High Strangeness: Case #144: Unexplained

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Case #144: Unexplained

A few days ago, the always interesting UFO Conjecture(s) blog posted a link to a great profile of the U.S. Air Force's first official UFO study, "Project Sign." This "evaluation" of Sign was written in 2000 by historian Michael Swords, a man that UFO Conjecture(s) describes as "a 'ufologist' you can trust implicitly and always, a true academic and honest man." 

I agree. Not only do I think Michael is a great person, I also think that no UFO writer can keep track of and explain so clearly the dizzying mass of interlocking moving parts that make up the world of UFO research as effectively as Michael. The paper is worth a read. You can find it HERE.

I took a special interest in the section of the paper in which Michael addresses Dr. J. Allen Hynek's role in "Project Sign," since it's also a big part of the book I'm writing about Hynek's career.

Michael quite rightly points out the sometimes confused and convoluted thinking that went onto some of Hynek's early analyses of UFO sighting reports. Hynek, young and inexperienced as he was, had an odd knack for declaring that a UFO sighting had no possible astronomical explanation and then going on to demonstrate that there was indeed an astronomical explanation after all.
The famous Chiles-Whitted mid-air encounter of 1948.

This is quite evident in Hynek's assessment of the 1948 Chiles-Whitted Case, in which two airline pilots reported that a wingless missile with two rows of windows and a flaming exhaust had zoomed past them at 700 miles an hour in the skies above Alabama... Here's how I depict Hynek's analysis of "Case #144" in my book:

“For #144, there is no astronomical explanation, if we accept the report at face value,” Dr. Hynek admitted in his lengthy analysis of the sighting. “The sheer improbability of the facts as stated, particularly in the absence of any known aircraft in the vicinity, makes it necessary to see whether any other explanation, even though far-fetched, can be considered.”
He then went on to consider just such a far-fetched explanation. Taking into account the “tremendous outburst of flame,” the “cigar-shaped” fuselage, the “orange-red flame,” the sighting duration of “five to ten seconds,” and the fact that the object “disappeared into a cloud,” Hynek wrote “this much, at least, could be satisfied by a brilliant, slow-moving meteor.” In other words, as long as he left the two rows of illuminated windows, the intense blue glow along the bottom of the object and the apparent deliberate course-correction out of his analysis, the object could have been a speed-challenged meteor. He felt that this possibility was supported by the fact that McKelvie, the passenger, had given a description that did not tally with that of a spaceship, “but does agree with that of a meteor.”
Hynek really tied himself into knots on that one, and I especially enjoy his absurd declaration that "the description... did not tally with that of a spaceship." How's that again?

As Michael Swords points out in his paper, this was typical of the good Doctor. But in this case at least, I begin to see the first glimmers that Hynek realizes there is something very strange going on here. It's not often discussed that a witness in Georgia saw the strange craft from the ground an hour earlier than the pilots' mid-air encounter -- Michael only gives it a brief mention in the paper -- but that the testimony of the witness on the ground turns the whole incident into a Gordian knot of confusion, one that Hynek was unable to explain with any degree of certainty.

The witness on the ground was in the Eastern time zone and saw the strange craft rocketing to the west. Therefore, the craft had crossed into the Central Time Zone by the time the pilots saw it "an hour later." See the problem? An hour later in the Central Time Zone is actually not an hour later; it's two hours later. And there's Daylight Savings Time to factor in...

Hynek realized this, and the resulting mental gymnastics of his analysis are a wonder to behold. By the time you finish with Hynek's report, you have no idea whether any of the witnesses could tell time at all, and whether the two sightings took place one hour apart, two hours apart, or simultaneously...

Is it any wonder we still can't explain any of this?

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