From The MUFON UFO Journal, March-April 1979, No. 134
REPEAT PERFORMANCES AND THE WAITING GAME
By Ann Druffel
The greatest frustration of UFO research is our inability to haul the phenomenon into a laboratory or produce it at will. We must wait until it decides to appear, and for the most part its performances are sporadic, short- lived and unpredictable. Therefore, in studying UFOs we must do the next best thing, i.e., attempt to correlate those repetitive, similar sightings which seem able to be classified as "UFO-types."
Sometimes classification is possible after distressingly long waiting periods. But the result is often worth the wait, for at times the "result" is identification of a "UFO-type" as a conventional, earth object.
Take, for example, the "exploding lights" which puzzled Los Angeles researchers during 1974 and 1975. Several cases filtered through SKYNET in which reliable witnesses, often in groups, reported bright yellow lights flying over the San Fernando Valley. While the witnesses watched, the lights "exploded" or expanded into great white fireballs which then disappeared without a trace. The following case was typical; it occurred December 20, 1974.
Patricia Benson and Eleanor Sawczak were driving west toward Sunland, which is in the northern section of the Los Angeles Basin. The time was 11:15 PM. They saw a yellowish-gold, unblinking bright light, approximately five times as bright as a bright star. They temporarily lost sight of it, but at about 11:29 PM while approaching the Benson home caught sight of it, or a similar one, again. It was seen over Mount Wilson, to the north. As they watched, the light suddenly expanded to the approximate size of a full moon.
Quoting Mrs. Benson, "The color changed from the original yellow-golden color to a very bright white light. I didn't believe my eyes; then a second yellow-golden light appeared, to the left and down from the first light, and it also changed in size and intensity of brightness as the first one. Just as the second one completed its change, a third yellow-golden light appeared to the right and down of the first and went through the same changes as the first and second. As number three completed its change the first one shrank in size and changed its color to the original size and color. It then disappeared. No movement, it just disappeared. The second and third disappeared in the same fashion (1)."
The entire episode lasted about one minute, leaving the witnesses awed and puzzled. They were not alone. During succeeding months many other San Fernando residents witnessed identical "exploding" lights. MUFON investigator Rick Zimmerman and myself made attempts to find a plausible explanation of the phenomenon but met with no success. The objects were certainly not ordinary candle balloons or any similar hoax-type known to us.
Then, almost 4 years to the date of the Benson-Sawczak sighting, a small article appeared in the local newspaper (2). It told of efforts of law enforcement officials to apprehend a hoaxer who had launched two homemade balloons, each about 10 feet high and each trailing a bag containing some type of explosive mixture, directly into the flight path of Orange County Airport, which is situated southeast of Los Angeles. In both cases, when the hoax balloons reached an altitude of 850 feet, the mixture within the bags detonated, causing a fireball 25 to 40 feet in diameter.
It seemed probable that this was the same type balloon which had caused the mysterious exploding lights in the San Fernando Valley. Since the lights had not appeared in our area for a couple of years, I assumed our hoaxer had changed his residence to Orange County, and for that we were grateful. We were also glad that the nocturnal "exploding lights" had been taken out of the "unknown" class.
Now, in recent weeks, the San Fernando Valley has a brand-new type of UFO, as represented by the following cases:
About 9:00 PM on January 21, 1979, Mrs. Gail Z. and her three children were driving west on the Ventura Freeway near Sherman Oaks. They viewed a big round ball of light, flashing on and off, bouncing up and down, back and forth, and skipping around the sky. The object was white in color, and approximately twenty times the brightness of a headlight on a plane or about 1/4 degree angular diameter. As the witnesses watched for six or seven minutes, the object repeatedly blinked out, then reappeared in a different part of the sky, each time traveling 20-30 times its own diameter in about one second. (3)." I made attempts to identify the object for the frightened woman, but could not label it as searchlights on clouds, reflections on her windshield, or any other conventional phenomenon. It remained on my charts as an unknown.
Then on February 9,1979 at about 6:15 PM another woman witness, traveling west on Ventura Freeway, viewed what seemed to be the same phenomenon.
"It first appeared as a clump of bright white lights, each many times larger than a bright star. The clump separated into three or four distinct lights, which blinked on and off, moved up and down, jiggled sideways, and then back and forth in reference to the witness' position. They then began to move almost instantaneously across the sky in great leaps. These leaps were invariably heralded by a blinking off, then a reappearance in another quadrant of the sky. First seen in the north, they leaped to the east, then to the south, then back to the west in front of the witness. The awe experienced by the woman seemed to preclude a simple explanation, such as in the Z. case above. The duration of the sighting, as in the Z. case, was seven minutes (4)."
Is this type of report destined to sit in SKYNET report charts and fed into UFOCAT as an unknown? Or will it, too, be eventually identified? Before I suggest a possible, but most tenuous explanation of our dancing lights, we should mention a daytime sighting which correlates in a surprising manner with the wild nocturnal lights. The report was filtered through SKYNET by police referral to MUFON investigator Morrey Allen.
On November 15, 1978, just two months before our nocturnal lights above, Charles and Helen Rambo were walking in a park in Van Nuys, adjacent to Sherman Oaks where Mrs. Z's sighting occurred and also in the same general area as the February 9th occurrence. The wind was 20 knots from the north-northwest, the sky clear and smog less, with a temperature of 62 degrees. The time was 9:35 a.m. Suddenly a dark gray, elliptical object, seemingly solid, 'popped up' suddenly in the east at about 45 degrees elevation. The object faded, then reappeared nearer and to the right of the witnesses, now presenting a round appearance. It vanished again, reappeared farther to the southeast and slightly lower, vanished and appeared again farther to the right. (See Figure A.) All four appearances took place within 1 1/2 minutes. The witnesses stated that as it approached nearer it lost its solid appearance and became hazy. The Rambos likened it to a 'distant, huge mass of bees or a huge Brillo pad'! (5)"
Witness sketch of UFO "like huge mass of bees."
The manner in which this daytime object repeatedly vanished, then reappeared in a different part of the sky seems to correlate with the January 21 and February 9 sightings of the bouncing, nighttime lights. But how can we correlate the strange "dark, hazy" appearance with the bright white nocturnal objects?
There is a possible answer which I hesitate to suggest. It is reminiscent of the Air Force's former penchant for identifying UFOs in all manner of strange ways. For instance, we would not be surprised, if the January 21 and February 9 sightings described here had come over a Project Blue Book desk, to have them identified as "(possible) birds carrying flashlights"!
The explanation I am going to put forward may sound equally as odd. However, it fits most of the facts of both the daytime and nighttime sightings described above.
In a recent DPI news story (6) Dr. Phillip S. Callahan of the U.S. Agriculture Department suggested that some nocturnal UFOs could be swarms of glowing insects darting about erratically in a natural electric field. Dr. Callahan reported that insects could trigger electric discharges when flying beneath a storm front. A vast swarm of such insects could set off a highly visible display. The electric field beneath the storm front pulls away electrons from pointed exposed surfaces, such as insect legs and antennae. An avalanche of these electrons would ionize gases in the atmosphere, emitting light.
The effect had been created with insects at the Insect Attractants, Behavior and Basic Biology Laboratory. The glowing effects resembled a "discotheque...in the sky," giving off various colors, i.e., blue, red, and green. As the insect swarm tries to get out of electric fields they dart around, making a humming sound and suddenly disappear from sight because the swarm would leave the voltage field and the glow would vanish.
All of the data reported by our three case witnesses above do not fit Dr. Callahan's theory. The color of the San Fernando Valley darting lights was bright white. However, according to Dr. Callahan, the glowing phenomenon on insects is similar to St. Elmo's fire, which is bluish in hue. Bright bluish light, when seen from a distance, tends to look white.
Moreover, the darting, the vanishing and reappearing quality of both the November daytime sighting and the January and February nighttime sightings does fit in splendidly with Dr. Callahan's theory. Also, the hazy appearance which would be presented by a distant swarm of insects fits in exactly with the appearance of the darting November daytime object Indeed, the witnesses did describe it as looking like a "vast swarm of bees." If it was bees, or insects, it must have been at a great distance, as no sound was heard. Considering the apparent diameter of the Rambo sighting, (1/2 degree or the diameter of the full moon), it must have been far away to present such a near-solid appearance. Dr. Callahan gives us the information that some insects fly in swarms over 60 miles wide and over 15 miles long.
Another vital question: did the January and February nocturnal sightings occur in unstable weather, since an electrical field such as occurring in a storm front would be necessary to make insects glow? On February 9, 1979, the skies in the San Fernando Valley were partly cloudy. The wind was northerly, heralding the approach of a cold front which was coming down from Northern California . On January 21, 1979, a cold front was actually moving through Southern California .
Were these meteorological conditions right for ionization of insect swarms? Not being an expert on these matters, I cannot say. I leave this question to those scientists who might be interested. However, it is rather remarkable that so many of the factual details of the November, January, and February sightings fit the very peculiar, but possible, explanation, i.e., insect swarms.
So we play the waiting game again, as regards our new Los Angeles "darting UFO." Hopefully, the sightings will continue to repeat until an answer is found.
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1. Report in MUFON files, "The Sawczak-Benson Sighting, Sunland, California, December 20, 1974."
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2. Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1978; '"Fireball Balloonist' Hunted Near Airport."
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3. Report in SKYNET (Druffel) files.
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4. Report in SKYNET files.
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5. Report by Morrey Allen in MUFON files.
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6. Evening Outlook, Thurs., November 2, 1978; "UFO Sightings Linked to Insects."