Wednesday, January 14, 2009


History Channel - Original Air Date: 12/31/08

The show's crew go check out some old cases, including a famous photo that looks like a hat.  In 1954, physicist James E. McDonald and his meteorologist friends are driving through the Arizona desert when the notice an "aluminum" object hovering above the mountains -- none of them can identify it.  This case prompts McDonald to become an UFO researcher; now the crew picks up some of his old cases.  The first case they look at is the Rex Heflin "hat" photos from 1965; the second is the 1957 RB-47 UFO case, where an aircraft was pursued for 700 miles; the final case is the 1964 Zamora UFO landing case, witnessed by a New Mexico police officer.  McDonald believed the Air Force and other authorities were involved in covering up information about UFOs.

Heflin claimed to have photographed a UFO three times (with his Polaroid camera) as it flew over his car, and then photographed the smoke ring that it left when vanishing.  Project Blue Book dismissed the photos as fakes, but the show tracks down copies of the photos to McDonald's biographer.  Heflin claimed the photos were takein by NORAD only to be mysteriously returned years later.  Heflin died in 2005, sticking to his story even to the end.  Could Heflin have snapped 3 Polaroids in 20 seconds?  A Polaroid representative brings a 101 camera (same make & model) and finds he can do it in 17 seconds.  Could they be a double-exposure hoax (suggested by the deep depth of field)?  But the camera was capable of taking exposures focused from 3 feet to infinity--so depth of field proves nothing.  And the smoke ring photo could have clouds (while the others don't) because of automatic overexposure of the pictures taken from inside the truck's cab (washing out the sky).  The Polaroid expert says he saw no signs of hoaxes (wires, etc.) when he examined the duplicate prints.  The team then creates a 3D model of the photos, to test whether Heflin's estimates of the object -- 20' around at 700' away -- matches the photos.  And the team concludes that they do, and also that it's unlikely Heflin would have been able to guess how big an object would appear at that distance if what he said weren't true.

In the Zamora sighting, the officer heard a loud roar and saw a blue flame and went to investigate.  He found an egg-shaped craft about thirty feet wide (RV size) standing on four legs in the desert.  As he investigated, the craft took off, vanishing into the sky.  When other investigators arrived, plants were still smoldering from the craft's liftoff.  Lonnie Zamora is alive and agrees to speak to the show.  Zamora goes over his sighting, saying that at first he thought he was seeing an Air Force experiment.  The craft left indentations in the ground (apparently still visible(?!)), burned brush (confiscated by the FBI), and turned some of the sand to glass -- sand that the team discovers takes 2100 degrees to melt. The RB-47 case has lots of "hard" evidence, as the planes in question were equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.  During a mission, a strange hit appears on the RB's radar--a hit confirmed by other equipment.  Later a bright light sped directly toward the aircraft before mysteriously vanishing.  The RB sighting was confirmed both visually, by the aircraft's radar, and ground radar.  The team concludes the evidence for these two sightings is strong.

While the show claims to have brought modern technology (and investigative techniques) to these reexaminations, there is little evidence of that on the show. Mostly they seem to go over the McDonald evidence and agree with his conclusions.  While the Zamora and RB sightings remain very compelling, the Heflin photo still looks like a hat to me.  And it seems to me that rather than trying to prove such photos are real, it would be more useful to know how easily they could be faked.  (And my sense as a photographer is that they could be faked fairly easily.)  Unfortunately, the original Heflin photos still have not been computer analyzed -- another missed opportunity for UFO Hunters.

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