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.
Nice collection of information on the case, Kevin. One thing that strikes me about some of the Golden Oldies is that so many of the reports are of flocks of UFOs. Somehow, the single flyer later took over the franchise.
I agree with much of your post. The last third of it is the same information that I related in a series of posts here. I knew that you would see the implications unlike some of the more unreasonable "researchers".
You don't seem to be willing to just state it, but the fact is that Newhouse changed his story over time. He began (like other UFO witnesses) to overplay his role.
None of the contemporaneous documents show mention of the large angular size that is the keystone (I think) of your last piece as you argued that the case deserved more consideration because it was a close up encounter.
The actual 1952 evidence in no way supports that.
I changed my opinion (thanks to Larry) about one matter and believe that Newhouse was describing saucers (during a big UFO flap year) even though the description was somewhat garbled in the documents.
But the idea of a dozen or more full moon-sized craft in the air over a highway didn't appear until later. And even James McDonald was dubious about the claimed angular size.
I guess the important point for me is that there is clear evidence that Newhouse was changing his tale to make it more interesting.
Newhouse started saying (at some point) that he had actually shot 10 feet or so of really good close-up footage of the UFO's but that the government had taken it and hidden it away.
As time went on, this fantasy footage grew more and more and his mind and by the end of his life he was saying that fully half of his footage was the lost good stuff.
In your reply to me, you mention that the McDonald letter was second hand but I believe that there are letters from Newhouse (or other interviews with him) stating the same thing. If you think this is an issue, I can track them down.
You mention my criticism of your piece (and how you thought skeptics would critique it) and 1970's interview you did with Newhouse.
I want to state that the work you did on this case (and so many others) is very valuable and admirable. This kind of documentation is (in some cases) the only record we have of certain figure the history of UFO's.
But your last published article here does invite the same kind of criticism that skeptics have offered for much of your work. And that is that you seem to accept what witnesses say on faith.
I really knew almost nothing about the case before reading your post. But after just a few minutes with the files, I could see the same kinds of problems that occur over and over in UFO cases. The contemporaneous evidence disconnects from the way the case is being presented by UFO proponents.
Then I started looking into the lost footage story. Soon one esteemed member of the Roswell Dream Team stated by assertion that I was wrong and confused and stupid and that Newhouse had never claimed anything about lost footage.
I am sure that this committed conspiracist (and I think committed is almost the right word) will use the same skills to "prove" other UFO facts. But in this case he was spectacularly wrong.
In fairness, I suspect that UFO believers and skeptics come at the information from two different places. I suggest that sometimes believers can't seem to see disconfirming evidence. It may well be that skeptics like me overlook the confirming stuff.
In this case, I think we have (somewhat) come together in agreement on certain aspects of this case. You still seem to think that it hold some value, I think it is basically a lights (or bright reflections) in the sky case and that the film is probably useless.
I will say that I did have fun looking into the case.
I went through the files on my own, after the case seemed to be of more interest than I thought. I went through the material on microfilm, read the letters and the other aspects of the "investigation." I believe that it was mishandled from the start and am distressed that Newhouse's first written statement is so devoid of the information we would want today.
I will argue with you all day that Newhouse added details to make his case more interesting... but by the same token, will note that the first description of saucer-shaped craft seem to come from Ruppelt's 1954 interview with Newhouse.
I made the comment about McDonald's second hand account simply because you had asked if I knew the difference... which, of course I do.
There really is no reason to search for other examples of Newhouse saying that he shot more footage because it is clear from everything that there was about 30 feet of film and that is all. No evidence that he used two film magazines or that any footage is missing.
No, my piece didn't invite that criticism because I said I knew what they would say... and you did.
Also, I think you should review the Mount Vernon, Iowa case that I explored on this blog. The female witness, within weeks changed the points of light (which I believe were landing lights) had evolved into a domed disk with two humanoid creatures... and she was telling the truth... as she knew it.
I will note that on one skeptic site I saw information that Newhouse had seen sea gulls in another part of the sky during the sighting, but the documentation makes it clear that this information is inaccurate.
I find the case has lost much of its luster but there still might be something of interest to it. It seems to me that if the objects were in sight for five minutes that a Naval officer with 19 years of service should have been able to recognize them as such. I mention his Naval service not as a way to boost his crediblity, but to point out he would have been in areas to see sea gulls soaring.
Finally, I mentioned my interview with Newhouse because that put me in front of Baker and Hartmann who apparently never talked to him, but did mention the Ruppelt's interview. But the reason that I called Newhouse was because I was aware that cases do get garbled by others and wanted to verify what Newhouse was saying. I thought it important to point out that Newhouse was saying this... even if his story had expanded over the years.
Yes, there is a mention that obvious seagulls are seen in some of Newhouse's footage. This is in the BB file. But I don't know what to make of it--I don't see any obvious seagulls in the footage (as I see it on YouTube).
If there is a skeptic site saying this as fact (without referencing it) then I would have a problem with that, too.
Interesting stuff Kevin. I will have to monitor your musings here. I also looked at the post on the Mt Vernon incident. You didn't mention it, but the two confused primaries were probably Cornell students. Had it occurred on 1st Ave in CR, the Coe students would have correctly identified the airplane. Cheers.
I am glad Jim Robinson has clarified his own sighting a bit (from the previous blog), because it is, as Kevin says, quite useless as confirmation of Newhouse's sighting and movie.
Why did anyone bring up the Robinson affair anyway? 700 miles away and maybe or maybe not on the same day?!
Has anyone ever come along from, say, southern California, and told us that he saw the same objects as Arnold did, on or about the same day, from a mere 700 miles distance? If such a person did indeed manage to prove they were identical to Arnold's objects, at least we could finally be certain Arnold did NOT see a flight of pelicans!
Jerry Clark invented the term 'pelicanist' (and 'pelicanism') for an unreasonable skeptic. What about a new term 'seagullist'?
The USN documents in the Blue Book file (thanks for the link, Lance) make it clear that by the time they received “the” film the condition of it had deteriorated to the point that they could only run it once before having to making their own set of copies which were color corrected. There is no indication if they received the “original” or a USAF copy to investigate so who knows what actually happened to the original.
I still have a Cine Kodak K 16mm film camera and the operation is similar to the Bell & Howell Automaster. You only the lens aperture and camera speed to work with. There is no focus control of the lenses – his camera had a spinning turret on it so he set it for the 75mm lens. It is clear from Newhouse’s descriptions that he didn’t bother setting the camera speed. Anyway the daylight color film wasn’t particularly fast at that time too plus 16mm is a small format. So when he stopped lens down to f/16 from f/8 without changing the camera speed it ended up under exposed. The neat thing about his camera was that it was one the first to use a cartridge for the film loading so it didn’t take as long as the older cameras that took reels of film but it had only half the film. Another limitation with these older cameras was that they were spring powered so there was limited shooting time between cranking it.
Kevin thanks for laying out the time line. Not enough questions were asked at the time.
Actually, when he stopped down to f/16 the sky became underexposed, but, due to the brilliance of the objects their contrast with the sky became much greater & they became much easier to see. The fact that Newhouse said he shouldn't have stopped down really puzzles me. Surely, he simply misspoke.
Jim and Lyall--I mentioned (in the previous story) being puzzled by Newhouse's comments about F-stop as well. If something is quite bright (but shows some sort of structure) it would be desired to stop down, perhaps even more.
His comments don't make sense from a photography standpoint.
He does mention setting the focus so I don't know if your info about there being no focus control is correct--it seems odd for a 75mm lens not to have focus.
I think this case is probably been spoken about enough but in my earlier posts I meant to mention that through that lens the objects are actually a bit larger than that might appear to the human eye so they really were pretty tiny.
I went back to Newhouse’s scripted interview and listened to what he saying. I think the reason Newhouse said it was a mistake to stop down to f/16 is that it didn’t make the objects more definable. When I look at the clip and the sky goes dark because he stopped down to f/16 halving the light available the objects themselves don’t become sharper with the increased contrast. They may be easier see but are not as sharp. This gets back to speed the camera was set at versus the f-stop. I’ve noticed that since everything went digital that teachers tell people to stop the lens down to get a sharper image without explaining that you can speed in lieu of f-stop, how the combinations of speed and f/stop work , or how to use the hyperfocal distance of lens and zone photography. But you can’t blame them because today’s digital cameras can usually figure out much faster than a person can what’s required and digital photography is so much more inexpensive too.
Newhouse says he set his focus to infinity on the lens so he did have an adjustment on the lens. Most of the smaller sized movie film cameras 8 and 16mm (as opposed to picture cameras) didn’t have focus control built on the lenses. You didn’t look thru the shooting lens to focus there was a separate lens to look thru plus a flip up device much like a rifle sight. Newhouse’s B&H camera is like that so your zone focusing (guesstimating). My Kodak uses snap off bayonet lenses and the lenses look like they have a focus ring on them with markings and it tricks a lot of people looking at because the ring is fixed. The markings on the “focus” ring are used with an F-stop scale that is attached to the front of the camera which allows you to determine the hyperfocal distance. With that big turret on the front of his B&H camera that calculator scale on side of it probably let the cameraman know what exposure and speeds to use for a particular film and lens combo to set the focus. So basically you had to know what your depth of field was and zone focus for action situations.
In that video of Newhouse he at least says that he wishes he would have liked to have the camera ready to go next to him in the car. Too bad it didn’t happen that way.
Actually I think this case remains potentially interesting as we have a certain amount of quantitative data and analysis from qualified people, which contradicts completely the bird hypothesis. To take it any further we would need to get into further quantified analysis however. Film is definitely not my area so I shall leave it at that for now.
Art Lundahl, to whom McDonald wrote his summary of his talk with Newhouse and his wife, was one of the original Navy photoanalysts, who felt the objects could not be birds because they were far too bright (in fact, he was in charge of the group that analyzed the film). No doubt, this is the reason McDonald sent him his summary of the interview.
The Navy completed its 1000 hour analysis in December 1952. Within a few weeks, the CIA convened the Robertson Panel, in which the bird idea was again proposed and the Navy analysis criticized as possibly flawed.
BUT, the CIA was so impressed with Lundahl's work on the Tremonton film that they snatched him up right afterward and made him head of their new photoanalysis division. He pioneered many techniques, such as computer image enhancement from digital scanning. He was arguably the nation's leading intelligence photoanalyst, heading analysis of all U-2 film footage. He was also considered an outstanding briefer for politicians on the technical aspects. He was Eisenhower's favorite briefer and was the person who briefed Kennedy on the Cuban missile situation.
AND, he had a high interest in UFOs that extended well beyond the Tremonton film. Todd Zechel, who visited his home, said Lundahl had the largest UFO library he had ever seen, with UFO material greatly outnumbering material on his professional field of expertise-- photoanalysis. Given this, Lundahl obviously did NOT think UFOs were a bunch of nonsense not worthy of his time. (A persistent rumor is that Lundahl was briefing Kennedy on UFOs, but this hasn't been documented.)
It is a good bet that as the CIA's and nation's top intelligence photoanalyst, Lundahl was sent more than a few UFO photos for analysis. (We know this was true during the Condon study, but hasn't been established for ither time periods.)
The point is, Lundahl was indeed top-notch, thus the conclusion of the Navy group that analyzed the Tremonton film that objects were definitely NOT birds should not be flippantly dismissed.
Thanks for the information on Lundhal. Whilst I'm sure his appointment to the CIA in 1953 considered his overall track record it does rather emphasise the point that the group undertaking the analysis was about as good as you get.
The criticisms of the methodology mentioned in the Robertson panel report come across as reflecting the very different approaches used by intelligence analysts, who have to work with real world information to that taken by physicists in idealised laboratory experiments. Whilst the latter approach definitely reduces the risk of arriving at mistaken conclusions attempting to apply that approach to real world data is impractical and actually inappropriate in my view.
It's such a shame we don't have the full original report, but I agree we need to take the conclusions seriously
Thanks for the background, I can see you’ve researched this at some length. I assume that copies of Lundahl’s report for the 1000 hour NPIC analysis have never surfaced in public, but maybe I'm wrong. Do you know if anyone has tried to obtain copies—through FOIA, for example? That report would be a wealth of information.
Stopping down an aperture leads to an expanded depth-of-field, hence anything in focus at f/8 will certainly be in focus at f/16, and dimming the sky background is a technique used by astronomers ever since the invention of photography to enhance the visibility of celestial objects, especially in the daytime. There is some useful information in the Newhouse film, even in the copies of it. A good example is the frames where he stopped panning & allowed the single object to cross the field. This allowed measurement of its angular velocity; and this in turn, coupled with the object's appearance,allowed the ruling out of a variety of objects, including birds.
Stopping down an aperture leads to an expanded depth-of-field, hence anything in focus at f/8 will certainly be in focus at f/16” – Jim Robinson
Only if there is enough light – plus you have account for film speed and shutter speed too, you cannot leave those variables out. If you were really working with film and the camera is in focus at F/8 and the shutter speed is 1/125 a second and you want to increase the depth of field by switching to F/16 you would also need to set the speed to 1/30 of second to account for the change in light reaching the film.
Matthew Cole has a good explanation of these photography terms so that anyone who is interested can understand http://www.uscoles.com/fstop.htm
(look at the range of settings towards bottom)
Newhouse didn’t change the camera (shutter) speed and under the circumstances I can fully understand why.
The discussion about whether Tremonton showed birds or not comes down to:
1. Whether white birds can reflect light that much and saturate the film, as apparently happened.
2. The distance of the objects from the camera.
Regarding point 1, I'm very dubious this could happen with slow, outdoor, Kodak color movie film, especially when Newhouse stepped down the aperture from f/8 to f/16 (half the diameter, one fourth the light).
As to how much sunlight a white bird can reflect (the albedo), I've looked at color photos of whitish birds like penguins on ice or snow and they're very white and bright like the snow, indicating a high albedo. But this is on the ground. Soaring sea gulls with the sun very high in the sky, as in Tremonton, have their whitish bellies in the shade most of the time (facing down towards the camera--remember Newhouse indicated a high angle in the sky, at least when he first started filming). The only time you might see a flash of white is if they banked VERY steeply at just the right angle, belly-side to the sun.
In the case of the lone object that peeled off, there would have been no banking, instead a bird flapping its wings fast and furiously and flying a straight line to attain the maximum gull-like flying speeds Hartmann was proposing if only about 2000 feet away. No continuous white spot should have been seen, and in spite of Hartmann's handwaving argument that wings would not have been visible because of the distance, the rapidly beating wings should have been very visible, if in no other way then to cause a rapid, rhythmic fluctuation in the light.
All of this could have been tested by going out and filming soaring white birds under similar conditions or grabbing a bird, bringing it back to the lab, and testing its albedo under various lighting conditions.
Regarding the second point (distance), this could have been roughly determined if someone had thought to ask the right questions. In the McDonald interview, Norma Newhouse indicated it took her about a minute to get her husband to stop the car after she first spotted the objects. Out in the country on a straight, flat highway in a thinly populated area (which is where the Newhouses were at the time), Mr. Newhouse was probably driving quite fast to cover distance on their long road trip. I would guess a typical 60 mph.
This means Mrs. Newhouse would have first seen the objects from a distance of very roughly a mile away. (This alone begs the question if she could have even seen the alleged birds at this distance much less thought she was seeing something truly remarkable, to the point of forcing her husband to stop, when she indicated he was not the type to stop the car on a mere whim.)
So questions that should have been asked to determine altitude were: 1. How fast was Newhouse driving at the time, 2. How long did it take to stop after first spotting the objects, and 3. What was their angle in the sky when Mrs. Newhouse first spotted them?
Answers to these questions would have permitted a rough triangulation of altitude. If for question 3, the answer was the objects were low in the sky when first spotted (but very high in the sky when they stopped, as they indicated), then the objects were not that high, which would be consistent with a bird hypothesis. But if they were high in the sky when first spotted, then their altitude would have been inconsistent with a bird hypothesis, as scaling of speed and size at a much greater distance would have ruled out birds.
I assume that copies of Lundahl’s report for the 1000 hour NPIC analysis have never surfaced in public, but maybe I'm wrong. Do you know if anyone has tried to obtain copies—through FOIA, for example? That report would be a wealth of information.
Honestly don't know. Hartmann cited some of the results, such as measurements of angular size and angular velocity of the Navy report, so presumably he had access to it. I know Hartmann/Condon worked with Lundahl and the CIA's National Photointerpretation Center in analyzing some of the UFO photographs. It's possible Lundahl gave Hartmann access to the Navy report.
Robert Baker's 1956 analysis for Douglas Aircraft can be found here:
Some very good points. In particular the lack of variation in brightness for the single object that flew off is I suspect definitive as the orientation of the bird would have to be in noal flight and ambiguities around the movement or lack of it of the camera are not relevant to the conclusion.
Just been watching a large white seagull on a bright sunny day. The change in brightness due to wing flapping as it receded was very evident.
The purpose of stopping down the aperture was not to increase depth-of-field, but to make the sky darker (or at least it should have been the purpose). Newhouse didn't need to compensate for decreased exposure of the objects because they were already saturating the emulsion, hence stopping down didn't decrease their apparent brightness at all. The result was increased contrast & visibility of the objects.
So, if the images were saturated at both f/8 and f/16, when the light gathering capacity of the optical system was reduced by a factor of 4, then that means the brightness of the images were a minimum of 4 times the saturation limit of the film. That's a scientific experiment all by itself.
Is it possible for a seagull breast illuminated by the Sun to be more than 4 times brighter than the saturation limit of the film?
Hello Jim Robinson:
So the reason Newhouse said it was the wrong thing to do is? That was the original question that got this going. This gets back to the poor interviewing or recording of questions with Newhouse for what information exists today. On the video Newhouse explains under exposing as you do (like an astronomer would do) and then said it was the wrong thing to do. You said you were puzzled by this and that he misspoke. Lance didn’t think it made sense from a photography standpoint. Towards the end of that video clip when it runs several times the announcer says that Newhouse wanted to increase the density and contrast of the film to clarify objects. So I take that to mean Newhouse’s intent was to define the shape of the objects on the film. What happened is the increased visibility by stopping down to f/16 was at the expense of definition or clarity of the objects on the film. He didn’t achieve his goal by using that technique. Newhouse didn’t misspeak and makes sense to photographers who’ve worked with film. You have to take into account all the variables and Newhouse was in a hectic situation too.
With regard to seagulls, the Blue Book report specifies riding thermals. When seagulls are climbing in thermals they really don’t flap wings very much at all they are just gliding in a circular track letting the rising hot air lift them up to high altitude. From the side it looks like a column and from directly below a circle. It doesn’t look anything like Newhouse’s film. Particularly the end section where the two lowest objects on the left of the formation make a quick vertical climb to same level as the next two objects while none of the other objects has a corresponding increase in altitude.
Something strange I noticed in the interview with Newhouse is that when he shows his Bell & Howell camera it looks like it has the available 6” lens installed in the turret too. It would be interesting to find out if that was so. Maybe his kids would know. With twice the power of lens that was used for the film it could possibly have resolved some of the issues here.
Larry & Lyall
I agree with your thoughts about the amount of light needed to saturate the film - I was wondering earlier if this could be calculated but at the moment we are both limited to a qualitative sense that this looks like quite a lot more power output than simple reflection from a very small object, in terms of angular size. Hopefully someone out there has the necessary expertise to do the calculation!
The combination of the absence of fluttering noted by David, our thoughts about the saturation of the film and Lyall's comments on the motion (birds definitely not my field but sounds plausible at first sight), taken together suggests that we are arriving back in a reasonably quantifiable manner at the same conclusions the original analysis came to.
All in all I think this case is one I may well need to add to my personal list of 'primary cases' unless anyone can come up with a similarly physically based argument against the above points.
As an additional thought...
One possibility for 'ball of light' type UFO reports appears to be Tectonic Strain Lights. However, according to the University of Utah records there were no significant earthquakes (Magnitude 5.0+) in the area between March of 1952 and February 1958, whilst Persinger and Derr found that the best correlation was around a one month lag (with the reports preceding the earthquake).
So TSLs don't seem to be a plausible option either.
Anthony Mugan wrote:
Some very good points. In particular the lack of variation in brightness for the single object that flew off is I suspect definitive as the orientation of the bird would have to be in noal flight and ambiguities around the movement or lack of it of the camera are not relevant to the conclusion.
Just been watching a large white seagull on a bright sunny day. The change in brightness due to wing flapping as it receded was very evident.
Serendipitously I was doing the same thing, on a bright, sunny day a few days ago. One to three white California gulls were flying around probably about 500 to 2000+ feet away. At ~500 feet, no problem clearly seeing the gull. (Could easily see the wings spread out with white undersides and black tips. At ~2000', could not clearly make out a gull, but could easily see vigorous wing flapping no problem as the brightness rhythmically changed.
I even managed to take a few digital photos and make a bad digital movie. In the movie, as the wings flapped, the image brightness fluttered, as expected, whether the image was in-focus or badly out-of-focus, as the wings cut in front of the body or more of the dark upper wing surface was exposed.
In the still photos with the gulls far off in the distance, the bodies are just white dots, not particularly bright. Even though you can't make out details that would clearly define a bird shape, you can still make out the fuzzy black wingtips next to the white dots, giving them a somewhat Saturn-like shape.
Closer up, when the white body caught the sunlight, they looked about as white and bright as the few clouds in the sky. I don't see how this could saturate the Kodachrome film, especially when Newhouse stepped the aperture down to f/16, and if birds were so far off in the distance they couldn't be clearly seen as birds, but just whitish, dimmer dots. My pictures showed bird and cloud luminance differences (like the adjacent darkened wings), even when not clearly resolving the birds. Why didn't Newhouses' images?
Robert Baker of Douglas Aircraft in his 1956 analysis brought up the same points and was likewise highly skeptical that birds could reflect this much light or not be recognized, commenting:
"The motion of the objects is not exactly what one would expect from a flock of soaring birds (not the slightest indication of a decrease in brightness due to periodic turning with the wind or flapping)..."
Lab experiment: "The rectangular flat white cardboards of the aforementioned experiments represented very roughly the configuration of birds. The light reflected by such a surface is probably greater than that from a curved feather surface of a bird. Figure 4(b) shows the appearance of one and two foot birds... as they might appear on a 16mm frame taken with a 3" telephoto lens f/16 at a distance of 1200', figure 5(a) at 3000' and figure 5(c) at 3300'. Many of the images on the 'Utah' film have an angular diameter of 0.0012 radians (some as large as 0.0016 radians), thus they might be interpreted as one foot birds at 600' to 800', two foot birds at 1200' to 1600' or three foot birds at 2400' to 3200'. At these distances, it is doubted if birds would give the appearance of round dots; also they would have been identifiable by the camera if not visually..."
Thanks folks - I've learnt a lot about this case through the posts and comments, together with associated references. I had always left photographic cases to one side, partly as I don't know enough about photography but also with the assumption that you could never be totally definitive...this looks pretty clearly to be an exception that proves the rule.
Those with an allergic reaction to the very idea that there could be physically real UFOs might wish to consider the possibility of a currently not understood natural phenomena along the lines of some sort of atmospheric plasma. TSLs don't seem a likely candidate in this case, so we need to be looking for new physics for that to stand up to scrutiny.
Either way this is a classic example of why science is in default on this issue, as MacDonald noted many years ago.
Thanks again all.
Like Anthony, I have found this discussion to be surprisingly informative for a case that is now more than 60 years old. I am struck by the fact that there were 3 different groups that conducted what I would consider serious scientific/technical investigation of the film (ATIC, the Navy Photo Interpretation Lab, and R.M.L Baker), and all of them tended to reject the “birds” hypothesis.
By serious scientific/technical investigation, I mean 1) having access to a high quality copy of the film for an extended period of time, 2) examining the film frame-by-frame, 3) making quantitative measurements of some image parameters (thereby creating data), 4) putting the data into mathematical models and calculating the implications (brightness, size, angular rates, etc.), and 5) interpreting the results. Neither the Robertson Panel nor the Condon Report actually added any new data (that I can tell).
I remember reading somewhere that the Naval Lab was criticized for a sloppy densitometry technique, but, thanks to Newhouse's action in stopping down in the middle of the film sequence, accurate densitometer measurements are not needed to prove the "seagull" density on the film lies in the upper shoulder of the H&D curve & therefore at or near saturation at both f-stops. Meanwhile the sky's density is obviously lower at f/16, hence lies on the straight-line portion of the curve.
An interesting experiment would be to take a movie camera with a film of similar speed & gamma as Kodachrome on a clear & sunny day and film seagulls the same way Newhouse did, i.e., shoot briefly at f/8, then change to f/16. The results should be informative. If anyone who can do this is unfamiliar with H&D curves, I'm sure the subject could be Googled, or maybe found on Wikipedia.
Incidentally, according to Hynek, the Robertson Panel never really examined the film. All they did was spend a day or two casually looking at them then using their impressions to make recommendations.
Your posts are waaaay too long.
You seem to be the only one who complains about the length. The length of a post is dictated by the requirement of the data presented. Sometimes it just takes a while.
One point I have not seen much commentary about is how the objects in the Newhouse film *simultaneously* increase and decrease their brightness together, as if synchronized in some way. I have recently spent a considerable amount of time performing my own frame-by-frame stabilization and brightness & contrast normalization of the Newhouse footage.  I obtained a DVD copy of the film “UFO: The True Story of Flying Saucers” from the NICAP web store, which is of somewhat better quality (but still not great) than the various versions found on the internet (which themselves are all derived from the “UFO: True Story…” movie). I then extracted the Newhouse footage as an MPG file without any transcoding (to retain as much resolution as possible) and imported it into Sony Vegas where I used keyframe editing – with one key for each and every frame – to apply the “crop & pan” and “brightness & contrast” filter separately to each frame.
The reason I explain my methodology in this much detail is to make the point that I have watched the Tremonton film frame-by-frame many times, with a tool that allows me to step backwards and forwards one frame at a time, by pressing the left and right arrow keys. When I do this it becomes very evident that these objects all increase and decrease their apparent brightness in a synchronous manner . This observation makes both the conventional aircraft and the seagull explanations untenable, in my opinion.
In order to achieve the apparent brightness of the objects in the Tremonton film, using only reflected sunlight, it appears to me that these objects would have to be capable of specular reflection  – the type of reflection that occurs with mirrors or highly polished metal surfaces. This is in contrast to Lambertian reflectance, the type of reflection that occurs from a matte-finish surface, like a piece of paper – or seagull feathers. In addition, the fact that the apparent brightness does vary, implies that these objects are not spherical, but rather that they have some sort of non-spherically symmetric structure – meaning they have “flat spots” of some sort at various locations on their surface. For specular reflections “the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection” as we learned in high school physics. To achieve maximum apparent brightness at the location of a fixed observer, such a “flat spot” would have to be oriented very precisely in such a manner that incident sunlight is “aimed” directly at the observer. For a *group* of such objects to all attain maximum observed brightness at the location of a single observer, it would be necessary for *all* the objects to be oriented in such a way that their reflected beams converge on the observer. This is a very difficult thing to do, as anyone who has seen the “Mythbusters” episode(s) where they attempt to replicate the “Archimedes Death Ray” can attest! Moreover, the difficulty of aiming 10-20 such “mirrors” at an observer is increased by at least an order of magnitude when the mirrors are all flying about in the sky. Even if the Blue Angels were given F-18s with all their paint stripped off, and the bare metal polished to a high gloss, there is no way they could execute the maneuvers in the Tremonton film while managing to all orient their aircraft in such a way as to aim their specular reflections at a single observer. The vehicle attitude (pointing direction) requirements of aerodynamic flight preclude this from happening.
Even if the objects were Lambertian reflectors, their variations in brightness would have to have been caused by some change in orientation with respect to the observer, and this change in orientation would have to be performed synchronously across the entire group. Seagulls are not known for their ability to perform synchronized aerobatics.
Thus I think that this aspect alone – synchronous brightening and dimming - of the behavior of the objects in the Newhouse film is sufficient to preclude birds and conventional aircraft as explanations.
 I have not quite finished the brightness & contrast normalization; when I do I would be happy to make my stabilized version of the Tremonton film available for others to view.
 This assertion is admittedly not backed up by any quantitative data on my part. However the US Navy Photo Interpretation Lab opined that the objects were “self-luminous” for essentially the same reasons I cite above.
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