Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Cash-Landrum UFO Encounter of 1980

This definitive unembellished overview of the saga of the witnesses in the Cash-Landrum UFO encounter was written by Curt Collins, and originally appeared in American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore (Vol I) edited by Christopher R. Fee and Jeffrey B. Webb, published by ABC-CLIO, 2016. 

It's a good introduction to the facts in the Cash-Landrum case for those who don't know the story — or for those who think they do.

Art by Chris Lambright. See: The Cash-Landrum UFO: The True Picture

The 1980 Cash-Landrum UFO encounter near Huffman, Texas, is one of the best-known, most thoroughly documented cases in UFO history. The witnesses sought restitution in court for injuries caused by a UFO, for which they held the U.S. government liable. However, once the legal case failed, the story of the witnesses was absorbed into the body of UFO lore and transformed into a parable about the evils of a coverup by the U.S. government.

It was in January 1981, during Betty Cash’s second hospital stay for a mysterious illness, that the story of the UFO encounter began to circulate. Weeks earlier on December 29, 1980, Betty (age fifty-two), along with her friend Vickie Landrum (age fifty-seven) and Vickie’s grandson Colby (age nearly seven), were driving back home to Dayton, Texas, after an evening out. They were on FM 1485, a lonely country road, when they spotted a bright object in the sky in the distance through the trees. Driving on they rounded a curve and found a massive, brilliant flaming object hovering over the road ahead of them. Betty stopped the car and got out to investigate, but Vickie returned to the car to comfort her terrified grandson. Betty remained outside for several minutes, trying to observe the object in detail, which they later described as larger than a water tower tank, making loud beeps and a mechanical whooshing sound it intermittently produced a brilliant flame-like jet of light and heat as it hovered over the road above the treetops.

In Betty Cash’s earliest recorded testimony from February 1981, she said, “We could not get up close enough to detect what the figure was. Or I couldn’t at least, the lights were too bright in my eyesight.” She later added, “. . . this bright object that made the sky just split up and it looked like the world was coming to an end. It was a very bright red. . . . (Vickie) looked out the glass but she said the light was too bright for her to see very much” (Schuessler 1998, 39, 253).

Sketch by Colby and Vickie Landrum, March 1981.

Soon after Betty retreated to her car, the object slowly rose and moved away. As it did so, they saw that it was accompanied or pursued by a number of smaller aircraft. Once Betty’s eyes had adjusted, she started the car, and they continued their journey home. They kept the car’s air conditioner going, startled by the amount of heat the object overhead was producing. Further along the road, they encountered the mysterious object again, but this time they approached more cautiously and stopped a greater distance away. They were able to see the pursuing aircraft more clearly. There were more than twenty military helicopters, which they believed had been sent on a mission to pursue the mysterious object. Once it passed again, they continued their drive home, occasionally glimpsing the object and helicopters in the distance. The experience had badly frightened them, and they decided to tell no one of it: it was just too strange to be believed.

They continued to feel hot afterward and also began to feel ill. Vickie and Colby reported having flu-like symptoms with burning eyes and reddened skin over the next few days. Betty, who had been outside the car, had even more severe problems. She too thought she had the flu but, as the night went on, developed further symptoms: a severe headache, skin lesions, swelling and blisters on the face and scalp. When Vickie discovered how sick Betty was, she moved her into her home but saw no improvement. At this point, they did not connect their ailments with the UFO, and Vickie suspected that Betty was having complications connected with her prior heart surgery. Vickie checked Betty into Parkway Hospital in Houston, but the doctors were perplexed at Betty’s condition. The tests they ran failed to determine a cause for her problems, so she was treated for her symptoms, and after she showed improvement, they released her after about two weeks. 

Betty Cash with hair loss after 2nd hospital stay.

She continued to have health problems, however, and returned to the hospital a few days later. The tissue problems were mending, but the headaches, nausea, and diarrhea persisted, and a new symptom was noted upon readmission: patches of hair loss. This caused the doctors to consider the possibility of exposure to radiation, but results were negative. It was early in Betty’s second hospital stay that the story of the UFO encounter finally was told.

Once the story was out, they were encouraged to report it. Vickie made calls, desperately trying to get some help and get an answer for what the object was, how it had injured them, and who was responsible for it. The helicopters convinced them that it was some kind of military operation, and that the U.S. government would have knowledge of the incident. The first real response to their inquiries came from the tabloid press, giving their story national exposure. About the same time, Betty contacted John F. Schuessler, an engineer for McDonnell Douglas at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in nearby Houston. He was also an investigator for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), and in that capacity he began an intensive investigation into the event as a UFO case. The witnesses respected Schuessler’s authority and placed their trust in him, sometimes quoting his analysis and speculation about the event rather than their own memories.

John Schuessler, 1988

Over the next several months the media attention continued to build and formed a strange relationship with the case. The media seemed to take the lead in the production of new information and developments. Pleas in the news coverage for any additional witnesses to come forward yielded a few results: respondents claimed to see either a UFO or some helicopters. The story’s coverage by the television program That’s Incredible! generated publicity that led to an investigation by the Department of the Army’s inspector general as to whether U.S. Army helicopters were involved in the incident. In the spring of 1982 Lt. Col. George C. Sarran spent several months checking the possibilities and also traveled to Texas where he met with Schuessler, examined the cold leads, and interviewed the available witnesses. Sarran’s report stated that the witnesses were credible, but he found no evidence to suggest any U.S. military involvement.

The witnesses still felt that the government was not being fully open with them regarding their involvement, and they were convinced that the UFO was a military project of some kind. Schuessler seemed to feel the same way, but he thought that the unknown craft indicated extraterrestrial involvement.

In the summer of 1981, the witnesses had written to their congressmen, who replied urging them to travel to Bergstrom Air Force Base to meet with base officials to file damage claim forms. They did so, but it wasn’t until late 1982 that Peter Gersten, the flamboyant “UFO Lawyer,” filed claims for a total of $20,000,000 on behalf of the witnesses. When the claims were denied, they attempted to file a civil suit against the United States government, a contentious process that went on for the next several years. This course of action failed as well, as there was never enough evidence to satisfy a court. In August 1986, much to the disappointment of the witnesses, the case was dismissed without ever going to trial. Media coverage of the case faded away until it was revived in a 1991 Unsolved Mysteries episode. In the show, the story was simplified and compressed with rumors and supposition mixed along with the facts.

The Cash-Landrum UFO as depicted by ufologists and the media.

Almost from the start, UFO believers and antigovernment conspiracy theorists transformed the story into a fable, teaching precautionary lessons about the dangers of military secrecy, nuclear energy, or of what happens to those who challenge the government’s UFO cover-ups. Throughout this transformation, the core of the story remained unchanged but details were embellished. Some versions claimed that the roadway was secretly dug up and replaced overnight at the scene of the incident, that the witnesses had been threatened by the government, and that the investigator in the case had described their indefinable brilliant object as a colossal diamond-shaped alien spacecraft ringed with blue lights. In the 1980s UFO lore focused on darker elements such as abductions, mutilations, and sinister treaties between aliens and the U.S. government. In such an environment, the Cash-Landrum case was often folded into that mix, which later became the source material for the 1990s X-Files television series. Beneath the legends there seems to be a genuine event at the core of the Cash-Landrum sighting, but separating it from the layers of myth that have become attached to it at an almost molecular level seems to be impossible.

The witnesses continued to fight for their story to be heard, and the two ladies stuck to their claims until the end. Betty had poor health the remainder of her life, which she attributed to the UFO. She died in 1998, but Vickie survived until 2007, dying at the age of 83. Today, only Colby Landrum remains. 

. . .

For Further Study


Thursday, November 2, 2023

Analyzing a 2007 UFO Sighting in Mississippi

Through the years, I’ve had a few sightings of strange looking things in the sky. The first time as a boy in mid-afternoon on a warm day around 1968. I was excited to see a UFO, a brilliant cigar-shaped object gliding across the sky. Before it left sight, the angle changed enough for the sunlight to illuminate the wings and tailfin of the plane.

 Illustration: Simulated UFO, Flying Cigar from Gold Key comics, and Jet.

It was quite the letdown. There have been other disappointments, yet there’s one sighting that puzzles me still.

UFO Sighting: 2007, Near Carthage, MS

Date: (Likely) Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007, time, approximately 4:30 P.M, clear skies. Records show sunset was near & P.M., but my impression is daylight had just begun to fade.

Location: Highway 16 near the entrance to Highway 25, west of Carthage, Mississippi.

Sighting Details: Heading home to Jackson from Carthage, MS, I saw unfamiliar objects in the sky to the west of me. The motion is what really caught my eye. Above the horizon in the distance, there were about eight bright objects, and their movement gave me the impression of a cluster of fireflies. I didn’t know the word “frisson” at the time but felt a sudden moment of emotional excitement. The UFOs were far away, and the luminous dots looked star-like and I couldn’t tell anything about their true size or their distance from me.

They were in a loose elliptical-shaped grouping with movement by at least two of them seeming to be slowly “orbiting” counterclockwise along the curve. Some of the others were moving slightly in other directions, and some appeared to be hovering (but could have either been moving far more slowly – or towards/away from me). The apparent speed of the objects around the ellipse was no faster than the sweep of a second hand on a watch.

Simulation based on impression and memory –
Actual objects were proportionally smaller and moving approximately within the dotted arc.

I watched them for several seconds, slowed down the car, on the verge of pulling over to take a picture with my cellphone. However, I was in a rush to get home before dinner, and I felt the lights would show up as tiny specks, if at all. 

Red dots indicate portion of the trip that the UFOs were observed. (About 60 seconds.)

The objects were in view until I lost sight of them when turning to the southwest on Highway 25, about 2500 feet from where I first spotted them. They’d been visible to me for about 60 seconds maximum. Although it didn’t look like anything I’d seen before, I shrugged and figured it was just planes circling for landing approach at either the Jackson or Meridian Airport and didn’t give it much more thought, and it didn’t occur to me at the time to report it to anyone.

In 2011, my interest in UFOs was refreshed and I decided to investigate a bit. My guess about the airports was dead wrong. The UFOs were due west, Jackson was to the southeast, Meridian to the southwest of my vantage point. I did find that there are some small airfields to the west, and checking more recently it would seem unlikely that any of them were conducting an airshow on a weekday afternoon.

What were they? Ufologists often groan at reports of LITS, Lights in The Sky at night, which could be anything - and probably nothing. These were seen during daylight, but still… The objects themselves may not have been producing light, merely catching the light from the afternoon sun. Contrails, clouds, even birds and planes can seem to glow from such lighting.

A Slightly Similar Sighting from 2014

After becoming interested in UFOs again in 2011, I’ve more actively watched the skies. In 2013 I moved to a house with a lakeside view of the sky, but it’s on the flight approach or planes coming from the east to the Jackson airport. That means I frequently see what looks like a planet or hovering distant light that eventually veers off to display navigation lights or flies over to be clearly revealed as a passenger jet.

Actual sighting photo, 2014.

One morning in mid Oct. 2014, I saw a flash of white dots high in the distance against a clear blue sky. I was able to take a few photos. They'd swarm, dim, and reappear. They moved towards me but never got close, but I could count 40 or more of them. I finally could see enough to understand, these were a flock of birds, probably the Canada geese common around here. They were flying in a circular orbit while slowly moving forward. When turning towards me, their undersides flashed white. I documented the sighting in an Oct. 16, 2014 Facebook post.

UFO Flying Saucers, Gold Key comics, 1968, “The Lubbock Lights”

The objects I saw in 2007 didn’t move the same way, but it is a possibility they were birds, maybe a small flock of white egrets so far away that the motion of their wings was not visible. I’ve seen groups of them fly several times but never in a pattern like what I saw in 2007.

Comments from UFO Investigators

More recently, I checked the databases of MUFON and NUFORC but here were no sightings that matched either the time or location of my 2007 sighting. Finding nothing, I asked two colleagues, both seasoned UFO investigators, for their opinions on my belated UFO report. From the USA, Ralph Howard, former MUFON State Director and Chief Investigator for Georgia, currently an associate with the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU). From Canada, science writer Chris Rutkowski,  the author of 10 books on aerial phenomena and his country’s most prominent researcher of the topic.

Ralph Howard:
"Because of the number of years past, it would be doubtful that we could find an event... to suspect might be involved. And it's not just the years, but the exact date too. In more recent years in my investigations, if the [witness] is sure of the exact date, we can even get FlightAware data for the date & time, and place jets in the area and in the correct direction; or, they weren't there, also useful. Exact dates can allow us to rule out/ or keep in play/ known events.

As for what it might have been...
   A) we can always suspect Chinese (aka Sky) Lanterns, but... (in my experience) they are unlikely to Not move together, at least roughly together. The ones 'orbiting,' that's Really odd. I'm skeptical that lanterns could appear white or starlike, even at distance. Of all the reports of them in GA, and there were tons, None were white in color.
   B) Planes or drones... well, conceivably, but the steadiness of the "bright" appearance (i.e. not flashing or varying in brightness) is hard to square with either one, where all surfaces on them are *Not equally reflective. The direction of view (west) isn't really good for the light being reflected from the sun anyway: view direction needs to be more south, or north, of due west, substantially off (maybe 45 degrees) from due west. (Our GA group actually experimented with that.)
   C) A self-illuminated object would suffice... stunt planes is an idea. These are small, and often have a single light on the nose. However, they just Do Not fly around in the motions described. They tend to fly in formation, with small (1- or 2-plane) break-offs of one or 2 to fly loops & stunts. Local press would've been on top of that, announcing an upcoming show. (As we had in Augusta GA, 2015.)
   D) If we had a military ops area (MOA) over in that direction.

Boiling everything down, I have a hard time explaining that one... [but] I wouldn't label it 'Unknown'."
Chris Rutkowski:
“One possible explanation is Chinese lanterns, I suppose, since 8 is a common number for releases of this kind during commemorative events. While these are usually orange in colour, at a distance these could certainly be white or yellow (and the witness only notes they were ‘starlike’).

The other problem is that this sighting was reported 16 years after it occurred, and delays of this long in reporting sometimes cause details to either be embellished or forgotten. (The exact date is also not known with precision.) It would be impossible to investigate this case to a definitive conclusion.

There is enough information in the report that it should not be classified as ‘Insufficient Information,’ but labeling it as ‘Unknown’ is unwarranted. I would list it as ‘Possible Explanation’."

Initial sighting location as photographed Oct. 8, 2023.

Today, I regret not taking the time in 2007 to drive at least a few miles closer to the UFOs. Maybe I’d have been closer to see what they were - or were not. As it was, I had a short look from a distance, in what skeptic Mick West calls the “Low Information Zone.”

I’m in no way claiming the UFOs I saw were anything unearthly or even extraordinary, but the sighting remains unexplained. If anyone reading this happened to have seen the same thing or something similar, please let me know. I’m interested in hearing more, whether it leads to an explanation or not.

. . .

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Cash-Jamaica UFO Incident


The late musician Johnny Cash spent a lot of time in Jamaica. In 1974 he bought the historic house Cinnamon Hill and owned it the rest of his life

In the 2003 book, Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash (with Patrick Carr), he wrote about how Cinnamon Hill was haunted: 

“There are ghosts, I think. Many of the mysteries reported by guests and visitors to our house, and many that we ourselves experience can be explained… But there have been incidents that defy conventional wisdom. Mysterious figures have been seen - a woman a young boy - at times by various people over the years.” He went on to say, “We've never had any trouble with these souls. They mean us no harm, I believe, and we're certainly not scared of them; they just don't produce that kind of emotion.” 

Cash believed, but he had another paranormal experience that didn’t make it into the book. Dick Kleiner, a syndicated gossip columnist reported on Johnny Cash’s report of seeing an unidentified flying object.

Johnny Cash sees UFO in Jamaica

Abilene Reporter-News, February 17, 1981

Victoria Advocate, February 22, 1981

Cash Tells Of UFO Encounter

Hollywood - Add to your file of stars who have seen UFOs the name of Johnny Cash. Here is his story: I was on the island of Jamaica and there were a bunch of us outside, it was such a nice night. Somebody said they saw a shooting star, so I was looking up at the sky. And I saw this object whiz by. It made a strange noise - a noise I really can't describe - and I think the shape was oval. And the color was new to me, purple or rose, I'm just not sure. It was gone before I could even point it out to my friends.

I don't know what it was. All I know is that I saw it, and it was unearthly."

 As sighting reports go, this lacks a lot of important details. Just to be clear, Cash had missed the shooting star and while looking for another one, he spotted this glowing object flying by at high speed while making a peculiar sound. 

Coincidence, Synchronicity… or Fate? 

Consider the similarities between country music’s man in black and a famous UFO witness from the 1980 Cash-Landrum incident. The witnesses’ names are similar: Betty J. Cash, John R. Cash.

Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, on February 26, 1932.

Betty J Cash was born in Birmingham, Alabama on February 10, 1929.

Johnny Cash played country music on stage.

Betty Cash played country music on her car radio. 

Time and Location:

The story of Johnny Cash’s UFO sighting appeared in Victoria Advocate on Feb. 22, 1981. The story of Betty Cash’s UFO sighting was first told to John Schuessler on Feb. 22, 1981.

When the Cash-Landrum UFO flew away, it was headed towards the Gulf of Mexico. Johnny Cash’s UFO was in Jamaica, by the Caribbean Sea, SE of the Gulf of Mexico.

The date of Johnny Cash’s sighting was not stated, and it’s possible it had happened late the year before. Is it possible it was on the same night as Betty Cash’s UFO, the night of Dec. 29, 1980?

In honor of Halloween, here’s the closest thing to a Johnny Cash UFO song, the man in black performing Ghost Riders in the Sky onstage in 1987.

In memory of Johnny Cash, 1932 – 2003.


Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ben Rich, Area 51, & Taking ET Home

One of the enduring modern legends of ufology is that Lockheed developed advanced UFO-type technology, perhaps due to reverse-engineering extraterrestrial spacecraft.

This is a follow up article to Lockheed, the Area 51 Interceptors & John Lear

(Updated Sept. 20, 2023 with comment on Ben Rich from Steve Justice.)

In his 1994 autobiography, Skunk WorksBen Rich wrote that while Lockheed was developing the stealth plane: 
"Some of our senior engineers thought it might be easier to build a flying saucer. The problem was how to build one… We don't know how to do that. The Martians wouldn’t tell us.” 
Rich had a sense of humor, and he could engage in some boastful sensationalizing (BS for short) to improve a story.

It came from Area 51

The myth of the Skunk Works super technology is closely tied to the lore of UFOs. The stories told by Paul Bennewitz were repeated by John Lear, who grafted Area 51 onto the narrative. Shortly afterwards, Bob Lazar surfaced to spotlight Area 51, which soon gave rise to stories of the legendary Aurora.

The Area 51 "Interceptors," Jim Goodall and John Andrews were involved in pursuing this, as well as Andrews' friend Lee Graham, who got tangled in the MJ-12 document circus. Andrews and Goodall tried to coax Stealth secrets and UFO stories out of Ben Rich, but he mostly responded in friendly deflecting replies. If Ben Rich ever made extravagant statements about Lockheed spacecraft, there's no indication that it was anything more than words.

Kooks and Charlatans

On the forum Above Top Secret, ATSZOMBIE asked about the Skunk Works legends,
"Ben Rich, stated during a 1993, Alumni Speech at UCLA, 
We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects and it would take an Act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity...Anything you can imagine, we already know how to do.
A traceable context for the quote, if he actually did gave it?"

There were several floundering answers, but using the screen name Shadowhawk, aviation historian Peter Merlin joined the conversation: 

Peter Merlin

Merlin replied:
Ben Rich is constantly misquoted as saying "We now have the technology to take E.T home." That is not what he said. 

At the end of his presentation he showed his final slide, a picture of a disk-shaped craft – the classic “flying saucer” – flying into a partly cloudy sky with a burst of sunlight in the background and he gave his standard tagline. It was a joke he had used in numerous presentations since 1983 when Steven Spielberg’s "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," a film about a young boy befriending a lost visitor from space and helping the alien get home, had become the highest-grossing film of all-time. Rich apparently decided to capitalize on this popularity. By the summer of 1983, he had added the flying saucer picture to the end of a set of between 12 and 25 slides that he showed with his lecture on the history of Lockheed's famed Skunk Works division. 

Rich had long used a standard script for his talks, tailoring the content as necessary to accommodate his audience. Since most Skunk Works current projects were classified, it didn’t matter whether he was addressing schoolchildren or professional aeronautical engineers; he always ended the same way. At a Defense Week symposium on future space systems in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 1983, he said, “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what we have been doing for the last 10 years. It seems we score a breakthrough at the Skunk Works every decade, so if you invite me back in 10 years I’ll be able to tell you what we are doing [now]. I can tell you about a contract we recently received. The Skunk Works has been assigned the task of getting E.T. back home.” The audience laughed, as it was meant to do. 

If something is successful, it is worth repeating. Rich gave an identical speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, on September 6, 1984, and continued using his script during successive appearances. Sometimes he refined the details a bit. “I wish I could tell you what else we are doing in the Skunk Works,” he said, wrapping up a presentation for the Beverly Hills chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution on May 23, 1990. “You’ll have to ask me back in a few years. I will conclude by telling you that last week we received a contract to take E.T. back home.” 

Three years later he was still using the same line and the same slide. “We did the F-104, C-130, U-2, SR-71, F-117 and many other programs that I can’t talk about,” he proclaimed during a 1993 speech at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, home of Air Force Materiel Command, the organization responsible for all flight-testing within the Air Force. “We are still working very hard, I just can’t tell you what we are doing.” As usual, he added his by now infamous punchline, “The Air Force has just given us a contract to take E.T. back home.” 
Within the UFO community, Rich’s words, and additional statements attributed to him without corroborative proof, have become gospel. He is named as having admitted that extraterrestrial UFO visitors are real and that the U.S. military has interstellar capabilities, and although nearly two full years passed between Rich’s UCLA speech and his death in 1995, some believers have touted his comments as a “deathbed confession.” It was nothing of the kind. 

Rich, a brilliant scientist, apparently believed in the existence of other intelligent life in the universe, though only as something distant and mysterious. In July 1986, after Testor Corporation model-kit designer John Andrews wrote asking what he thought about the possible existence of either manmade or extraterrestrial UFOs, Rich responded, “I’m a believer in both categories. I feel everything is possible.” He cautioned, however, that, “In both categories, there are a lot of kooks and charlatans – be cautious.” 
Slide  13

Merlin went on to say in another comment:
The main point of my earlier posts was simply that Ben Rich did not say what some people claim he said. Most of his so-called quotes are not traceable back to a reliable source. The Keller/Harzan accounts of his 1993 UCLA speech are based solely on memory and were only reported years after the event. The overall description of Rich's presentation matches (for the most part) his standard script, though I'm not sure that I believe he ended that talk with a discussion of the F-117A. By 1993, he was ending with the YF-22 winning the Advanced Tactical Fighter fly-off competition, something the Skunk Works was justifiably proud of at the time. Perhaps he mentioned it earlier in his UCLA speech, or maybe Keller and Harzan simply forgot. It is not really important. I won't hold it against Keller and Harzan that they describe his UFO slide as a black disk flying into space, rather than as a metallic flying saucer in a cloudy sky with a sunburst. Their description is not bad for being based on memory, and I was just looking at a photocopy of the original slide last week. Quoting Rich as saying, "We have the technology to take E.T. home" is a close but memory-distorted version of what he actually said, as evidenced by his presentation scripts, which he followed closely. 
Peter Merlin later greatly expanded the material, providing documentation in an excellent article for Tim Printy's SUNlite,
"Taking ET Home: Birth of a Modern Myth." See pages 17-19 SUNlite5_6.pdf


Steve Justice on the Ben Rich and the Lockheed UFO Legends

In 2020, more evidence surfaced, testimony from  one of Ben Rich's Skunk Works colleagues. Steve Justice, as described in his bio at VirginGalactic:

“A 39-year veteran of Lockheed Martin and a ‘legend’ in its Skunk Works division - he brings incredibly deep leadership and engineering experience. During his career, he led numerous technology breakthrough programs and served on the teams that developed the F-117A Nighthawk, the world’s first stealth attack aircraft, the YF-22A prototype for the F-22A stealth fighter, and the JASSM stealth missile. He also served as deputy program manager for Lockheed Martin's Blackswift, an innovative reusable hypersonic testbed for high speed, high-altitude aircraft technologies.”

While Steve Justice was part of Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences (TTSA), he was interviewed by Luis Elizondo in July of 2020 for the company’s podcast. Near the end, questions were read from social media submissions, and one asked about Ben Rich and claims of Lockheed having advanced UFO-level technology.

TTSA Talks Ep. 6: Steve Justice Talks About His Journey From Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works to TTSA (7/30/2020) YouTube clip starting with Ben Rich question. 

Luis Elizondo: John asks, “All right, Steve please comment on this, according to Ben Rich CEO of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in 1993 he said, “We now have the technology to take E.T home.” The question that John has is, “Is he nuts or what?”

Steve Justice: I'll - I'm gonna say you know, I've seen this quote and I've seen it just propagate like crazy especially through the social media world and that kind of stuff, and I've heard it attributed to a number of things too, private conversations, but in speeches is where one of the common threads is. And as the historian for the Skunk Works yeah this this was a question I had too, and I actually worked with Ben um and sat in his office and talked with him about all kinds of subjects including this, and he never said that to me okay. But one of the really interesting things, Ben wrote down all of his speeches they were all written out including the listing of the slides out there, so what is in the social media world is that we say we have this ability to take ET home and he shows a slide of a flying saucer up there.

So I remember looking through Ben's speeches and I remember this just as clearly as can be, and because there's a slide that's called out for this little paragraph is ‘Skunk in the clouds’ so that was one of the slides we would put up as a thing of, ‘hey we're working on pretty cool stuff out there, you know, wait a decade or two and you might see it.’ But it was to indicate that the Skunk had a future out there but we couldn't discuss it. So the Skunk in the clouds was the identified slide and I used it many times when I was giving speeches to civic groups or schools or whatever. But his actual words in the speech were, I'm going to try to remember this as clearly as I possibly can was like, “You may be wondering what we're working on in the Skunk Works now and we can't talk about it but I want you to know we've just been awarded a contract to build this (with the Skunk in the clouds [slide]) to fly E.T back home.”

Okay, that's what I have written down that he said. And so you know, things change over time and that kind of stuff, and there's perceptions and distortions. I can't like to say I can't speak for any private conversations Ben had. I can speak to the private conversation he had with me... [Interrupted by question]

Luis Elizondo: Well let me ask you this Steve,  On that, I mean, if someone has a technology to send the Mars rover to go, let's say on to Mars, or an asteroid, or another planet and collect soil samples and bring it back home and there happens to potentially be microbial life or some sort of alien life form, is that really that far-fetched? NASA actually has plans to do just that don't they, to actually take soil samples and bring them back here to our planet and look at these samples?

Steve Justice: They do, but the context that I knowing Ben, he was the joke master. I mean just loved humor and he loved messing with people, and so to me this statement particularly when he's frustrated that he can't get credit for what you know the Skunk Work was doing to help Lockheed shareholders you know, and Lockheed investors, and quite honestly in a lot of cases, executive leadership know what was going on, it was a frustration point for him, so he would put big fluffy statements out there that sounded so off the wall they were…

Luis Elizondo:  So just provocative statements…

Steve Justice: …just provocative as could be. I remember when the F-117 Stealth Fighter was black, he made statements like you know, “We have stuff going on in the desert that's just decades ahead of your imagination.” And he was specifically talking about the Stealth Fighter but people attribute that to whatever they want it to be. But he was so incredibly frustrated that he couldn't get credit for this incredible breakthrough of stealth technology, so it manifested itself in multiple ways. So I attribute it more to that, but that's the real life quote of Ben, let’s say, he may have said the other, but he didn't do it to me, and it was in none of the transcripts of his speeches.
. . .

Closing words from Ben Rich from Skunk Works:
"The Skunk Works has always been perched at the cutting edge. More than half a dozen times over the past fifty years of cold war we have managed to create breakthroughs in military aircraft or weapons systems that tipped the strategic balance of power for a decade or longer, because our adversaries could not duplicate or counter what we had created. That must continue to be our role into the next century, if we are to preserve what we have accomplished and be prepared for the hazards as well as the opportunities for the uncharted, risky future"

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

An Impressive New Book on UFO Witness Testimony

The Reliability of UFO Witness Testimony is a new book edited by Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos and Richard W. Heiden, "the first major book to comprehensively focus on the discussion and current views on problems and challenges posed by the reliability of UFO testimonies."

A portion of table of contents.

"This is a cross-disciplinary compendium of papers by 60 authors from 14 different countries. They are specialists in social, physical, and biological sciences, including psychology (predominantly) as well as psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, folklore, religion, journalism, engineering, computing, medicine, education, analysts with experience in the critical study of UFO perceivers, and other professionals. This volume shares thematically convergent ideas about the plausibility of alternate explanations for an alleged close-range UFO phenomenon. 

The 57 chapters in this book are divided into seven section headings: Case Studies, Psychological Perspectives, On Witness Testimony, Empirical Research, Anthropological Approach, Metrics and Scaling, and Epistemological Issues. " 

Of particular interest to readers here: Chapter 12 by Dr. Gary P. Posner, "The Legendary Cash-Landrum Case: Radiation Sickness from a Close Encounter?" Dr. Posner became interested in the medical aspects of the Cash-Landrum case in late 1981 and conducted his own research from a skeptical point of view. His 14-page examination focuses on the case from the book's perspective, witness reliability.

This 711-page book has been released online in the portal, from where it can be downloaded for free as a PDF: The Reliability of UFO Witness Testimony

Simultaneously, UPIAR Publishing House (Turin, Italy) has published two softcover, A4 format print editions, one in black & white, another in full color (ISBN: 9791281441002). The book can be purchased through this link: UPIAR Store

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

UFOs, Fame and Anonymity


Anonymity is a contentious issue in UFO research, drawing criticism for relying on unnamed witnesses, undisclosed sources, and the use of pseudonyms by authors and researchers. Then there is the UFO field’s long problem with the many types actively seeking attention, such as show business personalities, snake oil salesmen, cosmic televangelists, and hoaxers. Meanwhile, some sincere people who have had their name published have been subjected to ridicule, harassment, and the loss of their jobs. How can ufology seek truth and transparency while safeguarding the privacy of individuals?

Dr. Rank's Proposal

Dr. Peter Rank (1935-1988) was the Director of the Department of Radiology of the Methodist Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In the 1980s, he served on the board of the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR) and as a medical consultant for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). Dr. Rank is perhaps best remembered for consulting on the famous 1980 Cash-Landrum UFO case in relation to Betty Cash’s medical issues. When the U.S. Army investigated the case, Col. George Sarran sought out to Dr. Rank for his thoughts. The documentation shows that Rank was interested in cooperating with the investigation, but he desired “no public attention” relating to the UFO case.

Leonard Stringfield’s work on UFO crash retrievals received much criticism for relying almost exclusively on anonymous witnesses. Dr. Peter Rank supported Stringfield’s work and defended him in an article in The MUFON UFO Journal, March 1982, page 16. The key portions discussing the issue of identity exposure are reproduced below.

Witness Protection: A Comment

by Peter Rank, M.D.

For a generation now UFOlogists have been unconsciously assuming that "the Journalistic Model of reporting" is the one which demands the most credence. Information published in the media demand that such stories reveal the who, what, where, when, and why of the incident reported. It is assumed that such complete disclosure lends authenticity to the story involved and indeed is a requirement for believability. Most UFOlogists have adhered to this principle whenever possible. Such full disclosure according to the Journalistic Model has been counter-productive. In many cases, foreknowledge that their names would be published in the popular media has driven away UFO witnesses and certainly has driven away any informants who cared to comment anonymously about the Crash/Retrieval-Syndrome. 

It should now be clear to all dedicated UFOlogists more than a generation after Kenneth Arnold’s sighting, that a different manner of reporting UFO information than the Journalistic-Model is required. Perhaps another alternative should be adopted, Specifically the Medical Model of reporting scientific information, and do so in, accordance with case history technique. Medical literature frequently has need of describing objective and very personal information about patients. The literature is replete with such case histories. In all cases the patients’ anonymity is respected and the patient identified only by initials. These case histories are never challenged on the grounds that the patients full name is not disclosed, and the underlying integrity of reporting is assumed as a matter of fact. 

Might it not be useful for us to adopt a similar approach? Both witnesses and informants would thereby be protected. Witnesses could then report all their data to serious researchers with the clear knowledge that they and their families would never be identified in any publication which might provoke the popular media to descend upon them like locusts at a feast. Informants, many of whom are discussing information that is highly classified, perhaps several levels above the well known Top Secret category, may then feel free to "go public" with their information" without fear of retribution. This would encourage others to come out of the closet, and allow considerably more information to develop about the Crash/Retrieval Syndrome.  

There is obvious journalistic precedent for this practice. Journalists are, and always have been, very protective of their sources and have insisted in courts of law that their sources remain anonymous. Legal attempts to force journalists to reveal sources of their information have failed. This guaranteed anonymity has served as a mighty bulwark of a free journalism. It could also serve as a mighty bulwark for a more liberated investigative UFOlogy. 

…I have personally talked to a UFO witness, a CE-III subject, and several military types, and most seek to guard their privacy. It is quite clear that our first responsibility is to consider these people as "patients" who first of all need our assistance and support, and who need our guarantee that their privacy and good faith will not be abused.

Stigma and Unwanted Attention

Dr. Rank had those privacy concerns for himself. In 1983, Florida journalist Billy Cox interviewed him his analysis of the Cash-Landrum case for the Dec. 4, 1983, edition of Today.: “The doctor’s credentials are impressive: head of the radiology department at a major Midwestern university, a former medical school teacher and a former Army flight surgeon.” Rank didn't want his name published, and said: 

“I'm not afraid for my reputation that is not the issue. The issue is, this whole UFO business attracts all sorts of psychiatrically marginal people. And then they get on the phone and they wanna waste your time and they call you during practice hours and all that garbage and I don't have time for that.”

The use of pseudonyms by legitimate researchers is not that an unusual practice in academic work. Their identity is generally shared with a few trusted colleagues, but not publicly shared, due to security or privacy concerns. As for government of industry whistleblowers, leakers etc., could be handled with the journalistic model for anonymity, where the source’s identity is known only by the author and at least one editor. The emphasis should not be on the name of the source, but on the veracity of the data.

From Col. Sarran's notes talking to Dr. Rank:
"no public attention"

The Missing Ingredient

Science, medicine, and journalism have professional standards. Ufology is mostly populated by amateurs with little or no oversight. As it is, no more trust can be put in anonymous sources than in the testimony of imaginary friends. Ufology must abandon its entertainment-based model and grow up and adopt an ethical code of professional conduct. 

There is a place for anonymity in ufology exactly as Dr. Rank suggested decades ago. The identities of witnesses should be handled like those of patients in a scientific or medical study, where the data is shared, but not their identity and personal details. That would deny any charlatans and hoaxers the fame they seek. More importantly, it’d protect witnesses and encourage more people to speak openly their UFO sightings without the fear of exploitation or ridicule.

. . . 

For Further Reading

Neuroskeptic. “Anonymity in Science.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences vol. 17,5, 2013: 195-6. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2013.03.004 

Keerie, Catriona et al. “Data Sharing in Clinical Trials - Practical Guidance on Anonymising Trial Datasets.” Trials vol. 19,1 25. 10 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1186/s13063-017-2382-9

The New York Times:  How The Times Uses Anonymous Sources, June 14, 2018