AN ASSESSMENT OF THE UFO SIGHTING AT ROGUE RIVER, OREGON (MAY 24, 1949)
by Dr. Bruce Maccabee
This is a discussion of one of the most credible and most detailed visual-only UFO sightings that has ever occurred. Most visual sightings leave some doubt as the to their veracity and whether or not the reported phenomenon can be explained as some mundane phenomenon or other, with the uncertainty arising because of either self-consistency problems, apparent inaccuracy of the sighting information, or doubt concerning the credibility of the witness(es). However, this multiple witness, daylight sighting, made under optimum viewing conditions, of a pancake shaped flying object is an excellent example of sighting containing only verbal testimony that leaves little extra to be desired. The two key witnesses were employees of a "defense lab," the NACA Ames aeronautical research laboratory near San Francisco (NACA stands for National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics; it was the predecessor to NASA). They reported the sighting to the security office of that laboratory and the security office reported the sighting to the Air Force
This case was not reported to the local media (newspapers, radio or TV). Apparently the witnesses told the Air Force and no one else.
(Author’s note: Should anyone find a report of this sighting in a newspaper, I would be grateful to be able to view a copy)
The initial report was made to the workplace security office of two of the witnesses. A subsequent investigation was undertaken by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI or OSI). No evidence that would impugn the witness testimony was found. An explanation was suggested by one of the OSI investigators and this explanation was accepted as the “official” explanation by the staff of Project Grudge (the predecessor to Project Blue Book). Yet, this explanation did not convince the scientists at the Battelle Memorial Institute (Columbus, Ohio) who studied the case and concluded that it was one of the twelve most descriptive of the unexplained sightings that were reported between 1947 and the end of 1952. In the late 1970's I carried out a further investigation and discovered a convincing reason for rejecting the "official" Blue Book explanation. More recently it has been suggested that the witnesses failed to identify a blimp. This potential explanation is discussed in the Appendix.
My conclusion is that this sighting could only have been an observation of the "real thing”, that is, a “True UFO” (or TRUFO); an object that, after an in depth investigation, cannot be identified as a any known object or phenomenon.
(NOTE: The order of presentation below follows the historical order of my investigation into this case. Hence it is presented as a sort of mystery story, since the names of the witnesses were not known when this was written in the late 1970’s. However, the names were revealed in documents released after the year 2000 and are presented at the very end of this paper)
PROJECT BLUE BOOK SPECIAL REPORT #14, CASE 10 - SIGHTING AT ROGUE RIVER, OREGON, MAY 24, 1949
Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14 (SR14) was the final report of a special study carried out jointly by the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio and the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, the home of Project Blue Book. Published in 1955, it contains a statistical analysis of 3,201 out of the roughly 4,000 UFO reports which had been received by the Air Force during Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book during the period from 1947 through the end of 1952. It was the largest publicly known study of UFO reports ever carried out by the Air Force, even surpassing the University of Colorado study directed by Dr. Edward Condon (The Condon Report, 1968). The Condon study, which didn't refer to the Battelle study (an error in scientific courtesy at the very least), only presented discussions and analyses of about 100 sightings.
(NOTE: It should be noted that the discussions and analyses of individual cases reported in the Colorado study are presented in much greater detail than are any of the reports discussed in SR14. A complete discussion of SR14 has been published in the Journal of UFO Studies, Volumes 1 (1979) and 3 (1983), published by the Center for UFO Studies ( 2457 West Peterson Ave, Chicago, IL 60659). A brief discussion is also presented in The Encyclopedia of UFOs edited by Ronald Story (Doubleday, NY, 1980). ) A pdf copy of SR14 is available at (http://www.ufocasebook.com/specialreport14.pdf). My own analysis of the report, which includes revised statistics, – in the form of a PowerPoint presentation - can be found at (http://brumac.8k.com/SSUFOs/)
The author(s) of SR14 described how carefully the individual sightings were analyzed and categorized as either Known (K - identified with high or reasonable probability), Insufficient Information (II - not enough information to allow any clear decision as to whether or not a sighting could reasonably be identified; usually some key information was unavailable) or Unknown (U). The author(s) of the report emphasized that, whereas all members of a panel of analysts had to agree to categorize a case as U, if only one person thought a sighting might be explainable, then that sighting was categorized as K or II. Thus the selection process was essentially biased against the U category. The author(s) also emphasized that the U cases were not simply a collection of "poor knowns" or those with insufficient information for identification (after all, II was a separate category). Instead, each case marked as unknown had to contain apparently valid, self-consistent, credible information, reported by reliable witnesses and that conflicted with all known explanations.
SR14 was primarily a statistical study of a large number of sightings and therefore individual sightings were not discussed, except for a select dozen, which the authors termed “Good Unknowns.” These were so described by the witnesses that it should have been possible, the author(s) claimed, to create from those reports a "model flying saucer". The author(s) emphasized the differences between the various descriptions of the flying saucers and were able to conclude, with a sort of obfuscative logic (aka "fuzzy reasoning"), that there were actually no flying saucers because it was "impossible" to determine what a flying saucer might actually look like from these twelve sightings. Using the same sort of logic an alien coming to earth and seeing a few radically different types of land vehicles might conclude that humans couldn't travel in vehicles because it was impossible to create a single "model" of a human transport vehicle!
What, to me, is important for the current discussion, is not the failure of the SR14 analysts to arrive at a "model" flying saucer, but that the description of the report itself alerted me to the existence of the sighting to be described in what follows. So far as I know the sighting is not mentioned in any other literature.
I first learned of this sighting while reading SR14 in the early 1970's, when both the files of Project Blue Book (PBB) and the UFO files of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) were released to the National Archives in 1975 (on microfilm, after elimination of witness' names). I decided to try to locate the original data on all twelve of the so-called SR14 “Good Unknowns". I had some difficulty locating the records on this case, as I will now describe.
(NOTE: The National Archives microfilm file contains two files. First, the files of Project Blue Book proper (1952 – 1969), which includes the files of the preceding projects Sign (1948-1949) and of Grudge (1949-1951), and second, the UFO investigation files of the OSI covering the same years. These two files together form what is called the "Project Blue Book file" at the National Archives. Individually they can be respectively referred to as the "Blue Book section" and the "OSI section" of the Blue Book file)
THE SEARCH FOR "CASE 10"
The only information I had to go on was that presented in the SR14 summary of the sighting:
“An employee in the supersonic laboratory of an aeronautical laboratory and some other employees of this lab, were by a river, about 2 1/2 miles from its mouth, when they saw an object. The time was about 1700 hours on May 24, 1949. The object was reflecting sunlight when observed by the naked eye. However, when the witness looked at it with 8-power binoculars, there was no glare. [Did glasses have filter?] It was of metallic construction and was seen with good enough resolution to show the skin was dirty. It moved off in a horizontal flight at a gradually increasing rate of speed, until it seemed to approach the speed of a jet before it disappeared. No propulsion was apparent. Time of observation was 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.” (p. 86)
(Note: 1700 hours is 5:00 PM)
Figure 1. below shows the page in SR14 which presents the above summary along with two illustrations.
Clearly, if this report is taken at face value, something very unusual and certainly different from any known conventional craft, had passed through the skies near some unnamed river on May 24, 1949. However, UFO investigators quickly learn not to take reports at face value, but to dig as deeply as possible before coming to any conclusions. It's not that I wouldn't "trust" the Battelle institute investigators who reported this case, but the summary is so short that certainly some details were left out (as President Reagan said to Mikhael Gorbachev..."Trust, but verify!").
In order to recover the potentially missing details, I searched (in 1976) the Blue Book (BB) section of the microfilm file of Project Blue Book held in the National Archives. The BB section of the microfilm file presents the sighting reports in chronological order. Contained on the first microfilm roll (of the 92 rolls that make up the Blue Book file) is a table of contents that consists of a chronological list of all sightings in the BB section of the file. On this list I noticed there were two reports dated May 24, 1949. To be specific, in the table of contents one finds the following information on the microfilm page which lists sightings between May 15 and May 31, 1949:
Table 1: The sighting reports listed in the Table of Contents of the Blue Book section of Project Blue Book microfilms
May 24, 1949
Rogue River Bend, Oregon
May 24, 1949
Rogue River , Oregon
Although the multiple witness sighting was listed in the contents, it was missing from the BB section of the microfilm file. However, the information on the single observer sighting evaluated as "Aircraft" was present.
The fact that there were two cases listed for the same day and the same location posed a question: Which case should be identified as the sighting referred to in SR14? Without further information to go on (initially), I assumed the multiple witness sighting, for which there were no records in the BB file, was actually the sighting referred to in SR14. The record of the other sighting stated the time as "approximately 1700 hours" and the location given was 1 and 1/2 miles up the Rogue River from (i.e., east of) Gold Beach, Oregon. This distance would be about 2 and 1/2 miles from the mouth of the river on the Pacific Ocean, and that is the distance given by the SR14 summary (see above).
Considering the coincidence in time and place of the two sightings, it seemed that the second sighting might conceivably have been an independent sighting of the same object reported in the first listed sighting. But if that were true, it would mean that the same object had been identified as both "kites" and "Aircraft" (!), although neither of these mundane objects looks anything like the object described in the illustrations. If these cases did indeed refer to the same sighting of a single object, how could the explanations then be so widely divergent?
THE "AIRCRAFT" SIGHTING"
The BB file on the second sighting contains a copy of an OSI interview of Mrs. XXX (We shall call her “Mrs. A”) who lived in Gold Beach.
(Mrs A’s record of interview)
"At approximately 1700 hours, 24 May 1949, she and four other persons, while fishing on the Rogue River near Elephant Rock, approximately 1 1/2 miles above the highway bridge near Gold Beach, Oregon, sighted an object described as being round in shape, silver in color, and about the size of a C-47 aircraft. When first brought to Mrs. A's attention by one of the other witnesses, the object appeared to be three or four miles away. It was coming from the east, but later turned to the southwest. It appeared to be travelling at the same rate of speed as a C-47. It made no noise, left no exhaust trail, and made no manoeuvres. The interviewee stated that she was not familiar with aircraft; therefore, she could not estimate with any accuracy the speed or altitude at which the object was travelling. Mrs. A made the comparison between the object and a C-47 because she is familiar with that type of aircraft; her son has pointed out C-47s as they flew over Gold Beach. "
This interview of Mrs. A was carried out on August 8, 1949 by Special Agent R. Hauser. The BB case index card, which includes a short summary of the case, contains the following conclusion (or evaluation):
"No data presented to indicate object could NOT have been an aircraft."
Evidently the Air Force Project Grudge analysts paid no attention to Mrs A’s description of the object as "round in shape".
Although the time of sighting and the rough description of the object seen by Mrs. A matches the time and general description of the sighting reported in SR14, there is no way to positively connect these two reports from the evidence in the BB section of the BB microfilm file alone.
What of the missing case then? The only other possible source for information was the OSI section of the BB microfilm file. However, this section is not in chronological order. Hence I had to search sighting after sighting from OSI district offices that might have handled the investigation. There were hundreds of sighting investigations reported in the OSI section. I spent many hours during several days reading these investigations and had just about given up on finding any information on the missing sighting when I started reading a sighting report that seemed familiar. Then after reading the first interview in the report I knew I had found what I was looking for - I had found, in fact, the original interviews of ALL the witnesses, including Mrs. A! The information in the OSI section of the BB microfilm file showed that the two sightings should have been combined into a single report of a multiple witness observation. Furthermore, the OSI file established the high credibility of the case and moreover, indicated that this case should actually have been categorized by the Project Grudge staff as “Unidentified” and not as "kites".
THE "LOST" INFORMATION
The first report of this sighting was made about 20 days after the sighting, on or just before June 14, 1949, to the Security Officer of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Moffett Field in California. The security officer then requested an investigation, which was subsequently carried out by OSI Special Agent C.E. Brooks (and others) over the following months. On June 24, a month after the sighting, Agent Brooks interviewed Mr. XXX (We’ll call him “Mr. B”) who worked in the Drafting Section of the National Advisory Committee, Ames Laboratory, Moffett Field.
Mr B’s record of interview
"On Tuesday, 24 May 1949, at 1700 P.S.T., Mr. B and four other persons, while fishing two miles upstream from the mouth of the Rogue River, at approximately the same direction and distance from the town of Gold Beach, Oregon, sighted an object which is described as follows: When first sighted it appeared to be a glitter about four miles away laterally, at some 5000 feet above the ground which, at that point, was at sea level or approximately so. The object was then examined through a pair of 8-power, Navy-type binoculars. Observation time about 90-120 seconds. Object appeared round and shiny, something like a 50-cent piece, viewed from below and to one side. Object's color was silvery and it appeared round in plan view. The object seemed to be solid with no visible openings and was about 30 feet in diameter, as nearly as could be judged. Just before Mr. B handed the glasses to Mr. XXX (We’ll call him “Mr. C”), the object made a turn on its vertical axis with no tilting or banking and started to move in a southeasterly direction. There was no sign of exhaust or propeller; no driving force could be seen or felt, and no sound was heard. The object at no time contacted the earth or came any closer than 5000 feet, approximately, to the earth, and when last seen was disappearing in a southeasterly direction, accelerating to an approximate speed of a jet plane. There were no protuberances other than a slight fin which seemed to start amidship and come back flush with the trailing edge viewed as the ship drifted. No radio antenna or windows, portholes, or any other protuberances, gaps, or openings were visible. The only landmark near the sighting point was a rock formation locally known as Elephant Rock, approximately 700 yards northeast of the boat in which Mr. B and party were anchored."
On June 24, Agent Brooks also interviewed Mr.C (named in the record of interview above), who is described as being a mechanic who worked on a supersonic wind tunnel at Ames Laboratory. This interview revealed the following information:
Mr C’s record of Interview
“On 24 May 1949, at 1700 P.S.T., approximately two to two and a half miles upstream from the mouth of the Rogue River, in a boat anchored approximately midstream, about the same distance east of the town of Gold Beach, Oregon, an object was sighted about 5000 feet above the ground in a direction approximately 60 degrees clockwise from north. Object appeared to be about one or two miles away. Mr. C observed the object (for) about 30 seconds with the naked eye at which time he could see only a bright glitter, like a round mirror standing on edge with no apparent motion. Just as the object began to move, Mr. B handed Mr. C a pair of 8-power, Navy-type binoculars through which Mr. C viewed the object. With the binoculars, the object resolved into a pancake-like shape, somewhat thicker in the center than the edges, perfectly flat on the bottom with a small fin or vane arising about midship and growing gradually higher to the rear, ending flush with a trailing edge as the object travelled. Flat surface was parallel to the earth. The object appeared to be made of aluminum or some other shiny metal, and while it appeared to be oval, it could have been perfectly round in plan section. There appeared to be no opening or protuberance of any sort other than the fin already described. Object appeared to be roughly 25 to 30 feet in diameter. It was travelling in a southeasterly direction, about 170 degrees clockwise from north. It executed no manoeuvres; no lights, no propellers, no landing gear, or any method of propulsion could be seen or heard. There were no clouds and the sun was at Mr. C's back at the time of the sighting. The trailing edge of the object as it travelled appeared to be somewhat wrinkled and dirty looking. Mr. C ventured that these might have been vents but he said he could not see them well enough to say for sure. With Mr. B and Mr. C in the boat at the time of the sighting was Mrs. WWW (We’ll call her “Mrs. D”), wife of a druggist at Ione, Calif; Mrs. A, wife of a Standard Oil distributor at Gold Beach; and Mrs. XXX.*
Note: Mr. B and Mr. C stated their attention was drawn to the object by its glittering as at the time they were engaged in looking upstream to see if they could spot any feeding fish on the surface. It appeared to this agent that Mr. B [or C] was a very reliable person, not at all easily excited, in fact, prone to be rather blasé or indifferent. Mr C [or B] appeared to be a sober, well-rounded person, very mature and not easily swayed by someone else's opinion."
[* I believe the above information contains an error by the investigator. It seems to me that, instead of "Mrs. XXX," the fifth person was actually Mr. D, the husband of Mrs. D, as further interviews revealed]
Agent Brooks was not satisfied with the information in the above "casual interviews" that were made at the work locations of the witnesses. Therefore, on August 2, 1949, he obtained the following signed statements from the witnesses:
"On 24 May 1949, at approximately 5:00 p.m., while fishing with several friends about two and a half miles up the Rogue River from Gold Beach, Oregon, my attention was drawn to an object in the sky by Mr. D, one of the members of the party. To the naked eye this object appeared circular and standing on edge. I then focused a pair of 8-power, Navy-type binoculars and saw that it was indeed circular and that we appeared to be looking upward at the bottom side of it. As nearly as possible to tell, the object appeared about 5000 feet in altitude, and not more than a mile away. When I first observed it, object was moving very slowly. As I put the glasses on it, made a turn to the south, with no banking or leaning, and picked up speed. I then handed the glasses to Mr. C in order that he might see the object. Observed through the glasses, the object appeared to be made of silvery metal, either completely circular or somewhat oval. It was thin near the edges and thicker in the center. A triangular fin appeared to arise amidship and extended to the trailing end of the object viewed as it travelled. There were no openings visible and no sound was heard. There appeared to be no engines or motors, no landing gear, no other protruding parts other than the fin already described. The object was in sight for approximately one (1) minute. Sun was at our backs and there were no clouds."
"While fishing with a party of friends about two and a half miles up the Rogue River from its mouth at Gold Beach, Oregon, at approximately 5:00 p.m., 24 May 1949, my attention was called to an object in the sky. The object was to the east of us about one (1) mile, at approximately 5000 feet altitude. With the naked eye, little but a glare and a silvery glint could be seen. But after watching it for approximately one minute and a half, I was handed a pair of 8- power binoculars by Mr. B. It was then possible to see that the object was roughly circular in shape and appeared to be 30 to 35 feet in diameter. It had somewhat the cross-sectional appearance of a pancake, being thicker in the center than at the edges. A small triangular fin started in the middle and grew gradually higher to the rear as the object travelled. When first sighted, it was moving very slowly. As I watched it through the glasses, it picked up speed and when it vanished from sight approximately 90 seconds later, it was travelling as fast or faster than a jet plane. As far as could be seen, it had no openings or protuberances of any kind other than the fin, and there was neither sight nor sound of any driving force. It was a clear day and no clouds in the sky, and the sun was at our backs as we watched the object which vanished in a southeasterly direction, mostly south."
The above signed testimonials were obtained by Agent Brooks at Moffett Field and Sunnyvale, California, on August 2, 1949. Agent Brooks also obtained statements from six other people who had known one or the other of the witnesses for periods of time ranging from several months to several years. These character references concluded with statements that they were (for example) "inclined to take seriously any statement Mr.___ might make"; "inclined to place considerable reliability in anything Mr.___ might have to say"; and so on, all indicating the general reliability and trustworthiness of the witnesses.
Several days previously, on July 26, 1949 in a completely separate interview, Agent T.H. Kelley obtained the following signed statements from Mr. and Mrs. D. of Ione, California.
"During the latter part of May 1949, at approximately 1630 in the afternoon, while fishing in a boat on the Rogue River near Gold Beach, Oregon, together with [list of people deleted; assumed to be Mrs. A, Mr. B, Mr. C] and my wife, my attention was attracted by a silvery object in the sky, travelling at a height of approximately 5000 feet in a southerly direction. The object,(was) circular in formation as a silver dollar (and) travelled without sound at a speed greater than a high speed or jet plane. Mr. B and Mr. C used a binocular to view the object, which was visible to the naked eye for approximately two minutes. Not using binoculars, I could not make out any irregularities of formation, or whether the object had a motor or motors, landing gear, or other items usually connected with a plane. It had no appearance of the conventional plane but in size would be of the diameter of the fuselage length of the DC-3 plane. I have fished in the general area a number of years and have observed various', type planes flying in this area, but have never observed anything of this nature before."
[Note: 1630 is 4:30 PM]
"While on vacation near Gold Beach, Oregon, during the latter part of May 1949, and while fishing from a boat in the Rogue River in the late afternoon, my husband, Mr. D, called the attention of the group to a silver object, circular in shape, crossing the sky at a high attitude and at a high rate of speed. I could not estimate its height and its size was as large as a large passenger plane though shaped like a shiny circular disk. No sound was heard and it crossed our range of vision in two or three minutes. The day had been clear, visibility was good, and the sun was just setting. Other occupants of the party who observed the object were [names deleted; assumed to be Mrs. A, Mr. B, and Mr. C ] and my husband. There was no sound and the object travelled on a direct course."
Several days after Agent Brooks obtained the signed statements from
Mr. B and Mr. C, he compiled the documents he had so far received and
sent copies to the OSI headquarters, several other places, and to
Project Grudge at the Air Technical
Intelligence Center at Wright- Patterson AFB. Agent Brooks had marked his file "closed," even though he had not at that time obtained a statement from Mrs. A.
Several days later, on August 8, Agent Hauser interviewed Mrs. A in Gold Beach, obtaining the information given above in her record of interview. Although this interview was subsequently included in the file compiled by Agent Brooks (and is now to be seen on the OSI section of the microfilm files), the Project Grudge investigators apparently didn't realize the connection between the multiple witness sighting and that of Mrs. A, even though the estimated times were the same and the locations were virtually identical (near Elephant Rock in the Rogue River, Oregon)
Thus, in the BB section of the microfilm file these two cases should be combined into one, and moreover, the “explanations” should have been revised - it certainly couldn't have been both an "Aircraft" and a "kite". But this does raise a question: How did those identifications come about?
It is clear how the Project Grudge analysts were able to “explain” the sighting by Mrs. A. Because she was a self-admitted inexperienced observer, they simply ignored her claim that object was circular and then claimed that she had provided no information that would contradict the "Aircraft" explanation. Hence, it was an aircraft. The origin of the "kites" explanation was, however, a bit more complicated, as will be demonstrated below.
During his investigation, Agent Brooks compiled supplementary information from various sources: (a) the (low altitude) weather charts for the area indicated the coast was clear on the date of the sighting, (b) the Oakland Airport, and the San Francisco Airport both agreed that there were many local carriers (about 160) that could have flown over the Gold Beach area but that less than 1% of these filed flight plans, so it would be futile to try to locate a particular flight that could account for the sighting, (c) the Sixth Army and the Twelfth Naval District Intelligence did not possess radar installations near enough or powerful enough to have recorded anything at Gold Beach at that time, (d) the Air Force Early Warning Radar Stations in the Bay Area were not powerful enough to reach as far north as Gold Beach and these stations did not report anything as unidentified on the date of the sighting and finally (e), the 505th Aircraft Control and Warning Group at Silver Lake, Washington, did not have Gold Beach under radar coverage.
Of the above listed supplementary information provided by Agent Brooks, the only part of direct interest, (since there was evidently no radar coverage) is the confirmation of the witnesses' claim that the weather was clear. However, Agent Brooks did dig up an interesting bit of information which led to the "final identification" accepted by Project Grudge.
From Agent Brooks' report:
"On August 2, 1949, Air Force radar installations at Treasure Island and the military reservation at Fort Baker, both in the San Francisco area, (informed me that they) send aloft radar testing devices known as "kites" twice each day, at around 1000 and 1600. These devices are of aluminium sheet, approximately five feet on a side, roughly diamond- shaped and containing a double set of triangular fins on the top side. These are carried aloft by gas-filled balloons approximately two feet in diameter when they leave the earth. When these devices reach a high enough altitude, the expanding gases cause the balloons to burst and the devices known as "kites" fold and drift earthward. It is possible that one of these "kites" may have blown as far north as Gold Beach, Oregon on 24 May, 1949."
[Note: 1000 is 10:00 AM and 1600 is 4:00 PM]
Figure 2 shows a typical radar "kite" arrangement.
Apparently the Project Grudge staff accepted the "possibility" that one of these devices could have drifted northward, a distance of about 340 miles, on May 24, 1949.
Typical balloon ascension rates put a balloon at bursting altitude within an hour after launch. In order for a balloon launched at 4:00 PM to reach Gold Beach (about 340 miles north-northwest of San Francisco) by 5:00 PM, it would have to have travelled at about 340 miles per hour north-northwestward. In order for a balloon launched at 10:00 AM to reach the sighting location by 5:00 PM, it would first have to fail to burst after reaching its intended altitude and then it would have to have travelled steadily at almost 50 mph northwestward. Of course, if a balloon launched on a previous day had reached Gold Beach (without bursting and without leaking sufficiently to drop to the ground), its required average speed would have been much lower.
Hence, in order to accept the "kites" explanation the Air Force investigators had to assume that the balloons had not burst within an hour (as was usual) and also they had to ignore the clear statements of four witnesses (recall that Mrs. A was not included in the report identified as "kites") that the observed object was round and the more detailed statements by two of them (the men who used binoculars) that is was “pancake shaped”. The investigators also had to assume that the witnesses somehow (even through binoculars) did not notice that the object was suspended by balloons, and they had to ignore the witness' claim that the object departed at the speed of a jet.
NOT A RADAR KITE
There is one further reason to reject the "kites" conclusion, and this is based on the available weather records for May 23 and 24, 1949. The information contained in those records would have been available to the Air Force investigator, had Agebt Brooks thought to check, but he apparently was satisfied with his proposed solution and, I guess, didn't feel the need to "check it out" more closely to see if his explanation was feasible considering the prevailing wind patterns. About 27 years after Agent Brooks closed his file on the Rogue River sighting I completed his investigation by "checking it out".
The suggestion that the witnesses saw a radar kite launched in San Francisco presupposes that the wind directions and speeds at balloon altitudes were sufficient to transport the kite to the Rogue River area. To check this I obtained, from the National Weather Center in Ashville, North Carolina, upper altitude data from reporting stations at Medford, Oregon (about 80 miles east of Gold Beach), and at Oakland, California. The upper altitude weather data showed no wind speeds above 50 mph, so even a radar kite launched at 10:00 AM on May 24 could not have made it to Gold Beach in time for the sighting. What about a kite launched the previous day? The weather records showed that during that latter part of May 23 and all day May 24 the prevailing upper altitude winds were from the west and northwest, with occasional winds from the southwest at various altitudes and times. Therefore, even if a balloon and kite array could have remained in the air long enough to cover the 340 miles from San Francisco, they would have been blown generally eastward, that is inland, rather than northward or along the coast. Hence on all counts the "kites" explanation must be ruled out.
To aid in the study of this sighting, I have compiled a table of important statements taken from the various interviews. The reader will note that the estimated times (durations) and distances vary somewhat, but all are comparable. All witnesses agreed on the general shape and color. Apparently the object was of an angular size that was large enough so that the witnesses could determine its circular shape even without binoculars.
Figure 3. Compilation of details from witness statements.
MISIDENTIFICATION, HOAX OR THE "REAL THING"?
Now we come to the question which lies at the root of the investigation and analysis of a UFO report, namely, can this sighting be explained in terms of known phenomena or must it remain unidentified after investigation and analysis? Here is where the “rubber meets the road” in UFO studies.
The Battelle and ATIC scientists and engineers who studied this report evidently considered this case to be unexplainable. That is, given the nature of the sighting (five witnesses, a pair of binoculars, a clear day and plenty of time to view the object) the scientists found it difficult to imagine how this sighting could have been a simple misidentification of some manmade (airplane, helicopter, balloon borne device) or natural (bird) object in the sky. They also did not think it was a hoax. Moreover, there were sufficient details in the descriptions of the object so that it could not be categorized as “Insufficient Information for identification”. Although the sighted object bears some resemblance to experimental semi-circular or circular aircraft that had been proposed in the 1940's, no such craft flying were ever “operational” and even if they were, they wouldn't have been flying in an area very far from the support of aircraft research facilities. Hence, the Battelle and ATIC personnel considered this sighting to be unexplainable.
COULD THE WITNESSES HAVE BEEN WRONG ABOUT THE SHAPE?
A key characteristic of the object which makes a mundane identification unlikely (or impossible) is the overall shape. Could the shape have been misperceived by all of the witnesses including the two who used binoculars? The answer to this question is based on the angular size of the image in the binoculars. Unfortunately the two witnesses did not provide an estimate of the apparent size in the binoculars, but all the witnesses together, in an indirect way, did provide an estimate of the minimum angular size. This indirect estimate is based on the fact that all the witnesses claimed that the object was circular. Since the object was not directly overhead (where a circular object would appear truly circular) this claim suggests that the bottom of the object, as seen from their location, appeared elliptical (as shown in the illustrations in SR14). The fact that they were able to discern an overall shape other than a “point in the sky” indicates that it had an angular size larger than the minimum angular resolution of the eye in daylight conditions. The minimum angular resolution (the “resolution element”) is on the order of a minute of arc or about 0.0003 radian (0.0174 radians per degree and 60 minutes of arc per degree). Experiments have shown that in order for a viewer to characterize an object as having a shape other than a “point”, the angular size of the object must be at least two resolution elements across its largest dimension and at least one across its smallest dimension. In this case the angular size was very probably larger than this (see below), but two resolution elements is sufficient to deduce that the witnesses who used binoculars were clearly able to see the overall shape. In the view of the 8X binoculars the angular size was 8 times larger so there were at least 16 resolution elements across the major dimension of the object and 8 elements across the minimum dimension, more than enough to determine that its shape appeared elliptical, as if it were a circular object seen from an oblique angle. One of the witnesses (Mr C.) stated that the surface looked wrinkled or dirty. If a person can see an object well enough to see surface details such as this, the person is certainly able to see the overall shape. Therefore it appears that the overall circular or “pancake” shape was a true characteristic of this strange object.
DO THE ESTIMATED SIZE AND DISTANCE CORRESPOND TO AN ANGULAR SIZE GREATER THAN THE ANGULAR RESOLUTION OF THE EYE?
Although neither the actual size nor the true distance of the object is known, the witnesses did provide estimates of both these quantities, even though it is considered “impossible” to be accurate in estimating these quantities when viewing an unknown object in the clear sky. The witnesses indicated the diameter was in the range of 25 – 35 ft and that the distance was 1 to 4 miles (three estimates were 1 mile, one was 4 miles; see the table above) with an altitude of about 1 mile. A thirty foot diameter object at a distance of 1 mile (measured along the sighting line) would have an angular size of about 0.0057 radians and at 4 miles about 0.0014 radians. Both of these angular sizes are much greater than the eye resolution mentioned above. This tells us two things: (1) if they were anywhere near correct in their size and distance estimates, then the angular size was large enough for the witnesses to clearly see the overall shape and (2) the actual size was probably close to their estimate.
COULD THIS SIGHTING REPORT HAVE BEEN A HOAX?
It is my opinion that this report was not a hoax. When the two men decided to report the UFO, they did not turn to the newspapers or TV or radio to get the maximum publicity for their story. Instead, the two men, who worked in responsible positions within the Ames Research Laboratory, reported it to the security office at their own laboratory. If it was a hoax, by reporting it directly to their workplace security, they were (at the very least) endangering their jobs if exposed.
One might suggest that the time between the sighting and the report lends an air of “hoax” to the situation. It took the witnesses about three weeks to report the sighting. To me however, this suggests an element of caution on their part, in keeping with their reported character assessments. Did they really dare to report such a thing? Certainly they would not have wanted to look foolish. And what about their positions within the Ames laboratory? Yet they probably would also have felt - as confirmed by several of the early witnesses who reported “flying saucers” - that it was their duty as American citizens to report these things so that the government would know about them.
Of course the "dyed in the wool skeptic" (a phrase used by Phil Klass to describe himself during my first phone conversation with him in 1974) or “debunker” might argue that they played for high stakes. If they could get their story past the OSI investigators they could either laugh at the government (they did it for the fun of it) or use the OSI investigation as evidence it was a genuine sighting and make lots of money selling their story to the press, or both.
However, this scenario is unlikely. There is no indication I am aware of that they ever told anyone other than the OSI the details of their sighting. Hence they certainly didn't "do it for the money". Of course, I cannot prove they didn't do it for fun, but it would seem to be a highly risky undertaking for men in responsible positions to put their jobs on the line merely to be able to laugh at the OSI investigators.
This sighting is unique among the collection of visual-only sightings in that it combines multiple witness testimony (5 witnesses) with a relatively long duration (minutes instead of seconds) and clear viewing (no visual obscurations and optimum lighting). The long duration allowed the witnesses, especially those with binoculars, to go through the "escalation of hypotheses" (Hynek): is it a bird? (no); is it an airplane? (no); is it a balloon? (no); well, then what the heck is it? (don't know). When they reached the "don't know" stage, they may well have gone into the "interpretation" stage and they may have asked themselves, "Is this what we have heard about? Is this a flying saucer?" But, to the credit of the interviewer, the verbal testimony concentrates on the observations rather than any interpretations. (One of the toughest jobs of the UFO investigator is to separate witness observations, such as shape, angular size, angular speed, noise, etc., from witness interpretations of what they saw.) In this case the descriptions of the object, accompanied by drawings that show details of shape and surface markings, are clear and credible enough so that the object would have been identified, at least by the Battelle scientists if not by the witnesses, if their description had been consistent with a mundane object such as a bird, a plane, a balloon (blimp) or even a radar kite(!). The fact that no such identification is possible is based on clear and credible descriptions of the following characteristics of the object: (a) shape (disc/pancake with a "fin" on top);(b) reflectivity (like metal); (c) dynamics (approaching to within some distance of the witnesses, hovering, rotating on its vertical axis and accelerating to "the speed of a jet," (d) no noise despite the speedy departure;(e) no evidence of wings, engines, landing gear or antenna; (f) no contrail or smoke or vapor despite the the jet-like speed of departure.Sightings are often "explained," usually in an unconvincing way, by rejecting one or more of the elements of reported evidence. (Note: one may not know whether or not an explanation is correct. However, one can decide whether or not a particular explanation is convincing.) The analyst may assign low credibility to one or more of the reported characteristics of the object and then point out that the remaining charactistics are reasonably consistent with the characteristics of a particular known object or phenomenon. For example, in this case the Project Grudge staff personnel "identified" the object reported by "Mrs. A" by ignoring her comment about the shape (round) and instead emphasizing her report of seeing the object high in the sky where, of course, one often finds "aircraft." They then stated (without justification) that there was no reason that it couldn't have been an "aircraft" and so, the final identification was "aircraft" (it seems that any explanation is better than none). A similar sort of reasoning led to the "kites" identification: the Grudge staff evidently assigned low credibility to the detailed verbal description and drawings and then converted a "possible explanation" (that a radar kite from the San Francisco area might have traveled to the sighting location) to a "definite" (it was a radar kite). Although this explanation technique was applied to this sighting, leading to the "final identification" as given in the table of contents of the Blue Book sighting list, it is apparent that these identifications (aircraft, kites) did not convince the Battelle analysts. And they don't convince me. Also unconvincing is the much more recent blimp explanation, as described in the Appendix.
Any investigator, when confronted with a detailed sighting such as this and explanations such as these has to decide for himself just what is necessary to convince him that a sighting is unexplainable or that a sighting can be (or has been) explained.
Although it is always “dangerous” to assume a final conclusion to an investigation such as this, where new information might turn up at any time, it seems likely, to this investigator at least, that this sighting will never be convincingly explained in mundane terms. As such it becomes another source of information about the nature and flight capabilities of strange objects or unidentified craft that have been reported, by responsible citizens, to fly through our skies since at least 1947 (and if the historical records are any guide, since well before). One might argue that, because the sighting report does not contain desirable information such as a precise distance and size, angular size and speed or angular rate of departure, it can not be considered as valid evidence for some unidentifiable phenomenon flying through earth's atmosphere. However, to me this argument is weak. The available qualitative evidence as given by the characteristics (a) through (f) above is, by itself, convincing.
One can only wonder, at this late date whether or not, as the witnesses carried their secret with them to the end, they pondered on the nature of what they had seen and it’s implications for us all.
(Note of interest: this sighting occurred exactly 1 month after the famous sighting by Charles B. Moore and a Navy meteorological crew near Arrey, New Mexico, while they were tracking a high altitude research balloon.)
SOME ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS
The original version of the above article was written in the late 1970's. About 20 years later the Air Force a new document, the initial Air Intelligence Report on the sighting. This document answers the question, who made the illustrations that appear in Case 10? I had thought that the illustrations might have been made by the Battelle staff based on the verbal descriptions of the witnesses. However, we now know that the drawings were contained in the original AIR. Also released at the turn of the century were uncensored versions of the interviews. These clearly show that "Mr. B" was Gilbert Rivera and "Mr. C" was Don Heaphy. (Had I known this back in the late 1970's I might have been able to locate them.) Unfortunately the original microfilm copies are difficult to read and therefore these computer-scanned copies are poor. Note that the AIR was sent to the headquarters of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
The documents below show the requests for an investigation. The person making the initial request was the Security Officer at Moffett Field.
The following documents show the results of the interviews. They became available within the last 10 years and have not had the witness names removed, as did the original 1975 document release upon which I based the preceding discussion. First I present the report form for the sighting of "Mr. C." (Don Heaphy).
Here is the AFOSI version of Mr. Heaphy's testimony:
Here is the AFOSI version of the testimony of "Mr. B" who, we now know, was Gilbert Rivera.
Here is the testimony of "Mr. D" who, we now know, was Roy McBeth.
Finally, it appears that Mr. A was Mrs. Elizabeth McBeth ( Roy's sister?).
APPENDIX: THE BLIMP HYPOTHESIS
Researcher Joel Carpenter, during a discussion of this case in 2001, suggested that the witnesses might have failed to identify a blimp. He made this suggestion before reading the above report. After he read the report he no longer supported that hypothesis. It was resurrected in 2009 during a discussion of this sighting by participants in the web site of the James Randi Educational Foundation [http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=156375] (The thread label is "UFOs, The Research, The Evidence"). Although the verbal descriptions of the object's characteristics (as described above), if taken at face value, are, at best, marginally consistent with the characteristics of a blimp, the general feeling among the skeptical participants was that the probability of it being a blimp is much greater than the probability that it was an "alien vehicle." Since the skeptics assign virtually zero probability to the alien hypothesis ("show us the evidence") they concluded that the object probably was a blimp. A search was made to determine whether or not there could have been a blimp near the Rogue River at the time of the sighting. Although no direct evidence was found for this coincidence (blimp at the sighting location at that time), there was evidence that there was at least one "L" class Goodyear blimp operating on the west coast, so it was physically possible for this coincidence to have occurred. Hence the blimp hypothesis was accepted (it was a blimp) and the discussion went on to other sightings. It is the intent of this Appendix to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the blimp hypothesis.
(The following discussion of reasons why it wasn't a blimp is being retained for historical accuracy. However, as pointed out in the Epilog, the only known blimp was hundreds of miles away.)a
The descriptions of the object are presented above and have been used to reject the airplane and "kites" hypotheses. In this discussion the described "characteristics" of the observed object (overall shape, dynamics, estimated size, surface features, etc.) are be compared to the expected characteristics of a Goodyear blimp of the type that was used for advertising (L class blimp), which is about 148 ft long and 40 ft in diameter, with a gondola and fins as illustrated below. (A modern advertising blimp is about 193 ft by 50 ft, reference: my conversation with a Goodyear blimp operator.)
The first characeristic to be discussed is how it looked when first seen by the various witnesses. Unfortunately they did not provide second-by-second descriptions of how it appeared but one can get a general idea by reading the appropriate sections of the testimony, repeated here for convenience:
Mrs A: "...sighted an object described as being round in shape..." Mr. B: "When first sighted it appeared to be a glitter about four miles away laterally, at some 5000 feet above the ground which, at that point, was at sea level or approximately so. The object was then examined through a pair of 8-power, Navy-type binoculars. Observation time about 90-120 seconds. Object appeared round and shiny, something like a 50-cent piece, viewed from below and to one side." Mr. C: "observed the object (for) about 30 seconds with the naked eye at which time he could see only a bright glitter, like a round mirror standing on edge with no apparent motion." Mr.B (signed statement): "To the naked eye this object appeared circular and standing on edge. I then focused a pair of 8-power, Navy-type binoculars and saw that it was indeed circular and that we appeared to be looking upward at the bottom side of it." Mr. C (signed statement):" With the naked eye, little but a glare and a silvery glint could be seen. But after watching it for approximately one minute and a half, I was handed a pair of 8- power binoculars by Mr. B. It was then possible to see that the object was roughly circular in shape and appeared to be 30 to 35 feet in diameter. It had somewhat the cross-sectional appearance of a pancake, being thicker in the center than at the edges." Mr. D: "...my attention was attracted by a silvery object in the sky, travelling at a height of approximately 5000 feet in a southerly direction. The object,(was)circular in formation as a silver dollar..." Mrs. D: "...my husband, Mr. D, called the attention of the group to a silver object, circular in shape, crossing the sky at a high attitude and at a high rate of speed. I could not estimate its height and its size was as large as a large passenger plane though shaped like a shiny circular disk.
All the witnesses stated that the object appeared circular. Of particular importance to the blimp hypothesis are the signed statement by Mr. B that (at least at one time during the sighting) it "appeared circular and standing on edge" and the statement by Mr. C that, before he looked through binoculars it appeared "like a round mirror standing on edge."
It is important to note that, because of the appearance of the object as seen in the binoculars, Mr. B and Mr. C thought the object was circular in a horizontal plane:
(Mr. B) "Object's color was silvery and it appeared round in plan view."
(Mr. C) "while it appeared to be oval, it could have been perfectly round in plan section" and
(Mr. B again)"Object appeared round and shiny, something like a 50-cent piece, viewed from below and to one side."
(Note that "plan view" or "plan section" means a view as seen from above when a horizontal plane is "cut through" the object. Thus the use of the phrase "circular in plan view" is intended to indicate the object appeared to be circular as viewed from above. Note also that a disc or pancake shaped object lying in a horizontal plane, when viewed from below and at a location away from the vertical axis, i.e., when viewed "to one side," would appear "oval" or more accurately, elliptical. Persons trained in mechanical engineering or mechanical drawing would be aware of this terminology and understand what the two witnesses meant by saying that the object appeared to be circular "in plan view.")
The blimp hypothesis requires that their stated impressions that the object could have been circular in plan view must be ignored in favor of the statements that, at least initially, it appeared like a coin on edge, i.e., circular in a vertical plane or as a circle with a horizontal axis. This would be consistent with the appearance of an approaching blimp (which has a circular cross-section in a vertical plane). When a blimp travels directly toward an observer who is at the altitude of the blimp the observer will see a circular profile, spoiled only by the relatively small gondola at the bottom. To be consistent with the blimp hypothesis it is assumed that the gondola was not seen because (a) the blimp was too far away or (b) the lighting conditions in some way made the gondola "invisible," not only to the naked eye but also to the eye aided by 8 power binoculars.
The first problem with this hypothesis is that a blimp never travels directly toward an observer on the ground because the blimp is at some altitude. In this case the altitude was estimated at about 5,000 ft, or about a mile, and the horizontal distance by most estimates was about a mile and perhaps as much as 4 miles. These estimates probably were not exactly correct, but they can be used to estimate the probable range of elevation angles at which the object was seen during the approach and when it stopped, hovered and turned. By these estimates the angular elevation ranged from [arctan(1 mile up/4 miles horizontally) =] 14 degrees to [arctan(1 mile up/1 mile)=] 45 degrees. At elevation angles in this range the overall outline of the approaching blimp, ignoring the gondola attached to the bottom, would not have been truly circular, as illustrated in the photo below. As the blimp approached the angular elevation would have increased and the outline would have departed more and more from circular. ((In the photo below, the blimp was traveling toward a location not quite directly above the observer so the major axis of the elliptical shape is slightly tilted away from vertical.)
The illustration below shows how one can estimate the appearance of a blimp that is approaching a location directly above the observer by approximating its shape as an ellipsoid. The important quantities to be derived are its apparent angular size (height) measured vertically and its angular size (width) measured horizontally when the angular elevation is high enough so that the rear end can (almost) be seen.
Define the "projected length" of the oncoming blimp as its (apparent) length (in the vertical direction) as seen from the point of view of the observer. The projected length of an object, Lp, is the length as "projected" onto an imaginary plane (flat) surface that is both perpendicular to the line of sight (LOS) and at the distance of the object. The LOS connects the observer with the center of the object. In the diagram R is the (radial) distance along the LOS from the observer to the center of the object. Lp is the projected length which is given by the equation Lp = L sin(a) where L is the actual(horizontal)length of the blimp and a is the angle of elevation (the angle between the LOS and horizontal). (Note: this equation underestimates the projected length in the vertical direction when the elevation angle is small because in that case the "bulge" of the blimp body blocks the view of the rear end and increases the projected length above the value given by that equation;see below.) At the left side of the illustration there is a "side view" to illustrate the geometric construction based on the elevation angle and the radial distance for the case when the angular elevation is a = 40 degrees, H = 1 mile, R = 1.55 miles (= 8214 ft) and the horizontal distance would be 1.2 miles (not to scale). In the following analysis calculations are done for two blimp sizes, 148 x 40 ft and 193 x 50 ft. (The results of calculations based on the larger blimp measurements are presented in parentheses.) The observer is at the lower left corner, the "origin" of the vertical and horizontal axes.
With the length, altitude and elevation angle shown in the diagram, the projected length of the 148 ft(193 ft) long blimp would be about 95 (124) ft. At the same time, as illustrated at the right side of the diagram, the width of the blimp projected onto a plane perpendicular to the LOS would be the same as the width unprojected, i.e., 40 (50) ft. This means that the overall shape of the blimp, as it appears to the observers, would be essentially elliptical with the ratio of major (vertical) to minor axes equal to 95/40 = 2.4 (124/50 = 2.5). At lower elevation angles the shape would be more rounded (with "perfectly" round occurring at a = 0 degrees). The angular size, b, in radians, for small angles (less than 20 or so degrees), is approximately equal to the projected length divided by the radial distance. The angular (vertical) length for the 40 degree elevation is b = 95/8214 = .012 rad (124/8214 = 0.015 rad). Converted to degrees, using 0.0174 rad/degree, this is is 0.69 degree (0.86 degree). Similarly, the angular width is 40/8214 = 0.0049 rad = 0.28 degree (50/8214 = 0.0061 rad = 0.35 degree). All of these angular sizes are larger than the minimum resolvable angle so the overall non-circular shape would have been apparent to the naked eye observers and even more apparent to a person using the binocular.
The previous calculation was for the elevation angle of about 40 degrees. However, if the blimp never got closer than the estimated 4 mile (horizontal) distance, then the maximum angle of elevation would have been about 14 degrees (corresponding to the estimated 1 mile altitude). In this case, R = 4.1 mi and the angular (horizontal) width would have been about 40/(4.1 x5280) = 0.0018 rad = .11 deg (or 50/(4.1x5280) = 0.0023 rad = 0.13 deg}. These angles are still larger than the resolution element size. The angular vertical size would have been larger but not the size given by the above equation for projected length because of the bulge of the blimp. In this case it is convenient to obtain the projected apparent vertical size using a graphical construction.
The graphical scaled construction shows that the blimp would not appear round even if 4 miles away and 1 mile up. The observers would see an object with a height to width ratio of about 56/40 = 1.4 (or 70/50 = 1.4), an ellipticity that should have been easy for the witnesses to detect, as illustrated in the above figure. Considering that a portion of the nose of an oncoming blimp (lit by the sun in the west) could have a bright reflection, one might think that the angular size might be too small for the observers to detect this amount of ellipticity in the presence of a bright reflection. However, pictures show that the area of bright reflection is considerably smaller than the area of the nose so it seems likely that even at four miles the ellipticity could be seen by the naked eye observers, and certainly by the person (Mr. B) using the binoculars.
It should be apparent by now that the angular elevation, is a very important quantity in evaluating the validity of the blimp hypothesis because the higher the angular elevation the more elliptical would the outline appear, and, of course, the closer would be the object if the height were constant, which is likely for a blimp. The witnesses did provide estimates of distance and altitude but, unfortunately, they did not provide independent estimates of the maximum angular elevation (or the maximum angular size). Previously the estimated height (about 1 mile) and minimum distance (about 1 mile) were used to estimate that the maximum angular elevation was probably about 45 degrees. There is another way to make an estimate. This requires assuming that the first (upper) drawing is a reasonably accurate portrayal of how the object actually looked to the artist (Mr. B?) (that is, the drawing shows how it actually looked to him from his perspective, as opposed to what he thought was the actual shape as seen from above or from the side). The first drawing has an outline similar to that of a disc seen from below but not directly below. The disc would have a flat bottom, as Mr.C claimed ("…..perfectly flat on the bottom…" and "…flat surface parallel to the earth.."). If one assumes that the object's shape was that of a circular disc lying in a horizontal plane (disc axis vertical), as the witnesses claimed (e.g., "circular in plan view") , then the approximately overall elliptical shape can be used to estimate the angle between the LOS and the vertical axis of the disc. The diagram below shows that the outer boundary of the object in the first drawing can be well fitted by an ellipse, which is what one would see if the actual shape were a disc and the LOS were at an angle, labelled c in the diagram, away from the (vertical) axis of the disk. In the picture the major diameter of the ellipse is the actual diameter of the circular disc. The minor axis is the disc diameter as foreshortened by the off-axis view. The ratio of minor to major ellipse axes is about 0.5 which corresponds to an off-axis angle of c [= arccos(0.5) =] 60 degrees. The complement of this angle is the angular elevation as seen by the observer: [90 - c = a =] 30 degrees, which, appropriately, lies within the range of elevation angles already given.
Thus the first drawing is consistent with a disc seen from below and to one side of the axis. In order to make this drawing consistent with the blimp hypothesis one must assume that the overall shape is that of a blimp seen from a perspective view that makes it look "short and fat." One must imagine this hypothetical blimp was seen from the rear and below in such a way that the upper rear fin was seen "peeking" around the blimp body although, for some (optical? lighting?) reason the other parts of the blimp (the other fins and the gondola) were not seen, even through binoculars.
As pointed out above, the ellipse that fits the first drawing of the object has a ratio of minor to major axes of 0.5 so the inverse ratio is 2. On the other hand, the major to minor axis ratio of the blimp is 148/40 = 3.7 (193/50 = 3.86) (see above). Therefore, when the LOS is perpendicular to the major axis, the length of the blimp appears to be about four times its height (or diameter). In order to make the visual ratio shrink from 3.86 to 2 the LOS must be at another angle, d, away from the perpendicular to the axis of the blimp. The projected length of the blimp is L cos d and this corresponds to the "Diameter," or major axis of the ellipse in the above illustration. The height (or width or diameter) of the blimp, h, corresponds to the minor diameter of the ellipse in the above diagram. The ratio of axes is therefore major/minor = (L cos d)/h = 2. Thus, d = [arccos(2h/L)] = 57 (58) degrees. The elevation angle is not simply the complement of 57 (58) degrees, i.e., 31 (32) degrees, because the horizontal blimp major axis, if the drawing is assumed correct, would have lain, not within but crossing a vertical plane that would have contained both the center of the blimp and the witness. However, the angular elevation would have been somewhat close to 31 (32) degrees. The "bottom line" of this analysis is that it is reasonable to use the outline of the first drawing as evidence that is consistent with a blimp at about a 30 degree angle of elevation. Therefore, if one could explain the apparent invisibility (to the witness) of the other three fins and the gondola, one could legitimately argue that the overall shape in the first drawing is roughly consistent with a Goodyear blimp viewed from below and to one side. However, the relatively large angular elevation, which implies that it wasn't very far away (less then 4 miles) would raise the question of why it wasn't recognized as a blimp. (One must also assume that the blimp either had no lettering on its side, or, for some reason, the lettering, like the fins and gondola, was not visible.)
It is clear from the verbal descriptions that the witnesses did not think they were seeing an oblique view of a blimp. Mr. B compared the object to "…a 50-cent piece, viewed from below and to one side." The bottom of a coin is flat. One wonders how the lighting of the curved surface of the hypothetical blimp would make it appear flat on the bottom, even when seen at a relatively large angular elevation (e.g., maximum angular elevation in the range 30 - 45 degrees). (Recall that the sun was behind the observers and providing excellent lighting in a clear sky.)
If one is to use the overall shape of the first drawing (plus the upper fin at the rear) as evidence for a blimp, one must also explain why the artist has taken the time to draw numerous short vertical lines, approximately evenly spaced, along the top edge of the drawing. There are no similar lines or linear objects around the side of a blimp. However, there are such linear structures on a 50c coin. They are the parallel lines around the milled edge, as illustrated below. (Milled edges are silver coins such as the 50c piece.)
Unfortunately the witness descriptions do not provide a second-by-second recounting of motion of the object, but it seems consistent with their testimony to assume that the object approached them from the east (perhaps along a direction 60 degrees from north), hovered for a time (minute or more?) and then turned to travel rapidly away southward. One particularly interesting aspect of the flight path is the turn. According to Mr. B., who saw this happen while he was looking through the binoculars, the object turned about its vertical axis with no tilting or banking. A Goodyear blimp operator told me that this could in principle be done by having the propellor blades operate in opposite rotations to provide a twist, but it is never done. Instead, a blimp uses a rudder. It must be moving for the rudder to have an effect. According to the blimp operator the blimp would travel a distance two or more times its own length to accomplish a 90 degree turn. (If two lengths for 90 degrees, i.e., about 300 ft (400 ft), then the turning radius would be about [(4 x 300)/(2 x pi)] = 190 ft (250 ft).) To make Mr. B's observation consistent with the capability of a blimp one must assume it was so far away that the turn seemed to be about a vertical axis through the blimp. But at such a large distance the maximum angular elevation would probably be considerably smaller than the roughly 30 degree angle calculated above.
Regardless of how the turn was accomplished, during the turn the view went from the "front view" to a "side view" of the object. If the object were disc shaped, the apparent angular size (horizontal dimension) after the turn would be the same as the angular size before the turn, so the witnesses would see no increase in the apparent horizontal size as it turned. However, if the object were blimp shaped, the outline and apparent size would change dramatically, even if it were far enough away (more than 4 miles) to appear essentially circular before the turn. Whatever the angular size appeared to be before the turn, it would appear much longer in the horizontal direction after the turn. If it were close enough to be at a 14 degree or more angular elevation, the blimp's outline would, before the turn, be roughly elliptical with the major axis in the vertical direction (as illustrated above). During the turn the apparent vertical dimension would shrink and the much greater ellipticity of the broadside view would become apparent. To the witnesses, an object that initially appeared to be have a horizontal angular size (width = diameter) equal to (W/R) would now have a horizontal angular size (width = length) equal to (L/R), which would be about four times greater since L/W = 3.7 (3.8). Considering this large apparent size increase, it seems unlikely that Mr. B, using the binoculars, would have failed to notice it. Furthermore, considering the obvious tendency of the witnesses to carefully describe the object and its actions, it seems unlikely that, if he noticed a size change, he would fail report it. It even seems very unlikely also that the naked eye observers would have failed to notice or failed to report the increase in apparent width. Of course, as is always pointed out, witnesses are "unreliable" (at least in some cases), so perhaps this large change in the apparent size of the object could have gone unnoticed by the naked eye observers, or unreported, even if noted. But one wonders why the witness who used the binoculars and provided many details concerning his observations would fail to mention such an obvious change in the appearance of the object. One might suggest that the size change was not noticed because it was obscured by bright reflections from the silvery (semi-specular) surface of a blimp, but in this case this suggestion seems unreasonable. It may be true that if a blimp were approaching from a long distance under these lighting conditions the nose might appear initially as a round "glitter" with little definite shape. However, after it turned and was viewed from the side, the bright reflection would now be elongated in the horizontal direction, as expected from the elongated elliptical shape and as shown in the following pictures of blimps at various angles. (Note: pictures of oncoming blimps show small, circular areas of bright reflection at the nose; most of the front does not appear overly bright. With the naked eye, and certainly with the 8 power binoculars, it should be possible to see the small area of bright reflection within the larger area of less bright reflection. When the blimp turned south the witnesses would see the bright circular reflection "stretch out" into a fat line roughly four times the width of the reflection before the turn.)
Consider the second (lower) drawing and note that the artist (Mr. C?) has taken the time to draw a small rectangular area labeled "something equivalent to a patch." Note how precisely it is drawn, with the square corners as they would appear in an oblique view. In my opinion, this "patch" was not a figment of the imagination of the artist but an actual characteristic or feature of the object that he attempted to render as accurately as possible. I assume that he also attempted to render the overall shape and relative proportions of the features of the object accurately as possible. Of course, the relative sizes of the various surface features and the overall size of the object in the drawing are probably not exact representations of the relative sizes of the same features on the real object. However, they may be reasonably correct and therefore useful for estimating the number of resolution elements that made up the image in the binoculars.
Assume that the relative sizes of features in the second drawing are close to the relative sizes of the same features on the real object as seen through the binoculars from the perspective of the witness. Then, one can use the ratio of the width of the drawn "patch" to the overall width of the drawn object in order to obtain another estimate of the number of resolution elements. For him to see the patch well enough to assign a specific shape to the patch as square or perhaps rectangular, as opposed to round or elliptical, there must have been at least two resolution elements across the patch in each dimension (horizontal, vertical). Now, the overall width (length) of the drawn object is about 27 times greater than the width of the patch. Taken at face value this would imply that there were about 27 times more resolution elements across the width of the object than across the patch. Assume, as in the main text, that 0.0003 rad is the smallest angular size that can be resolved in the binocular view (just as in the "non-binocular" view). Since shape was attributed to the patch, its angular width in the binocular view must have been at least twice that or at least 0.0006 rad. Then the width of the object, as seen through the binoculars, would have been at least [0.0006 x 27 =] 0.016 rad. The actual angular size (as seen without the binoculars) would have been 1/8 as large or [0.016/8 =] 0.002 rad. At a radial distance of 1.4 miles (1 mile horizontally and 1 mile up) this corresponds to about 15 ft, which is about half of what the witnesses estimated. The size calculated by this method would increase with the number of resolution elements across the patch. For example, if there were 4 elements covering the patch this calculation would yield the same diameter as estimated by the witnesses. Of course, this calculation depends entirely upon the accuracy of the artist in portraying the shape of the patch and its relative size as compared to the total width of the drawn image. Nevertheless, the consistency between the numerical result of this type of calculation and the witness' estimated size adds to the overall credibility of the reported details. Furthermore, it indicates that the witnesses with binoculars could see rather fine details of the object and this again raises the question why, if the binocular view showed such fine details, didn't they recognize it as having the curved surface of a blimp?
According to the witnesses, during the latter part of the observation, as the object traveled southward, it achieved a high speed, compared to that of a jet (or at least that of a C-47). Of course, this has to be a guess by the witnesses based on their assessment of the angular rate of travel of the object as compared to the angular rates of travel of ordinary jet aircraft seen at distances that made them appear to be about the same size as the object. The immediate question for the blimp hypothesis is, could a blimp traveling at its cruising speed (35 mph) appear to be leaving the area at the speed of a jet. Recall that the two Ames Research Laboratory employees worked in an area where there were airfields so it is very probable, verging on certainty, that they were familiar with the flight of jets seen at various distances from the witnesses. (They were probably also familiar with blimps.) In particular, they probably understood, based on personal experience, the qualitative relationship between the distance to a jet and its apparent angular speed. They were probably also familiar with how rapidly the angular (apparent) size of a jet could shrink when it was flying away from them.
The visual comparison of blimp and jet speeds can be made a more concrete by considering a reasonable model for the flight path of the object and by calculating the azimuth and angular size of a jet and a blimp as a function of time after the initial acceleration. Once the results of the calculations for one set of parameter values (initial direction, initial distance, speed, flight direction) is completed, results from other assumed parameter values can be estimated. As an initial distance and direction, assume that the object was due east of the witnesses at a horizontal distance of 1 mile and 1 mile up. It's radial (slant) distance would have been about 1.414 miles. Assume it departed in a due south direction after achieving its cruising speed "instantaneously." Then the radial distance to the object as a function of time would be R = (x^2 + y^2 + z^2)^0.5 where x = 1 mile (distance to the east), y = vt (distance southward that increases with time) and z = 1 mile (constant altitude). This equation becomes R = (2 + v^2 t^2)^0.5. The azimuth angle relative to the initial eastward direction would be arctan(y/x) = arctan(vt/1). The L class blimp had a cruising speed, v, of about 46 mph which is 0.0128 mi/sec (according to a blimp operator with whom I spoke, the cruising speed of the 193 ft blimp is 35 mph = 0.0097 mi/sec). The jet speed is assumed to be a moderate 350 mph = 0.097 mi/sec. In the first ten seconds (assuming it achieved full speed "instantaneously") the blimp radial distance will have increased from 1.414 mi to 1.419 mi (1.417 mi) and the radial distance to the jet will have increased to 1.71 mi. The azimuth of the blimp will have increased from zero (due east) to 7.3 deg (5.5 deg) (south of due east) and that of jet will have increased to 44 degrees. Thus during the first ten seconds (ignoring acceleration time) the azimuth angle to a jet would increase nearly 9 times faster than the azimuth angle to a blimp. According to the blimp hypothesis the witnesses didn't realize they were looking at a blimp so for them to say that the object traveled at the speed of a jet would mean that they greatly exaggerated the angular rate of travel of the blimp. In other words, according to the blimp hypothesis they saw an object (they didn't know what it was but "we know" it was a blimp) that traveled 7.3 deg (5.5 deg) in the first 10 seconds (at a rate of 0.73 deg/sec (0.55 deg/sec) and, for some reason, thought this was actually more like 44 degrees in 10 seconds (4.4 deg/sec). Of course, the disparity in angular rates would be even greater if one assumed that the jet traveled faster than 350 mph or that the blimp required more than "zero" seconds to reach 46 mph (35 mph). If the distance had been greater, say, 4 miles, the angular rates would have been essentially ¼ of the above values and the blimp would appear to be "hardly moving" (about a tenth of a deg/sec) whereas the jet would have a clearly noticeable speed (about 1 deg/sec or twice the angular width of the moon per second).
At 30 seconds the blimp would have traveled 0.29 mi (0.28 mi), its azimuth would be 16.2 deg (15.6 deg) and its radial distance would be 1.46 mi (1.44 mi) while the jet would have traveled 2.9 mi, its azimuth would be 71 degrees and its radial distance would be 3.2 mi. From the point of view of the witnesses the apparent size of a blimp would have hardly changed over the first 30 seconds, while the apparent size of a jet would appear to be less than half of its initial angular size. By this time the azimuth of the blimp would have changed a noticeable amount, but it would still be mostly eastward while the azimuth of the jet would be south-southeast. One wonders how the witnesses could have compared the hypothetical blimp departure speed with that of a jet.
By the time a minute had passed the blimp would have traveled about 0.77 mi (0.58 mi), its azimuth would be about 37 deg (30 deg) and its radial distance would have increased to about 1.61 mi (1.53 mi). The jet, on the other hand, would be "long gone" (possibly lost over the horizon created by the nearby hills), having traveled 5.8 mi southward so that its azimuth would be about 80 degrees and its radial distance would be 6.0 mi. The apparent horizontal size of the blimp would be about 70% of its initial size (a combination of the increased distance and the change in perspective) whereas the angular size of the jet would be less than a quarter of its initial size.
Of course, the quantitive comparison between the temporal variations of the azimuths and angular sizes of a blimp and a jet would depend greatly upon the assumed speeds, the assumed initial distance to the object and the assumed direction of the flight path but this "typical calculation" should be sufficent to show that the witnesses had to have greatly exaggerated the angular speed (change in azimuth angle) and the rate of shrinkage of the angular size in order for them to assign jet speed to a blimp.
One may conclude from this departure speed calculation that it is probable, verging on certainty, that since the witnesses said the object departed at the speed of a jet it, at the very least, departed at a speed much greater than that of a blimp.
It has been proposed that the object sighted by the witnesses was a blimp that approached them from the east or east-northeast, that hovered at some distance (from the witnesses) estimated at 1 to 4 miles (with the shorter distance mentioned more often in the testimony than the larger) for many seconds to a minute or more (exact hover time not reported), that made a left turn and headed roughly southward and that reached the speed of a jet as it traveled out of sight (without making noise). The preceding discussion has compared the main characteristics of a blimp with the observed characteristics of the object. It has been pointed out that most of the characteristics of the (Goodyear) blimp do not agree with the characteristics of the object as described by the witnesses. Of particular importance are the differences in characteristic shape, speed and turning radius.
1) The witnesses clearly stated that the object, when first seen, appeared to be round. A claim made in favor of the blimp hypothesis was that an approaching blimp appears round. However, further analysis showed that for distances of a mile to several miles, because the blimp would be above the altitude of the observers, the appearance of an approaching blimp would be elliptical with a vertical major axis. This non-circularity, as well as other features, should have been apparent to the witness who used binoculars and to the naked eye witnesses.
2) It was pointed out that the first drawing, which the artist drew in perspective with the intent to portray a disc lying in a horizontal plane and with a flat bottom, has the outline shape of a blimp seen at an angle to its main axis. However, further analysis showed that, although it would be possible to make a "short, fat-appearing" blimp fit the outline of the first drawing of the object, other features of that drawing are not blimp-like such as the short vertical lines around the "edge" (compared to the milled edge of a silver coin), the absence of a bottom fin and side fins and the absence of a gondola or crew cabin.
3) A characteristic of a blimp is that the object would not turn about its vertical axis. Yet this sort of turn was reported by Mr. B.
4) A characteristic of a blimp is that its long axis is about 4x larger than its diameter. This fact would lead one to conclude that when the object, which was initially heading toward the witnesses (and so appearing roughly "circular" or elliptical with major axis nearly vertical), turned to its left, the witnesses would have seen a considerable increase in its (horizontal) length since, after the turn, they would be viewing the blimp broadside. Although Mr. B watched this turn through the binoculars he did not mention an increase in horizontal dimension or a change in shape that should have been obvious. The naked eye witnesses also should have noticed the change in shape. Even if all they could see was a bright reflection of the sun from the semi-specular surface of the object, had it been a blimp they should have seen this reflection change from roughly round to elongated in the horizontal direction. It is important to note that the witnesses who used binoculars described the shape as like a pancake or disc with a flat bottom. One strives mightily to imagine how a technically trained person, looking through binoculars and having sufficient resolution to see a fin or a patch, could attribute "flatness" to the bottom of a blimp.
5) According to the witnesses the object departed at the speed of a fast airplane or jet (at least several hundred mph). A claim was made that the witnesses overestimated the departure speed of a departing blimp. The analysis of a reasonable mathematical model of the departure showed that there is a considerable disparity between the angular rates of travel of a blimp (46 mph) (35 mph) and a typical fast aircraft (350 mph). This disparity is large enough to make it difficult to imagine the witnesses could have assigned jet speed to a blimp.
As I have pointed out above and in other publications, it may not always be possible to determine whether or not a particular proposed explanation for a UFO sighting is correct, but it is possible for one to decide whether or not a particular explanation is convincing. For this case the blimp explanation is, at best, unconvincing and more likely just plain wrong and, hence, it is my opinion that the Rogue River object was not a blimp.
Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to Mr Dirk Biddle for his editing suggestions (B.M., Dec 2009)
Thanks to the effort of Steven Pyatt we now (fall, 2011) know that the only Goodyear blimp operating on the west coast, the "Volunteer" (NC-2A), was at Everett, Washington, about 390 miles from Gold Beach, Oregon on May 24, 1949 (and for days before and after). Steven contacted Goodyear directly to find out historical information on blimps and was directed to Mr. Jared Haren, Project Leader / LTA Systems Specialist, Goodyear Airship Operations in Mogadore, Ohio. Historical operation records (ship's log) existed, but Mr. Heran was reluctant to take the time to search. Mr. Pyatt then called me and told me that he had located the operations group that had the desired records in the hope that I could convince them to search the records. I then made an appeal to the scientific aspects of this investigation and Mr. Heran subsequently made the necessary search and found the ship's log. With the permission of Goodyear ("Use courtesy of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company") I present here the log entries for May and June, 1949.
(Note: the blimps operated with lighting, either "Incandescent" [incandescent bulbs] or neon signs.)