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The B-57 1954 "unseen" UFO picture

US aviation company Martin made a few promotional pictures of their licensed version of the British English Electric Canberra jet bomber, named Martin B-57 "Night Intruder" or "Canberra" in the US.

Here is one of them; it shows a B-57B in the background, and an RB-47 variant with longer wingtips for high altitude reconnaissance in the foreground:

Another of these photographs was taken at some time in September 1954 above Maryland (or sometime in 1954 above Edwards Air Force base according to other sources) and shows a B-57B:

The photo is still offered among other B-57's and RB-57's pictures in the Wright Patterson Air Force Base web gallery, the caption indicating that the plane had S/N 52-1550:

A curious blob was on the top right corner of the photograph, and somehow it found its way to NICAP (National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena, a large private ufology group in the US).

NICAP's photographic adviser Ralph Rankow, a New York photographer, investigated the image in 1964, and wrote:

No one actually reported seeing with their own eye the saucer-like object in the upper right portion of the picture. Even so, the object evoked such curiosity that another flight was reportedly made over the same area to look for ground reflection that may have caused it - although I understand none were observed.

A close scrutiny of the B57 photo shows the trees, bushes and houses all casting long shadows, but the object throws no shadow on the ground whatsoever. Moreover, (and this point is very important), the dark parts of the object are much too strong to be so far away. As the trees, bushes and houses get farther away, the haze cuts down their intensity and contrast. And the wooded area in the distance directly behind the object is fuzzy and weak by comparison with the strong highlights and shadows of the UFO itself.

In my analysis report to NICAP, I also pointed out that the object obviously had dimension. Its pattern of light and shadow is consistent with the rest of the picture, with the sun low and coming from the left. The object is also symmetrically shaped and contains all tones of gray, from white to black.

He was particularly puzzled when the Martin Company finally provided him no less than three different versions of the same picture (see underneath).

According VSD UFO Special @2 magazine in 2000, he asked Pittsburg University people to check the pictures and evaluate if they explain as mere scratch on the negative, and apparently the University shared his doubts about that.

And on UFO pictures in general, he wrote:

Since any photograph of a UFO can be fabricated, none can be accepted as proof of the reality of an object, without a witness of confidence.


In truth, no photograph, no matter how clear it may be, can be considered evidence of UFO reality without a reliable witness.

A UFO can be any shape, not just saucer or cigar shaped. This makes it very easy to fake by anyone, and furthermore any unintentional mark on a film can be, and sometimes is claimed to be a UFO.

And of course, because there wasn't even a witness in this case, he did not list the image in his listing of the strongest photographic evidence of UFOs.

The ever changing image:

According to the case summary by skeptic ufologist Ronald Story, Martin Aircraft Company people tried to persuade ufologists that it was only a scratch on the film. Here is the close-up of the blob as it was on the original image:

Unfortunately, reprints over reprints, the feature became more and more blurred. But oddly enough, it also changed, and the image on which recent comments are made generally looks much more like:

Notice, among other changes, how the dark patches under the lower middle bright line have simply disappeared.

Things became more curious when the Martin people they produced a second (or third?) version of the photograph, which they handed to UFO investigators during the debate on the nature of the blob. The new photograph was unexplainably touched up, a scratch being added across the "scratch" or "UFO"; which gave it a "jagged appearance" (Story), in any case, a very different appearance in my opinion, where the bright and dark parts are almost substituted:

But that was not the end. Story tells that a third version of the picture was provided by Martin Aircraft Company to ufologists, in which the UFO was now practically completely "brushed off." However I did not find close-ups of the brushed off version in ufology sources.

And now?

When I consider the B-57B pictures currently available at the Wright-Patterson AFB website, it does indeed seem that the appearance of the scratch/UFO has not changed; but this particular image is regrettably not available in any sufficient resolution as the other one is. This other image can be downloaded here, the file is 5MB 4096*3156 JPG version of the picture at the top of the page showing both the B-57B and the RB-57.

Since then, nothing new surfaced, the original image was left unexplained, and the reason for the touch ups on the two later versions were never provided or found.

Every once in a while, ufologists of various positions present one or the other version of the image and comment on it, either "discovering the explanation" it is a scratch or rub dirt on negative, or as a "genuine flying saucer" photograph.

The photograph has also occasionally received cruel punishment on the Internet. One example is:

Here we see that practically no useful information is presented. The year is erroneous, probably "B-57" has changed year 54 into 57. The image aspect ratio is altered (typical debutant webauthor mistake) and of poor quality, badly scanned from a French UFO special magazine "VSD Hors Serie special OVNI #2" of summer 2000, the "scratch" or UFO is enlarged in the opposite corner. To naive readers, the comment that a "B57 was approached by a UFO" is deceiving. Nobody "saw" the UFO, it makes no sense to claim that it "approached" the B-57. Using the word "approached" misguides the reader into assuming that the UFO must have seen visually.

On another web site from Russia, now disappeared, the webmaster simply claimed the picture shows a UFO "chasing a Russian plane", just because he never noticed the blurred USAF insignia on the poor quality picture he found and never came to the idea of identifying the plane and assumed it must be Russian.

What do I think?

First, I stick to a few principles I like to follow with alleged UFO photographs:

Second, I just want to tell ufologists of all positions who insist on "analyzing the B-57 UFO picture": don't use poor versions only, check this one out:

French ufology group CNEGU published an article in their magazine "Les Mystères de l'Est" for 2004 in which, I am told, they provide the true image which they say is the original one and shows nothing at all in the upper right corner, which is evidence that the ever-changing feature is a scratch, it seems.

So, what is this so-called UFO to me?

No, it is not a "forgery", no, it is not a negative fault, neither something on the ground in the distance, and neither an extraterrestrial craft. It is the scratch mark caused by the staples that one put on the top right corner to hang it on a display panel, quite simply. That's why it's there in some prints, missing in another, that's why it "changes" with time.


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This page was last updated on May 16, 2008.