Friday, May 8, 2020

The UFO interests of Larry Lemke


I keep coming across, new to me, pieces of information while re-reading Jacques Vallee's "Forbidden Science" series of diaries. For example, on page 287 of volume four, in an entry dated January 1996 is a piece where Robert T. Bigelow is speaking to Vallee about candidates to fill a chief UFO position with the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS.)

Courtesy Amazon Books

"Our best candidate is Larry Lemke from AMES, who has an avid interest in UFOs, a guy in his early 40's, he's coming over. We spoke to his boss Scott Hubbard, but Larry's wife doesn't want to move to Vegas."

I thought it would be of interest to document what I could find out, about Larry Lemke's interest in UFOs. I have done this both from Internet sources, and direct corrspondence with Lemke by email. I am grateful to Larry for taking the time to answer my questions.

The start of his interest

Q "Where did your interest in the UFO phenomenon come from?"

A "Looking back on it from the perspective of an adult, I now realize that my interests in UFOs came from my father. I am a baby boomer - born in 1947. I remember, when I was 5 years old, sitting at the dinner table one evening in the summer of 1952 when the subject turned to "flying saucers." I had never heard of the term, but it was all over the newspapers and TV because (as I now understand it) the 1952 UFO flap over Washington DC was in full force. When I asked about "flying saucers" my father gave a rather matter-of-fact description that treted the subject as real and serious. In retrospect, I didn't realize how unusual that response was, because ridicule and dismissal was the most common response. What it did however, was to give me permission to take the  subject seriously. Which I did, at least in an intellectual way, through my young adulthood.

A few decades later, in my mid-adulthood, and in response to my question of "what did you do in the war dad?" (that would have been WWII, of course) my father openend up and explained that he had been involved with the UFO subject - both informally and working for the government - since before WWII. It's quite a story, and one that my siblings and I want to write up and share. I now realize that if I had been born into a different family, my view on the subject would have been entirely different.,

Starting at about age 40, I started having the occasional sightings of UAP myself. So now, the interest had gone past intellectual and is experimental."

1989- a sighting

Q "So, from your answer to the previous question, you mentioned occasional UAP sightings. Would you mind providing a little detail on these observations, and what insights they brought to you?"

A "In 1988-1989, I spent a year working at NASA HQ in Washington DC as part of a professional development program. That program ended on September 30, 1989, and on October 1st of that year I started driving across country back to my home in Silicon Valley. My older brother (since deceased) was sharing the driving responsibilities and we reckoned it would take about 7 days to complete the drive. On the last full day of the drive, which I think was Oct. 6, we were crossing the Arizona-California border at the city of Blythe on Interstate Highway 10, just at sundown. We were heading due West. About 10 miles after crossing into California, we both noticed a bright light at about our 11:00 position in front of and slightly below the ridge of a line of hills about 8 miles distant (about 5 degrees of elevation angle) and apparently some height from the ground.

The light was approximately (but not exactly) the color of the sodium vapor lamps that are common in that area for road and highway illumination. We both assumed without comment that it was probably an aircraft anti-collision light on a tower or some such. After driving for about 5 miles we had passed the hills, we looked back, and saw the same light, now at about our 8:00 position and again between us and the ridge line. We realized that the light had "flown" or otherwise moved over the hill crest and was more or less paralleling our progress along the highway, but still some miles away.

We pulled off to the side of the road to observe it through an 8 power monocular. My brother was also an aerospace engineer at the time and so we both set about discussing what kind of aerospace vehicle this could be. The light was perfectly steady, non-directional, and of uniform surface brightness.

It was clearly bigger than a point source; we compared its size to that of some large oak tree canopies which were nearby on the hillside and estimated the diameter of the light source to be about the same diameter (about 100 ft.) It was not doing anything extraordinary as far as motion was concerned. The best description I could give of its motion is that it was just "hanging out." It was hovering above the desert surface at variable altitudes. Sometimes it would rise a little, sometimes descend, never moving very fast. When it got lower, it would light up the desert floor below it. Clearly, it was pretty bright. It was bright enough that if it had been a flare or helicopter, the parachute or rotor would have been visible.

We drove on absorbed in thought and conversation. A few minutes later we looked back and it was gone. A few minutes after that, a light which could have been the same one appeared at nearly our 12:00 position and at an elevation angle of about 30 degrees and moving slowly antiparallel to the highway. A few minutes after that, a second light, identical to the first appeared following the first light in trail and apparently at the same altitude. We were entertaining the conjecture that maybe we were witnesssing a night time aerial refuelling in progress when both lights simply winked out. It was as it someone just turned a rheostat down and the lights quickly got dimmer and then were gone.

A few minutes later we looked back and what appeared to be the original light, again at out 8:00 position and perhaps a few hundred feet above the desert floor. Since we had, at that point, proceeded perhaps another 15 miles down the road, we realized the light was keeping up with us. At the point of closest approach, the light was about 4 miles away, and that is where we got the best look at it. That's where I noticed a puzzling feature on it that it took me a while to interpret. In all, the light was in sight for the better part of 45 or 50 minutes.

Because the event was so long, was witnessed by two unimpaired observers, and defied identification as any conventional aerospace device by two qualified experts, I had to conclude that I had seen a genuine "unidentified." I can't say it was an object, so I would call it an Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, or UAP. It wasn't highly strange as UAPs go, which was probably a good thing. It was just strange enough to absolutely convince me that it was unconventional but not so strange that I would have to doubt my own sanity. As a result, I came away absolutely, positively knowing (not believing) that there are rare unexplained phenomena out there flying around in what we like to think of as "our" airspace."

Into the field

Q "What happened then?"

A "That realization ultimately drove me out of the armchair and into the field. As soon as I became convinced that there were real UAPs out there, the scientist in me could no longer justify not investigating them. As it happened, Dr Richard Haines and I worked in the same building at NASA-AMES at that time. I knew of his interest in and research interests in UAP and told him my story. To make a long story short, I started joining him as a collaborator behind the scenes in his case investigations for about a decade."

Q "Can you provide an example case?"

A "One of the cases we investigated was a small cluster of sightings that occurred in the area around Clear Lake, in Northern California in the mid 1990s. At that point in time, there were a huge number of Hollywood producers eager to produce content for sale to cable TV channels. We were approached by one such group who wanted to cover the Clear Lake sightings, so Dick and I agreed to serve as technical experts. They had a modest budget to work with, and one of the things they decided to do was hire a local aerial photographer to be on standby to try to capture aerial imagery, if possible. The photographer was a commercial pilot who owned a specially equipped light aircraft outfitted with high resolution air to air and air to ground cameras.

We planned a campaign to the Clear Lake area, and one evening, as luck would have it, the pilot sighted a set of unidentifieds coming in off the Pacific Ocean and heading straight up the Napa Valley, going almost due North. It was about 9 or 10 at night, as I recall, and the 4 apparently identical objects were self-luminous, flashing on and off irregularly. We got about 20 or 30 seconds of good imagery before the speed of the objects carried them out of the range of the camera, and that was enough for me to do a time and motion study in which we were able to put reasonably good limits on distance, size, speed, and luminosity of the objects. They appeared to be classic, 100 ft. diameter discs flying horizontally. I'm not sure the resulting feature film ever appeared on TV and I never published my results, but I had personally come to a new level in my relationship with the phenomena.

My first chance sighting in the desert convinced me that there were undeniably physically real and puzzling phenomena flying around. The Clear Lake episode convinced me that it was possible to "do science" on the phenomena. We had gone to a "hot spot" armed with science instruments (high-res cameras, in this case) gathered data on the phenomena (imagery and instrument readings from the aircraft), analyzed the data and deduced physically meaningful conclusions. Those were all the essential elements of the modern scientific method."

1996 - NIDS

Q "In around 1996, I underatnd that you were approached by Robert T. Bigelow, or his associate, with an offer to head up the UFO side of the National Institute for Discovery Science? May I check if this is correct? If so, would you be able to elaborate a little on the role of that position? I understand you declined the offer? May I ask why?"

A "Yes, I was one of the individuals who was approached by Bob Bigelow to come to work for NIDS. I don't remember if I approached him or the other way around, but he ended up flying me down to Las Vegas for an interview and ended up offering me the job of working on his "UFO desk." One of the stipulations was that I would have to move to Las Vegas and work full-time on the job, and I was just not in a position to do that. Eric Davis ended up getting the job and - frankly - probably did a better job that I would have.

In any case, a few years later, Joe Firmage started up ISSO and allowed me to run his "UFO desk" working part-time in Silicon Valley. That was a much better fit, and fun while it lasted."

Joe Firmage Image

1999 - Joe Firmage

Q "I understand that Joe Firmage founded ISSO in October 1998 and that the science operation side of things commenced in July 1999. May I ask you to elaborate on what you did at his "UFO desk;" for how long; and what results were obtained?"

A "I should start by noting that I worked for Joe part-time, while retaining my day job as an aerospace engineer for NASA-AMES Research Center. When I started, Joe and I agreed on a program that initially had 3 elements. First, Joe had spent the prior year or two going around to all the existing UFO groups and experts (FUFOR, MUFON, the "Usual suspects") trying to educate himself on the topic. As a result of that, he was interested in doing things with some of those groups and experts.

He wanted to support some of them in the research they were doing and he wanted to preserve some of their records which he feared were in danger of disappearing when the researchers retired or died. I agred to undertake to do those two things, but I also required as a condition of my employment to start some new initiatives of my own.

As part of the first two objectives, I spent a fair amount of time going around to the usual suspects and acquainting myself with what they were doing and what kind of research activities they might be able to undertake if Joe was willing to support it financially. It was basically a planning exercise in which we were soliciting informal proposals from the various players with the idea of eventually choosing some of them to suppoort.

As one of my initiatives, I wanted to undertake one or more field investigations with the idea of countering the idea that "you can't do science with UFOs." Some version of that debunker criticism has been around since at least the Condon Committee."

UAP investment portfolio

"For the time I worked for ISSO in 1999, I was planning what our UAP investment portfolio was going to be in 2000. Unfortunately, we were overtaken by the dot-com bubble bursting later that year. By the time 2000 had arrived, Joe had lost most of his money and ISSO went out of business. The only plan I was actually able to see through to completion was to fund Dick Haines to try and preserve some of his work for posterity. As I'm sure you know, when an investigator has been around for a while and his name gets out, witnesses will come out of the woodwork from all over the world to report their sightings to that indvidual, hoping for some kind of explanation. Over the years, Dick had amassed several thousand pilot reports of UAP from all over the world. I gave him a grant to go through his data, extract the patterns and write up a report. The angle we were examining was whether UAPs represented an aviation risk.

Dick did write it up and produced a report, which became the foundational document for NARCAP which we started up in 1999."


"When I took the job with Joe, I wanted to see if I could extend the paradigm to the next level. One of the groups we considered working with was the group at the Hessdalen Valley, in Norway. At that time, it also seemed to be a "hot spot" similar to Clear lake. The volunteer group there had put together an observatory equipped with multispectral instruments of various kinds, so I went there one long weekened to see what they were up to and to see if I could witness the phenomena myself. As luck would have it, I did witness an example  of a luminous phenomenon albeit in the next valley over from Hessdalen.

One evening about 9:00pm, 4 of us were in a car returning from having dinner in a local town. We were driving North on the Eastern bank of a river that ran North-South when we all noticed a strobing light near the crest of the hills that formed the Western limit of the river valley. After realizing that the light was not fixed to the ground but was flying around, we decided to get out of the car and try to photograph it. I had a digital camera with a CCD imager and one of the other guys in the car had an SLR film camera and tripod. After 5 or 10 minute of effort, we were able to get near-simultaneous images with both cameras.

An enlargement of one of the photographs. Image

The film camera was set to a 2 seond time exposure and the digital camera was on autoexposure. The film camera caught the strobing effect and was able track the motion of the source, and the digital camera was able to capture a small but true image, which revealed the shape and luminosity of the source. Once again, we had shown you can "do science" on the phenomenon."

For a report on this observation and the images, please click here. 

2006 - NARCAP

Lemke was listed as one of the authors of the National Aviation Reporting Center for Anomalous Phenomena's (NARCAP) 155 page report on the November 7, 2006 O'Hare International Airport observations of an object which as it departed, left a hole in the cloud cover.

2008 - MUFON Symposium talk

At the 39th MUFON International UFO Symposium, which was held in San Jose, California between July 24-27, 2008, Larry Lemke is listed as a speaker.

"Larry Lemke, a San Jose based aerospace engineer who develops space mission projects for NASA said he applied 'the process of science and engineering analysis to UFO reports to uncover their critical aspects.'"

The June 2008 MUFON Journal provides the following summary of his talk.

Larry Lemke in 2008: Image courtesy MUFON Journal June 2008

"Larry Lemke:

Flying Disc Creates a Hole in the Cloud at O'Hare Airport

Larry Lemke will discuss his research on the "Hole In Cloud" phenomenon as exemplified in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport on November 7, 2006 case where airport employees reported seeing a saucer shape object hovering over the airport. He will also discuss a nocturnal light UAP case from Hessdalen, Norway. The Hessdalen case involves three witnesses and two independent photos,that occurred in the summer of 2000. Larry Lemke was director of research for the International Space Sciences Organization. He was one of the witnesses and photographers.

Larry Lemke is a professional aerospace engineer with more than 25 years of experience as a NASA employee developing advanced space mission projects. Prior to working in the space program, he worked as a research assistant on high energy physics experiments on the Stanford Superconducting Linear Accelerator.  He is a licensed pilot. He has a Bachelor Degree in Psychology and Physics...'

2015 - interview

"Larry Lemke, a retired aerospace engineer and a member of the executive advisory committee of the National Aviation Reporting Centre on Anomalous Phenomena is calling for a thoughful study of the UFO phenomenon. His comments represent only his own opinions, not that of any organizations with which he may be affiliated.

"I think UFO reports represent a substantive puzzle that warrants serious scientific attention without advocating any particular position on what the answers to that puzzle is...whether it is purely psychological, purely physical or some combination ot the two," he told

"Those of us who are old enought to remember the first half of the 'UFO era' have the definite perception that the public discussion of the topic has devolved," Lemke said. "As a society we are collectively stupider on the subject than we were a generation ago."

"There are many reasons for this 'dumbing down,' Lemke said, but one of them is the levelling effect of the Internet. For quite some time now, he said, it had become trivially easy for an individual to misidentify a rocket launch or a space craft re-entry, or to gin up a photoshop hoax and blast it around the world as a "UFO sighting."

"Then everyone 'researching' analyses and comments with all the depth of thought that can fit into a 140-character tweet," Lemke said.

Lemke thinks that the main challenge of 'UFOlogy' has always been to "decipher a small signal amid a large amount of noise."

"What we need to do is, elevate the conversation to the professional research scientist/engineer level," Lemke said. "At the moment, the action on this front appears to be with private groups in France and Chile who have agreed to co-operate in the open investigation of UFOs. I wish them well in  the coming years," he said.

2015 - Kecksburg incident 

In an article about the December 9, 1965 Kecksburg, USA incident, suggesting that the object was in fact a General Electric Mark 2 re-entry vehicle; authored by John Ventre and Owen Ekhler, there is a comment by David Rudiak which reads:

"Larry Lemke, literally a NASA rocket scientist (retired) emailed me with more reasons why the Mark 2 re-entry nose cone literally will, not fly as a possible explanation for Kecksburg. If you read the theories the launch from Johnson Island of a Thor missile (ICBM) took place Dec 7, 1965, but the Kecksburg fireball and event was Dec 9th. This requires that the nose cone became orbital in order to come down two days later. The problem here is that the GE Mark 2 nose cone was designed strictly for the ICBM and sub-orbital missions."

2015 - 3AF/SIGMA2

Lemke is listed as the NARCAP representative for co-operation with 3AF/SIGMA2, a French aerospace organisation, which studies UAP.

2020 - Time travellers

In an article dated January 2020, author Leonard David discusses the time traveller theory for the UFO phenomenon, of Michael Masters, a professor of biological anthropology at Montana Technical University. One of the persons whose views are given, is Larry Lemke. He is cited as saying:

" These UFOs don't seem to be obeying the usual laws of aerodynamics and Newtonian Mechanics..."

Another website has an expanded quote from Lemke:

"The one thing that has become clear over the decades of sightings, if you believe the report, is that thes objects don't seem to obey the usual laws of aerodynamics and Newtonian Mechanics."

Yet another website expanded further:

"Larry Lemke, a retired NASA aerospace engineer with an interest in the UFO phenomenon, finds the prospect of time-travelling visitors from the future intriguing.

"The one thing that has become clear over the decades of sightings, if you believe the reports, is that these objects don't seem to be obeying the usual laws of aerodynamics and Newtonian Mechanics," Lemke said, referring to the relationship, in the natural world, between force, mass and motion.

Toss in for good measure Einstein's theory of general relativity and its consequences, like wormholes and black holes, along with othe exotic physics ideas such as the Alcubierre warp-drive bubble.

"There's a group of thinkers in the field of UFOs that point out that the phenomena reported around some UFOs do, in fact, look exactly like general relativity effects," Lemke said, "Missing time is a very common one." Lemke said that the idea that someone has figured out how to manipulate space-time, on a local scale with a low-energy approach, would explain a lot of things across the UFO phenomenon, including those baffling Tic-Tac shaped objects recently reported by jet-fighter pilots and radar operators. "No matter how much knowledge we have, how much we think we know, there's always some frontier beyond," he said. "And to understand that frontier is getting more and more esoteric."

Update: 5 February 2023

The following information is from Jacques Vallee's book titled "Forbidden Science: Volume 5" published in January 2023.

3 March 2001

Lemke attended a meeting of nine people at the invitation of Joe Firmage. "Larry Lemke emphasised that we needed two Coperican revolutions, not just one, in order to understand the phenomenon and Larry Lemke's own father who had an "R" Clearance at Lawrence Livermore Lab; he was once asked to machine some metal samples allegedly recovered from a saucer crash."

20 December 2001

"The executive board of Dick Haines' NARCAP met again today in our new conference room in San Mateo. Larry Lemke of ISSO, Ted Roe and a NASA engineer joined us."

1 September 2002

"NARCAP meeting yesterday afternoon at Dick Haines' house. There were ten of us including Ted Roe, Larry Lemke who now develops airplanes for the Martian atmosphere."

15 December 2002

NARCAP meeting - "Larry Lemke with notes about his father's career in intelligence..."

22 March 2003

NARCAP meeting - "Others around the table included Larry Lemke..."

11 June 2003

Discussion with Bernie Haisch and Vallee - "One of his [Haisch] sources is NASA engineer Larry Lemke whose father was assigned to work on advanced hardware that seemed to have come from beyond Earth."

27 May 2007

NARCAP meeting - " well as two active NASA managers, Brian Smith and Larry Lemke." Discussions included the O'Hare airport UFO. "Larry Lemke had done a calculation of the energy required for the object to vaporize a 'cookie-cutter" hole in the clouds when it seemed to takeoff vertically. He found 100MW, almost twice the energy of a Boeing 747 at full cruising speed."

24 June 2007

Seminar on the Fermi Paradox - Larry Lemke, Peter Sturrock, Bernie Haisch and I voluntered to join the SETI researchers to present the view that the hard UFO data may be an indication of non-human entities in our environment."

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the matter of time travel, I am reading some really interesting news these days.


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