I hadn’t planned on doing this simply because it was more work at this point than I wanted to take on, but there seems to be a real interest in the film and there is a lot of misinformation floating around about it. These are distortions that I believe are lodged in the belief structures of the various commentators rather than in the facts of the case. I’m using as many of the original sources as possible, including the reports of others who interviewed the photographer after the event, sometimes years afterwards and will point out that when I interviewed him, I just wanted to confirm that he had told others what they had reported he told them.
The film was shot by Navy warrant officer Delbert C. Newhouse north of the small Utah town of Tremonton, Utah (though it has been spelled Trementon by many over the years). He provided a brief statement to the Air Force about the case that is woefully inadequate and I’m not sure why no one in the Air Force attempted to get something a little more comprehensive from him about the shape of the objects. According to the Project Blue Book files:
Driving from Washington, D.C. to Portland, Ore., on the morning of 2 July my wife noticed a group of objects in the sky that she could not identify. She asked me to stop the car and look. There was a group of about ten or twelve objects - that bore no relation to anything I had seen before - milling about in a rough formation and proceeding in a westerly direction. I opened the luggage compartment of the car and got my camera out of a suitcase. Loading it hurriedly, I exposed approximately thirty feet of film. There was no reference point in the sky and it was impossible for me to make any estimate of speed, size, altitude or distance. Toward the end one of the objects reversed course and proceeded away from the main group. I held the camera still and allowed this single one to cross the field of view, picking it up again and repeating for three or four such passes. By this time all of the objects had disappeared. I expended the balance of the film late that afternoon on a mountain somewhere in Idaho.
When he finished with the filming, he put the equipment away and they all got back in the car to continue the trip. Then, apparently after arriving at his new duty station, developed the film and sent the original off to Hill Air Force Base in Utah which eventually sent it on to Project Blue Book in Dayton, Ohio. According to the Condon Committee report (on page 420 of the Bantam paperback edition) William Hartmann, the investigator wrote, “The witness’s original letter of 11 August offers the film for whatever value it may have in connection with your investigation of the so-called flying saucers.”
And while all that is interesting, it turns out not to be the most important thing in that letter. Newhouse wrote, “(1) one (1) fifty-foot roll of processed 16mm color motion picture film.”
Ed Ruppelt, the chief of Project Blue Book at the time wrote, “When I received the Tremonton films I took them right over to the Wright Field photo lab, along with the Montana Movie [a short, color film shot over Great Falls in 1950 showing two bright lights], and the photo technicians and I ran them twenty or thirty times. The two movies were similar in that in both of them the objects appeared to be large, circular lights – in neither one could you see any detail. But, unlike the Montana Movie, the lights in the Tremonton Movie would fade out, then come back in again. This fading immediately suggested airplanes reflecting light, but the roar of a king-sized dogfight could have been heard for miles and the Newhouse family heard no sound.”
The inadequate statement provided in the letter with the film didn’t tell much and according to Ruppelt, they sent a list of questions to an intelligence officer. This interview was conducted on September 10, 1952, and included not only Newhouse, but his wife, Norma; son, Delbert Newhouse, Jr. then aged 14 and daughter Anne, then aged 12. This interview did nothing to clear up the questions that we would have so many years later and, according to Ruppelt, “The question ‘What did the UFO’s look like?’ wasn’t one of them because when you have a picture of something you don’t normally ask what it looks like.”
The answers to the questions were received by teletype on September 12 and do little to resolve the questions of today. I don’t know why certain things were not asked and why certain information is not found in the files. While Ruppelt explained why they hadn’t asked what the objects looked like, I also noted that there is no real description of the length of the film. Going through the Project Blue Book files, I found a few, vague references to the film being about thirty feet long, which, given the frames per second rate, works out to about 75 seconds. William Hartmann, who conducted the investigation for the Condon Committee in the late 1960s, wrote, “The film contains about 1200 frames… i.e. about 75 seconds…”
According to the teletype, all the Newhouses were interviewed at home and the answers to the questions were as follows:
1. No sound heard during the observation. 2. No exhaust trails or contrails observed. 3. No aircraft, birds, balloons, or other identifiable objects seen in the air immediately before, during, or immediately after observation. 4. Single object which detached itself from the group did head in direction opposite original course and disappeared from view while still traveling in this direction. 5. Camera pointed at estimated 70 degrees elevation and described and [sic] arc from approx. [sic] due east to due west then from due west to approx. 60 degrees from north in photographing detached obj [sic] heading in direction opposite original course. 6. Sun was approx overhead of observer. Objects were approx. 70 degrees above terrain on a course several miles from observer. 7. Weather conditions: Bright sunlight, clear, approx. 80 degrees temperature, slight breeze from east northeast approx. 3 to 5 mph. 8. No meteorological activity noted during that day. 9. Opinion regarding objects following CLN [sic] A. Light from objects caused by reflection: B. Objects appeared approx. as long as they were wide and thin, C. Appeared identical in shape, D. 12 to 14 objects, E. All appeared light color, F. No opinion, G. Appeared to have same type of motion except one object which reversed its course, H. Disappeared from view by moving out of range of eyesight. 10. No filters used. 11. One low hill 2 or 3 miles to right of US HWY 30 dash S with observer facing north. Located approx. 10 miles north of Tremonton, Utah. 12. Other persons sighting object [names of wife, children]. Whole Newhouse family included in interview. 13. CPO [sic s/b CWO] Newhouse and family have never sighted unidentified flying objects before. Newhouse stated that he never believed he would join the ranks of those reporting such objects prior to this observation… CPO [sic] Newhouse stated he has been in the Naval service for over 19 years with service as a commissioned officer during WW 2…
From this point, the Blue Book file is filled with questions about the technical aspects of the film and the camera. On one document, in which it was revealed that Newhouse had not used a tripod, someone underscored that and added an exclamation point.
The Air Force analysis, done in the months following the sighting, did not yield any positive results. According to Ruppelt, “All they had to say was, ‘We don’t know what they are but they aren’t aircraft or balloons, and we don’t think they are birds.”
It would seem that the next time that Newhouse was interviewed about the sighting in depth was when he met with Ruppelt as they were shooting the commercial film Unidentified Flying Objects, aka UFO. Ruppelt wrote about that meeting in his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Ruppelt said:
After I got out of the Air Force I met Newhouse and talked to him for two hours [in 1954, I believe]. I’ve talked to many people who have reported UFOs, but few impressed me as much as Newhouse. I learned that when he and his family first saw the UFOs they were close to the car, much closer than when he took the movie. To use Newhouse’s own words, “If they had been the size of a B-29 they would have been at 10,000 feet altitude.” And the Navy man and his family had taken a good look at the objects – they looked like “two pie pans, one inverted on the top of the other!” He didn’t just think the UFO’s were disk-shaped; he knew that they were; he had plainly seen them. I asked him why he hadn’t told this to the intelligence officer who interrogated him. He said that he had. Then I remember that I’d sent the intelligence officer a list of questions I wanted Newhouse to answer. The question “What did the UFO’s look like?” wasn’t one of them because when you have a picture of something you don’t normally ask what it looks like. Why the intelligence officer didn’t pass this information along to us I’ll never know.
The next mention of Newhouse’s experience came in January 1953, when the Robertson Panel, a CIA sponsored study of UFOs was made. Because there was physical evidence available, meaning the film, it was one of those reports they wanted to review. Luis Alvarez, one of the scientists involved, asked that the film be run several times and then suggested that the objects looked to him like sea gulls riding on thermals. The rest of the panel agreed with him and that was the answer they appended to the case.
Ruppelt, in his book wrote that they, meaning those at Blue Book and ATIC had thought of the birds explanation months earlier. He wrote, “…several months later I as in San Francisco… and I watched gulls soaring in a cloudless sky. They were ‘riding a thermal,’ and they were so high that you couldn’t see them until they banked just a certain way; then they appeared to be a bright white flash, much larger than one would expect from sea gulls. There was a strong resemblance to the UFO’s in the Tremonton Movie. But I’m not sure this is the answer.”
Also found in the Project Blue Book files, and dated 1955, is a report, “Analysis of Photographic Material Photogrammetric Analysis of the ‘Utah’ Film, Tracking UFO’s,” created for the Douglas Aircraft Company and written by Dr. R. M. L. Baker. He provides an overview of the sighting that is consistent with the earlier reports found in the Blue Book file, but then wrote, “He [Newhouse] described them as ‘gun metal colored objects shaped like two saucers, one inverted over the other.’”
Baker’s conclusion written on May 16, 1956, or nearly four years after the sighting, was, “The evidence remains rather contradictory and no single hypothesis of a natural phenomenon yet suggested seems to completely account for the UFO involved. The possibility of multiple hypotheses, i.e. that the Utah UFO’s are the result of two simultaneous natural phenomena might possibly yield the answer. However… no definite conclusion could be obtained.”
But even this isn’t without controversy. Tim Printy at his skeptics web site wrote:
In 1955, Dr. Robert Baker conducted an evaluation of the film and also interviewed Newhouse again. Newhouse now added more information that seemed to disagree with his earlier testimony.
When he got out, he observed the objects (twelve to fourteen of them) to be directly overhead and milling about. He described them as ‘gun metal colored objects shaped like two saucers, one inverted on top of the other.’ He estimated that they subtended ‘about the same angle as B29’s at 10,000 ft.’ (about half a degree i.e. about the angular diameter of the moon.”
In his earliest reports he stated that he could not estimate size or distance, now he was able to do this as well as describe the shape. Newhouse suggests before filming they appeared overhead and then went off in the distance when he finally got the camera going.
A close reading of the various sources including Ruppelt’s book and the Condon Committee report does not support the conclusion that Newhouse was giving any different answers. Baker’s source seemed not to be a new interview, but what Newhouse had told Ruppelt in 1954 and that Newhouse was not saying the objects were the size of B-29s at ten thousand feet, but looked to be the size of the bomber if it was at that altitude. It was the same as a witness describing a UFO as the size of a dime held at arm’s length.
At the same time, that is 1956, the Air Force, in response to the release of UFO, put together a press package to explain some of the cases mentioned in the film. At that point the Air Force endorsed the “birds” explanation, and that is the way it is carried in the Blue Book records. The documents suggest that the Air Force was more interested in lessening the impact of the movie than they were in supplying proper solutions to the cases. In other words, their acceptance of the birds explanation was a public relations ploy.
The next analysis came when the Condon Committee conducted its investigation in the late 1960s. William Hartmann added little of importance to the case. He noted the length of the film, which agreed with the claim that the sequence was about 30 feet long or about 75 seconds. Lance Moody had suggested that if the film could be recovered now, the length could be measured, which would answer some questions that have developed in the last few years. The problem is that Air Force file makes it clear the film had been cut. On September 15, 1952, Major Robert E. Kennedy sent Newhouse a letter saying, “The final footage of the mountain scenery will be detached and returned to you as soon as possible.” This point too, would become important later.
Hartmann reviewed all the information available, including, apparently, a complete copy of the Project Blue Book file. He provided a quick history of the investigations and did mention that during Baker’s earlier investigation Newhouse provided “…substantially the same account, with the additional information: ‘When he got out [of the car], he observed the objects (twelve to fourteen of them) to be directly overhead and milling about. He described them as ‘gun metal colored objects, shaped like two saucers, one inverted of top of the other.’…”
Hartmann then made his own analysis, finally concluding, “These observations give strong evidence that the Tremonton films do show birds… and I now regard the objects as so identified.”
But this comes only after Hartmann rejected the statements by Newhouse seeing the objects at close range. Hartmann wrote, “The strongest negative argument was stated later by the witness that the objects were seen to subtend an angle of about 0.5 degrees and were then seen as gun metal colored and shaped like two saucers held together rim to rim, but the photographs and circumstances indicate that this observation could not have been meaningful.”
Baker, in 1969 and in response to the negative findings of the Condon Committee, at a symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that while Hartmann’s analysis might be appealing “[The] motion [of the objects] is not what one would expect from a flock of soaring birds; there are erratic brightness fluctuations, but there is no indication of periodic decreases in brightness due to turning with the wind or flapping. No cumulus clouds are shown on the film that might betray the presence of thermal updraft… The motion pictures I have taken of birds at various distances have no similarity to the Utah film.”
Now the case becomes more complicated. In 1970, Dr. James E. McDonald interviewed Newhouse over the telephone, with his wife on the extension. In a letter to Arthur C. Lundahl and found on the NICAP web site, McDonald wrote:
It was particularly good to have Mrs. Newhouse on the phone, since she was the one who first spotted the objects and watched them for an estimated minute or so while she was trying to persuade Newhouse to stop the car for a better look…
Both of them emphasized that it must have taken two or three minutes for Newhouse to hunt through their luggage and locate the camera and film, which were in separate suitcases. In the initial period, the objects were considerably closer to them than at the time he finally began shooting, Newhouse stressed. It was his estimate that the objects lay only about 10 degrees east of their zenith when they first got out of the car. He reported his angular-size estimate that has been noted elsewhere, namely about the comparative size of a B-17 at 10,000ft…
… [O]ne of the key points that I wanted to check with Newhouse concerned the description given by Ruppelt… namely, that they appeared to be silvery-gray, “gunmetal”, and like two pie pans face-to-face. Both Newhouse and his wife fully confirmed that, Newhouse comparing the shape to a discus…
I asked Newhouse if it was correct that he had given that description to Ruppelt after the latter had left the Air Force. He confirmed that, saying that the only time he personally talked to Ruppelt was at a filming session for that movie entitles “UFO” produced in 1954 or 1955. He guessed that meeting must have been in 1954, and Al Chop was also present at that discussion. He brought out the important point that he had also stressed the visually observed shape in those early portions of the sighting, when he was interviewed at his duty station in Oakland by an Air Force officer. He further remarked that he saw a copy of the officer’s transcript of the interview, and that point appeared in the transcript…
…A rather interesting point, which I have never seen brought out before, was mentioned, almost by happenstance. It turned out that the footage which Newhouse submitted to the Air Force was spliced from about 20 feet that he shot at the end of one 50-foot magazine, plus about 40 feet that he shot on the first part of the next magazine. In other words, he had to change magazine in the middle of that shooting…
Newhouse said that the Air Force didn’t send the originals back to him at any time. He wrote ATIC when a long time had elapsed, and what they did finally send back to him was a color print which he stressed was distinctly inferior to the original. Not only that, but he was positive that they had cut out the first 10 or 20 feet, which were shot when the objects were very much closer and appeared much sharper on the film… The missing footage, which he seemed positive was from the earliest and best parts of his original…
I found it interesting to learn that no contacts of any sort have been made with Newhouse since that movie was made. This evidently included Baker, as well as Hartmann and the Condon Project team. I was particularly surprised that Bob Baker had not contacted him…
There are some things that we can deduce from all this. First, strangely, in the original interviews, there is no indication that anyone asked Newhouse or his family what the objects looked like. The statement he supplied as he submitted the film is devoid of any important information other than time and location. He does not describe the objects in any way other than to say, “…that bore no relation to anything I had seen before…”
The point to be made here is that Newhouse had more than 19 years of service in the Navy and it is reasonable to assume that he had seen sea gulls soaring in the past. It would seem that if five minutes or so passed during the sighting, which includes 75 seconds of the filming, sea gulls would have revealed themselves as such at some point. If he saw them at close range, as he claims, then the sea gull explanation fails.
Newhouse told McDonald that he had told the intelligence officer about the shape and that the description had been included in the transcript of the interview. There is nothing like that in the Project Blue Book file, which means one of two things: Either Newhouse is mistaken or the transcript was removed from the files.
Although some believe that Newhouse didn’t mention the shape until more than twenty years later when I interviewed him, it is clear that Newhouse was talking about the shape within two years. He told Ruppelt that he had told that to the intelligence officer, but there is nothing to back up the claim. The best we can say was that he mentioned it in 1954 and was consistent in those statements from that point. His original statement does not preclude the observation, only that it can’t be documented in the Project Blue Book file.
The criticism that Newhouse was unable to give size, distance and shape estimates at first but later came up with them is invalid. It is quite clear he was merely saying that the objects appeared to be the size of a bomber at 10,000 feet. The description he offered the September interview suggests a circular object (or one that is square or diamond shaped and very thin) isn’t very helpful. In fact, given that vague information, it would seem that someone, Newhouse, his wife or children, would have said something more definitive.
The real point where this falls apart, at least for me, is when Newhouse began talking to McDonald about his film. Here is the one thing that is well documented in the Project Blue Book files and for the believers we have the statements made by Newhouse himself about the film when he submitted it to the Air Force.
First, when he submitted the film, he made it clear there was a single enclosure and that was a fifty foot roll of film. The document was created by Newhouse so there is no reason to dispute it. It says nothing about there being more than fifty feet of film or that it was a spliced film. Just the whole roll that included some of his vacation pictures and that it had been processed.
Second, there is Major Kennedy’s letter of September 15, in which he mentioned the final footage of the mountain scenery would be “detached” and returned. In that same letter, Kennedy wrote, “If it is agreeable to you, a duplicate of the aerial phenomena will be made and forwarded to you in lieu of the original. It is desired to retain the original for analysis.”
Third, on February 17, 1953, Major Robert C. Brown wrote, “A copy of the original movie film taken by you near Tremonton, Utah, on 2 July 1952 is being returned.”
On November 17, 1953, Newhouse wrote to the Air Force, “About a year ago I mailed for evaluation a 16mm Kodachrome original film to the Commanding Officer, Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The film was of unidentified flying objects sighted by my wife, my children and myself… I gave the Air Force permission to retain the original for use in the investigation… My copy of the film has been damaged… If the Air Force has completed its evaluation and has no further use for it, I would appreciate the return of the original…”
On January 27, 1954, Lieutenant Barbara Conners wrote, “The Air Technical Intelligence Center is attempting to locate the original of a 35 mm [sic] film of unidentified flying objects taken by a Mr. D. C. Newhouse near Tremonton, Utah…” and then on February 23, 1954, CWO R. C. Schum wrote, “We are forwarding as Inclosure [sic] 1 one copy of you Tremonton, Utah film...”
This means the Air Force attempted to cooperate with Newhouse and that Newhouse had given them permission to keep the original. They supplied a copy which Newhouse ruined. He asked for the original, and the Air Force attempted to comply. We now know that Newhouse’s discussion of all this with McDonald is in error.
But more important than this trivia about originals and copies is the claim that Newhouse shot footage on two separate rolls and that there was more than sixty feet of film. The documentation, including that written by Newhouse himself does not bear this out. The best estimate is that there was thirty feet of film. There is a suggestion that the film lasted about 75 seconds, and with a 16 frame per second use that works out to about thirty feet of film.
In the end, there is no good evidence that Newhouse altered his story because the original investigation lacked competence. There are hints in the September 1952 interview but it is not very clear. It can be argued that the description is of the saucers but it could also be argued that the description is too vague to be of any real value to determine what he meant. It could be argued that his description was vague because he didn’t get a good, close up look at the objects.
It is clear that by 1954 Newhouse was providing a description that if accurate, eliminates the sea gulls as an explanation. It also seems that others such as Baker and Hartmann took the description from Ruppelt’s book but didn’t attempt to verify the accuracy of the information by contacting Newhouse. In 1976, when I talked to Newhouse, he verified that he had said that, which, of course, doesn’t mean that the description was accurate, only that he said it to Ruppelt.
The one point that seems to stand out here is that Newhouse made the comment in 1954 before the Air Force began pushing the sea gull explanation, but after the Robertson Panel had determined, to their satisfaction, that birds was the answer.
Here, I suppose, it boils down to the nonsense about the length of the film and if Newhouse switched magazines during the filming. Given the documentation available, it seems that these new details do not reflect the reality of the situation. Newhouse himself made it clear there was but a single roll of film, that it was only fifty feet long, and we know that part of it was detached and returned to him. If we wish to reject the case, this seems to be a good reason to do so. It suggests that his memory of the event has been clouded by outside influences.
I will note here that I have not engaged in a discussion of what the film showed or the various analyses of it. All of the investigators seem to find the conclusions that fit their own biases. The Air Force originally said it wasn’t balloons, airplanes and probably not birds. Robertson said it was birds and dismissed it. The Navy said they couldn’t identify them. The Air Force then said it was birds. Baker said he couldn’t identify the objects and Hartmann said he could
So, you look at the evidence, all the evidence, what the witnesses said and did and what the film shows and decide for yourself what to believe. I said in the beginning that this (the last post) was a case that provided some physical evidence. That evidence could lead to proof of something unusual in the air and that terrestrial explanations didn’t cover all the facts, if Newhouse saw the objects close by and that they were saucer shaped. If he didn’t, then the evidence is not as strong as it could be.
To my mind, the case is not resolved simply because there is not a consensus for the solution… but on the other hand, the evidence is not all that strong either, which, unfortunately seems to be the situation in a large number of UFO sightings.