Vehicle interference cases
Rodeghier reviewed a small but important fraction of UFO reports that are said to involve effects on electric lights, automobiles, and other machines of various sorts. These reports have occurred throughout the modern era of UFO reports (since 1947) and come from all over the world, although (as with all UFO reports) they come primarily from Western nations. Of such reports, those that involve claims of vehicle (mainly automobile) interference have received most attention. One such case is discussed below. A more comprehensive discussion of vehicle interference cases is presented in the report by Rodeghier (1981).
Haines City, Florida, March 20, 1992.
Based on his review of the original MUFON report, Rodeghier presented the following summary of this case.
At about 3:50 a.m. on March 20, 1992, patrolman Luis Delgado in Haines City (near Orlando), Florida, was checking the doors at local businesses. After turning onto 30th Street, he saw a green light in his rearview mirror. Seconds later, the interior of his patrol car was illuminated with a green glow. An object began pacing his car, moving from the right side to the front of the vehicle several times. Delgado called Police Dispatch at 3:52 a.m. and asked for backup and said "Something is following the vehicle." When the object moved in front of his car for the third time, Delgado pulled off the road. When he did so, the engine, lights, and radio on his patrol car ceased to function.
The object was about 15 feet long and thin, with a 3-foot high center area. It was a strange color of green, and the color seemed to "flow over the surface." The object was hovering about 10 feet off the ground. As he was stopped, the object shone a bright white light into the interior of his vehicle. At that point Delgado got out of his car and tried to call Police Dispatch on his walkie-talkie, but it would not function. He noticed that the air around him had chilled and he could see his breath fog. According to weather records, the temperature at that time was about 60° F. Shortly thereafter, the object sped away at a fantastic speed in about two or three seconds, moving low over the ground. Another officer arrived just after the object had departed and found Delgado sitting in his police vehicle with the left door open and one foot on the ground. He was shaking and crying and unable to talk. Eventually he recovered and filed an incident report. The patrol car functioned normally after the event, and Delgado suffered no health problems. Review of the calls to the dispatcher indicate that the duration of the event was in the range 2 to 3 minutes.
Rodeghier pointed out that the Haines City report is typical of many other vehicle interference reports in the following respects: according to the report, the object was quite close to the witness (a "close encounter" case); the object was of modest size; the object projected a beam of light into the vehicle; the witness did not suffer any injury; the witness did experience an anomalous effect (in this case, the chill in the air); and the object moved at very high speed when it departed.
According to Rodeghier, many such cases have been reported, and he has prepared a catalog of 441 vehicle interference cases (Rodeghier, 1981). It is noteworthy that vehicles with diesel engines are affected only very rarely (less than 1% of all vehicle interference reports).
According to Rodeghier, several hypotheses have been advanced to explain these effects:
- The ignition or other electrical system may have been disrupted by high static electric or magnetic fields.
- Ignition of the gas-air mixture may have been affected by ionization of the ambient air.
- Fuel may somehow have been prevented from entering or leaving the carburetor.
- The engine operation may have been disrupted by electric fields induced by an alternating magnetic field, possibly of low frequency.
Clearly, laboratory tests on automobiles and their engines could be highly informative. Some such tests have in fact been carried out. Staff of the Colorado Project (Condon & Gillmor, 1969) attempted to determine the effect of a static magnetic field on a simulated automobile ignition system. The staff found that spark plugs continued to operate even in static magnetic fields as high as 20 kilogauss. The Colorado Project staff also investigated the possibility that an automobile involved in such a case might display a change in the pattern of its remanent magnetism (its "magnetic fingerprints"), but they found that this had not occurred for the one case they examined. Rodeghier reported that tests by Australian investigators on vehicles involved in two events (Adelaide, South Australia, 1977, and Liverpool Creek, Queensland, 1979) also found no changes in remanent magnetism. On the other hand, Randles and her colleagues (Randles, 1979) found a change in magnetism for a vehicle involved in an event that occurred at Thaxted, Essex, England in 1977.
The panel found these reports to be intriguing. In order to contribute to the analysis of such cases, however, scientists would wish to have available evidence of a variety of types, certainly including narrative accounts, but also involving more concrete information such as radar records, tape recordings, etc.
Interference with Aircraft Equipment
Richard Haines presented a summary of his extensive research into pilot-UFO-sighting reports. He now has a catalog of over 3,000 pilot reports, of which approximately 4% involve transient electromagnetic effects allegedly associated with the presence of strange objects. Another catalog of aircraft-UFO-encounter cases is being compiled by Weinstein (1997) as a GEPAN/SEPRA project; this catalog currently contains several hundred aircraft-UFO-encounter cases.
Haines pointed out some of the reasons that make pilot-UFO sighting reports especially valuable to the UFO investigator:
- Pilots have received a great deal of relevant specialized training and possess practical flight experiences which better qualify them to report accurately what they see.
- Pilots are highly motivated, yet do not over-react during stressful situations.
- Pilots can change their flight path so as to see the ground behind the object and thereby establish a maximum slant range to it.
- Pilots can use their radio to contact ground support for further information or assistance.
- Aircraft have a wide variety of instruments that react differently to electromagnetic radiation.
Haines focused on cases that appear to involve transient electromagnetic (EM) disturbances that occur only while one or more objects are seen flying near the airplane and which return to normal as soon as the object departs (Haines 1979; 1992). Haines has compiled a catalog of 185 such EM events which occurred over a 51-year period (1944-1995), and has developed a taxonomy of electrical-system malfunctions on modern airplanes with which to categorize and better understand them. The largest category of effects is airborne radar contact, while the second largest category is radio interference or complete but temporary radio failure.
Haines discussed two pilot reports in detail, one of which was an interesting case that occurred at 2105 EST on March 12, 1977 between Buffalo and Albany, New York, that involved United Airlines flight 94, a nonstop flight from San Francisco to Boston. The DC-10 airplane was under the control of autopilot system #2 and was flying at 37,000 feet altitude. The entire sky was dark and clear ahead and above the airplane, except for a partial undercast with small clouds extending to about 20 miles ahead. The aircraft was flying at an indicated air speed of 275 knots (true air speed 530 knots). The aircraft was about half way between Buffalo and Albany, and had just changed from contact with the "FROM" VOR (Very-High-Frequency Omnidirectional Bearing) signal emanating from Buffalo to the "TO" signal from Albany. The aircraft was just south of Syracuse, New York.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, the airplane began to turn to the left, making a 15 degree bank. Within a few seconds, the First Officer and the Captain looked to the left side of their plane and saw an extremely bright white light at about their own altitude. Subsequently, the Flight Engineer also looked and saw the light source. It appeared to be perfectly round and its apparent diameter was about 3 degrees of arc. However, the Captain estimated the object to be about 1,000 yards away and to be about 100 feet in size, that corresponds to an angular size of 2 degrees. "Its intensity was remarkable � about the intensity of a flashbulb," he remarked. Boston ATC radioed to ask "United 94, where are you going?" The Captain replied "Well, let me figure this out. I will let you know." He then noticed that the three cockpit compasses (that use sensors in different parts of the plane) were all giving different readings. At this point, the Copilot turned off the autopilot and took manual control of the airplane.
Based upon the fact that the object did not move laterally in the cockpit window during the 45 degree left heading change and from knowledge of the turn radius of this airplane at its stated velocity, Haines calculated the approximate distance to the object to be about 10 nautical miles. If the pilot's angular size estimate for the object is accurate, this suggests that the light source was about 2100 feet across. The object appeared to stay with the airplane for 4 to 5 minutes, after which it departed very rapidly, disappearing within about 15 seconds behind them to the west. The Captain asked ATC if they had any radar traffic in that area and received a negative reply.
The navigation system involves two gyro-suspended compasses, each coupled to a special circuit with a "mismatch annunciator flag." If the readings from the two compasses differ by 3 degrees or more, the autopilot should automatically disengage and the mismatch annunciator flag should be displayed (Powell, 1981). This forces the pilot to take manual control of the airplane. However in this event the readings on the two compasses differed by more than 3 degrees yet the airplane remained on autopilot and the mismatch annunciator flag was not displayed.
Haines reviewed several possible interpretations of this event (cf. Perry & Geppert, 1997). It seems most probable that the malfunction of the three compasses was due to a transient perturbing magnetic field that disturbed the two primary magnetic compasses, the sensor on the wing tip nearest the object (which was controlling the active autopilot at the time) being disturbed more than the other wing-tip sensor. Upon landing, the compasses were checked and found to be in normal operating condition.
In responding to this presentation, the panel took the position that evidence of interference with aircraft equipment is interesting but, in the absence of corroborative data from flight recorders and other mechanical or electrical recording equipment, the evidence presented must be regarded as anecdotal. It is quite possible that the persons making the report summarized above did indeed see unusual and striking phenomena. It does appear that the airplane departed from its normal flight path, but this could have happened for a variety of reasons. As with reports related to other categories of physical evidence, the evidence summarized in this section should be regarded as suggestive but far from sufficient to establish any actual physical linkage between the reported luminous phenomenon and the airplane's flight deviation. In order to improve our understanding of these phenomena, it will be necessary to establish more definite facts from the case work. To this end, there should be strong efforts to quantify the observations and to obtain multiple measurements of the same event, and investigators should bring a critical attitude to the compilation and analysis of the data.
Apparent Gravitational and/or Inertial Effects
In his presentation, Swords focused on reports with details that, if true, are difficult to understand in terms of our familiar concepts of gravity and inertia. For instance, a report may describe an object that is stationary, yet completely silent and has no visible means of support; there is no rush of air and no roar such as one would expect if the object were being supported by a downward jet of gas. It may be reported that the object makes an abrupt velocity change � either a very sudden acceleration or deceleration, or a sudden change of direction, or both, and the witness may describe the event as being completely silent. According to Newton's third law of motion, any sudden change of momentum of an object should be accompanied by an opposite change of momentum of either matter or a field to which the object is coupled. According to reports of the type described by Swords, there is no indication of what force might support the object or what momentum transfer may have occurred.
It is clear that future reports must, if they are to be considered seriously by physical scientists, include very solid physical records that unfortunately present reports do not: most of these cases are anecdotal and therefore very difficult to assess. One of the better-documented cases occurred at approximately 11:00 p.m. on August 18, 1973. At that time, a helicopter of the US Army Reserve was en route from Columbus, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio. In discussing this case, Swords drew upon an investigation by Ms. Jennie Zeidman on behalf of the Center for UFO Studies (Zeidman, 1979; see also Zeidman, 1988). The four-man crew of an Army Reserve helicopter based in Cleveland, Ohio, flew to Columbus for their regularly scheduled physical examinations. At about 10:00 p.m., after the examinations had been concluded, they left the medical facility, drove back to the airport (a distance of two miles), filed a flight plan, and then took off at approximately 10:30 p.m. The night was clear, calm, starry and moonless, with 15-mile visibility. The helicopter was cruising at 90 knots at an altitude of 2500 feet mean sea level over mixed terrain averaging 1100 to 1200 feet elevation.
According to their reports, one of the crewmen saw a single red light off to the left (west), apparently heading south, when they were about seven miles east-southeast of the Mansfield, Ohio, airport. The last altitude the commander noted was the initial altitude of 1800 feet msl (mean sea level), about 700 feet above ground level. At approximately 11:02 p.m. (about three to four minutes after the above observation), the crew member in the right rear seat noticed a single steady red light on the eastern horizon. It appeared to be pacing the helicopter, and he reported this light to the aircraft commander. The light continued its approach and the commander took over the controls from his copilot and put the helicopter into a powered descent of approximately 500 fpm (feet per minute). He contacted Mansfield control tower but, after initial radio contact, the radios malfunctioned on both VHF and UHF. The red light increased in intensity and appeared to be on a collision course at a speed estimated to be above 600 knots. The commander increased the rate of descent to 2000 fpm.
A collision appeared imminent, but the light suddenly decelerated and assumed a hovering relationship above and in front of the helicopter. The crew reported seeing a cigar-shaped gray metallic object that filled the entire windshield. It had a red light at the nose, a white light at the tail and a distinctive green beam that emanated from the lower part of the object. The green beam swung up over the helicopter nose through the main windshield and into the upper tinted window panels, bathing the cockpit in green light. There was no indication of noise or turbulence from the object. After a few seconds of hovering, the light accelerated and moved off to the west, showing only the white "tail" light. The object made a sharp 40 degree course change during its departure.
While the object was still visible, the crew noted that the altimeter read 3500 feet with a rate of climb of 1000 fpm, despite the fact that the collective (the main power control that causes a helicopter to ascend or descend) was still in the full-down position. The commander raised the collective and the helicopter climbed nearly another 300 feet before positive control was re-gained, at which time the crew felt a slight bump. Radio contact with Akron/Canton was then easily achieved. If these accounts are correct, the helicopter ascended from 1800 feet to about 3800 feet even though the helicopter controls were set to cause it to descend.
The Mansfield helicopter case is a particularly puzzling event since it involved not only the testimony of the helicopter crew but that of independent ground witnesses also. These witnesses include a mother, three of her children (ages 13, 11 and 10), and a stepchild (age 13). The witnesses were originally driving in the family automobile, then parked it, whereupon two of the children got out of the car for a better view. All the witnesses first saw an unidentifiable pair of lights (one red, one green), and then the encounter between the "object" responsible for the lights and the oncoming helicopter. Their accounts are consistent in their essential elements, the most memorable aspect being the powerful green light that lit up both the ground and the helicopter. This element received further confirmation from another set of witnesses who were retiring that evening in a nearby house, when they were disturbed by the clattering of a helicopter and by a powerful beam of green light that swept over their house and brightly illuminated their son's bedroom. Related evidence comes from an airline pilot who (in the Mansfield area, about 1.5 hours before the helicopter event) reported unidentified traffic that had the appearance of a strong blue-green light source traveling at an altitude of about 30,000 feet. Cleveland ATC could not detect any object painting an image on their radar screens and so were unable to identify the object.
According to Swords, there was one item of physical evidence that could have been investigated but apparently was not. The commander reported that the magnetic compass began to spin during the event. The compass continued to spin after the event and it was subsequently removed because it was unserviceable. Swords reported that some years after the event Captain Coyne expressed the opinion that his compass, that had not previously malfunctioned, had somehow become demagnetized, but it was not clear whether this opinion was merely a conjecture or whether it was based on laboratory tests.
The panel finds reports of this type quite interesting, but without the existence of any solid physical evidence (such as analysis of the magnetic compass might have provided), it is difficult for a panel composed of physical scientists to draw any conclusions. The panel also found it curious that the commander did not know where to go to report what appears to have been an extraordinary event. He contacted the Federal Aviation Authority Chief of Operations at Hopkins field, but this official could not suggest an agency with which the commander should file his report. About a month later, the commander filled out an operational hazard report. Rodeghier advised the panel that, since the termination of Project Blue Book in late 1969, there has been no official body to receive UFO reports in the U.S.A.