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The Ellsworth AFB radar multiple visual case, 1953:

In this file:

Click! The Ellsworth AFB 1953 case, discussion.
Click! The official report by US Air Force's Project Blue Book.
Click! The events by Capt. Ed Ruppelt, USAF ret., head of Project Blue Book.
Click! The article in TRUE Magazine by Capt. Ed Ruppelt, USAF ret., head of Project Blue Book.
Click! A word on the case by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, astronomer and consultant of Project Blue Book.
Click! The study of the case in the Condon Report, with comments.
This page A skeptical article in Magonia magazine, 1994, with comments (This page).
Click! Case summary by Robert Emeneger.
Click! References.

An article in Magonia Magazine, 1994:

This is extracted of the article by John Harney, from the highly skeptical Magonia Magazine #49, June 1994.

IN SEARCH OF THE REAL UFOS

[...]

Rapid City, South Dakota, 12 August 1953

Shortly after dark, the Air Defense Command radar station at Ellsworth Air Force Base, just east of Rapid City, received a call from the local Ground Observer Corps Filter Center. A woman observer at Black Hawk, about 10 miles west of Ellsworth had reported an extremely bright light low on the horizon to the north-east. The radar scanner was turned to cover this part of the sky and a well-defined, bright target was seen in the direction in which the light had been reported. The height-finding radar was then turned on the object and it was found to be at 16,000 feet.

The controller arranged to be put through to the GOC observer and together they compared notes on the object. The observer noticed that it was starting to move towards Rapid City. This was confirmed by radar. The controller sent two men outside to look and they saw the object. It made a wide sweep around Rapid City and then returned to its original position.

The controller then called on the pilot of an F-84 to intercept it. The UFO began to move when the pilot got within about 3 miles of it. The pilot chased it about 120 miles north, then had to turn back because he did not have enough fuel. He had gone beyond the range of the radar, but his blip reappeared a few minutes later, followed at a distance of about 15 miles by the UFO. Another pilot was sent up to intercept it and the same thing happened; this time the UFO went north-east.

When the object went off the radar scope it was heading towards Fargo, North Dakota, so the controller called the Fargo Filter Center. A short time later they called back to say they had reports of a fast-moving bright light.

The above account is a condensed version of the report given by Ruppelt (3). However, Menzel explained the radar contacts as false images caused by a temperature inversion, and the visual sightings as the star Capella. (4) He had little but Ruppelt's summary to go on, and his explanation was too simple, as we can see from the Condon report (5). Hynek thought that the stars Capella, Arcturus and Betelgeuse, the planet Jupiter, and at least one meteor were involved in the visual sightings. The investigators agreed with Menzel's theory about the radar echoes. The description of the sightings given in the Condon report gives a very different impression from that given in Ruppelt's account.

Discussion

I have chosen these reports in an attempt to demonstrate that not all serious UFO reports obviously point to the ETH as an explanation, even when they remain unexplained, and that the only thing that most UFO reports have in common is a belief by the witnesses in the ETH or a desire, often subconscious, to believe in it.

A factor which might tend to weaken the first case is that the witnesses delayed for some time before making an official report. It thus seems likely that they would have compared notes in order to present mutually consistent accounts. It is also likely that the witnesses were all well known to one another, as they worked at the same place. It might be argued that they must have underestimated the wind speed and possibly failed to appreciate the local effects on wind speed and direction caused by nearby buildings.

The second case seems rather stronger. The height of the object was calculated by comparing the reports of the different groups of witnesses. The object seems to have contained far more energy and lasted much longer than the average lightning ball. It certainly seems worth adding to the list of possible or probable ball lightning reports. A number of good cases of ball lightning have no doubt been lost to science because they were reported as UFOs and published in the sort of book or journal which is unlikely to be available in most science libraries.

The Rapid City case is a good example of what can happen when people are predisposed to consider the ETH as a possible explanation for some UFO reports. A sighting of a bright star near the horizon by a Ground Observer Corps volunteer triggered off a series of visual and radar sightings of what appeared to those involved to be a single, puzzling UFO because of an unusual combination of circumstances on that particular night.

If the idea of extraterrestrial UFOs was not available to the witnesses to excite their imaginations it is most unlikely that two aircraft would have been sent chasing after stars.

Another lesson from this case is that accounts of UFO incidents, even in books by such authoritative writers as Ruppelt, can be very misleading and always need to be cross-checked with other sources.

Conclusions

The effects on witnesses of the ETH should always be considered when reading or investigating UFO reports. The ETH strongly distorts many reports of unusual phenomena, or normal objects seen in unusual conditions. Some good reports may be sightings of rare and poorly understood natural phenomena. Although it is desirable for there to be multiple independent witnesses, they are no guarantee that anything really strange or unusual has taken place.

In rejecting the ETH as a blanket explanation for all puzzling UFO reports it is important not to substitute another blanket explanation, such as mirages or ball lightning. In comparing new reports with cases described in the literature it should be realised that many of these are highly inaccurate summaries of the original reports, and some of them are totally false.

It is only by separating the ETH from the UFO that any progress is likely to be made in obtaining reliable information about the unusual natural phenomena which probably generate some of the more interesting UFO reports.

References

  1. Hynek, J. Allen. The Hynek UFO Report, London, Sphere Books, 1978, 149-151
  2. Hendry Allan. The UFO Handbook, London, Sphere Books, 1980, 120-121
  3. Ruppelt, Edward J. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, New York, Ace Books, 1956, 304-308
  4. Menzel, Donald H. and Boyd, Lyle G. The World of Flying Saucers, New York, Doubleday, 1963, 167-170
  5. Thayer, Gordon D. Optical and radar analyses of field cases , in Gillmor, Daniel S. (ed.), Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, New York, Bantam Books, 1969, 132-136

Some short comments:

IN SEARCH OF THE REAL UFOS

[...]

Rapid City, South Dakota, 12 August 1953

Shortly after dark, the Air Defense Command radar station at Ellsworth Air Force Base... [...] ...A short time later they called back to say they had reports of a fast-moving bright light.

This summary is almost decent when compared with the Air Force documents. It is more accurate than many other summaries of both "Anti UFO" or "Pro UFO" scent. It is only somehow incomplete.

The above account is a condensed version of the report given by Ruppelt (3). However, Menzel explained the radar contacts as false images caused by a temperature inversion, ...

Unfortunately for Menzel's theory, it does not fit with the facts: a low altitude temperature inversion layer will never generate a 16.000 feet high defined and moving echo.

...and the visual sightings as the star Capella. (4)

Unfortunately for Menzel's theory, the pilot's report excludes that they saw a star, unless one believes that both of them lied, which would be at odds with the second pilot's display of disbelief in UFOs right before he scrambled.

He had little but Ruppelt's summary to go on, and his explanation was too simple, ...

He could have had more if he had asked the Air Force's report. However, Ruppelt's report was detailed enough to understand that the case cannot be explained away so easily, unless one believes that Ruppelt invented the details of his summary.

...as we can see from the Condon report (5).

Unfortunately the Condon report's evaluation is plagued with bias, contains severe omissions and facts that are completely at odds with the original Air Force investigation report.

Hynek thought that the stars Capella, Arcturus and Betelgeuse, the planet Jupiter, and at least one meteor were involved in the visual sightings.

Hynek's job was to choose among those astronomical phenomenon, those who could be proposed to explain the reported phenomenon. In the end his opinion was not at all that the case is explained by these. (If one adds the star Mirfak cited in the Condon report, one wonders how USAF pilots do not report every starry night as UFO invasion.)

The investigators agreed with Menzel's theory about the radar echoes.

How very surprising.

The description of the sightings given in the Condon report gives a very different impression from that given in Ruppelt's account.

Correct. As I note in my discussion of the case, the Condon report has removed all the significant information in the Air Force's investigation report so that their explanations seem sensible.

Discussion

I have chosen these reports in an attempt to demonstrate that not all serious UFO reports obviously point to the ETH as an explanation, even when they remain unexplained,...

Agreed: the theory that some UFOs are best explained (sometimes by far) with the theory that they are of extraterrestrial intelligent origin does not in any way imply that anything unexplained is of extraterrestrial origin. I doubt that any "ETH proponent" would disagree. It does not make the "ETH" weaker.

and that the only thing that most UFO reports have in common is a belief by the witnesses in the ETH or a desire, often subconscious, to believe in it.

In the Rapid City case, remember that the second jet pilot intended to show that the first pilot was a nutcase and that there is no UFO out there. The GOC woman may have been a UFO enthusiast, who knows, but she was also a GOC member reporting a light in the sky exactly as she was supposed to, following a standard operating procedure. Hysterical or not, it was he job.

I maintain that the Condon Report investigator and Dr. Menzel have a subconscious desire to not believe in UFOs. This explains the pseudo-science and/or omissions and errors in their approach of the question.

A factor which might tend to weaken the first case is that the witnesses delayed for some time before making an official report.

Yes very often, but certainly not in the Rapid City case. Reports were all in real time from one witness to the other. Blue Book's Ruppelt was there very fast. If a study comes after a delay, it is Condon's, yet they claimed that they would only investigate recent UFO cases.

It thus seems likely that they would have compared notes in order to present mutually consistent accounts. It is also likely that the witnesses were all well known to one another, as they worked at the same place.

Absolutely not true in the Rapid City case: the GOC woman, the radarmen, the pilots, the ground witnesses at Fargo "compared notes" in real time, of course! If they did not call one another, then the GOC woman would not have done her job, and of course there would have been no case at all. This would have made Menzel's job easy, obviously. But what is the solution? "If you think that you are seeing a UFO, don't ask anybody to take a look too?"

Also, the witnesses involved in the Rapid city case did not work at the same place and have at least three very different job types.

The second case seems rather stronger. The height of the object was calculated by comparing the reports of the different groups of witnesses.

Absolutely not so! The height of the object was measured with the height finder radar at Ellsworth AFB! This is very typical of the summaries by the "Anti ETH" authors.

The object seems to have contained far more energy and lasted much longer than the average lightning ball.

Obviously! Ball lighting last a few seconds to a record 1.5 minute. They certainly are not travelling 120 miles. They do not appear without stormy weather conditions.

It certainly seems worth adding to the list of possible or probable ball lightning reports. A number of good cases of ball lightning have no doubt been lost to science because they were reported as UFOs and published in the sort of book or journal which is unlikely to be available in most science libraries.

Certainly not. First, good cases of ball lighting were lost because nobody wanted to believe the witnesses. And ball lightning do not leave "hard evidence."

However, ball lightning cannot last as long as in the Rapid City case, for a simple question of their need of a power source (thunder) to last a few seconds and exceptionaly up to a minute. Physics quantitative appreciation exclude any ball lighting explanation in the Rapid City case because there is no underlying theory to account for a ball lightning phenomenon of this behaviour and characteristics. There may be one some day, of course, but in the meantime, because there is no such theory, the extraterrestrial origin theory is not weakened.

The Rapid City case is a good example of what can happen when people are predisposed to consider the ETH as a possible explanation for some UFO reports. A sighting of a bright star near the horizon by a Ground Observer Corps volunteer triggered off a series of visual and radar sightings of what appeared to those involved to be a single, puzzling UFO because of an unusual combination of circumstances on that particular night.

If the idea of extraterrestrial UFOs was not available to the witnesses to excite their imaginations it is most unlikely that two aircraft would have been sent chasing after stars.

This does not weaken the theory of an extraterrestrial cause for the Rapid City case: this merely claims that if the witnessed had not found the display interesting, no one would have cared about it. Certainly so.

Also, while one may suggest that everyone was hysterical, the second jet pilot was biased the other way: his intent when he voluntarily scrambled was to explain away the UFO as some misinterpretation of a normal phenomenon.

Another lesson from this case is that accounts of UFO incidents, even in books by such authoritative writers as Ruppelt, can be very misleading and always need to be cross-checked with other sources.

Absolutely not so. What is to be learned here is that the Condon reported ommitted the most significant characteristics of the case. There is no discrepancies in the original accounts by the witnesses, by the Air Force investigation and in Ruppelt's summary. There are exaggerations in late summaries of the events in the following UFO literature, but it is up to us dedicated UFO researchers to refer to the original documents by the people originally involved in the events and in the on-field investigation rather than to the large mass of fantasies in cheap fanzines or books of commercial-only inspiration.

Conclusions

The effects on witnesses of the ETH should always be considered when reading or investigating UFO reports. The ETH strongly distorts many reports of unusual phenomena, or normal objects seen in unusual conditions. Some good reports may be sightings of rare and poorly understood natural phenomena. Although it is desirable for there to be multiple independent witnesses, they are no guarantee that anything really strange or unusual has taken place.

Multiple witness per se is guarantee of nothing. Was is required is multiple independent witnesses, with some experience of observation of the sky for example, and completed with detection though other media. In the Rapid City case, all of this is provided, including two radar systems, gun camera film, visual sightings by two pilots, visual sighting by a GOC member, visual sightings by airmen etc.

In rejecting the ETH as a blanket explanation for all puzzling UFO reports it is important not to substitute another blanket explanation, such as mirages or ball lightning. In comparing new reports with cases described in the literature it should be realised that many of these are highly inaccurate summaries of the original reports, and some of them are totally false.

The almost totally false summary is that in the Condon Report. It is a severe flaw because the Condon Report is intended to be a scientific study.

It is only by separating the ETH from the UFO that any progress is likely to be made in obtaining reliable information about the unusual natural phenomena which probably generate some of the more interesting UFO reports.

Belief or disbelief in the "ETH" plays no significant role in the Rapid City case: for example, one pilot is accused of being a believer, while the other pilot was a dis-believer, yet their reports are of the same nature. Radar systems have no belief, nor do gun cameras.

As of today, more than 50 years after the Rapid City case, hour long fast travelling jet chasing high altitude calm weather manoeuvering plasma is still a myth repeated by those who have a subconscious desire to reject the notion of interstellar visits.

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