1948 chronology - UFO Updates on Chiles-Whitted case
Re: Chiles-Whitted Sighting - Sparks
From: Brad Sparks
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 2004 22:36:02 EDT
Fwd Date: Mon, 20 Sep 2004 07:54:01 -0400
Subject: Re: Chiles-Whitted Sighting - Sparks
>From: Larry Hatch <larryhatch.nul>
>Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 18:24:48 -0700
>Subject: Re: Chiles-Whitted Sighting
>>From: Jerome Clark <jkclark.nul>
>>Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 13:36:02 -0500
>>Subject: Re: Chiles-Whitted Sighting
>>>From: John Harney <magonia.nul>
>>>Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 18:57:17 +0100
>>>Subject: Re: Chiles-Whitted Sighting
>>>>From: Jerome Clark <jkclark.nul>
>>>>Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 15:44:02 -0500
>>>>Subject: Re: Chiles-Whitted Sighting
>>>>This illustrates a common problem in trying to evaluate UFO
>>>>reports. Witnesses make the reports, usually giving the time,
>>>>(as defined by an officially recognised time zone, sometimes
>>>>advanced one hour for "summer time"), or GMT (Greenwich Mean
>>>>Time, also referred to as Universal Time or Zulu Time).
>>>Ideally the times of UFO reports would all be recorded in GMT
>>>together with date, latitude and longitude. It would then be
>>>easy - assuming the reports were stored in a computer data base
>>>- to calculate the local apparent time, from which relevant
>>>astronomical information could be calculated.
>>I am happy to agree entirely with John on this important point.
>Please let me second (third?) that.
>I am sick to death of UFOs that appear "right after dinner" and
>which fly away "over Kelly's barn" as if clock, calender and the
>North Pole were vague abstractions, designed by eggheads to
>distract honest kids from the fish in the creek.
Still another agreement here. This raises the issue of
evaluation of UFO report quality. Very poor judgment is
continually displayed in the promotion of poor cases. As I said
before the Chiles-Whitted case is a lousy case, and not one upon
which the existence or non- existence of the UFO phenomenon
should hinge. The reason, as I said before, is that it was very
short in duration (5-10 seconds) and while certain expert
observers such as a Lincoln LaPaz could have made an enormously
detailed and accurate report of such a short observation or
could have extracted such from his sophisticated investigation
and reenactments with witnesses, there is no evidence of such
accurate and precise visual observation by Chiles or Whitted in
their reporting. So far as I can tell Chiles and Whitted never
give any angles whatsoever (except their own course heading).
The object was essentially in rectilinear motion at high speed,
not hovering where one could observe more carefully.
There is little to distinguish it from a high speed brilliant
meteor fireball and it does appear to have been sighted over
several Southern states from the Virginia-North Carolina border
(pilot Feldvary) to Georgia (Massey at Warner-Robins AFB) to
Alabama (Chiles-Whitted) on a SW course. But the Chiles-Whitted
passenger who awoke to see the flash said it was headed SE. Let
me review the Strangeness factors that would putatively exclude
a meteor and see how well they hold up (see below).
The Chiles-Whitted time of 2:45 AM seems casual, like most
people who round off times to the nearest 15 or 30 minutes or
even to the nearest hour. Was it really 2:44 or 2:46 or even
2:30 or 2:55 or whatever? Was it EST or EDT? Whitted specified
EST but Chiles did not specify a time zone or standard in his
report to the AF. It is my impression that airlines and railoads
in that era used Daylight Saving Time. It's possible Whitted
converted to EST in his reporting. The AF maintenance man in
Georgia was apparently a bit confused in his time and date.
Ruppelt seems to have assumed his 1:40-1:50 AM time was EST and
Chiles-Whitted was 2:45 AM EDT and thus the same time, as Hynek
seems to have suggested in his 1949 analysis.
This might be resolvable if one could check the newspapers for
the July 1948 flight schedule of Eastern Airlines Flight 576.
Major papers often printed airline schedules in that era.
The Strangeness factors that might exclude a meteor fireball
Rocket Ship Shape with Rectangular "Windows"
"Pull Up" Maneuver
Altitude Possibly Below Clouds
As we will see the evidence for each is very weak, equivocal, or
contradicted by the best data.
Rocket Ship Shape with Rectangular "Windows"
The famous double-decker row of rectangular or square windows on
a Buck Rogers-type pointy rocket ship is what has made this case
sensational. But there is an "airship effect" in which fast
moving flaming objects such as meteors and reentering satellites
can appear to have "windows" even sharply delineated "windows."
Hynek may have been the first to notice this effect and
suggested it specifically with reference to Chiles-Whitted.
Typically the "windows" are bright blobs of flaming material
that seem to be contrasted against a surrounding "darker body"
typically thought to be cigar-shaped or rocket-shaped. Cases
include the March 3, 1968, meteor-fireball or space debris
reentry, the June 1969 Iowa Fireball that Klass likes to point
out where a pilot over 100 miles away thought he needed to avoid
collision with the objects, and the 1913 Chant Meteor Procession
(meteors that apparently braked into earth orbit briefly).
The "double decker" parallel rows may be due to the meteor
fireball breaking up into two major portions burning up along
parallel paths shortly before final disintegration. Indeed the
Chiles-Whitted portion of the long 500+ mile trajectory that
began as far up as the southern Virginia border is the final end
of the sighting series so far as we can tell. And Whitted made
it clear to McDonald that the object did NOT disappear by going
into clouds but by disappearing in mid-air. That is what meteors
do, they burn up and disappear in mid-air.
Again, this is a problem with a short-duration high-speed moving
object case where there was not a phase of hovering to give
witnesses a chance to make better observations. The witnesses
were not experts at short-duration observations of meteors as
LaPaz was, they gave no angles and their timing data is
"Pull Up" Maneuver
The famous "pull up" maneuver reported by Chiles and Whitted was
described by Whitted who had the best view because he was not
distracted by flying the plane and veering to avoid a possible
collision as Chiles was doing. Whitted told AF interviewers on a
followup that it was a "gentle climb" prior to "disappearance."
Whitted told McDonald in Jan 1968 that he was widely
misunderstood, by both the AF and his own pilot Chiles according
to McDonald, to mean that the object vanished by going into the
clouds in a sharp pullup when in fact "it climbed only perhaps a
matter of a few hundreds of feet" and it was "suddenly just
gone!" It had not gone into the cloud cover.
Again, Chiles and Whitted had a chance to prove some special
expertise at visual observation by providing precise sensible
angles and timing. But they didn't. They did not need to be
astronomers or mathematicians (as LaPaz was) or Cal Tech
aerodynamicists (as one of the Lockheed crew was). All they
needed to do was understand the concepts of angular measurements
and timing and do the best they could. But they did not
understand the importance of angles and time and the AF
investigators apparently did not either since they seem not to
have extracted that info from Chiles or Whitted.
We are left to reconstruct angles and time from fragmentary data
and logical deduction. Chiles said that at closest approach the
object passed about 700 feet to their right about 500 to 800
feet higher than their altitude. Even though distance is
difficult to impossible to determine, the relative _ratio_ of
height and distance can be fairly accurate, and that gives the
tangent of the elevation angle, which is 36 to 49 degrees at
Whitted estimated the speed at 700 mph (1,000 ft/sec) at 500
feet higher altitude than their DC-3 airliner. Then, as he told
McDonald, it disappeared a few hundred feet higher than that
(say 700-1,000 ft above airliner altitude). So supposing about
half the sighting duration was spent passing the plane to
disappearance we get about 2,500 to 5,000 feet distance traveled
from close approach to disappearance.
But this makes the disappearance only 8 to 22 degrees above the
aircraft local horizontal (using Chiles' close-approach distance
estimate).. This is a huge _drop_ in elevation angle from the
36-49 degrees. This is not a "pullup" or "gentle climb" but a
_descent_. The angle drops. The "pullup" is apparently an
illusion of distance perspective. Perhaps if the climb had been
very sharp instead of "gentle" we could hypothesize that as the
angle gradually dropped there was a sudden lift up. But Whitted
was quite explicit in telling McDonald it was a "gentle climb"
evidently over a large fraction of the sighting duration, which
is clearly contradicted by the angles calculated.
A meteor could have been at about, say, 45 miles up at the close
approach traveling at say 20 miles per second (72,000 mph),
dropping to 40 miles altitude at disappearance. These numbers
can be adjusted and are merely to illustrate how plausible a
meteor scenario can be. At a ground distance of say 60 miles at
close approach this would be an elevation angle of 37 degrees,
consistent with the data from Chiles-Whitted. At disappearance
perhaps 100 miles away the elevation angle would be 22 degrees,
again consistent with the Chiles-Whitted data I previously
calculated. Farther back up the trajectory in North Carolina,
the meteor might have become visible at about 90 miles altitude
(including earth dropoff of thirty miles or so). All these
numbers are quite consistent with meteor fireballs.
As Chiles veered the airliner to the left the object reportedly
veered the opposite direction to their right. Or was the
impression of the object turning simply an illusion caused by
the airliner's own turn? Why should the reality of the UFO
phenomenon have to hinge on a few seconds of a sudden and
unexpected event like this with not even a quantitative estimate
of how many degrees of the "turn"? This simply degenerates into
an argument over pilot qualifications, etc., that do not prove
anything one way or another. These pilots did not provide angles
and their timing is very loose, so there is no reason from the
weakness of their reporting to want to rely on them for the
impression of a momentary course change by the object, an
alleged course change whose size is completely unknown. Was it a
trivial slight 1-degree turn, or 10 degrees or 45 degrees?? Who
Without a numerical estimate the alleged turn remains rather
subjective. This is how one can gauge whether to put much weight
on a witness observation -- numerical estimates are to be
preferred over non-quantitative subjective impressions. This is
A meteor in general cannot change course, though if it broke up
or a portion broke off the different parts could veer off in
differing directions. A portion could break off out of view
depending on the angle of view, clouds that may hide that
portion, and other visibility factors. Whether this rare
possibility needs to be invoked is a good question. Chiles did
not have a good view of the object disappearing because he was
busy piloting the plane to avoid what he thought could have been
a collision. The illusion of a pilot thinking he was about to
collide with a distant meteor, thinking it was an aircraft much
closer, is known from the Iowa Fireball case of 1969, as Philip
Klass has pointed out many times without recognition by the UFO
AF flight mechanic Massey in Georgia about 200 miles from Chiles
and Whitted and presumably observing slightly earlier in the
meteor flight claimed the object "took a changing southwest
course while in sight" after first being seen in the N. Massey
did not give an angle for the turn. McDonald interpreted this as
a 45-degree turn from a S heading to a SW heading but Massey is
perhaps too fuzzy to rely upon for such an inference, as he
seems a bit confused on his observational details, such as which
day the sighting occurred (Friday the 23rd or Saturday the
24th), there are two different times attributed without
explanation (1:40-1:50 or 2:05 AM), etc. And again Massey did
not give any figure at all, nothing about a 45- degree turn or
any particular number of degrees. Without a numerical estimate
the alleged course change remains rather subjective. A meteor of
course can be seen in the N and still be on a SW heading,
without changing course.
Whitted reported the object seemed to be traveling at 700 mph.
AF man in Georgia also said 700 mph, but also compared the
object to a V-2 he had seen in France during the war, and V-2
speed was up to about 4,000 mph.
Because distance could not be reliably determined, Whitted's 1/2
mile distance estimate (he was not clear as to whether that
applied at first sight or close approach or disappearance or
just when) could be scaled up by a factor of a hundred to meteor
distances. Then the speed scales up to 70,000 mph, which is in
accord with the 72,000 mph meteor speed scenario I outlined
Altitude Possibly Below Clouds
No one ever explicitly said they saw the rocket ship silhouetted
against clouds. If it had been seen against the clouds Chiles
and Whitted could have said they had a reliable means to
estimate the distance using the clouds. But they never said
such a thing, never said they could use the scattered clouds for
a distance reference, or upper limit. Whitted even had to
complain to McDonald that his statement about the object
disappearing was not meant to imply the object went into clouds
(which would give us a distance marker) but that it had vanished
in mid-air apparently against clear sky -- as a meteor would.
In summary, there is not enough reliable quantitative data in
the Chiles-Whitted case from its short duration of 5-10 seconds
to exclude a bright meteor fireball, and it should not be used
as a strong case or best evidence for UFO reality.