Within the city limits but near the northwestern outskirts of Great Falls, near the Missouri River and the Anaconda Copper Company, and approximately three mi. NW of Malstrom AFB (then, Great Falls AFB).
At 5:30 a.m., MST (15 August 1950) the weather was partly overcast with middle altocumulus and altostratus clouds; the surface wind was SW, 16 knots. A cold front lay just north of the Canadian border, extending several hundred miles EW; it moved south and passed over Great Falls in the afternoon. The upper winds were reported W-WNW 250° 280°, 6 knots at 9,000 ft. on the previous evening. Temperatures were of the order of 20°C, dew point 9°C, and there was a slight inversion of 2°C in the 666-636 mb layer. The local half-hourly surface weather observations for 15 August 1950 at the Municipal Airport Weather Station showed that the surface wind increased to readings between 25 and 28 mph between 9:00 a.m. and 12 noon, and that it reached 37 mph at 1:12 p.m., and then stayed between 25 and 30 mph until almost sunset. The surface wind direction was constantly SW from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The sky was clear (visibility, 60 mi.); the temperature was 77° at 11:27 a.m., and reached a maximum of 83° at 4:27 p.m. The barometer fell slightly from 30.05 in. Hg. at 9:30 a.m. to 29.98 in. Hg. at 3 p.m., then steadied, and finally rose again after dark.
Witness I, general manager of a Great Falls baseball team, and Witness II, his secretary, observed two white lights moving slowly across the sky. Witness I made 16mm. motion pictures of the lights. Both individuals have recently reaffirmed the observation, and there is little reason to question its validity. The case remains unexplained. Analysis indicates that the images on the film are difficult to reconcile with aircraft or other known phenomena, although aircraft cannot be entirely ruled out.
At 11:25 a.m. (5 August or 15 August) Witness I, general manager of the Great Falls Electrics, a baseball team, was making an inspection of the baseball stadium (1,3) with his secretary, Witness II. In virtually all early publications (e.g., 3,5) the date for this is consistently given as 15 August 1950. However, Dr. Roy Craig of the Colorado project notes early correspondence between Witness I and Project Blue Book that raises an uncertainty about the date. A letter dated 9 January 1953, from Great Falls AFB (renamed Malstrom AFB later) to Project Blue Book, conveying results of a re-interrogation which had been requested by Blue Book, states:
"(Witness I's) version of the incident is as follows: 'On about the 5th or 15th of August, 1950, I, as manager of the Electrics, a local baseball team, walked to the grandstand of the local stadium here in Great Falls, Montana. It was approximately 11:30 a.m. and my purpose was to check the direction of the wind in preparation for the afternoon's game.'"
A subsequent undated Blue Book review of the case, dated late 1956, carries the case dated "5 or 15 August, 1950". Dr. Craig determined by checking Great Falls newspaper records that no home game was scheduled for 15 August, and, in fact, the witness' team played that evening in Twin Falls, Idaho. Mrs. LaVern Kohl, Reference Librarian, Great Falls Public Library, determined, at Dr. Craig's request, that the baseball team played no home games in Great Falls between 9 and 18 August, 1950. The 15 August sighting date is therefore certainly open to question.
Accounts of the incident give essentially the following information:
As was his habit, Witness I looked NNW to the smokestack of the Anaconda Copper Company in order to ascertain the wind direction. (1,2,3) Directly in line with the stack, he saw two bright lights stationary in the sky(l) . After a few seconds, he decided they could not be airplanes (1), directed his secretary's attention to the objects, and ran to his car which was 50-60 ft.
away (1,2,3). Her observations were reported in Blue Book files to be identical to Witness I's (1). At his car he took five to eight seconds to load his motion picture camera with Eastman Kodachrome, daylight-type (1). The camera was a Revere turret-type, 16mm. magazine loader, with a F.1.9 telephoto lens with a 3 in. focal length. He set the diaphragm at F.22 and the focus at infinity. Film speed was 16 frames per second (2). From the time of sighting until he began filming, approximately 30 seconds elapsed.(3). At a point near his car (1), he began "panning" his camera slowly from right to left (2). During this time the lights had moved from a stationary position toward the SW and they continued to the SW until they faded away (1,2,3). The first frames were not made until the object was already in the SW (3). (See Plate 27 and Fig. 4).
According to the initial Air Force report of 6 October 1950, Witness I described two disk-shaped lights having a bright, clean, "aluminum quality" (2). He thought that the objects were about 50 ft. in diameter, 3 ft. in depth and about 50 yds. apart (2). In a subsequent written statement quoted in the Blue Book report of 9 January 1953, he described them as being "like two new dimes in the sky" (1) and said they may have made whistling or whooshing noise (2).
According to the initial report of 6 October 1950, Witness I described a definite spinning motion (2). While in a stationary position "an occasional vibration seemed to momentarily tilt them, after which they would instantly correct their level plane to its seemingly balanced position. The two objects made an abrupt flight in an arc motion at very high speeds" (1). In late 1952 he estimated the speed as being over 400 mph.(l). The Air Force report of 1950 quotes his first estimate of the speed as about 200 mph (2).
WItness I thought they were between 5,000 and 10,000 ft. in altitude and at an elevation angle of 30°-35° above the horizon and within 0.75 mi. (2) or 2-2.5 mi. (1) from him (1,2). Measurements of the motion picture film (3) indicate that in the first available frames, the lights were at an elevation of about 15° and slowly descending (3).
In 1953 this witness reported that the sighting lasted for 3.5 minutes (I). The 1950 Air Force report says that he reported that the objects were observed a total of about 30 sec. by him and about 7 sec. by Witness II (2) . The apparent discrepancy probably refers to the fact that Witness I made about 20 sec. of film. The reference to Witness II seeing the lights for 7 sec. is unexplained. It would appear that about 30 sec. to a minute elapsed from the moment of the sighting (over the smokestack to the north) until he began filming (3). Eight seconds of that time were spent preparing the camera (2). He actually filmed the event for 16 sec. and possibly more (see next paragraph)(3). A Douglas Aircraft Co. report of April 1956 states that the objects hovered at a point above a water tower for "a while" and then flew out of sight with a swooshing sound (1) . This may refer to hovering prior to the filming; the film indicates steady motion.
The first 10 to 20 frames on the extant film show the objects at their brightest and largest. Witness I alleges that about 30 frames preceding these show the lights as disk-like objects with rotary motion visible, but that these frames were missing when the film was returned by the Air Force (see below). Throughout the sequence, the two images stand out from the sky background because of their intensity, sharpness, and constant relative orientation, one preceding the other in a smooth progression across the sky and behind the water tower. There is a slow fading and dwindling in size. In the film, the lights do not hover or decelerate near the tower. According to a photogrametric analysis of the film (3), the lights disappear completely from view by the end of the 16 sec. film. A later analysis (3) indicates that although the images are fading by the final frames (fading out by #225), they fade out suddenly enough at the end that they "were not isotropic constant-luminosity reflectors" (e.g. balloons).
At all times the two images present elliptical shapes which the analysis (3) concludes, "is due exclusively to the movement of the camera" (panning right to left), but my own measurements (see below) suggest that, except for a few frames, the ellipticity is present because the reflecting source is not circular. The ellipticity is most clearly seen in the first frames, where the objects appear larger.
Witness I had his film processed and showed it to various interested friends and service clubs (3,4). Witness II never saw this film (4). (No mention Of the sighting was recorded in either of the Great Falls newspapers prior to 12 September 1950). Witness I was frequently mentioned in the newspapers in his role as baseball manager, however (4). A newspaperman affiliated with the Great Falls Leader was the link in reporting the sighting to officials (4). Witness I submitted the film to Air Force ATIC officials who at that time were investigating UFO's (3). It was analyzed there, and also by the U. S. Navy (3). The initial Air Force report is dated 5 October. Ruppelt (5) reports that:
"(he) had sent his movies to the Air Force back in 1950, but in 1950 there was no interest in the UFO so, after a quick viewing, Project Grudge had written them off as the 'reflections of two F-94 jet fighters that were in the area.'
"In 1952, at the request of the Pentagon, I reopened the investigation...."
After the original, apparently cursory study of the film in 1950, the Air Materiel Command Headquarters in a written statement to Witness I concluded with the following example of military obfuscation: "...our photo analysts were unable to find on it anything identifiable of an unusual nature. Our report of analysis must therefore be negative."
According to Ruppelt (5) the 1952 ATIC investigation "quickly confirmed that the objects were not birds, balloons, or meteors." The conclusions were that, assuming the objects to be at a distance too great to be resolved, they moved too fast and were too steady to be birds, but moved too slowly to be meteors. Airplanes were the only tenable alternative (see below). The objects were described by Ruppelt as of "unknown" origin. Mr. Al Chop, employed by ATIC at that time and contacted in 1955 by Baker (3), "recalls that the analysis was considered inconclusive," confirming Ruppelts's account.
When the film was returned from the Air Force, according to Witness I, about the first 30 frames had been removed (3). If so, they were never recovered. According to him, as described by Baker (3), "the first 30-odd frames showed larger images of the UFOs with a notch or band at one point on the periphery of the objects by which they could be seen to rotate in unison while on the rest of the film the objects show up only as unarticulated bright white dots."
The film was purchased by Green-Rouse Productions, Sam Goldwyn Studios, hollywood, and was made part of a documentary feature-length movie released by United Artists in 1956.
Dr. R. M. L. Baker, Jr., of Douglas Aircraft Co., borrowed a 35mm. reprint of the film from Sam Goldwyn Studios in 1955 for the photogrammetric analysis reported in reference (3).
While studying the problem of reassessing old, "classic" cases, Dr. Roy Craig of the Colorado Project interviewed several of the principals in the case in 1967. Dr. Craig reported (4): (1) that Witness I had a file of correspondence with the Air Force but could not locate a letter in which, he asserted, the Air Force admitted deleting some of the film; he could not remember any information (such as his own discussion in the United Artists' film) about the two airplanes in the vicinity; (2) that Witness I distinctly remembered seeing a single light, rushing outside with Witness I to photograph it, and noting that its appearance was quite different from an airplane; she remembered seeing only one object; (3) that some individuals who reportedly saw the film before it was lent to the Air Force agreed that not all was returned, but several other of these individuals disclaimed having seen the film at all.
1. According to the 1950 report of the Air Force interrogator, Witness I went to Montana State University in 1935 and graduated in 1938 with a BA in journalism. Since 1941 he has resided in Great Falls. During the war he served in the Army Air Forces from June 1943 to October 1945, attaining the rank of Corporal and was editor of a newspaper at Great Falls AFB. He has been married since 1940. At the time of this UFO sighting, he was general manager of the Great Falls baseball club, and was a radio sports commentator. He is regarded as a reliable, trustworthy, and honest individual and is highly respected in the community.
2. Witness II, 19 years of age, was employed as Witness I's secretary at the time of the sighting. She impressed the Air Force interrogator as being a "fairly reliable individual and of good sound judgment."
In view of the detailed published analysis by Dr. Baker (3) I will limit this discussion to a summary of his results and some new results of our study.
A test not carried out by Baker has a bearing on his conclusions and thus will be described first. lf the clear ellipticity of the images on the film were the result of resolution of disks oriented parallel with the ground, then the apparent inclination i, measured by the minor and major axes, b and a, would be equal to the altitude angle Alpha. That is,
|i = arc sin ||a
| = Alpha|
The b and a values were measured on a number of the frames, the first frames (the larger images) giving the best measurements. Table 3 shows the results.
In spite of the rather large uncertainties in the i measurements, especially in the later frames, the meaning of the table is clear: the flattening of the recorded image is not nearly enough to be explained by the foreshortening of a horizontally-oriented ellipse. As does Baker, I infer that the object probably is not really resolved; rather, it is a bright source with an angular size somewhat less than the maximun measured in the first frames (0.00151 radians). Since the measured apparent i stays constant while the angular size drops to 0.6 this value by the last measured frames, the true image size must be only slightly less than the apparent size and some of the rounding may be due to halation. Baker concludes that the ellipticity is due to camera panning motion; however, the relative consistency of the "i" values, plus the clear case of camera motion in frame 2, greatly exceeding the flattening in the other frames, indicates to me that there was a true and constant ellipticity or flattening. The true or intrinsic value must be "flatter" than the 59° indicated by Table 3, and could, of course, even be 14° (i.e., consistent with a horizontal disk).
With the conclusion in mind that the angular diameter was less than 0.00151 radians, consider the possible explanations of the film:
If the 15 August date were correct, the objects were not balloons or airborne debris because they are moving into the wind. They are disappearing to the SW, and Baker's analysis indicates a well determined
|(See Ref. 3)||(1st UFO)||(2nd UFO)|
|2||image blur due to camera motion|
azimuth heading of 171°, while the wind was out of the southwest (3).
The objects, as reported, were not birds because of the disk shape and general strangeness to both witnesses; the objects filmed are very unlikely to have been birds because of the linearity of the path and uniformity of the images over 16 seconds, with absence of any variation in photometry or shape that could be attributed to flapping (usually 5-13 strokes/sec.), changes in orientation, or changes in direction.
The objects were not meteors, since their angular rate of travel was so slow, and they were filmed for at least 16 sec., yet they left no trail, made no audible or visible explosions or fragmentation, and were not reported elsewhere across Montana and other northwestern states. The great bolide of 25 April 1966, for example, though it was visible for about 30 sec., underwent marked brightness variations and at least two explosions, left a marked trail indicated on all photos, and was seen by thousands of persons.
Past investigations have left airplanes as the principal working hypothesis. The data at hand indicate that while it strains credibility to suppose that these were airplanes, the possibility nonetheless cannot be entirely ruled out.
There are several independent arguments against airplane reflections.
(1) Short-term variations in image size (correlated with brightness), time scale ca. 1 sec., are typically not more than ± 5%. A priori considerations of aircraft stability and empirical observations by Baker indicate that it is very unlikely that two aircraft could maintain such constant reflections over not only the 16 sec. and the 20° azimuth arc photographed but also the minimum of 50 sec. visually observed. I have confirmed this by studying aircraft visually in the vicinity of Tucson airports; in at least a dozen cases none has been seen to maintain a constant or unidentifiable reflection as long as 16 sec.
(2) Assuming that 15 August was the correct date, Air Force investigators found that there were two F-94 jets in the vicinity and that they landed only minutes after the sighting, which could well have put them in circling path around Malstrom AFB, only three miles ESE of the baseball park. However, Witness I reported seeing two planes coming in for a landing behind him immediately following the filming (3), thereby accounting for those aircraft.