order to generate the 2,000 close-encounter observations which Vallee has on file, the phenomenon would have had to manifest itself close to the ground 28,000 times during specific hours and in the regions studied; and

In approximately 70 percent of the study cases, the site of the close approach was in a relatively deserted or isolated area, indicating an intelligence on the part of the UFOs since they do not want to be observed.

Vallee suggested that the detection of UFOs might be accomplished by the use of automatic, well-equipped geophysical stations which record the fluctuations of the Earth's magnetic field. The station at Ch, mbon-la-Foret, France, for example, indicated magnetic disturbances in the atmosphere during the same period that eyewitnesses were observing UFOs in a nearby area. Vallee's research with Dr. Claude Poher of France, also an astrophysicist, may well offer some exciting results in the near future.

The latest UFO case was presented to the Symposium by civil engineer Ted Phillips, who specializes in physical trace landing reports and to date has on file almost 800 cases from 36 countries. "Based on this information," Philipps stated, "many researchers feel as I do that this is the most direct approach to resolving the UFO problem. Traces remain as tangible evidence long after the reported UFO event. UFOs are not available for study in the laboratory ­physical traces are."

This sighting occurred on Sunday morning, Sept. 1, 1974, outside the rural town of Langenburg, Saskatchewan, Canada. Farmer Edwin Fuhr, 36, was harvesting his rape seed crop and had been at the job for almost an hour. There was a light rain falling and Fuhr proceeded slowly on his tractor, constantly checking his position to the right but keeping in mind there was a large wet grassy area or slough to his left. When Fuhr looked ahead and to the left to see how close he was to the slough, he observed a metal dome about 50 feet away protruding out of the high grass.

The farmer's first thought was that the dome was some type of new metal goose blind which he had seen advertised. He also suspected his neighbor of playing a practical joke. Stopping the tractor, Fuhr walked to within 15 feet of the object, planning to give the "blind" a good kick to scare whoever was in it. Suddenly, the situation changed.

As he approached the metallic object, Fuhr could see that the grass around the base was moving and the object was spinning silently and fast. Now, quite frightened, he backed away until he reached the tractor which was still running at full throttle. He climbed back up to the seat and this time saw four more shiny domes all spinning clockwise and hovering about 12 to 18 inches above the ground. The grass was moving at the base of each object.

Fuhr tried to push the tractor into gear to get away but he couldn't budge the controls or the steering wheel. Whether this was some effect caused by the strange domes or if he was simply weak with fear, the farmer couldn't be certain. "I sat there like I was frozen," the witness said. "I couldn't move nothing! I didn't know what the devil to do! All of a sudden, they all went up, straight up to, I would say about 200 feet, and then stopped. If you had blinked, you would have missed the whole thing!"

Now hovering in a step-like formation, the five domes stopped spinning.

A gray vapor, like an exhaust, floated out from two ports at the bottom of each craft which was followed by a gust of wind that flattened out the rape seed crop. As terrified as he was by the strange wind created by the hovering domes, Fuhr could only think, "Oh, hell, here goes my crop!"

Then, after two minutes, the objects, which were described as having the appearance of brushed stainless steel, took off rapidly and disappeared into the clouds. Edwin Fuhr sat quite still on his tractor for a while, just to make sure the UFOs were really gone. Cautiously, he walked over to the slough.

Beneath the spot where he had seen the first hovering dome, there was a depression in the tall grass 11 feet in diameter. The grass on the outside was matted and compressed absolutely flat, twisted in a clockwise ring but in the center, directly beneath the center of the UFO, the grass stood erect. It was neither warm nor emitting any abnormal odor. During the investigation by Ted Phillips, the farmer mentioned that the second dome looked like it had two metallic extensions or probes coming out of its base; he estimated them to be about three feet long and three inches thick.

It should be noted that Fuhr didn't want any publicity about his experience. He did go back to the farmhouse after the incident and told his wife who, in turn, told Fuhr he was crazy. But it's hard to keep a secret in rural communities and the story eventually was heard by Constable Ron Morier of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police assigned in the area. Constable Morier learned from the farmer, who had been asking a few discreet questions of his neighbors, that there had been obvious animal reactions to the encounter. At midnight, the evening before the domes were seen in the field, neighborhood dogs began barking and didn't stop for three hours, much to the discomfort of their owners who could in no way stop the unusual racket. In addition, the cattle in the area began acting up, running back and forth frantically trying to break out of their pens.

Ted Phillips, when interviewing Fuhr, inquired what was the constable's reaction to the UFO report. "Constable Morier was really interested but the Corporal said not to repeat the story. He said to 'keep it under your hat for awhile and don't report anything,' " the farmer replied.

In questioning the constable, Phillips asked about the reputation of farmer Edwin Fuhr. "I believe he saw something and I don't see why he would exaggerate what he saw," Morier responded. "There is no way that this could be a hoax. Whatever was in there, it came out of the air and departed in the same way, as far as I could tell."

Whatever the domes were sent to do, their mission had not been completed on that Sunday morning because the following Monday, when Fuhr returned to the site to continue his harvesting, a sixth ring had been added to the other five. The similar 11-foot diameter ring of matted grass indicated still another metallic object had mysteriously arrived and departed after the others.

What did Fuhr feel about the episode? Did he believe in UFOs be­fore this encounter? "I thought it was a bunch of bull!" the farmer answered candidly. "I had never seen one so why should I believe in them. But God knows, I do now!"

Another dramatic episode in Phillips's presentation to the Symposium concerned a brilliantly glowing object which terrorized a family in Columbia, Mo., on the evening of June 28, 1973. As Vanea Richards, 16, went to the refrigerator, she heard a rather loud thrashing sound coming from the woods near her mobile home. She looked out the window but could see nothing in the darkness. The noise seemed to be moving around a large tree about 60 feet away and as the sound continued, she grew frightened and called her father.

James Richards went to the kitchen window (while Vanea ran to lock the front door) and saw two beams of light coming from some point between the fence and the trees. He estimated the beams were about five feet apart, wide at the top and tapering at the ground. Richards could see nothing above the bright, silver white beams or around them. Suddenly, they disappeared and a bright oval glowing form was seen just above the original position of the beams. It was an object 15 feet in diameter hovering near the ground.

The UFO was extremely bright, so much so that Richards had to turn away after briefly watching it. In the intense glow, the edges of the object were fuzzy and no surface details were seen. The trees around the UFO stood out plainly in the light, "lit up bright as day." The thrashing noise continued and the trees around the object moved back and forth as if buffeted by a strong wind. One large tree moved differently, as if it was being tugged at; one limb was actually being forced to the ground. Then, after a loud cracking sound, the tugging motion and thrashing noises stopped. That limb was later found twisted and pulled down, broken off from the tree trunk at a point just over 17 feet above the ground.

The area was now quiet, almost too quiet. Richards noticed that his dogs were lying very still between the mobile home and a nearby shed. It was unusual that they were not barking with all the noise and lights such a short distance away. The object was still hovering silently but now it began moving closer to the trailer. Richards loaded his guns and phoned for help. The UFO was now about 50 feet from the home and at this point it appeared to be silver white in the center with a blue band of light and an orange glow extending around the outer edge. Then, with a slow, smooth motion, it moved back again to its original position at the edge of the field.

As Richards described the frightening events taking place to the telephone operator, the house lights dimmed twice. Then the phone went dead as the craft again moved toward the trailer.

"We didn't know what to do," Richards said. "We both got kind of scared. This cold feeling came over me. I got speechless at this time. I was sure, like you almost feel that you were going to get killed or something, like death was at you. This was it!"

The object suddenly moved back toward the field and hovered. The emanating glow grew smaller and smaller until the UFO disappeared. Leaves along the side of the tree where the craft hovered were burnt to a height of 35 feet and were dead within two weeks of the episode, Phillips's report states. No radiation was detected.

The director of the Center for UFO Studies, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, said before the AIAA meeting that one serious problem with investigating UFOs has always been the "signal-to-noise." The "noise" (those objects which can be identified) being so great that the existence of a "signal" (objects which cannot be identified) has been seriously doubted.

"In the UFO problem, we did not know at the start that there was a signal ... there were merely tales unacceptable to scientists as a body," the astronomer said. "Only those of us, through a long exposure to the subject or motivated by a haunting curiosity to work in the field and to get our hands dirty with the raw data, came to know there was a signal."

Hynek used the following analogy as an illustration: "In the isolation of radium, Madame Curie was obliged to work through tons of pitchblende to obtain a minuscule amount of radium. Yet there was no question of the signal in the pitchblende noise. The radioactivity of the pitchblende was unquestioned. Let us suppose that instead there had been a rumor - an old wive's tale or an alchemist's story - that there existed a miraculous unknown element which could be used in the transmutation of elements and which had miraculous healing powers and other exotic properties. Would any scientist on the basis of such an alchemist's tale have done what Madame Curie did to lift the signal out of the noise of tons of pitchblende? Hardly. Madame Curie knew that there was a signal - it wasn't a rumor. And although the labor was immense, there was a definite, scientifically accepted methodology for separating the signal from the noise."

Along with the problem of separating the UFO knowns misidentification of aircraft, planets, weather balloons, etc.) from the ever constant residue of unique objects which are sighted and which cannot be attributed to any known factors, are some other peculiar observations incorporated into the reports. There have been sightings of specters, angels, robots, levitations, and the like which has turned off many scientists from any further interest in UFOs.

Curiously enough, according to several distinguished scientists at the Symposium, the least likely explanation of UFOs is the extraterrestrial theory!

Dr. Saunders stated, "All these effects could be anticipated starting from the simple-minded assumption that UFOs have physical reality."

Dr. Hynek said, "We do not know to whom the UFO problem really belongs - to the physical scientist, to the sociologist, or to the psychiatrist. Take, for example, the reports from widely scattered regions of the globe, of the seemingly paranormal aspects of some UFO reports. These `contactee' cases have generally been regarded even by seasoned UFO investigators as crackpot emanations. Could they, however, possibly be part of an extremely complex signal that our culture does not know how to interpret?"

Dr. Vallee observed: "I think the current belief among most flying saucer enthusiasts that the unidentified flying objects are craft used by visitors from another planet masks the real, infinitely more complex nature of the intelligence and technology that gives rise to the sightings. The things we call unidentified flying objects are neither objects nor flying."

Meanwhile, Hynek's UFO Center offers a free association for scientists motivated by their common interest, a repository for information, documents and reports and a place for individuals to report their experiences without fear of ridicule.

Still another approach to the UFO detection problem was presented to the Symposium by Dr. Kuettner in an address titled "Quo Vadis? Where Do We Go From Here?"

"The accumulated (UFO) observational material available now and already computerized in two or three places is so large (order of 50,000) that even the small fraction of `unidentified' cases represents a large number," he stated. "Many people have discussed various schemes and we have done the same in our Committee. Most of these schemes run into the problem discussed earlier; they are too costly and require major support. We have, however, come up with one relatively inexpensive idea which may or may not work. If it does, it could be quite significant and that is why it may be worth trying."

Kuettner explained that the National Weather Service operates about 100 weather radar units 24 hours a day in the U.S. to provide information to the various forecasting, warning, and climate centers. Photos of the scopes are taken once every hour during fair weather and once every 40 seconds during severe weather. The radars have a range of 125 and 250 miles radius. Utilization of primary, secondary, and cooperative radar across the country could cover an area of 80 percent of the U.S. Photographs taken of the scopes are stored at the facility of the Environmental Data Service in North Carolina.

"The effort is small and inexpensive and no major support is required," Kuettner concluded. "If it is unsuccessful, nothing is lost but if it is successful, it may add a powerful data piece to specific case studies. This information may already exist but has not been recovered."

These accomplished men represent only a portion of the "Braintrust" who have picked up the UFO problems after the Air Force dropped it. They are risking their reputations on interpreting the complex and ambiguous "signal" within the "noise." Thus far, some of their conclusions have been announced only at private meetings and published in technical journals not generally available to the public.

What is important is that the layman be aware that this top priority interest in UFOs does exist and in some of the most distinguished space scientists whose combined talents got us out in space. Perhaps ridicule of the entire subject of UFOs is almost over ...

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