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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2012 > Mar > Mar 26

Re: Exeter Case 'Solved'

From: Martin Shough <parcellular.nul>
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2012 11:37:30 +0100
Archived: Mon, 26 Mar 2012 06:52:40 -0400
Subject: Re: Exeter Case 'Solved'

>From: Don Ledger <dledger.nul>
>To: <post.nul>
>Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2012 13:43:13 -0300
>Subject: Exeter Case 'Solved'

>Apparently those super-sleuths James McGaha and Joe Knickell
>from the Skeptical Enquirer have solved the Exeter case.

>Apparently the 60 to 100 foot wide, blood-red  object that
>eighteen-year-old Norman Muscarello and Police Officer Eugene
>Bertrand saw arising from the trees a few hundred feet away can
>be easily explained by the director lights on a refuelling
>tanker at twenty thousand feet.


>Source: CSICOP.Org


>November/December 2011

>Special Report
>James McGaha and Joe Nickell
>Volume 35.6, November/December 2011

>One of the great unsolved UFO cases - which provoked endless
>controversy between True Believers and Doubting Thomases - has
>at long last succumbed to investigation. The 1965 Exeter
>is now explained.

>It has been considered "one of the best-documented UFO
>accounts on record" (APRO Bulletin 1965) and "one of the
>most spectacular and best-corroborated UFO close encounters of
>all time" (Davenport and Geremia 2001). What journalist John
>G. Fuller would subsequently relate in his book Incident at
>Exeter (1966) began in the early hours of a September morning
>1965 near a small town in southeastern New Hampshire. It has
>never been satisfactorily explained - until now.


I agree with Don that this is absurd. My own thoughts on why are


Nickell and McGaha ask:

"Why did the Pentagon not solve the case at the time? Perhaps in
the welter of paperwork the clue we found so significant went
unseen by anyone who could fully grasp its import and who had
time to devote to the case. Naturally, everything is much
clearer in hindsight."

It has been well known since 1965 that an aerial refuelling
operation was one of Blue Book's earliest suspects to explain
the silent, flashing red lights. Some sort of photographic
mission was also considered, but the file contains statements to
the effect that the descriptions seemed typical of other cases
explained as aerial refuelling. So they had clues. What they
lacked was the ability to prove it, by finding a refuelling
operation that could have been in the area at the right time.
Hence their preferred focus on the B-47's of the SAC exercise
Big Blast, and their ultimate failure to make this stick.

Unfortunately Nickell and McGaha are also unable to prove it.
What they do is further refine the suspicion, by suggesting
particular similiarities between the pattern of lights and
lights carried by a KC-97 tanker. This is provocative, but does
not of course plug the hole that left BB's effort foundering.
And when we examine Nickell's and McGaha's proposal in detail we
find that not everything is clearer in hindsight after all.

In 1965 BB checked logs of activities in designated refuelling
routes and came up with nothing. But they noted that the core
incidents happened just after a SAC/NORAD training exercise
called Big Blast "Coco" involving a number of B-47's in the
Exeter area. The SAC Direcorate of Operations was asked by
letter and by phone about types and numbers of aircraft involved
and their times of recovery. After checks were made SAC informed
BB that the exercise involved ten B-47's from Pease AFB. No
tanker was listed and BB did not find any evidence that this
exercise involved aerial refuelling.

The file states that five other B-47s were flying in the area in
the time frame, apparently unconnected with Big Blast. But the
main refuelling route was closed, for the very reason that Big
Blast was taking place, and other adjacent refuelling routes
were checked also. The bottom line was "no refuelling operations
were conducted on the night of 2-3 September" and "there were no
refuelling operations in the New England area during the time in

Still, refuelling or not, those B-47s would have been over
Exeter during approach to Pease. They are such tempting
suspects.... But the last one was counted back at 0135 and the
core sightings did not begin until after 0200, lasting until
well after 0300. BB badly wanted this to work, but the timing
was apparently well-established by Air Force and police logs.
Conclusion (reluctantly): Unidentified.

This is where Nickell and McGaha introduce a crucial innovation.
Under the subhead "Solved!" they audaciously assume that
actually there was a refuelling operation going on -
specifically that at least one B-47 from Pease AFB was still in
the air after the reported end of exercise Big Blast (in spite
of the SAC statement to the contrary) and that this exercise
"surely" would have involved a KC-97 tanker:

"Just this type of craft operated out of Strategic Air Command
bomber bases like that of Pease AFB and, indeed, would surely
have been involved in a SAC/NORAD training exercise like that
dubbed "Big Blast" of September 2-3, 1965. But what about the
"fact" that this exercise-which was ongoing in the skies over
Exeter at the time of the first sightings-had supposedly ended
about an hour before Muscarello and officer Bertrand had their
"close encounter"? It seems quite apparent that, although the
particular exercise was reportedly over, there were still planes
in the sky. Bertrand and Hunt, in fact, witnessed a B- 47 jet at
about the time the UFO disappeared (Fuller 1966, 67). Perhaps it
had just refueled."

So because "there were planes in the sky" they reason that there
could after all have been a refuelling operation going on at the
time, even though the Air Force investigation concluded that
there were none that night in the New England area.

This is a bold assumption but Nickell and McGaha justify it as

1) They recognised the rippling 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 sequence of
the line of red lights on the UFO as a description of the five
red flashing "receiver lights" on the belly of a KC-97 which
would light up during approach to help guide the B-47 into

2) The KC-97's refuelling boom would have hung out of the tail
making an angle of around 60 deg with the horizontal axis of the
plane, and the red receiver lights would have been seen
reflected from this boom. This neatly explains the witnesses'
descriptions of a line of five red lights always inclined "at
about a 60 degree angle".

3) And if the extended refuelling boom wobbled up and down a
little before being successfully mated with the B-47 this would
explain why the witnesses described the line of reflected lights
as sometimes floating erratically "like a leaf".

Let's focus on these three points.

First consider the receiver light panel itself. The lights are
very bright and could be visible from a very great range. But
the individual lights will not be resolvable to the human eye
beyond a comparatively small slant range. The size of the whole
panel of lights can be measured from photographs and drawings of
the 117ft (35m)-long KC-97 and I would estimate that the five
adjacent lights occupy a length of less than about 10 ft (3m).
At a distance of about 6 miles even a row of five geometrically
idealised point sources of arbitrary brightness, separated from
each other by a clear 30" (76cm), seen in perfect glare-free
ocular conditions in a vacuum, will subtend an angle at the
limit of the arcminute resolution acuity of the human eye. In
other words they will appear as a single flashing point source,
not a rippling line of lights making a distinct angle with the
horizon. It makes no difference which of the lights is on at any
moment because the eye cannot discriminate the tiny subtended
angle between them.

Even inside this range, and again assuming idealised point
sources aspected favourably to the line of sight and observed in
idealised condiutions where glare and atmospheric factors are
not in play, the flash only starts to become a just-perceptibly
oscillating point source at the distance where the included
angle between lights #1 and #5 starts to exceed about 3 arcmin.
This reduces the upper limiting distance to about 2 miles.

To discriminate the positions of individual lights at all in
such a way that an idealised eye could, in principle, perceive a
sequence of flashes progressing along the line and back as
described (123454321) then assuming ~2ft centres (50cm) between
the lights (which we still treat as idealised point sources in
idealised conditions) the distance reduces to a little over one

In the real world, things are far worse than this, of course.

Firstly, the lights are not point sources and are not clearly
separated - they are bulbs housed behind rectangular diffusing
filters that almost almost abut; secondly, there is atmospheric
extinction, diffusion and refraction to consider; and thirdly,
and more importantly, these lights are very bright (they have to
be turned down during closest approach so as not to dazzle the
pilot of the receiving plane) and bright lights in darkness
suffer significant loss of distinctness due to glare caused by
the structures of the eye.

If these factors do no more than halve the effective acuity (an
extremely generous assumption) then we would have to say that
the upper limiting distance allowing even a marginal possibility
of seeing the receiver light panel as a just-separated and
countable series of sequentially flashing sources is around 1/2
mile, and the realistic distance in practice is much less.

Now, what of Nickell's and McGaha's theory that the witnesses
were not seeing the brilliant receiver lights, that they were
seeing instead their reflections on the refuelling boom? We can
measure this object too and we find that the available length of
boom which could be reached even in principle by photons emitted
from the receiver lights is about 25 ft (see Fig below [not
shown here obviously; mail me if you want it]). This is not a
great length, but potentially five reflections on this boom
could subtend about 2.5 times the angle of the receiver panel
itself. Could they be discriminated?

In this case, the first thing to say is that the refueling boom
is not a polished speculum neither does it have vertical (or
near-vertical) flat (or near-flat) surfaces that could reflect
light laterally from the receiver panel to witnesses on the
ground when the plane is at low elevation above the treeline as
reported. The boom is a tubular structure which in photographs
tends to appear dull and shares the paint scheme of the KC-97
fuselage. This object might pick up some diffuse luminance along
its undersurface from the bright receiver lights, which might be
detectable from below, but it would not be capable of sending
bright reflections in any direction, certainly not sideways, and
certainly not focused specular images of five discrete light

Yet this is the theory:- Five closely adjacent lights with 2ft
between their centres, each diffused behind abutting filter
panels and facing down from the belly of the plane, somehow
produce five bright reflected images on a painted boom extended
from the rear of the aircraft between 30 and 60 feet away. These
reflections are distributed distinctly and countably along a 25-
ft length of tube which is tilted only 26=BA from the horizontal
plane of the light panel such that only light emitted almost
sideways from the downward-facing panel can reach it at a
shallow angle of incidence.

This all seems highly implausible. But, undaunted, let us assume
that some remarkable image-forming mechanism could produce
discrete bright reflections strung out along the length of the
boom instead of merely a diffuse glow, what then? More tests
present themselves:

Nickell and McGaha propose that the witnesses could not only
discriminate and count the reflections but could also observe
them wavering up and down due to fluctuations in the vertical
angle of the boom through a few degrees whilst it sought to mate
with the receiving B-47. This motion was supposedly perceived by
the witnesses as the object floating erratically "like a leaf".
The B-47 refuelling altitude would be at least 13-14,000ft. Even
if it took place vertically overhead at the mininum possible
slant range a 10ft swing of the boom would subtend less than 2,5
arcmin, which would be scarcely perceptible to the naked eye
even in ideal conditions.

Moreover, not only were the unfeasible reflections of these
lights observed with unfeasible clarity, no other lights except
these reflections were visible - not even the brilliant primary
light sources by which these necessarily dim reflections
supposedly were caused - even though there were two closely
formating large jets there both with standard position lights
and probably other lights, in particular anti-collision beacons
- probably a rotating red beacon on the top of the tail fin (I
believe KC-97's also carried other special coloured
identification beacons so that pilots knew which tanker was
theirs - but maybe not in a domestic setting).

Given the angle of the boom, it is obvious that, unless the KC-
97 flies backwards, motion always occurs with the highest light
foremost. But the UFO always moved with the lowest light
foremost. Witnesses Bertrand and Hunt specifically noted this
point in their original statements.

The reported angle of traverse from first positionb to last was
from NE to N. Bertrand said he watched for 10 mins, Hunt
(arriving late) said 5-8 minutes. What is the implied speed if
it was close enough to resolve 5 lights? Could a KC-97 fly slow

Let's assume a 15 arcmin subtense for all 5 lights. This is half
the width of the moon and nothing like the angular sizes
reported or implied, but should make it just realistic for the
eye to resolve separate lights in an inclined line. Starting
from this conservative assumption, then, and even allowing the
grossly implausible theory that the witnesses were seeing
reflections along the boom, rather than the panel of receiver
lights itself, 25 ft subtends 15 arcmin at 5700 ft or a little
over one mile. So this is an upper bound on realistic slant
range because beyond about a mile it would not be possible to
resolve separate lights into a line.

Given this upper bound we can convert the angular rate of motion
of the object (estimated angular distance covered in flight
divided by the estimated duration of the sighting) into an
approximate implied ground speed. Note that again this enforces
a lower bound because it conservatively assumes motion
transverse only to the line if sight.

The policemen said that the direction of the first sighting was
NE, that of the last sighting, where the lights went behind the
tree line, due N, or the lights traversed about 45 deg. To be
conservative again let's use the minimum duration of 5 min (half
the duration estimated by Bertrand). We then have a small row of
just-separable flashing lights travelling ~9 deg / min, which at
a range of one mile corresponds to a true speed of 834 ft/min or
about 10 mph.

Clearly this result is adrift by at least an order of magnitude.
A prop-driven KC-97 cruised at 230 mph with a maximum speed of
about 400 mph, and it needed lots of speed to refuel jets like
B-47s. This was always a problem. The early solution was
"toboganing" - climbing and building up speed in a dive - until
the addition of jet pods during the '60s. In any case, we need
hundreds, not tens, of mph.

Either the duration was only a few seconds instead of 5-10
minutes; or the right-to-left traverse of the object was only
about 5 deg, not 45 deg from NE to N; or the KC-97 was in the
order of 10 miles away, in which case the angular size of the
whole array of hypothetical light reflections shrinks to only
~1.5 arcmin, far too small for even the sharpest eye to even
resolve them as other than a single flashing light (never mind
see them as an intimidating array of brilliant lights 90 ft
across, hovering at the height of the phone poles)

The implied angular size of the object reported by Muscarello in
the initial sighting is grossly larger than anything plausible
for a KC-97. All lights were clearly separated in a line and
only one was lit at at a time, rippling in sequence 123454321,
appearing to be 90 ft from #1 to #5, at phone-pole height nearly
overhead, so the order of estimated size and distance are both
~100ft or an angular width of ~45 deg, The stated angular sizes
of the object reported later by Bertrand and Hunt, were
baseball/grapefruit at arm's length reducing to a quarter at
arm's length - much smaller but still very large in comparison.

Every factor studied indicates that even if the hypothesis were
a plausible account of the lights seen, the KC-97 would have to
have been much less than a mile away. A large 4-engine tanker
like the KC-97 within an upper-limiting distance of one mile
ought to have been clearly audible. A B-47 flying along with it
in the act of refuelling ought also to be audible (as well as
visible). But all witnesses made a point of noting total
silence. The report forms indicate a calm, clear night with only
a light breeze.

Of course approximations based on witness estimates will contain
error. But I think it reasonable to doubt that so large a
discrepancy can be casually absorbed by arbitrary error margins
given the physical, geometrical and optical limits and the fact
that we have already incorporated conservative assumptions.

It is not irrelevant, either, that Officer Bertrand had 4 years
in the Air Force working on "refuelling operations with aircraft
of all types" (letter) although it is not exactly clear what
this means. Bertrand's experience with KC-97's is mentioned
specifically by Fuller, who described Bertrand as "an Air Force
veteran during the Korean war, with air-to-air refuelling
experience on KC-97 tankers" (p.10). But Bertrand talks about
working "right on the ramp with the planes" (p.58) suggesting
perhaps that his experience was not of refuelling by KC-97s in
the air but refuelling (and perhaps other maintenance) of KC-97s
and "aircraft of all types" on the ground. Howsoever, such
experience does count for something in this particular case.

IMO it is much more likely that _if_ the UFO was caused by
aircraft the red flashers were red rotating anticollision
beacons or the like on a number of individual aircraft flying in
formation at much greater distance which would help explain the
slow angular rate across the sky., and possibly the silence too.
The several beacons rotating out of phase with a spin rate of a
couple of seconds could possibly give the impression of flashing
in sequence. And of course the angular separation of five planes
flying abreast or in a left or right echelon could at least
start to fit the reported and implied angular sizes.

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