“Do you know how many times we have cleared Venus to land?” (Hendry 27) - The words of an Air Traffic Controller in Detroit

Which of these two objects is Venus and which is an airplane's landing lights? Answer: the bottom one is the airplane. Venus is significantly brighter. (Photo by the author)

Hail to the Queen

© Timothy Printy 2009


If there ever was one object misinterpreted as a UFO, Venus would be at the top of the list.  When Venus is at its best, it can spark many UFO reports.  Because of this ability to generate UFO reports, Venus is often referred to as the “queen of UFOs”. 


Hendry’s observations

As always, it is important to consider one of the best documented sources for investigating UFOs, Allan Hendry’s The UFO investigators handbook, when examining the many sources of UFO reports.  Allan mentioned Venus several times in his book. Probably the most applicable paragraph was this one: 

Venus continued to attract attention as a “UFO” throughout the period of my study. The witness in case 519 likened it to “Magnesium burning.” In case 890 and 896, the witnesses said Venus and Jupiter (close together) “became so bright that you could hardly look at them” and “they hurt your eyes to look at them” (for two and one half hours). My favorite comment, however, was provided by the FAA at Detroit Metropolitan Airport: “Do you know how many times we have cleared Venus to land?” (Hendry 27) 

The brightness of Venus can make it a very compelling UFO. In a dark location, I have seen the planet Venus cast faint shadows! Even more deceiving is how Venus appears in thin clouds or unusual atmospheric conditions. It can appear larger and exhibit a halo effect around the planet. Some have seen Venus exhibit a pillar of light due to ice crystals in the air.  Venus can be a most attractive source for UFO reports.

Venus photographed through thin clouds using a telephoto lens. (photo by author)


Venus pre-1947

The funny thing about Venus is that it has always been a confusing sight to those not familiar with it.  People think that Venus being mistaken as a UFO is a modern phenomena but that is not the case.  The "Airship wave" of 1896-7 had plenty of people misidentifying Venus:

Oakland Tribune, November 30, 1896 Page 5

I am sure all the airshipologists of the day would have declared that Professor Burckhalter was a "debunker".  In this case, the Professor was correct. Venus had passed superior conjunction in July and was starting to brighten in the western sky.  Meanwhile, Mars was near opposition in the east and shining almost as bright as Jupiter. Both were dazzling objects when the sky darkened and could fool an observer into thinking they were seeing something much closer.

Less than a month later, another "debunking" article appeared in a Nevada newspaper:

The Reno Weekly Gazette and Stockman, December 10, 1896 Page 8

This was written by a reporter from the paper, who apparently had some knowledge of astronomy. The "airship wave" of 1897 was about to happen and Venus would play a significant role in fooling many people wanting to see the "airship".

In the spring of 1897, the "airship wave" reached its peak.  Buried in all of the reports of people seeing the airship land and move across the sky was this article in the Arizona Republican:

April 3, 1897 edition of Arizona Republican Page 2

At this point, Venus was at greatest brilliancy in the western sky and was a dazzling sight. The planet was up to her usual tricks and the unsuspecting public was taken in by her beauty.

Throughout the decades, Venus continued her little dance misleading observers into thinking she had other intentions. During World War I the new perceptions was that Venus had transformed into an "aeroplane" with a searchlight threatening death and destruction.  The hostilities in western Europe had started only a few weeks before when the following article appeared in the August 27, 1914 issue of the Cape Argus:

East London, and particularly Oxford-street, was agog with excitement on Saturday evening. At every corner..were..groups of men, women and children, with eyes goggling, fingers pointing heavenward, and tongues going twenty-four to the dozen as they gaze at an alleged aeroplane in the western heavens. There it was sure enough, visible to all but the blind: at least, a very brilliant light was visible. An aeroplane it was, and of that there was no doubt, for according to various observers it went through all the trick s in an up-to-date airman's repertoire. It looped the loop, squared the circle, spiraled up and spiraled down, volplaned, tangoed to the right and one-stepped to the left, advanced, retired, set to partners, hands down the middle, did everything except..descend in the Recreation Ground of the Market Square. And that searchlight, what did that not do? It waxed and waned, appeared and disappeared, twinkled, winked, the other eye, and signaled in the Morse code in English, French, Dutch, German...and Pitman's shorthand. And all the time it was getting further and further away, though never diminishing in brightness, so that it must have been carried in the tail of the machine.

And oh, the theories that were advanced. Men laid down the law...Ladies became alarmed and wanted to go home and protect their babies from bombs...And it was not until it disappeared behind a heavy bank of clouds in the west that East Londoners breathed a sigh of relief at another happy escape, and went home to dip their pens in the candle and write to the "Daily Dispatch" to describe in letters of fire and words of flames the dastardly attempt to blow up an undefended city.

Judge of the general surprise when the same aeorplane appeared yesterday in about the same place. However, it is safe to predict that it may be looked for again to-night and for several following nights. As a matter of fact what was seen was the evening star, Venus, which happened to be particularly brilliant. A heavy bank of clouds fringed with flying scud and aided by vivid imaginations accounted for all the evolutions and manoeuvres, and we have to hesitate in assuring everyone that they may sleep in peace, for if it depends upon this particular aeroplane, no bombs will be dropped on East London. (Bartholomew and Howard 155-6)

I am sure people in Berlin probably thought the British were also flying an "aeroplane" towards their city as well. The concern of an attack on London by the Germans in France had gotten people looking up in the sky. Just like the "airship" stories from two decades before, people went out looking for an intruder in the sky and found one.  Venus, in all her luster, was once again teasing people.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, many people on the west coast, who were fearful of a Japanese attack, noticed an odd looking light in the western sky.  Yes, it was our friend Venus but to these citizens, it appeared to be a plane or flare that might be a threat to their community just like in August 1914.

December 18, 1941 issue of the Brownsville Herald (Texas) Page 1

December 19, 1941 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal Page 10

The scare after Pearl Harbor was enough to give people the perception that Venus could be attacking their homes. All it took was some sort of incentive for people to look for something in the night sky and they found it.

During the end of the Pacific campaign , bomber crews sometimes mistook Venus for a "spotlight airplane/fighter":

Suddenly, over the intercom our right rear gunner yells, "Jap fighter with a powerful spotlight diving on us, one o'clock high!" I look up and see the brilliant light of the diving fighter, just as we had been told about at the briefing. To escape, I push the B-29's nose down, diving and turning to the left. Then right. Now climb. Turn left. Right. Level out. I look up and see another fighter with its brilliant spotlight diving at us. Awaiting the bullets, I cringe and again dive, turn, turn, climb, level out. I look and see another fighter. No, wait. That light doesn't move. Then, finally it dawns on me. The atmospheric conditions were such that they created a layer of air which acted like a huge lens and magnified the light from the planet Venus. Over the intercom, I explain to the crew what the light really was and how the power of suggestion had fooled me. (Kerstner)

The pilots and their crews had been briefed about interceptors with spotlights being used by the Japanese to interfere with their night bombing missions.  Venus happened to appear as a bright morning object in the summer of 1947 and proved suitable in the role as this airplane. There are even some reports of B-29 gunners attempting to shoot it down. Of course, they were only successful in wasting a lot of ammunition.

One can read many other stories about people mistaking Venus for "airships", airplanes, or other airborne devices over the years before the word "Flying saucer" or "UFO" became part of the english language.  Venus was the "queen of misperception " before she became the "queen of UFOs".

Daylight discs

Venus can be seen in the daylight sky when it is very bright.  It usually takes some clear skies and the observer has to look in the right place to find it. Because of it being a distant point source, you have to adjust your eyes to spot it. I have seen it at noon when it is at greatest elongation but it required clear skies and knowing just where to look. If somebody does catch sight of it, it can generate a UFO report.

A "Daylight disc"? No, it is Venus at noon when it is at greatest elongation. Photograph was taken using a 300mm lens around midday. (photo by author)

During the Condon study, there was an interesting report of a daylight disc event. Dr. Craig described this event in his book: 

The person who originally reported the UFO said it had caused his 'Magnetic UFO detector' to sound the alarm, and when he went outside to look, sure enough, there was a UFO straight overhead. He had pointed out this distant bright object, high in the sky, when the staff team arrived about an hour later....Mary Lou phoned the UFO officer at one of Air Force bases in the region to learn if he had knowledge of an unidentified object then in the sky.  She was most indignant when it was suggested to her that they were 'probably chasing Venus,' and she commented upon the nerve of anyone who would suggest a PH.D. scientists would be chasing a planet without recognizing it...Mary Lou's indignation must have mellowed considerably the next day when he arrived at the office with figures which showed the light had moved westward at 15 degrees per hour, and expressed the suspicion that the observed light must have been an astronomical object...The coordinates of Venus matched those of the observed bright light...While this may have left some staff members slightly embarrassed, it was a valuable lesson to those who were to conduct field investigations of UFO reports later.  (Craig 38-39) 

It is very interesting how these scientists could be fooled by such an event.  It took a lot of careful calculations to reveal they were just observing Venus in daylight. How many "daylight discs" can be traced to Venus and would a UFOlogist understand it is possible that Venus can be seen in daylight?  Venus, even in daylight, can be the source of a UFO report.


Georgia 1967: A case history often ignored

The Condon report listed several events related to Venus.  One in particular stands out because Venus appeared to set off a “wave” of sightings that involved numerous experienced police officers, who are supposedly considered “reliable and credible” observers. The entire series of events transpired over several days and involved some of the most common issues associated with stars and planets being misperceived as UFOs: 

  1. A radar contact was attributed to the UFO. A pilot, with 4,000 hours of flying time, attempted to intercept the UFO with his Cessna. On the ground the policemen saw the aircraft fly past the UFO several times. When they directed the pilot towards the UFO, the pilot attempted to pursue it. From the ground, it appeared that the pilot flew under the UFO and ignored it. However, in the air the pilot was following the UFO. To him, it appeared to move away when he attempted to pursue it and then came back when he turned away.
  2. Various shapes and sizes were given.  “Football shaped light”, “Big as the moon”, “appeared to be a star”, “round”, “the shape of a giant four-leaf clover”, “A piece of floating tin foil”, “a yellow rectangle-shaped object”, “sphere shaped object approximately 25-feet in diameter”, etc. (Condon 370-373)
  3. The objects always disappeared after sunrise
  4. Police officers attempted to pursue the UFO in their vehicles on more than one occasion. In one instance, the police attempted a high-speed pursuit. According to the report:

It was a good distance in front of us, pulling away, so we turned around to come back to town. The object turned on us and followed. It gained on us and was going about 75 mph. After the object caught up with us, it pulled into the sky, emitting a beam of bluish light that illuminated the roadway. (Condon 373)

In all these case, the police officers and pilot were chasing the planets Venus and Jupiter, which had risen in the east and were very bright.


The sky at 4:30 AM from Georgia on 20 October 1967. (Orion's "The Sky" program)

Dr. Craig explains some of the problems associated with chasing an object like Venus in a moving vehicle:  

The apparent pursuit of moving vehicles, or flight from them, is characteristic of any distant object which is imagined to be close to the observer. Because of the object's great distance, it remains essentially the same direction from the observer as the observer moves.  Because of the object's great distance, it remains essentially the same direction from the observer as the observer moves. Compared with trees or terrain nearby which change in direction as the observer moves past them, the object, retaining a constant direction, does seem to be moving the same speed and direction as any observer who thinks it no more distant than the reference terrain...It is a characteristic of this "pursuit" that the object stops when the observer stops, resumes its motion as the observer resumes motion, goes the opposite direction when the observer reverses direction, and travels at whatever speed the observer happens to travel. (Craig 47) 

Venus looking through a car window going down a road.  It appears to be hovering just beyond or above the trees in the distance. (Photo by the author)

Dr. Jay Allan Hynek, one of UFOlogy’s leading scientists, would state the following about this case:  

It is a fantastic example of how persuasive the planet Venus can be as a nonscreened UFO. Police officers in 11 counties were "taken in" by this planet.  It is a case of particular value to psychologists and, one is tempted to say, to those responsible for hiring policemen. (Hynek 205)

Hynek seems to imply by this that these police officers were not very trustworthy. However, it did not mean that police officers are not reliable officers of the law.   It only meant that police officers can make mistakes in perception as easily as any other profession.  This is a lesson many UFOlogists would choose to ignore time and time again.

 Solar Eclipse 1991: Bad astronomy in Mexico

In 1991, the solar eclipse gave Venus another chance to play her role as UFO spoiler.  For some it was a sign in the heavens when this brilliant object appeared just before totality in Mexico.  Many recorded Venus with their video camera and proclaimed it a UFO. Over enhancing of the videos made Venus appear to look like a craft of some kind.  Enter the usual snake-oil salesmen of UFOlogy who peddled these videos of UFOs and created a myth that there was a UFO invasion underway.  It is all chronicled in my article at this link.  The one question I ask about this “UFO” is why did’t any astronomers notice it?  There were hundreds, if not thousands, of amateur and professional astronomers in Mexico City alone. Is it possible that they realized it was Venus and not a UFO?

 Ravenna Ohio 1966: Spaur chase  

This is one of UFOlogy’s classic cases and inspired the scene in Close Encounters of the third kind, where a police officer chased an alien spaceship over a cliffside.  A basic synopsis of the case is that Policemen Dale Spaur and his partner Wilbur Neff chased a UFO at high speed over eastern Oho and into Pennsylvania. They were eventually joined in pursuit by another officer, Wayne Huston. By the time they reached Pennsylvania, they ran into another police officer, Frank Panzanella, who had been observing the UFO for some time towards the east. The UFO then gained altitude and eventually disappeared.

UFOlogists scoff at the idea that, as the USAF and skeptics suggest, the main culprit was the planet Venus. The Spaur chase argument against Venus had to do with a few key points: 

  1. Initially, Spaur and Neff saw the UFO pass overhead and illuminate the highway.  This is something Venus could not do. The USAF contends that the Echo satellite, which could be very bright, is what was seen as passing overhead.  Skeptic Robert Sheaffer suggests that it could have been a bright meteor. In either case, it is not unreasonable to suggest that either stimulus could have triggered the event. 
  2. Officer Huston also supposedly saw the UFO pass overhead at about an 800 foot altitude shortly before Spaur and Neff’s car came by. He then joined in on the chase.  Did Huston see a bright meteor and thought it was the UFO being pursued by Spaur and Neff?  After all, he had heard about the chase and he was looking for a UFO. If he saw a bright meteor going in the correct direction it could explain this part of the sighting.
  3. A drawing by Spaur made six days later showing the positions of the moon relative to the UFO. The UFO is on the left side of the moon, while Venus was on the upper right.
  4. On numerous occasions, the UFO chose to "wait" so the officers could catch up. According to UFO investigator William Wietzel:

At Canfield, or just outside the city, the UFO turned south. It seemed to "wait" for Spaur and Neff to catch up. It had done this, I forgot to mention, at Deerfield. It did again near Columbiana, where I65 intersects 14-46, and may have at Berlin Center (intersection of 534 and 14). (Wietzel)

However, UFOlogists tend to ignore some important points that indicate it could have been Venus:

  1. Officer Panzanella in Conway Pennsylvania reports he saw the UFO starting around 5:20 AM to the east of his location and observed it for some time. When Spaur, Neff, and Huston showed up they also identified the same object as the UFO they pursued. The funny thing is that Panzanella stated the object was always in the east for him and Huston had stated the object had passed over him at 5:30 AM and he was located much farther to the west in Ohio!  One would think if this were an object traveling around 100 mph, Panzanella would have seen that the object moved from the west towards the east.  Failing to mention this observation indicates something was wrong with the story about a high speed chase.
  2. There are numerous non-testimonies to consider. According to Wietzel, the officers passed through a traffic light in Rochester, PA, where there was a volkswagon and some trucks.  None of these individuals reported seeing a UFO pass through the intersection or nearby. One would also expect that some other cars on the road at the time would have noticed some huge bright object speeding past them or near their position.  Again, there is a lack of any such reports.  It appears the only people who reported the object speeding over the road were officers Neff, Spaur and Huston, who were pursuing it.
  3. Spaur's six-day old sketch of the moon and the UFO is confusing. He shows a bright object just to the right of the moon, which UFOlogists state is the planet Venus. However, the position of Venus was much higher in the sky and not next to the moon. However, at the end of the event he claimed the UFO "shot upwards" in a position that seems to above the moon and towards the left.  This is more in line with where Venus was located (although Venus was more to the right of the moon). Is it possible he originally felt it was closer to the moon during the chase and when they exited their vehicles, the angular distance was greater and they convinced themselves, the UFO must have "shot upwards"? Is it also possible that the diurnal motion of the planet gave the impression of rising motion? Exactly how accurate is the sketch in relation to the moon as far as angular separation and location relative to the moon? Is it possible, at the time of his drawing, he was aware of people suggesting it could have been Venus and adjusted his drawing to prevent embarrassment?
  4. Another important point to note was the witnesses stated they saw an airliner pass near the UFO. According to them, somebody on the plane should have seen the UFO. The lack of any reports indicates they saw no UFO.  This was just like the Georiga 1967 case, where police officers claimed the pilot flew past and under the UFO without recognizing it.
  5. One of the big keys that Venus was possibly involved has to do with what happened to the UFO at the end of the whole event. It dimmed as the sun rose and eventually vanished! This is the same way one would expect for Venus to fade away after sunrise.

The sky at 0530 on 17 April 1966 from Ohio (Orion's "The Sky" program)

Hynek takes great pains to criticize the USAF explanation in his book, The UFO Experience. If you recall, this was the same book where he claimed the Georgia case in 1967 was an excellent example of Venus misperceived as a UFO and people should learn from it. Apparently, Hynek did not see the similarities between the two cases. One has to wonder why Hynek would consider one case evidence for UFOs and the other as an example of how the selection of police officers needs to be examined.  Is it too much of a stretch that Officer Spaur and his companions did the same thing as those in the Georgia case?  In the Georgia case, one of the police officers was an eleven year veteran. What makes Spaur any more reliable than that officer?

Looking at the Georgia 1967 events, the events of April 17, 1966 appear very similar. We have the apparent motion of the object away from the chasing police vehicles, the "waiting" of the UFO while the cars navigated traffic, the inability of aircraft to recognize the UFO, and the dimming/disappearance of the UFO at sunrise. If it wasn't Venus, the UFO sure wanted to act like it.

 Jimmy Carter 1969: A Presidential UFO  

The Jimmy Carter UFO case is considered a landmark case only because he would eventually become President of the United States.  What UFOlogists fail to mention is that Jimmy Carter reported his UFO sighting in 1973, while the actual event occurred in January 1969.  Another issue never mentioned is that Carter could not even remember the correct date and put October 1969.  It took some basic investigative work by Robert Sheaffer to correctly pinpoint the date to January 6, 1969. This is something UFOlogists did not do. It was also Robert Sheaffer who recognized that the lovely planet Venus was present at this event.

According to Carter he was to address the Lions Club at Leary, Georgia. Prior to the meeting, his attention was focused on a bright object in the western sky.  He pointed it out to about a dozen other individuals around him and they observed the object before the meeting began.  Then, they all simply went inside and forgot all about it.  Carter did not mention it in the meeting and there was no great desire to figure out what ti was. It was not mentioned in the papers and nobody seemed to think much about the event.  That is, until Carter became President of the United States.

Carter's key points in his report were location in the sky, approximate time of observation, and apparent angular size:

Time: 7:15PM

Location in sky: "Appeared from West--About 30 [degrees] up."

Apparent Angular size: "About the same as moon, maybe a little smaller. Varied from brighter/larger than planet to apparent size of moon." (Carter)

Sheaffer's work identified the correct date of Carter's sighting as January 6, 1969 based on the actual date of the meeting. At 7:15 PM, the planet Venus was located in the west-southwest and at an angle of elevation of roughly 24 degrees.  This is the very close to the location Carter describes. 

The sky for Carter that evening. (Orion's "The Sky" program)

The angular size described seems a bit large but that does not seem to be too much of an issue when you look at the case histories surrounding Venus observations as a UFO.  The Georgia 1967 case is a good example where people reported large angular sizes for Venus and Jupiter. Additionally, Allan Hendry describes one case of his, where a witness stated the UFO he saw changed in “apparent size fluctuated from ‘star’ to ‘Full moon’” (Hendry 95).  Hendry then comments, “Refers to a star seen for one and one half hours. Compare with President Carters report of a “UFO” (Hendry 95). Therefore, any argument about the angular size being a reason to dismiss Venus as the source of the report is ignoring UFO case histories.

I have also read that some UFOlogists state Carter should have known where Venus was because he was a Naval officer and a farmer. I am unaware what these two qualfications have with knowing the position of Venus in the sky at a particular time of year. Looking at all the case histories presented so far, we have had all sorts of occupations misidentifying Venus. Therefore, being an ex-Naval officer or a farmer would not make him any more immune to misperception than the others.

The Carter case has become something of a "sacred cow" in UFOlogy.  It is often presented by various groups as evidence that even Presidents see UFOs.  However, to consider the Carter case something other than Venus is just ignoring anything that has been learned about UFO reports over the past sixty years.  

 Malmstrom AFB 1975: Airmen are not astronomers  

Recent correspondence brought this case to my attention.  It involves several UFO sightings at Malmstrom AFB, where excited security guards made UFO reports about a series of objects in the skies one November morning. One UFO stands out: 

7 Nov 75 (1035Z) Received a call from the 341st Strategic Air Command Post (SAC CP), saying that the following missile locations reported seeing a large red to orange to yellow object: M-1, L-3, LIMA, and L-6. The general object location would be south of Moore, Montana  and 20 miles east of Buffalo, Montana (authors note: From what I determined this direction is to the SE of site M-1 and NE of L-3 and L-6). Commander Deputer (sic) for Operations (DO) informed.

7 Nov 75 (1203Z) SAC advised that the LCF at Harlowton, Montana, observed an object which emitted a light which illuminated the site driveway.  (Fawcett and Greenwood 29)

That morning the planet Venus had risen in the East by 1035Z and a bright planet Mars (magnitude -1) was overhead.  The geographical position at 1035Z in relation to the missile sites of the "red to orange to yellow object"  does not exactly agree with the position of Venus. However, it is important to note that the log entry states the position east of Buffalo is a "general object location" based on reports they received from airmen, who may have not be exactly precise in their directions. Still the "general direction" reported was in an east, which is where Venus was rising.

The view towards the east from Malmstrom AFB at 1035Z on 7 November 1975. (Orion's "The Sky" program)

Things get a bit more clear in this log entry:

7 Nov 75 (1319Z) SAC advised K-1 says very bright object to their east is now southeast of them and they are looking at it with 10x50 binoculars. Object seems to have lights (several) on it, but no distinct pattern. The orange/gold object overhead also seems to have lights on it. SAC also advised female civilian reports having seen an object bearing south of her position six miles west of Lewistown.   (Fawcett and Greenwood 29)

By 1319Z, Venus had shifted towards the SE and was significantly higher in the sky just like the log entry describes for K-1.  K-1 was to the southwest of the other sites described. The fact they reported the object as being to the east indicates the "general object location" described at 1035Z is probably not accurate because K-1 would have stated they saw the object to the northeast and not to the east. Additionally, for it to move to the southeast of K-1, L-3 and L-6 would have reported the object moving towards the south and possibly flying over them.  It now appears that the UFO being described by all the sites are of Venus.

The astronomical nature of these UFOs is confirmed in the following log entries: 

7 Nov 75 (1355Z) K-1 and L-1 report that as the sun rises, so do the objects they have visual. 

7 Nov 75 (1429) From SAC CP: As the sun rose, the UFOs disappeared. Commander and DO notified. (Fawcett and Greenwood 29)

The second entry should have been a big red flag that these were astronomical objects. Unless somebody is suggesting that these UFOs are vampires that vanish when the sun comes up, then Venus is probably one of the principal sources for this event.

 United Airlines 94: Pilot error? 

Probably one of the most interesting cases presented recently has to be the one of pilot Neil Daniels, who was an airline pilot flying for United Airlines in 1977. This case came to my attention in 1997, when I was reading the Sturrock panel report:

The DC-10 airplane was under the control of autopilot system #2 and was flying at 37,000 feet altitude. The entire sky was dark and clear ahead and above the airplane, except for a partial under cast with small clouds extending to about 20 miles ahead. The aircraft was flying at an indicated air speed of 275 knots (true air speed 530 knots). The aircraft was about half way between Buffalo and Albany, and had just changed from contact with the "FROM" VOR (Very-High-Frequency Omnidirectional Bearing) signal emanating from Buffalo to the "TO" signal from Albany. The aircraft was just south of Syracuse, New York.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the airplane began to turn to the left, making a 15 degree bank. Within a few seconds, the First Officer and the Captain looked to the left side of their plane and saw an extremely bright white light at about their own altitude. Subsequently, the Flight Engineer also looked and saw the light source. It appeared to be perfectly round and its apparent diameter was about 3 degrees of arc. However, the Captain estimated the object to be about 1,000 yards away and to be about 100 feet in size, that corresponds to an angular size of 2 degrees. "Its intensity was remarkable — about the intensity of a flashbulb," he remarked. Boston ATC radioed to ask "United 94, where are you going?" The Captain replied "Well, let me figure this out. I will let you know." He then noticed that the three cockpit compasses (that use sensors in different parts of the plane) were all giving different readings. At this point, the Copilot turned off the autopilot and took manual control of the airplane.

Based upon the fact that the object did not move laterally in the cockpit window during the 45 degree left heading change and from knowledge of the turn radius of this airplane at its stated velocity, Haines calculated the approximate distance to the object to be about 10 nautical miles. If the pilot's angular size estimate for the object is accurate, this suggests that the light source was about 2100 feet across. The object appeared to stay with the airplane for 4 to 5 minutes, after which it departed very rapidly, disappearing within about 15 seconds behind them to the west. The Captain asked ATC if they had any radar traffic in that area and received a negative reply. (Sturrock 86-7)

The scientist presenting the case was Dr. Richard Haines, who has spent many years chasing down UFO cases associated with aircraft. However, we are not presented any data regarding an incident report or maintenance records regarding the flight.  Haines indicates that the UFO must have affected the port side gyrocompass more than the starboard causing the aircraft to bank to the port in a northerly direction.  What is confusing with this theory is that the UFO only became visible when the aircraft began its bank to the northeast because it was in the west. So, how could the UFO affect one side of the plane if it was directly behind an eastern bound aircraft?  We are left with this quandary. Perhaps this is why the panel of scientists reviewing the case stated:

In responding to this presentation, the panel took the position that evidence of interference with aircraft equipment is interesting but, in the absence of corroborative data from flight recorders and other mechanical or electrical recording equipment, the evidence presented must be regarded as anecdotal. It is quite possible that the persons making the report summarized above did indeed see unusual and striking phenomena. It does appear that the airplane departed from its normal flight path, but this could have happened for a variety of reasons. As with reports related to other categories of physical evidence, the evidence summarized in this section should be regarded as suggestive but far from sufficient to establish any actual physical linkage between the reported luminous phenomenon and the airplane's flight deviation. In order to improve our understanding of these phenomena, it will be necessary to establish more definite facts from the case work. To this end, there should be strong efforts to quantify the observations and to obtain multiple measurements of the same event, and investigators should bring a critical attitude to the compilation and analysis of the data. (Sturrock 88)

So what are some alternative explanations for what happened that night.  One is "pilot error".  The possibility exists simply that the crew goofed and caused the course deviation.  I am no expert in autopilots but it seems possible that the switching of VOR stations might have affected the navigation system and autopilot. After all, the plane changed course shortly after they had changed the VOR station. I am sure there are other potential problems that could produce the course deviation as well.  Something as simple as a poor solder joint on a circuit board might cause an intermittent connection and cause instrumentation to fail. In this scenario, the problem could disappear as quickly as it came. Did this particular plane ever demonstrate the problem before or after this case? Without any additional information, it is hard to determine what really transpired. It seems more plausible that a pilot mistake or equipment malfunction caused the course deviation than an alien spaceship playing with the gyrocompasses!

What about the UFO? The planet Venus was in the west and set from Syracuse at sea level at 2106 EST.  For a plane at 37,000 feet, the set time was about 2123 according to "Starry Night backyard". A check of weather reports indicated that a low pressure system made it into the region on the following day increasing the likelihood that clouds in the west may have played a role. Any distant horizon clouds could cause it to "rapidly disappear" before it had actually set. It seems Venus is a good candidate for the UFO reported by Daniels.

The western sky from 37,000 feet above Syracuse NY on March 12, 1977 at 2105 EST. 

The planet in Taurus near the Pleiades is Jupiter, another bright planet. (From Starry Night Backyard program)

I found it interesting that Haines never mentioned the word "Venus" in his presentation (or at least it was never recorded as being discussed).  Wouldn't a scientist investigating a UFO case look at one of the greatest sources of UFOs first?  Maybe a more "critical attitude" towards examining this case could have resolved this. Instead the "Neil Daniels" case has now entered UFO folklore.  It is even part of the "disclosure project" presentation. 

While many UFO proponents will proclaim this case an example of UFO interfering with the operations of an aircraft, it appears there is a better explanation. The probablility of pilot/equipment error coupled with a sighting of Venus seems more likely than a UFO trying to manipulate the flight of a passenger airliner for no good reason.

Venus the UFO siren

The sirens in mythology lured unsuspecting sailors to their doom through their enchanting music. The same can be said for Venus with UFO reports. She lures unsuspecting observers by the beautiful light she reflects from the sun.  Her power of suggestion is so great that she can convince people that she is something close and exotic. Too bad she does not have the same effect on UFO investigators who are looking for a potential source to a UFO report.  To them, Venus is something ugly to be scorned. Only skeptics or the USAF will use her to explain a case. The truth of the matter is that Venus, despite the protestations of UFOlogists, is a major source of UFO reports and has to be seriously considered as the source if it were in the sky at the time of the report. Failure to consider her is avoiding the lessons of the past.


Works Cited

Batholomew, Robert E. and George S. Howard. UFOs and Alien contact: Two centuries of mystery. Amherst, NY: Prometheus books, 1998.

Carter, Jimmy. International UFO bureau sighting report form. Available WWW: http://www.nicap.org/waves/CarterSightingRptOct1969.pdf

Condon, Edward U., et al., eds. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam, 1968.

Craig, Roy. UFOs: An Insider's View of the Offical Quest for Evidence. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995.

Fawcett, Larry and Barry J. Greenwood. The UFO cover-up: What the government won't say. New York: Fireside of Simon and Shuster, inc. 1992.

Hendry, Allan. The UFO Investigators Handbook. London: Sphere Books Ltd. 1980.

Kerstner, Otto. "Successful mission - Then a bailout in the Pacific". 40th Bomb Group Association Memories. Issue #41. November 1991. Available WWW: http://www.40thbombgroup.org/memories/Memories41.pdf

Sturrock, Peter. The UFO Enigma. New York: Warner Books 1999.

Wietzel, William. Letter to professor William Powers page 1.    Avail abe WWW: http://rc.nicap.org/raven9.htm


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