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Some of the crowd were talking about jet fighters and it suddenly dawned on me that just across the parking lot was the operations office of the local ADC jet outfit, the 97th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.
I ran over to interceptor operations and went in. I knew the duty officer because several times before the 97th people had chased balloons over Dayton. When I told him about the UFO's all I received was a rather uninterested stare. When I said they were over the base he did me the courtesy of going out to look.
He came running back in and hit the scramble b.u.t.ton. Three minutes later two F-86's were headed UFOward. They soon disappeared but their vapor trails kept the tense crowd informed of their progress.
And believe me there was tension.
As the vapor trails spiraled up, first as two distinct plumes, and later only one--as they blended at alt.i.tude--more than one pilot standing on the ramp expressed his thankfulness for his unenviable position--on the ground watching.
The vapor trails thinned out and disappeared right under the three UFO's and it was obvious that the two jets had closed in.
Here were three that didn't escape.
That night the 97th Fighter Interceptor Squadron added three more balloons to their record. The F-86's had been able to climb higher than the F-84's.
The next morning photos confirmed the balloons. They had been tethered together and carried an instrument package.
I had been fooled. Two Ph.D psychologists who had studied UFO's had been fooled. A C-54 load of "experienced observers" (many pilots) had been fooled. The tower operators had been fooled and so had a hundred others.
This was an interesting sighting and we used to discuss it a lot.
All of the observers later agreed that what made them so excited was the tower operator's announcement: "F-84's from Lockbourne are chasing three high speed objects." This set the stage and from then on no one even considered the fact that if the objects had been traveling 2000 or 3000 miles an hour they would have been long gone in the fifteen minutes we watched them.
Secondly, I found out that the C-54, a slow airplane, had actually overtaken and pa.s.sed the balloons between Columbus and Dayton but none of the pa.s.sengers I talked to had stopped to think of this.
And I'm positive that in our minds the balloons, which were about 40 feet in diameter and at 40,000 feet, looked a lot larger than they actually were.
I know the power of suggestion plays an important role in UFO sightings. Once you're convinced you're looking at a UFO you can see a lot of things.
But then there's the "unknowns."
Any good saucer fan--wild eyed or sober--will magnanimously concede that a certain percentage of the UFO sightings are the misidentification of known objects. They drag out the "unknowns"
as the "proof."
Technically speaking, an "unknown" report is one that has been made by a reliable observer (not necessarily experienced). The report has been exhaustively investigated and a.n.a.lyzed and there is no logical explanation.
To this, the Air Force says: "The Air Force emphasizes the belief that if more immediate detailed objective observational data could have been obtained on the 'unknowns' these too could have been satisfactorily explained."
I think the Case of the Lubbock Lights is an excellent example of this. It is probably one of the most thoroughly investigated reports in the UFO files and it contained the most precise observational data we ever received. Scientists from far and near tried to solve it. It remained an "unknown."
The men who made the original sightings stuck by the case and furnished the "more detailed objective observational data" the Air Force speaks of.
The mysterious fights appeared again and instead of looking for something high in the air they looked for something low and found the solution.
The world famous Lubbock Lights were night flying moths reflecting the bluish-green light of a nearby row of mercury vapor street lights.
I will go a step further than the Air Force, however, and quote from a letter from ex-Lieutenant Andy Flues, once an investigator for Project Blue Book. Flues' statement sums up my beliefs and, I'm quite sure, the beliefs of everyone who has ever worked on Projects Sign, Grudge or Blue Book.
Flues wrote: "Even taking into consideration the highly qualified backgrounds of some of the people who made sightings, there was not one single case which, upon the closest a.n.a.lysis, could not be logically explained in terms of some common object or phenomenon."
The only reason there are any "unknowns" in the UFO files is that an effort is made to be scientific in making evaluations. And being scientific doesn't allow for any educated a.s.suming of missing data or the pa.s.sing of judgment on the character of the observer. However, this is closely akin to being forced to follow the Marquis of Queensbury rules in a fight with a hood. The investigation of any UFO sighting is an inexact science at the very best. Any UFO investigator, after a few months of being steeped in UFO lore and allowed a few scientific rabbit punches, can make the best of the "unknowns" look like a piece of well-holed Swiss cheese.
But regardless of what I say, or what the Air Force says, or what anyone says, we are stuck with flying saucers. And as long as people report unidentified objects in the air, it's the Air Force's responsibility to explain them.
Project Blue Book will live on.
No responsible scientist will argue with the fact that other solar systems may be inhabited and that some day we may meet those people.
But it hasn't happened yet and until that day comes we're stuck with our s.p.a.ce Age Myth--the UFO.