Thank you for your analysis and for your much-appreciated work in extracting the BB file from Fold3. It's tedious work, I know.
We must not lose sight of the fact this is a marginal case at best. Still, it cannot be dismissed either, for various reasons as I will explain below.
I must clarify that I did not assume the AFOSI investigator Harry Peterson was hostile, I picked it up from his invidious distortion of the evidence to come up with anti-witness "gotchas" that he sets up and cry out for explanation as to what he is implying, yet leaves for the reader's imagination to connect. He does not explicitly investigate such issues but lets the overall picture, however falsely or unfairly painted, speak for itself without digging to find the actual truth. He is a master at passive-aggressive innuendo, so that what is left unsaid, uncommented on, is as important as what he does say. The technique is of the following form, with this hypothetical illustration to make it obvious:
We are not dependent solely on this AFOSI investigator, as we also have the very early report by the Portland Oregonian within hours of the event (there may be later press reports), and we can also compensate for and correct for the AFOSI investigator's bias by careful analysis, and thereby get at the actual core event. Apparently, some file material was obtained by FOIA maybe 15+ some years ago, I think by Jan Aldrich, that supplies some other data not contained within the BB file (unfortunately, I cannot find or access the documents though Jan might, but he is traveling and can't access his files right now). This FOIA material was partly illegible but included details that father-in-law Smith said the UFO was stationary at about 1,000-2,000 ft altitude when first seen then started moving at 30-50 mph (without the original FOIA documents I can't be sure these numbers are correctly read due to illegibility).
The most important issue is the impossibility of witnesses seeing the light aircraft (the Luscombe Skypal piloted by K. C. Nicholson) from 20 miles away and the extreme unlikelihood of anyone noticing something that could barely even be seen at 10 miles and only if you knew exactly where in the sky to look and perversely kept staring at this infinitesimal spot. No one in their right mind would think a barely visible dot was anything important or worth reporting to anyone.
This is the crucial issue so I must repeat what I said in my posting:
Every single one of these "profoundly inconsistent estimates of angular size, absolute size, elevation angle, and range [that supposedly] throw the case into disarray" was created by the AFOSI agent Peterson through selective manipulation and distortion of the evidence obtained nearly 3 months after the fact (I will get to this below). Furthermore, if we ignore basic UFO investigation principles such as the fact we get great or even fantastic overestimates of angular size using the extremely poor "arm's length" method (which should be outlawed from use by all but the most skilled investigators carefully working with a witness), then we blame the witness for the investigator's improper methods and/or lack of experience. Then we are employing debunkery. We are holding a witness to PhD scientist standards instead of holding the investigator to PhD scientist standards.
The angular elevation has no inconsistency unless of course one wants to find one by perversely selecting the data (or selecting from the range of data) to make sure there is one. The Leckingtons "at 11:05 a. m. Sunday, saw a silvery object in the sky above them at an elevation of about 2000 feet, they reported," said the Portland Oregonian the next day (p. 1). The AFOSI investigator had the fully retyped article which came with the investigation orders and he refers to "the story in the newspaper." At the estimated distance of about 1/2 to 3/4 mile, this 2,000 foot altitude would represent an elevation angle of 37 to 27 degrees, completely consistent with the 35 degrees reported by AFOSI (probably determined by the AFOSI investigator with the witness showing him, not some figure offered by the witness as if he was a PhD scientist spouting off precise angular measures). Where the AFOSI guy got the 500 ft altitude is not explained by him and he had an obligation to explain and justify the discrepancy with the 2,000 ft figure originally given shortly after the sighting, which takes precedence as likely to be more accurate as it was contemporaneous not 3 months later.
If father-in-law Smith's sighting was simultaneous or concurrent with the Leckingtons, using the corrected lat-long coordinates given by AFOSI (an AFOSI error put the Leckingtons about 300 feet off the highway, or would AFOSI insinuate that was the Leckingtons' fault too, in geodesy and cartography?), Smith was about 1400 feet closer to the UFO than the Leckingtons, thus it would obviously appear higher in the sky in elevation angle. If it was 37 to 27 degrees to the Leckingtons (in exact agreement with the 35-deg figure), it would be 58 to 38 degrees to Smith -- in exact agreement with the 45-degree figure (assuming it refers to the elevation angle and not the tilt orientation angle of the saucer shape).
As for AFOSI's innuendo of a stupid error by a stupid old man because he allegedly told AFOSI the object was overhead -- in AFOSI's innuendo-laden words "however, he also states that it flew directly over his head" -- this is easily resolved: First, it is an unfortunate implied accusation by an investigator who apparently had not learned (as I have in numerous UFO investigations over the years) that most people think a 45-degree elevation is quote "overhead" to them. (My word "overhead" is in scare quotes for ease of reference since there is not one verbatim quote anywhere in the entire AFOSI report anyway.) To the average person, who is of course not an astronomer, that is close enough. There is no law requiring "overhead" to be 90 degrees -- what happens to 89 degrees then? Is that no longer "overhead"? What about 80 or 70 or 60 degrees, etc.?
Who says where the line is drawn for the average person or has any right to impose their own notion of what the average person ought to mean when they make casual observations like that?? Why not ask the witness to point up in the sky to show what they mean by "overhead" and in this case point to where the UFO was in the sky then measure the angle he points at? (In fact, I think that is exactly what the AFOSI investigator did, had witnesses point in the sky to the UFO's position then measured the angle, because I think that's how Leckington's 35-degree figure was arrived at, in which case the AFOSI deliberately set Smith's "overhead" comment against the measured 45 degrees as if contradictory, knowing full well the 45 degs was the measured figure and should take precedence as more accurate data even assuming it related to the same moment in the 1-minute sighting which it may not, see next.)
Secondly, the UFO was moving so it could very well have been seen initially directly "overhead" at about 90 degrees (assumed exact here for simplicity) then moved away until it disappeared at about 45 degrees elevation. No frikkin inconsistency whatsoever, it was at both 90 and 45 degs at different times. If Smith's 30-35 mph speed figure (about 1/2 mile per minute or slightly more) is assumed for purposes of calculation then in the 1 minute of his estimated sighting duration it would have moved, well, obviously about 1/2 mile (2,640 ft) or slightly more. If this velocity was roughly divided between radial and transverse vector components, assuming level flight, then it moved away from Smith about 2,000 ft from (the assumed) 90 degs "overhead" in one minute until it was 45 degrees in elevation when it disappeared to Smith. Exactly 45 degs if it moved 2,000 ft outward at 2,000 ft altitude. Given the inherently large margin of error in rough estimates like that, there is no point in nitpicking over how much of what vector velocity component Smith observed (he can even perceive a radial outward component) it's in the exactly right ballpark and stunningly demolishes AFOSI's innuendo.
Smith's estimate of angular size according to AFOSI was "about the size of the full moon" (AFOSI's words and I think derived by the AFOSI interview not spontaneously offered up by the non-PhD witness). At Smith's estimate of altitude of about 1,400 to 2,000 ft (I've been using 2,000 ft previously for simplicity), this corresponds to an actual size of about 14 to 20 ft (more exactly 13-19 ft), in amazing agreement with the Leckingtons' 12-15 ft size estimate. Again, the arm's length figure is highly unreliable and worthless, certainly does not take priority over the inherently much more accurate full-moon comparison.
If Smith purportedly hoaxed his sighting report to support his daughter and son-in-law, as AFOSI charged, it is amazing how all these geometric and physics quantities of angular elevation, angular vs linear size, and velocity vectors work out so well, with internal consistency as well as external consistency with the Leckingtons' sighting angles and linear dimensions. Was Smith a closet physicist / mathematician as well as a purported liar hoaxer?
The loose flight plan, which didn't mention the jog down to Hebo and the turn east to McMinnville (and back again, of course) probably included a landing at McMinnville Airport for lunch at nearly 12 Noon, then back home, for a total trip duration of 2 hours.
Yes, as you point out, there may have been other witnesses that the AFOSI agent did not bother to pursue, suggested by the radio station phone calls to the airport and the flying school. However, it is also possible that the "check of the airport" for aircraft aloft, mentioned by the newspaper, was done by the radio station and reported to the paper for print publication (a common collaboration of print and broadcast media), and thus may have merely been prompted by the sighting report(s) of the Leckingtons and Smith.
Oh yes, I mean both the Leckingtons and Smith. The newspaper conflated the names of Charles Leckington and father-in-law Burt Smith into the erroneous compound name "Burt Leckington," clearly indicating that the newspaper heard about Burt Smith's sighting too on Jan 23 -- not the 24th. Burt Smith's sighting could not possibly have happened at late morning to mid-day on the 24th as AFOSI alleged, without directly commenting on the date discrepancy implied. The article was printed on early Monday morning, Jan 24, 1949. How else could the newspaper have made such a mistake? There was no reason even to know of the existence of Burt Smith on Jan 23, unless he had seen the same thing as the Leckingtons and that fact was mentioned (maybe without details or enough detail to fully incorporate it in the rush to press). There was no extra room in the UFO article anyway on the crowded front page for another paragraph just on Smith's confirmatory sighting. Again, the names could not possibly have gotten mixed up unless "Burt" Smith was already involved with the sighting on Jan 23. Thus another alleged contradiction insinuated by the AFOSI agent bites the dust.
There were Luscombe Skypals built circa 1948 that were not shiny metallic but painted dull white (and the Portland Oregonian newspaper was told the specific plane in the air at the time of the sighting was "yellow"). See:
The flight plan does confirm that the plane was "Silver" in color. But reflective does not actually help here at all. As mentioned previously and above, the sun was coming from behind thus shadowed by the aircraft as seen from the position of the witnesses. Mirror reflection from the wings will mirror image the dark ground and the fuselage will mirror the sky, thus rendering the plane less visible in comparison to a white or yellow painted body -- which will remain fairly bright at almost any angle due to diffuse scattering rather than mirror reflection.
Let's consider the possibility of a bright sun reflection off the 35-foot wing of the Luscombe Skypal aircraft tilted up so that the mirror image is of the brilliant sun on the flat shiny underside not the image of dark ground. AFOSI claimed that Leckington could not discern a "distinct shape" because of the brilliance of the sunlight reflection and that Mrs. Leckington's account "did not differ." Yet according to the newspaper account on Jan 24, "Mrs. Leckington described the object as round and silver." AFOSI did not mention or explain or resolve this discrepancy, an essential element of the entire case. Instead of implying the witnesses are liars or fools as AFOSI insinuates, it is the AFOSI agent who is the problem here. Father-in-law Smith said it was "a silvery disc the shape of a saucer about the size of the full moon" (my God I sure hope no one suggests that Smith literally meant the UFO was the size of the moon 2,000 miles in diameter!) according to the wording of AFOSI's report. Yet, in AFOSI's theory of the case is that blinding sunlight reflected off the Luscombe prevented anyone from seeing the shape of an aircraft -- "the lack of any shape to the object LECKINGTON saw ... could easily have been [due to] the plane shining in the sun." How could anyone say they saw a "round" "saucer" shape in that case? AFOSI insinuates they must be hysterical fools or deluded incompetents.
With the sun coming from behind, the wing would have had to be severely tilted in order to satisfy the law of reflection (angle of incidence on a flat plane mirror must equal the angle of reflection). How could the wing have remained tilted at exactly the right angle for the 3 minutes of the sighting so that the sun's image shined on the witnesses? At elevation angles of the presumed aircraft of 35-45 degs, and the sun at elevation 23 degs (azimuth 159 degs or about SSE at 11:05 AM), the wing would have had to be tilted about 30 degs from horizontal to reflect the sun to the ground witnesses for 3 minutes, which seems extremely implausible maybe physically impossible for the Luscombe Skypal.
At a ten times lower elevation angle (3.5 to 4.5 degs), as would be required for a distance of 20 miles to the Luscombe (which obviously could not possibly fly at ~100,000 ft but more like ~10,000 ft or less), the wing tilt to reflect the sun to the witnesses would be roughly 15 degrees, still rather steep and unlikely to be able to be maintained for 3 minutes. But at that extreme distance the sun's reflection on the ground would be greatly enlarged (~2,000 ft wide) and stretched along a glancing angle on the ground (about 6 miles long) and thus easier to inadvertently maintain a focus on the witnesses' location if there was a way to maintain a 15-deg wing tilt for that long. Still, this scenario is totally contradictory to the witnesses' reported or derived elevation angles of 35-45 degrees (or possibly 90 degs), all requiring that the aircraft (if that is what the UFO was) first be within a mile of the witnesses then 20 miles away within 3 minutes, thus a speed of at least 380 mph, a physical impossibility for the underpowered Luscombe Skypal with 65 hp engine and a top speed of only about 114-120 mph (sea level vs. at altitude of 5,000-10,000 ft apparently)
Well, now we have a problem in angular elevations. There is an approximately 2,000-foot high mountain ridge only about 1 mile to the SSE - SE of Pleasant Valley, whereas the elevation is only about 140 ft above sea level where the Leckingtons were located. That translates to about 20 degrees high in angular elevation for the mountains (the ridge tapers off towards the S - SSE where it's about 10-15 degrees high). That means the mountains would have totally blocked the view of the Luscombe flying at perhaps 5,000 ft at most, some 20 miles to the SSE/SE, only about 3 degrees high above the earth's (invisible) horizon blocked from view by the intervening mountains. The "low passes enroute to McMinnville" are apparently among the 2,000 to 3,000 ft mountains along the route from Hebo to McMinnville.
The AFOSI agent's scenario is that according to the flight school at Tillamook Airport, the "silver colored, aluminum finished airplane had departed for McMinnville" at about 10:45-11:00 AM (consistent with the 10:50 time on the flight plan):
Somewhat in tension with this scenario, the AFOSI agent also proposed that "The plane drawing away from LECKINGTON would not seem to move" though that impression may simply have been due to the Leckingtons' motion in the car making it difficult to see the motion of the slow-moving object when the surrounding background along the road was moving relative to the car. "Drawing away" would refer to the flight path to Hebo rather than the subsequent aircraft cross-motion to the witnesses' line-of-sight, along the Hebo to McMinnville leg of the flight. When the plane flew from Tillamook Airport to Hebo, if it flew a straight line, it would fly about a mile west of the witnesses near Pleasant Valley and would then head away from them into the distance to Hebo.
The reason I emphasize the 20-mile scenario to the SSE or SE is because it is the AFOSI theory of the case and at the exact 11:05 AM time of sighting given by the newspaper report, the Luscombe plane would have been at about that distance to the SSE of the witnesses headed East to McMinnville, if the flight plan time of takeoff was correct in reality, 10:50 AM. We could postulate a time error in the 10:50 takeoff in the flight plan in order to place the aircraft close to the witnesses at the time of the sighting, after all it's just a plan not an actual record of departure time. But all of the 3 witnesses put the UFO to the SE and it would have taken the aircraft at least 15 minutes to fly to that point via Hebo, and that makes the distance to the witnesses about 20 miles.
Do we just disregard that fact and say they were ALL in error about the direction and that the UFO was really to the S or even the SSW along the Luscombe aircraft's presumed flight path to Hebo? The highway the Leckingtons drove on, heading S, was oriented exactly N-S. It would be easy to tell whether the UFO was on the driver's side to the left and SE, or on the passenger's side to the right and SW. Presumably the AFOSI investigator checked this azimuth angle in checking the elevation angles which he apparently measured -- he even elicited the fact the car windshield was "clean." Maybe he had the Leckingtons get inside their car and drive to the spots where they saw the UFO, and show him exactly where the UFO was located in the sky through the windshield then measured the 35-degree angle above the horizon. The AFOSI gave the exact latitude-longitude coordinates of the first sighting location (correcting the ~300 ft E-W longitude error: 45°22'17" N, 123°48'16" W). How else could the agent have determined the location that exactly? Remember, this is decades before GPS was invented.
The problem with debunkers is that they take potshots at a UFO case, its witnesses, its proponents, in an effort to destroy and pillage, but without putting forward a coherent scientific explanation in place of the UFO case. A skeptical explanation must obey the laws of science and fit the facts. But debunkers are not skeptics. Debunkers do not feel an obligation to obey the laws of science and fit the facts. The AFOSI explanation scheme here cannot stand on its own. It's just a collage of potshots and cheapshots. When we analyze the AFOSI explanations further we will see they immediately fall apart under the weight of the laws of physics and the known facts.
To salvage the aircraft IFO theory we have to postulate a directional error, time error, elevation angle error and altitude error. Suppose we do. Let's start with directional error, and abandon the SE direction and postulate a SSW direction. We would have to hypothesize that the witnesses saw the Luscombe plane when it was within about 1 mile of them (to account for the 35-45+ degree elevations) and in 2-1/2 to 3 minutes disappeared due to distance when it would only have been about 5 miles away to the SSW headed towards Hebo, with no explanation as to why it would have disappeared in the cloudless crystal-blue clear sky. At initial sighting within a mile it would have been roughly the same Full Moon angular size reported by father-in-law Smith -- why couldn't they all see the obvious aircraft shape at that time when so close? The sun could not reflect off the aircraft and blind them from its true aircraft shape because the aircraft could not tilt its roughly flat-plane wing underside (the supposed mirror) at a steep enough angle to do so. Flying away from the witnesses, the Luscombe's 35-foot wingspan would have been fully spread to view and would have subtended an angle of about 4 arcminutes at the end of the sighting, or 4x the minimum resolvable 1 arcminute. Leckington and the grocery store owner Allen Hughes grabbed binoculars and went out to see the UFO but it was gone. But the Luscombe would not have been gone from view, but would have still been visible in the clear blue sky at about 4 arcminutes angular size (and would be flying in a direction to the S-SSW not blocked to view by nearby mountains like the directions from S to SE were blocked).
With this scenario, the Luscombe plane could not possibly have tilted its wing to reflect sunlight onto the witnesses to blind them with glare that would supposedly hide or obscure its aircraft shape. The Luscombe could not tilt the wing down by the required 30 degrees or so (and the wing would also have to be severely banked to the right to catch the sun to the left on the underside). Downward would mean crashing. Upward tilt by climbing would not present the flat underside of the wing to reflect the sun but the upper curved airfoil side, thus not a flat-plane mirror. To get an idea of the Luscombe's maximum descent rate and angle we can estimate its climb rate and angle, which was about 10 degrees. (900 ft/min or fpm max climb = 15 ft/sec = 10 mph approx.max vertical component of climb speed with minimum horizontal speed at least 50 mph and dangerously close to stalling, with arctan 10/50 = ~11 degs, but probably much less as horizontal component of climb speed was more likely about 75-100 mph to be well above stalling.)
We could postulate a duration error and say it was actually 6 minutes not 2.5 to 3 minutes, in order to get the plane from near the witnesses then to Hebo and far enough away at 10 miles to be a little tiny dot that Leckingtons and Hughes missed seeing in the sky, thus accounting for its disappearance. But that would still not give a blinding sun reflection to obscure the Luscombe's shape when close. It would also have the problem of conflicting with angular elevation data in that no one reported the UFO descending from 45+ degs to about 3-10 degs (or less) when the aircraft was over Hebo (the Luscombe started flying through "low passes" there, and this would mean 3,000 ft or lower, which would be about 3 degs elevation, or less; and I'm just assuming a 10,000 ft altitude for 10 degs elevation near Hebo to help the IFO theory with every benefit of the doubt).
Or we could just go for broke and throw out virtually all the data and shred the case. Using free-form debunker fantasy we can construct a fake case scenario bearing little resemblance to this case. Here is one debunker fantasy scenario that pseudo-accounts for "almost" the whole case -- if you trash the directional, time, elevation angle, altitude, angular velocity / speed / distance, size, angular size and shape data -- basically everything. Suppose the Luscombe was first seen over Hebo about 10 miles away but it was through a mirror-like sun flash off the tilted wing that first attracted attention (no one said that it was a flash that first caught their attention, we're just assuming it to give this debunker fantasy a chance). Let's assume that the pilot Nicholson decided to have some fun and do, say, 3 tight 2-g 360-turns over Hebo at a speed of about 70 mph, hence a total 10 seconds per loop for a total of 30 seconds (don't know if the Luscombe was even capable of a 2 g turn or a wing tilted 15+ degs), and let's say that near the beginning of each loop (thus a sharp right turn) the wing's underside caught the sun at just the proper angle to flash the Leckingtons about 10 miles away, catching their attention, for a total of say 4 flashes at beginning and end of the 3 tight turns. The Luscombe would be too far away to see its shape and without the flashes would be difficult to spot in the sky at that distance (would be about 2 arcminutes for full-frontal wingspan but barely 1 arcmin if seen broadside to the 20-ft fuselage with wings level and on-edge, essentially invisible).
I am tempted to extend the duration of this debunker fantasy scenario but it is a bit difficult. I can't imagine Nicholson continuing to do maybe 15 loops to extend the looping over a full 2.5 minutes duration of the Leckingtons' the sighting, as he would get terribly dizzy and disoriented. I'm not sure he could do even 3 loops at 2 g's continuously. We could make the loops 1 g and 20 seconds per 360-deg turn, but that cuts in half the number of flashes of sunlight off his wing, and still can't be sure he could do continuous 1-g looping for any substantial length of time. Doing the tight loops over Hebo would have such small radii of turn that the Leckingtons would not see the motion, thus helps the debunker scenario slightly.
It is tempting to say the pilot did some loops that flashed sunlight that caught the Leckingtons' attention and then they were able to spot the non-sunflashed tiny dot of the airplane and follow it as it headed E and to the left about 30 degs across their field of view until the Luscombe disappeared behind (or in front of) the 3,150 ft Mt Hebo after about 3 minutes of additional flight. That would add up to about 3 to 3-1/2 minutes total duration, a bit long but within the ballpark of witness error. But in that leftward flight it is doubtful that the Luscombe would have been visible at only 1 arcminute angular size and blending into the sky with its mirror imaging of the sky, presenting essentially zero contrast. And the Leckingtons should easily have been able to see the 30 degs of differing terrain as the object headed towards the mountains, yet they reported no motion discernible, no mountains relevant or involved, and an elevation angle of 35 degs or over 10x the required low 3-deg elevation. But as I say we have to throw out essentially ALL the data to make this debunker fantasy "fit" and it really still does not fit. The "round" "saucer" shape must be thrown out, too, of course. Can't have any saucer-shaped UFO's 'ya know.