C a s e E x a m p l e
L u m i n o u s p e a n u t o v e r T i c o n d e r o g a, N e w Y o r k
We quote from the January 1999 issue of The MUFON UFO Journal, one of the world's leading UFO journals:
July 2, 1998. A quiet Thursday evening in Ticonderoga, NY (population about 3,500-4,000). Fred and Mary (pseudonyms; witnesses requested anonymity) were working in their yard. It was about 8 p.m. when Fred looked up at the partly clouded sky in the southeast and saw it. He was immediately struck by the fact that he could not see any wings. No noise, either. Suddenly it dawned on him : maybe it was a UFO! He ran into his house to get the video camera which he keeps loaded and ready to use.
About 10 seconds later Mary saw him running out the door with the video camera. He pointed the camera upward and started videotaping. Mary looked in the direction the camera was pointing and she, too, saw the object travelling northward through the sky east of them as he got about 12 1/2 seconds of video before the object disappeared above a cloud. Fred walked to another location to see if it might come out of the cloud but... no luck. That was it. The sighting had lasted perhaps 25 to 30 seconds, maximum.
On July 31, 1998, at the suggestion of renown UFO author, lecturer and nuclear physicist Stanton D. FRIEDMAN, the witness contacted Dr. Bruce MACCABEE, also a physicist and leading member of the UFO community. This is how witness “Fred” described his experience in an “affidavit” that was sent to Dr. MACCABEE together with the original video :
Observed an object in flight moving through the clouds ; blue sky from south to north. The craft was soundless and wingless and flew at a fairly fast rate of speed. The cloud ceiling level was 5,000 feet and [the object was] viewed at a 65 degree angle. It flew on the eastern side [of Ticonderoga, NY] past St. Mary's Church. [My wife] viewed it with the naked eye and said it resembled a peanut, contoured some in the center with a vertical black band or line around the center portion of the object, and that she could hear no sound from it, nor did it have any wings. We both saw it as cream or beige in color. I also didn't see wings or hear any sound coming from it. That's the reason why I quickly ran into my house to get my video camera.
Dr. MACCABEE performed an analysis on the video. His findings can be summarized as follows:
- 378 frames were obtained, of which about five dozen have images clear enough for analysis. For most of the other frames, either the camera is out of focus, there is too much motion blur, or the phenomenon is lost in the clouds.
The azimuth of the phenomenon when first spotted was 125 degrees (when measuring from north over east). It was last seen at an azimuth of about 65 degrees. The complete track of the phenomenon recorded on video is a straight line about 10 degrees in length.
The phenomenon's elevation when at an azimuth of 70 degrees (azimuth of the cross that can be seen on the cover of the January 1999 issue of The MUFON UFO Journal) was 28 degrees.
The phenomenon was optimally illuminated by the Sun which was low in the west-northwest (elevation: 5 degrees; azimuth: 297 degrees).
Zoomed images of a yardstick placed at 69 feet, were helpful in determining the angular size calibration (and subsequently the actual size and distance of the phenomenon for several altitudes). For example it was found that, if the phenomenon was at 32,000 feet altitude (9.7 km), it would have been about 12 miles away (19.3 km) and about 145 feet long (44 m).
The speed of the object (or objects) at an altitude of 32,000 ft would have been "nearly 746 mph" (1,200 km/h).
According to MACCABEE, the phenomenon was not caused by sunlight reflecting off the fuselage of an aircraft because :
- "The observers' viewing location was 25 degrees away from the direction for an optimum glint, too far for the glint to be much, if any, brighter than the ordinary diffuse reflection from the assumed fuselage".
"A glint could not persist over such an angle range", angle range which was found to be 60 degrees.
"If the phenomenon had been an airplane seen at the same angular elevation and direction of travel relative to the sighting azimuth, the wings would have been visible as protrusions above and below the image of the fuselage".
"At a height of 32,000 ft the speed would have been nearly 746 mph, the speed of sound (at sea level). If this had been a large jet airplane 'breaking the sound barrier' the witnesses might have heard a sonic boom even though the plane would have been about 13 miles away. Instead, on this quiet night with no wind, they heard nothing".
MACCABEE further adds that "This is not a hoax, since the witnesses are upstanding citizens of the community, are both employed in law-enforcement, and have requested anonymity".
After which he concludes:
"Since the aircraft and hoax explanations are ruled out, the image can be considered to be that of a single unidentified flying object with two major whitish sections connected by a narrow structure not seen on the video, or of two whitish elliptical unidentified flying objects travelling in a close formation".
- MACCABEE, Bruce Dr., "'Flying peanut'/double UFO video seems to be authentic" in the MUFON UFO Journal No. 369, January 1999, pp. 3-7.
- For a more elaborate text with colour plates from the video see :
Dr. MACCABEE holds that the lights in the video are not reflections of sunlight from the fuselage of an airplane. He bases this conclusion on four points: (1) the fact that the observer's viewing direction was 25 degrees away from the direction for an optimum glint; (2) the fact that the angle range over which a glint can be perceived is much smaller; (3) the fact that no wings were seen and (4) the fact that, if the object was a big jet aircraft about 12 miles away, it should have broken the sound barrier and produced a sonic boom.
The problem with points (1) and (2) is that they are based on the assumption that, if we are dealing with a reflection of sunlight, this could only have been a short-lived glint or optimum reflection. This is a false assumption. Contrary to what MACCABEE believes, the ordinary reflection of sunlight from the highly polished fuselage of an aircraft is bright enough to explain the lights in the video. Readers can verify this for themselves every morning or evening when there's a clear sky. All you need to do is look out for a distant airliner in a part of the sky opposite the Sun. The illuminated parts can be quite bright and can maintain this brightness for two minutes and more.
The dark area between the luminous patches on the video - and which is also clearly visible on the comparison photos above - is caused by the wing on the observer's side of the airplane preventing sunlight from illuminating the centre of the plane's fuselage.
Most big jet aircraft fly at altitudes between 9.5 and 13 km (roughly between 30,000 and 40,000 feet). The larger airliners (such as the Boeing 747 series) are 70.6 m (231 ft) long and travel at speeds of 900 km/h (560 mph). The smaller Boeing 707-120B measures 47.6 m(145 feet) and has a maximum cruising speed of 1,000 km/h (621.5 mph) .
MACCABEE's calculations tell us that, if the phenomenon in the Ticonderoga video was the size of a Boeing 707 (about 145 ft long), it would have been 12 miles away and flying at an altitude of 32,000 ft. In other words, exactly what can be expected of a Boeing 707. Only the speed ("nearly 746 mph") seems a bit off. For the object to have been a Boeing 707, it should have been in the order of 600 mph. MACCABEE obtained this speed by counting the frames it took for the phenomenon to pass the lightning rod at the top of the cross of the Saint Mary's church. He counted four frames. Since the camcorder grabbed 30 frames per second, this means that it took the unknown "object" 4/30 of a second to travel its own length. Measured along the slanted axis, MACCABEE found that the "overall length" of the phenomenon as it passed the top of the cross was about 19 pixels (+/- 1 pixel, because the edges are not very sharp). With the help of the zoomed images of the yardstick, he then calculated the speed for different sizes. In essence, there is nothing wrong with this method, but it's always a bit tricky to work with such small tolerances since the smallest overestimation of the object's size will result in a large overestimation of the object's speed. Considering the poor resolution of the video images and the fact that highly polished objects reflecting sunlight produce a glare which makes the objects look bigger than they really are, such an overestimation is likely to have happened.
There's a simpler way to calculate the speed of the phenomenon. MACCABEE's report tells us that the total number of frames recorded was 378. Since the camcorder recorded 30 frames per second we get a total recording duration of 378/30 or 12.6 seconds. We also know that the angle travelled by the phenomenon during the recording was 10 degrees. If we take the tangent of this angle (0.17633) and multiply this by 12 (i.e. the distance in miles between the camera and the phenomenon, assuming the latter had a size comparable to that of a Boeing 707), we find that the recorded track of 10 degrees would have corresponded with 2.1 miles. In other words the phenomenon would have travelled a distance of 2.1 miles in 12.6 seconds or 600 mph, which is well below the speed of sound and totally in line with the cruising speed of a medium-sized jet aircraft.
MACCABEE further rejects the aircraft explanation because no wings were seen. This is not uncommon. To the left is a close-up view of a distant airliner reflecting sunlight. Note how the unlit wings merge almost completely into the background sky and may easily become invisible when seen from a greater distance. This effect is indeed rather spectacular and it's understandable that people who see an illuminated cylindrical fuselage without wings may think they are watching a cigar-shaped UFO.
As for the absence of engine sound. Considering a distance of 12 miles, there is nothing unusual about this either.
Their can be no doubt : the cream-coloured lights in this video are the reflections of sunlight from the front and rear section of an aircraft's fuselage. The dark space in between the two illuminated areas is caused by the wing on the side of the aircraft facing the witness that prevents the sunlight from illuminating the central section of the fuselage.
We regard the Ticonderoga case as of very low strangeness. Yet the case is far from unique. Similar images and videos of sunlit aircraft mistaken for UFOs are regularly posted on the Internet.
See for instance :
www.sanremo-up.com, video.google.com (1), video.google.com (2) and
More images of airplanes resembling cigar-shaped UFOs can also be found in our picture gallery.