Monday, February 20, 2012

James E McDonald in Australia

Hi all,

Dr James Edward McDonald, an American atmospheric physicist, studied the UFO phenomenon in great detail between 1966 and his tragic death in 1971.

I only recently caught up with Ann Druffel's book about McDonald, titled "Firestorm: Dr James E McDonald's Fight for UFO Science," published by Wild Flower Press, Columbus, ISBN 0-9266524-58-5, even though it came out in 2003.

I was specifically interested in chapter 8, "Forays Into Other Lands" which describes his 1967 trip to both New Zealand and Australia.

Australia as viewed by McDonald:

For those readers who haven't taken a look into this era of Australian UFOlogy, it is well worth the look. UFO groups were organisationally large public bodies, with several hundred members each. One of the largest was the Victorian Flying Saucer Research Society (VFSRS - now VUFORS - click here for their website.)

Chapter 8 of the book covers quite a bit of Australian UFOlogy for this era. While here, McDonald "...consulted with numerous veteran researchers, including Peter Norris, Ian McLaren, Roy Russell and Stan Seers among others. (p.171.) For my previous, detailed posts on Peter Norris, click here, here and here. Click here for details of Seer's book.

"McDonald was always on the lookout for cases where some type of possible physical evidence had been obtained. " (p.173.) The chapter provides concise details of cases such as the 5 Mar 1967 Coyle photographs; the 23 August 1953 T. Drury movie film; the 2 Apr 1966 James J. Kibel Melbourne photograph; the 6 Apr 1966 Westall High School incident; the 26/27 June 1959 Gill CE3 at Boianai; and the 19 January 1966 Tully "nest" case.  (See my Australian catalogue here for details.)

At that time, research on UFOs tended to steer clear of cases where the witnesses reported "occupants." "The Gill case made a deep impression upon McDonald, but he did not discuss it very much during his numerous talks, mainly because it involved the question of occupants." (p.183.)

The rest of the book:

The search for a better scientific investigation of the UFO phenomenon, occupied McDonald's time. He spoke at meetings of many professional bodies and associations such as the RAND Corporation; the United Aircraft Corporation and the American Meteorological Association.

McDonald closely re-investigated a number of classic UFO events, e.g. the 24 Apr 1964, Soccorro, new Mexico event; the 3 Aug 1965 Heflin photographs; the Lakenheath-Bentwaters case of 1956. McDonald also assisted bring about open UFO hearings in the US Congress. "McDonald's lobbying is a masterful example of how to work the halls of Congress." (p.224.) These hearings took place on 29 Jul 1968.

With the publication of the University of Colorado "Condon" report, McDonald took great issue with its findings, and spent time rebutting it. "It was quickly discovered that Condon had come up with extremely negative 'conclusions', which were placed at the front of the Report - which most people in the UFO field, including McDonald, considered a strange place to put 'conclusions.'" (p.283.)

Was there a secret Government study group?

One of the key questions concerning UFO researchers of this time, was whether or not there was a "secret" government group studying the UFO phenomenon.

"McDonald found it hard to accept that a question as serious as the UFO problem was being furtively studied by a "secret group" of scientists in the Air Force, as Don Keyhoe and NICAP hypothesized, while the scientific community had no means of knowing who was involved." (p.380.)

A book:

"McDonald decided to write a book which would tell the history of scientific UFO research and present the best evidence-documented physical aspects such as radar-visual; cases, power outages, car ignition failure and other EM interference resulting from UFO passage. He was confident that such a book would be well received in the scientific community because of his good reputation and his many contributions to atmospheric sciences." (p.369.) The book was never written.

What were UFOs?

What did McDonald propose as the explanation for the UFO phenomenon? "McDonald never publicly made conclusive statements that the UFO phenomenon was extraterrestrial. In his writings, he referred to the ET hypothesis as "...the least unsatisfactory hypothesis."" (p.273.)

Mystery surrounds some aspects of McDonald's research. "About a month before he was due to testify in March, top-level government officials reportedly got in touch with McDonald." (p.491.)

In February 1971, McDonald was in conversation with Dr Robert M Wood (a physicist who worked for McDonnell-Douglas.) Although Druffel reports that Wood doesn't recall the exact words used by McDonald, he recalls McDonald saying something along the lines "I think I've got the answer;" "I found out what's behind it;" "I just can't tell you right now;" "You won't believe it! I've got to pin it down a little bit more, and then I'll come out." (p.492.)

In 1973, Wood said "I think he found the trail to the classified work...and some documentation that made it pretty clear that there was a cover up going on, that this was the most classified program in the country." (p.492.)

Unfortunately, the UFO research community was not to find out just what McDonald had meant, as he died, by his own hand, on 13 Jun 1971.

This short post doesn't do justice to the wealth of material which is in Druffel's book. I am in the process of a second reading, at a much slower pace, of what is an excellent book. If you haven't read it, I suggest you track down a copy, ( click here) set two days aside, and read it from cover to cover.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's a great book and particularly the way Druffel stays focused on McDonald and his ideas. Sadly, it's true to ufology that whatever he thought he'd found out about the phenomena faded away with his final breath. A tragedy in so many facets...

    She did an interview for Tim Binnall that is extensive and quite moving. It was the interview that caused me to get the book and it coloured my impressions throughout.

    I wonder if he really discovered something significant or was he an early recipient of the myths that seem to stem from shady USAF sources? Despite his extensive papers and diaries, the absence of an origin for these apocryphal recollections can only leave us to speculate.

    Whatever the truth was, it's quite astonishing that he managed to work so hard and produce so much in that short period.

    In case any of your readers haven't listened to Ann's interview, the link is :


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