Friday, January 25, 2019

History's Project Blue Book - The Lubbock Lights

Well, I’m in a bit of a pickle here. I confess that I do like History’s Project Blue Book. When I look at it as entertainment with a bit of history thrown in, I find the show to be intriguing. However, when I look at it as a historical document, I see the many flaws in it… not in the story telling, but in the history that it is so loosely based on.

I can, of course, point out the flaws in the Lubbock Lights tale from the beginning when we see a lone man in an airport control tower, to the end where we see Little Finger… I mean Hynek… along with Captain Michael Quinn, told the big secret that would solve the Lubbock Lights as some sort of top secret project. There are hints in the show of real history such as the discussion of the recently installed mercury vapor street lights in downtown Lubbock that were brighter and therefore might be, somehow, responsible for the sudden appearance of the UFOs.

Carl Hart's photographs of the Lubbock Lights.
And, although the electromagnetic effects displayed when the UFOs knock out the lights of Lubbock and later affect Hynek’s and Quinn’s car never happened, six years later in Levelland, Texas, such things did happen. Levelland is just a few minutes from the western side of Lubbock, so we have a combination of these two events that involved multiple witnesses.

I do wonder if some of the criticism from my UFO colleagues might be a tad bit overblown. I mean, they seem to want precision and accuracy here but in other dramas based on history, sometimes get a pass, though they have their own trouble with the truth. I don’t remember such discussions about the lack of reality in the many versions of the Grassy Grass… that is the Little Big Horn. I can’t think of one of them, from They Died with Their Boots On to the ludicrous Custer of the West, that got the history right. (Well, maybe Son of the Morning Star, which I mention here so that I don’t get emails about it.) I do wonder if the historians were as annoyed with those movies as the UFO community is with this. (Which is not to say that my UFO colleagues would worry about such things in those movies, only that others, who have a deep interest in history might.)

The point here is that Project Blue Book is not a documentary. It is a drama, based, very loosely, on the history of Project Blue Book. I mean we could point to the time line that jumped from the Gorman Dogfight of 1948 to the Flatwoods Monster of 1952 back to the Lubbock Lights of 1951.

Quinn, I don’t think, is Captain Edward Ruppelt who was the chief of Blue Book from late 1951 to 1953. Quinn mentioned to Hynek in this episode, that he had flown escort missions in Europe during the war. That suggests Quinn was a fighter pilot. Ruppelt served in the Pacific Theater as a bombardier/radar operator, just to point out one difference between the two. Any criticism of Quinn and his actions in the series shouldn’t be seen as a slight to Ruppelt or a criticism of him.

Taking this sort of trouble with timelines and invention, the appearance of Don Keyhoe in Episode Three sort of proves the point. Keyhoe mentions Roswell, but Keyhoe never talked about crash retrievals. He didn’t think much of alien abduction reports and it seemed he was happier arguing with the Air Force about secrecy. The scene in which he was threatened by the MIB with a pistol to his head was over the top. While they certainly could present Keyhoe’s “war” with the Air Force, this suggestion, to me, was a step or two too far. If I have been directing this episode, I would have not filmed that scene.

So, we all sort of agree that some of these things could be handled better, but I do know that they’re making a TV series and not a documentary.

The problem is that my Ufological colleagues seem to hate the show for not being a documentary and are unable to watch it was just a drama. They fear that it will harm the UFO field by the way it is presented, but I think that ship sailed a long time ago… headlines in newspapers in 1947 said that flying saucers had been seen in many states except Kansas. Kansas, at the time was dry. No drunks to see flying saucers.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a few have suggested that the series might inspire some to look deeper into the UFO phenomenon, to see beyond the superficial. Anything that generates an interest and leads to the truth can’t be all bad. No, I don’t really think this is going to hurt the UFO field. We do that ourselves… MJ-12 anyone? How about the alien autopsy?

So, they got a few things right in this episode. They went off on tangents in some places. But the production values are astounding. They do a good job of recreating the world of the early 1950s… down to all the people smoking.

As for the Lubbock case… they hint at some college professor who has seen the lights and had a picture of them that is reminiscent of the photographs taken by Carl Hart, Jr. in 1951. The professor, draws on the black board (as opposed to a white board) an illustration showing how the Plover, a small, west Texas bird, might have been responsible for the sightings. Except, the Plover do not fly in a V formation and rarely in groups larger than six or seven. Plover do not answer the question of what was seen over Lubbock.

Although the Air Force did write the sightings off as birds, they didn’t really explain the photographs taken by Hart. I had the opportunity to talk to Hart about the Lubbock Lights and the photographs he took. Although I have already posted the following to the blog, given the renewed interest in it thanks to Project Blue Book, I reprint it here:

On February 1, 1993, I had the opportunity to interview Carl Hart about the photographs. What follows is that interview. (For those interested in more about the Lubbock Lights, I suggest a look at my 1997 book, Conspiracy of Silence.) I offer the notes of the interview without commentary (well, not much).

After learning that the man I was talking with had taken the famous pictures, I asked, "Were you looking for the lights when you saw them?"

He said, "Oh, no. Of course, this was summer time and very hot. We didn’t have anything like central air conditioning. I slept with the windows open and I liked to sleep with my head stuck out the window and there they were."

Carl Hart, Jr. in 1951.
"You saw them fly over one time?"

"Oh, I think if I remember there were like three formations... of course they had been in the news here for a week or two before I happened to see them and they usually showed up in several flights when they would so... when I saw them, I went on outside with my camera..."

"Did you get a feel for the size of the objects or how high above you they were?"

"Not really... the only thing I saw was lights. Wasn’t any other objects associated with them. Wasn’t any noise..."

"Now you were questioned quite closely by the Air Force..."

"The Air Force and everybody else."

"Did the Air Force give you a final conclusion of what they thought you had photographed?"
"No, no they didn’t. I never did hear an official version. I heard some unofficial things that came out later... about how they thought I had faked them somehow or another." (Attempts to duplicate the pictures by a professional photographer failed... and because of that, this part of the mystery remains unsolved.)

"Of course, you hadn’t faked them..."


"You have no idea what they were?"

"I really don’t. I’m not even sure who it was. There was someone tried to duplicate the light in a laboratory by reflecting light off a pan of water where they could cause a ripple run down the water and they could cause them to move and his theory was that it was a cold air inversion and that it had waves in it like the ocean and the sensation of them moving across the sky so I don’t know if that’s what happened or not." (This was Dr. Donald Menzel whose results were published in 1952. Later Menzel decided, without evidence, that Hart had faked the pictures. Menzel, it seems, could not admit that some aspects of the UFO phenomenon were inexplicable.)

"You really have no clue about what you saw..."

"I really don’t. Nothing’s ever come forward to explain those and there wasn’t anything for me to judge them by other than just the lights on the bottom of just one object or group of individual lights... They were lights either on something or individually."

Did you know the professors who had seen the things the first night?"

"Later on, I did. I didn’t know them at the time."

"Were they aware you had taken the pictures?"

"Oh, yeah. I think there were some of the ones felt like I had stolen their glory... They weren’t too receptive of what I had done as best I could recall."

"Have you made any money off this thing?"

"I might have made three or four hundred dollars total over the years."

"The pictures appear in books and magazines all the time."

"I wasn’t aware enough of what was going on to copyright them. If anyone paid my anything it was to save themselves from possible legal problems later on... for several years people would ask before they would use them... My advice from a friend and professional journalist at the time was that if you copyright them somebody’s going to think you faked them and are trying to make money out of them"

Hart did tell me that he doesn’t particularly disbelieve in flying saucers. He said, "I’m kind of open minded on that. If one would show up some place else here, I think I’d accept."

I asked him one last time if he knew what he had photographed.

"I really don’t."

This covers just that one, small aspect of a much larger case. However, you can’t call the case solved if an important portion of it has not been explained. True, some of the sightings were of birds and others might be explained as natural phenomena, but the photographs have not been identified, there is no evidence that Hart faked them, and no reason to reject them.

Oh, and for those interested in such things. Ed Ruppelt, in his 1956 book, mentioned that he knew the solution to the Lubbock Lights but that he couldn’t reveal it. No, not because it was some top secret project but because to do so would identify his source on the matter. He had promised the scientist who came up with the solution not to name him. But in the world today, we know all sorts of things and I know what that solution was… FIRE FLIES…

No. I don’t believe it…


cda said...

In the revised edition of his book, Ruppelt says the Lubbock Lights were finally identified by one of the four scientists from Texas Technological College, Prof W.L.Ducker. He did numerous experiments and came up with the answer that they were "night flying moths reflecting the bluish-green light of a nearby row of mercury vapor street lights".

Prof Ducker was not mentioned by name as the lights identifier, but was described as head of the Petroleum Engineering Dept. He was one of the original four who saw the strange lights.

I do not know if this answer was universally accepted, but it would not surprise me if it wasn't.

RRRGroup said...

CDA, moths flying in formation, and in droves yet? Your Ducker guy was Menzelian in his flippant diagnosis.

The plover explanation is also goofy.

The problem, for me, is how the History's Project Blue Book expanded (portrayed) the sighting(s) to a degree that was farcical, even intellectually criminal.


starman said...

Sorry, off-topic, but is there any news on Marcel's putative journal?

Brian B said...

I watched the Lubbock episode and didn’t think it was so bad. Aside from the historical inaccuracies and “altered for viewing pleasure” case histories, it’s basically entertaining science fiction. It’s only remotely based on reality, so I’m not expecting too much anyway.

I also watched “Project UFO” way back when. I think it aired on Friday nights. It was also entertaining and unlike Kevin I didn’t feel the debunking was as extreme as he recalls. After all, these were USAF men out to basically explain away real sightings, which is what everyone believed at the time anyway. I do recall a few episodes that concluded that a real alien craft had been observed.

But in regards to the REAL Lubbock case, I found this website read interesting.

It claims The Learning Channel carried an episode in its first season (2000) where the Texas Tech professors who saw the object in 1951 also observed the same craft in 1999 (I assume they were obviously retired by then but still living in Lubbock).

It even has photos from a video they recorded in 1999, and the documentary shows a V shaped craft that supposedly the USAF said it was actually testing an early prototype of way back in 1951.

True or not true I don’t know. But it’s something that could be researched further to clarify where these images came from and if the claims are really true.

If you check the NUFORC reports, Texas is noted for having these V wing sightings on a regular basis. Even now. Some are reported as “five white orbs flying in a V formation”, but clearly it’s more likely that it’s the V wing craft obscured from visibility.

I’ve seen one myself fly over at very low altitude and quite silently. They aren’t swift but they do move much faster than a dirigible.

Five large lights with a static blue charge fitted to a V wing about the size of two football fields end to end.

The one I saw was using “active camouflage” to hide it’s fuselage which was easy to see since it was flying so low. The active camouflage creates a warped “antique glass” look as it projects the night sky above to the underside of the fuselage.

The question is where are we parking these things when not flying? Yes the wings must fold, but even so it would be immense. Underground I presume.

KRandle said...


Ducker was also annoyed that Hart had stolen their thunder when he took the pictures. He claimed that what Hart had photographed was not what they had seen. Night flying moths make as much sense as fire flies, though Ducker and his pals' attempts to identify the lights suggested that they were lower, smaller ad slower than they originally thought. And, if moths were the answer, how is it that there were additional sightings in other years until those mercury vapor lights were changed.

cda said...

I do wonder if the 'moths' explanation was invented by Ruppelt to help keep Ducker's name out of it. Ruppelt stated that the scientist who had solved the mystery wanted complete anonymity, so it is possible that Ruppelt, who felt he had to supply an answer in his revised book, simply invented the moths. I know it is almost incredible that a team of four scientists/technologists could be fooled again and again by a flight of moths, but that is what was claimed, in effect.

I favour the birds solution, be it plover or some other local species. And of course what Carl Hart photographed may well be something quite different from what the scientists saw.

Can't remember now where I got Ducker's name as the Lubbock Lights' solver.

zoamchomsky said...

August to September is the peak period of the Perseid meteor showers. The fact that the professors dismissed this explanation only illustrates how "small group scares" of the "UFO" kind based in initial misidentifications begin, and then what is in actuality not a mystery at all escalates into a panic because of the external social context. None of the professors were astronomers, much less meteor experts.

In most of Texas, the horizon and clear seeing is about 50 miles in all directions. The Hart photos are obvious fakes.

A supporting example is the "Green fireballs" of adjacent high-altitude New Mexico which were never anything but selective observation of normal greenish meteors observed during the same and similar excitable social context of "flying saucer" hysteria.

starman said...

The peak period of the Perseids is around August 10. Late August and September are well past their peak, if any can still be seen at all. I've seen Perseids and they don't suddenly flash by in a swarm, in one direction. They occur one at a time, at intervals, and require patience to see. And they're not very conspicuous either.

Brian B said...


What I find somewhat humorous is that not only do ET believing non-witnesses want to insert themselves into these stories, but also skeptics (as in academic professors) competing to solve the mystery with a prosaic explanation! I guess it works both ways!

@ starman

I have to agree that the Perseids meteor shower, or any meteor shower for that matter, couldn’t possibly explain the witness descriptions of a V formation of lights.

I do think less aware people may have seen a meteor that evening and described themselves as “witnesses” even though what they saw in the sky wasn’t what others were seeing.

But yes watching these showers myself I’m always amazed at how few can actually be seen over the course of an hour which amounts to maybe 3-4 at most and perhaps only one being bright enough to be considered “spectacular”.

zoamchomsky said...

Well, I disagree on all points, starmam, which should surprise no one. The Perseids can last well past August 10, peaking two weeks later on August 25--the very day of the professors' sighting--and continuing at random into September. The stream is millions of miles long and contains all manner of meteoroids.

And then there's the issue of the professors' perceptions, interpretations and reporting versus yours about Perseids generally, and what they might have witnessed at that particular time. Meteor displays can be extremely variable. So there's no way for your to reasonably claim that they could not have seen streams of meteors on that particular night under excellent viewing conditions in Texas in 1951.

Meteors are the most likely real-world identification for what they described.

zoamchomsky said...

If you've been enjoying the PBB series, which has been a mashup of all things "UFO" since the first show, then you're really going to enjoy episode four which contains just about every "UFO" conspiracy myth narrative device. >> Stop! No Spoilers! <<

As observed, this show doesn't pretend to be anything other than utter fiction and pure entertainment. The creators, producers, cast and crew are having a great deal of fun playing with all the well known "UFO" tropes in the catalogue of a modern myth and in fictional characterizations. And they're making a lot of money doing it!

"Give Von Braun a Walt Disney program!" LOL! (Yes, they did.)

starman said...

The Perseids invariably peak August 10-13. Some may occur as late as the 24th but they certainly don't peak then.
Do any astronomical records indicate the shower of August '51 was exceptional? I never heard such a claim. Assuming a typical Perseid event, it shouldn't have fooled anyone, least of all professors. If it did, there probably would've been a Lubbock type report every August or every other August for the past 67 years.