Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Tremonton Seagulls

During the summer of 1952, Delbert Newhouse, a Navy Chief Photographer, was driving across northern Utah enroute to a new assignment on the west coast on a calm, sunny day, when his wife alerted him to a strange group of bright objects moving with high speed across the cloudless blue sky. He pulled to the side of the highway, stopped, retrieved a movie camera from the car's trunk, and proceeded to expose some 30 feet of film on the scene before the objects disappeared. More than a thousand man-hours were later expended by Navy, Air Force & Douglas Aircraft experts studying the film, all essentially agreeing the objects were unidentifiable. However, far more visible "experts" such as the "Condon Committee", and the Robertson Panel, who spent far less time on the problem(and who performed virtually no scientific examination of the film) declared the objects were seagulls, apparently because they felt obliged to come up with some explanation, and couldn't think of anything else!

Although ufologists in general expressed doubts about this, I have never seen any really serious challenges to that determination. The general feeling seems to be that, after all, photos showing small bright spots are just "lights in the sky", and nothing of scientific value can be determined from them. Not so, at least not in this case. For one thing, if they were seagulls, it shouldn't be too difficult to closely duplicate the movie by going out and filming them again. Rest assured nobody has or ever will. This case may be considered ancient history, but is still just as much a mystery as it ever was.

Consider the following: The focal length (76mm) of the camera is known; the frame size (16mm) of the film is also known, hence the field of view (fov) of each frame is known (fov = frame size/focal length). Therefore, if the camera is held stationary while an object is timed traversing the frame (which Newhouse did several times), then we have a reliable measure of the object's apparent angular velocity, which in this case turns out to be approximately 12deg./sec. Consequently, at a distance of one mile, the objects would have been moving about 750mph, 190mph @ a quarter of a mile, or 75mph @500 ft. The distance of the objects is unknown, but (a) No bird is unidentifiable as such at 500ft., or can fly 75mph, hence birds cannot explain the movie, (b) no aircraft is unidentifiable as such at four miles, and no aircraft was capable of the 3000mph velocity required for that distance, and (c) no balloon is unidentifiable as such @500ft, nor can move 75mph on a calm day.

There are no assumptions, theories, opinions, or conjectures involved in this conclusion. These are scientific facts, and are all you need to rule out any known object or phenomenon as an explanation for the Newhouse film. It's as simple as that.

Now for some information that will be new to anyone who has looked into this case in the past. I was an independent witness to this event, hundreds of miles away from Tremonton, but can unequivocally confirm the above conclusion.
What qualifies me to be able to make this assertion? At that time I was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, majoring in astronomy, after having been an amateur astronomer ever since my junior-high school days. I had served as a radar operator in WWII aboard the USS Randolph (CV-15) in the pacific theater, was adept at aircraft identification, hence well-qualified to identify sky phenomena both day and night.

Here are the details of my own observations as well as I can remember them (I made notes on the back of an old envelope at the time, but later lost it): I was working on my parents' farm in eastern New Mexico during the summer break between semesters. I cannot pinpoint the date of my sighting, but do know it was near the first of July (the Newhouse film was shot on July 2), mainly because I remember it was a few weeks before the infamous Washington, DC flaps, but also because it was right after the end of wheat harvest, which is normally near the end of June in that area. The time was late morning with a cloudless blue sky all the way to the horizon, after a night of intense thunderstorm activity. A total of over three inches of rain was measured at the farmhouse, so I drove a truck out to check another rain gauge located on a fence post in the middle of a wheat field. The field was so muddy I had to park the truck at its edge and walk a quarter-mile to reach the gauge.

While checking the gauge, some motion caught my attention near the eastern horizon, which I at first took to be a group of F-86 aircraft maneuvering north of Cannon AFB, located about 15 miles to the southeast. Then I realized almost immediately there was something very peculiar about the appearance of the group, so kept watching. There were at least a dozen or so objects moving in an apparently haphazard manner. Each object was in constant motiion relative to all the other objects, but the group was moving on a definite, unwavering due-west course, which never varied till they disappeared near the western horizon. The group was strung out loosely in the direction of motion of the group. At the time of meridian-crossing the group was stretched out over at least 60 degrees of sky, moving at what I estimated was between 5 and 10deg/sec. Two of the objects near the trailing end of the group appeared to be circling about each other, at least temporarily, like the components of a binary star of equal mass with a speed of bout 30rpm. This motion was imposed on top of the rapid group velocity toward the west.

Soon after the group had crossed the meridian at an elevation angle of 70-80 degrees (to the north), one of the objects began "peeling off" in a wide sweeping arc to the north, and maintained the turn until it was headed back east just above my northeast horizon, and disappeared. Meanwhile, the rest of the group continued on west, diappearing just above that horizon. The group had travelled horizon-to-horizon, passing near my zenith, in only about two minutes, without any sound whatsoever. Compare that with the easily demonstrated fact that a jetliner flying 600mph @30,000ft. requires at least one half-hour to go horizon-to-horizon for an observer on the ground.

All the objects were a brilliant white and small (only a few minutes of arc diameter) apparently circular or elliptical in shape. Some were more conspicuous than others, but it was unclear if it was because of a difference in size or brightness, or both. There was not the slightest hint of any protuberances or shading of any kind. The objects' contrast with the deep blue sky was far greater than that of the moon, and anyone even casually glancing at the sky could not fail to notice them. Another conspicuous aspect of the group was the smooth machine-like quality of motion of all the objects.

So what took me so long to come forward with this? Actually, I did several years later, after finally learning I was not the only witness, but for reasons unknown have never received any acknowledgement for my account, and that is the principal reason for this blog. I'm not getting any younger, and just want to make sure my account finally gets into the record one way or another. The night after the sighting I informed my family, as well as two of my best friends,but nobody seemed to take me seriously. I was unaware at the time of any agency collecting UFO-sighting data, and became afflicted with the same fear of ridicule experienced by so many UFO observers over the years.
It didn't help that, on the very first class day of an instrumentation course I took, the professor emphatically warned the students that there would be absolutely no mention of UFOs in his class because such things were physically impossible, and any such discussion would be a complete waste of time!

The result of this was that I gradually forgot about my sighting, and can honestly state a number of years passed during which I never had a conscious thought about it. Then one night in the late sixties my memory was rudely awakened when, while reading a book late at night with the TV blaring & nobody watching (as usual), I casually glanced up at the screen, and was suddenly confronted with the exact scene I had witnessed in 1952!! It turned out a movie was being shown, called "Unidentified Flying Objects", which was a docudrama relating many of the more notorious UFO sightings up to that time. Since I hadn't been watching the movie up to that point, I didn't catch any of the details concerning the movie, but I was thoroughly shaken. Up till then I had never had any inkling anyone else had witnessed that event, much less filmed it, even though, as implied above, it had always seemed like many people should have seen it.

This was about the time I had read where the University of Colorado was embarking on a UFO study, so I decided to see if they came out with any information about the movie, which they did in their final report. At this time I was working in astronomy at New Mexico State University, participating in a photographic planetary patrol under Clyde Tombaugh. When the Condon Report was published I knew the seagull explanation was absurd, but by that time was so engrossed in participation in the Mars Mariner project that I once again managed to shove the "seagulls" to the back of my mind for several years.

During the seventies, Blue Book consultant Dr. Allen Hynek was a frequent brief visitor at NMSU, as he was involved in an image orthicon project at a nearby observatory. During one of those visits it finally occurred to me to mention my concern with the Tremonton case. He was in a hurry to catch a flight, so just recorded a very brief account on a small recorder he had with him, and promised to get back with me on his next visit. As he walked out the door, he asked "How do you know they weren't insects?" without giving me any chance to answer. For whatever reason, that was the last time I saw him, and I never heard from him again. Of course, one answer to the seemingly frivolous insect question lies in the impossibility of seeing any kind of insect fly horizon-to-horizon with a smooth, non-flickering and non-wavering motion. Furthermore, any insect seen near the horizon will almost invariably be seen below the horizon as well, and will not show any path radiance effects near the horizon.

My most recent attempt at telling my story was several years ago, when I sent a letter to CUFOS, for which I never received a reply. I am well aware of several problems with the assumption that I saw the objects at the same time as Newhouse's film. For example, my position 18 miles west of Clovis, NM is over 650 great-circle miles from Tremonton. That, coupled with the fact they were high in the sky for both of us, calls for an altitude at least 1000 miles above the ground( and a velocity of at least 750,000 mph!!) and probably even more since apparently the group was north of both of us.

On the other hand, there could have been a time separation between our sightings, since my time can not be pinpointed any better than late morning, viz., somewhere between 10:30 and 11:30 am. I could have seen them first, after which they could have flown on west till out of sight, then turned north to the Tremonton area. That would call for a more believable altitude and speed. After all, Newhouse had claimed the objects were much nearer when first spotted, which certainly was not true in my sighting.

But then, what about the lone object that separated from the group and headed back east? We both observed that, although Newhouse simply described it as a "reversal of direction", but what I saw was a smooth, gradual turn to the right which took up my entire northern sky, finally straightening out on an easterly heading near my northeast horizon.

Of course there is a third possibility. My sighting could have been a day before or after the Newhouse film, since I cannot pinpoint the date of my sighting. Although I recognized every configuration and movement I saw in the movie, some of the Newhouse testimony deviates from mine (the early closeness,for example). I think his description of the objects as "milling about the sky" is misleading. You could certainly say they were milling about within the group, but the group had a very definite, non-wavering course and speed.

In the 55 years since, I have never again seen anything remotely resembling that sight The important point of all this is: whether or not my account is believed is academic. Absolute proof that the objects in the Newhouse movie cannot be explained is contained in simple scientific measurements of the film. They were not seagulls, balloons, aircraft, or insects, so what were they? They were unidentified flying objects!



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4 Comments:

At July 4, 2007 at 7:32 AM , Blogger Sarge said...

Between the summer of 1960 and today I have seen two strange objects in the sky and heard another.
Like you I hardly think of them unless reminded by some outside influence.
It causes me to wonder of the vast amout of people in the same boat. And how many sightings might be supported by multiple wittnesses who just haven't been found.

 
At November 28, 2013 at 1:08 AM , Blogger vanamonde1957 said...

Thank you for posting your account on this blog! I find you analysis compelling. I too have a B.S. in physics (Iowa State, 1981) and worked for 15 years in the aerospace industry and another 15 years in atmospheric and space research. I have never seen a UFO but several friends and acquaintances have. I share your indignation that the Tremonton film was given a superficial treatment - and an absurd explanation - by the Roberton panel. I am glad you have come forward with your account, no matter how many years it has been.

 
At December 13, 2013 at 11:45 AM , Blogger Jim Robinson said...

Thanks for your comments.I have to admit this is a strange account, and would never fault anyone for ridiculing it, but every word of it is true & I have no explanation except the objects absolutely were not any kind of bird or known aircraft.

I would have to modify my figure for velocity from 12deg./sec to 8deg./sec since later realizing the frame width is not 16mm but more like 12mm due to the sprocket holes (I have a copy of the film,recorded on VHS tape when I accidentally ran across another showing on TV about 15yrs ago, so I measured the angular rate on the frames of the lone object which were not panned). Incidentally, 8deg/sec agrees more with what I estimated visually.

On the other hand, the measurement of this velocity reported in the BB files is 2deg/sec.,quite a difference ! I could agree with that if those frames were taken when it was further away near the horizon ... but why do I get 8deg/sec.? I'll admit my trusty Timex is not all that accurate, but a 400% discrepancy??

My visual estimate of 5-10 deg/sec was for the group crossing my meridian. It's hard to make any sense of anything in this whole affair, but it happened.

 
At January 29, 2014 at 1:05 AM , Blogger vanamonde1957 said...

Jim, thanks for the reply! I think somewhere I read that you reside in Las Cruces, NM? My wife and I were just down there in October, 2013, to watch a launch at White Sands. I work for a lab that builds scientific remote sensing instruments and we were launching a duplicate of an instrument already on orbit in order to perform calibration measurements during our precious 6 minutes above the sensible atmosphere.

Anyway, I was just fancifully thinking it would have been neat to meet you in person, had I known about your "Tremonton Seagulls" post at the time we were in Las Cruces.

Even if you have to revise your calculations a bit, I think you still come up with about 950 mph for 8 deg/sec at 10000 feet distance (if I did the math right).
For 2 degrees per second (the Blue Book figure) at 10,000 feet distance I get

v = (2*(pi / 180)*10000*(60*60))/5280
v = 238 mph

I believe it was in Ruppelt's book that I read the analysis that said if the objects were conventional airplanes they must have been 5 or more miles distant because if they were any closer they could have been positively identified as such. But if they were 5 miles away and moving with an apparent angular velocity of 2 degrees per second, they were doing 1800 mph.

Never mind the exact speed, the appearance and behavior alone of these objects serves to eliminate all conventional explanations. I was particularly struck by your description of how decades after the sighting you happened to see the Newhouse film on TV and you instantly recognized those objects and formation and behavior as being very, very similar to the ones you saw in 1952.

 

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