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Meet J. Allen Hynek, the Astronomer Who First Classified UFO ‘Close Encounters’

by Greg Daugherty                      November 19, 2018                      (history.com)

• In 1947, a rash of reports of UFOs had the public on edge. The Air Force created Project Sign to investigate these UFO sightings. But they needed outside expertise to sift through the reports and come up with explanations for all of these sightings. Enter J. Allen Hynek.

• In 1948, Hynek was the 37-year-old director at Ohio State University’s McMillin Observatory. He had worked for the government during WWII developing new defense technologies for the war effort with a high security clearance. The Air Force approached him to be a consultant on ‘flying saucers’ for the government. “I had scarcely heard of UFOs in 1948 and, like every other scientist I knew, assumed that they were nonsense,” Hynek recalled.

• Hynek’s UFO investigations under Project Sign resulted in twenty percent of the 237 cases that couldn’t be explained. In February 1949, Project Sign was succeeded by Project Grudge, which said Hynek, “took as its premise that UFOs simply could not be.” The 1949 Grudge report concluded that the phenomena posed no danger to the United States, and warranted no further study.

• But UFO incidents continued, even from the Air Force’s own radar operators. The national media began treating the phenomenon more seriously. The Air Force had little choice but to revive Project Grudge under a new name: Project Blue Book. Hynek joined Project Blue Book in 1952 and would remain with it until its demise in 1969. But he had changed his mind about the existence of UFOs. “The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so,” he recalled in 1977. Hynek deplored the ridicule that people who reported a UFO sighting often had to endure, causing untold numbers of others to never come forward, not to mention the loss of useful research data.

• “Given the controversial nature of the subject, it’s understandable that both scientists and witnesses are reluctant to come forward,” said Jacques Vallee, co-author with Dr. Hynek of The Edge of Reality: A Progress Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.

• On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union surprised the world by launching Sputnik, a serious blow to Americans’ sense of technological superiority. Hynek was on TV assuring Americans that their scientists were closely monitoring the situation. UFO sightings continued unabated.

• In the 1960s, Hynek was the top expert on UFOs as scientific consultant to Project Blue Book. But he chafed at what he perceived as the project’s mandate to debunk UFO sightings, and the inadequate resources at his disposal. Air Force Major Hector Quintanilla, who headed the project from 1963 to 1969, writes that he considered Hynek a “liability.”

• Hynek frustrated UFO debunkers such as the U.S. Air Force. But in 1966, after suggesting that a UFO sighting in Michigan may have been an optical illusion created by swamp gas, he became a punchline for UFO believers as well.

• In his testimony for a Congressional hearing in 1966, Hynek stated, “[I]t is my opinion that the body of data accumulated since 1948…deserves close scrutiny by a civilian panel of physical and social scientists…”. The Air Force established a civilian committee of scientists to investigate UFOs, chaired by physicist, Dr. Edward U. Condon. In 1968, Hynek assailed the Condon Report’s conclusion that “further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified.” In 1969, Project Blue Book shut down for good.

• UFO sightings continued around the world. Hynek later quipped, “apparently [they] did not read the Condon Report”. Hynek went on with his research, free from the compromises and bullying of the U.S. Air Force.

• In 1972, Hynek published his first book, The UFO Experience. It introduced Hynek’s classifications of UFO incidents, which he called Close Encounters. Close Encounters of the First Kind meant UFOs seen at a close enough range to make out some details. In a Close Encounter of the Second Kind, the UFO had a physical effect, such as scorching trees, frightening animals or causing car motors to suddenly conk out. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, witnesses reported seeing occupants in or near a UFO.

• In 1977, Steven Spielberg released the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Hynek was paid $1,000 for the use of the title, another $1,000 for the rights to use stories from the book and $1,500 for three days of technical consulting. He also had a brief cameo in the film, playing an awestruck scientist when the alien spacecraft comes into view.

• In 1978, Hynek retired from teaching. In 1973 he had founded the Center for UFO Studies which continues to this day. Hynek died in 1986, at age 75, from a brain tumor.

 

It’s September 1947, and the U.S. Air Force has a problem. A rash of reports about mysterious objects in the skies has the public on edge and the military baffled. The Air Force needs to figure out what’s going on—and fast. It launches an investigation it calls Project Sign.

By early 1948 the team realizes it needs some outside expertise to sift through the reports it’s receiving—specifically an astronomer who can determine which cases are easily explained by astronomical phenomena, such as planets, stars or meteors.

For J. Allen Hynek, then the 37-year-old director at Ohio State University’s McMillin Observatory, it would be a classic case of being in the right place at the right time—or, as he may have occasionally lamented, the wrong place at the wrong one.

The adventure begins

Hynek had worked for the government during the war, developing new defense technologies like the first radio-controlled fuse, so he already had a high security clearance and was a natural go-to.

“One day I had a visit from several men from the technical center at Wright-Patterson Air Force base, which was only 60 miles away in Dayton,” Hynek later wrote. “With some obvious embarrassment, the men eventually brought up the subject of ‘flying saucers’ and asked me if I would care to serve as consultant to the Air Force on the matter… The job didn’t seem as though it would take too much time, so I agreed.”

Little did Hynek realize that he was about to begin a lifelong odyssey that would make him one of the most famous and, at times, controversial scientists of the 20 century. Nor could he have guessed how much his own thinking about UFOs would change over that period as he persisted in bringing rigorous scientific inquiry to the subject.

“I had scarcely heard of UFOs in 1948 and, like every other scientist I knew, assumed that they were nonsense,” he recalled.

Project Sign ran for a year, during which the team reviewed 237 cases. In Hynek’s final report, he noted that about 32 percent of incidents could be attributed to astronomical phenomena, while another 35 percent had other explanations, such as balloons, rockets, flares or birds. Of the remaining 33 percent, 13 percent didn’t offer enough evidence to yield an explanation. That left 20 percent that provided investigators with some evidence but still couldn’t be explained.

The Air Force was loath to use the term “unidentified flying object,” so the mysterious 20 percent were simply classified as “unidentified.”

In February 1949, Project Sign was succeeded by Project Grudge. While Sign offered at least a pretense of scientific objectivity, Grudge seems to have been dismissive from the start, just as its angry-sounding name suggests. Hynek, who played no role in Project Grudge, said it “took as its premise that UFOs simply could not be.” Perhaps not surprisingly, its report, issued at the end of 1949, concluded that the phenomena posed no danger to the United States, having resulted from mass hysteria, deliberate hoaxes, mental illness or conventional objects that the witnesses had misinterpreted as otherworldly. It also suggested the subject wasn’t worth further study.

Project Blue Book is born

That might’ve been the end of it. But UFO incidents continued, including some puzzling reports from the Air Force’s own radar operators. The national media began treating the phenomenon more seriously; LIFE magazine did a 1952 cover story, and even the widely respected TV journalist Edward R. Murrow devoted a program to the topic, including an interview with Kenneth Arnold, a pilot whose 1947 sighting of mysterious objects over Mount Rainier in Washington state popularized the term “flying saucer.” The Air Force had little choice but to revive Project Grudge, which soon morphed into the more benignly named Project Blue Book.

Hynek joined Project Blue Book in 1952 and would remain with it until its demise in 1969. For him, it was a side gig as he continued to teach and to pursue other, non-UFO research, at Ohio State. In 1960 he moved to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to chair its astronomy department.

As before, Hynek’s role was to review the reports of UFO sightings and determine whether there was a logical astronomical explanation. Typically that involved a lot of unglamorous paperwork; but now and then, for an especially puzzling case, he had a chance to get out into the field.

There he discovered something he might never have learned from simply reading the files: how normal the people who reported seeing UFOs tended to be. “The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so,” he recalled in his 1977 book, The Hynek UFO Report.

“Their standing in the community, their lack of motive for perpetration of a hoax, their own puzzlement at the turn of events they believe they witnessed, and often their great reluctance to speak of the experience—all lend a subjective reality to their UFO experience.”

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

Loch Raven Reservoir’s Forgotten UFO, 60 Years Later

by Libby Solomon                  October 22, 2018                  (baltimoresun.com)

• Around midnight on Oct. 26, 1958, Alvin Cohen and Phillip Small were taking a drive by Loch Raven Reservoir in Towson, Maryland when they a great, iridescent, egg-shaped object appeared above a bridge. As Cohen (then 24 years old) and Small (then 27 years old) came closer, the car stopped dead as if the entire electrical system had given out. The young men hid behind the car and watched the object hover. There was a flash of light, and booming sound, and heat — and then it rose into the sky and disappeared. Small and Cohen’s car started up again. Small and Cohen felt as if their faces had been sunburnt the “tremendous heat wave” from the UFO.

• The Towson Precinct of the Baltimore County Police Department sent two officers to the scene and took a report. Later, Cohen, Small, and other witnesses were interviewed by the official Air Force investigating officer, 2nd Lt. Bert R. Staples, as a part of Project Blue Book. Others were interviewed including a 16-year-old boy and two employees of a lakefront restaurant, who all saw similar glowing objects around the same time and location. The restaurant employees also heard the same sound the men reported: a loud boom that sounded like an explosion or a thunderclap. After conducting interviews and examining the scene, Lt. Staples wrote in the 1958 report that with all of the credible witnesses, “it can be assumed that the sighting did actually occur.” Nevertheless, Staples wrote, “This UFO remains unidentified.”

• From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated these occurrences under the program called Project Blue Book. Of the 12,618 sightings reported to Project Blue Book, just 701 of them, or five percent, were never explained. The Loch Raven incident was among the unexplained sightings. The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena visited Loch Raven to conduct its own forensic tests which were inconclusive, according to the Air Force report.

• The Loch Raven incident was one of many strange occurrences reported in the 1940s through the 1960s. So 1958 was at the height of America’s obsession with UFOs. In the late ’40’s and early ’50’s, even mainstream news outlets would report sightings of “flying saucers,” says Pennsylvania State University history professor Greg Eghigian, who studies the history of UFOs. “There’s kind of an inexhaustible, unquenchable thirst many people have for thinking about things they consider to be mysterious or paranormal,” Eghigian said. “That speaks to a thing I think is almost virtually universal in people: wanting to understand and think the universe is actually a lot bigger than most of us can comprehend.”

 

Around midnight on Oct. 26, 1958, Alvin Cohen and Phillip Small were taking a drive by Loch Raven Reservoir in Towson when they said a great, iridescent, egg-shaped object appeared above a bridge.

The young men inched closer and the car stopped dead — no headlights, no engine, no ignition, as if the entire electrical system had given out.

“There was no place to run,” Small, then 27, told an Air Force investigator less than two weeks later, according to an interview transcript in a declassified report of the incident. “We probably would’ve if we could’ve but we were terrified at what we saw.”

Cohen, then 24, told investigators the men hid behind the car and watched the object hover. There was a flash of light and noise and heat — and then, Cohen said, it rose into the sky and disappeared.

Oct. 26 this year will mark 60 years since Cohen and Small reported seeing the mysterious object above the reservoir, at the height of the American obsession with unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

The incident inspired UFO hunters through the years and launched an official Air Force investigation. But today, locals say, the story has largely been lost to history and many do not know it ever happened.

After conducting interviews and examining the scene, the investigating officer, 2nd Lt. Bert R. Staples, wrote in the 1958 report: “This UFO remains unidentified.”

Saucers and spies

The Loch Raven incident was one of many strange occurrences reported in the 1940s through the 1960s, when Cold War paranoia intersected with a fascination with outer space and the unknown.

Pennsylvania State University history professor Greg Eghigian, who studies the history of UFOs, said in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s, even mainstream news outlets would report strange sightings of “flying saucers.”

Around the same time, the U.S. government started investigating the reports — not looking for signs of alien life, but for signs of spy technology from the Soviet Union. From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated these occurrences under a program called Project Blue Book.

According to a 1985 Air Force fact sheet posted on the National Archives website, 12,618 sightings were reported to Project Blue Book. Of those, just 5 percent were never explained. The Loch Raven incident was among the 701 that remained “unidentified.”

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

Famous 86-Mile UFO Chase in 1966 Still Defies Air Force ‘Explanation’

October 18, 2018                     (timesonline.com)

• Early in the morning of April 17, 1966, a pair of Portage County, Ohio, sheriff deputies had stop to investigate an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. Suddenly, Deputies Dale Spaur and Wilbur “Barney” Neff heard a humming sound and looked around to see a giant UFO rising from behind some trees and then hovering over them with a bright light surrounding them.

• The deputies described the bright UFO as being about 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall. “The lines of the object were very distinct,” Spaur later told reporters. “Somebody had control over it. It wasn’t just floating around. It [could] maneuver.”

• The UFO flew eastward and the deputies followed in their patrol car. Meanwhile, Police Chief Gerald Buchert was traveling in his patrol car nearby and heard their radio call. He raced home to get his camera and snapped three photos of what he described as “two table saucers put together.” (see image above of the two deputies and the police chief, and a photo below of spacecraft taken by Buchart)

• The deputies chased the UFO for 86 miles from Ohio into Pennsylvania at speeds of more than 100 mph. When the deputies’ patrol car had to slow down for bridges, the UFO seemed to slow down to wait for them, and then it would speed up again with the patrol car. They stopped at a gas station where they met another policeman, Frank Panzanella. Then they saw three fighter jets in pursuit, and the UFO ‘shot straight out of sight’.

• Hundreds of people also reported seeing the shiny saucer in the sky and heard the steady, faint humming sound.

• The director of Project Blue Book at the time, Maj. Hector Quintanilla, came down from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton to investigate. Quintanilla first said that the UFO they saw was actually a satellite. Then he said it was the planet Venus. Quintanilla also stated that radar hadn’t indicated anything peculiar, and that no fighter jets had been dispatched. Finally, he claimed that Buchert’s photos were grainy and inconclusive. Case closed.

• The officers were forced to recant their stories and to refuse to discuss it. Deputy Spaur, however, never backed down from believing he saw a UFO. As a result, he lost his job and his marriage. Spaur later said, “If I could change all that I have done in my life, I would change just one thing. And that would be the night we chased that damn thing. That saucer.”

 

It’s 5 a.m. April 17, 1966, when two Portage County, Ohio, sheriff deputies stop to investigate an abandoned vehicle along a road near Ravenna.

Deputy Dale Spaur gets out of his car, while Wilbur “Barney” Neff remains in his.

“He hears this strange humming noise, so he turns around and sees this giant UFO,” said Brian Seech, co-founder of the Center for Unexplained Events. The unidentified flying object rises from behind the trees and hovers above them, the ground drenched in bright light.

What transpires next will be an 86-mile chase at speeds of more than 100 mph that will take the deputies — and a few more — on a harrowing ride from Ohio to Pennsylvania.

For law enforcement officers, the bizarre trek won’t end in Conway, Pa. It will follow them for the rest of their lives. This close encounter marks the fourth installment of The Times video series, The Parajournal, by award-winning videographer Gwen Titley.

                  photo image taken by
            Police Chief Gerald Buchert

Initially instructed by their dispatcher to shoot the object, Spaur and Neff are told to stand down by Sgt. Henry Shoenfelt who wonders if the two have found a government weather balloon. About the same time, police Chief Gerald Buchert, who was on patrol in nearby Mantua, hears the deputies’ call about lights in the sky. He races home to get his camera and snaps three photos of what he describes as “two table saucers put together.”

When the UFO zips away toward the east, Spaur and Neff give chase.

Spaur later would say that from the ground, the object looked like the head of a flashlight, about 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall.

“The lines of the object were very distinct,” he told reporters. “Somebody had control over it. It wasn’t just floating around. It can maneuver.”

Seech said the chase slowed down near Rochester. The cars got “tangled up in a mess of bridges,” according to Spaur.

Spaur would later explain, “When I came out from under the bridge, it came down and waited for us. Just as though it knew these two cars were following it.”

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. ExoNews.org distributes this material for the purpose of news reporting, educational research, comment and criticism, constituting Fair Use under 17 U.S.C § 107. Please contact the Editor at ExoNews with any copyright issue.

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