Sunday, September 10, 2017

Chasing Footnotes and Cannon Air Force Base

It’s been a while since I had a post about chasing footnotes and while this isn’t quite the same thing, it did sort of begin there.

Fran Ridge
Fran Ridge, who runs the NICAP website (, which is filled with all sorts of interesting information, posed a question about a UFO sighting that was part of the comprehensive Blue Book Unknown (BBU) list prepared by and updated regularly by Brad Sparks. That sighting was described as:

Like to have more on this RR case anyone has it.
May 18, 1954; Cannon AFB, New Mexico (BBU)

 7 p.m. 2 witnesses saw a house-size lens-shaped object
 land near railroad tracks, kicking up a small
 sand storm in the desert. One witness approached it, then
 ran away in fear. (Vallée Magonia 129; BB files??)

Michael Swords took a run at the question but didn’t seem to have a very good answer about the case. He wrote:

I'm curious to know where the "BBU" comes from. It's not impossible that this is a BBU, but the source cited doesn't lead to that. Vallee's source is listed as Binder. That's Otto Binder, not the best source to begin with. Binder had a newspaper column which would feature readers' UFO accounts that were mailed to him. Some of these had a ring of truth to them, but they were just that --- essentially "letters" to a UFO interested person who did no investigation. Binder was a writer as a profession, so I can't damm him for making some money out of this. He picked several of his more intriguing letters and published them in FATE of February 1968. The relevant letter quoted there sounds good (and it has a second letter in support) but it is only a letter claim. (Vallee is always doing this by the way--- picking some flimsy mention of something and putting it in the MAGONIA catalog. Often these citations have errors. A error here might be that the location of the claim was not in Cannon AFB but more truly might be labeled "Clovis, NM". (a small matter.) ) In Binder's article, he says that the witness claims that a small mention of the case appeared in FATE of November 1954. That would be potentially encouraging to me, but I could not find it there on a thumb-through.
So, two mysteries for me: A) --- major --- how did this get a BBU?
      B) --- minor --- is it actually mentioned in FATE back in 1954?

There is, allegedly, a DATA-NET report of this --- date unknown to me. Hynek also allegedly mentions something like this in his UFOExp --- I got lazy and didn't search after that claim. (hard to believe Hynek would ever mention anything from Binder in that book, but maybe something more substantial could be there.

Following Mike’s lead, somewhat, I looked at the Project Blue Book master index and found that there were no sightings listed for May 18, 1954, and none in New Mexico for the entire month. All that meant was that the mention of “BB files??” as one of the sources could be eliminated. The sighting was not part of the Blue Book system.

This led to another brief exchange. Fran had noted that this was case no. 1018, in the BBU but when I looked at the copy I had it wasn’t the same. I wrote, “I just looked at both Brad’s BBU and the Blue Book master index and the case no. 1018 is from California and not New Mexico. The case from May 18, 1954 is labeled as case 836 in Brad's listing (or at least in the copy I have) but only questions if it is found in the BB files. I can't find anything in the BB master index that matches this, though, I haven't spent a great amount of time looking. I can say that there is no listing for May 18, 1954 in New Mexico in the BB files.”

Turned out that my version of Brad’s BBU was older than the one used by Fran. He had an updated version and 1018 was the Cannon AFB (Clovis) entry. This was becoming somewhat confusing but would become more so as time passed. But that still didn’t put the report into the Blue Book system.

Barry Greenwood seemed to have come up with that connection. He wrote, “There is a listing for Oceanside CA in the OSI records for May 18, 1954 (Roll 90, frame 269. Roll 91, frames 990 – 991, Blue Book Archives.)”

I went back to the Blue Book microfilms (as I keep saying, I have them all), and found that the first reference to the Oceanside sighting is a letter dated June 28, 1954 (the date on the copy I have is a little difficult to read) that has a subject of “Sighting of Unidentified Aerial Object on 18 May 1954 over Oceanside, California. SPECIAL INQUIRY.”

There are no details in that letter other than saying that a “Spot Intelligence” report had been sent dated June 10, 1954 and gave the OSI district that had responsibility for the case. The report was not located with this letter.

The second entry, in Roll 91, that Barry mentioned, was the spot intelligence report which provided some details. The information was that:

SYSNOPSIS: On 27 May 1954, advice was received by letter from the District Intelligence Officer, Eleventh Naval District, San Diego, California, to the effect that [name redacted but is clearly, Higgins, Squadron Leader, Royal Air Force, on duty with the Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron El Toro 542, Marine Base, California, reported sighting an unidentified flying object while flying in the vicinity of Oceanside, California, 1240 hours, 18 May 1954.
Interestingly, the Blue Book entry for this, in Brad’s BBU was number 1017, which is, of course, the one just prior to the case that stared all this. For those interested in the details of the sighting, though sparse, Brad had reported it as:

May 18, 1954; 10-15 (or 6-7) miles SE of Lake Elsinore, Calif. (BBU 2994) 12:48 p.m. RAF Squadron Leader Donald R. Higgin, assigned to USMC All Weather Fighter Sq, El Toro MCAS, Calif., while flying an F3D-2 jet fighter at 15,000-16,000 ft on a heading of 240° magnetic [255° true] at 300 knots IAS and descending, saw a dark blue almost black gun-metal "glint" delta-shaped object, about 22-23 ft long and 20 ft wide, with 3 fins of equal size and shape, at his 11 o'clock position just above the cockpit of his wingman flying another F3D-2 about 250 ft away. Object was on a head on collision course but before Higgin could radio warning it passed under his wingman and between their aircraft, descending at a 25°-30° angle on a heading N of about 30°
There is nothing in the report by the OSI that suggests a solution or much of an investigation and Brad’s entry does nothing to clarify any of this. The names have been redacted, but as I have noted on many occasions, those responsible for removing the names did a terrible job. In fact, in one paragraph, none of the names were reacted, and given the ranks of those involved in the sighting as well as their military organizations, it is simple to put the names back in. We know who had seen what.

I will note that two copies of the spot intelligence report were sent on to ATIC, which, in 1954, had responsibility for Blue Book. That surprised me because there was no enter on May 18, 1954, for any sighting in the United States, but Blue Book should have had a copy given the regulations in force at the time.

There was documentation in the file for the Oceanside case but these were in the administrative section and not part of the investigative files. Fran asked a question then that got me to thinking. He wondered if the Lake Elsinore sighting that was part of the BBU was the same as the Oceanside sighting that were part of the administrative files. It was clear from the documentation that some of the names in the Oceanside sighting were the same as those from the Lake Elsinore sighting which meant that it was the same report. I took a look at the master index again and noticed that there was a sighting on May 10, 1954, for Lake Elsinore.

The illustration of the object
over Lake Elsinor in the
Oceanside UFO file.
I looked at the Blue Book microfilm and found the same pages from the OSI section but this one also included a statement from the pilot and his radar officer and the illustration that was not available in the administrative section. There was, of course, the Project Card, which suggested that the pilot might have seen a lenticular cloud, but also noted that such clouds are rare at the altitude reported and that they persisted much longer than the sighting lasted. The conclusion was that lenticular cloud did not provide a proper resolution and the case was labeled unidentified.

About the time that I was finding this, Brad Sparks pointed Fran to the same sighting. We had all found the sighting from Oceanside and had now resolved the discrepancy between it being at Oceanside and Lake Elsinore. There was no doubt, given the documentation that we were all talking about the same sighting. Lake Elsinore merely pinpointed the location while Oceanside provided a larger, general area.

What are the conclusions here?

Well, it seems that the original source for the Cannon AFB (Clovis) case was Otto Binder and those of us who have been around for a while realize that he is not the most credible of sources. The case was picked up by Jacques Vallee but he apparently did nothing to validate the information. I could find nothing in the Blue Book files about it and believe that it should be removed from the Catalog that Brad Sparks has been creating (I say creating because, as mentioned, it seems he regularly updates it).

The second part of this is the sighting from Oceanside, California. We have the details of the sighting, that include the pilot’s statement. It seems that those at Blue Book did know of it because the spot intelligence report but were unable to identify the cause of the sighting. Interestingly for me, I had included, in my book Project Blue Book – Exposed, a list of all the Unidentified cases. Somehow, I had missed that one. It is not listed by me. *

Here’s what I take away from all this. Fran asked a question over the Internet about 10:00 in the morning. There were responses from a number of people, and by four, we had found some of the answers. We had the documentation and resources to get to the bottom of the case. By noon the next day we had found the Oceanside (Lake Elsinore) sighting in the Blue Book files, but nothing to support the Cannon AFB sighting other than a reference that began with Otto Binder. The Cannon AFB case is mildly interesting but not actually part of Blue Book, and I had reached, at least in my mind, a valid conclusion or two about the reliability of the Cannon AFB sighting. There is nothing beyond what Binder had written and this case should be eliminated from the various listings in which it appears.

* Here’s something I noticed about the list of Unidentified sightings in my book, which I had always thought was important because Bob Cornett and I had been through the files before they had been redacted. We had listed every unidentified case including the names of the witnesses… I have since learned that others managed to do the same thing. I bring all this up because, for some strange reason, I have no unidentified cases listed for 1954. There are a number of them, but when I prepared the list for the book, I overlooked them. 


purrlgurrl said...

You've highlighted here why any meaningful analysis of UFO data can't be done. Some of the cases and data are garbage. And we all remember the first law of information processing - garbage in, garbage out. I can only imagine how shaky and unreliable are many MUFON case reports. If they could be accessed, we might find many to be useless because there's little of substance in them and they can't be verified.

I salute you for researching cases cited by others, who it turns out, obviously have not done their homework. I know that all the "bad" cases can never be excised from the UFO canon (and we keep adding more), but still I'm glad you're doing what anybody who calls him or herself a UFO researcher should be doing, not just continuing to regurgitate nonsense cases.

KRandle said...

purrlgurrl -

Thanks for the kind words, but this was really a group effort. Fran posed the question and the rest of us ran with it, each making contributions. It's the real way this should work. I don't think anyone had an agenda to push here. It was just an attempt to clean up an entry in one data base that led us all to a couple of conclusions.

RedTornado2008 said...

I do remember reading many UFO books in the 1970s which basically repeated sightings they had heard or read about. Very few did research back then so the many bad cases were often repeated as fact.

It took some really good researchers such as Lt Col Randle (with Roswell) as well as people like Frank Feschino Jr (who researched the famous Flatwoods Monster case) among others. There are many good cases out there but they get overshadowed by the ones which are quite weak.

As with purrlgurrl, I salute you and the other researchers who do try to clear out the dreck.

Mr. Sweepy said...

I am going to throw this out as food for thought.

In your first paragraph, you have the term "Blue Book Unidentified (BBU)" and this somehow based in fact. I take the "BB" does mean Blue Book. However could the "U" actually represent "UNIT"?

I am not say Unidentified is incorrect, I just think UNIT might also be considered.

KRandle said...

Mr. Sweepy! -

The name of the publication is Blue Book Unidentified. It is a catalog of unidentified sightings created by Brad Sparks, which he updates regularly.

Anthony Mugan said...

It's worth looking at the BBU list in comparison with the full range of phenomena and objects that have been misidentified over the years. The website has what looks like a good list of these. It's quite thought provoking to go through the cases and consider if there is evidence there to reasonably discount each potential source of misidentification.
My opinion in it is that only a small fraction have enough evidence to reasonably rule out all known potential misidentifications Almost all cases had insufficient information in my opinion, but a small proportion do seem to me to be genuinely 'unidentified' and to present a genuine puzzle.

This has quite serious implications as almost all analysis has been done on a very unclean dataset. For some time know I've felt that the whole subject needs stripping right back and starting again, other than as a subject for historical or sociological study.