Thursday, October 21, 2021

Dr. Hynek and the UFO Photo Investigation of 1967

 This double-sized STTF article is separated into two parts, but printed here in its entirety.

We owe a special acknowledgment to Herschel P. Fink, the Detroit reporter who broke the original story in 1967 and followed up with a detailed 1968 article in True magazine.


Part One: 

"My boys have just taken a picture..."


Project Blue Book, the Expert Consultant, and his Staff 

Hector Quintanilla took over in 1962 as the chief of the U.S. Air Force’s Aerial Phenomena Branch of the Foreign Technology Division, better known as Project Blue Book. In his proposed 1974 book, UFOs, An Air Force Dilemma, Quintanilla explained the project operated. The office at Wright-Patterson AFB consisted of two officers, one sergeant, and one civilian stenographer, but they had resources on hand as needed. Each Air Force base had a designated UFO investigating officer, and it was one of those nearest the reported sighting that would conduct the initial investigation, submit his report to the project office at Wright-Patterson. If unexplained, they would contact the visit or contact the witness by telephone or mail requesting further information. “Although our office complement was small, I had at my disposal professional experts from all scientific disciplines. Wright-Patterson has the best Materials Laboratory in the world…” 

Blue Book’s most famous expert consultant was Dr. J. Allen Hynek, professor of astronomy at Northwestern University in Illinois. In the mid-1960s Project Blue Book had authorized Hynek to recruit assistance from colleagues in analyzing and processing UFO reports. Jacques Vallee, a young French ufologist who was pursuing his Ph.D. and working as a computer programmer, chiefly assisted in data management. Hynek later described his colleagues as, “an excellent scientific staff that could be employed from time to time.” William T. Powers was an electronics engineer at Dearborn Observatory who occasionally tackled UFO field work. Fred H. Beckman was an electron microscopist, and he chiefly provided photo analysis. Beckman was the newcomer; he’d caught the UFO bug in the flap of 1966, the one that brought a mixture of fame and infamy to Hynek. 

Unfortunately, these “invisible colleagues” were not available in March 1966 when the Air Force sent Dr, Hynek to investigate the Michigan UFO sightings that were making big news. After a brief and harried investigation, Hynek gave a press conference and suggested that some of the UFO sightings were caused by ignis fatuus, the combustion of marsh gas. The resulting public backlash against the “swamp gas” explanation caused the Air Force a great deal of grief and embarrassment. It also gave the saucer topic a big boost, and even politicians were demanding real answers. That started the ball rolling, and later that year, a scientific UFO study was finally launched, led by Dr. Edward Condon at the University of Colorado.
Meanwhile, there was friction between Hynek and Quintanilla. Hynek was increasingly vocal Blue Book’s scientific shortcomings.  Quintanilla’s book shows that he was irritated at the astronomer’s increasingly pro-UFO stance and stated that when Dr. Hynek began to be recognized as a UFO expert and celebrity in 1964, “Hynek began to change… He embarrassed me and the Air Force on a number of occasions… 1966 was the year which convinced me that Dr. Hynek had lost his usefulness to the project.” In 1967, Project Blue Book received over 70 UFO reports in the month of January alone. One of them was a photographic case that made major news, and it also caused further division between Quintanilla and Hynek. 


The Flying Hamburger of Michigan

Dr. Hynek was drawn into another big media case in Michigan, the sighting of the strange flight of a “hamburger-shaped object.” It began on a freezing Monday afternoon, January 9, 1967, when reporter Herschel P. Fink of The Detroit News received a phone call.

Betty Jaroslaw said, “My boys have just taken a picture of a flying saucer or something.” Her son, Dan told Fink, “I thought it was a flying saucer right away. That’s why I told Grant to take the picture. Dan added that he’d always believed in UFOs. “Now I know that they’re real.” The object in the photo appeared to be flying from the photographers left to right, a sleek saucer-like craft with some kind of tail structure or antenna at the rear. Once the boys were interviewed, they loaned copies of four of their five black and white 2 ½ x 3 ½ inch Polaroid prints for the paper to copy. After The Detroit News ran the story, it was swiftly picked up by national media. CBS Evening News covered the story, but most of what we can trace comes from newspapers. Below is the Associated Press story, edited together from versions printed in The Daily Oklahoman, Jan. 10, 1967, and the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), Jan. 11, 1967: 

AP Wirephoto, Jan. 10, 1967

2 Brothers Report Sighting 'Saucer'

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (AP) Two teen-aged brothers report they observed and photographed a disc-shaped flying object which they said hovered for 10 minutes behind their home, and within a mile of Selfridge Air Force Base. Dan Jaroslaw, 17, and his brother Grant, 15, showed photographs to a Detroit Free Press photographer to support their report of a disc-shaped, bi-colored flying object, slightly domed at the top with what appeared to be a slim mast at the rear. 

The Air Force said they knew nothing of the reported sighting despite the fact that a Coast Guard helicopter was operating in the immediate vicinity at the time.

Dan told reporters that he and his brother were behind their house on Lake St. Clair, about a quarter mile off the backyard of their Harrison township home outside of this Detroit suburb to take pictures of dye on the lake. The older brother said last night that "there were some dye tests being made on the septic tank to check for leaks, and Grant was going to take pictures of the dye on the lake when it (the object) was about a quarter of a mile in front of us on the lake." The brothers said they noticed the object about 2:30 p.m. They said it raced off to the southeast and disappeared in clouds. 

"About five minutes after it disappeared - it went real fast - a helicopter came up from behind us," Dan said. He added that his brother took pictures of both aircraft. Dan said, "We've seen a lot of strange aircraft from the base in the 14 years we've lived here, but never anything like this. It moved faster than any of the jets we see from the base." 

Numbers on the back of the photographs taken with a Polaroid camera, however, showed [two exposures] of the reported flying objects coming after the helicopter photo. The object was on Nos. 1 and 2, the helicopter No. 3 and the object again on 4 [which was missing, and 5].

Dan said four pictures were taken of the object. Last night, the family said that they had not shown the pictures to the Air Force, and would not do so. "They just might grab them and never give them back to us," Mrs. [Betty] Jaroslaw said. 

The youngsters denied having gotten any ideas about UFO's from a nationally-televised situation comedy series last night in which a youngster stirred his home city by getting some UFO pictures. [My Three Sons, January 5, 1967, "You Saw a What?"] Capt. Mina Costin, information officer at Selfridge, said the base operations officer, who coordinates reports of unidentified flying objects, the command post of the 1st Fighter Wing and the base radar station had neither sighted any UFOs nor had any reports of them despite the fact that Dan said "the helicopter could have seen it easily."

The three UFO photos the brothers shared were all taken from a slightly different angle, but the object was remained in almost the same position. The officers at Selfridge Air Force Base were impressed. Many UFO photographs are merely either specs or blobs shown against the sky, making it difficult to tell whether the object was a distant large object, or a small one nearby, suspended from a string or tossed into the air. The Jaroslaw pictures depicted an object with distinct features, and included some landscape with definite points of reference for investigation and analysis. 

The Evening Gazette (Worcester MA), Jan. 12, 1967

The Investigation of Major Raymond W. Nyls 

(No photo available)

Major Raymond W. Nyls, 47, was the Selfridge base operations officer, an amateur astronomer with an interest in UFOs and he was the one tasked as the local investigator for Blue Book. mentioned in the story above was. The day after the sighting, Nyls went to the scene at Harrison Township to investigate on behalf of Project Blue Book. He found the family very reluctant to talk about the sighting, and he was unable to view or obtain the original photographs. Nyls said, “It was a very funny family.”

Th boys told the press that they’d been home from school that afternoon because their mother was ill. Betty Jaroslaw, with her daughter and two sons lived in a two-story house on the shore of Lake St. Clair. According to Herschel P. Fink, the house “had been gutted in a fire almost two years before. Mrs. Jaroslaw and the two boys lived in the basement. The rest of the house, located in a fashionable lakefront area, remained uninhabitable. The boy's father [Alfred P. Jaroslaw], divorced from their mother, lived a few miles away with his second family in a new house.". Maj. Nyls reported that the “back yard looked like a junkyard.” At the spot where the photos had been taken, there was a structure made from 2 ½ inch iron pipe that had once been the frame for a swing set, and portion of the pipe was visible in at least one of the photos. From the location, he could see the frozen lake which eliminated the possibility that the object was just a boat on the water. There was no object in the yard that resembled the saucer in the photos. Later, he told the press, "The type of person and the type of camera involved would lead me to believe this is not a hoax.” Nyls obtained copies and enlargements of the photos from Herschel Fink of The Detroit News, who had seen the originals, and said they showed no sign of having been tampered with. Based on viewing the copies, Nyls described the UFO pictures as “the best I've ever seen." Major Nyls sent copies by plane to Wright-Patterson which were used in the Air Force’s subsequent attempts at analysis.

Nyls also conducted a typical investigation, looking for additional witnesses, gathering weather data, checking into air traffic, etc. About the only details that Nyls picked up that weren’t in the press was that the witnesses said the object was dull gray, and when asked to compare the size of it to an object held at arm’s length, said “baseball.” Nyls’ report stated the UFO had “hovered at low altitude, moved back and forth slightly and tipped slightly” for about ten minutes, then flew off very fast to the southeast. He characterized both witnesses as “reliable.” 

Major Nyls returned the next day to take measurements and photographs for the investigation. Mrs. Jaroslaw continued her refusal to share the Polaroids for examination. The family no longer wanted any attention, and Hershel Fink reported, “This refusal to show the original prints was part of a strange reaction by the Jaroslaw family to the initial newsbreak. The family went into hiding, refusing to be interviewed. Its unlisted telephone number was changed twice and large 'Keep Out' and 'Beware of Dog' signs were posted." (True magazine) 

Grant with his Polaroid Swinger. Degraded copy of the helicopter photo from PBB files.

The photo of the helicopter was problematic. There were 5 photos in all. Polaroid prints had information printed on the back, a manufacturing code and an exposure number, which was useful for keeping photos in order by the sequence shot. The brothers’ exposures showed: 1 & 2 the saucer, 3 was of a helicopter, 4 was of the saucer (but not shared with the news or Air Force), and 5 showed the saucer with a section of pipe of the right side. Despite what the boys said, the numbering sequence proved that the helicopter picture had been taken between the shots of the UFO, not afterwards. Another contradiction was that the helicopter was said to have flown closer to the boys than the saucer, but the picture had a coarser texture to the grain of the image, than the UFO pictures did.

The United Press International story from January 12, 1967, provided a few additional details:

Air Force officials today were checking some ‘pretty interesting pictures’ of an unidentified flying object. ...Maj. Raymond Nyls… said the pictures "look pretty authentic… about the best I've seen." Nyls was unable to persuade the boys to give him the original photographs, however. He said he would gather information on weather conditions at the time and make a report… 

Maj. Hector Quintanilla of the Foreign Technology Division said with the original photographs, he would be able to determine the size and shape of the object "within a few inches." This would be difficult, he said, with copies. …[Regarding the Polaroids’ numbering sequence,] According to Nyls, this discrepancy can be attributed to the boys' excitement. ‘The type of person and the type of camera used would lead me to believe this is not a hoax,’ he said. Nyls said he also interviewed the pilot of the helicopter, who reported seeing nothing unusual.”

Expert Sees ‘No Hoax’ in Boys’ UFO Photos

Dr. J. Allen Hynek heard about the photos and called The Detroit News and asked to examine their prints and negatives made from the Jaroslaw Polaroids. The Chicago Daily News reported: “Negatives were made from three Polaroid prints were submitted to Hynek over the weekend. Jacques Vallee, a member of the Northwestern astronomy department, which Hynek heads, had the negatives analyzed by experts at the University of Chicago for evidence of a hoax.” That was mainly Fred Beckman, who began examining them with sophisticated equipment from the hospital. He checked the images with a flying spot electronic density plotter, then made new prints using coherent point source light to produce crisper images. After a full day of testing, Beckman found nothing in the photos to indicate tampering or that they were faked.

Beckman shared the good news with Hynek, who gave an exclusive interview to Herschel Fink, optimistically saying, “analysis so far does not show any indication of an obvious hoax.” He was favorably impressed by “the similarity of these pictures have to other photos I have seen and also to verbal descriptions I've taken from ostensibly reliable people," Hynek said. He added, “So often these reports and investigations go only to the head-scratching phase and no further. I want to go as far as we can on these pictures.” Fred Beckman was identified as “an expert in electron microscope photography and other precision photography.” Hynek said that since the two witnesses were related, it was “essentially a one-witness case. However, “Being Polaroid prints offers less chance for darkroom chicanery." He also thought the fact that there were multiple photos increased their credibility and believability.
The Detroit News, Jan. 16, 1967, thanks to Gary Posner.

That launched a lot of headlines across the USA. The Associated Press coverage carried headlines like, “Expert Believes Flying Saucer Shot Authentic.”

“'Saucer' Pictures Appear Authentic to Top Authority” (AP story)

“Photos of UFO Appear Genuine, Expert Says”(AP story)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 17, 1967

The Daily Egyptian (Illinois), Jan, 17, 1967

AP story in the Intelligencer Journal, Jan. 17, 1967

The AP also reported:

“Lt. William Marley, primary analyst in the Blue Book office… and Hynek both pointed out that the Jaroslaw pictures have one advantage over most UFO pictures in that they contain points of reference to aid in judging depth. The pictures were snapped through a children’s swing. The branches of a small bush showing the [left] side and an iron pole shows on the [right].

Fred H. Beckman, a Hynek associate and expert in precision photography, already has subjected the copies to several tests. ‘I think we can pretty well rule out anything holding it up, Beckman said,’ referring to speculation the object could’ve been suspended from the swing by a thread.” 

Hold UFO Photo - Two brothers, Dan Jaroslaw, 17, left, and Grant, 15, view a picture of an unidentified flying object which they claimed to have made behind their home on Lake St. Clair with the camera Grant is holding. Pictures showed a saucer-shaped object with what appeared to be an antenna extending from an outer edge. (AP Wirephoto) (Jan. 17, 1967)

The version of the story from United Press International was less giddy, saying, “The Air Force's chief consultant on unidentified flying objects said Monday photographs of what is said to be UFO over Michigan may not be a hoax.” They summarized the same basic story noting, “Hynek said he will continue examining the photographs and hopes to have ‘something definite in a day or two.’” 

There was a hint of tension in the original reporting from The New York Times, Jan. 17, 1967, “'Saucer' Pictures Under Study for Authenticity,” which stated that “the two brothers and their mother, Mrs. Betty Jaroslaw, could not be found today. Last week, local reporters found members of the Jaroslaw family unresponsive to questions.”

The New York Times, Jan. 17, 1967

The 17th was not only big for newspaper coverage, it was also the day the Air Force’s photo report by James R. Schuit (Intelligence Research Specialist) was completed. The one-page report contained two short paragraphs, saying, 

“Analysis of the available photography fails to provide any definitive information pertaining to the identification of the unidentified object. The original photography is required…”

Project Blue Book director Major Hector Quintanilla was not happy in either the non-conclusion, or in the massive publicity generated by Hynek’s comments. At some point, Project Blue Book had crafted a canned response for any inquiry about off-book comments made by Dr. Hynek:

It almost reminds us of the tape from the Mission Impossible show, that if the agent botched the job, “…the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

In the aftermath of the huge press, a story from the AP with far less reach appeared in the Ironwood Daily Globe, Jan. 18, 1967. The Air Force – and a possibly chastised Hynek – tried to bring the story back down to earth. 

AF Continues Study of UFO

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — The Air Force is continuing its investigation of photographs taken in Michigan last week of what appears to be an unidentified flying object, but has come to no conclusions, officers said yesterday. Spokesmen in project Blue Book at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the agency that investigates UFO reports, said they still had not viewed the original photographs taken last week near Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan. Two boys took photographs of a hamburger-shaped object with a projection at one end. Wright-Patterson officers have been studying copies of the photographs, but have said they could not make proper measurement evaluations or reach any definite conclusions until they looked at the original prints.

Meanwhile, Dr. J. Allen Hynek of Evanston, Ill., chairman of the Astronomy Department at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview with The Dayton Daily News Tuesday he did not mean to put an "authentic" stamp on the pictures. Dr. Hynek has been consulted by the Air Force on UFO investigations in the past, but Project Blue Book officers said Tuesday he had not been consulted in regard to the Michigan photographs. "All I said (to a reporter) was that at first glance the pictures do not appear to be an obvious hoax," Dr. Hynek said. "I didn't mean to imply that it was not a hoax. What I meant to say was that if it was a hoax, it is a very clever hoax.”

Hynek had stepped in it and was backpedaling. When the Air Force questioned him about his endorsement of the photos, "Dr. Hynek informed our office that he only told the Associated Press that the photographs appeared to be of an authentic image. He claimed he was misquoted when the AP said that he, Dr. Hynek, stated the photographs were apparently authentic." (Jan. 26, 1967, memo from Lt. William F. Marley of the Aerial Phenomena Branch.)

William T. Powers

At the same time the above drama was playing out, another investigation was underway. Hynek had also asked Bill Powers to try his hand with the photos. Powers asked Maj. Nyls to return to the Jaroslaws' yard to collect data for photo analysis. Nyls (assisted by Airman 3c Charles R. Hill) spent three chilly hours on Jan. 18, using blowups of the UFO photos to determine the exact position and camera angle from which each had been taken, and meticulously measuring the branches of the bush and the dimensions of the swing frame.

Jaroslaw Picture #5

Nyls already had his suspicions, but while there, he discovered that the position of the UFO appeared higher in the last photo, but not from movement. Picture 5 had been taken from a kneeling position. Nyls made technical drawings with the site data, and once he was done, it was flown to Chicago so Powers could get started.

Maj. Nyls' Photos and technical drawings

With the data from Nyls, Powers began determining the UFO’s size and distance from the camera. He spent several hours creating diagrams and running calculations and triangulating the reference points. Powers produced a 27-page handwritten report, “Procedures for Evaluating Jaroslaw Photo,” mostly pages of drawings and trigonometry concluding, “A hoax cannot be ruled out. An object 3 3/4” in diameter hung from the pipe overhead could produce the same appearance.  … Nothing in the pictures suggests a distant object.”

Illustration – Nyls’ investigation photo with overlay of a Jaroslaw shot.

Knowing that, “The ultimate proof of a hoax is to be able to reproduce it,” Powers asked Maj. Nyls to give it a try. Meanwhile, the Air Force asked the CIA to help. 


Part Two: 
All the King’s Men

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Condon Study

The University of Colorado UFO study led by Dr. Edward U. Condon was underway, and one of the coordinators was Dr. Thomas Ratchford from the Air Force Research and Development Office. The Condon Committee was given access to CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) for technical analysis of alleged UFO pictures, but the agency’s input was to remain secret.

CIA-NPIC document on Condon Study

Hector Quintanilla wanted to borrow these resources to examine the Jaroslaw photos, and in a memo dated January 18, 1967, he asked Dr. Ratchford, “Please see if you can get some expert opinions with regards to the size of the alleged flying saucer. …If it all possible please expedite because the news media is clamoring for an expert analysis of the photographs. …I would not mention the organization. …I will be waiting anxiously for some kind of conclusion.” Quintanilla sent copies of the photos and Maj. Nyls’ data and measurements of the scene to the NPIC.

Dr. Condon’s people were interested, too. A letter from Robert J. Low to Condon, Jan. 27, 1967, mentioned “the two photographs by the two boys of the UFO over St. Clair Lake,” saying, “Just talked to Hynek who reports that Life [magazine’s] offer for the pictures was turned down. So I guess they don’t have them – at least not yet. [Dr. Thomas] Ratchford has advised me that Air Force Intelligence indicates they can’t tell much from the copies they have. The material they were working with was a copy. There has been too much degrading of the picture to tell anything. This means we must get hold of the original.”

The UFO group, National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, also wanted the pictures.  From “Photographs Under Study” in NICAP’s The UFO Investigator, Jan.-Feb. 1967:

“In conversations with the mother and the boy who took the pictures, and with the family lawyer, NICAP was promised a set of the Polaroid prints for analysis. However, the pictures have never been submitted and we are now informed that a major magazine is attempting to purchase them.”

 Hynek was getting the cold shoulder from Blue Book. Jacques Vallee’s journal for Jan. 30, 1967, records that, “Hynek went to Dayton without being able to see Quintanilla, who is still mad at him.”

Two weeks later, the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center was finally completed. Dated February 17, 1967, “Photo Analysis of UFO Photography," the 2.5-page written portion stated, “This office cannot shed any light on the authenticity of this alleged UFO from this photo analysis.” Several problematic elements were mentioned, including, “the fact that the tail-section of the UFO was photographed in each case with the same cross-section exposed casts some suspicion on the authenticity of the UFO.”  Without having the original prints to examine, all they would say was, “inconclusive.”

Blue Book’s Mock Saucer

If the story was fading from the public’s memory, it got another boost in a nationally syndicated Sunday magazine newspaper supplement, This Week March 5, 1967. The article was by L. Jerome Stanton on the Condon Study, “The Final Word on Flying Saucers?”

This Week, March 5, 1967

It included a half-page shot of the brothers and their saucer photo, noted Hynek’s favorable appraisal, and stated, “Undoubtedly the photos will be shown to the University of Colorado group.” He was right, but they and everyone else were stumped by not having access to the originals.

Dr. Hynek had frequently been away from the university, busy with the press, fretting about what the Condon Study was doing, traveling, and giving lectures and interviews. (KABC-TV's Press Conference on Feb. 26, 1967).  One of those speaking engagements took him back to Michigan. The Associated Press story, March 23, 1967, “UFO Expert Speaks At Hillsdale College,” reported that Hynek still thought the Dexter UFO sightings were probably swamp gas, but “the case is not really closed.” The topic of the Jaroslaw pictures came up:

“Asked about Polaroid photographs taken by brothers Dan and Grant Jaroslaw outside Detroit last Nov. 9, Hynek-said he understands the Air Force hopes to be able to make a report on them in a few days. After two weeks of studying copies of the Jaroslaw photographs, Hynek reported that ‘the possibility of a hoax seems less likely (in photographs made with a camera of this type), although it has not been eliminated entirely.’”

Maj. Nyls’ report on the project to duplicate the photos is absent from Blue Book, but he seems to have been delayed until the second half of March. Nyls began by constructing a model out of balsa wood, rounder than the Jaroslaw UFO, but close enough. Then he painted it to match their photos, a light gray with a darker band around the center. When he returned to the Jaroslaw property, he suspended the model from the swing frame at two points with translucent fishing line. The Polaroid Swinger used a plastic fixed focus single element lens, and it did not have the resolution to detect a light-colored filament against the sky. The fishing line didn’t show in the pictures. “I couldn’t even make it out with my own eyes,” Nyls said. His first shot closely resembled the position of the saucer in the Jaroslaw photos. 

Maj. Nyls’ saucer photo #1

Then he swung the model out, capturing it pointed to the left, as if banking for a turn or descent. Afterwards, Nyls sent the two pictures to Hynek and crew for study. The photos were good. Nyls had said the boys’ UFO pictures, “the best I've ever seen," but his were even better.

Maj. Nyls’ saucer photo #2

Bill Powers had engineered the photo test, and the results proved that there was nothing unearthly about the boys’ pictures. When he was done, the Air Force issued a press release about Nyls’ photos, one that while damning, carefully avoided making any accusations:

23 March 1967

SELFRIDGE AFB, Mich - Major Raymond W. Nyls, Unidentified Flying Objects Officer here, took this photograph of a small model flying saucer he made himself. He stood in the same spot where the Jaroslaw brothers said they stood to take the photographs of the flying saucer they reported in January. Major Nyls suspended his model on a thin string hanging from an overhead pole. U.S. Air Force Photo

INFORMATION DIVISION, 1st Fighter Wing, Selfridge AFB, Mich 48045

The Detroit News, March 26, 1967, reported the word about Maj. Nyls’ photos. “They appear as almost duplicates of the originals,” Hynek said. “The ability to closely duplicate a UFO picture is very significant. Nyls’ test showed that is possible to essentially duplicate the Jaroslaw photos, using – and this is the most important – the identical model camera in the identical position and under the same basic conditions. This throws considerable doubt on the sighting and removes it from serious consideration as far as I’m concerned.” The boys, speaking to the press for the first time since the initial story, insisted it was genuine, not a hoax. Grant said, “We saw something out there and we took pictures of it. I don’t know what it was, but it was there. It was real.”

AP story, March 27, 1967

Alfred Jaroslaw, the boys’ father, was incensed at the hoax allegation (and the ribbing he was getting from friends). “This casts a lot of doubt on my boys and I'm convinced they photographed what they said they saw. No models were involved. I'm out to prove it was genuine.” He accused the Air Force of “covering up the truth about saucers” by casting aspersions on his sons. He requested a lie detector test for the boys. Further details were in the AP story below, including the father saying of the failed polygraph, "I probably will try another, and sodium pentothal — the truth drug.”

Battle Creek Enquirer, March 29, 1967

Herschel Fink reported that when Dan Jaroslaw was asked for his reaction, he said: “I don't want to say anything else, and I don't want anything else written. It's just as I said it was. Everybody’s bugging me.” The Jaroslaw family was represented by an attorney, and they had been courted by national magazines. 

For whatever reason, the Polaroid pictures were copyrighted in the name of Grant P. Jaroslaw, dated April 19, 1967, as “Helicopter [against sky],” and “UFO # 1 – 4 [Aircraft in snowscape.]”


The Official Inconclusion

The last contemporary news coverage of the case was in the Dayton Daily News, May 17, 1967.

"Officer's Saucer Photo Like Those of Two Boys" by Jack Jones was essentially on the Air Force closing the case. It showed a comparison of the Jaroslaw saucer photo to that of Maj. Nyls and said, “Blue Book officials here were careful not to use any words like 'hoax' or 'fake' in talking about the boys' pictures. They said they were unable to reach any conclusions about the case because of the unavailability of the original pictures for analysis. In the course of his investigation, Nyls tried to duplicate the setup of the boys’ pictures in order to aid in the photo interpretation."

Dayton Daily News, May 17, 1967.

In True, Maj. Hector Quintanilla, told Fink that the Air Force "doesn't like to openly call anything a hoax." Comparing the Jaroslaw and Nyls photos, he said, "We found the two pictures similar. If we had an original Jaroslaw photo I think we could have told the size exactly, but, using The Detroit News blowups, we were only able to tell that the object was about four inches long, with a plus or minus error factor of a couple of inches." As an aside, he said “We've thrown up lampshades and ‘frisbees’ and taken some wild pictures with the [Polaroid] Swinger. I was really surprised.” It made great saucer photos – at least great phony ones.


A detailed exposé of the story appeared in True (The Man's Magazine), March 1968, "A Tale of Two Saucers - or, Which UFO Hangs on a String?" by Herschel P. Fink, the original reporter who broke the news. He had almost whole story except for the interest by Dr. Condon’s study and the attempt by the CIA to analyze the pictures.

The picture kept showing up, and its likeness was included in the Playboy, Dec. 1967 article by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, “The UFO Gap” There was no mention of the Jaroslaw case, but their UFO was included in the illustration by Marvin Hayes. 

Readers would see the image twice; the binocular lenses were die-cut holes, so when they turned the page, the saucer was shown hovering above Moscow. The article did discuss photo evidence, though:

If unimpeachable photographs can be obtained, it follows that the stimulus that gave rise to the report was accompanied by an actual image on the retinas of the witnesses… In any event, the existence of unimpeachable pictographs would represent incontrovertible scientific evidence that UFOs as we have defined them, exist.”

Due to the findings of the Condon Study, Project Blue Book closed in late 1969. Bill Powers moved on to other things. Dr. Hynek continued his work independently, and in 1973 opened the Center for UFO Studies, (CUFOS), with Fred Beckman as member of the scientific board. Over the next few years, the Jaroslaw case remained in the “inconclusive” limbo but was frequently featured in UFO literature as genuine. Chances are, it would have become far more famous had the UFO looked more like the stereotypical flying saucer.

Dr. Hynek kept copies of the Jaroslaw photos and sometimes showed (tinted) slides of them in his UFO lectures.


The Real Experts Speak


Not much is known about Dan and Grant Jaroslaw’s decade after the events, but it included both serving stints in the military. Afterwards, each returned home to Michigan.

In 1976, Dan, 26, Grant, 24, wrote a letter together to Dr. J. Allen Hynek:


“Dan suggested to make a model of a U.F.O., hang it up with a string, and if the photo turned out good, we could play a joke on our family and friends to see their reaction and then tell them the truth.

Dan made a quick model. Then we wrapped plain white thread with paper tape around two poles several times, and then taped the model to the threads. I was reluctant to waste the film, because I thought the threads and tape would be visible on the photo. The weather conditions were just right, the photo came out so real looking we took some more. At the same time we were taking the pictures, a helicopter flew over the area. Just for the heck of it, I photographed it, too.

We showed our mother the photos and pretended they were real. But before we knew it, while we were in another room, she had called the Newspaper.

Dan and I for some reason decided to let the paper have a story. We made it up as the reporter asked his questions. And said the helicopter was with the U.F.O. Also, we just didn't think the story would become as big as it did. We are sorry if we caused anyone any trouble over this.
Grant [P.] Jaroslaw
Dan A. Jaroslaw”

(Reproduced in The UFO Handbook by Allan Hendry, 1979)


The same year, Dr. Hynek produced 3 sets of UFO slides and audiotapes for Edmund Scientific. In the “UFO/IFO" collection, slide 4 showed the Jaroslaw saucer and in the accompanying tape, Hynek said he that back at the time, he had been only “partially convinced” that the photos were genuine. 


Duped and Re-Duped


If their letter of apology was sincere, the kids’ prank spun way out of control right from the start. It had happened before in other UFO cases, a joke where the target was fooled and reported it, getting the press or authorities involved. At that point, the choice for the perps usually comes down to: confess and face punishment and disgrace, or lie and pray to get away with it. Often, like in this case, secondary dupes unwittingly promote the hoax as genuine, here, Nyls, Beckman, Hynek and the press. In the case of the Jaroslaw boys, things may have been even messier with them defended, protected, and managed by their divorced parents. All we know for sure is that when the publicity and pressure was over, as adults, Dan and Grant confessed and apologized.

UFO literature presenting the UFO as authentic, even the AF imitation.

If not for their letter to Dr. Hynek, Dan and Grant’s photos would hang in the saucer hall of fame as UFO classics. Every hoax seems to have its champions and no explanation, evidence, or even confession will dissuade them. For whatever reason, the Project Blue Book files have only a few poor copies of the Jaroslaw photos, but there are several good versions of Maj. Nyls’ model. Decades later, the Jaroslaw photos occasionally are presented in articles and websites as if they were genuine. The twist? Often Maj. Nyls’ fakes are mistakenly presented as the “real” thing.


Grant Paul Jaroslaw died on November 2, 2004.

Daniel Alfred Jaroslaw (as of 2021) is still with us, one of the few UFO hoaxers known to have become a professional actor. At last report, he still has those notorious Polaroids from 1967, and still has an interest in the paranormal, aliens, and UFOs.

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For Further Reading

Project Blue Book ruled the Jaroslaw case “Insufficient data for evaluation… The measurement of the image does not substantiate the description given by the witnesses.” The summary noted: “Photograph was taken of the alleged UFO; however detailed investigation of copies of the original indicated a possible hoax.” There are two folders in the Blue Book files, one primarily for the case documents,  and a second on with mostly the photographs by Maj Nyls.  

APRO Bulletin, Jan – Feb. 1967“Brothers Photograph Object” included a summary of the case and a letter with detailed analysis by James H. Frey of Detroit. He’d been in touch with Hynek’s team and rightfully concluded the photos were likely fakes based on numbering sequence and the positions of object relative to the metal frame and tree branches.

The Detroit News, Feb. 13, 1995, "The great Michigan UFO chase" 

For more on the Dr. Hynek’s collaborations with William T. Powers, Fred Beckman, Jacques Vallee, and the beginnings of the “Invisible College, see The Close Encounters Man by Mark O'Connell, 2017.

 “Metamorphosis” (part 3) by Gary P. Posner, his story of believing, then discovering the photos were fakes. 

Thanks to Clas Svahn and his associates at the Archives for the Unexplained (AFU) for additional newspaper clippings. Also to Louis Taylor for images, and Rich Reynolds for magazine material. 

Thanks to Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos for the supplemental data and images he furnished for this article. For updates on aerial phenomena news and historical research, check his UFO FOTOCAT blog

Directory the known discussions of The Jaroslaw Photos Featured in UFO Literature.

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It was suggested that the Jaroslaw brothers were copycats, inspired by a television show. In My Three Sons, January 5, 1967, "You Saw a What?," Ernie saw a flying saucer, but no one believed him. He goes back and manages to photograph it, then his father, Steve Douglas took the photos to the Air Force. General Carstairs told him that what the boy saw was a test flight of Project Moonbeam, and that it must be kept secret for national security. After being persuaded to lie for his country, Ernie had to be interviewed by a smug reporter on live television to protect the cover-up. Later, he’s made fun of at school. The show may not have had any influence on the boys, but it may have prompted Mrs. Jaroslaw’s fear the Air Force would take and hide the photos.

If the inspiration came from television, there’s another possibility. The week before the Jan. 10, 1967, debut of the Quinn Martin show, The Invaders, advertisements appeared in magazines and on TV.

The Detroit Free Press, Jan. 22, 1967, reported that a woman thought the photos were phony and had had taken a clam, stuck it in a snowbank and produced a similar picture. The newspaper duplicated her attempt and published the results next to the Jaroslaw’s photos.

Harold Pawluk of Los Angeles took a photo of a UFO that closely resembled the Jaroslaw UFO. The picture appeared in some California newspapers and in his old home in Canada. 

The Edmonton Journal, Feb. 15, 1967

Pawluk later wrote to say it was just a hoax.

The Edmonton Journal, Dec. 4, 1967


One of the unusual characteristics of the Jaroslaw “flying hamburger” was the antenna or pipe-like structure at its rear. In 1967, commercials for the McDonald’s hamburger franchise gave Ronald McDonald a “flying hamburger,” and it had a prominent exhaust pipe sticking up at its aft. Corporate appropriation - or coincidence?


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