Monday, August 18, 2014

An Expert Opinion on the Cash-Landrum Copters



Back in March 2014, I gave a lecture via Skype to the MUFON group in Huntsville, Alabama on the Cash-Landrum UFO case. It was a great stroke of luck, when one of the attendees contacted me afterwards. Russ Hunter has a serious interest in UFOs, is a MUFON Field Investigator, and his military background is particularly relevant: 

“I flew CH and MH-47 aircraft for 16 of my 21 year career in the U.S. Army, with the last nearly 8 being flown as a Fully Mission Qualified (FMQ) Flight Lead, Senior Instructor pilot, in Task Force 160 at Ft Campbell KY. I wish to offer my services as a subject matter expert on the aircraft and the tactics, techniques, and procedures employed by the U.S. Army in general and the 160th and Special Operations in particular, as the implication of their possible/probable participation is unavoidable.”
Russ Hunter

 The CH-47 was they primary type helicopter identified in the Cash-Landrum incident, and the unit later known as Task Force 160 is the most compelling candidate to have flown them. Russ and I exchanged several emails and had several lengthy phone conversations where he explained and helped me with the practical details of how the helicopters operated. Here’s some highlights from my notes on our conversations: 

Russ was in the Night Stalkers from 1984-1991, and served with “plank holders,” original members of the unit that involved in Honey Badger. He confirmed historical details that I’d collected in BBL articles on Honey Badger and TF 158 were accurate, but added depth and insight on their formation and method of operation.

Honey Badger in 1980 was a proof of concept, following the Desert One fiasco, they assembled a force that could ready to work as needed. Once the unit was formed it never dissolved. It transformed into Night Stalkers and is active today. Task Force 160 was the aviation arm of special operations. A lot of the work they did was general counterterrorism. HQ is located at Ft. Campbell, KY, and they chiefly  flew Chinooks, Blackhawks and Little Birds. “Customers” were tiered. Different military branches (I took this to mean they were muscle, called in as needed.)





Helicopters: Operational Details
He discussed different CH-47 models, D, and MH-47-D, but I believe at least some of these variants came after the time period. CH-47s were modified in Lexington, KY. Helicopters have a limited combat radius. (Roughly 100 miles).  Rotor to rotor, the CH-47 is 101 feet long, a big fuel-hungry beast. CH-47s are very expensive to operate, burn a lot of fuel, about 200 gallons per hour.

The CH-47’s role was largely to ferry fuel, setting up FARPs (forward arming and refueling point) for other helicopters such as Blackhawks Hueys and Little Birds. The goal was to get them in and out as quickly as possible. He mentioned it took 25 minutes to pump. FARP extends range, but also involves more equipment, manpower and pre-planning. At the time of the events, the CH-47 was a workhorse, and a chief use was to deliver fuel. It was a bit later that they refined and developed its offensive capabilities.

What can 23 helicopters do that a few can’t? He was puzzled by the great number reported, and says it would have involved their entire inventory. CH-47s are fast and powerful. OH-6 Little Birds rarely fly together with them, and they’d be an unlikely match for the 2nd type reported. Doubts that Little Birds were involved, their primary role was to bring in snipers. Others were armed, but again seems unlikely for this role here.

Also, the number of helicopters reported was difficult for him to accept. An operation of just 12 Chinooks at one time and place is a big operation. He also has concerns about how low and slow they were flying. Each aspect creates problems with fuel consumption and other things. At 25 ft, flight is assisted by lift from rotor wash (hovering in-ground-effect HIGE). 85 ft high hovering requires much more power. Typical speed would be 100 MPH. Flying slower as described in the case is more difficult.

I still am having trouble processing the relative speed of the helo's and UFO. If they were going slower than about 25kts they were below ETL (effective translational lift) and would be, for all intents and purposes ‘hovering’. That requires much more power than forward flight and had the added effect of the very intense rotor wash that I spoke of.”




Detection: Radar and Ground Witnesses

Russ thinks it is impossible that the helicopters could have avoided being detected on airport radar, or unseen by air traffic into it. Also, standard procedure is to clear flights with the local airport. It is possible, but unlikely they were low enough at all times to avoid radar detection.

I asked him about noise and detection by locals besides the main witnesses. He felt much more should have been seen and heard. A CH-47 makes a low, deep and loud  “buppata-buppata” sound, copters with tail rotors make more of a high-pitched buzz/whine.

Noise from helicopters, especially that many would rattle windows. The sound of even a few helicopters should have been widely noticed throughout the area. He’s puzzled by why the concentration of helicopter witnesses are all east of Lake Houston. Strange, because the UFO and copters were last seen heading west.

The sound carries and causes vibrations that you can feel in your body, particularly the air in your lungs. Also, a CH-47 flying at 80 or 90 feet would produce a tremendous amount of rotor wash and blow around anything on the ground, leaves etc. 

If the event happened as reported, he feels this must have been orchestrated, as the time involved to travel and catch the UFO from any base is prohibitive. Also,it seems unlikely the copters were there by chance, leaving a planned mission as the most plausible scenario. With the number involved, a support or recovery mission makes the most sense. The helicopters would have come in for a specific purpose. Mission protocol is typically is to get in and out. They don’t hold ground.

Low Visibility- Russ was puzzled how the witnesses could see the copters and count them. Helicopters are intended to be difficult to see at night. They are painted a very dull, flat color, virtually black. 

CARC paint (Chemical Agent Resistant Coating), dull color, “US Army” logo painted in slightly different shade. (1980 copters may not have used CARC, but otherwise the description of dark, non-reflective paint is accurate.) If the scenario in case is true, they probably would not have been flying with their position lights on. He feels it is unlikely they could have been clearly visible. 

Searchlights- Chinooks are equipped with two rotating lights near the nose, one white and the other an invisible pink light for NVG. He feels that a search like L.L. Walker describes is unlikely, as they would be using the pink invisible lights, and flying in groups of three. Formation flying requires primary attention to be focused on the lead aircraft.




Military Secrecy & UFOs

I commented that the large number of men involved makes it difficult to understand that why pilots, command or support crew have not talked about the case. He agrees that is troubling, but does feel that military discipline and loyalty is generally effective in preventing leaks. He cited Aldrich Ames as an example of how leaks might be punished.

The 160th was initially classified, centering on antiterrorist missions.  In 1983, they had several bad crashes related to the testing of the night vision equipment. Some of these events became fuel for accusation and speculation.
In the early 1980s, there was a great deal of speculation about the Night Stalkers and their activity, and accusations of conspiratorial activities like them faking crashes in order to provide cover stories for man killed in secret missions. 

When the 160th loosened up sharing details on their operations, the press lost interest once they were no longer secret. They were able to get back to business without the distractions.



Secret Military Facilities?

Secrecy: Hidden Assets?

Every CH-47 is accounted for (They are precious and in demand.) Equipment secrets are rare, most secrets are about mission profiles. He noted that he held a top secret clearance while part of the unit, but that many things are compartmentalized and shared with only those with a need to know. similar techniques and methods are used by civilian contractors working of the military., they only see a small piece of the puzzle unless it is necessary.

I asked Russ if we had secret underground bases full of armament like “the Pit” seen in G.I. Joe, but he said no. It was far more likely that equipment would be gathered from conventional bases and used on secret missions as needed. The military may have additional assets unknown to the public, but if so, it would have to be small in number.  
He thinks it is unlikely that there is unknown hardware in operation. Its more likely that if they wanted to camouflage their presence it might be done by flying commercial civilian vehicles. 



UFO Secrets

Russ said he’d never heard any UFO tales among the many war stories told of the unit.  He does believe that the US is keeping some UFO secrets, and that there was a UFO crash at Roswell and possibly two other ones in the modern era. He seems to think UFOs are tied to the history of the planet, and that it might relate to our pre-history, ancient civilizations, things long forgotten. As previously mentioned, Russ says that military discipline and loyalty is generally effective in preventing leaks, but there are other methods used as well. Government tactics to prevent UFOs from being exposed and taken seriously, are ridicule, intimidation and threats. 

I asked him if he had thoughts on what the UFO could have been if it were a military craft. He didn’t have a particular match in mind but speculated that it could be something like an atomic rocket engine or unmanned vehicle test. He knew of no specific candidate projects or vehicles to explain the UFO.


Phantoms?

Conclusions

I’d asked Russ to check with his contacts and see if anyone remembered flying in right time and place to be seen by the Cash-Landrum witnesses.
My contact from Honey Badger does not believe that there were any incidents like this one that they were involved in. The other thing is that the Honey Badger training was conducted out of Norton AFB in AZ Which is a far piece from that town in TX.”

He doubts the military was involved in the Cash-Landrum case. Russ’ conclusion is that while the CH-47 matches the equipment used by his unit, the methods, techniques, behavior and reported details of the helicopters make it an unlikely match for an operation by Task Force 158. The number of helicopters involved is incredible. He is also at a loss to offer another plausible candidate. 

The one scenario he feels could explain their involvement is an incredible coincidence, them flying in the area as the UFO happened to be in distress.
It is conceivable that the helo's were conducting training on a completely unrelated purpose and that the route just happened to coincide with the appearance of the object.”









Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cash-Landrum As Seen on TV: Close Encounters


Late in December 2013, I was excited to see that the Cash-Landrum case was being featured on a new television series.



Close Encounters S01E03 “Second Coming” (Discovery Canada)
SECOND COMING: DECEMBER 29, 1980: Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and her grandson Colby are driving home after visiting a bingo hall in Dayton, Texas. On a country road, they encounter a large, diamond-shaped craft shooting fire out of its base. The heat is so intense it melts the vinyl of their vehicle's dashboard. They report seeing at least a dozen military helicopters in pursuit of the object. All three suffer physical symptoms similar to radiation poisoning and spend a decade pressing the U.S. government for answers. Part 2: SPACE ROCK: MAY 20, 1967... Stefan Michalak's extraordinary encounter.

Before Close Encounters aired in the US on the Science Channel, "John Carter" at the French site, UFO SCEPTICISME  posted, "Curt is going to have a field day pointing out the many errors in the narrative and the depiction of the UFO."

My reply:
The Close Encounters show is not broadcast in the USA, but I have seen photos from the show and the very brief glimpse of the depiction of the case in their online preview. Wow! I was unaware of the lightning bolts or the UFO stopping the car, but knew that their choice of a angular flaming diamond with rectangular windows neither looked or acted like what the witnesses described. While they are getting many things, wrong, this series is less sensational than many others. Still, they strongly suggest the ET origin of the UFOs by their overly dramatic portrayal of them as bizarre structured vehicles. (Instead of the indistinct lighted shapes they usually are.)

There's a far worse show airing now in the States, "Unsealed Alien Files" It is so comically extreme in its fringe UFO claims as to make the new Canadian show seem factual. ("Hangar 1" has since joined the pack, chiefly different in that it carries a pedigree, claiming the stories are based on MUFON case files. )

John Carter provided a link to the show on YouTube, where I was able to watch it. There were many inaccuracies. Here are the ones I observed on the first viewing:

 

  • 4 door car instead of 2
  • Event was not in Liberty County, Huffman is in Harris County, the sighting area also may have partly occurred in Montgomery County
  • They were not lost
  • States object observed for more than an hour- false. Their series of encounters was about 17 minutes, with the object seen from a distance before and afterwards- maybe 35 minutes total if we stretch it.
  • The re-enactment has the UFO hovering over the car, covering it in flames- false. It was supposedly 130 feet away, and they only felt it radiate heat.
  • UFO depiction- inaccurate. The UFO appearance is controversial, but just relying on case literature, it is larger and IF there were lights or windows, they were small and indistinct.
  • Lightning- inaccurate. There have been theories suggested that the encounter was some kind of electrical event but it is not what the witnesses themselves described.
  • Interference with car's electrical system- Betty Cash did claim that in April 1981, but not the initial reports, a point of controversy in the case seldom discussed.
  • Panicked attempts to restart he auto- false.
  • Vickie burns hand on door handle- false, only Betty, and they depicted that incorrectly 
  • The description and depiction of the flames produced is inaccurate
  • Dashboard impression- overly dramatic depiction. The photographs of the impressions show mild indentations, not evidence of melting.
  • Witnesses reported seeing helicopter-like objects. No, they were specific that they saw helicopters.

Another shortcoming was to abbreviate the encounter, which continued as they observed the UFO from several other locations on their way home. Also, the entire aftermath of the case, the hospitalization, investigation and legal struggle were shortchanged. Part of that is due to the structure of the show, usually fitting two cases into a half hour, leaving room for commercial breaks. They are left focusing just on their namesake, the "Encounters" part of the story. 



How does this happen?

The show rounded up a good collection of UFO authorities to discuss the cases. I checked with Chris Rutkowski, asking about how the lightning got in there. He told me the producers asked him to speak about the case despite him not being an expert in it. He was repeating the story from memory, partially  based on an account where the UFO was producing sparks. Mark Rodeghier (an expert in UFO vehicle interference cases) also talked about the case, and he apparently misspoke, mixing the witnesses' names about who burned her hand opening the car door. The Discovery Canada show apparently used their erroneous descriptions without fact checking the case records. Chris had similar objections on the coverage of a case in the second part of the program, Michalak's Falcon Lake incident, which he has personally investigated. 


The show has been renewed for a second season. Australian ufologist Bill Chalker appeared on episodes on season one. Posting about his season one involvement on Facebook:
"Once again the 'recreations' are dramatic and entertaining and hopefully will encourage enquiring minds to dig into the actual data about the case. As I have extensively researched and investigated both cases I have issues with the fidelity of the "dramatic recreations" with the facts of both events. In both cases I know I supplied extensive material which gave detailed illustrated and photographic evidence and data, so some of the "recreation" deviations from the actual facts of each case are puzzling to me. But given the entertainment format I am consoled by the likelihood that the shows may encourage interest in these striking cases."

Chris Rutkowski also commented: 
" I found the recreations entertaining, but not particularly accurate. I also gave  them voluminous case records and was puzzled by their "creative licence" when the stories aired. I have no idea where some of their presented info came from. I know I am responsible for one error when I misspoke on a case detail, but the facts I supplied from files were sometimes distorted. That's showbiz!"

   









Television is not in the history business

Close Encounters is dramatic, to be sure, but far less sensationalistic than other shows of this type. Programs like this are chiefly concerned with putting a truth-flavored spooky story on the screen. Ratings and advertising revenue are what matter. Accuracy is a tertiary consideration at best. 

I hope that some viewers will be interested and read about the cases featured. Most viewers however, will not, just be briefly entertained by the television UFO mind candy.

Epilogue

There's even more coming. At least two other UFO TV shows are planning to cover the Cash-Landrum case for the 2014-15 season. One is a new series from Pioneer Productions for National Geographic Channels International,  shot under the working title Planet UFO, but seems to have been renamed Invasion Earth.