Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Levelland Sightings and the Condon Committee

I had always wondered why the Condon Committee, that University of Colorado study of UFOs financed by the Air Force, which is to say us, never bothered looking into the Levelland UFO sightings of November 1957. In their final report there is a single mention of Levelland in which they report, “Magnetic mapping of automobiles involved in particularly puzzling UFO reports of past years, such as the November 1957 incidents in Levelland, Texas, would have been
The Levelland sign. Photo copyright by
Kevin Randle.
most desirable, but the cars were no longer available.”

An interesting idea and the scientists working with Condon had pointed out that the manufacture of the cars’ steel components such as hoods and doors would have created a magnetic signature. Even if the cars involved in the incidents had not been mapped prior to the sighting, those manufactured at the same time, at the same place, would have a magnetic signature that matched those from the UFO event. It meant that the magnetic signature of all the cars were similar and any major deviation would have been significant.

They did follow up on this, after a fashion. They reported that two of their investigators, Fred Hooven and David Moyer (actually part of the Ford Motor Company) investigated a case (Case No. 12 in the official report) from the winter of 1967, in which a woman said that a lighted UFO hovered over her car for several miles and that it interfered with the electrical functions of her car. Hooven and Moyer said that an examination of the car some two months later found all the electrical systems working as they should and that they discovered no magnetic anomalies when the magnetically mapped the automobile.

I will note here that it seemed a real effort was made to investigate the case including extensive examination of the car by Ford engineers. What they found was a car in poor repair with a radio antenna that was broken so that it only picked up the local stations, a fan belt that was loose so that it was not charging properly, that the speedometer had been broken, repaired and apparently broken again so that there were speed functions on the dashboard display and that oil gauge was malfunctioning because of leakage in the electrical system. In other words, it seemed that everything the witness had reported about car trouble was related to the car itself and not some sort of outside influence such as the hovering UFO.

They, that is Hooven and Moyer, reported that she seemed to be a nice woman who was not prone to hysteria and who was competent, meaning I suppose, that she was intelligent and wasn’t mentally ill in some way. However, they noted that her memories of the UFO incident were not without problems including that she remembered a bright, full moon when it was actually in its last quarter and that though she claimed to have seen the UFO in her rearview mirror, the configuration of the car and the placement of the mirror meant that the UFO couldn’t have been seen in the way she described.

There was a second case (No. 39) from the fall of 1967 and in a location noted as the South Pacific, that had somewhat similar results. Again, the Condon Committee doesn’t supply the name of the witness, only that he was a businessman who said that his car had been stopped by a UFO sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. The lights failed and the radio went dead. He also reported that he felt something pressing down on his head and shoulders. Through a break in the fog, he saw a UFO that passed over his car and stopped, hovering over the highway. He thought it was about thirty feet in diameter, red-orange, saucer shaped but with a fuzzy outline. It had rotating lights and wobbled as it moved and hovered about 160 feet above the ground. He watched it for about a minute and a half, before it took off into the fog. When it was gone the radio came back on, the lights brightened and he was able to start his car. (Note here that he had to take an action. The car did not spontaneously restart.)

Once he had started the car, he drove to the nearest town in search of someone to talk to. He didn’t find any additional witnesses. Eventually the case made its way to NICAP. That investigation showed that the car’s clock had stopped at 3:46 a.m. and, according to the unnamed witness, the clock had been working perfectly prior to the sighting. Interestingly, they found that stereo tapes that had been in the car at the time of the sighting had lost some of their fidelity, especially in the lower ranges and that the rear window had some sort of distortion in the glass.

The Condon Committee investigation was carried out by Roy Craig, who recorded the interviews with the witness and gathered additional details. In this case they found a car of similar manufacture and engaged in a magnetic mapping of the hoods of both. There were a couple of points where the magnetic signature differed significantly but for the most part, the magnetic signatures of the two cars were similar.

What I found interesting is that Craig reported that the radio’s FM band no longer worked, though, according to the witness, it had been fine until the sighting. Five days after the sighting all that could be heard was a loud hum across the whole FM spectrum.

And, now, according to the witness, he was no long certain that the clock had been working in the days prior to the sighting. The clock stoppage might not have been relevant.

Craig was bothered by the witness’ vague description of the object and with the inconsistencies in his estimates of the size and distance as they were determined later by measurement. He was also worried that no one else had seen the object and that the car didn’t seem to show an exposure to a strong magnetic field. Craig wrote, “…car body did not show evidence of exposure to strong magnetic fields, a more detailed investigation of this event as a source related to electro-magnetic effect on automobiles did not seem warranted.”

These were the only cases of reported electromagnetic effects stalling cars but they did look into other aspects such as power outages caused by UFOs. In their research of several of these blackouts, they could not establish a causal relationship. In other words, the evidence didn’t support the idea that a UFO had been
Location of the first Levelland sighting.
Photo copyright by Kevin Randle.
responsible for a blackout and I have to agree with that assessment.

The purpose here, however, was to try to understand why the Condon Committee seemed to ignore the Levelland case. It differed from those they did investigate because it had multiple, independent witnesses, and included law enforcement officers among those who had seen the object or the light.

The papers, documents, research, rough drafts and other material collected during the project were eventually sent to the American Philosophical Society Library. It turns out that they did make a study of the Levelland case though it seemed to have been based solely on the Project Blue Book files, what NICAP reported, and what was found in Dallas Times Herald newspaper.

Although there seemed to have been no original research, meaning they didn’t interview any of the witnesses and noted that the vehicles involved couldn’t be located (I have to wonder if this was just an excuse, though 10 years had passed and the effort to locate those vehicles would have been extremely difficult) they didn’t take their investigation any further. It amounted to a synopsis of the sources quoted, a short discussion on areas of further investigation that was only about related weather phenomena, especially ball lightning, which was the Air Force final conclusion, none of which made it into the final report.

At the end of the Condon Levelland report, there was a series of hypotheses suggesting solutions. This seems to have been taken almost directly from an Air Force document about the case. They simply did not bother to follow up on this case, though they noted its importance. There were multiple witnesses to the suppression of the electrical system made independently and there were multiple witnesses who reported an actual, physical object either close to the ground or sitting on the ground.

In the end, I’m unsure of the motives here. We know that Condon was instructed about the conclusions of his study prior the beginning of the work, and we know that he adhered to those instructions. We see evidence in other aspects of this research where solid leads were virtually ignored (Shag Harbour, though it could be argued that the Canadian case fell outside the scope of their project), and we see that sometimes they gave little more than lip service to the investigation. I had thought we’d find some more evidence of the committee ignored a solid case, but given the circumstances, it might just have been impossible for them to do more than they did with Levelland.

However, the Levelland case provided some interesting dynamics such as the craft interacting with the environment, multiple independent witnesses, and an opportunity for some scientific investigation. It suggested that they look a little deeper into this idea of electromagnetic interference, which they did, sort of. Instead, they found a way to ignore Levelland and move onto other aspects of their research. This was at best, a missed opportunity and at worst just another example of how not to actually conduct research.


Gal220 said...

They had to know what it was imo, whether us or alien. If you take national defense seriously, you cant just let it go.

The lack of research doesnt bother me though, maybe they discover neat anomalies, but I doubt really doubt they were going to discover anything conclusive.

We already know the important details, even today, does anyone possess the technology to turn on and off electronics remotely without damaging them? As far as I know, we still dont have this.

albert said...

Prior to the advent of transistorized electronics in autos, radios were vacuum tube based. Vacuum tubes are notoriously resistant to damaging RF interference, even from microwave radiation. That said, is it possible to damage a car radio remotely? Yes, if it's transistorized. It's also possible to temporarily disable but not damage a car radio. Whether the US military had such technology at the time of the incidents is an open question. I wouldn't judge the reliability of the witnesses based on the opinion that they were talking about 'impossible' things. As far as 'magnetic anomalies', -extensive- research would be required, AFAIK, this hasn't been done. If, for example, such research showed that high power microwaves could account for -all- the anomalies asserted, that wouldn't explain what kind of device was present at the time, or where it came from.

. .. . .. --- ....

Gal220 said...

Im on the UFO side of this particular case. In another blog post, there is much more back in forth about the physics involved here.

I personally dont think we possess this technology, especially at the time of the occurrence.

Brian B said...

I’m not so certain we didn’t have this technology back then. I think it possible and probable.

There are plenty of indicators and people who claim by the mid 1950’s we had developed early prototype saucers with revolutionary propulsion systems.

Some claim we got the tech from crashed alien vehicles, but I think not. That’s a fantastic cover story since most people would dismiss it and thus our own technological advances.

The hypocrisy is that while ET proponents claim our world governments (and the US in particular) is more than capable of hiding alien knowledge from the public for more than 70 years, they also claim that if the government had such technology “we would all know about it by now”.

Illogical reasoning. If they could hide the truth about aliens for 70 years they could equally hide the truth about ground breaking new technologies.

In fact, it would be in their best interest to hide it given its advantage over rival nations. It’s also likely that if the technology was so revolutionary that it would impact and destroy national economies in energy and fuel replacements, they would hide that for decades in fear of ruining the US economy which is still very much based on fossil fuels and petroleum.

Selling that technology to other nations to monitize it would be a no go as well. It could be weaponized and that’s too big of a risk.