The prospect of being wrong
need not frighten us a bit.....

- Alan E. Nourse


UFOs have been notorious for stopping automobiles at close range. It is relatively common for a motorist, cruising down the highway, to have his engine sputter, lose power, or stop running. At night, the headlights frequently grow dim or go out completely. Also, static is heard on the radio, and it may stop playing. The driver stops at the side of the road and gets out to search for the cause. Only then does he notice a large, glowing disc nearby, commonly hovering at low altitude over his car.

These effects are not limited to automobiles, but occur with all kinds of vehicles that are powered by internal combustion engines, except diesels. Incidents of engine interference or failure have been reported for aircraft, motorcycles, trucks, buses, power mowers, tractors, and other farm machinery. In all cases, the engines ran normally after the UFO had departed.

A list of 106 cases of electromagnetic interference by UFOs has been compiled. (1) These examples occurred at scattered locations in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia from August 1945 to November 1963. The age of these reports need not cause concern because they are thoroughly typical of many similar events of more recent years.


In this list, more than sixty vehicles are reported to have had their engines miss, lose power, or fail completely during the sighting. Simultaneous interference on the radio and/or fading or complete loss of headlights is common. Unfortunately, there is insufficient data to identify the cases that occurred in the daytime when headlights would not be turned on. Nor is it clear in which cases the vehicle was equipped with a radio, or whether any radio was being played. At first glance, the list appears to provide information regarding the relative susceptibility of engines, radios, and headlights to interference by UFOs. One would expect, for example, that upon approaching a UFO a driver would observe the loss of his radio, headlamps, and engine, in that order. But such is not the case. In three instances, the engine, radio, and lights were all affected; in two cases, they all failed, in the third, the engine and radio failed, but the lights only dimmed. While this last case suggests that lights may be the most resistant to UFO interference, several counter-examples belie this notion. In some cases, the lights dimmed or failed while the engine was unaffected. Thus the engines, radios, and lights appear to be roughly equal in their sensitivity to UFOs, a rather surprising observation in view of the extreme sensitivity of radios to ordinary electrical interference. Driving close to power transmission lines which operate at 60 cycles/second usually causes static on the radio without affecting the lights and engine. The implication is clear: the mechanism of UFO interference is something other than low frequency, electromagnetic radiation.

Close examination of the reported cases discloses a gradation effect and suggests that the influence on the vehicle is related to the strength of emanation or proximity to the UFO. One engine missed as the lights flickered - another engine sputtered as the lights only dimmed - a third engine ran normally as static was heard on the radio and the lights dimmed. An expected pattern thus emerges. A weak influence from a UFO at a great distance mildly disturbs the engine, radio, and lights, whereas a stronger influence upon closer approach causes all three to fail completely. In a previous chapter it was shown that the intensity of


the field radiated by UFOs was also variable; hence, the graduated response could occur while the distance to the UFO remained fixed.

Internal Combustion Engines

As everyone knows, the common automotive engine operates by drawing air and vaporized gasoline into a combustion chamber where the mixture is ignited with an electrical spark. Disruption of a running engine by an object at some distance must effectively interfere with the fuel, air, or spark, or any combination thereof. The flow of both fuel and air is a consequence of the piston evacuating the cylinder and drawing air through the carburetor, where it picks up minute droplets of fuel. These functions must continue as long as a vehicle is moving and in gear, whether or not the engine is delivering power. In other words, these two essential functions of a running engine which is pulling a heavy vehicle cannot be stopped by any means short of physically halting the vehicle, like against a concrete overpass. The only way to stop a running engine, therefore, is to disrupt the electrical system. Thus the influence of UFOs upon automobiles is most assuredly electrical or electromagnetic in nature. This inference, based on the effects upon radios, is surely correct. Any doubt on this point is completely dispelled by an unlikely coincidence in Italy in 1954 when a UFO flew over a conventional tractor and a diesel tractor running side by side. The conventional tractor was stopped, but the diesel was not. (2) Similarly in England, the driver of a truck told the police that a hovering UFO knocked out his lights and radio while his diesel engine continued to run. (3)

The above line of reasoning may seem to be very elementary, but it was by no means obvious to the Condon Committee. (4) The primary effort of that investigation into the interference with engines was directed toward experimentally determining the effect of strong magnetic fields upon the components of the electrical system. In very strong fields up to 20,000 gauss, insignificant effects were measured for the spark plugs, battery,


and lamp filaments. For the common steel encased coil, the spark was occasionally interrupted at 20,000 gauss. It was concluded that in view of "the magnetic shielding action of the sheet steel in the car body, the strength of the field outside the car would have to be considerably greater than this." Such strong fields would permanently alter the normal magnetic pattern of the car body. Hence, a car exposed to a strong magnetic field supposedly surrounding a UFO would carry a record of the event. Tests were conducted on a car that was alleged to have been stopped by a UFO. Its magnetic pattern was essentially the same as that of another car of the same make and model. The inquiry was dropped at that point with the conclusion that the car had not been exposed to an intense magnetic field. The implication was that it had not been exposed to a UFO, but of course, it may well have been stopped by a UFO without experiencing a strong magnetic field.

Instead of focusing exclusively upon strong magnetic fields, the investigation should have encompassed fluctuating, electromagnetic fields that could have effects upon engines, radios, and headlamps without altering the magnetic signature of the car body. This approach was suggested by David R. Saunders, who held a key position on the project . (5) High-frequency electromagnetic radiation is an excellent candidate for the cause of UFO interference with cars. It might be found capable of inducing high voltage surges in the secondary winding of the coil. The resulting sparks in the cylinders would be completely out of time with the sequence of events required for an engine to run. Timing of the spark is quite critical; an engine will not run if it is only slightly off timing. This mechanism might explain why engines seem to be unusually sensitive to UFO interference. Regarding radios, it is clear that a high frequency field could cause static, or if strong enough, saturate the input circuit, thereby blocking its normal reception. A physical basis for the effect upon headlamps is the increase of resistivity of tungsten in the presence of microwave energy (6) Increasing resistance would reduce the flow of current through the lamp filament thereby diminishing the


heating. The lamp would grow dim as the temperature dropped, or become entirely extinguished when the current became too low

The "tungsten" effect offers an alternative explanation for engine failure also, in that distributor points, being made of tungsten alloy, would be subject to interference. An increase of resistance would reduce the current in the primary winding of the coil, thus reducing the spark intensity in the secondary winding or eliminating it altogether. As the distributor cap enclosing the points is non-metallic, the absence of good shielding could make the ignition system extremely sensitive to this mechanism. Two more incidental effects, related to vehicles, that must be accounted for by a valid interpretation are a wildly oscillating behavior of both ordinary compasses and magnetic speedometers.


As mentioned in the previous section, automobile radios, and those installed in other vehicles, such as aircraft, have been disrupted on many occasions by UFOs. It may be assumed that most of them were amplitude modulation (AM) sets, as prior to the mid sixties frequency modulation (FM) receivers in automobiles were comparatively rare. Among the thirty-two cases of radio interference in the Hall list, some did not fail completely but emitted "static," "shrieking," "pulsating," and "roaring." Others produced intelligible signals such as "steady dit-dit-dit," "loud beeping," and "steady dot-dot-dash." Two such sounds were produced by radios in police cars. It appears that standard AM receivers are merely disrupted, whereas a message content is detected in the bandwidth commonly used for police communication. Again, an unusual coincidence provides some confirmation. In November 1957, a Canadian observed the simultaneous failure of his battery radio and a portable shortwave radio as a UFO hovered at low altitude. The regular portable simply failed, but "a single tone was heard on one shortwave frequency." (7)

While the radio interference and the sighting were simultane-


ous, there is no indication in these cases that the recognizable signals were emitted by the UFO, and there is ample reason to suspect that they were not. Nearly all medium-power marine beacons used for radio navigation, broadcast a steady repetition of dot-dash signals corresponding to a single letter in International Morse Code. A few coastal beacons transmit only a series of dashes, and are sometimes referred to as "beepers." (8) Aeronautical beacons, on the other hand, transmit coded signals of three letters, such as SF0 for San Francisco. (9) Hence, the question arises as to whether one can identify marine beacons that are responsible for the above signals, namely,

Signal Letter Vicinity
*** S Kodiak, Alaska
beeping none Hammond, Indiana
**_ U Hobbs, New Mexico

If such exist, they would be tabulated in Radio Navigational Aids, Publication No. 117-A and 117-B, U.S. Navy Hydro graphic Office.

The inference to be drawn here relates to the mechanism of UFO interference. Rather than saturate or block the input circuit, radiant energy from the UFO may be disturbing the highly sensitive tuning adjustment, that is, by detuning the station from that to which it had been previously set. Thus police radios might be picking up signals from the marine band where standard broadcast receivers usually do not. This possibility seems all the more likely from the nearness of the police and marine bands. It seems odd, however, that car radios are not reported to have changed their stations.

The question remains, "How could such a change occur?" The answer may lie in the characteristics of a tuning circuit which is composed of a coil, capacitor, and resistor in series. When stimulated by an alternating voltage, the circuit carries an alternating current of the same frequency. The magnitude of the current depends upon the frequency, and it reaches a maximum


when the stimulating frequency matches the natural, resonant frequency of the circuit. The frequency at which resonance occurs is governed by the values of the electrical elements in the circuit. Hence, the resonant frequency can be changed by modifying one of them; the set is usually tuned by adjusting the capacitance. A particular station is tuned in by adjusting the resonant frequency to correspond to its transmitted carrier. Competing signals from other stations are suppressed because they are out of resonance. (10)

Should the coil in the tuned circuit be exposed to a fluctuating field of high frequency, extraneous currents will be induced in it, thereby altering its normal role in the circuit. Theoretically, the circuit would continue to function but at a different resonant frequency. In other words, the set would be detuned from the original station and might pick up another one. This mechanism of detuning may account for the common report of radio transmission being lost from aircraft, police cars, and radio stations. Police chasing a UFO in Danville, Illinois, were unable to notify headquarters because their radio went mysteriously dead. (11) Possibly their transmitter was detuned so that they could not be heard on the normally operating receiver at headquarters some distance away.

The most common problem with radios, however, is that they simply fail. They cease to produce any sounds in the presence of UFOs. Their return to normal after the UFO disappears weakens the notion that loss of power might be responsible. Any other possible basis for this behavior should be identified. As the influence of microwaves upon tungsten came under suspicion previously, it is rather significant to note that another major application of that metal is for cathodes in radio tubes. (12) Electrons inside the evacuated space of a radio tube are supplied by the cathode; they are boiled off its surface in vast numbers when it is at high temperature, producing the familiar glow in radio tubes. The flow of these electrons through the tube, being easily controlled, accounts for the extreme sensitivity of radios. In other words, signals are amplified enormously by controlling the flow


of electrons through the tube. Restricting their supply at the origin, the cathode, would have a profound effect. It would reduce the normal gain through the tube, or in the limit, stop the current completely. The output of the radio would either diminish below the threshold for hearing or cease altogether until the normal conditions were restored. This behavior is precisely the expected consequence of increasing the resistance of the tungsten or tungsten-alloy cathode with microwaves. Cathodes are maintained at their operating temperature by a separate, low-voltage circuit. Current through that circuit heats the cathode to incandescence in an exact analogy to the filament in a headlamp. (13) Increasing the resistance in the circuit would reduce the current and the rate of heating, thereby reducing or shutting off the supply of electrons. This mechanism would also hamper or prevent broadcasting of messages on transmitters by restricting the internal amplification or limiting the flow of power through output tubes into the antenna.

Household Receivers and Lamps

Hall cited eighteen cases of interference with radios, television sets, and house lights as UFOs flew over cities, towns, and populated areas. Interference with television was six times more frequent than with radios, a ratio so great that an explanation should be sought. It may simply reflect the greater popularity of television, but some technical aspects are implied. The large, rooftop antennas commonly used for TV are much more efficient than the small, ferrite antennas that are built into table-model and portable radios. This factor alone could account for the observations. In addition, the UFO interference may have frequency components closer to that of the TV carriers than to that of radio.

In any event, the specific nature of the reported TV interference, such as "dimmed," "blurred," "loss of audio," and "distortion," indicates that the trouble was not caused by loss of power. Thus, one must look to direct interference in the receiver circuits along the lines described above. A few instances of


household lights being dimmed or extinguished may be identical to the effect on automobile headlamps. Obviously, loss of electrical power could be responsible, and UFO interference with power transmission over large areas is another prominent feature of the whole problem.

Power Transmission

An association between UFOs and electrical power facilities has been recognized for many years. UFOs tend to hover near generating stations, switchyards, and substations, and to travel along the rights-of-way for high-voltage transmission lines. They are frequently seen at these locations at the time of, or just prior to, electrical blackouts over extended areas served by the facilities. Naturally, blame for the inconvenience is laid upon the UFOs, but satisfactory explanations have not been found. The deficiency is twofold: The affinity of UFOs for electrical facilities is not well understood and their method of causing power failure has not been satisfactorily identified.

During the fall of 1966, a series of UFO sightings in southern New Hampshire attracted the attention of a famous journalist who conducted a thorough, on-the-spot investigation. Armed with portable tape recorders, he collected testimony from many witnesses, some of which was later published verbatim. In 73 separate testimonies, a direct relationship was reported between the UFOs and the power lines of the Northeast Grid. (14) The UFOs typically appeared at low altitude near the transmission lines, alternately rising and falling behind the trees. On more than one occasion, a "pipe like object came down from the base of the disc and actually touched the lines, remaining there for a minute or so." (15) In view of such observations, the contention that these UFOs were merely some obscure, electrical blobs that were precipitated by the power lines is absolutely untenable, especially since many of them were also seen at great altitudes being chased by jet fighter planes. Since in thousands of other situations, UFOs have been well removed from transmission lines, this group of


sightings, is unique and reveals a particular purpose behind their behavior. Exactly what this purpose might be is still an open question.

During the period of these sightings, on November 9, 1966, the power distribution system serving one-fifth of the American population in eight eastern states simply failed. The source of the trouble was initially reported to be a remote-controlled substation at Clay, New York, where only seconds before the blackout a pilot saw a brilliant, red ball, 100 feet in diameter. A total of five people saw this object, or one like it, in the vicinity. Investigations by the Federal Power Commission, however, officially traced the source of the blackout to a Canadian hydroelectric plant on the Niagara River. "The initial event was the operation of a backup relay at Beck Generating Station which opened circuit Q29BD, one of five 230-kv circuits connecting the generation of Beck to the Toronto-Hamilton load area." (16) Before examining these findings in further detail it is necessary to review some practices in the electrical industry. High-voltage transmission lines are subject to various natural hazards such as lightning, falling trees, and wind damage to the lines and towers. In the event of a lightning stroke, for example, the voltage of a line would suddenly rise to very high level causing an arc-over to ground around the insulators. This conducting path would continue to drain off the generated power unless the line were taken out of service momentarily. It would have to be isolated from the system, with other lines in parallel picking up its load, then switched back into service. To provide this protection, each leg of a transmission system is monitored by automatic devices that detect any abnormal conditions and take corrective action. These sensitive and fast-acting relays, in turn, operate the more massive and cumbersome circuit breakers that handle large amounts of power. It has been proposed in the past that magnetic fields accompanying UFOs induce current surges in the lines as they fly at high speed across the rights-of-way. (17) These surges would then be detected with the resulting isolation of the line. As a section of line is removed from service, the transfer of its power may cause


an overload on a parallel line, and so on as the disturbance propagates throughout the whole system. These relays are the points at which trouble begins, and the previously quoted FPC report indicated that "The precise cause of the backup relay energization is not known." This admission was then followed by a discussion of some possible system conditions that could have triggered it.

The clues to some of these puzzles sometimes hide in the detailed sequence of the reported events. For this reason, an obscure power failure in Brazil takes on special significance. On August 17, 1959, the automatic keys at the Uberlandia power station suddenly disconnected power to all four trunks. A technician at a substation 45 miles away immediately telephoned to report that all the keys at his location had been automatically disconnected as a UFO passed overhead, traveling in the direction of the generating station along the lines. The chief engineer then manually reset the keys at the main station, but they all automatically turned off again. At that moment he ran outside and saw a bright object in the sky approaching at high speed, later calculated to be 1,500 mph. As soon as the UFO passed, the entire system returned to normal. (18) The critical point in this report is that operation of the relays at the substation occurred when the UFO was directly overhead. Those at the main station, clearly out of range of influence from the UFO, detected an abnormal condition and apparently responded properly. A two-stage mechanism for this interference would involve first the induction of a surge in the lines and then corrective action by the relay. Instead, it appears that the influence of the UFO was exerted directly upon the relay itself without any intervening process. Design details of these devices assure that they would be sensitive to stray radiation. The heart of the induction-type relay is a small, circular plate of metal with a spindle rigidly attached at the center. Bearings at the ends of the spindle permit free rotation, and under normal conditions, the metallic disc is held in stationary balance by a spring acting against electromagnetic forces that are derived from the conditions on the line being monitored.


In the event of an undesirable condition, rotation of the disc closes the contacts for taking corrective action. Clearly, high-frequency electromagnetic radiation from a UFO would induce eddy currents in the disc, disrupting its delicate balance and actuating a circuit breaker. Induction of stray currents could also operate a plunger-type relay that is in common use, essentially a solenoid like an electric door bell, although these devices should be more resistant to interference than the others. The possible effect upon a third type of relay utilizing solid state electronics is simply not known. Of course, the induced operation of the electromagnetic relays would cause no damage. "Ostensibly, backup relay #Q-29 at the Sir Adam Beck generating station, Queenston, Ontario, was eventually pinpointed as the source of the massive failure. But further investigation, hardly noted in the press, showed that nothing in the relay was broken when it was removed for inspection. In fact, it went back into operation automatically when power was restored. The line it was protecting was totally undamaged." (19) Induced operation of the protective relays by electromagnetic radiation from UFOs is probably the reason for these power blackouts.


Footnotes: Chapter 5

1. Hall, Richard H., Editor, The UFO Evidence, National Investigations Committee on Aerial
    Phenomena, Section VIII, May 1964. Individual cases from this source are designated by the
    case numbers prefixed by the word Hall.
2. Originally reported in Michel, Aime, Flying Saucers and the Straight Line Mystery, p. 143,
    Criterian, 1958.
3. Case 896.
4. Condon, Edward U., Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, conducted by the
    University of Colorado, p.100, Dutton, 1969.
5. Saunders, David R. and Harkins, R. Roger, UFOs? YES! Where the Condon Committee
    Went Wrong, New American Library, 1968.
6. This obscure point came to the author's attention a few years ago and, unfortunately, all efforts
    to locate the source have been unavailing.
7. Hall, Case69 p.75
8. Dodge, H. S., RDT, A Radio Guide to Marine Beacons, Aeronautical Beacons, and
    Broadcast Stations, Steve Dodge Marine Electronics, Richmond, California, 1964.
9. Local Aeronautical Chart, San Francisco, U.S. Department of Commerce, Coast and Geodetic
10. Terman, Frederick Emmons, Fundamentals of Radio, McGraw-Hill, 1938.
11. Hall.Case 67, p.75.
12. Hampel, Clifford A., Editor, Rare Metals Handbook, 2nd Edition, p.593, Reinhold.
13. In an alternate design, the heat is supplied by a separate tungsten filament inside a cylindrical cathode.
14. Fuller, John 0., Incident At Exeter, p.220, Putnam, 1966.
15. Fuller, John 0., Incident At Exeter, p.199, Putnam, 1966.
16. Condon, Edward U., Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, p.112, Dutton,
17. McDonald, James E., Prepared Statement, Hearings Before the Committee on Science and
      Astronautics, U.S. House of Representatives, p.79, July 29, 1968.
18. Lorenzen, Coral and Jim, UFOs The Whole Story, p.152, Signet, 1969.
19. Fuller, John 0., Incident at Exeter, p.207, Putnam, 1966.

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