The Great Falls (Montana) UFO Color Film
Source: National Archives

Kevin D. Randle:
One of the strongest cases supporting the existence of UFOs occurred in August 1950, when Mr. Nick Mariana, then general manager of the Great Falls "Selectrics" baseball team, accompanied by his secretary, reported seeing two rotating, disk-shaped objects in the daytime sky which he was apparently able to capture as small white dots on 16-mm color movie film. The case was carried in the Condon Report as unexplained.

The film, taken from the vacant Legion Ball Park in Great Falls, Montana, on the fifteenth (updated information) of August has withstood the best efforts of debunkers to discredit it or of skeptics to explain it. Here is the story:

Nick Mariana was inspecting the field before a game. With him was his secretary, nineteen-year-old Virginia Raunig. The time was 11:25 A.M., when a bright flash of light caught his eye. Mariana could see two bright, silvery objects, that appeared to be rotating as they flew over Great Falls. He estimated their speed at between 200 and 400 miles per hour. He called to Raunig as he ran to get his 16-mm movie camera, which he normally kept in his car.

Mariana was able to film the two circular UFOs as they passed over a building behind a water tower. In the short film, the objects seem to flash brightly, then move away from the camera. In less than twenty seconds, the UFOs disappeared. Raunig saw the objects as Mariana filmed them, but for only five to ten seconds.

Mariana was understandably excited about the event and called the local newspaper to report it. Such a reaction could be significant. Hoaxers usually wait for their film to be returned before they tell anyone, to be sure that they have the desired image on the film. Processing of Mariana's film took over a week, and it was probably late August or early September before he first saw the results.

During September and October, Mariana showed the film to various civic groups. At one of the meetings, a man suggested that Mariana send the film to the U. S. Air Force for analysis. The man subsequently wrote to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (the location of the Air Force's Project Blue Book), saying that Mariana would be willing to loan them the film. Debunkers consider it odd that Mariana didn't write the letter himself. He explained later that it just never occurred to him.

In October 1950, the Air Force entered the case. They sent an officer from Malstrom Air Force Base (formerly Great Falls AFB) to interview Mariana and obtain the film. Early analysis of the film proved nothing. Air Force officers said the images were caused by two jet interceptors that were in the area at the time. Sunlight reflecting from the fuselages washed out the other detail, they said, and that was why Mariana hadn't been able to identify them. The Air Force then returned the film.

In 1952, the Air Force UFO project was revitalized, and many of the old cases re-examined. Officers at Wright-Patterson asked Mariana if they could look at the film again, and he complied.

The Air Force investigators found records of two F-94 jet fighters that had landed at Malstrom AFB about the time the UFOs were seen - if the correct date was August15. Bright sunlight reflected off the jets at just the right angle might have caused the images, they thought; but there was another problem with that explanation: Mariana claimed that both he and Raunig saw some jets in another part of the sky, just after observing the UFOs. That should rule out the "aircraft" explanation, provided neither of the witnesses was lying. The Air Force politely labeled the case "possible aircraft," and let it go at that.

This time, when the film was returned to Mariana, he became upset. The Air Force, he claimed, had removed the first thirty-odd frames of the film. According to Mariana,". . . those frames showed larger images of the UFOs with a notch or band at one point by which they could be seen to rotate in unison." Mariana demanded that the Air Force return the rest of the movie.

The Air Force denied having removed any of the film. All that Project Blue Book records show is that permission was asked to remove one frame only, because the sprockets were damaged, but otherwise, the movie was said to be intact. Mariana, on the other hand, claimed he had a letter concerning the removal of the thirty frames, which he unfortunately could not produce.

In 1953, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency organized the Robertson Panel, which examined the Mariana film along with other selected cases. And, as before, the "aircraft" solution was adopted. This time, however, the "possible" was dropped from the file. It was marked simply "aircraft."

The case, however, was not closed. In 1955, Dr. Robert M. L. Baker, then employed by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, conducted his own detailed analysis of the film. His conclusion was that the images could not be explained by any presently known natural phenomena. But Baker went further than just looking at the film. He ran a series of tests, including his own films of aircraft at varying distances. At twelve miles, using a camera similar to the one Mariana had, Baker filmed a DC-3 so that it duplicated the Montana film. Those results, however, were not completely satisfactory.

Studying the Mariana film, Baker had determined the objects were two miles from the camera. At that range, the jet interceptors should have been clearly identifiable as aircraft. As the range increased, so did the rate of speed, until at ten miles, the objects had to be moving at 600 miles per hour, and at twelve miles, they were going faster than jets could fly in 1950. Baker's duplicate needed a DC-3 at twelve miles, but a DC-3 did not have half the needed speed. Another problem was the short time that the DC-3 duplicated the objects on Mariana's film. The plane was only masked by the reflections for a short time.

The film remained locked in that limbo until the University of Colorado's UFO Project, headed by Dr. Edward U. Condon, was organized in 1966. The films were studied again, Baker's files were examined, Mariana was re-interviewed, and the complete Air Force file was seen. The Condon investigators added a new problem to the case. They were not sure whether the film was actually taken on August 5 or August 15. If it was August 5, the aircraft explanation was unlikely. Further checking uncovered the fact that the August 15 date was not possible if Mariana was in the ball park to inspect the field before a game. (* later research proved this to be false). Newspaper records showed that there were no home games for the Great Falls team between August 9 and August 18.

Air Force records indicated that Mariana said he had seen the jets after the UFOs disappeared. That would tend to fix the date as August 15, unless he was referring to planes other than the two F-94 fighters.

The principal photoanalyst of this case for the Condon Committee, University of Arizona astronomer William K. Hartmann, summed up his report as follows:

"Assuming that 15 August was the correct date, Air Force investigators found that there were two F-94 jets in the vicinity and that they landed only minutes after the sighting, which could well have put them in circling path around Malstrom AFB, only three miles ESE. of the base ball park. However, Witness I [Mariana] reported seeing two planes coming in for a landing behind him immediately following the filming, thereby accounting for those aircraft."

Analysis of the film showed a variety of things. Possibly the most important fact came from the Colorado study. Hartmann found that the objects photographed had a constant elliptical shape. Baker had thought that the shape had been due to irregular panning by the photographer, but it was shown that such panning had not occurred. Evidence of panning was found in one or two frames, but a complete study of the entire film showed that it was the shape of the objects that had caused the images. Hard data available on the film did not provide enough definite information for a firm conclusion to be reached.

Although a complete, frame-by-frame analysis has not been done, probably because a few of the frames are obscured by the water tower, long sequences of the film have been closely examined. None of the studies produced any data to show the film had been faked. Data indicated, as mentioned earlier, that the objects were disk-shaped and the images on the film are consistent with high-polished metal surfaces on disks. The hard data on the film indicates that the aircraft explanation is not possible, but it does not prove that the objects are spacecraft. It leaves the film depicting unidentified flying objects.

Source: Kevin Randle, from Ron Story's Encyclopedia of UFOs, Ron Story.

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Francis Ridge:
Although the encyclopedia article does not mention Ground Saucer Watch, GSW is the source of the three computer enhancements above and below. There is considerable controversy about this type of work performed on UFO photos. However, what does seem to be apparent is the inability of aircraft reflections to explain this sighting.

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