Thursday, February 2, 2023

Noah Clubb and the UFO Crash Retrieval Case

There’s a UFO crash retrieval case that’s been forgotten. In April 1949, newspapers reported that fragments from a flying saucer had been recovered, and were being examined by the Air Force. 

The story begins like another you may have heard, with a rancher finding some strange metal debris from the crash of an unidentified flying object. While riding on horseback in late April 1946, rancher Noah L. Clubb was in an open, rocky treeless terrain 6 miles south-southwest of Delta Colorado when he made a discovery, but it wasn’t made public until three years later. Clubb was 55 years old at the time, a respected citizen and family man, not prone to foolishness. After seeing the constant news coverage about flying saucers, he came forward with what he’d found, and dutifully reported it to the authorities. The story as disclosed in the United Press article from April 7, 1949: 

Flying Disc Segments Recovered in Colorado 

MONTROSE, Colo. (UP) Air force intelligence men have recovered two segments of what may have been one of the flying discs that caused widespread speculation during the summer of 1947, and have supposedly been seen during the last few days. One of the segments was in the possession of Noah L. Clubb of Montrose, until he was requested Tuesday to turn it over to the intelligence men. The intelligence men were reported to have spent two days scouring a mile square section of rugged country about 15 miles west of Delta, where a second and longer segment was reported found. Pieced together the segments evidently were part of a wheel-shaped instrument about four feet in diameter, the rim being of aluminum construction. It was slightly less than two inches across and one inch thick. On the inner edge of the wheel, at intervals of about three inches, were tube-like wicks about two inches long and of brass construction. Each wick, which witnesses said might have been fuel feeders, bore an even number.

 Another version from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 7, 1949.

It seems too close in time for it to be coincidence, but the same month, the FBI was also being questioned about the recovery of a flying saucer, one said to be made in Japan.

Believe It or Not!

Robert Ripley was the creator of the famous Ripley's Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, then brought the franchise to radio, then as an NBC television show in March 1949. 

On April 13, 1949, Ripley sent a Western Union telegram to radio commentator Walter Winchell: 

“Have the only authentic Japanese flying saucer ever recovered in this country. … Would like very much to have you join me on the Believe it or Not television show next Tuesday April 19th NBC network 9:30 to 10:00 PM and give your comments on the flying disc and your exclusive knowledge…”

Winchell forwarded the telegram to the FBI with the handwritten note:

“To J. Edgar Hoover – True?” 

FBI files contain an Office Memorandum. Subject: Flying Discs. To: Mr. [Redacted], From: [Redacted] 26 May 49. An FBI agent consulted Colonel [Redacted] of USAF Office of Special Investigations (OSI) about a recovered saucer. For whatever reason, the results were negative:

“He advised he would check with the authorities at right field to determine if any information is available concerning the recovery of a Japanese flying saucer. Colonel [Redacted] has now advised that there is no information available in any arm of the Air Force to the effect that any flying saucers of any kind have been recovered in the United States.”
FBI “Unexplained Phenomenon” files pages 26 and 27 of, “UFO Part 6”

Robert Ripley died weeks later of a heart attack at the age of 59, on May 27, 1949. We found no mention elsewhere of Ripley presenting a Japanese flying saucer anywhere, so apparently his plans did not come together. Read on to see how his claims may have been connected to the UFO parts discovered by Noah Clubb.

Back to the Saucer Debris Investigation

Like with the Roswell flying disc story, the mystery of Clubb’s saucer was solved in one day. 

Project Blue Book file: 4 April 1949, X Delta, Colorado 

From page 5 of the April 8, 1949, Phoenix, Arizona Republic:

Relic Is Identified As Jap War Gadget 

DENVER, Apr. 7 (AP) That "whazzit" found in Southwestern Colorado wasn't a forerunner of a new war. It was a relic of the old one part of a Japanese incendiary balloon. So said Maj. Lester J. Seibert of the Lowry Air Force Base office of special investigation Thursday. Noah Clubb found the curved, hollow piece of metal near Montrose Wednesday. Knobs protruded from the inside of what looked like a small portion of a wagon wheel.

As is often the case, the hype gets the newspaper front page, but the disappointing correction that follows gets lost deep inside. Far more people saw the initial story than the news it was solved.

Project Blue Book files state that the Air Force investigators recovered about half of the device and shipped them to Wright Field to be photographed and examined. The fragments were determined to be: “Definitely identified as ballast ring from a Japanese incendiary balloon.” 

Noah Clubb was named, but his discovery was discussed in “Something in the Sky,” for Daniel Lang's “A Reporter at Large” column for the Sept. 6, 1952, New Yorker Magazine. (Later collected in his 1954 book, The Man in the Thick Lead Suit.)

For a time in the spring of 1949, it looked as though a Colorado rancher had been harboring a piece of a flying saucer for three years. Back in April, 1946, the rancher, riding his horse on a high, rocky mesa, had come across a bit of tattered rigging attached to a steel ring. He took it back to his house, tossed it into a closet, and forgot about it. Then, belatedly reflecting on the wave of saucer sightings, he recalled the contraption in his closet. He showed it to two friends, one of whom, an omniscient type, stated definitely that it was part of a flying saucer. ‘I've seen too many saucers not to know one when I'm holding one in my own hand,'’ he said. The rancher forwarded his find to Wright Field, where it was identified as a remnant of one of the incendiary balloons the hopeful Japanese dispatched across the Pacific during the war in an effort to start forest fires.

The Pre-Saucer US Government Cover-Up

In 1944-5, over 9,000 incendiary balloons were launched from Japan’s island of Honshu. The balloons travelled at a high-altitude across the over the Pacific Ocean carried by the high-speed currents of the jet stream. Fu-go: The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America by Ross Coen provides more information. The balloons were fusen bakudan (balloon bombs), but the Japanese Imperial Army gave them the code name fu-go. 

“Measuring over 30 feet in diameter and filled with hydrogen… Each balloon carried four incendiary bombs and one thirty-pound high explosive bomb, all designed to drop in a timed sequence once the vehicle had completed its transoceanic voyage…” 

These balloon flights resemble later UFO events in a few ways. There was a government policy of secrecy, and it had two goals, prevent the Japanese military from getting valuable targeting information, and to avoid a public panic. Western Air Command held meetings with civilian pilots who were asked to report sightings to the military while remaining silent to the general public. Many confirmed sightings were reported, but there were also many false ones, the most common cause for which was the planet Venus. One report not made public at the time, was from a credible witness reported a relatively incredible thing. A woman in Selawik, Alaska claimed to have seen a balloon in the middle of the night from which “Little Men came down a ladder to the earth.” The local Alaska Territory Guard searched the area but found nothing.

Of the thousands of fu-gos launched, only about 300 were known to make it to North America, most in the U.S., some seen or discovered in Canada and Mexico. Most of them caused no harm, with one notable exception. On May 5, 1945, Bly, Oregon, minister Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife Elsie, and five children from their Sunday school class were on a morning picnic. As Mitchell parked the car, the others found a strange balloon on the ground. The bomb it carried exploding and all six people were killed. The site of the tragedy is now marked by the Mitchell Monument to honor the only Americans killed by enemy action during World War II in the continental United States. 

Noah’s discovery has been forgotten for the most part by ufologists, but Rick Hilberg included a partial account of his story in “Saucer Fragments” in Flying Saucer Digest, Fall 1970.

As far as we can tell, Noah Clubb lived a full life thereafter away from the flying saucer business. He died on the morning of Nov. 15, 1970, at the age of 76.

. . .

Months after Noah Clubb's discovery, a few miles south of Baltimore, Maryland, the Air Force was called out to investigate the remains of  flying saucer discovered in a barn.

The OTHER Air Force Captured Flying Saucer Retraction

Sunday, January 15, 2023

UFO Exploitation: The 1956 Texas Photo Fumble

Dateline: August 1, 1956, Location: near Amarillo, Texas

J. G. Kirby was in his mid-thirties, he'd started a family after his stint as a bomber pilot with the Eight Air Force during World War II. Kirby was considered an expert in rare gems and minerals, writing about one of his rock-hunting discoveries in the article "90 lb. Texas Plume Agate Found,” for The Lapidary Journal. 

Unconfirmed, but likely photo of our J. G. Kirby

Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and two their two children had been on a rock-hunting expedition in Colorado. During the long overnight drive home, they saw and photographed a UFO in the pre-dawn hours of August 2, 1956. Once home, he developed the film and reported the sighting to the authorities. Excerpts from the Air Force report dated Aug. 23, 1956, Unidentified Flying Object (UFOB):

“Kirby advised that on 1 August 1956 as he was returning to Dallas, Texas from Colorado Springs, Colorado, via Amarillo …he noted a bright green trajectory in the sky… from an object… 

The phenomenon appeared to be the [angular] size of a grapefruit and appeared in brilliance equal to the ignition of phosphorus, giving a brilliant beam of light both above and below the phenomenon itself, but never both beams simultaneously. … The object was observed intermittently by Kirby and his wife between Amarillo and Memphis, Texas. Kirby related that they departed Amarillo at 0400 hours and arrived at Memphis at 0615 hours.”

“The object appeared to be extremely navigable, inasmuch as it appeared in various places in the cloud formation… upon his arrival at Memphis, Texas, the formation had begun to disintegrate. As daylight approached, the phenomenon appeared to be ascending into the heavens, where it was the approximate size of a star and no longer visible through the clouds… in his [wartime] experience with aircraft, weather conditions, etc., he had never observed anything comparable with this phenomenon.”

Kirby photographed the object with a Kodak 620 camera, according to the later Associated Press story, "shot a whole roll of film." He turned over two photos for analysis, but retained the negatives, so they were not examined.

For some reason this the report was “pigeonholed” in Fort Worth, Texas at the Office of Special Investigations at Carswell Air Force Base until the end of the year. It was the newest of six “OSI UFOB Reports” ranging from Feb. 1954 to Aug. 1956, finally forwarded to Project Blue Book on Dec. 26, 1956. Capt. George T Gregory noted in a memorandum, “the very late date of receipt makes investigations or conclusive analysis difficult, if not impossible.” Still, they gave it a shot, and their analysis determined: 

“A microscopic examination discloses that the photo is not ‘doctored’ and apparently not an emulsion flaw. The absence of any horizon, objects or perspective for contrast or comparison purposes makes analysis somewhat difficult. In the opinion of this office… the trail shown here appeared to be similar to those left and the wake of missiles.” However, the analysis noted, “the closest missile launching site to the observer’s location is white sands, New Mexico, a distance of approximately 300 miles from Amarillo."

No conclusion was reached beyond the suggestion the photo was either of a missile trail or a hoax. Independently, Joseph J. Keeley, Security Officer for the University of Michigan Engineering Research Institute, volunteered analysis from a faculty member, who noted that Kirby was a lapidarist, and he was, “of the opinion that it is a trick photograph made with stones.” 

The Disclosure to the Public

Once the Project Blue Book investigation was done, Kirby released the photo to the press, who reported, “he said authorities told him only recently he no longer had to keep the photo and story quiet.”

The Eagle, Nov. 11, 1957

The Texas Bank and Trust in Dallas seized on the opportunity to exploit the publicity. They created an exhibit in their drive-in lobby and advertised in the Dallas Morning News, Nov. 4, 1957. Air Force files mentioned only 2 photos, but the bank claimed to have 6:

See First Actual Pictures of Unidentified Flying Object

Sighted near Amarillo August 2, 1956, and held secret until now. Actual photographs by a Dallas resident as seen in yesterday's front page. Described by the U.S. Air Force as a “navigable object,” these 6 pictures which have been closely guarded for the last year will be on display beginning this morning in Texas Bank’s Drive-Through Auto-ramic lobby.

NICAP’s The UFO Investigator, Jan. 1958, got overexcited about the secrecy aspect of the photo in their article, “Air Force Denies UFO Witnesses Muzzled Despite Order in Dallas.” Wanting to expose the cover-up, they said, “NICAP requests that anyone who has been silenced in regard to UFO information who is not in the armed forces send the details to this Committee.”

The inaccurate accusations of secrecy were repeated by George D. Fawcett a few years later in “The Flying Saucers are Hostile,” in Ray Palmer’s, Flying Saucers magazine, Feb. 1961.

In response to a 1960 inquiry about the case, Maj. Lawrence J. Tacker replied: 

“The Air Force file carries no conclusion on the photograph taken by Mr. J.G. Kirby near Amarillo, Texas on 2 August 1956. Not knowing what radiation vapor is, it is the Air Force opinion that some spokesman at the time speculated that the object was an irradiated vapor trail and was probably miss-quoted.

The Air Force is not aware of any release date for the photograph taken by Mr. Kirby. The original was in the hands of the owner and he was free to do with it as he pleased.”

There was a white lie in there. At the time, Air Force policy prohibited them from labeling witnesses as hoaxers. The case card for the Project Blue Book 26-page file summarized the case:

“Extenuating circumstances. No reference point in photo. Suspected hoax.”

The Project Blue Book 26-page file

By the time the Air Force received the Kirby photos and the other cases in that delayed package from OSI in Fort Worth, Texas, they had newer active investigations that demanded their time. They were busy with 1957 cases that had had exploded in the media, like the Levelland, Texas UFO, and the close encounter in Kearny Nebraska, reported by Reinhold O. Schmidt. The Kirby case and the others got shortchanged due to “Extenuating circumstances."

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

UFOs, Factoids, and True Confessions?

Legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh had some involvement with the UFO topic, and once discussed it with a famous buff, Dr. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. "Lucky Lindy" felt the information published on flying saucers was often distorted or untrue. Before we look at Lindbergh and UFOs, let's examine relating to his life of how facts can be replaced by fiction.

Witness statements and verbal testimony in UFO cases can be a problem. Even if truthful and accurate, their words can become twisted by reporters or investigators repeating the story. And of course, there’s the other problem. Sometimes, people lie. 

The question often comes up in relation to UFO reports: Why would someone make up a story? People do lie, and not just about UFOs. There may be lot of motives such as a desire for recognition, or fame and fortune. Sometimes they’ll do it as a bad joke. These falsehoods complicate the search for the truth and pollute the record when repeated by the media and those who record history. Sometimes without ill motive, the truth gets bent or broken, but once printed, endlessly cited as fact. Here’s two relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster: 

Fact: “a piece of information presented as having objective reality”

Factoid: “an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.”

Factoid was a term coined in 1973 by Norman Mailer to describe pseudo-facts, “which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion.” There’s a non-UFO example worth examination, an extraordinary claim that’s frequently repeated about one of the world’s most famous murder cases.

Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974), was the U.S. aviator who became internationally famous for making the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, 1927. Our focus relates to the tragedy five years later, the abduction and death of his 20-month-old son.

The 2010 book, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Scott Lilienfeld et al, had as Myth #46 “Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It,” stating, “false confessions aren’t uncommon in high-profile criminal cases. After world-famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped in 1932, more than 200 people confessed to the crime.”

The 1987 book Lilienfeld cited as a source was a dead end, as it did not provide its source. A search on Google on terms like “Lindbergh kidnapping 200 confessions” produces thousands of hits. What’s the basis for the claim? Many books, scholarly papers, and articles cite the following as a source. 

Confessions in the Courtroom by Lawrence S. Wrightsman and Saul Kassin, 1993. It stated:

Voluntary false confessions, those purposefully offered in the absence of elicitation, are on the face of it the most enigmatic… Why, for example, did more than 200 people confess to the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Apparently, a ‘morbid desire for notoriety’ could account for many of these as well as other examples in which numbers of false confessions are received for widely publicized crimes.” 

Their source was the 1959 book by O. John Rogge, Why Men Confess, which stated:

“More than 200 innocent people confessed to the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. At least 17 innocent persons confessed to the highly publicized sex murder of Elizabeth Short, who was known as ‘the Black Dahlia’…”

Rogge listed his source as an article by Martin Abramson, “Why Innocent People Confess to Crimes,” from Why: The Magazine of Popular Psychology, Jan. 6, 1952. Why was a digest-sized magazine with a slightly sensational and gossipy tabloid flavor. 

I was unable to locate that issue, but Abramson recycled the material five years later in a popular general interest digest magazine, Coronet September 1957. Martin Abramson opened “Make-Believe Murderers” by discussing false confessions in the "Black Dahlia” murder, then he turned to other crimes:

“The Lindbergh kidnap-murder of 25 years ago attracted an all-time record high of 205 false confessions. And while innocents were pouring out their pleas of guilty, the man really guilty—Bruno Hauptmann— went to the electric chair insisting on his innocence. This rash of confessions helped create much of the confusion that marked the police investigation of the case, delayed justice for an appreciable period and triggered a widespread belief that others [were] equally guilty…”

Mark W. Falzini was the archivist at the New Jersey State Police Museum and is one of the foremost experts on the Lindbergh case. In his 2012 book, New Jersey's Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial, he wrote:

“The Lindberghs immediately began to receive thousands of letters from the public—40,000 in the first month alone! One quarter were sympathy letters, one quarter came from psychics or people who had dreams about the baby, one quarter offered suggestions for the investigation, and the rest were crank letters.”

In the Lindbergh case, there were a few actual false confessions, but the majority of “confessions” were in the form of letters from malicious jokers. The FBI case file on the kidnapping states:

“One of the by-products of the Lindbergh case was a mass of misinformation received from the well-meaning but uninformed, and a deluge of crank letters written by insane persons, nitwits, persons with a degraded sense of humor, and others with fraudulent intent.” The report also listed five individuals and associates under the section “Frauds, Hoaxes and Unfounded Information.”

In Donald Anderson Laird’s 1935 book, More Zest for Life, he referred to instance of “the large number of false confessions that misdirect detectives and prosecutors. Take the flood of misleading and false confessions from all points of the civilized world from persons who ‘confessed’ being the kidnapers of the Lindbergh baby.” The 1943 memoirs of a newsman, Where's Sammy? By Sammy Schulman and ‎Bob Considine, described some of those crank letters:

 “The very next afternoon after the kidnapping, the local RFD man had three sacks of mail to deliver to the Lindberghs, and among the letters were dozens of ‘confessions’ by the mentally unbalanced. Many claimed to have the baby. The case was seriously affecting every addled brain in the country.”

The term confession is frequently used in a casual sense in conversations, like “I confess I cheated on my diet today.” Confession in the Catholic Church is a disclosure of one's sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. Legally, to confess generally means a criminal making a voluntary admission to authorities, either orally or in writing. Mailing an anonymous letter with an outrageous claim is quite a different matter than making the statement in public - or face to face with the police.

Some of the letters in the Lindbergh case were by pranksters, others were frauds claiming to be the kidnappers asking for the ransom money. Martin Abramson referred to these crank letters hyperbolically as “confessions” back in 1952, and other writers just repeated the anecdote. Since then, the factoid has been cited as fact, even in legal and scholarly discussions about aspects and ethics of criminal confessions.

UFO researcher on 75th anniversary of Roswell incident.

UFO cases are generally less well-documented and far more confusing than the Lindbergh kidnapping story. If the basic facts in such a famous criminal case can get distorted in print, it serves as a warning that what we’ve been told is UFO history could be just as flawed. 

Charles Lindbergh on Saucers and Space Exploration

Now for something that’s actually about flying saucers, including a meeting between two historic figures to discuss the reality of UFOs.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made his history-making solo trans-Atlantic flight in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Afterwards, he flew across the US in a 3-month publicity tour, managed by retired Marine pilot Donald E. Keyhoe. The experience was later documented by Keyhoe in the 1928 book, Flying with Lindbergh. That was the start of Keyhoe’s new career as an author of adventure stories and non-fiction, but his biggest fame came from the 1950 book, The Flying Saucers are Real.

After World War II, Lindbergh served as a consultant to the US Air Force and to Pan American World Airways. He also was interested in rocketry and was influential in obtaining financing for its research and development. Below is a photo of him during a visit to check on the progress at Roswell, New Mexico. 

 Life July 4, 1969: “In 1935 Lindbergh and space pioneer Robert Goddard stood together in the center of a group at Goddard's experimental rocket testing facility in Roswell, N. Mex.”

In 1942, Charles H. Zimmerman built a single-wing circular airfoil, the Chance Vought V-173, nicknamed the Flying Pancake. This propeller driven disk-shaped plane was tested in 190 flights up until March 1947. One of the pilots to fly the saucer-like plane was Charles Lindbergh, who thought it handled well.

UP photo, July 3, 1947

The Flying Pancake in Flying magazine, July 1950

The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung wrote the 1958 book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. In 1959 Jung requested a meeting with Charles Lindbergh in to discuss flying saucers and the works of Donald E. Keyhoe. Ten years later, he wrote a letter recalling their meeting and it was later published  as “A Visit from Lindbergh,” in the 1978 book, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters.  It revealed Lindbergh's interest and involvement with the UFO topic.

 Lindbergh felt 
Jung had been persuaded by both facts and factoids in UFO literature.

“I had expected a fascinating discussion about psychological aspects of the numerous and recurring flying saucer reports. To my astonishment, I found that Jung accepted flying saucers as factual. When I told Jung that the U.S. Air Force had investigated hundreds of reported flying-saucer sightings without finding the slightest evidence of supernatural phenomena, it was obvious that he did not wish to pursue the subject farther.”

Instead, Jung wanted to talk about saucer stories he’d heard and “referred to Donald Keyhoe’s recent book about flying saucers.”

Lindbergh had also read Keyhoe’s books and was able to provide Jung with examples of how the author exaggerated things, “to substantiate his claims about the reality of flying saucers.” He cited Keyhoe’s description of a secret high-level Pentagon meeting on the UFO topic as an example:

“... the officials attending the conference felt the situation was so alarming and serious that the information discussed should be withheld from public knowledge. I told Jung I had been working closely with the Air Force, as a consultant, at the time, and that Pentagon officials were not alarmed by reports on flying saucers, but astonished at the stories they read about flying saucers in the newspapers. The conference was called as a result of the plea, ‘For God's sake, somebody tell us what it's all about.’ It was not a secret conference. So far as I could judge, Jung showed not the slightest interest in these facts.”

Lindbergh portrayed Jung as being a bit cranky:

"I then described a discussion on flying-saucer reports I had carried on with General Spaatz (an old friend and Chief of the United States Air Force). ... Spaatz, in his dryly humorous way, had replied: 'Slim, don't you suppose that if there was anything true about this flying-saucer business, you and I would have heard about it by this time?' To this, Jung replied: 'There are a great many things going on around this earth that you and General Spaatz don't know about.' Thereafter, I departed from the subject of flying saucers."

Lindbergh was perplexed that Jung was uninterested in discussing "either psychological aspects or facts relating to flying saucers.” He concluded, 
I was fascinated by Jung. One intuitively feels the elements of mysticism and greatness about him—even though they may have been mixed, at times, with elements of charlatanism. I liked Anne's not unadmiring description of Jung as 'an old wizard.' ...the 'Old Wizard' just didn't open his mind to me on the subject of flying saucers. ... Jung was such an extraordinary man, surely one of our time's great geniuses. My admiration and respect for him remain, and I continue to find tremendous stimulation in his writings; but I approach his statements and conclusions with even greater caution than in the past." 

Lindbergh on Life, the Universe and Everything

A decade later, Life magazine asked Lindbergh to write an article about his views on the exploration of space. In a remarkable and lengthy reply, he refused. It was published in Life July 4, 1969, as “A Letter from Lindbergh.”

He explained how his priorities had evolved over his life and career. He had lost his interest in technology and more interested in nature, philosophy, and other big questions, such as: “What would be the result of artificially perfusing a head severed from its body? This question, especially, intrigued me…”

Lindbergh thought the limitations of technology (and our own bodies) might keep us from achieving interstellar travel. Instead, he wondered about a far-out spiritual journey.

“Will we find [physical] life to be only a stage... discover that only without spaceships can we reach the galaxies; that only without cyclotrons can we know the interior of atoms? … I believe it is through sensing and thinking about such concepts that great adventures of the future will be found.”

Charles Lindbergh died five years later at the age of 72, on August 27, 1974.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Two Arizona UFOs and Lester Bannick

Lester J. Bannick is best remembered for his one-man autogyro, the “Model T of the Air,” but he also experimented with other forms of aircraft. Two models had circular aerodynamic shapes. In other words, he built flying saucers.

Herald and Review (Decatur, IL) Oct. 10, 2007

He built a 17-foot diameter flying saucer, then a much larger hot air balloon in the same shape. At least two UFO sightings were reported due to his inventions.

Arizona Republic Dec. 8, 1969

Great suffering saucers! (Republic Photos by Nvle Leaflham)

Seen against the background of the Superstition Mountains, the silver object at left bears enough resemblance to the classic flying saucer to start a brand new outer-space invasion scare.  

That was exactly the shape Lester Bannick, center, had in mind when he designed his 66-foot-diameter balloon of mylar, silver foil-covered and lifted by hot air generated by a butane torch. Bannick was a Phoenix resident, known for his "flying lawnchair" gyrocopter, but now lives in California.

He built the balloon at Newport Beach but returned here for test flights at an abandoned airfield 10 miles east of Mesa. Even in the desert, the sight attracted a small crowd, including the Republic photographer.

The Engine-Powered Flying Saucer

 Lester Bannick’s first saucer was powered by a "souped-up auto engine. It had flown imperfectly about 17 times up until 1972 when he retired it. 

New Times Weekly (Phoenix, AZ) circa 1980.

The story from the  Yuma Sun June 13, 1982:

The Arizona Republic, July 14, 1982, reported that Bannick’s low-flying saucer had ended up as part of a nightclub sign, but it was removed due to code violations. After that, Bannick gave it to David Farrington, president of the Scottsdale, Arizona chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Farrington kept the grounded saucer alongside his airplanes in his hangar at Falcon Field.


The Mesa UFO Sighting of 1972

Lee Bannick's silver hot air balloon seems to have caused some excitement in the early 1970s. The APRO Bulletin, July 1977 featured a picture of a UFO on its cover, a classic flying saucer. Ufologist Wendelle C. Stevens (promoter of the Billy Meier hoax, and later sentenced for child molestation) wrote a story about the UFO sighting of Lee Elders. “Four color photographs were taken of [a domed cone-shaped object] in the skies over Mesa, Arizona, …on 11 November 1972.”

"The object was originally noticed by two kids who alerted Elders, “He thought that the object was immobile, or at best moving very slowly. …The children continued watching it for another 30 to 40 minutes until it went out of sight. …Mr. Skip Bryant, Ms. Harriet Hineman and 3 other friends… at the Arizona State – Oklahoma State football game, watched a strange pear-shaped bright silver object in the sky to the southeast with binoculars. It appeared to be more of a flat finish… shaped like a fat ice-cream-cone with the large end up… moved very steadily, with no bobble or wobble, and they didn't notice any rotation."

APRO Bulletin & Elders’ color photo from Open Minds: 1972 Mesa UFO Sighting

Stevens wrote there had been “a hot air balloon contest held at Mesa on the two weekends preceding the date…but all of the balloons were gone a week before the day of the sighting and photographs.” One had been flown by a Mr. Marvin Cooley, a silver balloon built by Lester Bannick. Stevens insisted the object photographed could not possibly have been one made by Bannick. “Whether we have a case of UFO mimicry here is difficult to say…. The mystery remains unsolved.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A UFO (Book) Report

Flying Saucers Over America by Gordon Arnold, (2022)

McFarland, $29.95 softcover, $17.99 ebook. 

227 pages and 17 photos, including chapter notes, a bibliography, and index. 


When a scholar or journalist takes a serious look at UFO history, it’s always interesting to see how they approach the topic and present their views and conclusions. Before discussing this book, it’s important to know something about the author, his background, and perhaps his purpose for writing it. From the Montserrat College of Art site, “Gordon Arnold is Professor of liberal arts… He teaches courses in film history, animation history, and the social sciences. Arnold’s research has resulted in a series of books that explore the history and social contexts of U.S. film and culture.”

Professor Gordon Arnold

Subtitled, The UFO Craze of 1947, Flying Saucers Over America, contains a preface where Arnold tells the reader that the book takes no position or promotes any particular UFO belief or agenda. Instead, he states, “…something unusual happened in the [1947] skies… but the jury is still out on what it was. …perhaps it is time to revisit what we do and do not know about these initial events and rethink whatever conclusions we may have drawn.” The author respectfully sets out to do just that, focusing on the foundational events of 1947 and the subsequent UFO investigations and events of the early 1950s, and the evolution of beliefs that sprung up about them. 


Chapter one opens with a quote from Carl Jung’s 1958 book, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. My hunch is that Arnold’s book began as a college course and that Jung’s book was required reading for it. Luckily, for those who haven’t read it, Jung’s classic is freely available at the Internet Archive. Arnold follows Jung’s lead that while UFO sightings are not purely psychological, our attempts to understand them often are. “In very short order, then, the public interpreted UFO sightings in light of what people already knew, or thought they knew, based on previous reports.”


The strength of Flying Saucers Over America is that it provides excellent historical perspective on the early flying saucer events and documents how the media and public reacted as these series of events unfolded. Typically, UFO books neglect to present anything but the sensational highlights like Kenneth Arnold’s historic sighting and the Roswell incident. Arnold covers those but examines the events in between, the reaction of the public and press, as well as the incidents that followed. He also touches on an important issue that’s often overlooked, how UFO activity and public interest seems to come and go, pointing out that after a few weeks in the headlines, flying saucers faded “into the background for a time” but would be rekindled by further events or newspaper stories.


Most of the book’s chapters focus on a single case or topic, so it reads like a collection of short essays or classroom lectures that, while thematically connected, can stand alone. The essays are not always presented in chronological sequence; Chapter 20, “Life on Mars” seems far out of place, as it describes 19th century beliefs that paved the way for notions of little men in flying saucers. Arnold returns to the role of imagination in the UFO topic in the chapter “Going Hollywood,”  discussing how motion pictures featured tales of alien invaders in spaceships before 1947, but by 1950 Hollywood science fiction was rebranded as flying saucer thrillers. He says, “As time passed, it would sometimes be difficult to sort out which ideas about unidentified aerial phenomena referred to actual events versus those originating in fiction.”


In chapter 28, “The UFO Myth” Arnold discusses how decades after 1947, the narrative of the Roswell incident came to encapsulate flying saucer beliefs into a single package. Arnold again seems to turn to Jung for perspective, saying, “In their compelling stories, myths reveal much about the society in which they thrive. Thinking of things as right or wrong in absolute terms may be a mistake.” 


Several chapters focus on the US government’s attempts to wrestle with the UFO problem and examines several aspects of the approach such as in “National Security and the Culture of Secrecy,” “Unknown Knowns,” and “The Bureaucratic ­Merry-Go-Round.” In “Visitors from Mars,” Arnold reminds us that the Cold War with the Soviets had the US in a state of agitation and paranoia, fearful of aerial invasions and of security leaks about their own military aviation weapon developments. This real policy of secrecy fueled the belief in a government UFO cover-up.


The focus of chapter 14, “A Laughing Matter,” is on the toll of ridicule and “jeer pressure” from the press and public towards witnesses. Arnold states, “It surely seems likely that some unknown number of sightings was never reported officially to anyone. Whether any of those would significantly alter our understanding of the phenomenon remains unknown.” 

Readers may be disappointed in the lack of examination of the flying saucer photographs of 1947. The 17 photos and illustrations in the book provide a bit of historical flavor, but they are more decorative than evidentiary, mostly stock photos of locations, aircraft, sample documents, etc. In that sense, it was a poor choice for the publisher to use a UFO photo for the book’s cover rather than a more atmospheric illustration of the author’s exploration of the cultural aspect of the UFO enigma.


Is Flying Saucers Over America a good book? Yes, but not a perfect one. It would be a good choice to read and then share with friends and family who are unfamiliar but curious about the UFO topic and its history. You might bookmark it for them and suggest your own chapter order for optimal enjoyment. For example, if you know they’d be more interested in the US government’s involvement, have them read the chapters on Project Sign, Grudge, Blue Book before some of the other "lectures."


Even a UFO scholar is likely to benefit from Arnold’s perspective as he presents a mosaic of the flying saucer age, the big picture of how UFOs affected our culture, prompted governments to react, and stirred belief in many people.

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