Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Exeter UFO Incident Remains Unsolved:
A Rebuttal to "Exeter Incident’ Solved!"

(Photo Credit: Fosters Daily Democrat)
Norman Muscarello

In November of 2011, Skeptical Inquirer published an article written by James McGaha and skeptic Joe Nickell, entitled 'Exeter Incident’ Solved! A Classic UFO Case, Forty-Five Years ‘Cold’ In the article, the authors claim to have solved the "Incident at Exeter", one of New Hampshire's most compelling UFO cases, and one of the most credible cases in UFO history. But upon examining the "solution" presented, it is clear the authors did not research the case thoroughly, and have not provided any concrete evidence to support their theories.

It is important to first note that the authors' "solution" is based on assumptions, and relies heavily on the words "surely" and "perhaps." The authors have ignored the details and witness accounts from the case, and fixated on aspects of the sighting they believe support their theory. They have presented their theories as fact without providing any documentation or persuasive evidence. Believing the authors' assertions about the case requires the reader to show a willful ignorance to the documented facts of the case, and suspend belief in the highly credible and capable observers involved.

McGaha and Nickell's solution to the Exeter case claims that Officers Eugene Bertrand and David Hunt, and civilian Norman Muscarello witnessed a KC-97 refueling plane refueling a jet in the night sky; not a UFO hovering a few hundred feet above the field in which they stood. The authors' theory is that the lights observed by Muscarello and the officers were five lights located on the fuselage of the KC-97. They claim the strange flight characteristics described by the witnesses can be attributed to the KC-97's vibrating refueling boom, which had lights on it as well.

The authors muse that the Exeter case has "finally succumb to investigation." A simple examination of the references used illuminates the lack of depth and nuance with which they approached their investigation and research. Anyone with a detailed knowledge of the Exeter case understands that what has been suggested by McGaha and Nickell does not reconcile with the witnesses statements, nor with the Project Blue Book documents pertaining to the case.

The references listed as sources for their article are virtually all UFO books. One can't help but note the irony. No official Air Force Project Blue Book documents were referenced in their research, nor were the case files of Raymond Fowler, who was the primary investigator of the Exeter case. Project Blue Book documents pertaining to the Exeter case have been in the public domain since 1976, and have been available online for close to a decade, from sources like the Project Blue Book Archive, and Fold 3. The exclusion of these documents from the authors' research is a strong indication of the lack of quality and thoroughness that went into their examination of this case.

Credibility of the Witnesses

The first thing to consider when evaluating the Exeter case is the quality and credibility of the witnesses involved:

Norman Muscarello was 18 years old and a high school graduate. He had assumed the role as head of the household in his father's absence, and joined the Navy to take care of his mother and younger siblings. He was hitchhiking home from his girlfriend's that night because he had sold his car in anticipation of shipping out to the Navy a few weeks later.

Officer Eugene Bertrand was in the Air Force, served in the Korean War, and had four years aircraft refueling experience, which included refueling of KC-97's. He was familiar with all types of conventional aircraft, as well as the military aircraft operating in the area from Pease Air Force Base. 

Officer David Hunt served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1956 to 1962. He began his career in law enforcement in 1961, and spent 31 years serving as an officer for the Hampton, Exeter, and North Hampton, NH police departments, until 1992 when he retired as a Deputy Chief.

Both Officers Bertrand and Hunt were veterans, known as intelligent, no-nonsense individuals who were well liked and respected by the community of Exeter, both before and after their UFO encounter. Norman also went on to become a veteran, serving three tours of duty in the Navy. 

Muscarello and the Officers never received any compensation in relation to their UFO encounter, despite the fact that John G. Fuller's book based on their experience. Incident at Exeter went on to become a New York Times best seller, and one of the most successful UFO books ever written.

Taking into account the quality and credibility of the witnesses, it is hard to accept McGaha and Nickell's assertion that Officers Bertrand and Hunt, even with their prior military and Air Force refueling experience, misidentified a jet refueling thousands of feet up in the sky for a silent, bright, hovering object that exhibited odd flight characteristics, a mere few hundred feet above their heads.

Project Blue Book and Operation "Big Blast"

In their article, McGaha and Nickell muse: 
"Why did the Pentagon not solve the case at the time? Perhaps in the welter of paperwork the clue we found so significant went unseen by anyone who could fully grasp its import and who had time to devote to the case. Naturally, everything is much clearer in hindsight."

This notion is completely absurd and self-aggrandizing. Project Blue Book's staff thoroughly investigated the Exeter sightings, inquiring with Pease AFB and several other Air Force bases about operation "Big Blast," and air traffic in the Exeter area that night. The Inquiries about the training mission were made to Pease AFB, Westover AFB, Griffis AFB, and Loring AFB. Blue Book contacted the 8th Air Force by mail on Nov 16, 1965 [Doc#1], and by phone on Nov 19, 1965 [Doc#2]. Griffis AFB was also contacted by phone in the days following the incident [Doc#3]. Included in the Blue Book Exeter files is a response sent to Blue Book from Westover AFB that is dated Nov 24, 1965. [Doc#2] There were also letters exchanged between Blue Book and Pease AFB Information Officer Lt. Brandt, discussing the Exeter sighting on October 15th and 19th 1965. [Doc#4]

Air Force documents on the operation stated that the operational part of training mission "Big Blast" was over by 03/0430Z (Sept. 3nd 12:30 am) and the ten aircraft involved in the operation from Pease AFB were estimated to arrive back at Pease between 03/0444Z (Sept. 3d 12:44 am) and 03/0535Z (Sept. 3rd 1:35 am) [Doc #2], "Big Blast" ended well before 2:25 am, the approximate time of Officer Bertrand's sighting with Muscarello and Officer Hunt.

Project Blue Book's chief Scientific Adviser, J. Allen Hynek also contacted Pease Information Officer Lt. Brandt, and requested the B-47 pilots who flew in operation "Big Blast" be interrogated in regards to any unusual observations on the operation; specifically whether or not there was any infrared photography taking place in the area at the time. [Doc#5] A reply received by Blue Book on February 11th, 1966 indicates that there were no unusual sightings made by the B-47 crew that night, and use of infrared photography was not likely. [Doc#6]

Project Blue Book had gained a reputation for trying to marginalize credible UFO cases with mundane explanations. Had they been able to, they probably would have jumped at the chance to explain away the Exeter case with Operation "Big Blast", but there was simply too much documentation regarding the time the operation ended to use it as an explanation for the sighting.

Raymond Fowler, The Exeter Investigation, and the 1966 Congressional Hearing on UFO's

Publicly, Project Blue book offered up a number of absurd explanations for the Exeter sightings, none of which subsequently held water. UFO investigator Raymond Fowler investigated the case for NICAP, and did an excellent job of documenting it. His investigation became the foundation for John G. Fuller's book Incident at Exeter.

Fowler, an
 Air Force Veteran, astronomer, and senior weapon systems planner at GTE Government Systems, investigated the case thoroughly, and refuted Project Blue Book's many preliminary attempts at explaining away the Exeter case (weather, planets, lights from Pease AFB, banner plane, operation "Big Blast").

Fowler's report on the Exeter case became part of the first ever Congressional hearing on UFO's in 1966. The Exeter case was one of the key UFO cases highlighted in the hearings, and Fowler's report on the case was entered into the Congressional record. At this hearing, despite of all of the early explanations the Pentagon and Blue Book had offered up to the public, Scientific Adviser J. Allen Hynek, was forced to admit under oath that the Exeter case was in fact unexplained, and considered an unknown.

Massachusetts Congressman William H. Bates and South Carolina Congressman and Chairman L. Mendel Rivers questioned Hynek in regards to the Exeter case during the hearing:

Mr. Bates: "This one is still unidentified?"
Mr. Hynek: "Yes, sir."
The Chairman: "In other words, you make no bones about it, you cannot explain it?"
Dr. Hynek: "That is correct."

The KC-97 Refueling Plane Theory

McGaha and Nickell's "solution" to the Exeter case alleges that the sequence of lights and odd flight characteristics reported by the Officers can be attributed to a KC-97 refueling plane, as part of operation "Big Blast," or was in Exeter airspace at the time of the sighting. 

The authors argue that the sequencing lights on the fuselage of the KC-97 explain the sequence of lights described by the witnesses. They also assert that the exotic flight characteristics described by Muscarello, in which he stated the object “acted at times like a floating leaf,” can be attributed to the vibrating refueling boom on the KC-97. This explanation conflicts with the Air Force's determination that operation "Big Blast" had ended, and all aircraft associated with the operation were on the ground well before the Officers and Muscarello's sighting at approximately 2:25 am. There is also no proof there was even a KC-97 in use during operation "Big Blast." The authors have made an assumption and provided no documentation of the use of a KC-97 refueling plane, either during operation "Big Blast," or in the Exeter area that night.

Pease Air Force Base was a key SAC nuclear base vital to national defense in 1965. It was also home to the 509th Bomb Wing, which 
dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 during World War II, and was assigned to Roswell Army Air Base in 1947 during the alleged Roswell crash. The air space surrounding Pease was well monitored and jets were scrambled on numerous occasions in response to UFO sightings in the area.

Another problem with the KC-97 theory is the discrepancy in altitude. KC-97's refuel a B-47 jet at a height of approximately 10,000 to 20,000 feet, and have a flight ceiling of 35,000 feet. It is not realistic or logical to think that two Police Officers, both veterans and trained observers, would mistake a plane refueling a jet, at that high of an altitude, for a silent object hovering a few hundred feet above them on a clear night.

The claim that the sequence of fuselage lights on a KC-97 can explain the sighting is another assertion. The lights on the UFO described by Officer Bertrand and the other witnesses are not consistent with the intensity and range of lights used on conventional aircraft like the KC-97. In Officer Bertrand's written statement he describes the lights as "bright red lights" that were "extremely bright." He goes on to explain: "At one time they came so close I fell to the ground and started to draw my gun. The lights were so bright I was unable to make out any form." Given Officer Bertrand's  Air Force experience re-fueling jets, including KC-97's, and his familiarity with local military and civilian air traffic, it would be very unlikely for him to misidentify conventional military aircraft for a UFO. [Doc#7]

It is also important to consider the amount of noise associated with jets and planes like the B-47 and KC-97. All of the witnesses involved stated that the object was silent. In his statement, Officer Bertrand noted "There was no sound or vibration but the animals were upset in the area." The lack of noise described by the witnesses does not reconcile with the authors' KC-97 theory. [Doc#7]

MaGaha and Nickell further theorize that the unconventional flight characteristics observed by the witnesses can be explained by the vibrating re-fueling boom of the KC-97. The odd, "floating leaf" like flight characteristics described by Muscarello and the Officers have been observed in UFO sightings across the globe. "Pendulum motion," or "Falling leaf motion" is a flight characteristic reported in some sightings where the UFO descends with a floating, curved, side to side pendulum motion. This is not a flight characteristic which matches the KC-97, or any known conventional or military aircraft, in 1965, or present. 

Examination of multiple films of KC-97's re-fueling B-47's, and other jets, show that there is very little vibration by the re-fueling boom prior and during the re-fueling process, which is in direct conflict with the authors' claim.

[KC-97 Re-fueling Video #1: B-47 Stratojet and KC-97] 
[KC-97 Re-fueling Video #2: B-47 refueling from KC-97G ] 
[KC-97 Re-fueling Video #3: F-84 Thunderjets refueling from KC-97G]

The Police Officers' Letters to Project Blue Book

In the wake of all the dubious explanations being offered by the Pentagon and Project Blue Book in regards to the Exeter case, both Officers Bertrand and Hunt wrote letters to Major Hector Quntanilla Jr., Chief Officer in charge of Project Blue Book. The letters emphasized there was no way that the object they witnessed that night could have been explained by a refueling operation, due to the proximity and silence of the object.

In his letter Officer Betrand states:

"Both Ptl. Hunt and myself saw this object at close range, checked it out with each other, confirmed and reconfirmed the fact that this was not any kind of conventional aircraft, that it was at an altitude of not more than a couple of hundred feet, and went to considerable trouble to confirm that the weather was clear, there was no wind, no chance of weather inversion, and that what we were seeing was no illusion or military or civilian craft. We entered this in a complete official police report as a supplement to the blotter of the morning of September 3 (not September 2, as your letter indicates). Since our job depends on accuracy and an ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, we were naturally disturbed by the Pentagon report which attributed the sighting to "multiple high altitude objects" in the area and "weather inversion." 
Officer Eugene Betrand in a letter to Hector Quintanilla, Jr., Major, DSAF Chief, Project Blue Book Wright Patterson AFB Dayton, Ohio Dated - December 2,1965. [Doc#8] [Doc#9]

In his letter to Major Quntanilla, Officer Hunt points out Officer Bertrand's aviation history, and the proximity and silence of the UFO they encountered:

"As we mentioned in our letter to you, it could not have been the operation "Big Blast" you mention, since the time of our sighting was nearly an hour after that exercise, and it may not even have been the same date, since you refer to our sighting as September 2, Our sighting was on September 3.  In addition, as we mentioned, we are both familiar with all the B-47's and B-52's and helicopter and jet fighters which are going over this place all the time. On top of that Ptl. Bertrand had four years of refueling experience in the Air Force, and knows regular aircraft of all kinds.  It is important to remember that this craft we saw was not more than 100 feet in the air, and it was absolutely silent, with no rush of air from jets or chopper blades whatever. And it did not have any wings or tail. It lit up the entire field, and two nearby houses turned completely red. It stopped, hovered, and turned on a dime." 
Officer David Hunt in a letter to Hector Quntanilla, Jr., Major, USAF Chief, Project Blue Book Wright Patterson AFB Dayton, Ohio - Dated: December 28, 1965. [Doc#10]


After examining McGaha and Nickell's "solution" to the Exeter case, and comparing it with all the Blue Book documents and witness statements, it is clear that McGaha and Nickell's "solution" is not consistent with the documented facts, times, and statements made by the highly credible and competent witnesses.

The authors have also failed to provide any concrete evidence to back up their theories. They have merely presented vague similarities and assertions. Their use of the word "solved" in such an unequivocal way is irresponsible and troubling, considering it is based on their own unproven theories, and nothing definitive.

James McGaha and Joe Nickell have not "solved" the "Incident at Exeter." The case remains unsolved, as it has since 1965, and it will take a bit more than unsubstantiated, poorly researched "Hardy Boy" theories to solve it.

© 2015 New Hampshire UFO Research All Rights Reserved
The contents of this article cannot be reproduced without prior permission of the author.


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