Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Estimate of the Situation: A Different Perspective

While studying the legendary “Estimate of the Situation,” the document written in secret in 1948 by Air Force personnel in Dayton, Ohio, I came to understand some more about it. The Estimate, or EOTS as it has come to be called, was described by Ed Ruppelt, one time chief of Project Blue Book and Dewey Fournet, the Pentagon’s liaison for UFOs in the 1950s. They provided a limited listing of the cases included in it, and in today’s world, it is possible to access some of that information.

What struck me was the poor quality of some of the cases reviewed. Yes, the Arnold sighting that sort of began everything was in there. Today there are those who believe that Arnold was fooled by mirages, or by drops of water on the windshield, or snow blowing off the mountaintops, or by pelicans. None of the solutions is very satisfactory. The thing we don’t know is if the Johnson sighting, a prospector who was on the ground and seemed to have seen the objects about the same time as Arnold, was included in the report.
Many of the sightings that I have reviewed are not as strong as the Arnold case. Some are single witness and I believe were selected because they involved pilots or technically trained people. I would guess that those making the selections believed that pilots, especially fighter pilots, would be familiar with what was in the sky around them. Fighter pilots would have to make snap decisions about what they were seeing and their skills would have been honed during the war when a single mistake could kill them. Those selecting the cases respected the abilities of the pilots to quickly and accurately determine what they were seeing. Not too long before their lives would have depended on that ability.
And in the world of 1948, those with college degrees, especially those in the sciences or engineering would be given a higher credibility. The thinking was that these people had been exposed to a great many startling sights and would be able to identify a balloon, a celestial object, a weather phenomenon, when they saw it. If they reported something strange in the sky, then it probably did defy identification… which is not to say that it was an alien spacecraft.
At any rate, these seemed to be the sightings selected for the EOTS. Pilots, military officers, scientists, and technicians were those whose tales were taken, almost at face value. But when we look at the sightings today, they are very thin on evidence other than the observations of the witnesses. As but a single example taken this case from the Lake Meade area:

On 14 July 1947, 1st Lt Eric B Armstrong… departed Williams Field, Arizona at 1400 CST on 28 June in a P-51 for Portland, Oregon, by way of Medford, Oregon. At approximately 1515 CST on a course of 300 degrees, and a ground speed of 285, altitude 10,000 feet, approximately thirty miles northwest of Lake Meade, Nevada Lt. Armstrong sighted five or six white, circular objects at four o’clock, altitude approximately 6,000 feet, courses approximately 120 degrees and an estimated speed of 285 MPH. Lt. Armstrong said the objects were flying very smoothly and in a close formation. The estimated size of the white objects were approximately 36 inches in diameter. Lt. Armstrong stated that he is sure the white objects were not birds, since the rate of closure was very fast. Lt. Armstrong was certain that the white objects were not jets or conventional type aircraft since he has flown both types. 

This report is from a single witness and the UFOs described are only three feet in diameter. He said they weren’t birds, based on the rate of closure, which meant that they were coming at him faster than his speed and that of the birds would account for. He didn’t believe the objects were meteors and he didn’t think they were conventional aircraft. The Air Force eventually determined that Armstrong had seen a cluster of balloons.
I don’t know why those in Dayton were impressed with this sighting, unless there is something more about it than is in the Project Blue Book file. There is no physical evidence, no photographs, and no radar tracks, nothing other than the observations of the pilot.
As I said, this is an example of the sightings reported in the EOTS. There are no indications from either Ruppelt or Fournet that there was anything more. While the document might have been thick, and it might have contained dozens of sightings (177 by one estimate), without some sort of tangible evidence, I’m not surprised that General Vandenberg rejected it. Hell, I’m usually on board with those who think that some UFOs might represent alien craft, but from what I’ve seen of the EOTS and the reports contained in it, I wouldn’t have found the conclusion of spacecraft supported by the evidence either.
That is why it was rejected, I believe. Not because of a culture at the Pentagon that thought all UFOs could be explained in the mundane, but because, in the words of Jason Robards in All the President’s Men, “You don’t have it.”
Robards meant that the conclusions of the reporters were not supported by the evidence and with the EOTS we see the same thing. To make it worse, this failed attempt to impress those outside the halls of ATIC at Wright Field damaged their case beyond repair. It might have signaled the beginning of what Ruppelt would call the “Dark Ages,” when all UFOs were to be explained… period.


Lance said...

Thank you, Kevin, for the above piece.

Yes, the evidence for UFO's is so poor that even UFO "expert" collections of the ten best best cases, etc. are filled with dubious or questionable material.

If the "best" stuff is crap, one can guess what the vast pile of the rest is composed of.


cda said...

Something fishy here Kevin.

Ruppelt writes in his book chapter 3 that "All of them [i.e. all the cases presented in the EOTS] had come from scientists, pilots and other equally credible observers, and EACH ONE was an unknown" (my italics).

Yet you now say that the one case you cite was explained as a cluster of balloons.

What about the others? Was Ruppelt wrong about the EOTS? He led readers to believe that the EOTS contained good unknown cases only. Is it possible that this case was originally thought to be a genuine UFO but was then explained much later, i.e. after the EOTS was written?

purrlgurrl said...

I don't understand why sightings and testimony from pilots, police officers, and military are automatically deemed as trustworthy by UFO advocates. These cases are always pro forma given high credibility for no reason other than the profession of the witness, even when a case could be explained as a misidentification due to, say, stress or less than optimal conditions.

In addition, some cases involving military engaged in highly sensitive activities might very well come with an agenda attached (e.g., deliberate misinformation to divert attention from something deeply covert and terrestrial that might have been witnessed by civilians in the area).

It's a major weakness in the arguments of those who would make a case that UFOs are real.

A case deemed highly credible should stand solely on the merits of its substance and verifiability, whether it was reported by an Air Force general or a kid working the cash register part time at a local convenience store.

Sigh. But that's just me.

KRandle said...


If you understand the history, you understand Ruppelt's statement. In 1948 those in Ohio believed the saucers were interplanetary (as opposed to interstellar) and those at the Pentagon leaned toward a more terrestrial explanation. After the disaster of the EOTS, the attitude changed and investigations were not pursued with the same vigor as before. When Ruppelt took over, he changed that, but Ruppelt left in 1953 and the Robertson Panel recommended that they suggested that there was no security threat. Investigations returned to the explain them all. There are letters in the Blue Book files that prove this...

So, cases that might have once been seen as unidentified were labeled... sometimes with explanations that were less than satisfactory. It was after Ruppelt's Blue Book experience that many of these cases were labeled. I'm not sure what Armstrong might have seen and only noted the Blue Book solution. The real point is that the case was not a very good one to begin with... and the solution might be right, or might be wrong. In the end it was just a single witness with no other witnesses or evidence.

KRandle said...

purrlgurrl -

There are probably a couple of answers to that question. I thought I provided a bit of an answer in the posting. I think that those investigating UFOs in the beginning were mostly military with a few FBI agents thrown in. I think the military looked at it from the point of view that pilots, but especially fighter pilots, often had to make snap judgments on what was coming at them. They had to be able to identify everything in the sky around them because if they failed, they could get killed.

Military pilots, regardless of assignment, are schooled in aircraft recognition, are taught about weather, and have training in navigation, all of which should provide them with a superior ability to identify the things in the sky around them. Because of this, I believe the military accepted their statements as more informed than those of people who had not been so trained. This doesn't mean they couldn't be fooled, just that their training provided them with a better understanding of what they might encounter in the sky.

Many civilian pilots, especially in that era, were former military pilots, so this idea extended to them. Again, doesn't mean they couldn't be fooled. In fact, the sighting that seemed to inspire the EOTS, the Chiles-Whitted case, I think is solved by a fireball. So we see that pilots are fooled.

As I say the difference is the training. Pilots have it, most people don't... and I would think that this would extend to astronomers, both amateur and professional. They would be familiar with what is in the sky.

So, it is really a matter of training and experience. Those without it might be fooled more frequently than those with it, but even the pilots with thousands of hours of flight time get fooled.

Anonymous said...


On the issue of what makes the testimony of one witness more reliable than another; what if you were on trial and the central area of dispute was the discharge of a firearm that resulted in a homocide. When dealing with ballistics, type of weapon and ammo, as well as other factors, who would you put on the witness stand, a court certified firearms expert, or the local plumber?

purrlgurrl said...

I'm talking about a bias that still exists today and might likely have its genesis in this report

If police were infallible witnesses and investigators no conviction would ever be overturned, or for that matter, no one would ever be acquitted in the first place. Police make mistakes and misidentificataions all the time.

If pilots were infallible in the air no mid-air collision or crash would ever be attributed to human error, yet near misses happen all the time, especially in general aviation.

As for the military, how many tragic cases of death and injury by friendly fire (as well as innocent civilians incorrectly targeted) do we need to see before we recognize its fallibility when in comes to making critical identifications in stressful or extreme circumstances?

Hell, the US once "accidentally" shot down another nation's commercial airliner over international waters.

I just don't buy into the belief that these types of witnesses add more credibility or validity to any UFO case, then or now.

KRandle said...

purrlgurrl =

You miss the point. No one is suggesting that police or pilots are infallible. The point is that they have some training in observation. Police are trained to observe the scene in a specific way and that training aids in their recall of what they saw.

Pilots, as I mentioned, are trained in aircraft recognition, among other things. It's not that they are infallible, but that they have a more conprehensive knowledge of what to expect in the sky around them.

I would include other groups in this, such as astronomers... familar with what to expect when they look up. It is a matter of training and specific knowledge.

So, when someone in these groups (and we could probably add some others) see something not readily identifiable, it is not quite the same as when someone without the training claims to have seen something. Can the pilots, police and scientists be wrong? Of course. Can the average citizen be right? Certainly.

So, yes, police make mistakes and trials are held. Yes, pilots make mistakes and there are midair collisions and near misses. But neither of these negates the original premise that the police and pilots have training that others lack, and investigation of their observations begins a little farther down the road.

And, yes, we all get that the military service members make mistakes, often with tragic consequences. And we know that these are made under stressful conditions, but again, that does not negate the training they have.

And the incident to which you refer was something done by the Navy and those who were watching electronic blips on radar which they misinterpreted, but have no relevance here.

Again, to answer your question, we all look at the military sightings, the police sightings, the scientist sightings with a little more reliance on their observational abilities because of they training they have to reach the positions they hold... but then we must apply the same investigative vigor to that research. As I say, we just begin a little farther down the road, but we do not give them a free pass.

David Rudiak said...

Kevin wrote:
Many civilian pilots, especially in that era, were former military pilots, so this idea extended to them. Again, doesn't mean they couldn't be fooled. In fact, the sighting that seemed to inspire the EOTS, the Chiles-Whitted case, I think is solved by a fireball. So we see that pilots are fooled.

I still have seen no convincing evidence that Chiles-Whitted were fooled. This notion that meteor fireballs explain Chiles-Whitted and similar reports of cigar-shaped craft with "windows" seems to come from Menzel in "UFOs, A Scientific Debate". He uses the example of the 1968 Zond spacecraft reentry where he cites two written reports out of "hundreds" of detailed reports collected by the Air Force that ran to over 400 pages. In these two of "hundreds" of reports the witnesses thought they saw windows. One of these he insinuates was drunk.

So two out of "hundreds" report seeing "windows" (less than 1%), one maybe drunk, and suddenly two very experienced and very sober airline pilots probably also saw a meteor fireball (both citing the detail of a double row of windows). I don't get it.

Four days before, a totally independent report of a missile shaped object with a double row of windows came from the Hague, Netherlands. That just seems like too much coincidence to me.

Menzel disingenuously added that Hynek had also come up with the explanation of meteor for Chiles-Whitted, which eventually became the official Air Force explanation after the EOTS was rejected. But this isn't correct. Hynek at the time said he really had no astronomical explanation, but a "far-fetched" one might be be meteor, though Hynek didn't really believe it himself. Hynek's qualification from the start that such an explanation was very doubtful was conveniently forgotten, including by Menzel.

cda said...


The Chiles-Whitted UFO was explained as a bright fireball long before the "UFOs a Scientific Debate" conference and resulting book.

See "The World of Flying Saucers" (Menzel and Boyd, 1963) and more importantly the Condon Report p. 581, also the great meteor of 1913, p.579-580. as well as the Zond 4 re-entry on preceding pages. It is obvious that Hynek, initially (in 1948) skeptical of this explanation, changed his mind over the years.

However, the Battelle study, leading to Blue Book Special Report 14, did list it as one of their 'good unknowns'. But we shall be digressing again if we go down that route.

KRandle said...

David -

I have gone back to the Blue Book file on Chiles-Whitted, and have found references to a meteor. In most of the cases, it is in the form of this wasn't a meteor because.

However, there is one document dated 9 September 1948, where is said, "It was generally agreed that the phenomena resembled a shooting star, despite the fact that course and altitude did not correspond to the characteristic of sucn an aerial phenomena."

The same document concludes, "It was concluded that the objects observed were not aircraft, but probably meteoric in nature."

Granted, the document is somewhat confusing, but it seems that the idea that Chiles-Whitted saw a meteor was suggested then.

Menzel, in a 1961 letter wondered why the meteor solution wasn't pursued... and yes, the case was labeled "unknown" for a period, but was later changed to "Fireball." I don't know when the change took place.

What I find interesting is that while almost everyone who saw the Zond IV reentery knew what it was, there were those who believed it was an alien craft. The drawings made at the time resembled those made by Chiles and Whitted (which, BTW, did not duplicate one another to the extent you would expect).

Even ignoring this intriquing and what I see as fairly compelling evidence, I have seen any number of videos of meteors that give the impression of a cigar-shaped craft with lighted windows. Youtube has a 3 minute video of these things cleverly called "Meteor Compilation." Taken a look at it.

For me, all that is compelling evidence. It seems that Chiles and Whitted did see a bolide.

And I will note that there were reports that they felt a "buffeting" as the object passed them, that that information does not appear in the "Official" interviews, just in those that appear in the newspaper.

It just seems to me that with out now advanced knowledge on these things, we can see that some, when presented with an ambiguous stimulus, add details that were not there. Zond IV shows this... and the meteor compilation shows how it can happen.

cda said...


Again we have an anomaly in the UFO 'story'. Ruppelt states quite plainly in his chapter 3 that the Chiles-Whitted case was the impetus for the EOTS. It was believed to have been written in August 1948, very soon after the C-W sighting. It was the startling and rather frightening C-W case that so baffled investigators. Ruppelt says the object "nearly collided with the airliner".

Now you point out that in early September document they decided " was generally agreed that the phenomena resembled a shooting star..." Yet this was at the very time the EOTS was on its way up to Gen Vandenberg with, presumably, the C-W sighting as its leading pro-ET case!

So what is going on? Rather, what WAS going on?

Were Blue Book staff at loggerheads with each other? How can a serious top secret document triggered by the sighting of a massive UFO buzzing an airliner be produced when at the same time another group is saying that it is likely to be merely a "shooting star"?

It makes no sense at all. I conclude the BB staff were seriously split on this sighting, and probably on many others as well.

In other words, the EOTS looks like a rush job, done by a small bunch (maybe 2 or 3) of ET believers. Thus its quick demise and relegation to the incinerator.

Which makes you wonder why people like Keyhoe placed such importance on it, even though none of them had ever read it.

Lance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Kevin -

...history is often more complex than the media portrays.

An example is Bob Woodward of "All the President's Men" fame; Woodward was a Naval Intelligence Officer, then suddenly, a switch seems to have been flipped, and virtually overnight Bob Woodward became an investigative reporter for the WaPo, and quickly 'found' the coverup.... someone once wrote, dear Kevin, follow the money....

(Post-Roswell, spook shenanigans seem to have gotten better, eh?)

Don said...

Quoting the "Analysis" (1948)

"1. A number of reports on unidentified flying objects come from observers who, because of their technical background and experience do not appear to be influenced by unfounded sensationalism nor inclined to report explainable phenomena as new types of airborne devices."

Kevin: "What struck me was the poor quality of some of the cases reviewed..."On July 14, 1947, 1st Lt Eric B Armstrong..."

The report is very detailed. It's a good report. So is Arnold's. Compare them to the reports by the expert witnesses in the Kelly Johnson case. Those are poor reports.

Two things besides the detail which make the Armstrong report good is 1) The AF thought it good. 2)The date, July 14, 1947: it occurred during the 47 Wave, before opinions about the saucers had firmed up, so to speak. Once again, compare to the Kelly Johnson case in which it appears nearly all the expert witnesses had made UFO reports previously (one expert witness had visited Giant Rock). Johnson self-described as a "believer", too.

The Kelly Johnson case is often presented as the best or one of the best UFO reports, mainly because it has an airplane full of the best possible expert witnesses...who measure nothing, calculate nothing, time nothing, estimate nothing. They do however appear to have joked about flying saucers.

I think the Lt Armstrong report is "good" and don't know how it could be considered "poor", just as I don't understand how the reports from the plane in the Kelly Johnson case could be considered "good" or even "best", when, in fact, they are "poor".



Don said...

I think the "Estimate" would have made a logical argument, rather than a proof argument, for "interplanetary origin". The issue is stated in the "Analysis":

"5. CONCLUSION. The conclusion that some type of flying object has been observed over the U.S. seems substantiated."

Then comes the usual reference to Domestic origin (aka The USN) and Foreign (aka Soviet).


"It is likewise impossible at this time to contain discussions of possible performance characteristics or tactics within limits of practical reason, if for no other reason than the fact that proof of the existence of a foreign development of this type would necessarily introduce considerations of new principals and means not yet considered practical possibilities in our own research and development."

Since the Conclusion had just discussed "foreign", it seems likely to me that the above quote is referring to the opinion regarding interplanetary origin, without naming it, but calling it "a foreign development".

The logical argument for interplanetary origin would have been: the objects are neither foreign nor domestic (in fact, couldn't be, given their reported behavior), yet display intelligence (aka "tactics"). If the intelligence isn't earthly, then we have to look to other worlds for it.

The argument against interplanetary origin was the reported behavior of the objectcs gave no evidence of the technology required (as we understood it) for intelligent beings to travel between planets.

Thus, the 1948 "Analysis":

"It is likewise impossible at this time to contain discussions...of new principals and means..."

So, the "Estimate" was rejected.



Terry the Censor said...

Nice piece.

Regarding the comments about witnesses: I have no problem accepting that pilots are better witnesses owing to their training and experience. I would assume they're able to identify other craft and are aware of most atmospheric effects (though not infallibly, of course).

But I have trouble giving any credit to statements about distance, size and speed for an object set against an ambiguous and often empty background (no identifiable objects in the sky that can be compared to the mystery item). Reading newspaper reports of UFOs that are later identified as birds, kites or lanterns, it's clear humans are absurdly bad at making these kinds of estimates.

Can anyone point us to any formal studies that test how well humans judge size, distance and speed of moving objects?

Steve Sawyer said...

"While studying the legendary 'Estimate of the Situation,' the document written in secret in 1948 by Air Force personnel in Dayton, Ohio, I came to understand some more about it."

"While studying the legendary [EOTS]..." <-- I can only assume that this is imprecise language, given that the actual EOTS Ruppelt first described publicly in his 1956 book has never surfaced or been found, since Vandenberg had, allegedly, all but a "few copies" destroyed.


Are you, Kevin, referring instead to what is sometimes referred to as the "Ghost of the Estimate," the December 10, 1948 Top Secret "Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the United States," Study #203?

If so, can this later document really be concluded as either a draft or alternate version of the EOTS itself, since, for example, Jan Aldrich (of Project 1947) apparently disputes that interpretation:

"The Top Secret document 'Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the United States,' Study #203, ('Analysis') issued 10 December 1948 by the USAF Directorate of Intelligence (DI) and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) is often called 'The Ghost of the Estimate', or a watered [down] version of the Air Materiel Command (AMC) Estimate of the Situation (EOTS). Quite wrong. The two documents, if the EOTS exists at all, probably have no connection." [emphasis added]


So, precisely what did you mean when you wrote "While studying the legendary 'Estimate of the Situation,'..." since you could not have a copy of the actual, original EOTS itself? The "Ghost"?

If so, what do you think of Aldrich's statement that the Dec. 10, 1948 "Analysis..." or "Ghost" was neither a draft nor derivative of the actual EOTS itself ("Quite wrong" and "probably have no connection")?

In other words, if you are actually referring to the "Ghost" (Study 203) as being some alternative version of the actual EOTS, on what evidential basis is that opinion founded upon, given that no known copies of the EOTS exist in the public realm, and Aldrich's apparent conclusion that the two documents "probably have no connection"?

KRandle said...

Steve -

I'm referring to the legendary ETOS as described by Ruppelt and Dewey Fournet and in various documents. Those descriptions have provided some information about the cases that were studied. As I say, I have been looking into this in some depth. This was just a way of showing how some of the cases were probably not the best and were based on single witness with no sort of corroboration.