Sunday, February 19, 2017

James E McDonald's radar-visual cases

Hi all,


In early 1966, James E McDonald made his first trip to the USAF's Project Blue Book (Druffel, A. 2002. 'Firestorm.'  p.55.) Among other things, 'That afternoon, McDonald read about 80 case reports.' (Druffel p. 57.) Subsequently, he reviewed many other case files on the visit. He copied a number of case files to take away with him,

Image courtesy of Amazon Books

McDonald made a second trip to Blue Book, at the end of June 1966. (Druffel, p.137.) A third visit took place the next month. (Druffel, p.143.) 'In spite of McDonald's interest in numerous types of UFO reports, he realized that only those reports where documented proof could be obtained would convince the scientific community that UFOs were real. Two types which seemed to hold out hope of proof were: 1. Photo cases which held up under the most careful scrutiny; and 2. Radar-visual cases, where the objects were seen visually and monitored on radar at the same time.' (Druffel, p.287.)

'Reading that the Condon Committee had had access to R-V cases which were not known to the UFO community, he decided to visit Wright-Patterson AFB again to search for them. 'At the end of June 1969...He spent the next two days  going through the files for the fourth time and hand-typed notes on 18 cases. On this trip he carried with him a list of cases, mostly R-V, which he was most interested in tracking down.' (Druffel, p.337.) 'On his fourth Blue Book visit, McDonald was still denied access to classified R-V cases.' (Druffel, p.338.)

'...on May 18 (1970?-KB) he was hard at work in the Historical Division, Aerospace Science Institute at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama...But once he started studying the R-V files, McDonald realized he'd struck a bonanza. He spent an extra week there, copying literally hundreds of them...Greatly stimulated, he brought the files home and spent the next two weeks studying each case...' (Druffel, p.478.)

Where did these case files go?

Californian researcher Ann Druffel, worked with the late James E McDonald's wife, Betsy, to relocate McDonald's files to the University of Arizona.

In the August 2006 (number 460: pp 5-10) issue of the MUFON Journal, Ann Druffel, Vincent Uhlenkott and Ralph McCarron, published an article titled 'Scientist, ufologist James E McDonald's voice speaks again to researchers.'

MUFON Journal Aug 2006 issue

'Shortly before McDonald died, he wrote a letter to Betsy, stating his concern that his voluminous UFO files not be simply burned after his death, but archived in some form so that capable researchers could use them in further studies on the UFO phenomenon. Of particular concern to him were hundreds of Blue Book radar-visual (RV) sighting files which he had acquired in 1970 at Maxwell AFB, a few months after Project Blue Book was officially ended.' (Druffel et al, 2006, p.6.)

The University of Arizona Library's Special Collections Section agreed to house them. 'The Collection continues with the 580 Project Blue Book R-V files photocopied by McDonald at Maxwell AFB. These are in four boxes, filed chronologically by date, as McDonald originally arranged them. The dates on these R-V files begin with "June 1947, Hamburg, NY" and ends with "July 11, 1968, Nielson AFB, Alaska." (Druffel et al, p.7.)

University of Arizona

I visited the website for the University of Arizona's Special Collections - McDonald's UFO material. The MS412 collection summary in the 'scope of and content note', in part, states 'Contains photocopies of approximately 580 Project Blue Book sighting reports, mostly by pilots and some with airborne and ground radar verification.'

I copied the list of 'Series 2: Project Blue Book, 1947-1968,' to my computer. Indeed, as Druffel et al stated in 2006; the list starts with 'Hamburg, NY, June 1947 and ends with 'Nielson AFB, Alaska July 11, 1968.'

I noted that Druffel et al (2006) speaks of '580 Project blue Book R-V files,' while the University of Arizona's collection notes speaks of 'approximately 580 Project Blue Book sighting reports, mostly by pilots and some with airborne and ground radar verification.' So, at this point of my research, I was unsure whether or not all the 580 cases were R-V.

I therefore contacted a couple of senior US researchers and asked for their thoughts on this topic.

Researcher one, who wished to remain anonymous stated 'The McDonald papers at UA Tucson have approximately 20,000 to 22,000 pages, of which only about 7,000 pages have been copied by a CUFOS-led coalition nearly 20 years ago, and an unknown amount of the 7,000 pages digitised...How much is Radar-Visual is difficult to say...'

Researcher Jan Aldrich, responded 'Dr Michael Swords led a team of researchers to the University of Arizona on a two week look at McDonald's files...No one was looking for RV cases as a collection.'

An aside

The previously mentioned August 2006 MUFON J article stated, in part,'...Australian scientist inquired about the Blue Book R-V files..she [Betsy McDonald] allowed him to copy the R-V files...' As far as I can ascertain, no Australian, and indeed no global researcher, has copies of these copies of these R-V files.' The consensus among those I have asked about the identity of this Australian scientist, is that it was probably, Dr Michael Duggin.

Research work

I have been undertaking some work on this subject. I retyped the list of McDonald's approximately 580 Blue Book case files into an Excel spreadsheet. I then added references to such cases which I found in the records of the Michael Swords digital collection; and also cases found in Brad Sparks' 'Comprehensive Catalog of 1,700 Project Blue Book UFO Unknowns' version 1.27 dated Dec 20, 2016.

A section of my draft Excel spreadsheet

In addition, I checked each listed case against those held in the chronology section of the NICAP website. Noting that there were a number of cases, on McDonald's list where there was no NICAP chronology listing, or a detailed entry in the Sparks' catalog, I utilised Internet sources such as the Fold3 Project Blue Book documents, to prepare a case file summary, and a PDF file of the available documents. I have an ongoing project to do this for as many cases as possible, and am periodically submitting these to the NICAP website for use there.

Below, are two examples of the R-V cases, which appeared on McDonald's list.

July,11, 1968; Eielson AFB, Alaska

Visual observation

At about 0300hrs local time (1200Z) on 11 July 1968, three control tower personnel (aged 20,31 and 32) observed a bright, round orange coloured, self-luminous, solid, sharp-edged, object in a clear area of a partly cloudy sky. It was observed both with the naked eye and through binoculars. After 25 minutes, it was lost to view due to solar illumination (the Project Blue Book documents provide the time of sunrise as 0239hrs local) and haze in the atmosphere.

The estimated angular elevation was in the range 7-12 degrees. Two of the three men specifically stated that the object rose higher in the sky between 0300 and 0325hrs local, while the third man indicated it had moved but didn’t indicate whether it had risen or fallen in elevation. Their estimates of the object’s azimuth ranged from an initial position (180-195 degrees) to a final position (190-202 degrees) with one man stating his estimate as mag (magnetic.) Based on sketches drawn by the three men the object’s angular size can be calculated as in the range 0.2 to 0.3 degrees (Moon is 0.5 degrees.)
The tower contacted Major Gammon, 6th Strategic Wing supervisor. He reported, that at 0340hrs local he arrived at the tower, but by this time the tower had lost sight of the object. He could see nothing with his naked eye, however, based on RAPCON’s radar report, using binoculars, he picked up a dim object in the haze at 10-15 degrees’ elevation. It faded from view by 0345hrs local.

Radar observation

Donald A Sproul ATCS(T), Eielson RAPCON (Radar approach control) stated that he was contacted by the tower at 0405hrs ADT (Alaskan Daylight Saving Time.) He had noted a radar target at 18 miles, bearing 140 degree mag (SE-KB) (29 degree variation from true) from their radar antenna.

The target’s initial position was about 2 miles south of the Harding Lake tower on a SW heading. After 10 minutes, it turned; headed E; and 5 miles south of its initial point, headed SW. Then it slowed to 30 knots.  Observed for a total of 35 minutes and faded 10 miles E of Cold King airport. Two targets were noted on the observed track for ¾ of the paints. 10 minutes before it faded, two additional targets appeared at the same point as the original target first did. These tracked awhile then split into two targets, 15 miles SW of Harding Lake tower. One followed the rough track of the first object, but the second tracked due W and was lost 30 miles S (180 degree magnetic from the antenna.)

A check was made with 744 ACW Squadron at Murphy Dome (22 miles W of Eielson AFB.) However, no radar or visual sighting was made by Murphy Dome.

Project Blue Book analysis

There were no known aircraft in the area; nor any balloons. There were no unusual weather phenomena noted.

Project Blue Book concluded that the radar observations were probably due to anomalous propagation (Sproul talked of ‘ghost’ returns in his report.) Project Blue Book concluded that the tower visual observations were caused by the Moon.

My own analysis

1. A check (using Your Sky, Fourmilab) sky chart revealed that, at 1200Z 11 July 1968 for Eielson AFB 64.6431N latitude, and 147.0638W longitude), it placed the Moon at 2.2 degrees’ elevation at azimuth 190 degrees.  At 1225Z the Moon was at elevation 1.7 degrees, and azimuth 196 degrees. For comparison, the PBB papers, at 1200Z, places the Moon at 5-6 degrees’ elevation, azimuth 194 degrees; and at 1225Z at elevation 4-5 degrees, azimuth 201 degrees.

2. Fourmilab places the Sun almost on the horizon at azimuth 29 degrees (NNE.)

3. Could the observed object have been the Moon?

Points for the object being the Moon are

a.       * It was round in shape.

b.     *  It was 0.2-0.3 degrees across, the Moon is 0.5 degrees.

c.      *  The Moon was roughly in the observed position.

d.       * There have been instances of UFO reports being caused by the Moon at low elevation.

e.     *   None of the observers reported seeing the ‘UFO’ and the Moon together in the sky.

Points against it being the Moon

a.       * It was said by all three to be orange in colour. The Moon can appear orange due to it being in eclipse, but there was no total or partial Lunar eclipse that night. It can also appear orange due to dust particles in the sky, say due to forest fires. No fires were reports, only ‘haze.’

b.       * Two of the three observers reported their object gained angular elevation over the 25 minutes. The Moon lost angular elevation.

c.      *  There are several degrees’ difference between the object (higher in the sky) and the Moon (lower in the sky.)

As can be seen, there are points both, for and against the object being the Moon. Regarding pro point e. Could the Moon have been hidden from view by the terrain as seen from the tower? Indeed, it could have been. Amongst the Project Blue Book documents are topographic maps with elevations (in feet) of high points. One of the maps shows the estimated visual direction of the object, and there is a point shown on the map (near Blair Lake 1404 feet) which would appear to be 3-4 degrees’ elevation, as seen from Eielson AFB. Thus, it may be possible that the Moon was indeed hidden from the observers. (A much more detailed analysis than I can perform here would be needed to be more certain.)

So, based on the Project Blue Book data, yes, the radar returns may well have been anomalous propagation, that would not have been noted unless the tower asked for the radar operator to look. I am much less certain as to whether, the Moon was the object observed.

October, 14,  1957; North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, California

A few minutes before 1900hrs local (October 14) (0300z Oct 15); three individuals, Vyrl E Ewing (Ac/3), Douglas Cowen (MM1), and Margaret Davis (Ac/c), Air Control Section No 3, Naval Air Station, North Island, were on duty.

Ewing noted a bright, round, white light, bearing 210 degrees True, from the tower; which remained stationary, at an estimated altitude of 300 feet, for about two minutes, then became ‘smaller and smaller.’ After, 1-2 minutes, the apparent same object reappeared slightly to the north and a bit lower than before, slightly brighter than the first occasion.  It remained stationary for about two minutes and then faded away.

Project Blue Book record card

For a third time, a light appeared about one minute later, again slightly to the north and lower. This third time it seemed to vary in intensity, wobbling slightly. A halo encircled the upper half of the object. Its colour at this stage was white with a bluish tinge on one side. It remained in sight for one to two minutes. As he was at this stage vectoring in an aircraft towards the object, he is unable to say how it disappeared. At some stage, binoculars were used to view the object. Its estimated angular size was 1.2 degrees as calculated from Ewing’s statement. Sky visibility was good.

The Project Blue Book report contains a statement by the aircraft pilot. At about 1900 hrs local time, a flight crew consisting of LtJG Glenn T Conrad, Jnr; William E Standley (radar operator) and William “P” Cooley (ECM operator), were warming up an S2F-1 Grumman S-2 tracker aircraft, on the runway, for a night flight. The tower cleared the flight and requested that the crew maintain 200 feet and proceed to check out a stationary object at Point Loma, bearing 210 degrees magnetic from the tower. (Note, the tower personnel said it was at 210 degrees True.) The co-pilot and pilot observed the light from the runway.

The aircraft took off, climbed to 200 feet while keeping the object in view. The pilot’s strategy was to proceed seawards of the light and silhouette it against the lights of San Diego. However, when it was abreast of the light, off the aircraft’s right wingtip, it underwent a rapid acceleration away from them, to the west. There was relative motion between it and the lights of San Diego. The light began to vary in color and intensity, between bright red and blue-white, at irregular intervals.

The pilot turned west, heading 230 magnetic with the light dead ahead. The aircraft radar required four to five minutes to warm up; then the radar operator reported a target dead ahead at 17 miles and above them. The sky was clear ahead and above. There was a discernible horizon and low clouds 30 miles west. Stars were visible, bright and clear, but small and dimmer than the object.

From Point Loma out, the object climbed steadily and the pilot followed in a gradual ascent at 140 knots IAS, closing irregularly. At 4,500 feet, the object levelled out, 12 miles ahead and then drifted right ten degrees in about five seconds. The pilot turned to 240 magnetic, levelled off, and increased speed to 160 knots. The range closed to ten miles and stabilised. After following for about three minutes at ten miles’ range, the pilot decreased speed to 120 knots but observed no range rate on radar.

The pilot then accelerated to 180 knots IAS and observed no range rate. The object drifted 20 degrees to the left (220 magnetic) in no more than ten seconds and then closed range to eight miles in one rotation of the radar antenna (7.5 seconds.) The range stabilised to eight miles and the pilot gradually climbed the aircraft. At 8,000 feet, and about 40 miles from Point Loma, the object levelled out, disappeared visually and off radar. 15 seconds later, it reappeared visually but not on radar. The visual observation was continued until the aircraft was 50 miles from Point Loma. The object faded from view bearing 230 magnetic, 58 miles from Point Loma.

My comments

1. The Project Blue Book explanation was ‘Arcturus in position of reported light (bearing 220 deg) at about 05 deg elevation and setting at 1920.’ Arcturus was in fact at 4 degrees’ elevation, azimuth 290 degrees. Up to 70 degrees away from the object.

2. The planet Venus was at 4 degrees’ elevation, azimuth 238 degrees. Its brightness was magnitude -4.1. The planet Saturn was visible, at 10 degrees’ elevation, azimuth 237 degrees.

The Michael Swords digital collection

While doing the above work, I looked at a set of McDonald's papers in three folders, in the Michael Swords digital collection, labelled 'Maxwell,' reasoning that this was the most likely location to find at least some of McDonald's R-V collection. Between these three 'Maxwell' folders, I found details on 45 Project Blue Book cases. There are 28 typed notes on individual cases, apparently typed by McDonald during visits. Some cases in the folders, are simply one page Project Blue Book Record Cards; while others are multi page reports. Some cases are visual only, while others are radar-visual in nature.

A check of my McDonald listing (of 583 cases) Excel spreadsheet, against the 45 'Maxwell' Project Blue Book cases, revealed that all of them are recorded in one source or another, e.g. Sparks; Swords; NICAP.

I found two of these 'Maxwell' incidents of interest, even though they featured lights only, and not some form of 'classic flying saucer.' They were:

14 March 1953, Sea of Japan

During a routine patrol into the Sea of Japan,  a ten man crew from Patrol Squadron Twenty-Nine, based at US Naval Air Station Atsugi, were flying a P2V-5 aircraft. The weather at their altitude was clear, on top of broken overcast, estimated to have a base at 4,000 feet, and tops at 8,000 feet. The air was smooth and stars were clearly visible.

The aircraft was returning to base, after a routine anti-submarine patrol for TF-77, finishing at 2256I. The TF-77 control ship alerted the aircraft at about 2311I that there were two or three aircraft targets in the area of the P2V at about the same altitude. These targets showed friendly IFF but could not be identified. The P2V radar operator tracked one of these unknowns which crossed the bow of the P2V at less than four miles. Nothing was seen visually.

At about 2343I, the P2V was at an altitude of 10,000 density, heading 120 degrees magnetic at 160 knots indicated. The co-pilot saw something unusual in the sky and alerted the pilot. The following is what the pilot reported.

The pilot, Lt R J Wooten, saw a display of coloured lights. They were in groups from four to six in number, lasting about three seconds; disappearing, then reappearing after ten seconds. Sometimes two groups appeared simultaneously. Each group appeared to maintain a relative position to the aircraft. They moved aft along the port side and disappeared just off the wing after five minutes.

After first being seen, the entire crew was alerted of the presence of the lights and all saw at least some of the lights. The radar operator reported a target 45 degrees off the port bow at a distance of seven miles. It looked like an aircraft. The radar bearings matched the area where the lights were seen visually. At one point there appeared to be two targets which merged.

The pilot discounted the possibility that the lights were due to tracers or rockets, due to their extreme precision in separation and lack of motion. No sound was audible above the engine noise. The pilot estimated that about 20 separate groups of lights were observed, totalling perhaps 90-100 individual lights.

The co-pilot added that the aircraft was at 12,300 feet indicated and that then lights were at the same altitude. He estimated that it took the lights four minutes to drift from the 1030 position to the 9 o'clock position. He stated that most of the lights were red in colour, but that there were occasionally a few yellow and some with a bluish tinge.

The Project Blue Book conclusion was 'Unidentified.'

14 April 1953, Sea of Japan

At 2123I, a P2V aircraft was at 43:07N; 135:40E, at 9,000 feet when the crew observed two bright lights flashing in code letter 'D.' The unknown aircraft paced the P2V at 12 miles distance to 41:45N; 132:20E, where three more unknown aircraft appeared. The P2V descended to 2,000 feet and the aircraft closed to three miles.

At 2243I at 39:05N; 136:33E, the P2V descended to 400 feet. There were now ten unknown aircraft present. From 2243 to 2350, the P2V 'was the target of at least 70 aggressive non-firing passes.' The unknown aircraft made high speed passes, some from the beam, but most from the stern 'all passing under the P2V still flying at 400 feet...At least two passes were made by four aircraft. The unknown aircraft departed as a group when the P2V was about 100 miles off Niigata, Japan.

What were some of the R-V cases which McDonald himself, considered significant?

1. 'The 1957 Gulf Coast RB-47 Incident.' (Flying Saucer Review 1970. 16(3):2-6.)

2. 'UFOs Over Lakenheath in 1956.' (Flying Saucer Review 1970. 16(2):9-17.)

3. Kincheloe AFB, Michigan. Sep 11-12, 1967.

4. US Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. Oct 14, 1957.

5. Gulf of Mexico B-29 Dec 6, 1952. (Source: 3-5. 'Meteorological Factors in Unidentified radar Returns.' Proceedings 14th Radar Meteorology Conference. Nov 17-20 1970. Tucson Arizona.)

In conclusion

I have identified sources, where some of McDonald's R-V cases reside, but it would appear, that no-one today, other than the University of Arizona's Special McDonald's collection, has a copy of all of these R-V cases, in one place.

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