In 1951, a series of unexplained UFO sightings happened in Texas on a number of different evenings, which were reported by a large number of people. Project Grudge studied the intriguing incident. The incident is popularly known as the Lubbock Lights UFO incident.
The most famous of a renowned and controversial sequence of sightings of strange airborne phenomena occurred about 9:10 p.m. on August 25, 1951, in a backyard in Lubbock, Texas. Three Texas Technical College professors were the watchers, and their discussion on micrometeorites was abruptly cut short by the arrival of a fast-moving, semicircular formation of 20 to 30 lights, each as bright as a bright star but larger in apparent size. The lights, which were blue-green in color and silent, traveled from northeast to southwest and vanished in seconds.
Whatever the objects were, the professors immediately concluded that these were not micrometers. And while they continued to discuss the first flight, a second arrived and replicated the first’s performance. Three Lubbock housewives reported seeing strange flashing lights in the sky that evening when a piece about their sightings was published in the Lubbock newspaper. Carl Hemminger, an associate professor of German at Texas Tech, concurred. J. Russell Heitman, head of Texas Tech’s journalism department, reported seeing a similar collection of lights many days before.
Between August 25 and November 1, the professors and, in some cases, other witnesses observed between ten and twelve similar flights, however, the objects tended to appear in an irregularly clustered group following the initial sighting. An official report based on interviews done by Howard Bossartt of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) at Reese Air Force Base recounts the events of one evening:
“On 1 September 1951, the original group of three [chemical engineer A.G. Oberg, petroleum engineer, and department head W.L. Ducker, and geologist W.I. Robinson] met again in Dr Robinson’s garden and were joined by E.R. Heineman, professor of mathematics, and Dr E.F. George, professor of chemical engineering. Once again, at about 9:20 p.m., a flight came over. It was similar to previous flights, but rather more irregularly grouped. On through the evening, at fairly regular intervals, four more flights moved across the sky from North to South. And then at 12:17 a.m., the most unusual sighting was observed. This flight passed directly overhead, flying very low, in the general direction of North to South, and was seen by every member of the group. Dr Robinson observed that in the case of this flight, an irregularly shaped yellow light appeared in the rear. The formation included dark diffuse areas, and the arc itself quivered or pulsated in the direction of its travel. Each object had an angular magnitude that would be the equivalent of 12 inches across at a distance of 30 or 40 feet, and in violent agitation… The flight had the appearance of a group of 12 to 15 pale objects, producing a pale-yellow blinking light and moving noiselessly.”
On one evening (possibly September 5), Robinson, Oberg, and Ducker were joined by two colleagues, Drs Grayson Mead and John Brand, who sat in Robinson’s front yard, their eyes fixed above, anticipating the appearance of the lights. As Mead recalled:
We sat for quite a long while and kept watching the sky… Suddenly we first sighted the objects just a little bit before they were directly overhead. I suppose maybe they were 10 or 20 degrees to the north. These objects went over so fast that it is hard to say now exactly how many there were. We don’t know whether there were a number of objects or whether it was the lights of just one object itself.
“The objects appeared to be about the size of a dinner plate and they were greenish-blue, slightly fluorescent in colour. They were smaller than the full moon at the horizon, but might have been about the size of the moon overhead. I think there must have been about a dozen or fifteen of these lights; they were in a cluster and they all moved exactly together, so we don’t know if they were different objects all moving at the same rate of speed or whether there was just one object with these different portholes of light.
“They went over so fast, and we were so taken by surprise, that we wished that we had a little bit longer time so that we could have had a better look, but all five of us saw them; we compared what we had seen and I don’t think there was any discrepancy in our descriptions. We all saw the same thing. I think it must have taken something like maybe two to three seconds to pass overhead, certainly not very long, but we can’t judge at this time how long. There was no way to tell how high they were or what size they were. There wasn’t anything for comparison. There was just the apparent size and they went over very rapidly.
“People have suggested later that this was merely the reflection of the streetlights on the breasts of birds going overhead. These objects were too large for any bird outside of something like a very large duck or goose. I have had enough experience hunting and I don’t know of any bird that could fly close enough that could go this fast that we would not be able to hear. There was absolutely no sound to this at all – not a sound!
“As far as I can remember and as far as I can tell, they were absolutely circular. We don’t know if they were disc-shaped or spherical, but the portion that we could see, I am sure, was just absolutely round. It couldn’t possibly have been that round if it had been a reflection from a bird. To have gone as fast as this, to be birds, they would have had to be exceedingly low to disappear quite so quickly. And, had it been birds, I think we would have heard the noise. The feeling… it gave all of us would be very hard to describe… an extremely eerie feeling.”
Mead makes reference to an explanation that was proposed only a few hours after the professors’ initial observation. The notion may have been sparked by Oberg’s observation that the “individual items that comprised the formation were unclear, but gave off a glow, perhaps reflecting light from the metropolis below.” Nonetheless, Ducker, another professor, was unequivocal in his assertion that the objects were “certainly not birds,” and his colleagues and other witnesses concurred. On September 5, one of the group’s members stated the following:
“There have been three flights tonight, and at last, we observed one group passing above a cloud which gave us a more concrete idea of the altitude. Assuming that such a cloud crossed Lubbock at 2000 feet, the objects would have been maintaining a speed in excess of 600 miles an hour if they were barely above the cloud they passed over. The objects moved across a 120-degree arc in two seconds, and if you reduced the altitude to a point where ducks would cross such an arc at their top or average speed of 60 miles an hour, one duck would appear as large as the entire formations we have been observing. “
T.E. Snider, Jr., a Lubbock area farmer, was among those holding out for birds, claiming to have seen some ducks flying over a drive-in cinema around 9 p.m. on August 31 and briefly reflecting light as they did so. However, the Lubbock Morning Avalance remarked that Snider’s idea failed to account for the “unbelievable speed” claimed by others. After callers swamped the Lubbock newspaper with sightings the following night, reporter Kenneth May said:
“Quite possibly, some of the persons who think they have seen the strange objects have seen something different from what the others have seen. Some persons may have seen birds; others may have seen a light reflection – and others may have seen an altogether strange phenomenon that may never be explained.”
Lubbock Lights UFO Incident Photographs By Hart
Late in the evening of August 30, the Lubbock incident took a stunning turn. Carl Hart, Jr., a Texas Tech student, stared out the open window of his upstairs room at 11:30 p.m. while he lay in bed in an upstairs room of his parents’ home. Suddenly, a formation of 18 to 20 white lights in two rows and a perfect V formation appeared from the north and spanned the sky, eventually disappearing over the house.
Hart hurried out to the backyard, clutching his 35-mm Kodak camera, hoping they would return. Within a minute or two, overhead lights passed, and he snapped two photographs. They made a third pass two minutes later, and he snapped three additional shots. Hart mistakenly believed the lights were at a great height. They were only seen for three or four seconds at a time throughout each apparition. Hart observed two other aircraft at the same time two nights later but did not photograph them.
On the morning of the thirty-first, Hart visited a friend’s photo-finishing shop and developed the roll with him. When the photographs came out exceptionally well – Hart had been apprehensive they might not due to the items’ relative dimness – the buddy contacted the newspaper. Soon afterward, Hart delivered the photographs and negatives to the Morning Avalanche office, where managing editor Jay Harris and chief photographer Williams Hams examined them thoroughly before deciding to use them – though Harris warned Hart that if they turned out to be forgeries, he would “run him out of town.”
To which Hart showed no worry. The newspaper compensated him $10 for the usage of all four photographs. Harris then decided to place them on the wire service of the Associated Press. Further inquiry at the AP’s Fort Worth office revealed no indication of any irregularities.
The images were then analyzed at the Air Technical Intelligence Centre’s (ATIC) physics laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB. When three of the images were superimposed (the fourth was discarded due to its blurriness), the laboratory determined the following:
“It was readily apparent that the two rows of spots behaved differently. One row shows only slight variation from a precise “V” formation throughout, whereas the other row appears to pass from above the first row, through it to a position below. The spacings of this second row vary irregularly in the three frames plotted, while the first row holds a fairly precise formation… There is the appearance of two extra spots, outside the regular rows… There is a relative movement within the formation of spots, so that they are not lights on a fixed object… Furthermore, it is unlikely that the moving spots are in any kind of straight line.”
There was no reason to assume that Hart fabricated the images, which rank among the most extraordinary in UFO history, either at the time or now. Later in life, he continually defended them.
They did not appear to be duck breasts reflecting city lights. J.C. Cross, chairman of the Texas Tech biology department, was one of the first to see the images and immediately dismissed the prospect as “absolutely” out of the question.
To replicate the visuals in the Hart photographs, the Avalanche’s crew took nighttime photographs of birds flying above the city’s vapor lights. The outcome was photos that were too dim to reproduce.
Interestingly, the academics stated that the images Hart captured did not match their perceptions: they were U forms rather than V shapes. The Avalance remarked, perhaps imprecisely because a few reports were just of groupings of lights, “All who have seen the lights have stated that they were in one of those shapes.” Nonetheless, this assumption appears to have been broadly true.
The Project Grudge
Official notification of the Lubbock incident reached ATIC in late September, which controlled the Air Force’s UFO investigation project Project Grudge (which was renamed Project Blue Book a few months later, in March 1952). Lieutenant Edward J Ruppelt, Grudge’s director, reviewed a report from the original inquiry performed out of Reese AFB near Lubbock and was impressed by the apparent likeness of the Lubbock lights to something mentioned in a New Mexico report that arrived in the same letter.
Hugh Young, a Sandia Base guard with a high-security clearance, witnessed an unusual aircraft from the yard of his trailer home on the east side of Albuquerque, 250 miles from Lubbock, around 9:58 p.m. on August 25 – the date of the professors’ initial sighting. Emily, his wife, also witnessed the phenomenon: a flying wing with a span of one and a half times that of a B-36. It made no sound when it went overhead, approaching from the north at 300 to 400 mph and flying at an estimated altitude of less than 1000 feet. Dark bands flowed from the front to the back of the wing, and six to eight pairs of flowing lights could be seen at its trailing edges. While this was certainly not a conventional airplane, a subsequent inquiry determined that there were no planes in the region at the time of the sighting.
Ruppelt later discovered that after dusk one August evening, Professor Ducker’s wife witnessed a massive, soundless flying wing pass over their house. At the time – likely before to the light pandemic (neither of the two could recall the specific date of the encounter) – Ducker had been unable to trust her, despite the fact that he knew his wife was a calm, intelligent woman.
On November 6, Ruppelt traveled to Reese AFB and began his investigation into the Lubbock lights with OSI agent Bossartt, interrogating Hart and the academics, as well as others whom the two believed, could be of use. The lecturers revealed their largely fruitless efforts to obtain high-quality scientific data for the lights. On the eighth, Ruppelt and a Reese officer traveled to Brownfield, Texas, to read recent UFO reports as reported in the Brownfield News. “With the exception of one account by a Mr. Joe Bryant,” Ruppelt stated, “they were comparable to the Lubbock descriptions of the encounter.” This remark is puzzling in light of Ruppelt’s subsequent treatment of Bryant’s evidence in his narrative of his Blue Book experiences five years later.
According to his official report, on the evening of August 25, Bryant, 65, and his wife observed a loose collection of lights travelling north to south. They glowed in some way and were about the size of a star. A few minutes later, another group flew by, followed by another. The third group, on the other hand, circled the house, and this time Bryant could not only see but also hear what they were doing.
They were and sounded identical: the onomatopoeically called plover. Plovers are white-breasted birds that resemble sandpipers but have shorter bills and a stockier physique. Bryant informed the officers that the next day, upon reading the Morning Avalanche item on the professors’ encounter, he was certain they had witnessed what he had. Ruppelt reports that he and his partner then visited the local library to read on plovers; when they were finished, “it was too late to travel to Big Spring or Lamesa, Texas, so the cops returned to Lubbock.”
Bryant has evolved into a “old gentleman, about eighty years old,” and a resident of Lamesa in the subsequent book, and his sighting, far from being inconsistent with the “Lubbock descriptions,” is “identical to what the professors described,” providing an important clue to the true identity of the lights. Both Ruppelt’s initial report and subsequent account concur that the two Air Force soldiers met with a federal wildlife warden in the afternoon to discuss plovers.
The warden expressed skepticism that the birds were responsible for the sightings in Lubbock. While plovers can be spotted moving south and in groups from late August to mid-November, those groups rarely contain more than five or six birds, and frequently less, and their top speed is around 50 mph. According to Ruppelt’s 1951 report, the warden noted (in Ruppelt’s interpretation) that plovers “had been sighted in the Lubbock area recently, though in small numbers.” However, Ruppelt asserts in his 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, that the warden “did state that for some inexplicable reason, there were more plovers in the area that fall.”
When Ruppelt first heard the reports in his office at Wright-Patterson, his initial assumption was that the academics had seen the Albuquerque flying wing. Additionally, it is possible that the Albuquerque and Lubbock incidents were connected to another occurrence, the tracking of an unidentified target by two Air Defense Command radar locations. An F-86 had been dispatched to pursue the target, which was flying at 13,000 feet and traveling northwest at 900 miles per hour, but the object – which had seemingly never been seen visually – vanished from the scope. This occurrence occurred in Washington state early on August 26.
“I rapidly sketched a course line between Lubbock and the radar station on a map of the United States. A UFO flying between these two spots would be travelling northwest, and the times it was spotted at each location indicate it was travelling at a speed of approximately 900 miles per hour.”Ruppelt recalled
Yet what the professors were reporting were not flying wings but clusters of clearly discrete lights – with the exception of Mrs. Ducker’s sighting, about which she could provide little information, including the critical date, when asked over two and a half months later. It’s easy to speculate that the date was the twenty-fifth and to link her sighting to the Youngs.
However, due to her inability to recollect the date, this theory is doomed to stay merely theoretical in perpetuity. Nonetheless, in view of another peculiar fact discovered by chance, Ruppelt’s assertion is not altogether unreasonable.
Ruppelt overheard an intriguing anecdote while flying from Lubbock on the ninth. He happened to sit next to a retired rancher from Lubbock, and while the Grudge cop refused to reveal his identity, their talk unavoidably turned to Lubbock’s Topic A, the unexplained lights.
The former rancher informed Ruppelt that his wife had gone outside approximately ten minutes prior to the professors’ initial sighting to remove some sheets from the clothesline. She dashed inside, “as white as the linens she was holding,” to report seeing a gigantic “aeroplane without a person” fly swiftly and silently overhead. On the back edge of the wing, pairs of bright blue lights were visible. To an amazed Ruppelt, it sounded as if the woman had seen the Albuquerque flying wing or something similar.
Lubbock UFO Incident Being A Complete Mystery
Ruppelt asserts in his book that the Lubbock lights “weren’t birds, weren’t refracted light (as recommended by astronomer and UFO debunker Donald H. Menzel), and weren’t spaceships… The lights seen by the professors – the backbone of the Lubbock Lights series – have been positively identified as a very common and easily explainable natural phenomenon.”
Unfortunately, the scientist who explained the phenomenon, after months of setting up apparatus and following the lights, must stay anonymous, he adds, and hence his answer cannot be reported. (In a later edition of his book, Ruppelt asserts that the “Lubbock Lights” were actually night-flying moths.)
An undated Blue Book document (approximately 1960s) has a clue to the scientist’s identity, but it also contradicts Ruppelt’s assertion about what the objects were not: “In 1959, Dr. J Allen Hynek approached one of the Texas Tech professors about the case. This professor notified Dr. Hynek that he had made an exhaustive investigation of the Lubbock sightings and found unequivocally that they were bird sightings.”
Taken together, this appears to be an acceptable explanation – not perfect, perhaps, but better than any other that has been proposed thus far. However, this may not apply to Hart’s images, which the academics said did not accurately depict what they witnessed.
“The professors had reported soft, glowing lights yet the photos showed what should have been extremely bright lights. Hart reported a perfect formation while the professors, except for the first flight, reported an unorderly group. There was no way to explain this disagreement in the arrangement of the lights.”Ruppelt noted
Apparently, Hart did capture a shot of the flying wing. Perhaps the ATIC scientists were just mistaken when they believed the lights were various objects rather than changing light patterns on the bottom of a boomerang-shaped aircraft.
This would indicate that actual UFO sightings occurred in western Texas and New Mexico during a remarkable but unrelated IFO activity. The flying-wing accounts were consistent with the evidence for UFOs; they were not of amorphous lights, but of constructed craft unlike anything nature could create. Even if one disregards the academics’ Lubbock lights, what remains are “excellent UFO accounts,” as Ruppelt put it.
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