- *- SHERAZ, IRAN, October 8, 1978
- *- TRINDADE, BRAZIL, January 16, 1958
- *- BENTWATERS, ENGLAND, December 27,
- *- ZANESVILLE, OHIO, November 13, 1966
- *- HILLSDALE, MICHIGAN, March 21, 1966
- *- What The Government Really Knows About
- Skeptics say it is easy to make a UFO
crash. Just poke it with a pointed question. Consider the legendary Mantell
incident in which a UFO supposedly shot down a F-51 Mustang in broad daylight.
Ask if any other military aircraft were aloft over Kentucky that fateful
Jan. 7, 1948 afternoon. You will discover that Capt. Thomas F. Mantell
Jr., a pilot in the Air National Guard, died after running out of oxygen
while chasing the Sun's reflection off a then-secret Navy Skyhook balloon.
- Radar has proven as fallible as the human
eye, producing headlines describing fleets of UFOs over Washington, D.C.,
Los Angeles and sensitive military installations. In each case the real
invaders were overlapping radar signals, air masses of differing densities,
or flocks of birds that suddenly tightened formation. Each anomaly can
cause multiple targets or blimp-size objects to appear one second and disappear
- At times, differences in interpreting
the "facts" of a case can make ufologists and skeptics seem like
members of warring tribes. There is, however, one point on which they agree:
Most UFO sightings are aircraft, planets or other natural phenomena.
- Most sightings doesn't mean all sightings.
And while government investigations have repeatedly assured the public
that UFOs pose no danger to national security, the very same reports also
detail dozens of sightings that neither science nor the skeptics can adequately
explain. Among these cases are six sightings that are more puzzling now
than when they were originally reported.
- POPULAR MECHANICS offers no opinion on
whether these mysterious flying machines originate from secret military
airstrips here on Earth or spaceports somewhere "out there."
We do, however, feel comfortable making one prediction: When the shell
of security surrounding UFOs finally cracks, it will be because one of
the sightings we present here provided the wedge.
- (Image text: Trent described the UFO
that he photographed as "a good-sze parachute canopy without strings,
only silvery bright mixed with bronze." A colorized computer enhancement
of the photo reveals no evidence of strings, and a smooth bottom and sharp
edges that suggest an artificial, rather than natural, object.)
- Asked to pick the most credible UFO photos
ever taken, ufologists select the simple black-and-white snapshots taken
by Paul Trent, a farmer in McMinnville, Ore.
- McMINNVILLE, OREGON May 11, 1950
- The photos allegedly confirm a sighting
that occurred on May 11, 1950, when an inverted pieplate flying machine
was seen by Trent, his father-in-law and his wife.
- Mrs. Trent saw the craft first. She told
Air Force investigators that she first spotted it about 7:30 pm as she
walked across her yard. About 30 ft. across, it floated noiselessly toward
her from the northeastern sky, creating a wake that rustled her dress.
- Thinking it was "something the Army
was experimenting with," she shouted for her husband to bring the
camera. As he darted outside and began snapping photos, she ran inside
to phone her parents, who lived next door. Thus alerted, her father caught
a glimpse of the craft a (sic!)
- When the film was developed, Trent showed
it to his friend Frank Wortmann, a local banker, who displayed the pictures
in the bank's window. A local reporter saw and published the photos. Within
a month the main photo was circulated by news wires and printed in Life
magazine. The FBI and Air Force interviewed the Trents. And then the photos
- Found in a news wire photo archive after
17 years, the misfiled pictures were sought out by skeptics. "The
pictures attracted attention because they depicted not nebulous lights
but an artificial, structured aircraft," says Jerome Clark, of the
J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (JAHCUS). He investigated the case
while researching an encyclopedia titled The UFO Book.
- Skeptics found nothing to disparage the
Trents' integrity, and no financial motive for having faked UFO pictures.
The strongest criticism of the photos to date has come from Philip J. Klass,
an aviation journalist who has published several books and a newsletter
debunking UFO claims. Klass says the Trent photo shows a shadow pattern
that could be produced only if the picture was taken in morning light.
Bruce Maccabee, an optical physicist more sympathetic to ufologists, says
the same effect could have been created by cloud cover.
- And so the mystery continues. "If
authentic, they comprise significant evidence for the reality of intelligently
controlled UFOs," says Clark.
- SHERAZ, IRAN October 8, 1978
- In the late 1970s, the long-friendly
relationship between the United States and Iran soured after the ouster
of the Shah of Iran. Anticipating armed conflict, both sides ratcheted
up their military preparedness. With U.S. spy satellites looking down and
Iranian radar installations looking up, the skies over Iran became the
most heavily monitored airspace in the world.
- (Image text: The Sheraz photo, shown
enlarged in the upper right corner, closely resembles Tacit Blue, a secret
- Had it not been for these political events,
it is doubtful the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff would have been interested
in a snapshot taken by 16-year-old Jamshid Saiadipour. Up late studying
for exams in June 1978, he saw and photographed a UFO from the window of
his family's apartment in the town of Sheraz.
- The photo caused a stir among ufologists
because it resembled a UFO reported by pilots during their landing approach
to the Teheran airport earlier in the year.
- On Oct. 8, 1978, a similar craft was
photographed by another youngster, Franklin Youri, from outside his home
near Lake Urmia in western Iran. This picture, however, was not revealed
until the Youri family relocated to the United States three years later.
- A Freedom of Information Act request
and lawsuit (see "What The Government Really Knows About UFO Sightings"
below) ultimately led to the release of Defense Department documents that
revealed the American military's interest in the sightings.
- What made ufologists and the U.S. military
so interested in photos of UFOs taken by two Iranian teenagers? Ufologists
claim that Iranian airspace had been a hotbed of UFO activity for many
years. They say a pivotal moment occurred on Sept. 19, 1978, with an encounter
between two Iranian Phantom jets and an object that failed to appear on
radar. When the American-made F-4 fighters got close enough to release
their air-to-air missiles, the planes' weapons-firing control systems mysteriously
and repeatedly failed.
- Skeptics point out the real reason for
the interest from the Joint Chiefs of Staff may have been the strong resemblance
between the object that appeared in the two photos and a then-secret stealth
aircraft, Tacit Blue. Based at the former Area 51 secret aircraft development
center in Nevada, it was designed to test stealth technology.
- Ufologists say the case needs further
investigation. Until then it remains a valid UFO.
- TRINIDADE, BRAZIL January 16, 1958
- (Image text: The Trinidade UFO was photographed
and seen by more qualified observers than any other sighting.)
- When ufologists and skeptics can't find
strings, shadows or signs that a UFO photo is faked, they question the
credibility of the photographer and witnesses. Trained observersñincluding
pilots, ship captains and military officersñare usually considered
the best witnesses. It is the credibility of the 47 crew members of the
Brazilian naval vessel Almirante Saldanha that makes the Trindade, Brazil
UFO photo so important.
- As part of its contribution to the 1957-58
International Geophysical Year, the Brazilian navy set up a weather station
on the small rocky island of Trindade, in the south Atlantic Ocean. In
January 1958, observers began spotting unusual aerial activity, including
fast-flying disks. On the night of Jan. 16, the disk shown here appeared
within view of the ship's company.
- Among those present was civilian photographer
Almiro Barauna, who snapped a series of six photos. After the ship returned
to port, the photos, which had been developed on board in a makeshift darkroom,
were turned over to the Brazilian Navy Ministry. Analysts determined the
photos to be authentic and concluded they showed a 50-ft.-dia. object moving
at 600 mph.
- Skeptics have offered two explanations
for the craft. Initially, Harvard University astronomy professor Donald
H. Menzel said the UFO was simply a plane flying through fog. Then, in
the first of several books he would write debunking UFOs, he claimed the
photos were faked. Barauna, he said, had first photographed a model UFO
in his home and later double-exposed the same roll of film with pictures
of the open sky. However, a 1978 examination by an independent laboratory
using digital photo analysis ruled out such tampering.
- "Given the number of witnesses,
the results of photo analysis, both military and civilian, and the need
for debunkers to reinvent the incident to 'explain' it, it seems most unlikely
that the Trindade photographs were hoaxed," says JAHCUS's Clark.
- BENTWATERS, ENGLAND December 27, 1980
- "I started my tour of duty believing
in aircraft lights," Nick Pope tells me as we eat a traditional English
lunch of fish and chips at London's Red Lion pub, just down the block from
his office in the British Ministry of Defence (MOD). "I ended it believing
- For three years Pope was assigned to
the MOD office responsible for investigating UFO reports. Holding a rank
equivalent to captain, he knew the detours around the roadblocks bureaucrats
put in the way of ufologists.
- (Image text: England's UFO investigator,
Nick Pope, went from skeptic to believer.)
- Among the cases he examined was an incident
that has come to be known as England's Roswell. It occurred over the last
days of December 1980, near a now-closed U.S. Air Force base in Bentwaters.
For two nights security patrols observed unusual lights in the Rendlesham
Forest just beyond the base's fence. On the second night they entered the
forest with generator-powered floodlights, Geiger counters and 2-way radios.
At the critical moment when an angular, 20-ft.-wide, 30-ft.-tall craft
appeared, the radiation-detecting instruments started to clatter and the
spotlights and radios began to sporadically fail.
- Daylight revealed broken tree limbs and
three 1 1/2-in. deep, 7-in.-dia. circular depressions, suggesting something
had landed, just as the observers claimed.
- Initially, skeptics dismissed this physical
evidence as wind damage. They explained the unusual lights by constructing
a complex chain of events that included unusual astronomical activity,
satellite debris burning up on reentry, and the rotating beam of a lighthouse
several miles away.
- What the skeptics couldn't explain, says
Pope, is a scientific report he found in the MOD files. It revealed radiation
levels 25 times higher than normal background levels in the soil and trees
surrounding the landing site. (Image text: The USAF account was found in
British UFO files.)
- As Pope delved more deeply into MOD files
he found that the Bentwaters case, as it is known to ufologists in the
United States, was the second to occur in the Rendlesham Forest.
- On Aug. 13, 1956, British radar had picked
up blips similar to a jet aircraft'sñonly it was moving at speeds
up to 9000 mph. Technicians later told investigators for Project Blue Book
that diagnostics checks indicated their radar was operating normally. The
incident remained classified until 1969.
- Pope said the two Bentwaters episodes
and others he investigated during his stint as England's top UFO investigator
moved him from skeptic to believer, and inspired him to write a book titled
Open Skies, Closed Minds.
- "As long as we are all afraid of
ridicule, the UFOs are going to be ignored," says Pope. "Perhaps
we ignore them at our peril."
- ZANESVILLE, OHIO November 13, 1966
- For those who believe UFOs are piloted
by child-size creatures with large almond eyes, any sighting that takes
place in the state of Ohio merits special attention.
- The attraction is Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base. In addition to being the headquarters for Project Blue Book,
it was also home to the Air Technical Intelligence Centers, which analyzed
flying machines based on Nazi German "flying disc" designs (see
Roswell Plus 50, July '97). What makes these stories even more appealing
are recurring rumors that the base is also the repository for debris from
crashed UFOs, and alien bodies.
- (Image text: The Zanesville photos fit
descriptions of craft seen by police and sheriff's deputies elsewhere in
Ohio in the spring and fall of 1966.)
- Ohio holds another distinction in UFO
lore. In Zanesville, on Nov. 13, 1966, local barber and amateur astronomer
Ralph Ditter took the two spectacular UFO photos shown here. Beyond their
detailñwhich to some skeptics is evidence itself of fraudñthe
importance of the photos lies in their similarity to the craft reported
during a series of sightings that occurred throughout the year.
- At least two of these sightings were
made by law enforcement officials, credible witnesses on everyone's list.
In Toledo, on March 25, two Lucas County deputies, Robert Schultz and Stanley
Nelepa, reported seeing a huge object floating at treetop level. Four days
later, a glowing orange object was seen floating over the Ohio Turnpike
administration building in Berea. Three days later it was spotted a second
time, by Berea patrolmen Clarence T. Janowick and John R. Galik Jr.
- Because Ditter took his photos with a
Polaroid camera, there are no negatives to investigate for signs of tampering.
The jury remains outñand perhaps may never be able to return a verdict
on whether the Zanesville photos are spectacular evidence or spectacular
- HILLSDALE, MICHIGAN March 21, 1966
- Ufologists sometimes say skeptics are
people who haven't had a "close encounter." Josef Allen Hynek,
who coined the phrase "close encounter," might agree. (Image
text: As with the Bentwaters site, higher radiation levels were also found
at the Hillsdale site.)
- Hynek was a University of Chicago-trained
astrophysicist and confirmed skeptic who served as the scientific consultant
to the Air Force Project Blue Book UFO investigation. And then he changed
sides. The case that prompted his conversion occurred in Hillsdale County,
Mich., on March 21, 1966, and involves the photo shown here.
- At about 10:30 pm a resident of the women's
dormitory at Hillsdale College reported a strange object in the sky. County
Civil Defense director William E. Van Horn responded and confirmed that
a bright glowing object was indeed bouncing across a nearby hollow and
then became airborne. Hynek, who died in 1986, dismissed the Hillsdale
sighting as "swamp gas." Within two weeks, however, he changed
not only his opinion about the sighting, but also sides in the great UFO
- Perhaps it was the contents of Van Horn's
report that sparked the conversion. Soil analysis showed that on the very
spot where the "swamp gas" had touched down, radiation levels
were higher than in the surrounding terrain. More significant still was
the finding that the ground was also contaminated with boron, the element
used to slow nuclear chain reactions.
- What The Government Really Knows About
- Do you believe the government is telling
the truth about UFOs? Each of the government's major UFO studies - projects
Blue Book, Grudge and Sign - claimed to have made a clean breast of things.
Yet, according to JAHCUS's Clark, 80% of Americans "believe the government
is hiding evidence of UFOs."
- David M. Jacobs, a historian at Temple
University, says the government's own paper trail suggests there may be
a good reason to distrust the official version. He points out that between
1953 and 1969, the entire period the Air Force was responsible for investigating
UFOs, its officers operated under standing orders from the Joint Chiefs
of Staff that made it a crime under the Espionage Act to share UFO reports
with unauthorized personnel.
- "This action effectively stops the
flow of information to the public," says Jacobs. "Only if Blue
Book could positively identify a sighting as a hoax or misidentification
would the Air Force release information to the public."
- The rules, Project Blue Book advisor
Hynek once remarked, made it impossible to evaluate a UFO report as anything
other than a natural object, weather or atmospheric phenomenon, a hoax
or a hallucination.
- Hynek claimed that the Air Force was
also under economic pressure to reduce the paperwork that UFO reports generated.
To help keep the work flow manageable, said Hynek, Blue Book made arbitrary
rules. For example, sightings reported by anyone under 18 were automatically
disregarded. Toward the end of the project, enlisted men were allowed to
summarily dismiss cases by claiming they were filed by crackpots.
- Now, many of the sightings that Blue
Book and earlier UFO investigations refused to examine are about to come
out. In 1980 a group called Citizens Against Unidentified Flying Objects
Secrecy filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act that asked
the National Security Agency (NSA) to open its files on 239 sightings.
In documents filed under a top-secret security classification, NSA responded
that revealing its knowledge of UFO activity would damage national security.
- But now, under revised declassification
rules, many of these documents are being released by virtue of their age.
Included among them are the Joint Chiefs of Staff communications about
the Iran sighting. Historians and ufologists may soon have the final pieces
of the great UFO puzzle.