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UFO Photographs: 1950s

May 11, 1950  -  McMinnville, Oregon, USA

Background Information / Description:

McMinnville, Oregon - May 11, 1950: Two of the most notorious UFO photos of all time were taken on a farm near Mcminnville by a farmer named Paul A. Trent. Beyond many such cases, these two photos have withstood the test of time--through generations of researchers. It could be said that this case specified the boiling point for the heated ongoing debate over what qualifies as physical evidence--at least when it comes to the subject of UFOs.

Mrs. Trent was outside getting finished feeding her rabbits, when she noticed the large, disc-shaped object approaching from the northeast. She called out to Mr. Trent who joined her to look at the mystery device. After a few moments, he went back in the house to get his camera. He got back out and picked a spot to stand and took the first picture, then wound the film for the next picture. (That was typically a time consuming process with a 1950 box camera.) Several minutes later, he took the other.

In the meantime, Mrs. Trent called out to her in-laws on their porch, about 400 feet away. They didn't hear her, so she ran into the house to call them on the telephone. Mrs. Trent's mother-in-law didn't get to see it because it disappeared by the time she was off of the phone, but Mrs. Trent's father-in-law did catch a glimpse of it just before it disappeared in the west.

Mr. Trent waited to finish the roll of film before he got the pictures developed. They were displayed nearly a month later in a local bank. (The Trents' banker worked there.) A reporter named Powell, who worked for the McMinnville Telephone Register, saw the photos and convinced the Trents to let him publish their story and photographs. However, it did take a bit of coaxing because the Trent's feared they might get in some kind of trouble with the government.

The photographs and story wound up in the June 26, 1950 issue of Life, who borrowed the negatives from Powell. The Trents didn't get the negatives back for another 17 years. They were requested for examination by the Condon investigation in the late 1960's, and after that analysis was done, they were finally sent back to Mr. Trent.

The first people to examine the negatives found no signs of manipulation of the negative and no visible means of support for the UFO pictured, and so it has remained, for over half a century. No scientific study of this case has ever revealed anything that contradicts the witnesses or their fortunate photos. (NURMUFO)

See also the in-depth analysis, "The Trent Farm Photos", by Bruce Maccabee, available online at:


UFO Casebook / B. J. Booth)

A classic set of impressive UFO photos was taken by Mr. and Mrs. Trent in the early part of the evening, just before sunset, on May 11, 1950, near McMinnville, Oregon. According to the Trent's account the object, as it appeared over their farm was first seen by Ms. Trent while she was feeding the farm's rabbits. She then quickly called her husband who got the family's camera and Mr. Trent then took two shots from positions only just a few feet apart. The pictures first appeared in a local newspaper and afterwards in Life magazine. Seventeen years later the photos were subjected to a detailed analysis for the University of Colorado UFO Project.William K. Hartmann, an astronomer from the University of Arizona, performed a meticulous photometric and photogrammetric investigation of the original negatives, and set up a scaling system to determine the approximate distance of the UFO. Hartmann used objects in the near foreground, such as a house, tree, metal water tank, and telephone pole, whose images could be compared with that of the UFO. There were also hills, trees, and buildings in the far distance whose contrast and details had been obscured by atmospheric haze.

Hartmann used these known distances of various objects in the photo to calculate an approximate atmospheric attenuation factor. He then measured the relative brightnesses of various objects in the photos, and demonstrated that their distances could generally be calculated with an accuracy of about +/- 30%. In the most extreme case, he would be in error by a factor of four. He then wrote:

"It is concluded that by careful consideration of the parameters involved in the case of recognizable objects in the photographs, distances can be measured within a factor-four error ... If such good measure could be made for the UFO, we could distinguish between a distant extraordinary object and a hypothetical small, close model."

Hartmann then noted that his photometric measurements indicated that the UFO was intrinsically brighter than the metallic tank and the white painted surface of the house, consistent with the Trent's description that it was a shiny object. Further, the shadowed surface of the UFO was much brighter than the shadowed region of the water tank, which was best explained by a distant object being illuminated by scattered light from the environment.

"it appears significant that the simplest most direct interpretation of the photographs confirms precisely what the witnesses said they saw"

Hartmann further wrote that "to the extent that the photometric analysis is reliable, (and the measurements appear to be consistent), the photographs indicate an object with a bright shiny surface at considerable distance and on the order of tens of meters in diameter. While it would be exaggerating to say that we have positively ruled out a fabrication, it appears significant that the simplest most direct interpretation of the photographs confirms precisely what the witnesses said they saw."

In his conclusion, Hartmann reiterated this, stressing that all the factors he had investigated, both photographic and testimonial, were consistent with the claim that "an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disc-shaped, tens of metres in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of [the] two witnesses."

(Thanks to UFOCasebook.com for information about this classic photographic case.)

An in-depth, scientific analysis of this case was conducted by Dr. Bruce Maccabee, optical physicist. His paper can be found at:

Source / Credit: STUDIOVNI

Photograph ID: 301 ID: 301

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