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To be very frank, we heard the words "experienced observer" so many times these words soon began to make us ill.
Everyone, except housewives with myopia, were experienced observers.
Pilots, "scientists" (a term used equally as loosely), engineers, radar operators, everyone who reported a UFO was some kind of an "experienced observer." This man had taught aircraft recognition during World War II. He was an experienced observer. That man spent four years in the Air Force. He was an experienced observer. We soon learned that everyone is an experienced observer as long as what he sees is familiar to him. As soon as he sees something unfamiliar it's a UFO.
Pilots probably come as close to falling into this category as anyone since they do spend a lot of time looking around the sky. But even those who can rattle off the names and locations of stars, planets and constellations don't know about a few relatively rare astronomical phenomena.
The bolide, or super meteor, is a good example. Few pilots have ever, or will ever, see a deluxe model bolide but when they do they'll never forget it. It's like someone shooting a flare in front of your face. There are a number of reports of bolides in the Blue Book files and each pilot who made each report called each bolide a UFO. The descriptions are almost identical to the cla.s.sic descriptions of bolides found in astronomy books.
While on the subject of meteors, if most people realized that meteors can have a flat trajectory, they can go from horizon to horizon, they can travel in "formation" (groups), and they can be seen in daylight (as "large silver discs"), the work of UFO investigators would be lighter.
Enough of meteors and back to our experienced observers.
The example of pilots and bolides holds true in many, many other cases.
Take high flying jets for example. To a person in an area where there isn't much high alt.i.tude air traffic, a thin, blood red streak in the sky at sunset, or shortly after, is a UFO. To anyone in an area where there are a lot of high flying jets even our myopic housewife, it's just another vapor trail. They're as common as the sunset.
When the flashing red strobe lights, now used on practically all aircraft, were still in the experimental stage back in 1951 they gave us fits. Every time an airplane with one of these flashing lights made a flight people within miles, including other pilots, called in UFO reports. Now these strobe lights are common and no one even bothers to look up.
The same held true, and still does, for the odd array of lights used on tanker planes during aerial refueling operations.
Some phenomena are so rare and so little is known about them that they are always UFO's. The most common is the disc following the airplane.
I've never heard an explanation for this phenomenon but it exists and I've seen it on three occasions. Maybe a dense blob of air tears off the airplane, floats along behind, and reflects the sunlight.
Whatever it is, it gives the illusion of a saucer "chasing" an airplane. Sometimes it's steady and sometimes it darts back and forth. It only stays in view a few seconds and when it disappears it fades and looks for all the world as if it's suddenly streaking away into the distance.
Birds, bees, bugs, airplanes, planets, stars, balloons, and a host of other common everyday objects become UFO's the instant they are viewed under other than normal situations.
Then there is radar. This poor inanimate piece of electronic equipment has taken a beating when UFO proof is being offered. "Radar is not subject to the frailties of the human mind," is the outcry of every saucer fan, "and radar has seen UFO's."
Radar is no better than the radar observer and the radar observer has a mind. And where there's a mind there is the same old trouble.
If the presentation on the radarscope doesn't look like it has looked for years a UFO is being tracked.
Radar is temperamental. The scope presentation of each radar has certain peculiarities and an operator gets used to seeing these.
Occasionally, and for some unknown reason, these peculiarities suddenly change. For months a temperature inversion may cause 50 or 75 targets to appear on the radarscope. The operator has learned to recognize them and knows that they are caused by weather. They are not UFO's. But overnight something changes and now this same temperature inversion causes only one or two targets. The operator isn't used to seeing this and the targets are now UFO's.
Many times we'd stumble across the fact that after the first report of a UFO being tracked on radar the same identical type of target would be tracked again, many times. But by this time the operator would have learned that they were caused by weather and it wouldn't be reported to us.
It is interesting to note that, to my knowledge, there has never been a radar sighting cla.s.sed as "unknown" when radarscope photos were taken. The reason is simple. The radar operator can take ample time to re-examine what he had to interpret in seconds during the actual sighting. Also, more experienced radar operators have a chance to examine the scope presentation.
Mixed in with the fact that there are few really qualified observers on this earth is the power of suggestion. About the time someone yells "UFO!" and points, all powers of reasoning come to a screeching halt.
We saw this happen day after day.
Few people I ever talked to, once they had decided they were looking at a UFO, stopped to calmly say to themselves, "Now couldn't this be a balloon, star, planet, or something else explainable?"
In one instance I traveled halfway across the United States to investigate a report made by a high ranking man in the State Department. An experienced observer. It was evening by the time I got to talk to him and after he'd excitedly told me all the pertinent facts, how this bright fight had "jumped across the sky," he said, "Want to see it? It's still there but it's not jumping now."
We went outside and there was Jupiter.
Then, there was the UFO over Dayton, Ohio, in the summer of 1952.
I first heard about it at home. It was about six in the evening when the phone rang and it was one of the tower operators at Patterson Field.
The tower operators at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio, 60 miles east of Dayton, had spotted "three fiery spheres flying in a V- formation" over their base. Two F-84's had been scrambled to intercept and they were in the air right now. So far, the tower operator told me, the intercept had been unsuccessful because the objects were traveling "two to three thousand miles an hour" and were too high for the old F-84's.
He was monitoring the two jets' radio conversation and he put his telephone near the speaker.
"At 28,000 and still above us."
"Headed toward Wright-Patterson."
"Low on fuel, going home."
I made it to my car in record time and took off toward Wright- Patterson, about twelve miles from where I was living.
It was still light, although the sun was low, and as I drove I kept looking toward the east. Nothing. I reached the gate, showed my pa.s.s to the guard, and had just written the whole thing off as another UFO report when I saw them.
They convinced me.
Off to the east of the airbase were three objects that can best be described as three half-sized suns.
By the time I arrived at base operations there were three or four dozen people on the ramp, all looking up.
The standard comment was: "Look at them go."
About this time a C-54 transport taxied up and stopped. It was the "Kittyhawk Flight" from Washington and I knew several people who got off.
One pa.s.senger, an officer from ATIC, ran up to me and handed me a roll of film.
"Here's some pictures of them," he said breathlessly. "I never thought I'd see one."
The next pa.s.sengers I recognized were two other officers, Ph.D.
psychologists from the Aero Medical Laboratory. I knew them because they had visited Blue Book many times collecting data for a paper they were writing on UFO's.
The t.i.tle of the paper was to be: _The_ _Psychological_ _Aspects_ _of_ _UFO_ _Sightings_.
Almost climbing over each other in their effort to tell their story they told me how they had watched the UFO's from the C-54. Both had seen them "dogfighting" between themselves.
"How fast were they going?" I asked.
"Like h.e.l.l," was their only answer but the way they said it and the looks on their faces emphasized their statement.
The crowd on the ramp had increased by now and some of the newcomers had binoculars. The men with the binoculars were the focal point of several individual groups as they watched and gave blow-by-blow accounts.