........ the scientific world at large is in for a shock when it becomes aware of the astonishingnature of the UFO phenomenon and its bewildering
The belief that people are poor observers is widely held; they are easily mistaken about what they have seen, or they fail to notice details correctly. Experiments by psychologists, on the contrary, have shown that the inherent ability of people to absorb visual information is very great. Subjects in one experiment were shown 600 different pictures in rapid succession. Shortly thereafter they were able to identify new ones that had been added to the collection, with an average accuracy over 98%. Their score fell to only 92% when the test was delayed for one week. Not only is the power of visual recognition evidently quite strong for most people, their retention is also good, at least for short periods. In discussing UFO sightings before a Congressional Committee, a noted psychologist explained that, even in unexpected and stressful situations, ". . . the average witness often retains an accurate, almost photographic record of the event." (1) A person's recollection of an event can be recovered in considerable detail on the basis of recognition. The victim of a criminal attack, for example, may recognize his assailant in a line-up although he may be unable to describe him accurately. Similarly, the use of graded sketches of eyes, noses, and mouths permits a witness,
with the help of a police artist, to develop a satisfactory portrait of a suspect that could not be done solely from a description. People simply are limited in their ability to describe what they have seen or to communicate an experience. Because advanced psychological techniques involving recognition have seldom been employed in eliciting information from UFO witnesses, the available data is handicapped by being almost exclusively descriptive in nature. This fact has undoubtedly frustrated progress in this field.
Nine large discs flying near Mt. Rainier, Washington, set off the modern hubbub about UFOs. They were sighted by businessman Kenneth Arnold from his own plane in June 1947. He estimated that they were 100 ft in diameter and traveling at least 1,200 miles per hour.(2) These objects resembled pie plates, but news paper accounts of "flying saucers" introduced a new expression into English. The term eventually became obsolete, however, as people began reporting objects with shapes very unlike saucers: the more generic term "unidentified flying objects" became more suitable.
Even a cursory examination of a file of sighting reports
will impress the researcher that most of the objects appeared to be discs.
Seldom will the descriptions be entirely clear, and some will admit alternative
interpretations. An object described merely as "round" may have been a disc,
but it may also have been a sphere, or a cylinder viewed from one end. An
object may have appeared "oval shaped," while in reality it was only a disc
that was tipped slightly off the line of vision. It is not always easy to
establish the exact shape of the reported objects, nor even to select several
categories of shapes that are mutually exclusive and free from ambiguity.
At any rate, the disc-shaped UFO with a diameter about 10 times its thickness
is almost universally accepted as standard. This point was raised in an Air
Force report (3) as early as 1949, and it has been verified by several statistical
studies. Because various and non-compatible categories were
selected in the independent studies, results cannot be directly compared. However, the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena found that the discs in Air Force cases through 1963 ranged from 26% to 56%, depending upon several reasonable assumptions regarding the ambiguities just mentioned. (4) The author independently analyzed 447 short-range sightings that occurred in the decade from November 23, 1958, through November 22, 1968. These sightings should have provided the witnesses excellent opportunities to observe the shapes. In 77 instances in which the shapes were noted, roughly 50%of the objects appeared to be discs. (5) A similar result may be calculated from still another study, although it is extremely difficult to determine which of the 33 categories used in it should be taken as discs. (6)
The most important contribution of this last investigation is an organized disclosure of different types of UFOs within the general category of discs. One must be cautious here, for while the primary common feature is axial symmetry in the vertical direction, some of the shapes could easily be labeled something other than "disc." The researcher obtained 150 photographs of UFOs from which were culled those showing mere blobs of light devoid of any details. He then made sketches of the remaining 63 objects at the same scale, and suppressing all backgrounds, assembled the images in a single diagram. Rather than displaying a general uniformity or a clustering of a few types as would be expected, these sketches show a wide diversity of appearances.
One object had been photographed at different angles by
the same witness. In a few other instances, the same type of UFO had apparently
been photographed by different people at different places and times. Of special
interest in this regard is a photograph taken at McMinnville, Oregon, in June
1950 that stumped the Condon staff. An almost identical object was photographed
by a French military pilot near Rouen, France, in March 1954. Another pair
of photographs also seem to depict the same type of object that is easily
distinguishable from the McMinnville-Rouen pair. One of these pictures was
taken near Rio de Janeiro in May,
1952, while the other was taken from a fighter plane in Argentina about 2 years later.
Also included in the 63 diagrams were 7 instances in which hoaxes were suspected or had been proved. Setting these cases aside, along with the duplications above, still leaves a total of about 500 different UFO models in this general category. Variations of shape in this category that appear to be most common are:
having one or both sides that are convex, thus resembling either a discus
with a dome on the top sometimes giving the appearance of a hat or a World
A famous sighting that was carried by Project Blue Book as an "unknown" took place early one morning in the spring of 1966. While driving near Temple, Oklahoma, a man had to stop his car because a large object was blocking the highway. Its shape reminded him of the fuselage of a Douglas C-124 Globemaster. He could detect no appendages, such as wings, engines, or tail, although there was a transparent blister on the top. Its surface was very smooth. As the witness approached, the object rose into the air and departed at high speed. (7) During the summer of 1973, a similar object was observed from a distance of a city block as it hovered and maneuvered over Macon, Georgia. Five people described it as a "long tube" like a cigar, being larger than a light plane but smaller than a Boeing 727. (8) According to the previous statistical studies, these elongated UFOs apparently account for about 10% of all sightings. They have been aptly compared to airplane bodies as more explicit descriptions have indicated that they are rather blunt on one end but somewhat tapered on the other.
Throughout the spring of 1973, hundreds of sightings were reported in southern Missouri. Notices of this activity were
carried in specialty periodicals, but few, if any, metropolitan newspapers commented on it. (9) Several teams of investigators converged upon the area, including the principals of the International UFO Bureau. These investigators, during a total of 11 days of research over a period of several weeks, located 200 people who had seen a UFO and tape recorded interviews with them. They, themselves, also experienced two sightings. On one occasion, the relative size of the object was compared to a pea held at arms length, giving ample opportunity to observe its shape, to discern some structural details, and to estimate its size. It was a sphere about 15 ft in diameter. (10)
Near the end of the war in Vietnam a spherical object with a luminous, orange glow was sighted at high altitude over Hanoi where it remained nearly stationary for about an hour and a half. Thinking that some kind of air raid was imminent, the North Vietnamese fired three anti-aircraft missiles at it. They were completely ineffective, however, as none could reach the extreme altitude of the spherical UFO. (11)
These two examples will illustrate the dozens of reports of this relatively common type. They seem to be most often perfectly spherical but some variations occur, as follows:
a) Flattened spheres or spheroids, and
b) Spheres with a flange around the equator like the rings of Saturn.
Witnesses have used a wide assortment of words and comparisons in describing UFOs. While some of them may be synonyms for the major types discussed above, it appears that many are not. Because some of the more odd-ball expressions have been used several times in widely scattered sightings, the descriptions are more likely to be valid than mere bumbling attempts at communication. Typical, but rarely occurring, examples are:
football, water tank, dumbbell, plates rim-to-rim, oval,
mushroom, egg, toy top, diamond, parachute, cone, cushion,
Assuming that a few of these allusions are moderately accurate leads to a proliferation of UFO models that begins to stretch the imagination. But that discomfort is an inadequate basis for discounting the record. A native boy, suddenly transported from the familiar bush of his homeland to a freeway in Los Angeles, would be amazed at the diversity of vehicles passing by. He might quickly realize that part of the reason was related to their different purposes. He could see that the size of the load was important, pickup trucks and huge trailer rigs being used to haul different amounts of freight. Similarly for the number of passengers carried by sports cars versus buses. Much less obvious to him would be the very important influence of competition among the manufacturers and personal preference of the buyers concerning economy, image, and convenience. This little allegory cannot explain the multiplicity of UFO types. It should serve, however, to prevent a setback in an investigation proven to be uncomfortably complex.
It is known, at least, that highly specialized vehicles may display weird configurations. Consider the Lunar Excursion Module. It is designed exclusively to lower two men gently onto the surface of the moon and lift them back into lunar orbit for a rendezvous with a companion vehicle. Major determinants of its design are the need to fly in a vacuum and a gravitational field that is only one-sixth that on earth. By its ungainly aspect it mimics a giant insect much better than a proper spacecraft.
Another old bugbear has plagued the study of UFOs: theoretically, the size of an unknown object flying through the sky at a
considerable distance cannot be judged at all. A relatively small object at short range may subtend the same angle at the observer's eye as a larger object farther away. Without some additional point of reference, therefore, the estimated size of a UFO is of little value. But the circumstances of many sightings provide the necessary clues. Very great distance is suggested when an object is obscured by atmospheric haze in comparison to another whose distance is known. Also, the relationship of a UFO to its surroundings often helps. A UFO may be seen rising from behind a row of trees, passing in front of a mountain range, hovering under a cloud bank, or fleeing from a military jet. For limited ranges, the depth perception afforded by having two eyes provides a subjective measure of the distance. Disturbances on the ground directly under a UFO may be located. At low altitude, the width of a UFO can be readily assessed if it is seen to block a two-lane highway. Marks left on the ground by a landed UFO are a very reliable basis for judging its size. As these reference points have been involved in thousands of sightings, the data on UFO sizes is far from meaningless, especially when they are derived from close-hand observations.
One would expect the conventional methods of statistics to be most helpful in analyzing the size data. By separating cases involving only discs, for example, one should discover estimated sizes clustering about the actual dimensions of several different models. But that has not been the author's experience. The data simply display no such tendency. Contamination of the sample is suspected to be the cause of this difficulty, namely, unwitting inclusion of various types of UFOs within a particular classification. In addition, people are known to be rather poor at estimating dimensions.
The diameters of discs, nevertheless, have been estimated to cover the enormous range from about 2 ft to 300 ft. Familiar objects with corresponding dimensions would be a large serving tray and a football field. But let there be no mistake here, several different models of UFOs are involved and this disparity has nothing to do with human error. Other shapes have also been estimated at various sizes:
Perhaps this situation would come into sharper focus with a large-scale analysis of the data using a computer. For the present, one can only depend upon the most reliable estimates made at close range and a general acquaintance with the literature. References are regrettably omitted here because of the prodigious scale of the data-retrieval problem. The primary UFO types appear to be:
a) An egg-shaped machine about 6- to 8-ft long that flies with the long axis vertical, comparable in size to a compact sedan.
b) An elongated cylinder without external appendages that flies in the direction of its axis, comparable in size to the body of a jet fighter.
c) A spherical object about 15 ft in diameter.
Several different types. Most frequently reported is a disc about 100 ft diameter. An
even larger one, several stories tall inside, probably has a diameter between 250- and
300-ft. A large cigar-shaped craft should also be included here.
Usually, the exterior surface of UFOs is reported to be extremely smooth. Many witnesses have commented upon this aspect, expressing surprise that they were unable to detect any line of adjoining plates on the surface or any rivets. In a few instances, a door has been seen to open in the side where the witness could not detect an outline before it started to move. Also, upon closing, the line demarking the door opening could no longer be discerned, although the witness was only a few feet away. (12) This characteristic of the surface may be related to electrical conduction in the skin as explored in a later chapter.
The exterior surface is not normally broken by any kind of structural feature although openings have been observed in great numbers. In a study of 50 such cases, openings were shown to be usually round or rectangular but sometimes of irregular shape. Their arrangement occurred in different patterns on different types of UFOs. (13) These windows seem to be most common on the fuselage-shaped vehicles,. usually being dispersed in a single row of 4 or 5 along the side. The number, shape, and location of windows seems to vary considerably on other types. A thorough study of this detail should help to delineate specific UFO models, but again, this task would be too cumbersome without a computer.
A most interesting feature on some models is an elevator that is lowered while the UFO remains hovering several feet above the ground. This detail is so unique that it alone may isolate a particular type. These vehicles have evidently visited West Virginia (1965), Minnesota (1967), and Nebraska (1967). (14) It is quite possible that a careful plot of similar sightings in which all factors were compatible would reconstruct the itinerary of an individual craft.
The literature is full of accounts of other structural
elements such as landing gear, stairways, balustrades, and antennas. More
than once, people have looked in the windows of landed vehicles to discover
chairs, benches, tables, lights, and control consoles. Others have gone inside.
This very important area should receive much more attention than it has in
1. Shepard, Roger N., "Some Psychological Techniques For The Scientific
* These categories were all considered to be discs.6. Shepard, Roger N., "Some Psychological Techniques For The Scientific Investigation of
Unidentified Aerial Phenomena," Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, Hearings before
the Committee on Science and Astronautics, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninetieth
Congress, Second Edition, p.232, U.S. Government Printing Office, July 29, 1968.
7. Complete Directory of UFOs, An illustrated History of Unexplained Sightings From Project
Blue Book, The Official Guide to UFOs, p.47, Science and Mechanics Publishing Company,
8. Personal communication.
9. Missouri UFO Still on the Scene, UFO Investigator, p. 2, National Investigations Committee
on Aerial Phenomena, May, 1973.
10. Hewes, Hayden C., Earthprobe, published by International UFO Bureau, P.O. Box 1281,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73101, 1973.
11. San Francisco Chronicle, September 30, 1972.
12. Vallee, Jacques, Passport To Magonia, p.24, Regnery, 1969.
13. Hall, Richard E., Editor, The UFO Evidence, p.145., National Investigations Committee on
Aerial Phenomena, 1964.
14. Vallee, Jacques, Passport to Magonia, Appendix Cases 644, 812, and 902, Regnery, 1969.