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Science and the UFO phenomenon:

"Statement on Unidentified Flying Objects"

This statement has been submitted by Dr. James E. McDonald, Senior Physicist, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, and professor, Department of Meteorology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics at July 29, 1968, Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, Rayburn Bldg., Washington, D.C.

I created a table of content below; which was not part of the original scientific publication. The 56 pages publication is some 250Kb and I broke it in several files for acceptable web access speed.

Please go to the Science section of this website for more scientific papers by James E. McDonald and other scientists, plus comments and information regarding scientists' work and position about the UFO phenomenon.

Table of content

Dr. James E. McDonald.


Is there any evidence of hazard or hostility in the UFO phenomena?

Official statements have emphasized, for the past two decades, that there is no evidence of hostility in the UFO phenomena. To a large degree, this same conclusion seems indicated in the body of evidence gathered by independent investigators. The related question as to potential hazard is Perhaps less clear. There are on record a number of cases (I would say something like a few dozen cases) wherein persons whose reliability does not seem to come into serious question have reported mild, or in a very few instances, substantial injury as the result of some action of an unidentified object. However, I know of only two cases for which I have done adequate personal investigation, in which I would feel obliged to describe the actions as "hostile". That number is so tiny compared with the total number of good UFO reports of which I have knowledge that I would not cite "hostility" as a general characteristic of UFO phenomena.

One may accidentally kick an anthill, killing many ants and destroying the ants' entrance, without any prior "hostility" towards the ants. To walk accidentally into a whirling airplane propeller is fatal, yet the aircraft held no "hostility" to the unfortunate victim. In the UFO phenomena, we seem to confront a very large range of unexplained, unconventional phenomena and if among them we discern occasional instances of hazard it would be premature to adjudge hostility. Yet, as long as we remain so abysmally ignorant of over-all nature of the UFO problem, it seems prudent to make all such judgments tentative. If UFOs are of extraterrestrial origin, we shall need to know far more than we now know before sound conclusions can be reached as to hazard-and-hostility matters. For this reason alone, I believe it to be urgently important to accelerate serious studies of UFOs.

In the remainder of this section, I shall briefly cite a number of types of cases that bear on questions of hazard:

1. Car-stopping cases:

In a two-hour period near midnight, November 2-3, 1957, nine different vehicles all exhibited ignition failures, and many suffered headlight failures as objects described as about 100-200 ft long, glowing with a general reddish or bluish glow, were encountered on roads in the vicinity of the small community of Levelland, Tex. (Ref. 10, 13, 14). This series of incidents became national headline news until officially explained in terms of ball lightning and wet ignitions. However, on checking weather data, I found that there were no thunderstorms anywhere close to Levelland that night, and there was no rain capable of wetting ignitions. Although I have not located any of the drivers involved, I have interviewed Sheriff Weir Clem of Levelland and a Levelland newspaperman, both of whom investigated the incidents that night. They confirmed the complete absence of rain or lightning activity. The incidents cannot be regarded as explained.

This class of UFO effect is by no means rare. In France in the 1954 wave of UFO sightings, Michel (14) has described many such cases involving ignition-failure in motorbikes, cars, etc. Similar instances were encountered in my checks on Australian UFO cases. There are probably of the order of a hundred cases on record (see Ref. 10 for a list of some dozens). In only a very few cases has there been any permanent damage to the vehicle's electrical system. In the Levelland case, for example, as soon as the luminous object receded from a given disturbed vehicle, its lights came back on automatically (in instances where the switches had been left on), and the engines were immediately restartable. The latter point in itself makes the "wet ignition" explanation unreasonable, of course.

It is unclear how such effects might be produced. One suggestion that has been made as to ignition-failure is that very strong magnetic fields might so saturate the iron core of the coil that it would drive the operating point up onto the knee of the magnetization curve, so that the input magnetic oscillations would produce only very small output effects. Only a few oersteds would have to be produced right at the coil to accomplish this kind of effect, but when one back-calculates, allowing for shielding effects and typical distances, and assumes an inverse-third-power diple field, the requisite H-values within a few feet of the "UFO diple" end, to speak here somewhat loosely, come out in the megagauss range. Curiously, a number of other back-calculations of magnetic fields end up in this same range; but obviously terrestrial technologies would not easily yield such intensities. Clear evidence for residual magnetization that might be expected in the foregoing hypothesis does not exist, so far as I know. The actual mechanism may be quite unlike that mentioned.

How lights are extinguished is even less clear, although, in some vehicles, relays in the lighting circuits might be magnetically closed. The lights pose more mystery than the ignition. Such cases do not constitute very disturbing questions of hazard or hostility. One might argue that highway accidents could be caused by lighting and ignition failures; however, more serious highway-accident dangers are implicit in other UFO cases where no electrical disturbance was caused. Many motorists have reported nearly losing control of vehicles when UFOs have swooped down over them; this hazard is distinctly more evident than hazard from the car-stopping phenomenon. Indeed, the number of instances of what we might term "car-buzzing" instances that have involved road-accident hazards is large enough to be mildly disturbing, yet I know of no official recognition of this facet of the UFO problem either. An incident I learned of in Australia involved such fright on the part of the passengers of the "buzzed" vehicle that they jumped out of the car before it had come to a stop, and it went into a ditch. A similar instance occurred not long ago in the U.S. For reasons of space-limitations, I shall not cite other such cases, though it would not be difficult to assemble a list that would run to perhaps a few dozen.

2. Mild radiation exposure:

By "radiation" here, I do not mean exposure to radioactivity or to other nuclear radiations, but skin irritations comparable to sunburn, etc. I have interviewed a number of persons who have experienced skin-reddening from exposure to (visible) radiations near UFOs. Rene Gilham, of Merom, Indiana, watched a UFO hovering over his home-area on the evening of Nov. 6, 1957, and received mild skin-burns, for example. I found in speaking with him that the symptoms were gone in a matter of days, with no after-effects. The witnesses in a car-stopping incident at Loch Raven Dam, Md., on the night of Oct. 26, 1958, who were close to a brightly luminous, blimp-sized object after getting out of their stopped car, experienced skin-reddening for which they obtained medical attention. Without citing other such instances, I would say that these cases are not suggestive of any serious hazard, but they warrant scientific attention.

3. More serious physical injuries:

James Flynn, of Ft. Myers , Fla., in a case that has been rather well checked by both APRO and NICAP investigators, reportedly suffered unusual injuries and physical effects when he sought to check what he had taken to be a malfunctioning test vehicle from Cape Canaveral that had come down in the Everglades, March 15, 1965. I have spoken with Flynn and others who know him and believe that his case deserved much more than the superficial official attention it received when he reported it to proper authorities. He was hospitalized for about a week, treated for a deep hemorrhage of one eye (without medical evidence of any blow), and suffered loss of all of the principal deep-tendon reflexes for a number of days, according to his physician's statement, published by APRO (Ref. 45).

An instance of more than mere skin-reddening, associated with direct contact with a landed unidentified object reportedly occurred in Hamilton, Ontario, March 29, 1966. Charles Cozens, then age 13, stated to police and to reporters (and recounted to me in a telephone interview with him and his father) that he had seen two rather small whitish, luminous objects come down in an open field in Hamilton that evening- He moved towards them out of curiosity, and states that he finally moved right up beside them, and touched the surface of one of them to see what it felt like. It was not hot, and seemed unusually smooth. One of the two small (8 ft by 4 ft plan form, 3-4 feet high) bun-shaped objects had a projection on one end that the boy thought might have been some kind of antenna, so he touched it, only to have his hand flung back as a spark shot out from the end of the projection into the air. He ran, thinking first to go to a nearby police substation. But, on looking over his shoulder after getting to the edge of the field and seeing no objects there, he decided the police might not believe him and ran to his home. His parents, after discussing the incident at some length with the frightened boy, notified police, which is how the incident became public knowledge. Two others in Hamilton saw that night seemingly similar objects, but airborne rather than on the ground. Cozens was treated for a burn or sear on the hand that had been in contact with the projection at the moment the spark was emitted. On questioning both the boy and his father, I was left with the impression that, despite the unusual nature of the report, it was described with both straightforwardness and concern and that it must be given serious consideration. Clearly one would prefer a number of adult witnesses to an individual boy; yet I believe the case will stand close scrutiny.

There are a few other such reports of moderate injury reportedly sustained in direct physical contact with landed aerial objects for which I do not yet feel satisfied with the available degree of authentication. It would be very desirable to conduct far more thorough investigations of some foreign cases of this type, to check the weight of the evidence involved. That only a very small number of such cases is on record should be emphasized.

4. Rare instances suggesting overt hostility:

In my own investigative experience, I know of only two cases of injuries suffered under what might be describable as overt hostility, and for which present evidence argues authenticity. There are other reports on record that might be construed as overt hostility, but I cannot vouch for them in terms of my own personal investigations.

In Beallsville, Ohio, on the evening of March 19, 1968, a boy suffered moderate skin burns in an incident of puzzling nature. Gregory Wells had just stepped out of his grandmother's house to walk a few tens of yards to his parents' trailer when his grandmother and mother heard his screams, ran out and found him rolling on the ground, his jacket burning. After being treated at a nearby hospital, he described to parents, sheriff's deputies, and others what he had seen. Hovering over some trees across the highway from his location, he had seen an oval-shaped object with some lights on it. From a central area of the bottom, a tube-like appendage emerged, rotated around, and emitted a flash that coincided with ignition of his jacket. He had just turned away from it and so the burn was on the back of his upper arm. In the course of checking this case, I interviewed a number of persons in the Beallsville area, some of whom had seen a long cylindrical object moving at very low altitude in the vicinity of the Wells' property that night. There is much more detail than can be recapitulated here. My conversations with persons who know the boy, including his teacher, suggest no reason to discount the story, despite its unusual content.

After checking the Beallsville incident, I checked another report in which burn-injuries of a more serious nature were sustained in a context even more strongly indicative of overt hostility. I prefer not to give names and explicit citation of details here, but I remark that there appears to me, on the basis of my present information and five interviews with persons involved, to be basis for accepting the incident as real. Partly because of its unparalleled nature, and partly because some of the evidence is still conflicting, I shall omit details and state only that the case, taken together with other scattered reports of injuries in UFO encounters, warrants no panic response but does warrant far more thorough investigation than any that has been conducted to date.

5. UFOs and other electromagnetic disturbances:

There are so many instances in which close-passage of an unidentified flying object led to radio and television disturbance that this particular mode of electromagnetic effect of UFOs seems incontrovertible. One would require nothing more than broad-spectrum electromagnetic noise to account for these instances, of course.

There is a much smaller number of instances, some of which I have checked, in which power has failed only within an individual home coincident with nearby passage of a UFO. Magnetic saturation of the core of a transformer might conceivably account for this phenomenon.

Then there are scattered instances in which substantial power distribution systems have failed at or very near the time of observation of aerial phenomena similar, broadly speaking, to one or another UFO phenomenon. I have personally checked on several such instances and am satisfied that the coincidence of UFO observation and power outage did at least occur. Whether there is a causal connection here, and in which direction it may run, remains quite uncertain. Even during the large Northeast blackout, November 9, 1965, there were many UFO observations, several of which I have personally checked. I have inquired at the Federal Power Commission to secure data that might illuminate the basic question of whether these are merely fortuitous, but the data available are inadequate to permit any definite conclusions. In other parts of the world, there have also been reports of system outages coincident with UFO sightings. Again, the evidence is quite unclear as to causal relations.

There is perhaps enough evidence pointing towards strong magnetic fields around at least some UFOs that one might hypothesize a mechanism whereby a UFO might inadvertently trigger a power outage. Perhaps a UFO, with an accompanying strong magnetic field, might pass at high speed across the conductors of a transmission line, induce asymmetric current surges of high transient intensity, and thereby trip circuit breakers and similar surge-protectors in such a way as to initiate the outage. There are some difficulties with that hypothesis, of course; but it could conceivably bear some relation to what has reportedly occurred in some instances.

I believe that the evidence is uncertain enough that one can only urge that competent scientists and engineers armed both with substantial information on UFO phenomena and with relevant information on power-system electrical engineering, ought to be taking a very close look at this problem. I am unaware of any adequate study of this potentially important problem. Note that a problem, a hazard, could exist in this context with out anything warranting the label of hostility.


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