Law enforcement officers in several communities reported seeing, chasing, and being chased by unidentified bright objects in the early morning hours on four successive days. One object was reportedly detected by a ground radar unit while the object was being pursued by two men in a small aircraft. Pictures had been taken. Lengthy interviews of observers, including participants in the airplane pursuit, established clearly that the pursued object was the planet Venus. Jupiter was also involved in some of the reports.
Initial reports of an UFO sighting suggested that it was an event with unsurpassed UFO information content: A large bright object was seen, that approached as close as 500 ft., and was pursued by reliable observers in different communities; it had been seen repeatedly on successive mornings, and might be expected therefore to reappear while an investigator was on the scene. The pilot of a light aircraft had reportedly seen the object rise from the river below while ground observers were watching it, and had pursued it in vain as it sped away from him; FAA traffic control radar had allegedly reported that returns from both the aircraft and the unidentified object had appeared on the radarscope during the chase. Photographs allegedly had been taken which showed both a bright object near the horizon during a pre-dawn chase and an apparently solid "sombrero"-shaped object photographed in a wooded section of the same general area by a 13-year-old boy in the afternoon.
The main observers of the pre-dawn phenomenon were law erforcement officers on duty in 11 communities in the central part of the state.
Police officers, sheriff's officers, and highway patrolmen were involved, sometimes in radio communication with each other during a sighting and pursuit. The object fled from and then pursued police cars at speeds up to 70 mph, and came close enough to one police car to light up the interior of the car so brightly that wristwatches could be read. It also changed color and shape while under observation.
The most detailed reports, as well as the airplane chase and the photographs, centered around a town of 11,000 population, Town A. These reports were investigated by the project team. Reports from the other towns generally fit into the same pattern, and were assumed to arise from the same type of observation. Each aspect of the reports was investigated in turn.
Recorded conversation between the pilot and the Flight Control radar operator, indicated the pilot was chasing an UFO, which he said had risen from the river area below and was now moving away from him. The radar operator said he had a target on the scope, which he assumed to be the plane. He also said he had a second target, seen intermittently for a duration of about one minute. The pilot was heading at 110°, directly toward the object. This direction seemed to be consistent with the assumption that the second target was the chased UFO. The time was 5:40 - 5:58 am., EDT.
The pilot said the object was about 1,000 ft. above him, apparently over a small town, Town D. On first contact with the Flight Control the Cessna was at an altitude of 2,500 ft. climbing as it chased the UFO. The pilot said the object was a very bright light, which he could not catch. He could not match its altitude or speed. He said the object moved toward the ground at times, but maintained an altitude above them at all times. It moved away when they chased it, and came back when they turned.
The radar operator said at the time that the target on his screen was heading at 110°, but he didn't know whether his target was the airplane or UFO. Later, thinking about his experience he left word at the radar tower that he wasn't at all sure he had seen a second target. Contacted later by phone, the operator stated that he never did identify the plane, much less a second object. He had one steady target, which he assumed to be the aircraft, since it disappeared when the pilot said he was at 2,500 ft. and returning to the airport. The intermittent target painted only on two sweeps in about a minute. This was on an ASR-5 radar (which would make 10 or 12 sweeps per minute). It was early in the morning, the operator was somewhat tired at the time, according to his own words. He was quick to point out that the "intermittent target" was not a "good paint", and could well have been a ghost return.
Of the numerous law enforcement officers associated with the reports, one of the police lieutenants, a veteran of 11 years on the force, was asked to describe the sightings. He had participated in all the sightings reported from his town. His account of the event follows:
A. The object was the closest the first night we saw it. We first noticed it at 4:36 a.m., EDT Friday, October 20. At first, I thought it was a new street light we had never seen before, but as we got closer, it began moving away. We followed the object, which was then a bright red, football-shaped light, for about eight miles out into the country. It appeared to be as big as the moon in the sky. We lost sight of it, and headed back into town.
This object, whatever it was, caught up with us as we approached the city limits. The other officer started making a pretty scared sound and pointing out behind us. That is when I turned around and saw it.
It lit the police car enough inside to make the hands on your wristwatch visible. The whole surroundings were lit up. I radioed in that we were being followed by a flying object. I didn't know what it was, but it was following us. I could see the object in the rear-view mirror, but when we stopped the car and I got out, it veered away and disappeared behind the trees.
After we returned to town and got a third officer to come out with us, the object had started climbing and had gotten about twice the height of the tree line. We observed the object for about 20 minutes. It changed from bright red to orange, then to real white-looking. The object then appeared to change its shape from round to the shape of a giant four-leaf clover.
Our radio operator contacted the officers in Town C. In a few minutes they radioed back, and said they had the object in sight. It was to the east of us, apparently hovering over Town B. From Town C, it was to the west and appeared to be between Town A and Town B. We had it between the two of us.
I started back into town, and then is when it started moving south at a very high rate of speed.
(QUESTION: You said earlier that it crossed over the top of the police car. Did it get directly overhead?) No, sir, I didn't mean it came directly over the car. It came over the wooded area, over the top of the trees, and appeared right behind the car. I would say it was maybe 500 feet behind us and maybe 500 or 600 feet high, roughly guessing. When I did stop the car and jump out, I did see it when it went back.
(QUESTION: What direction were you travelling when the object reappeared behind the car?) The car was headed in a westward direction.
(QUESTION: In what manner did the object finally disappear this first night that you saw it?) We watched it until it climbed and took a position in the sky. It climbed to such a height that it appeared to be a star, and that is where it was hanging when I got off duty at 7 o'clock and went home. It was still visible, and looking like a star at that time.
B. Although the object was reported from another town on the morning of [Day 2], it was not seen that morning in [Town A], but it was seen here [on days 1, 3, 4, and 5].
Sunday morning, [Day 3] , I believe it was about ten minutes till two, or ten after two, when we got a phone call from a gentleman . . . who was on the outskirts of town. He said an object had followed him down the highway. We went out to look for it, and two objects were clearly visible. This was the first morning that two objects were spotted. You can't see the higher object until the other comes to view, then there appears this other object directly over it. It appears to be 5,000 to 6,000 feet above the lower object. The second object is as bright as the first, but higher and smaller.
(QUESTION: In what manner did these objects eventually disappear?) The sky was clear. When I left at 7 o'clock the two objects were still hanging in the sky -- way up high.
(QUESTION: Were they staying about the same distance apart?) Yes. Maybe they had drifted off some, but not too much. About 8:30 or a quarter to nine, after the sun had come up, these objects were still visible, and I showed them to my parents at that time. The objects were still there when I went tn bed.
The lower object looked like a piece of floating tin foil, it looked flat, with a bent place in it. The higher object was round, and stationary in one place -- it was not bobbing and floating like the other one.
C. Monday, Day 4. This is the morning the airplane went up.
Other people had already spotted it when we went out. The first object was in view. It was bright, star-like. While we watched it, the second object appeared through the trees -- down and to the left of the first object. This was about a quarter to five.
The pilots scrambled to the airport, and went up after the object. We guided the pilots in to the object -- they had gone past it when they were looking for the object, and, after they got back into range, we told him where to look. He said there were hundreds of objects up there -- they were stars, I guess. I turned the police car lights on to show the direction of the object. When I turned him directly into it, he said he had it in sight -- he saw it. I thought he didn't see it, because he flew under it.
The object bobbed and moved upward, but did not move to the side as it was pursued by the plane. I thought, if it tried to escape the plane, it would move to one side or the other, but it just moved upward.
(QUESTION: Did the object appear to get dimmer or smaller, as if it might be moving away from you and the airplane?) No, it didn't appear to get dimmer. I couldn't tell that it was moving away from the airplane.
(QUESTION: How did this object finally disappear?) Again, it was still hanging in the sky at 7:30, above the city hall.
The Airplane Chase of the UFO:
The pilot, who flies forest service patrol for the County Forestry Commission and had some 4,000 hrs. flying time, and a companion, formerly with the County Sheriff's Department, took off in a Cessna aircraft shortly after 5 a.m., in an effort to catch the object sighted from the ground. They were in radio contact with the [Town A] airport, and through the airport with the sheriff's officers and others on the ground with walkie-talkies, as well as with the radar operator at the Flight Control Center.
The pilot and his associate were interviewed by project investigators, who wanted particularly to know if they themselves had actually observed the object's rising from the river area below them, as the pilot stated it had in his recorded radio conversation, or if the statement was a mere repetition of the claim of ground observers.
The pilot said when they first started looking for the object, they were looking low, near the ground. One light they spotted proved to be a yard light. They couldn't find the object at first. Ground observers then got word to them that it was behind them -- they had passed it. They turned back, still looking low, when the word came "It's above you". They had seen a light above before, but hadn't paid any attention to it, apparently assuming it was a star. Now they did see the object, and started chasing it. "When we flew directly toward it, it backed off, decreasing in size until it was only about the size of the head of a pencil. We went up to about 3,500 ft., but it kept moving higher and away from us."
The pilot was strongly impressed with the great decrease in the size of the object as it "receded" from the plane. When he first spotted the object, it appeared to him one-half to two-thirds the size of the moon. It decreased to a fraction of its original size. He said he was awakened about 5 a.m., and they landed the plane, after giving up the chase, about 6 a.m. He said the color
of the object was a constant brilliant white. As they gave up the chase and returned to [Town A], the object moved back to about its original position, and was still there when he landed.
Reports from other towns:
1) Town E, sighting early Sunday, Day 3
As reported in local newspapers, a highway patrolman at a state patrol station near [Town E] spotted two UFOs -- one ice blue and about a mile high and the other one a yellow rectangle-shaped object with a red side which was about 100 yd. above the trees.
Another [Town E] patrolman there said he chased a ball of light down a road just outside [Town E]. The object was traveling above tree-top level. According to the patrolman's report, "It was a good distance in front of us, pulling away, so we turned around to come back to town. The object turned on us and followed. It gained on us and was going about 75 mph. After the object caught up with us, it pulled into the sky, emitting a beam of bluish light that illuminated the roadway."
Newspaper accounts stated also that a [Town E] police officer said a dark blue ball chased him and then hovered over [Town E] until daybreak. (The implication is that this experience involved a different officer than the one just mentioned; however, this might be another reference to the same experience.)
2) Additional Reports
A patrolman of [Town F] police department summarized reports of sightings on [Day 1] as follows. This summary is included as an example of the extent of the UFO activity [in this area]. All objects described were noiseless.
UFO Report 0505 hours, Day 1
Lt. A, [Town A] Police Department, reported that Patrolman B and Patrolman C, [also of Town A] Police Department, reported sighting a sphere-shaped object approximately 25 ft. in diameter, red, white flashing red, green and white lights, traveling south from [Town L].
[Town D] Police Department reported an object as above traveling south from [Town D] . Patrolmen D and E, [Town C] Police Department, reported sighting four objects described as above traveling northeast. Patrolmen F and C of [Town G] Police Department reported an object described as above traveling east from [Town G] Patrolman C from [Town G] Police Department followed the object east . . .
The County Sheriff's Office reported sighting an object described as above traveling east.
[Town H] Police Department reported an object described as above traveling west.
[Town J] Police Department . . . reported an object described as above traveling east from [Town J].
[Town K] Police Department reported an object traveling west.
[Town L] Police Department reported two objects - one traveling south and one traveling east.
During the period [days 1-5] Venus had a magnitude of -4.2; Jupiter's magnitude was -1.5. Venus rose about 2:50 a.m. local standard time. Jupiter rose about 40 min. earlier, the time difference varying a few minutes each day. The tremendous brightness of Venus made its appearance spectacular, and it had been the cause of numerous UFO reports across the country for weeks prior to these dates.
The moon which was full 15 days later, was shining in the western sky during the early morning hours. The bright star Capella also could be seen to the west (northwest) during the early morning hours.
Analysis of the UFO Observation
The fact that the UFO's reappeared each day during early morning hours suggested immediately that the sightings might be related to the earth's rotation. Timing with the appearance of Jupiter and Venus to the east, and the fact that most reports showed the UFO or UFOs to be to the east, made the investigators suspect immediately that the appearance of Venus, plus suggestion and unfettered imagination, might account for most, perhaps all, of the UFO reports in this series. Sleepiness and fatigue also could have been significant factors, since some police officers involved had been working double shift.
Initial checks showed the radar confirmation of the presence of the UFO to be so tenuous as to be essentially non-existent.
The airplane pilot revealed that he had not actually observed the UFOs "rising from the river area," but had merely repeated the claims of ground observers that it had done so. His description of the chase fits nicely with the hypothesis that he was chasing a planet. The apparent recession of the object, with apparent diminishing size, could be accounted for by his rising above a haze layer which, by dispersion of light, caused a magnified appearance of the planet when he was at a lower altitude (See Section VI, Chapter 2). All reports indicated a heavy mist or haze did exist over the river area each morning when the UFOs were observed.
When the investigators suggested to the pilot that he might have been chasing the planet Venus, and explained the reasons for its unusual appearance, the pilot felt that this might possibly have been the case.
As for ground observations, besides daily reappearance, the fact that the object or objects each day eventually took a position in the sky and looked like stars was taken as confirmation that the UFOs indeed were planets. The positions they eventually "took in the sky" were the positions known to be occupied at the time by Venus and Jupiter. The police observers were shown the planet Venus during late morning hours. (Venus was quite visible during the day during this period, but was noticed only if one knew precisely where to look.) They all agreed that the appearance was the same as their UFO after it "took its position" after sun-up.
The conclusion that the reported UFOs were misinterpretations of sightings of planets, particularly of Venus, seems not only tenable but imperative.
The series of photographs taken during a pre-dawn chase showed a light near the eastern horizon, and was not of special interest. The other pair of photographs, showing an apparently solid object, shaped much like the outline of a sombrero, suspended over a clearing in the woods, was taken by a lone 13-year-old boy who had taken his Polaroid camera into the woods to hunt UFOs. His hunt had been successful, and he got two pictures of the object before it flew away. His pictures apparently were taken with the sun shining directly on the camera lens, diffusing light onto the film and causing the UFO image to appear in very poor contrast with the back- ground.
The photographs were examined by Dr. W. K. Hartmann who commented that while the lack of contact made the appearance consistent with the claim that the object was at a considerable distance, the poor quality of the photographs prohibited significant quantitative tests. The photographs themselves were thus not of high enough
quality to allow determination of the size or distance of the object photographed. It is believed that the object photographed had no relation to the object pursued in the pre-dawn activity.
It seems quite clear that the UFO excitement was caused primarily by the planet Venus.
The case serves to illustrate the extreme elaboration which can develop from misinterpretation of a natural and ordinary phenomenon. Suggestion, coupled with common visual effects which are not familiar to or understood by the observer (see Section VI, Chapters 1 & 2), frees the imagination, to produce the kinds of observations described in this case.
The case also illustrates the appearance of motion of a stationary distant object, particularly that caused by the motion of the observer; the magnifying effects of haze scattering and near-horizon observation; and scintillation of a light near the earth's horizon.
The rapid attrition of supporting information which the initial UFO sighting reports included also is demonstrated impressively in this investigation. The case illuminates the inadequacy of current education regarding fundamental astronomy and atmospheric physics.