Thursday, January 21, 2016

Chiles/Whitted and Skepticism

Since some people have gone nuts over the article about pseudoskepticism, I thought I might demonstrate what I think along those lines. There is a claim that Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted, two airline pilots saw a cigar-shaped craft that flashed by their aircraft buffeting it with the turbulence of its passage. A passenger on the aircraft didn’t actually see the object, but did see the light from it. The other passengers were on the wrong side of the aircraft or they were asleep given the late hour.

Chiles/Whitted illustrations. Photo courtesy of USAF.
Proponents of the alien visitation explanation suggest that you have two reliable observers who both saw virtually the same thing at the same time and within hours of the event provided military investigators and radio reporters with their eyewitness testimony. They believe this is a solid case and point to the evidence of alien visitation.

Skeptics say that they were fooled by a bolide, a very bright meteor, and although both had seen many meteors during their nighttime flights, this was something different. It was bigger and brighter and was only visible for a few seconds. The case is solved by this explanation.

Proponents ask, “How do you explain that both pilots saw a cigar-shaped craft with a double row of square windows?”

I say, “That question is fair enough. How do we explain it?’

And the answer was given to us on March 3,1968 when the Zond IV, a spacecraft that had been made on Earth reentered the atmosphere. While the majority of those seeing the craft as it broke up in a shower of glowing pieces, there were some who thought they saw a cigar-shaped craft with square windows. Clearly this description was in error and it calls the Chiles-Whitted case into question. It shows that witnesses, provided with a glimpse of a glowing object at night can image they have seen something that was not there. They were fooled by an optical illusion and the way the brain functions.

Zond IV reentry illustrations.
In fact, in today’s world, with the Internet hosting all sorts of video clips we can take this a step further. Meteor falls have been recorded many times and in them we can often see an object breaking up with glowing pieces stringing out behind it. The illusion, for those who happen to glimpse something like that is a glowing cockpit and a row of windows along the fuselage of the craft. Meteors can fool us when seen briefly and in those conditions.

Yes, you say, but what about the turbulence felt as the craft passed Chiles and Whitted. Surely a meteor wouldn’t create that turbulence.

And skeptics say, look at the statements they made right after the event. Written statements signed by both men within hours of the sighting. They don’t mention the turbulence at all. That fact was introduced later.

What about the passenger? He only glimpsed a bright light flash by which serves to prove something was in the sky, but he didn’t see a cigar shape or rows of windows. His role in this sighting does nothing to validate the object or the windows. He didn’t see them.

What do we see here? Proponents offered a case that seemed to suggest alien visitation. Two airline pilots reported a cigar-shaped craft with square windows. Clearly this was not something manufactured on Earth. Skeptics said, “No, it was a meteor.”

Who is right?

Well, the skeptics seem to have the weight of the evidence on their side. They acknowledge that Chiles and Whitted saw something extraterrestrial, but it was not an alien spacecraft. They believed that they saw square windows, but we now know that can be an artifact created in the mind when something is glimpsed that is unusual. We can say, based on evidence from other reported events, that this illusion of a cigar-shaped craft with square windows is a perception problem and not a glimpse of reality.

The added fact, which might have disconfirmed the explanation, that is the buffeting of the aircraft, is not something that was reported by either pilot at the time. This “fact” was added sometime later.

It seems to me, that proponents offered what they thought of as a solid case, but skeptics, as they researched the events, using the testimony of the witnesses and their written statements, plus the observations of the Zond IV reentry, have proved their case. They didn’t just dismiss it by claiming hoax without evidence, or by suggesting other wild ideas, but provided solid evidence that the object observed was a meteor. I believe this to be a good explanation.

The point here is that the proponents had some very good testimony gathered within hours of the event. They had the drawings of the object with its square windows. Skeptics didn’t have the best evidence until 1968, but then we all could see how people might mistake a bright meteor glimpsed as it broke up as a craft with windows. Video tape confirms that impression. The evidence gathered in the years following the sighting proved that explanation is the most likely of the solutions offered… and to me that is how skepticism should work… I was skeptical of the meteor explanation until the evidence was laid out.


cda said...

There was also the great fireball seen over Canada and North America on Feb 9, 1913. This also had the 'window effect' otherwise known as the 'airship effect'. All the witnesses were on the ground. See Condon Report.

Bob Koford said...

Good Evening, Dr. Randle and thanks for another interesting article to read.

To all:

The combined "Chiles-Whitted" description details:

1. A cherry red flame shooting out the rear that seemed to
2. flair up just before the object appeared to
3. rear up, like a "stallion" -before it angled upwards, slightly, and disapperared into the storm.

Wouldn't the red color usually indicate a slow moving object? In this case it is a flame that seemed to grow slightly. There is also the strange, but intense blue glow seen all along the underside of the object.

And lastly, the object seemed to change direction, as if to maybe miss their airplane.

Would a bolide, which is breaking up in the atmosphere (into pieces that resemble a string of pearls, or glowing windows) change angle due to deflection, and remain all in a tight group...retaining their glowing window illusion? These breaking up type of meteors are usually/always on their way downwards, towards the ground.

Best regards,

Brian B said...

This reminds me of the recent case in California (2015) where presumably thousands of people witnessed a bright UFO give off an huge blue glow and then vanish from sight. This video below shows it well but there are more on YouTube that show the object from other angles too.

At first it appears this object is hovering with perhaps flashing lights, and afterwards then creates a massive blue cloud.

Strange indeed.

While many thought this to be an alien spacecraft it turned out to be a USN submarine launched missle test that was classified until the excercise was concluded.

Like the Chiles/Whitted incident, things can look strange from various vantage points and people's minds easily (and innocently) conclude what they are observing is something from another world.

Larry said...


Are you familiar with James McDonald’s investigation of this case?

In his 1968 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Science and Aeronautics, he is quoted as saying, “I interviewed both Chiles and Whitted earlier this year to cross-check the many points of interest in this case. …. Chiles pointed out to me that they first saw the object coming out of a distant squall line area which they were just then reconnoitering….”

In other words, Chiles is claiming that he saw the object at the same moment as, and in proximity to, a squall line (a group of rain clouds). The horizontal visibility underneath the cloud deck at that time was being reported by airports along the way as between about 5 and 10 miles.
See, for example:

That pretty well locates the object either underneath the cloud bases or between the witness and the clouds. In either case, the object could not have been high, fast, and far away, which is what the meteor explanation would require. McDonald concluded that the object was flying along horizontally beneath a sparse cloud deck at about 5,000 ft. If true, then the object could not have been a meteor—the laws of physics wouldn’t allow it. So, the fact that meteors can sometimes present a visual appearance that resembles a cigar shaped object with internal structure is interesting, but irrelevant in this case.

So, what do you make of McDonald’s description of Chiles’ testimony? Do you dismiss it? If so, on what basis?

KRandle said...

Larry -

Going back to the original interviews, Blue Book noted, "The night was clear with a bright moon and broken cloud coverage of 4/10 at 6,000 feet. Both estimated object to be in sight approximately 10 to 15 seconds, considered sufficient time for experienced pilots to determine whether 'ship' was a reflection, caused by some rare meteorological phenomena -- or was a material object."
Chiles suggested the object was sighted some "700 feet ahead," which at the estimated speed would have given them no time to evade it if it was a close as they thought traveling at the speed they though.

There is nothing in the weather records to suggest that there was a squall line anywhere around them, only the broken cloud cover that covered less than half the sky... and that there was a bright moon.

These details were added more than a decade after the event and to not reflect what was said in the hours and days afterward. There is an indication that the object disappeared into the clouds but given the circumstances, it could have been lost as it passed over the clouds and not into them.

I have found nothing in the Blue Book files that confirm the things said about the case by McDonald... and while I believe that he did get the information from the pilots years later, I also believe that information to be in error.

Anthony Mugan said...

Yes, it's a good example of how a reasonably plausible conventional explanation is enough to conclude a case...On the conventional side it doesn't have to be pefect, just plausible.

It's when the explanations become absurd...that's where I have a problem with it.

Randall Hess said...

Unless he later changed his story to match what the pilots saw, the passenger witness DID see the same object--at least that was his testimony in the early 1970s film, "UFOs - It Has Begun." In the section of the film covering the Chiles/Whitted sighting, the passenger clearly states he saw a cylindrical object with windows and a cherry-red flame coming out the back. I'm quoting almost verbatim.

Now... if the passenger did later change his story to match the pilots' stories... and if the pilots began adding details to their own... that is suggestive, I think, of a confabulation, however unintentional, on the part of the witnesses. The same could be said for Kenneth Arnold's sighting the year before. In both cases, you would have had people seeing something very strange an unexplained, and later they sparkle up their descriptions to make the sightings even more interesting and mysterious--perhaps in response to criticisms or skepticism. "I know what I saw" translating into "I'll add some details that makes it clear that it was something otherworldy, and that'll show the skeptics." Which might have been subconsciously done.

On the other hand, wasn't there another plane at a greater distance which corroborated Chiles and Whitted's sighting? Not that this would disprove the bolide/fireball theory, but I think it should have at least been mentioned for the sake of accuracy.

KRandle said...

Randall Hess -

According to what he told Air Force investigations in July 1948, "He saw no physical shape - only a streak of frame moving in a straight line. The whole experience was momentary so that detailed observation was absent."

It is quite clear, given other interviews around that time that this witness, Clarence L. McKelvie, didn't see anything. He said, "I could discern nothing in the way of definite shape or form..."

I believe that he confabulated all this which means simply he added detail that he'd heard after the fact and became convince that he had seen the details.

The other sighting, to which you refer took place at 2:30 near Blackstone, VA. The pilots saw only a trail heading to the west and is probably not related to Chiles and Whitted.

Larry said...

OK, so you are rejecting the testimony about the squall line because it did not appear in the contemporaneous reports. I’m not convinced that’s a valid objection, but I won’t argue the point.

Let’s restrict the discussion to only the contemporaneous reported data, the principles of geometry, and the known physics of meteor trajectories:

The pilots were looking in a predominantly horizontal direction, which is exactly why they feared they were on a collision course with the unknown object. They claim the object passed through about 180 degrees of azimuth as it passed by on their starboard side on a straight, horizontal path (until it began its pullup). They reported it as basically moving in a horizontal plane at, or very close to their altitude at approximately the speed of a jet plane (let’s say about 600 mph).

I’ve stated this before and you keep avoiding the question. An object moving that slowly is NOT a self-luminescent meteor. A natural meteor has to be moving at hypersonic velocities (many km/sec) in order to produce the plasma sheath surrounding the nose—which is the source of the illusion you are using to explain the sighting. The speed of a 1947 jet is also far, far to low for a ballistic object to sustain horizontal motion. If the object were moving no faster than Chiles and Whitted said at that depth in the atmosphere, it would not have been going horizontally, it would have been falling like the rock that it was. If it had been moving fast enough to be self luminescent, it would have passed the pilots many times faster than a rifle bullet. The human eye is not capable of making out visual detail in those brief instants. And this doesn't even consider the massive shockwave that would have been coming off the object.

I claim that a realistic meteor would have to have been moving much, much faster than what the pilots reported and therefore also much higher (probably 20 miles altitude, minimum) and therefore much farther away (probably about 400 miles) in order to be seen in their horizontal plane.

Do you agree or disagree?

Please answer explicitly; at what altitude and speed do you claim the meteor was flying that explains the Chiles-Whitted sighting?

Randall Hess said...

Kevin Randle: Thanks... that's what I thought (in regards to McKelvie's original testimony).

"According to what he told Air Force investigations in July 1948, "He saw no physical shape - only a streak of frame moving in a straight line. The whole experience was momentary so that detailed observation was absent.""

Which is a huge contradiction with what he says in the film I cited (I'm sure you've seen it) in which he directly mirrors exactly what Chiles claimed to have seen.

"I believe that he confabulated all this which means simply he added detail that he'd heard after the fact and became convince that he had seen the details."

I completely agree. I don't feel it had to be intentional, either. As I said, human nature could have dictated that, after a time, he thought he saw what the pilot (or pilots) said they'd seen.

Of course, none of this *proves* that Chiles and/or Whitted didn't see something strange and unusual; I'm sure they did. And it doesn't prove that what they saw *wasn't* an extraterrestrial craft of some kind. But it seems quite likely that, given the discrepancies in the three different descriptions, that the bolide theory holds more water.

We'll never know, of course. But the bigger question is why the air force investigators at the time were so willing to accept this particular sighting as the world-changing one. I suppose it was the fact that the witnesses were pilots, and it was still early in the game... still... in the light of the doubts, it makes Vandenberg's rejection of the extraterrestrial hypothesis seem quite reasonable.

Anthony Mugan said...

If I understand it correctly if you have a meteor entering the atmosphere many miles in front of you and on a trajectory heading almost towards you (but offset by a few degrees) the fireball will initially appear to be coming straight at you. As it gets closer the meteor can appear to veer off to the side as the difference in the angle of approach from a head on collision course becomes more evident.
Judging distances to a luminous object at night without a frame of reference such as cloud cover above or known luminosity or size is known to be extremely unreliable. I am therefore very sceptical of estimates of distance, and therefore speed in this case.

The meteor hypothesis doesn't have to be totally proven, just basically credible is enough to knock the case out of consideration.

There are a number of cases (not many but at least 20 ) where circumstance smiled on us and there is enough evidence to rule out all known conventional explanations and some of these are also suggestive of structure and control. I can't see how this one makes the grade though.

cda said...

The thoughts of some of the early Project Sign investigators were certainly geared towards the ETH. This was quite natural over what was then a still new phenomenon. A sighting like Chiles-Whitted, in which one newspaper had a headline about a massive "wingless sky monster", was bound to cause concern. And when you recall that the USAF spent a lot of time tracking down the paths of all known aircraft at the time, and got nowhere, it is entirely understandable that a group at Sign began their "Estimate of the Situation". One Sign member, who evidently was familiar with aerodynamics, even referred to the Prandtl theory of lift in his analysis.

One report Keyhoe was fond of was a very similar UFO (also with a row of 'portholes') seen by two pilots over Florida on Aug 1, 1946, i.e. nearly a year before the UFO era began. Naturally Keyhoe decided it supported the 'spaceship' seen by Chiles & Whitted. Did the press report this case at the time, or did it only come to notice AFTER the Chiles-Whitted affair?

Kevin: be careful here. If you claim a witness embellished his original account years later (which it appears he did), then you need to seriously consider whether any of the Roswell witnesses did likewise.

Brian B said...


Take a gander at the video I posted. Obviously objects seen from various angles give the impression of specific angles of flight, direction, and speed despite what is actually occurring.

Daniel Transit said...

The shape in the lower witness drawing is basically the same as that in a telescopic photograph by George Adamski, described by him as 'Spaceship casting shadow on moon photographed 4:00 A.M. 5-6-1950'. It can be found reproduced in Coming of The Saucers by Arnold & Palmer.

If anyone has an explanation of how this George Adamski photo was "faked", I'd be interested.