The Lubbock Lights: The Detailed Story
Michael David Hall and Wendy Ann Connors 
Copyright 2000


 

In 1951, the technical intelligence administrative offices moved from Building 262 to 263, a temporary building with a series of Butler buildings attached. (Building 263 and the Butler buildings were torn down in 1974; it was located where Barnes Park is today, next to AFMC headquarters.) People who worked in the building remember it as a terrible place to work. It was unbearably hot in the summers and equally cold in the winters.

The event that really foreshadowed Ruppelt's official entrance onto the UFO scene came from Texas in late 1951. It is now known as the famous Lubbock Lights Incidents. Encompassing a whole series of cases, it is best remembered as beginning on the 25th in Lubbock. That evening around 9:10 P.M. CST two Texas Tech professors, Dr. A.G. Oberg and Professor W.L. Ducker, were sitting in the backyard of Dr. W.I. Robinson's house counting meteors.

Robinson then joined them just as a soft glowing light passed over from north to south. Later, more lights described like "a string of beads" in a semi-circle formation passed over. They were also moving north to south and in an identical manner. The lights seemed as bright as a star but were definitely not stars or meteorites because they traveled at subsonic speeds in horizontal flight. On later dates the same three men were joined by Dr. E.R. Heineman and Dr. E.F. George who saw more flights of lights. All of these observers were technically oriented men, who among them held professorships in geology, chemical engineering, petroleum engineering, physics, and mathematics. 114



Research Group

From left to right: Dr. Oberg, Prof. Ducker,
Dr. Robinson and Dr. E.F. George.

An earlier and even more dramatic sighting that night occurred in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 9:58 P.M. MST (about 50 minutes before the professor's sighting). At that hour Hugh R. Young, a security guard at the Sandia Atomic Energy Commission, and his wife Emily, reported seeing a V-shaped "chevron-shaped flying wing." It appeared over their home just east of Albuquerque, (250 miles from Lubbock.) They compared its size to that of a Boeing B-36 bomber. The UFO passed 800 to 1,000 feet overhead from north to south and then flew over Central Avenue as its body reflected the city lights below. The object made no noise even though it traveled as fast as 400 miles per hour. The "wing" looked silvery with six or eight lights grouped in pairs on the back edge with about eight dark bands spaced on either side of the center section.


Flying wing seen over Albuquerque. (In Ruppelt's personal notebook he had a copy of this sketch and scribbled next to it "On trip to ABQ found out wing more sharply swept.")

A great deal of interest developed when details of this case reached ATIC although the actual investigations did not get underway until later that fall, after UFOs had received a higher priority. (See Chapter Two.) By then ATIC, with the help of the FBI, New Mexico State and Albuquerque police, civilian airlines, Northrop Aircraft Co., SAC and ADC, checked to see if there had been any military or civilian aircraft in the area. ATIC eventually concluded nothing had been over Albuquerque that night which could have explained the sighting. The case also impressed intelligence officers because Young had a very high (Q) or nuclear security clearance and would not have been the type of individual to make such a report if he had not truly seen something unusual.116 As Ruppelt stated, "This summed up his character, oddballs don't get 'Q' clearances." 116

About the same time as these sightings, a Lubbock rancher's wife saw a large object glide swiftly and silently over their house. She described it as an airplane without a body and with pairs of glowing bluish lights on the back edge of the wing. Then on a night around the 25th, Professor Ducker's wife had a similar observation. She was quite startled by the sighting, describing it as a large flying wing that passed over their house with absolutely no sound. 117 By September of 1951, Ruppelt began taking some interest in those UFO reports coming into ATIC. Actually, he could not have helped but hear about them. Because of manpower shortages, he was by that time being asked to lend a hand to Lieutenant Jerry W. Cummings. Cummings had taken over the administration of a very lethargic Project Grudge from James Rodgers in June of 1951. Rup-pelt's private papers, in fact, detail that earlier transition:

"In about June 1951 Jerry Cummings somehow got interested in UFOs. He mentioned it and Al Deyarmond, [then temporarily head of the Aircraft and Propulsion Section] thinking it was a bum detail gave the Project to him. Jerry refused to be intimidated and announced that there was more to UFOs than people thought and set about to prove it. Deyarmond didn't like it because his buddy Rodgers had had the project and loused it up. There were some big hassles which included the famous R&R." 118

Cummings and Ruppelt had desks close to each other in a large open room within one of five long warehouse buildings occupied by ATIC's Analysis Division. These five buildings lay parallel to one another but were all connected by a long contiguous hallway hooked onto a cinder block head house—making these structures function virtually as one large facility known as Building 263. They were in Area A at Patterson Field next to the headquarters of the AMC. 119

Both men faced Lieutenant Colonel Rosengarten's office. Not only did they develop a friendship while working for Lt. Col. Rosengarten but they both greatly liked and admired their chief—who, privately, they affectionately called Rosie. Rosengarten was chief of the Performance and Characteristics Branch under the Aircraft and Propulsion Section of the Analysis Division of ATIC. Cummings thus easily consulted with Ruppelt and at times Rosengarten allowed him to "borrow" him for assistance. Ruppelt was already greatly valued for his engineering degree—not to mention being prized as one of the few officers on staff who could wield a typewriter. So Jerry Cummings made good use of his talents as did Lt. Col. Rosengarten for a whole host of chores, most of which had nothing to do with UFOs.

Because sightings in general had declined so much in frequency by that late 1951 time period, it seems Colonel Watson was then paying little attention to the subject. His Analysis chief, Colonel Brunow W. Feiling, also became a disinterested participant when it came to saucer investigations. Watson and Feiling, for what ever reason, apparently thought flying saucers were an old story by then. Yet, they did not know how interested in the subject young Lieutenant Jerry Cummings would become. The files clearly show that from the moment Cummings took over, he served as an interested and objective investigator of the reports coming across his desk.

In addition to this, a man by the name of John S. "Red" Honaker may have played a part too. Honaker was an old friend of Colonel Watson's. Watson used him as a point man—keeping in contact with every project and facet of work going on at ATIC. Officially, his title was Assistant to the Chief. In reality, he was Watson's eyes and ears. Honaker would constantly pop in on different departments and ask for quick verbal status reports. This was Colonel Watson's way of keeping everyone on their toes.

Yet Honaker may have cut Cum-mings (and later Ruppelt) a lot of slack. Honaker was a former assistant to Project Sign, and had become as convinced in the extraterrestrial hypothesis as Loedding and Deyarmond. But unlike Loedding, Honaker and Deyarmond had the savvy to keep their opinions to themselves when flying saucers suddenly became a politically incorrect issue within the halls of ATIC. Honaker and Deyarmond, seemingly, would both later give Ruppelt a lot of behind the scenes assistance. Also, around this time, Colonel Watson was transferred out of ATIC to a European command that would prove an important assignment in his career.

But let's get back to the Lubbock Lights Incidents. On November 6, 1951, Ruppelt was flown to Reese AFB. (By that time Cummings had actually left the Air Force and Ruppelt was assuming his duties as project chief of Cummings' legacy—a (new) reformed Grudge project.) Working with AFOSI officer Howard N. Bossart, Ruppelt was soon interviewing four of the Texas Tech professors. By November, the professors and over 100 other people in the Lub-bock area had observed the lights. The professors agreed that their sightings had a number of characteristics in common shared by other local residents.

The professors accounted for 12 periods of sightings since the 25th in which at least two or more of them had observed the same phenomena. They stated, however, there were many other single witness sightings and some by their wives and members of the community. In fact, by the November meeting with Ruppelt, the professors had stopped watching the skies altogether. They had become convinced that the lights represented a new type of secret Air Force plane. Ruppelt was then familiar with the latest advances in aeronautics. He knew no such secret aircraft existed but did develop a theory that became as implausible to the professors as secret aircraft were to Ruppelt.

He spent considerable time during his trip to Lubbock from November 6 through the 9th trying to determine if birds could have been responsible for at least some of the sightings. The local game warden doubted the theory, but said if they were birds, they were not ducks or geese because they would have made a great deal of noise in flight. During an interview, the warden stated only the plover of West Texas flew at night in such a manner and usually only in groups of five or six birds. Some varieties have a white breast and although would appear very dim, could very easily reflect light from street lamps below. 120 Yet, this theory did not account for some other and even more dramatic sightings which took place following the 25th.

In the early morning of August 26, for example, two different ADC radars in Washington State targeted for six minutes an object traveling around 900 miles per hour at 13,000 feet on a northwesterly heading. The course would have taken it over the Lubbock area, but the target, despite being pursued by an F-86, disappeared from the scopes before reaching Texas.

Then on August 30 the lights were photographed by Carl Hart, Jr., a freshman at Texas Tech. Experienced at photographing stars—when he saw the famous lights around 11:30 P.M. he grabbed his camera and knew he needed to give them as much light as possible. Hart used a Kodak 35 mm camera at its full open aperture setting of f.3.5 at 1/10 of a second exposure to capture five pictures. Each photo shows 18 to 20 lights which had come over in three groups. As the formations appeared, they were in sight for only three to four seconds. At the time he captured the first photo, Hart had seen them just above the tree tops at a 30 degree angle flying north-northeast on a horizontal south-southeast course. 

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Through the years Carl Hart, Jr. has rigorously maintained the authenticity of his photographs. Pictured here is the most famous of the five—with the lights in V formation.

The most notable photo shows a distinctive V formation. These were later examined at ATIC, and while they did not show anything more than overexposed light sources, they were never proved to be a hoax. 121

On August 31 another unique incident occurred. Early that morning at 12:45 P.M. the Tilsons (mother and daughter) were driving near Matador, Texas, when they observed a very solid looking UFO just off the side of the road.

They were seventy miles northeast of Lubbock at the time, and unlike some of the earlier reports which had by then made all of the local newspapers—their UFO looked "pear-shaped" with "a porthole in the side," approximating the overall length of a B-29 bomber. Gleaming with an "aluminum-color," it passed about 150 yards in front of them at 120 feet and moved slowly against the wind until it then sped upward and out of sight in a tight spiraling motion.

ATIC via the AFOSI conducted background checks on both of the ladies and characterized them as very solid citizens. The daughter, being the wife of an Air Force officer, was familiar with aircraft. There is also some indication in the files that a road crew in the area had seen a similar object earlier. 122

Still more details from those amazing series of Texas sightings came to light a year later. After a feature on the Lubbock Lights in an April 1952 article in Life magazine, this letter came into AMC's ATIC office in Dayton:


Texas Technological College
2220 Broadway
Lubbock, Texas
                    June 1,1952

Air Technical Intelligence Center
Wright Patterson AFB
Dayton, Ohio

"Gentlemen:
          "For what it may be worth, and at the suggestion of the editors of LIFE, I wish to add an item that may be pertinent information about the flying lights that were seen over Lubbock, Texas, last fall. In the LIFE story the impression is conveyed that the objects were 50,000 or more feet high, since no sound was heard for certain, though some did think they heard a faint sound. As it happens, I got a very good and reliable trigonometric angle on one flight in September, though I cannot tell you the exact date. On the night in question three flights were seen, at 7:30, 9:07, and 9:20 P.M., respectively. My wife and three others were in our back yard, and the 9:20 flight passed directly overhead going southwest. I obtained the direction independently from each one, and they agreed very closely.
          "My father-in-law, who lives about a mile south, saw the same objects at an angle of elevation of about 33° due west along 26th street. Since the southwest line would cross 26th street about 3,250 feet from where he was standing, this places the height at about 2,100 feet and certainly not more than half a mile. A neighbor had seen the 9:07 flight and told my father-in-law, (Mr. W. W. Ray) about it. He stepped out when the 15 minute radio program was finished and saw the objects about five minutes later, so that we are reasonably sure that it was the flight seen at 9:20 by my wife and others. Further corroboration is afforded by the fact that two groups of us, including those mentioned in the LIFE article, were about five miles east and west of the city watching for the objects and neither group saw anything, as would be the case if they were as low over the city as my figures indicated.
          "Mr. Ducker was the one with whom your officers conferred, and he should have mentioned my results. He seems to have discounted them because he could not understand why the objects would make so little noise if they were flying so low. Or possibly the officers came before this observation was made. In any case I am convinced that this particular group was some 2,000 plus feet above the ground—which would make them traveling about 700 plus mph if the estimates of the angular speed were correct, though these were not nearly as accurate as my height figures.
          "Very truly yours, Dr. R. S. Underwood" 123

The professors were adamant that the Lubbock Lights were not birds. The best sighting to discount that possibility came on September 5 when they stated:

"There have been three flights tonight, and at last we observed one group passing above a cloud which gave us a more concrete idea of the altitude. Assuming that such a cloud crossed Lubbock at 2,000 ft., the objects would have been maintaining a speed in excess of 600 mph if they were barely above the cloud they passed over. The objects moved across a 120-degree arc in two seconds, and if you reduced the altitude to a point where ducks would cross such an arc at their top or average speed of 60 miles an hour, one duck would appear as large as the entire formations we have been observing." 124

The case file on the professors' sighting did not receive an unidentified listing or one of a possible astronomical event, nor even an insufficient information note. Birds became the official conclusion and remains so in the Blue Book index. This is even more peculiar when one considers what Edward Ruppelt wrote in his landmark book:

          "Personally I thought that the professors' lights might have been some kind of birds reflecting the light from mercury-vapor street lights, but I was wrong. They weren't birds, they weren't refracted light, but they weren't spaceships. The lights that the professors saw—the backbone of the Lubbock Light series—have been positively identified as a very commonplace and easily explainable natural phenomenon. It is unfortunate that I can't divulge exactly the way the answer was found because it is an interesting story of how a scientist set up complete instrumentation to track down the lights and how he spent several months testing theory after theory until he finally hit upon the answer. Telling the story would lead to his identity and, in exchange for his story, I promised the man complete anonymity." 125

Research by David Wheeler sheds light on Ruppelt's mysterious and anonymous scientist. It was none other than Professor Ducker! Wheeler discovered that Ducker had continued his investigations into the Lubbock Lights which returned in the fall of 1952. When interviewed on September 10, 1975, Ducker told David Wheeler that he hated to admit it, but he did discover that Ruppelt's theory was right all along. The mysterious "lights" proved through the use of a search light and field glasses to be simple birds reflecting ground light. ("The professors" were also quoted as proposing basically the same bird scenario in a 1967 Look magazine article.) 126

Ducker and his associates conducted these experiments themselves, and there was no doubt in their findings. Ducker told Wheeler in 1975, he could even see the feet of the pesky birds through his binoculars. 127 One would assume he told Ruppelt the same story.

So Ducker could not understand why Ruppelt ended his chapter on the Lubbock Lights with such a strange statement as previously quoted. Nor why in a later addition to his book he blamed it all on night flying moths reflecting light from nearby mercury lamps. 128

Ducker had had conversations with Ruppelt in later years and told him that he conclusively proved their UFO sightings were caused by birds. In fact, these authors' have recently discovered this correspondence in Ruppelt's personal papers. But why would Ruppelt be so mysterious about this fact in his book? In fairness to Ruppelt, it should be pointed out that Ducker had asked him in his correspondence and during a telephone interview in 1955 not to be quoted. 129

Certainly this is not a satisfying ending to the Lubbock Lights story. The authors can only add to this a recent letter to noted UFO historian Loren Gross. Gross, who himself is attempting to straighten out the complex story, admits it is all very confusing. We wrote to him:

"... It is anybody's guess where the moth story came from that Ruppelt later recites in his 1960 addition to The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. We have no idea other than the fact perhaps Ruppelt was trying to side-step repeating Ducker's exact story word for word.

"Professor Swords told us that he thinks Ducker and the other professors did realize they had seen something extraordinary in 1951. But by 1952 he thinks they were "inclined" to come up with a rational explanation for the sightings and that's when they got creative—setting up equipment and binoculars and lights and such. They were looking for something in the sky during their experiments and eventually saw something. So, in 1952, they did see birds and for what ever reason linked it to the mysterious "Lubbock Lights." That is all we know. Now do not even bother asking us what we think they originally saw because we haven't a clue!"

Notes:

114. H.B. Darrach, Jr. and Bob Ginna, "Have We Visitors From Space?" Life, 1 April 1952, p. 82.
115. Project Blue Book Files, Roll No. 8, Case 955.
116. Ruppelt's unedited manuscript to The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, File R-103, Courtesy Prof. Swords.
117. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, pp. 96-97.
118. Ruppelt's personal papers, Card Box 1, courtesy of Professor Michael Swords. (Air Force Historian Bruce Ashcroft found the term R&R in a 1956 Air Force dictionary. He says it can revere to a "Routing and Record Sheet." A Routing and Record Sheet would have been put on top of a piece of correspondence, a message (TWX), or a report. In this case, the famous R&R message revered to by Ruppelt deals with a message sent to the AFOSI on October 1, 1951—see page 50 for full details.)
119. Telephone interview with Victor H. Bilek by Wendy Connors, 2 August 1999.
120. New brighter street lamps had been added at this time.
121. Blue Book Files, Roll No. 8, Case 978.
122. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, pp. 102, 104; and Blue Book Files, Roll No. 8, Case 962.
123. Thanks to Jan L. Aldrich for allowing the authors to photocopy a large selection of former Air Force files which contained this letter and are now held in private hands.
124. Ibid.
125. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, p. 110.
126. "Flying Saucer," special edition, Look magazine, 1967, p. 11.
127. Thanks to Jan Aldrich for sharing an excerpt from an article written by David Wheeler in 1977.
128. Ibid., p. 276.
129. Ruppelt's personal papers, File R001, courtesy of Professor Michael Swords.

Source: Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, Summer of the Saucers -1952, Michael David Hall and Wendy Ann Conners, pages 30-35.

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