Analysis of a Photograph of a High Speed Ball of Light
Richard F. Haines
Los Altos, California
January 26, 2002
Date of Photograph: July 16, 1988
Time of Photograph: approx. 1400 PST
49' N; 116o 44' W
(West of Palm Springs, CA)
Duration of Sighting: from 5 to 10 seconds
Number of UAP: one
Number of eye witnesses: one plus others
Number of photographic frames: one
This pilot sighting report and color photograph of an unidentified aerial
phenomena (UAP) called for a number of different forensic methods
including photo-analysis, aircraft window study, camera-lens-film
analyses, and evaluation of reporter credibility. The single frame,
Kodak color, copy negative was submitted for examination by one of
the several eye-witnesses. This paper describes the results of these
analyses. It is concluded that: (1) whatever the UAP was it was
probably in sub-sonic flight. If the UAP was travelling at subsonic
speed the estimated total sighting duration and/or its estimated
distance from the witness are clearly in error by a factor of two or
more, (2) no evidence of a hoax or double exposure was found nor
were any bolides, meteorites, or other unidentified aerial phenomena
reported for that time and place, (3) the luminance of the main body
of the object and immediately adjacent tail area were so high they
fully saturated (exposed) the relatively “slow” film. This may
explain why the photograph does not correspond closely to what was
seen, (4) the film’s optical density, as measured along the length
of the white tail behind the UAP, changed in a peculiar fashion and
is not characteristic of reflected sunlight off water droplet vapor,
and (5) interesting micro-details were discovered that suggest the
possibility of some type of energy emissions extending from the UAP
but not necessarily in the direction of its flight. The nature of
the UAP and constitution of its atmospheric trail remains unknown at
Introduction and Flight Background Details
As many writers have said before, the credibility of
a purported ufo photograph rests far more upon the credibility of
the photographer than upon all of the technical characteristics and
details producing the photograph. But when the credibility of the
eye witness is found to be high and no evidence of fraud or hoax is
found it is more reasonable to accept the photograph at least as
what it purports to be, evidence of an interesting, if unknown,
phenomenon of some kind.
An interesting aerial sighting (with 35mm color slide) was reported by
photographer-witness, R. J. Childerhose (1966) on August 27, 1956.
He was flying a Royal Canadian Air Force F-86 jet at the time. As
noted by Klass (1968, pg. 146), "The photo (used on the dust cover
of his book) shows an intensely bright, white, egg-shaped object
that seems to be suspended below an intense thunderstorm" but
visible through a hole in the clouds whose tops were at about 12,000
feet altitude or higher. He told Klass that the object seemed to
have sharply defined edges and looked "like a shiny silver dollar
sitting horizontal." The pilot also wrote to tell Dr. James
McDonald (Maccabee, 1999, pg. 209) that "…the photo of the bright
object doesn't represent quite what appeared to the naked eye. When
I first saw the object it appeared as a very bright, clearly defined
discoid, like a silver dollar lying on its side. The photo makes it
look like a blob of light, the result of light intensity." Both
Klass and Altschuler, a member of the University of Colorado's UFO
study panel (Gillmor, 1968, pg. 733), felt that the object seen and
photographed by Childerhose was ball lightning. Later work by
Maccabee (1999) suggests that few of the characteristics of ball
lightning match those seen and photographed by this pilot witness.
Childerhose tried to explain why what he saw did not correspond to what appeared
on his photograph. He stated, "The light it emitted was very much
brighter than the existing sunlight at that time of day and this
over-exposed the film, causing the blurred edges you see in the
picture." (Klass, 1968, pg. 147) Subsequent assumptions and
calculations by Maccabee (1999) suggest that the object was actually
made up of two distinct bright spots/objects very close to one
another whose luminous surrounds merged together and that its power
output would have been more than 109
watts. This classic photograph has continued to perplex
investigators over the years. Interestingly, the author learned
about the existence of another photograph, described in this
paper, that contains a number of elements similar to the Childerhose
event. As will be seen, the present case is important not only
because of the apparent overlap it has with the earlier event but
also because it might shed more light on why some photographs don't
correspond more closely with what was reportedly seen.
The author received word via e-mail to the National Aviation
Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP)
on January 27, 2001 that a John Williams (pseudonym) had in his
possession an “original photo and negative as well as the flight
log…”. In this e-mail he also provided a relatively complete
narrative of his flight location when the event occurred, viz., five
miles NE of Mt. San Jacinto which is about eight miles NW of Palm
Springs airport, California.
Basic Sighting Events
Mr. Williams, piloting a Mini-Nimbus/C sailplane,
towed behind a standard tow plane, took off from Hemet, California's
at 1315 hrs PST on July 16, 1988 and climbed toward the NE,
eventually reaching an altitude of about 12,000 feet above ground
level (AGL). The ground in this area rises from 1,600 feet above
mean sea level (MSL) gradually toward the east where the San Jacinto
mountain range (typically from 7,000 to 10,000 feet high) runs
roughly north and south. Since the primary purpose of this flight
(which lasted just over ninety minutes) was to obtain color
photographs of the sailplane in flight from a chase plane, Mr.
Williams had arranged for a personal friend to ride both as
passenger and photographer in the Mooney 201
with the pilot (Mr. D. L. S.) sitting in the left seat. Mr. R. C.
sat in the right-front seat and took twenty four photographs
(mainly) through his right-hand window. Mr. Williams provided him
both the camera and film (discussed later) and recovered all items
immediately upon landing.
Upon reaching 12,000 feet altitude the (commercial)
tow-plane released the sailplane and immediately banked away to
return to Hemet airport. The pilot of the chase plane, Mr. D.L.S.,
followed behind and generally to the left hand side of the sailplane
which permitted the photographer to take his photos from the right
hand window. All three individuals were in constant radio
communication throughout the flight on 123.3 MHz. Figure 1 is a
photograph of the Mooney 201 chase plane taken by Williams with his
calibrated cockpit camera during the flight.
Mooney 201 Aircraft
Figure 2 was prepared to help understand the relative
instantaneous locations of the sailplane (S), chase plane (A) and
the unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) of interest, and other
geometry. The heavy black line (V - V') indicates the approximate
flight path of the sailplane during the five to ten second-long
visual sighting. The straight dashed line (Y - Z) is the assumed
linear path of motion of the UAP. The angle (X-A-X'; not drawn to
scale) represents the camera lens' angular diameter subtending an
arc (Th) of approximately 57 degrees (discussed later).
Sketch of Relative Aircraft Locations
and UAP During the Visual Sighting
Note in Figure 2 that during the sighting the sailplane was on
a heading of about 45 degrees (magnetic); it was approximately “five
miles North East of Mt. San Jacinto” at the time. In the primary
witness’ own words, “…a shallow descent was established to 11,000
ft. to build air speed for (the) photo run. A number of photos were
taken without anything unusual (happening), then a bank and turn to
the right, away from the chase plane was made (V – V’). During this
turn observers in both aircraft observed, and the photographer in
the chase plane photographed the UAP seen in Figure 3. Williams
said that the fast-moving object looked like "…a large reflecting
sphere… almost like a large ball bearing with a tail."
Initially, the UAP came from the 7:00 position relative to the sailplane (point Y)
and passed in front of him at an estimated distance (d) of about 1
– 2 miles. According to Williams, "It (the UAP) exited (my) vision
at the 1:00 position relative to the sailplane.” (point Z). Perhaps
the single most critical question is how large was distance (d)?
Mr. Williams indicated that they landed between 1445 and 1500 hrs at Hemet, Ryan
Field. This amounted to a total flight duration of from 90 to 105
; Chase Plane Details. With a propeller tip-to-tip length
of 6’ 2” located less than ten feet ahead of the cameraman it would
be unwise to photograph another aircraft looking through it directly
ahead of the chase plane. A fast shutter speed could almost “stop” a
blade making it become visible during its rotation or at least
produce a darkened blur region that could reduce the clarity of the
image. So Mr. R. C. took all photos through the right side cabin
window. These photographs would likely have been taken somewhat
oblique to the window plane as suggested in Figure 1.
The UAP Photograph
Figure 3 shows the Mini-Nimbus/C sailplane against a clear
blue-sky background with the unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP)
(white streaked region) seen just above it. The local time was about
1400 hrs. If the photograph is rotated thirty degrees CW to place
the sailplane in a right-hand bank the UAP’s trajectory is seen in a
slight climb just as Williams recalled it.
If the UAP was at a higher altitude than the witness and in straight and level flight,
perceptu- ally speaking, it would have appeared to be rising as it passed him.
Photograph of Sailplane and UAP
Other Potential Eye Witnesses
This event allegedly involved as many as five eye witnesses in
four different aircraft: (1) the sailplane in which Mr. Williams
visually sighted the UAP, (2) a Mooney model 201 chase plane with a
pilot (D. S. now deceased) and Mr. R. C. the photographer and friend
of Mr. Williams, (3) a second sailplane in the vicinity whose pilot
(Capt. Leo; first name) was the first to see the approaching UAP,
and (4) the tow plane pilot.
It was learned that Mr. R. C., was an engineer who had worked
previously for the Hewlett-Packard Company. He is a "very private
person" according to Williams. In 1988 both he and Williams were
employed in law enforcement and were very concerned that their
careers would be affected by seeing and reporting this phenomenon.
They maintained only infrequent contact after he (Williams) moved
from southern California to the state of Washington. Williams did
not know the identity of Capt. Leo other than his first name and
that he was a commercial pilot. Although over thirteen years had
passed since this incident took place the author attempted to locate
the other alleged witnesses but without success. When asked why he
waited so long to report his sighting Williams answered that he had
no particular interest in ufo nor did he even place his photograph
in that category. He simply forgot about the incident and the
photograph until many years later (January 10, 2000) when he came
across the National UFO Reporting Center's web site and decided to
submit a report to them "in case someone might be interested in it."
As mentioned above, he subsequently learned of NARCAP's existence
and contacted us because of our interest in UAP and flight safety.
A Minolta Maxxum Model 7000, 35mm, single lens reflex camera body
was used with motorized film advance capability (permitting up to
two frames/second in the continuous exposure mode). The camera was
allegedly set to AE (automatic exposure) mode such that all the
photographer had to do was aim, zoom, and shoot.
Lens. A Rokor zoom lens was used with focal length range
from 28 to 80 mm. The f-stop range for this lens is from 3.5 to 4.5
for these limiting focal lengths, respectively.
Set to the full zoom position (28mm focal length), the angular
width of the resulting photograph is approximately 57 degrees arc.
At the manufacture’s ‘standard’ setting the photo’s angular width
would have been about 40 degrees arc which value is used for
calculations made in the present paper. Since the zoom setting was
not recorded this value could be in error. Nevertheless, the overall
conclusions of the analyses are not changed materially if a
different angular width were used.
In the A-E mode, this camera possesses a fixed exposure
“program,” i.e., the relationship between aperture and shutter speed
at a given zoom setting is pre-established. Figure 4 presents the
A-E program factors for this model camera. It shows that mid-way
between f3.5 and f4.5 and its “TELE” lens setting, the resultant
shutter speed would have been approximately 1/500 second. Likewise,
if the zoom lens had been set at its mid-point the corresponding
shutter speed would have been approximately 1/250th
second. Finally, if the zoom lens had been set at its widest
setting the corresponding shutter speed would have been about 1/30th
second. In order to obtain a shot with the sailplane almost filling
the entire frame the zoom setting would have had to be at least at
its mid point or more; an assumed shutter speed of 1/250th
second is used here which is consistent with the sharpness of the
Automatic Exposure Relationships
Shutter speed is important because the longer the shutter is
open the greater is the chance for image blur to occur due to chase
plane/camera motion. Conversely, a sharply defined target object
indicates a relatively stable camera and target during an exposure.
This clearly was the case here. The upper and front edge of the UAP
that appears to have a double boundary must be due to some other
cause than camera motion.
Film. The negative stock was Kodak VPS 5026 which
is also known as Vericolor III Professional Film. This
35mm, medium speed, color negative film possesses a nominal ASA
rating of 100. “This film is designed for exposure with daylight or
electronic flash at exposure times of 1/10,000 second to 1/10
second.” (Kodak, Pg. 2, 1997) The grain size and image structure on
the enlargement received by the author appears to be consistent with
statements made in the Kodak specification sheet; their print grain
index sets a value of 25 as the “approximate visual threshold for
graininess” (given various standardized viewing conditions). A
higher number represents an increase in the amount of observed
graininess. Kodak’s published print grain index for a 35mm negative
of Vericolor III film enlarged to 8” x 10” is 61. If further
enlarged to 16” x 20” this value increases to 91. Inspection of the
present 8” x 11” color positive print reveals obvious graininess, as
expected. The yellow forming dye layer peaks in sensitivity at 425
nm and ends at a maximum wavelength of 525 nm. The magenta layer
peaks at 558 nm and ends at 620 nm and the cyan-forming layer peaks
at 660 nm and ends at 690 nm. Its modulation-transfer function curve
is relatively flat at between 2.5 and 12 cycles/minute arc and then
smoothly falls off to 32% response at about 75 cycles/minute arc.
In short, this professional film supports relatively high resolution
photography over a wide range of contrasts. Consult the following
web site for more information:
On March 9, 2001 the author received a 4.25” long, color
negative strip containing one exposed frame (no. 3A) connected to
frames 4A and 5A that were unexposed for some unexplained reason.”
The single exposed UAP frame was in very good condition with no
scratches at all; it did contain a lighter density, linear border
measuring 2.05 mm wide on the vertical dimension and a 0.9 mm wide
border on its lower edge. A positive print made by the author from
this negative showed these two black borders which was absent on the
8” x 11” enlargement received from Williams (i.e., either they had
been cropped out or his photo had been made from another negative).
The total frame width was 36 mm as expected. The presence of these
two visible borders that could not have been produced within the
camera during exposure, coupled with the absence of any exposed
frames after the UAP frame, strongly suggest that this was not the
original negative but a copy negative. Where could this copy
negative have originated if not from Mr. Williams?
Film Processing. Mr. Williams said that upon receiving
his camera from his friend (R. C.) immediately after landing he
placed the camera (with film still inside) into his nylon camera
bag. He said he took the exposed film to a one-hour photo processor
on Convoy Street in San Diego “that afternoon or the following day
on his way to work” and, about a week later, picked up the processed
film and standard size positive color prints. “I didn’t even look at
them then,” he explained. “I was going flying again that weekend and
took them with me to show the guys how they had come out. We flew
almost every weekend.” When they all noticed the frame of interest
(UAP) the chase plane pilot said almost nothing while Mr. R. C.
simply remarked, “Look what we got on that photo!” “He is a very
stoic person,” observed Mr. Williams, who then ordered two (2) each
eight by eleven inch color enlargements of the frame showing the UAP,
one of which he submitted with the negative.
Details of the Photo-Analysis
The author made a number of digital scans of this UAP
frame as described below. The objective of these scans was to
better understand the nature of various image details. The initial
scan emphasized the left wing of the sailplane where the white
(vapor?) trail passed through it. If this was a double exposure the
(positive print) luminance of the wing in the region of the trail
should be somewhat higher than in regions where the trail did not
intersect it because of exposure additivity. Figure 5 shows the
seven equally spaced lines (each normal to the wing’s surface) along
which density measurements were obtained as well as ten locations
along the white tail (see below).
Sailplane Left Wing and Vapor Trail Image
(250 dpi scan, B=-10, C=+5%)
Happily, no evidence was found that would support the
contention that a double exposure had been carried out (within a
margin of error of +/- 2%). The luminance of the left wing was not
measurably greater where the vapor trail intersected it as compared
with the area where the wing was imaged against the clear blue sky.
White Trail. Two separate tests were performed within the same region as Figure 5
to better understand details of the vapor(?) trail. In the first
test the 'Posterize' filter (Adobe Photoshop) was set to five
(5) levels to see if discrete edges could be extracted from the
otherwise diffuse white trail behind the head of the object. As
expected, several non-parallel, tapering gradients could be
discriminated as shown in Figure 6.
UAP Vapor Trail Luminance Gradients
(650 dpi scan, B=5, C=5%, posterize=5)
The second test performed used the 'Emboss' Filter that
significantly accentuates low-contrast, micro-image grain details as
a function of pseudo-illumination angle and pseudo-depth of the
pixel luminance. Figure 7 presents the results of this test where
areas of the image that are nearly 100% exposed areas (i.e.,
diffuse, very luminous white portion of the UAP tail) appear here as
an oval shaped, smooth, gray region. Note the enhanced
'granularity' within the tail of the UAP (between lines X and Y) as
compared with the clear sky (outside lines X and Y). This large
granularity is probably due to sunlight scattered from greater
turbulence within the tail. One possibility may be that the UAP's
white tail represents ionized or otherwise excited air by emitted
microwave energy from the UAP (cf. McCampbell, Pp. 23-37, 1973), a
possibility that is further supported by Figures 8 and 9 related to
the head or leading edge of the effect.
UAP Vapor Trail Grain Micro Structure
(1300 dpi scan, B=0, C=0, Angle= -66deg, Ht. = 10 pixels, Amt.=420%)
The final test conducted was on the variation in luminance of
the white tail streaming behind the UAP. It was scanned at equal
distances along its entire length (equivalent to approximately 27.3
degrees arc) at the positions shown in Figure 5. Due to luminance
variations at each location an upper and lower value was recorded
(Cols. 2 and 3). These relative luminance values are given in Table
Relative Luminance Distribution Measured on Each Side
of a Central Line Along Entire Length of the Tail
Figure 5 for Exact Measurement Locations)
Measurement Lower Upper
Angle (deg.) Cos A
Value+ Value+ behind head
(see Fig. 5) (%)
(End of 1.0 60
62 27.3 0.518
tail) 1.5 56
62 23.9 0.443
60 20.5 0.374
76 17.0 0.306
58 67 13.6
70 80 10.2
98 6.8 0.119
8.5 100 100
(Head of 9.0
9.5 100 100
Approximately 0.5” apart along entire length of white tail on
+ 100 % on this scale represents fully
exposed film, i.e., highest luminance.
It may be noted that, progressing away from the "forward" end
of the UAP, the luminance of the tail decreases very rapidly beyond
measurement location 5.5 (just below and left of the sailplane’s
wing in Figure 5) which suggests an almost exponential decay rate.
If the tail was composed only of water vapor one would expect its
reflectance (in the direction of the camera) to be approximated by
the cosine of the angle (sun - UAP - camera) (cf. Col. 5 in Table
1) which it clearly does not. Is the tail the by-product of a
totally different process? Perhaps it is made up of a substance with
a rapid luminous half-life on the order of a second or two or is
composed of particles possessing directional reflectivity, or some
Head of UAP. Another set of tests was performed on the region of the head of the
UAP. This region is greatly overexposed - virtually to the point of
making any discrimination of object edge or surface detail
impossible. The ‘emboss’ filter was used first. The homogeneous
gray, flat-appearing region in Figure 8 depicts the 100% over
exposed area of the film and is very likely the actual UAP itself
and part of its high luminance trail.
UAP Head Area Emphasizing Coronal Micro-Structure
(450 dpi scan, B=10, C=15, emboss filter)
The left tip of the tail can be seen here. The areas lying outside
of this central, gray region are of more interest, however. Thin,
parallel fingers are seen protruding from the rounded front of this
image. It is interesting that most of these fingers diverge from
ten to fifteen degrees arc from the UAP's flight path. What these
short protrusions are is not known but may represent energy
projections of some sort.
UAP Head Area Emphasizing Corona Macro-Structure
(450 dpi scan, B=10, C=15, RGB curves filter as described in text)
These protrusions also appear in Figure 9 where the same part of the
image was subjected to a sinusoidal filtering (RGB Curves function)
using seven (7) equally spaced cycles across the 255 bits of
exposure depth. This yields artificially enhanced profiles of equal
luminance. The luminance boundaries nearest the head of the UAP tend
to include the projections that characterize the head itself while
boundaries more distant do not. This effect seems consistent with a
radiation effect that decreases in intensity with distance from the
The appearance of separated striations within the white tail
behind the UAP appear to be consistent with condensation trails of a
blunt-nose body in sub-sonic flight through Earth’s atmosphere
(Smith, 2001). Of course, the tail may be produced by a totally
different mechanism. In addition, if the UAP was travelling at a
supersonic velocity there would be a significantly different
appearance of the bow shock wave than is seen in the photograph.
Further, the sailplane pilot did not hear a sonic boom nor feel any
sudden air buffeting during or soon after the UAP passed him which
would be consistent with a vehicle travelling at sub-sonic velocity.
The last test performed on the head of the UAP
consisted of “stretching” the exposure so that only thirty [about
12%] of the 255 total (245 minus 215) bits of input
(exposure) “depth” were stretched over two hundred (200) bits of
output “depth.” This was done to see if very low contrast
detail might lie buried within the greatly overexposed region of the
UAP’s head. Figure 10 shows what was found.
IAP Head Area
With Luminance Stretching
(450 dpi scan, B=-5, C=0, Stretched Exposure)
The magnification and image centering of Figure 10 are similar
to that of Figures 8 and 9 for sake of comparison. The luminance
stretching was performed only within the smaller inset square to
permit comparison of its diameter with the unstretched image (seen
in the remainder of the figure. It may be noted that the front edge
of the head is relatively circular and (again) includes several
short protrusions located near the top of the head. The spherical
shaped object that Mr. Williams perceived likely corresponded to
part of this rounded region.
Sun's Location, Sky Luminance, and Weather Analysis
On July 16st 1988 at 1400 PST the sun was at 56
deg. 37.8 min. arc elevation and 244 deg. 33.6 min. azimuth at this
location. These values are useful in studying illumination and
shadows on the UAP, sailplane, and chase plane windows. The reported
heading of the sailplane (approx. 45 deg.) at the moment of the
photograph is consistent with the location of the sun's shadow on
its fuselage. In addition, a rather significant amount of sunlight
is also reflected from the earth’s surface upon the underside of the
sailplane as seen in Figure 3.
No clouds are visible in the photograph which supports Mr. Williams' statement
that clouds had not yet developed at this hour of the day.
The entire frame was scanned at 175 dpi and a brightness filter applied to emphasize
the range of luminance along lines A and B (i.e., upper right to
lower left). Figure 11 presents the resultant image. When the image
is rotated about thirty degrees CW these measurement lines represent
the sky's horizontal luminance gradient. Individual luminance
values (3 x 3 pixel cursor) are shown at their measurement location. It may be noted that the sky in the upper right-hand corner of this
image is visibly darker than it is in the lower left-hand corner. A
luminance difference of about x 2.4 was found along line A which is
larger than would be expected from usual atmospheric particle light
scattering across this narrow an angle of sky (Allard, 1876).
Sky Luminance Distribution (175 DPI scan, B=+22;
Windshield and Side Window Optical Analysis
In order to better understand the possible cause of this large
luminance gradient several hypotheses were formulated. The first is
that sunlight struck the Mooney's right-hand window to create the
veiling luminance seen in Figure 11. An attempt was made to obtain
geometric details of the side window’s rate of curvature and other
geometry. A rough estimate of these parameters was made based upon
inspection of a front-view photograph of this aircraft (cf. Figure
12). The passenger's side window possesses a large radius (approx.
24) horizontal curve over its upper half progressing to a nearly
flat plane over its bottom half.
Nose View Photograph of Mooney M20S
Assuming that the chase plane was beginning a left-hand bank
away from the sailplane when the photograph was taken the camera's
line of sight would probably have been through the lower, planar
part of the window. With the Mooney's heading of approximately 360
deg. and sunlight azimuth at about 244 deg, sunlight could not have
struck the tinted plexiglass side window. In short, the lighting
conditions were perfect for this photograph with the sun
illuminating the top and left-hand side of both the Mooney and the
sailplane; the window and camera both were in shadow. The
gradient of the sky's luminance seen in Figure 11 is not
likely caused by sunlight falling on the Mooney's side window if the
aircraft headings are those assumed here.
A second working hypothesis is that this large luminance
gradient across the film plane may have resulted during its
processing if a typical darkroom environment has been used. The
Kodak film specifications state: "Do not use a safelight. Handle
unprocessed film in total darkness." (Kodak, pg. 2, 1997)
Fortunately, Mr. Williams was able to locate five other frames taken
from the chase plane during the same flight. He indicated that the
photograph shown in Figure 13 is very likely the frame obtained just
prior to the UAP photograph (Fig. 3; cf. footnote 7. This frame
allowed a comparison to be made of the sky's luminance gradient with
that of the UAP frame; approximately the same range of
luminance was found in each which argues
against the second hypothesis as well as a third.
; The third hypothesis is that the UAP had somehow caused additional exposure of
the film perhaps due to emitted radiation of some sort. Figure 13,
taken many minutes before the appearance of the UAP, suggests that
this possibility is very unlikely because of a similar amount of
luminance gradient present here as well.
Photograph of Sailplane Taken Several Minutes Before the UAP Photo
The fourth hypothesis is that this luminance gradient is merely that of the
natural daylight sky under these conditions. Inspection of all
photos provided by Mr. Williams tends to support this hypothesis
even though the range is higher than would be expected (Allard,
1876, Koschmieder, 1924).
Calculations of Possible UAP Velocity
If the UAP (1) travelled in a straight line, (2)
travelled at a constant velocity, (3) was seen for five or ten
seconds (t) total, (4) travelled through the horizontal angles (Col.
A - see below), and (5) was either one or two miles away from Mr.
Williams (Col. D) it would have had to travel at the velocities
(Col. V) shown in Table 2.
Calculated UAP Parameters
for These Assumed Parameters
Total Horizontal Angular rate Duration Distance (st.mi.)
Total Distance Velocity
arc.) of UAP (sec.) from Sailplane
Traveled (st. mi.) (mph)
UAP Travelled (deg./sec.) t
in Time "t"
100 20 5
100 20 5
2 4.77 3,434
100 10 10
1 2.38 857
100 10 10
2 4.77 1,717
100 10 10
3 7.15 2,574
5 1 2.86
5 2 5.71
110 11 10
1 2.86 1,030
110 11 10
2 5.71 2,056
110 11 10
3 8.57 3,085
It appears that all of these velocities are too large in view
of the likelihood that the UAP was travelling at sub-sonic speed for
reasons given above. Either the sighting duration estimate was too
short, the distance to the UAP was too large, the angle through
which the UAP appeared to pass was in error, or some combination of
these factors. Even the 857 mph (bold faced) value given above is
supersonic. Clearly, a rather large error exists in these estimated
parameters. Such perceptual errors are not at all uncommon when
there are few if any stable, visual landmarks and/or time references
available within the visual field (Haines, 1980). Even if the
distance to the UAP was reduced to only one-half mile it would have
had to travel at 428 mph over ten seconds and 100 deg arc; at 0.75
mile distance it would have had to travel at 644 mph over ten
seconds and 100 deg arc given the other estimates.
The change in azimuth angle through which the sailplane traveled at 110 kts in a
coordinated 20 deg banked turn (no side slip assumed) to the right
over five seconds equals about 14 degrees and 27 degrees over ten
The sailplane would have traversed about 700 and 1,400 feet during
these two durations, respectively. Since the UAP was seen initially
on the left-hand side of the sailplane, i.e., on the outside of his
right-hand turn, Williams would be turning in a direction to keep it
in sight slightly longer than if he were in straight flight by about
A UAP subtending a visual angle of 2 deg. 35 min arc at one and
two miles distance would measure 238 and 475 feet across,
respectively. At 0.25 mile distance it would measure 59.4 feet
Evaluation of Reporter Credibility
Mr. John Williams was confirmed to be a licensed pilot (S.E.L.
and "Diamond" level soaring pilot with 18 years flying experience)
at the time of the event. He did not possess any waivers or
limitations. He claimed to have had 400 logged hours with 350 hrs.
in high performance sailplanes "…in multiple flight envelopes and
conditions." His reported directorship on a prominent California
aerospace museum in the 1980s also was confirmed. His clear and
detailed knowledge of aeronautics and flight details was found to be
accurate in every respect. No evidence of any kind could be found
that he ever attempted to capitalize on this photograph in any way.
Two primary subjects will be discussed: (1) the differences (and possible
causes) between what was reportedly seen and what was recorded on
the photograph and, (2) the ambiguity of whether or not the negative
submitted was original or a copy negative and reasons for accepting
it for study.
(1) Differences Between What was Seen and Photographed.
Mr. Williams remarked that the UAP looked to him like a “large
reflective sphere … almost like a large ball bearing."
But this is not what his photo looked like. A quite similar
situation exists with the 1956 report by Childerhose discussed
earlier. And, when asked to comment on whether or not he remembered
seeing a parallel upper edge to the vapor trail that is visible in
his photograph he remarked, "The UAP looked more distinct and
spherical than it does in the photo, with an area to the rear,
several times its diameter that had a vapor quality." This
perceptually-based description clearly implies the presence of an
object with a polished metal surface and not a diffuse white ball
with a vapor trail that is seen on the film. He did recall seeing a
"tail" behind it.
Several possible explanations exist for these appearance differences: (a) Williams'
memory may have been modified somewhat over the intervening years.
Such examples of memory modification are well documented (e.g.,
Shepard, 1979). (b) Williams changed the visual description of the
UAP for some unknown reason. The likelihood of this seems small in view of the fact that
his description of the UAP didn't correspond at all to the
photograph he submitted. This argues in support of his honesty and
self-assurance in this sighting detail. (c) The radiation reflected
or emitted by the "spherical" UAP affected this film differently
than it affected his retina and visual system. This last possibility
deserves further comment related to both the geometric and the
spectral sensitivity aspects of the case.
Geometric Aspects. The author has conducted laboratory research on both
the perceptual and photographic effects of using ultra-high
luminance targets in support of the space program (Haines, 1965,
1966, 1968, 1969, 1971) and has photographed highly polished metal
spheres and other surface shapes under full sunlight conditions
(e.g., Haines, Fig. 39, 40; 1980). These studies clearly demonstrate
that the normal human eye perceives very bright targets differently
than they will appear on film that has been exposed under so-called
"normal" conditions. Let us first consider the visual appearance of
a polished metal sphere. For prolonged, light adapted viewing of a
sunlit sphere one will see its entire outline and "metallic" surface
(reflecting sky and other background) with a smaller diameter,
reflected, virtual image of the sun that is extremely bright.
But the entire surface of the sphere will not appear homogeneously
bright. Recall that Mr. Williams' perceptually based statement
was that the UAP looked like "a large reflective sphere… a large
Now consider the visual appearance of a correctly exposed photograph of the same
mirror surface target as above. Given the proper shutter speed and
aperture much the same object detail will be seen as described
above. On the other hand, if the shutter speed and/or aperture are
not adequate to reduce the ultra high optical power coming from the
spherical target what is produced is a much larger diffuse
white area perhaps the same angular size of the entire sphere itself
as is seen in the present photograph. Yet in the present photograph
the sailplane was properly exposed so the shutter speed and aperture
had to be approximately correct for these nominal conditions. The
over-exposed UAP had to result only from its excessive output of
optical power. It is likely that this is what occurred in the
present case as well as in the earlier Childerhose case.
Now consider a sunlit sphere in the sky whose surface is not mirror but diffusely
reflecting, like white chalk. It will appear both to the naked eye
and on a photograph as an almost flat surfaced object, i.e., its
third dimension will be significantly reduced. Its round edge will
correspond with its angular diameter. Each point on its surface
will radiate light toward the eye and camera. The difference between
sunlit a mirror surface and a diffuse surface sphere is immediately
discernable and will not be confused.
Another possibility in one or both aerial sightings is that the film may
have undergone some poorly understood type of direct irradiation
perhaps due to non-visible (near infra-red?) wavelengths from the
source. Further research is called for to find out if this is
Spectral Sensitivity Aspects. Another issue is the degree to which Kodak
ASA100 color film faithfully captures the same target wavelengths as
does the normal human visual system. In fact, there has been shown
to be a relatively good correspondence in this regard (cf. Kodak,
1997). Indeed, if this were not the case such film would not be sold
as consistently as it is. People would not continue to purchase
film that did not capture the same hues and contrasts as exist the
perceived scene. At the shorter wavelength end of the spectrum of
Kodak 5026 the yellow-forming layer's spectral sensitivity curve
extends down to 400 nm while the normal visual sensitivity falls off
to virtually nothing at 395 nm. (Prince, 1962). Much the same
correspondence is found at the longer wavelength end of the spectrum
as well where the (cyan -forming layer) of the emulsion is sensitive
out to 690 nm which is just under the 730 nm cut-off of the normal
eye. Thus, the eye can see slightly farther into the near infrared
than can this particular film stock.
What is the possibility that this UAP emitted non-visible radiation that
affected the film?
There is no known published research on this important matter. Further research should
be conducted to evaluate such a possibility, particularly microwave
wavelengths in the 1mm to 1cm wavelength range.
(2) The Issue of Negative Originality. Of course it
is important to study the original negative of an alleged UAP or
other claimed anomaly whenever possible (Louange, 1999) unless it
has been lost and a high quality copy, unaltered negative has been
made. As mentioned earlier, it appears that the negative that the
author received was not original but a copy. In addition, of the three frame negative strip received,
the UAP was imaged on frame 3A with no exposures on frame 4A or 5A.
When Williams was asked about this discrepancy (on March 9, 2001) he
said he thought it was original "as far as I know." Whether or not
this fact seriously impacts the value of the entire case rests on
the personal motives and credibility of the primary witness. The
only other two people who handled the film were the photographer and
the technician at the one-hour film developing shop on Convoy Street
in San Diego. Since the photographer did not remove the film from
the witness's camera but simply handed it all to Williams upon
landing it removes him from suspicion. It isn't known whether the
copy negative was made by the technician. He had it for a full week
according to Williams who further recalls that he did receive a full
roll of negatives back but can't be sure if they were his
Consider the following: (1) Mr. Williams did nothing with the negative for 11.5
years as far as can be determined other than having two enlargements
made - one of which he submitted to the author for study and the
other for his office wall, (2) It is possible that the photographer
had loaded a second roll of film and then stopped taking photos
immediately after the UAP passed by. Williams though that they all
headed back to land very soon after the sighting. (3) When the
author visited him in his home-office located NW of Seattle,
Washington it was noticed that (a) he was a former Naval officer,
(b) There was no indication that he had any kind of an interest in
ufo or anything occult, (c) At no time did he become defensive or
belligerent about the apparent discrepancy surrounding the copy
negative; he merely shrugged it off as something of no great
importance. At no time did he contradict himself or give facts that
were later found to be in error, and (d) He is well educated, a
respected member of the community, and now a salesman of high
technology, non-destructive testing hardware and is very precise in
his vocabulary and knowledge of flying. All of these facts tend to
support the contention that Williams is a trustworthy individual
despite the fact that the negative analyzed probably was not
original. Of course, theoretically, overall case reliability is
lessened because of this fact.
(3) Other Issues. A check was made to determine whether other UAP reports had
been made at this time, date, and location. No reports to the
National UFO Reporting Center (Seattle, Washington) were found other than Mr. Williams' own abbreviated report submitted on
January 10, 2000. It may be important to note that Mr. Williams did
not include the day of the month of the incident in his report to
NUFORC. He had to locate this date in his flight log book for them
later. There also were no sighting reports found in the national
data base maintained by Hatch (2001). A check was also made with an
international astronomical clearing house in Czechoslovakia
regarding meteorite and bolide sightings; none were reported by
astronomers for this time and location.
A number of tentative conclusions are offered as a result of this
investigation: (1) There is no firm evidence of a double exposure
or other deliberate hoax despite the fact that the pilot probably
did not submit the original negative. (2) Whatever the UAP was it
was most likely in sub-sonic flight, as suggested by visual
characteristics of turbulence within the tail behind the UAP's head,
the lack of a visible bow-wave effect, and the fact that no sonic
boom was heard. (3) If the UAP was moving at sub-sonic speed then
either the estimated sighting duration was too short, the distance
to the UAP too great, the angle that the UAP appeared to travel
through was in error, or some combination of them all. It isn't possible to determine which of these estimate(s) are in error. (4)
The UAP's visual appearance did not match the appearance of the
photograph, a finding that parallels an earlier aerial photographic
case. This difference may be because the total optical power of the
UAP was so great as to completely saturate the relatively "slow"
film. Indeed, even with extreme computer "stretching" of the highly
exposed area it wasn’t possible to locate any significant detail
within the central core of the 'white' head. (5) The diminution of
the albedo of the UAP’s tail with increased distance behind its
leading edge is not consistent with sunlight reflected off of
water vapor at these angles. It is as if the particles possessed
directional reflectivity or some other non-mundane characteristic.
(6) Very fine micro-structure details were discovered that extended
outward from the "head" of the UAP. The nature of the UAP has not
been identified as of this date.
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