Lubbock Light Case

Aug 3, 2009

It all began on the evening of August 25, 1951, in Lubbock, Texas. A scientist, Joe Bryant, from the Atomic Energy Commission and his wife were in the yard of their home. A total of 20-30 lights, as bright as stars but larger in size, flew over the yard in a matter of seconds. According to Bryant, he and his wife had seen a group of lights fly overhead, and then two other flights, but when the third group of lights passed overhead they began to circle the Bryant's home. Mr. Bryant and his wife then noticed that the lights were actually plovers, and could hear them as well. The craft was covered with colored lights and strange markings. Unknown to the couple, other witnesses in the area were also seeing strange objects. The next report came from another group of scientists including a geologist, two engineers, and a physicist, each of who observed a formation of nearly three-dozen unidentified turquoise lights moving quickly overhead from north to south. The three professors - Dr. A.G. Oberg, chemical engineer, Dr. W.L. Ducker, a department head and petroleum engineer, and Dr. W.I. Robinson, a geologist - reported their sighting to the local newspaper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Following the newspaper's article, three women in Lubbock reported that they had observed "peculiar flashing lights" in the sky on the same night of the professor's sightings. Dr. Carl Hemminger, a professor of German at Texas Tech, also reported seeing the objects, as did the head of the college's journalism department. A few hours later, another fleet of UFOs flew over the group of scientists in an unorganized cluster. The “Lubbock Lights” case had begun!

The Lubbock Lights incident received national publicity and is regarded as one of the first great UFO cases in the United States. The couple and the group of scientists reported their sighting to the Air Force, which began an investigation. According to Dr. Grayson Mead the lights "appeared to be about the size of a dinner plate and they were greenish-blue, slightly fluorescent in color. They were smaller than the full moon at the horizon. There were about a dozen to fifteen of these lights...they were absolutely gave all of extremely eerie feeling." Mead claimed that the lights could not have been birds, but he also admitted that "they (the lights) went over so fast...that we wished we could have had a better look." The professors observed one formation of lights flying above a thin cloud at about 2,000 feet; this allowed them to calculate that the lights were traveling at over 600 MPH.

The Air Force found further confirmation for the sighting when the nearby radar station of the Air Defense Command Network reported that they observed the unknown objects on their radarscopes and clocked them at a speed of 900 miles per hour. The group of scientists was amazed by their two sightings, and they conjectured that the UFOs might return. They decided to conduct a UFO stakeout. To their amazement, the UFOs did return, again and again! Over the next month, the group of scientists (which had added two more members) experienced a series of 12 different sightings. In each of these cases, the objects were totally silent, moved at supersonic speeds, and sometimes turned at right angles. Meanwhile, in the town of Lubbock itself, more than 200 concerned citizens also viewed the unusual aerial display.

On August 31, 1951, resident and amateur photographer Carl Hart Jr. saw the objects. Hart took a 35-mm Kodak camera and walked to the backyard of his parent's home to see if the lights would return. Two more flights passed overhead, and Hart was able to take a total of five photos before they disappeared. After having the photos developed Hart took them to the offices of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. After examining the photos the newspaper's editor, Jay Harris, told Hart that he would print them in the paper, but that he would "run him (Hart) out of town" if the photos were fake. When Hart assured him that the photos were genuine, Harris paid Hart $10 for the pictures. The photographs were eventually sent to newspapers around the nation, and were printed in LIFE magazine.

On August 31, resident Carl Hart Jr. snapped this famous photograph of a formation of objects as they passed over the town. The photograph has never been satisfactorily explained

The physics laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio analyzed the Hart photographs. After an extensive analysis and investigation of the photos, Lieutenant Edward J. Ruppelt, the supervisor of the Air Force's Project Blue Book, released a written statement to the press that "the Hart photos were never proven to be hoax, but neither were they proven to be genuine". Hart has consistently maintained to this day that the photos are genuine. Curiously, the Texas Tech professors claimed that the photos did not represent what they had seen, since their objects had flown in a "u" formation instead of the "v" formation depicted in Hart's photos.

In late September 1951, Lieutenant Ruppelt read about the Lubbock Lights and decided to investigate them. Ruppelt traveled to Lubbock and interviewed the professors, Carl Hart, and others who claimed to have witnessed the lights. Ruppelt's conclusion at the time was that the professors had seen a type of bird called a plover. The city of Lubbock had installed new vapor street lights in 1951, and Ruppelt believed that the plovers, flying over Lubbock in their annual migration, were reflecting the new street lights at night. Witnesses who supported this assertion were T.E. Snider, a local farmer who on August 31, 1951 had observed some birds flying over a drive-in movie theater; the bird's undersides were reflected in the light. In addition, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a professor of astronomy and one of Project Blue Book's scientific consultants, contacted one of the Texas Tech professors in 1959 and learned that the professor, after careful research, had concluded that he had actually been observing the plovers. However, not everyone agreed with this explanation.

William Hams, the chief photographer for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, took several nighttime photos of birds flying over Lubbock's vapor street lights and found that he could not duplicate Hart's photos - the images were too dim to be developed. Dr. J.C. Cross, the head of Texas Tech's biology department, ruled out the possibility that birds could have caused the sightings. A game warden Ruppelt interviewed felt that the sightings could not have been caused by plovers, due to their slow speed (50 MPH) and tendency to fly in groups much smaller than the number of objects reported by eyewitnesses. The warden did admit that an unusually large number of plovers had been seen in the fall of 1951. Dr. Mead, who had observed the lights, strongly disputed the plover explanation: "these objects were too large for any bird...I have had enough experience hunting and I don't know of any bird that could go this fast we would not be able to have gone as fast as this, to be birds, they would have to have been exceedingly low to disappear quite so quickly".

Curiously, in his bestselling 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Ruppelt himself would come to reject the plover hypothesis, but frustratingly refrained from explaining what the lights in fact were: "They weren't birds, they weren't refracted light, but they weren't spaceships. The lights ... have been positively identified as a very commonplace and easily explainable natural phenomenon. It is very unfortunate that I can't divulge ... the way the answer was found.... Telling the story would lead to [the identity of the scientist who "finally hit upon the answer"] and ... I promised the man complete anonymity".

While investigating the Lubbock Lights, Ruppelt also learned that several people in and around Lubbock claimed to have seen a "flying wing" moving over the city. Among the witnesses was the wife of Dr. Ducker, who reported that in August 1951 she had observed a "huge, soundless flying wing" pass over her house. Ruppelt knew that the US Air Force did possess a "flying wing" jet bomber, and he felt that at least some of the sightings had been caused by the bomber, although he could not explain why, according to the witnesses, the wing made no sound as it flew overhead. Still there was little that could be done. By the end of August 1952, the UFOs had stopped appearing and the weird wave of sightings came to a sudden end.

(Sources : Mysteries, Legends, and Unexplained Phenomena : “ UFO and Aliens” by Preston Dennet; and Wikipedia, Unsolved Mysteries in the World Blog at

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