Letter from Gordon David
Thayer to Martin Shough
6 September 1987
I received your letter of 5 august and the voluminous enclosures, which I very much appreciate. I see from the postage stamps that it cost you a fair penny to send them. I am enclosing with this letter one of the letter copies, which I inadvertently left out of my last mailing to you. This is a copy of a letter from Freddie to Stan Friedman dated 19 July 1978. Sorry about that.
In this letter I shall try to answer some of your earlier questions that I have not gotten to before as well as answering your last letter. First, the earlier questions.
Jenny Randle's statement about me in her article in ''Unknown'' is not so far afield as you might have suspected. I would be very interested in seeing her article on Lakenheath, since she has discovered the material on the ground observations made of the UFO near Lakenheath that night. Stan Friedman sent me some preliminary material on this in the form of a letter, as I recall, which I think I have since lost. So at this time I am not in possession of anything on these ground observations (as far as I know).
As to Condon's absurd summary in the Final Report, I am enclosing a copy of an article, which I originally wrote for possible inclusion in Ron Story's Encyclopedia of UFOs (Dolphin Books, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York, 1980). It didn't make the encyclopedia and has never been published. I have updated it a couple of times, most recently during the past several days. It represents, if I ever get around to having it published in some form or other, my "revenge" on Condon. It is titled "Inside the Colorado UFO Project." I can assure you that the "outrageous misrepresentation" (as you so aptly put it) did not escape my attention, nor that of many others. Roy Craig remarked to me about it before the report had even been published. The reviewer for Science mentioned it. Dr. Kuettner (see the article for background on him if you do not know who he is) had pretty much the same opinion about it as you have. His view was that my residue of 5 to 7 "hard"' cases out of 35 was rather impressive, since it was obvious I had "bent over backwards" (Kuettner's words) to try to come up with a conventional explanation wherever possible. This pleased me because it was precisely the impression that I was aiming at in writing the chapter.
(By the way, are you familiar with Story's Encyclopedia of UFOs?)
After considerable discussion of Condon's distortions - which were far from being confined to my own chapter of the report - with colleagues and others on the UFO Project, we came to the conclusion that the body of the report would speak for itself. Anyone who would read only the summary would probably not be inclined to believe the rest of the report in any event. Serious investigators would surely read the rest of the report and would discover what Condon had done, to his certain discredit. I am not sure if this turned out to be true in real life or not. It certainly did in Dr. Kuettner's case. I think you will find in my article some evidence that the UFO Project was exactly what Jenny wrote it was. In any event, it is common knowledge among the more serious investigators here that the Air Force let the UFO contract with the idea they would not have to do anything more about UFOs if a scientific study was in hand that showed there was nothing to them. That is exactly what happened. Within months of publication of the Final Report, the Bluebook Office was closed down forever. The Air Force will no longer even accept UFO reports, let alone do anything about them.
Now, to get on with the points you raised in your most recent letter.
The mention of a 25,000-foot ceiling in IR-1-56 has also intrigued me. I know of no other mention of any clouds or cloud cover in connection with these UFO incidents. I suspect you are right; it was a very thin cirro-stratus veil of some sort. As to your speculations about ball lightning, I don't quite know what to make of them. I really don't think ball lightning was involved in any of the UFO sightings described in the reports, but then, one never can be absolutely sure of anything in this game. By the way I have seen ball lightning and can attest to its reality. I saw it for the first and only time during the summer of 1972 while living near Gaithersburg, Maryland. My wife and younger daughter also witnessed the ball lightning, which lasted for only about 5 to 10 seconds. I was, at the time, a member of a weather-reporting network, and I submitted a report on the ball lightning. lf I can find it, I shall enclose a copy of my report, although it has nothing whatever to do with UFOs.
I am very impressed with your suggested scenario with respect to IR-1-56 and its lack of any reference to the UFO over-flight that prompted the call to Lakenheath. I think you're really on to something there. In fact, I am now persuaded that you are probably right: there likely was a third (or a second) fast track at about 2300 Z together with some ground-air visual observations that has, for some reason, been left entirely out of IR-1-56. The mystery even deepens somewhat. After some more close scrutiny of the transmittal memorandum I mentioned in my last letter I have come to some rather different conclusions. I have in my files another memo, called a "Memo Routing Slip," which is all that remains of another document which has been removed from the files. I have enclosed a sort of reproduction of this Memo Routing Slip for your information. The slip has been folded and creased in such a way as to obscure the name of the first person on the distribution list, but enough of the name appears that I believe it to be the same Henry A. Miley who signed the 7 Nov 56 transmittal memorandum. The letters "iley" show plainly, along with what could be the lower right-hand part of the letter "M." Apparently the "5" at the upper left corner of the ''remarks" is an addition to the distribution list that would not fit in the available space. The items are cryptic, to say the least, but presumably conform to some kind of understood items (much like a Bluebook report without the questions, which are "understood"). Notice the date of the Routing Slip: 5 September 1956. Close examination of the obliterated "inclosure" of the 5 Nov memo shows that in all likelihood the deleted material reads "Tl T56-[XXXXXX], 5 sep 56 (S)." Apparently the "s" of September had been accidentally typed in lower case, which threw me off the first time I tried to decipher it. Now, since Dr. Miley wrote that he "believed this report is in response to this Center's request for additional information," the reason for the deletion becomes clear: IR-1-56 could not possibly have been prepared in response to a memo dated 5 September, since the material was collected in August. This does, however, reveal an even more interesting fact: Bluebook was evidently completely in the dark as to why or at whose direction IR-1-56 was prepared. This is exactly what you have hypothesized in your scenario!
Interestingly, the adoption of your idea about IR-1-56 effectively removes the "briar patch" you were previously led into by the assumption that Vaccare's and Whenry's fast tracks represented the same object. Does this mean we are closer to being in agreement now?
Your scenario is the only convincing hypothesis I have seen as to why IR1-56 makes no mention of ground or air visual observations of the fast track that was reported to Lakenheath. On these grounds alone, I believe it is worth adopting for lack of anything better. Something is clearly required.
My mention of "Extract A" in connection with the errors in reporting on the fast tracks detailed in Holt's report should have been revised out. The "Extract" is actually a verbatim reproduction of virtually the entire IR-1-56 report, and contains exactly the same errors as the cover page of IR-1-56. I used Extract "A" to fill in parts of IR-1-56 that were illegible on the copy I received from McDonald only after I had ascertained that wherever both were readable, the contents were identical. In fact, enough of the garbled text on the illegible portions was decipherable to show that the two sections were most likely the same (the Extract "A" version and the IR-1-56 version).
I do agree that some conjecture is necessary in reconstructing events from such fragmentary and incomplete reports as we have here. I also agree that Occam's Razor (which I also like to employ) should itself be used in the most frugal way possible in any given instance. In this connection I note that in combining Vaccare's and Whenry's fast tracks only the reported time of the incident is any real barrier. As I mentioned before, the differences in place, speed, direction, and behavior are not necessarily at odds with each other even without postulating typos, etc.
On to the multiple echoes. My reasons for suspecting that these may have been produced by some sort of atmospheric effect are several, as I believe I may have already mentioned. (1) The sudden appearance of the echoes only 8 miles from the radar (although I realize it is possible that the radar may have been turned on just then, or something similar to this); (2) the uncertainty in the number of objects tracked "12 to 15"); the fading of the objects, which evidently affected all echoes at the same time; (3) the approximate agreement between the winds aloft and the speed and direction of the echoes; (4) the lack of any visual corroboration by the T-33 search (about which more in a moment); (5) the merging of the individual echoes into one "large" echo; (6) the remark by Whenry that the course flown by the group had "slight deviations from S.W. to N.E." - indicating that blips may have been blinking on and off between radar sweeps; and (7) the reports of periods of stationarity. I do not, however, believe these echoes could have been produced by any such mechanism as partial reflections from elevated layers, for precisely the reasons you detailed so carefully both in your manuscript and in your letter. No, echoes such as these are apparently produced by regions of clear air turbulence, We have much to learn about this mechanism. David Atlas has probably done more work on this problem than any other researcher in the field, though I hasten to point out that I have been out of touch with this sort of research since my retirement from government service in 1976. I can assure you, nevertheless, that the sort of behavior reported by Whenry has been observed a number of times by research radars during daylight conditions when it could be easily determined that there were, in fact, no substantial solid objects available to produce any echoes. Atlas has observed variations on the order of hundreds and even thousands of N units over distances of only a few meters under such conditions. [An N unit = 1 part per million of refractive index, i.e: N = (n -1)*106.]
As to the T-33 search, your points would be well taken were it not for the unusual degree of coordination available at the time. Notice that the T-33 search is stated to have begun "about 2130Z." In fact, it must have been after the echoes had passed over the radar, because they were vectored to the northeast of Bentwaters, rather than to the southwest where the echoes were first picked up. I believe the reason they were searching between 2,000 and 5,000 feet was because the personnel at the radar site believed the targets were at about 3,500 feet or thereabouts. They would have been able to estimate this altitude based on the behavior of the echoes as they appeared to overfly the radar (the distance from the radar when they disappeared and then reappeared, together with the known vertical radiation pattern of the antenna, would be a clue as to the probable altitude of the objects producing the echoes). Given that the radar was tracking "l2 to 15" objects at the time, and that these echoes all appeared in an area of "6 to 7" miles, it seems to me that the T-33 (assuming it was just one aircraft) with two trained pilots on board would have had a more than even chance of detecting anything solid that was in the air around them. Presumably the T-33 was vectored into the "thick" of things by the radar station. As to the search to the east and southeast of Bentwaters, I would guess that after failing to find anything in the area where (presumably) the radar was still painting the group of echoes, the T-33 went off in search of the object seen by Sgt. Wright, which was doubtless the planet Mars.
Note also that Sgt. Wright stated he observed his "UFO" for approximately one hour, and that this was between 2120Z and 2220Z. He first noticed the object because he was "aware that the Bentwaters GCA was tracking UFOs by radar at this time." In other words, he was aware at 2120Z that the GCA radar was painting unidentified echoes, but Sgt. Whenry said he did not pick up those objects until 2130Z. Clearly, one of them is wrong. One cannot put much faith in some details of UFO reports, one of which is precise times. Another is the angle of an object above the horizon. We found that even trained observers consistently overestimate the elevation angle of such objects by a good deal. For example, Wright estimated the elevation angle of his UFO as 10 degrees when he first observed it, and that this increased to about 40 degrees when it disappeared (presumably behind cloud cover). From my experience with such reports I can confidently predict that the initial angle was more like 1 to 3 degrees (probably closer to I degree than 3) and the final angle was about 15 to 20 degrees. If star charts for that year are consulted, the positions given for Mars at the given times would doubtless confirm my estimates (yes, I am that confident -I have seen this happen literally dozens of times, without exception as far as I can recall). Note that a star or planet will only move about 15 degrees per hour in any event (360/24).
I have read your manuscripts twice now, and I find them to be quite detailed in their coverage of anomalous propagation effects. Your careful elimination of such possibilities as birds, insects, etc. is to be commended.
I rather like your idea of collaborating on some sort of book on Lakenheath. I believe, as you do, that it is a sort of "microcosm of the whole problem" as you put it. In fact, I once proposed to Phil Klass that we do a book together on the case for precisely that reason. He declined.
I think that in order to have popular appeal, such a book should be written in a narrative fashion, something that would be easy enough to do in this case anyway. After all, it divides up neatly into several periods - the UFO Project period with Perkins' letter and the Bluebook involvement, the period beginning with Freddie's letter to the Times, and the period beginning with Jenny Randle's discovery of the ground observer reports from Lakenheath. Each of these periods begins with revelations that both confirm earlier reports in a number of details and add new information of their own, so the plot thickens, as they say. I think perhaps Jenny should be included in this, as she is one of the principals involved. I think Stan Friedman would be a valuable addition in some capacity. I am afraid that any attempt to include Phil Klass would en up in some sort of disaster. He's just too darned irascible (I'm being polite; Perkins' evaluation is much more direct!) Klass is as far on the "no" side of the UFO question as one can get. He not only expects to find an explanation any UFO episode, he insists on it.
Let me know of any developments and about whatever form or structure you think such a project should take. I, too, look forward to hearing from you again. Please don't think my rather long delays in answering your letters have anything to do with my interest in them. I am presently engaged in translating some 35,000 lines of Pascal code into the "C" programming language - a job of some magnitude, as you may well imagine. This job, which aims to rescue a commercial check recovery and collection system from poor programming, has first claim on my time.
By the way, how do your pronounce your name? Does it rhyme with "bough," "show, " "trough," or none of the above?
P.S. Despite my agreement with your reasoning on the IR-1-56 scenario, I still find it somewhat disturbing that the "mistakes" in the introduction to IR-1-56 make it look as though Major Bixel (at least) connected the third Bentwaters UFO with the one that was reported to Lakenheath. Notice the similarities between the two:
Bixel: "...a third UFOB was reported as tracked by the Bentwaters GCA from approximately 30 miles E. of Bentwaters flying a westerly course to about 30 miles west of Bentwaters at an exceptionally high speed."
BOI-485: "BENTWATERS GCA SIGHTED OBJECT THIRTY MILES EAST OF STATION TRAVELING WESTERLY...IT DISAPPEARED THIRTY MILES WEST OF STATION...TOWER PERS AT BENTWATERS REPORTED TO GCA A BRIGHT LIGHT PASSED OVER THE FIELD EAST TO WEST AT TERRIFIC SPEED...."
Do you have any thoughts on this? It does appear that Bixells "mistake" may have been made by assuming (perhaps subconsciously) that the third Bentwaters UFO and the one reported to Lakenheath were one and the same. Could he, too, have been "kept in the dark" by the CIA?