Monday, June 12, 2017

James E McDonald - where did his UAP interest come from?

Paul Hellyer

My former co-blogger, Pauline Wilson, at one time, was intrigued about where the UAP interest of certain researchers came from?

In a blog dated 6 May 2011, she started her enquiries with Paul Hellyer, a former Canadian Defence Minister, who was then in the news, making statements about UAP. Pauline found that his '..UFO opinions derived from reading Colonel Corso's book rather than official knowledge.' (According to Bullard, T E, 2010. 'The Myth and Mystery of UFOs'.University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, Kansas. p.9.)

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Peter A Sturrock


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In a further blog post dated 26 July 2011, Pauline, after reading a book by Peter A Sturrock titled 'A Tale of Two Sciences: Memoirs of a Dissident Scientist'. (2009. Exoscience. Palo Alto, California) wrote ' that Sturrock, in 1947, while in the English countryside, had seen, in the sky 'A round, bright white object...travelling in a straight line, seen for less than a minute' (p.1.) This impressed him.

J Allen Hynek 


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She went on (blog post 11 August 2011) to write about J Allen Hynek's interest. She found the answer in Jacques Vallee's book 'Forbidden Science Volume 1,' (2002. Documentica Research, LLC.) page 277. In a diary entry, dated November 1966, Vallee wrote:

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[Hynek to Vallee] 'Did I ever tell you how I became interested in science?'

'Wasn't your mother a schoolteacher? You told me she once gave you a book about astronomy that fascinated you.'

'That's not what made me decide to take up science as a profession. So many people get into science looking for power, or a chance to make some discovery that will put their name into history books...For me the challenge was to find the very limits of science, the place where it breaks down, the phenomenon it didn't explain.'

James E. McDonald

Re-reading these blog posts made me wonder where the UAP interest of James E. McDonald came from?

I went to Ann Druffel's book about McDonald ('Firestorm.' 2003. Wild Flower Press. Columbus, NC.) to try and find the answer. The first relevant reference I located was on page 2.

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'McDonald's friend and colleague, Dr Paul E Damon of the University of Arizona, feels that McDonald's intense interest in UFOs may have started in the early fifties at an international meteorological conference in Italy. There had been a new report of an Italian UFO sighting which intrigued McDonald.

He discussed the sighting with some senior colleagues at this conference. They reminded him that the United States Air Force had a group, Project Blue Book that was specifically in charge of investigating UFOs. These colleagues reasoned that, if there was anything to the report, the Air Force would have found this out and would have alerted the scientific community.  This satisfied McDonald for a while but in 1958 when public UFO reports in his home town of Tucson began to come to his attention, McDonald''s curiosity was piqued. And when his friends and colleagues also began to confide their own sightings to him, he felt it was vitally necessary to study the question.' (Interview between Ann Druffel and Dr Paul E Damon, 27 February 1994.)

Page 15 of 'Firestorm' provides the additional information that 'McDonald had himself seen a bright, anomalous object in the daytime sky when he first came to Tucson in 1954.' Druffel summarised this sighting and notes that McDonald wrote a letter to the USAF detailing his observations.

The letter

Through US researcher and historian, Barry Greenwood, I obtained a copy of this letter. As very few blog readers would have had the opportunity to read this letter, I present part of the contents below.

'On Sunday, January 10 of this year [1954-KB], at 1725MST, while driving north along Arizona State Highway 83, about five miles north of Sonoita (latitude 31deg 45min, longitude 110deg 40min) I observed an unusually brilliant object low in the south western sky. As viewed from our level, the sun had just set behind the Santa Rita Mountains even though nominal sunset for a level plain in this vicinity would be about 1740MST. I estimated that this object was only one or two degrees above the crest of the range of mountains and that the latter rose to an altitude angle of perhaps five or six degrees, from our position.

Its exact azimuth was uncertain to me at the time of observation since this was unfamiliar territory with no landmarks, but since my return to Chicago, I have determined from astronomical tables that the sun's azimuth at 1725MST near Tucson was approximately 243 deg and this bright object lay no more than five degrees southward of the sun in azimuth according to my estimate,

Hence, when seen from the approximate position cited above, this object was at altitude six to eight degrees and azimuth 235deg to 240deg. The altitude may have been even below 6 deg...the luminosity did not vary as we continued our sinuous way northward. I pointed the object out to my three companions...it became evident that the object was either not moving with any perceptible velocity across out line of sight or that it was doing so intermittently...we held it under observation for a total period of was about fifteen minutes...the mountain blocked out view...Its light was white...the sky was cloudless.'

In looking for an explanation, McDonald considered whether or not it was the planet Venus; a weather balloon; and also looked at the weather at the time.'Above a shallow layer of easterly winds, the circulation over the southwest US on the afternoon of January 10 was westerly. Tucson's 500mb winds were southwest 30 kts at both 0800MST and 2000MST.. I would estimate magnitude -5 to -7...' (Source:  letter from McDonald to USAF, 1954.)

The object seen by McDonald and his companions, remained unknown.

'There had been a new report of an Italian UFO sighting which intrigued McDonald.'

I checked Fold3 Project Blue Book records looking for some Italian cases from the early 1950's. I found two possible cases, which were:

1. 14 September 1954. Italy.

'The inhabitants of Pitigliano reported sighting a round, white object making a strange, loud noise. The object came to a standstill and then disappeared at high speed. ATIC Eval: Unknown-insufficient detail.'

2. 17 September 1954. Rome, Italy.

One, soundless object, the shape of a jellyfish when stationary, but cigar shaped when in motion. It was silver in colour, with red/violet streaks along one side with a circle of dark grey/black beneath. Seen in the sky. Seen from control tower of Ciampino Air Base. Object approached from 270/280 degrees azimuth.Approached to about 30 km distance, descended to altitude of 6000 to 10000 ft. Remained stationary. Then moved north to 290 degrees azimuth. Gained altitude then moved to west to 270 degrees azimuth. Lost at azimuth 270 degrees, at a low elevation. In sight for 30 minutes clearly then for occasionally for a further 15 minutes. Seen with naked eyes and through binoculars. Also reportedly tracked by radar, but radar report not available to PBB. Seen between 1645Z and 1715Z clearly and occasionally until 1730Z 17 September 1954. Just before sunset and seen towards the sun. The report also made the newspapers.

It is not possible to be certain if either of these reports was the one referred to by Druffel, though the second one would certainly have intrigued McDonald. I also failed to locate details of any Italian meteorological conference in the early fifties, which might have provided a more accurate date for the Italian sighting which intrigued McDonald. However, it would seem reasonable to suggest that McDonald's interest came from an Italian sighting of the early 1950's, and his own 10 January 1954 observation.

A small aside

The USAF apparently took no action about McDonald's 1954 letter, apart from an acknowledgement of the letter. So, how do we know about the letter today? In Vallee's 'Forbidden Science Volume One' pages 254-255, Vallee relates that on 15 April 1967, he was at Hynek's house sorting through files.

'...I stumbled on something I felt was important. I found it among the relics of Project Henry. It was a simple letter dated 1954. It came from a cloud physicist at the University of Chicago who was studying for a doctorate at the time. Together with three other physicists he had seen a bright unidentified object in the sky over Arizona. The letter gave precise details and calculations. It was signed James McDonald.' 

Can any blog readers add any additional information?

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