Saturday, April 27, 2013

Heflin, Again

The Heflin UFO sighting and photographs are one of the classic UFO cases. Heflin was a highway maintenance engineer for California's Orange County. In 1965 he produced a series of four Polaroid photographs, showing a hat-shaped UFO travelling across a road just south of the Santa Ana Freeway, and the smoke ring left after its departure from the area. He estimated the object to be 30 feet in diameter and 700 feet away as it crossed the road in front of him. A new take on the photo analysis is provided below, which again concludes they are fakes. But completely obscured in the accounts to date were the extraordinary nature of a nearby military installation, its relationship to the location of the sighting, and the unusual interest by aerospace contractors in the photographs.

The Location

What was then known as Marine Corps Air Facility Santa Ana was located less than a mile southwest of the sighting location. The base originally began operations in 1942 as a US Navy lighter-than-air (LTA) vertical-takeoff-and landing (VTOL) airship base. Two immense hangars, Buildings 29 and 29, were built. Each hangar was 189 feet high, 1,088 feet long and 297 feet wide. They are registered as historical monuments and remain to this day among the largest wooden structures ever built. They can be seen for miles from the ground, tens of miles from any nearby elevation and from as far away as visibility will allow from the air. The Heflin investigators, although mentioning other minor local military facilities, make no mention of this remarkable site just a mile away.

From 1951 the base was used by the US Marine Corps for helicopter training and operations. The layout was suited for VTOL operations and the cavern-like hangars were used as helicopter maintenance shelters.

Although today being engulfed by industrial parks and shopping malls, in 1965 the area was still largely open fields, allowing helicopter training in preparation for the buildup in Vietnam. A Marine history noted:
LTA has always been considered the ‘pearl’ of Marine Corps bases. In addition to its perfect location among the Southern California orange groves and proximity to all of the Southern California amenities, it also provides a nearly perfect environment for training helicopter pilots...The nearby Saddleback mountains and adjacent foothills have 13 confined area mountain landing sites that every PUI (Pilot Under Instruction) has learned to hate and love.

So we have a facility that is already built for VTOL operations, with enormous hangars where an experimental VTOL craft could be tested far from prying eyes. Now if we superimpose the excellent sketch in the Condon report on a 1972 aerial photo of the base and the sighting location, we find that the Heflin craft was first sighted at a position exactly at the base runway bearing, but coming from Building 28 or one of the adjacent turning circles. Heflin reported the craft seemed to have stability problems. After it recovered, it accelerated away - at the same heading as the heading from the base, and towards the Saddleback mountain landing training area used by the Marines:
As the UFO traveled, it maintained a relatively level altitude (150 ft.) in relation to the flat terrain, however the UFO acted similar to a gyroscope when losing its stability. The UFO continued moving away slowly gaining altitude, tipped its top toward me slightly. It seemed to gain stability, then it increased its velocity (speed) and altitude more rapidly leaving a deposit of smoke-like vapor….The UFO disappeared in a northern direction toward Saddleback Mountain.

Unusual Interest

Now in the aftermath of the photographs becoming public, Heflin received some unusual contacts (aside from Marine Corps investigators, US Air Force investigators, Men in Black, NORAD, NICAP, Condon Report, and other UFO investigators!). The Condon Report notes:
Among numerous telephone calls, the witness says he received … one from … a man who identified himself as a representative of the Boeing Airplane Co. … The … man identified himself as an "engineer with the L.A. office of Boeing Aircraft… not representing Boeing, but personally interested, asked that his name not be mentioned or the fact that he had phoned. He also suggested that it might be better if [the witness] did not talk about the case …" Later "A letter came from a vice-president of McDonnell Aircraft, St. Louis, requesting technical information".
Forty years later, aerospace writer Nick Cook was interviewing Boyd Bushman, an engineer who was involved in heavily classified antigravity propulsion projects for Lockheed Martin. Cook noted, in his book The Hunt for Zero Point, page 254-255:
I spotted something among the collection of papers Bushman had given me. Tucked beneath the patents and company brochure material on weapons technology was a grainy photocopy of a UFO flying low over a straight stretch of desert road. A handwritten caption underneath identified the location as Santa Ana, California, and the date as 1966.
In 1965, according to his resume, Bushman was working as an engineer on the Redeye missile at General Dynamics at nearby Pomona, California.

This is all very interesting, but there is an obvious objection. Why would a heavily classified craft be tested in daylight from a Marine training base? One could theorize the craft was usually tested at night, but in this case went out of control in a daytime in-hangar test, and there was no choice but to let if fly out of the hangar on a course toward the usual landing test area?

Does the quick action of USAF investigators to discredit the photographs mean they were anxious to squelch the case to cover up the fact a classified craft had gotten loose? Can assertions by the Marines that nothing was tracked by radar be believed if this was the case? The Condon Report stated:
A check made by the Marine Corps investigators indicated that no UFO was observed on the Marine Corps Air Facility radar at the time of the reported UFO observation…the "Facility" referred to by the Air Force investigator is a relatively small base within direct sight of the Myford Road site, but contains only a sporadically used training radar installation. Marine officials interviewed 15 January 1968 were unable to determine whether radar was in service 3 August 1965.
One can wonder if it is fair to characterize a base with the some of the largest buildings in the world as a 'relatively small base'. Heflin himself noted the prevalence of Marine helicopter operations: "…the witness noted that nearby helicopters from the Marine Corps Air Facility could be heard, and that their noise could have drowned out sounds the UFO might have made…"

Even if the photographs were faked, we have an unusual interest from engineers in at least three aerospace companies in the event. Does this indicate there was industry scuttlebutt of some kind of a classified program with testing underway in Santa Ana…?

The Photographs

Conventional analysis has concentrated on the photographs. The official analyses concentrated on seeing if it was possible to fake the photographs, in which case they could be ignored as they proved nothing.

First up was US Air Force Foreign Technology Division "Photo Analysis Report 65-48" dated 14 August 1965. Controversially this report was dated one month before the photographs were made public. The Condon Report noted: "This raises the possibility, then, that without the knowledge of any of the principals, the Air Force was involved in the case less than two weeks after it happened… Officials of Project Blue Book informed the Colorado project in March 1968 that this question had been raised before, and that the Photo Analysis Report was in error, and that month should have read October".

Not mentioned but perhaps even more controversial was why FTD would be involved. At any rate, the report itself indicated that "…A test was conducted by the FTD Photo Analyst and Photo Processing personnel with the results shown on the attached photos… The object seen in the photographs was a 9" in diameter vaporizing tray, tossed in the air approximately 8 to 12 feet high at a distance from the camera of approximately 15 to 20 feet. The result of the test shows a surprising similarity between the object on the test photography and the object on photography."

The same figures appear in a Air Force release on 17 October 1965, except now they are characterized as coming from a careful analysis of the photo: "The camera was probably focused on a set distance and not on infinity as the terrain background was blurred… The center white stripe on the road and the object…have the same sharp image. Therefore it is believed that the object was on the same plane as the center white stripe (or closer) to the camera and could not possibly be the size quoted in the report. Using the width of the road as a factor, the size of the object was estimated to be approximately one to three feet in diameter and 15 to 20 feet above the ground." So it seemed that the rationale was 'backed into' based on a model test. In fact, examination of the photo does not show the background blurring the Air force statement alleged. Objects in the distance do fade into the haze, but they are not blurred.

The Condon Report did a different test: "In the course of my study I was able to simulate effectively the first three photographs by suspending a model [a camera lens cap] by a thread attached to a rod resting on the roof of a truck and photographing it. Without assuming the truth or untruth of the witness's story this has led me to conclude that the case is of little probative value…"

Both of these studies concluded that the photograph could be faked. However the methods and conclusions were different and contradictory. The Air Force used a thrown model 9" in diameter thrown 15 to 20 feet away, while the Condon investigator used a 3" lens cap suspended around 5 feet away. Normally a thrown object exhibits motion blur while a near object is out of focus if the background at infinity is in focus. However the Polaroid camera used had an uncommonly good depth of field and fast shutter speed (1/3000). It seems nothing in these analyses proved anything except that it was possible to make similar pictures using smaller nearby objects.

In 1967 researcher James McDonald believed the photographs represented a large, real object, except perhaps the last photograph of the smoke ring. McDonald became obsessed with studying how this photograph differed from the others, since if it was taken later at a different location in different weather, as he believed, it would undermine Heflin's credibility.

In 1975 an analysis concluded the photos were fake based on observation of a string supporting the object when the photos were enhanced. However this seems to have been an artifact in the particular copies of the photos analyzed. It does not appear in earlier or subsequent analyses of the original photos.

In 2000 a new digital analysis was conducted on the original Polaroid photos. This however emphasized enhancement by level equalization to bring out certain features on the base and exhaust from the object described by Heflin in his original description of the objects. No analysis was conducted on the distance of the object. A 'blur analysis' was promised for a second paper, still said to be forthcoming in 2006. However no such paper was ever produced, and in the meantime the originals have been withheld from research.

In 2005, a researcher noticed that the second and third Heflin photos could be considered as a single stereographic image since Heflin moved in the seat between the two images. Still some researchers didn't buy it or couldn't see it. Another look at this is provided below, which should convince skeptics.

By 2010 an acquaintance of Heflin named Edward Riddle reported that Heflin had told him that he had faked the photos using a model train wheel (Heflin was a known model train aficionado). Overlays of the photo with such wheels showed a good match.

A new examination by ufodna of the first photo considers the distance of the object according to the amount of haze. Items farther from a camera will generally have dimmer brights and lighter darks than those closer. A calibration is provided by the telephone poles, which are very dark indeed at the base; and the white stripe on the road median. Observing the darkest dark and lightest light at the distance of each pole provides a calibrated yardstick to measure the distance of other objects in the picture. The distance to the poles is known exactly thanks to the sketch of the site in the Condon report. The analysis proves the object is very close to the camera indeed:

An analysis of the parallax between the second and third pictures, similar to the 2005 3d image but showing the logic behind the conclusion, also proves without a doubt that the object was a small one, at the same distance from the camera as the rear view mirror:

The inevitable conclusion is the that Heflin photographs, as striking as they seem, and as sincere the photographer seemed, were fakes.

Now What?

So the photographs were evidently faked, but the sighting evoked extraordinary interest among aerospace contractors and many government agencies. Did Heflin accidentally initiate a hoax that seemed like a security breach to those who had a need to know about a government program?

Full article at UFO DNA


  1. "Heflin himself noted the prevalence of Marine helicopter operations". No doubt I'm being Captain Obvious, but doesn't this merely show Heflin knew taking the photos there would generate much more interest?

    1. I use to live right near there. Lots of UFO and Alien sightings. I checked out the archives in the Tustin Library and around 1973-74 there were lots of reports. (see Orange county register newspaper-they were running a weekly UFO page because of so many reports of UFO')I myself saw some really strange things in the sky in that area. It was a hot bed for UFO"S from 1965-1977 I believe.