Project Blue Book Declassified: The Lubbock Lights

“Each wave of sightings adds to the accumulation of reports which defy analysis by present methods... An investigative process in depth is necessary here if, after twenty years of confusion, we want some answers.” - J. Allen Hynek

On August 25, 1951, at around 9:00 PM, A.G. Oberg, W.L. Ducker, and W.I. Robinson, three professors from Texas Tech university, located in Lubbock, were sitting in the backyard of one of the professor’s home when they observed a strange formation of lights, flying overhead at “an incredible speed”.

U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book lead investigator, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt wrote in his definitive 1956 casebook, Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, that the three professors among multiple other witnesses saw the lights and reported their sighting to the local newspaper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. According to UFO author Jerome Clark, three women reported that they had also observed “peculiar flashing lights” in the sky the same night as the professor’s sighting, as well as two other professors, Carl Hemminger, and Grayson Mead.

On September 5th, Clarke wrote according to 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 circular… it gave all of us… an extremely eerie feeling.”

The other three professors also described seeing another formation of blue-green lights – one hour later after the initial sighting, flying above a thin cloud at about 2,000 feet, and travelling at over 600 miles per hour.

Ruppelt wrote that The Texas Tech professors weren’t the only credible witnesses to the mysterious lights that night. According to his report, an employee of the Atomic Energy Commission’s top-secret Sandia Corporation, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico – about 350 miles away from Lubbock, had been sitting outside with his wife when “both of them were startled at the sight of a huge airplane flying swiftly and silently over their home… On the aft edge of the wings, there were six to eight pairs of soft, glowing, bluish lights.”

According to a retired rancher from Lubbock, his wife had also reported seeing something terrifying in the night sky. Ruppelt wrote in his report as claimed by the rancher: “she had seen a large object glide swiftly and silently over the house. She said it looked like ‘an airplane without a body.’ On the back edge of the wing were pairs of glowing bluish lights.”

By the time, Ruppelt travelled to Lubbock to investigate the sightings as part of Project Blue Book in late September 1951, where hundreds of residents reported seeing the lights for a period of two weeks.

The Lubbock Lights, photographed by 19-year old Carl Hart, Jr. on August 30, 1951 in Lubbock, Texas.

A freshman at Texas Tech university, Carl Hart, Jr. claimed to have observed a group of 18-20 v-shaped lights flying over his house on August 30. He took his camera and walked to the backyard to see if the lights would return; and they did. Ruppelt wrote: “He was looking out at the clear night sky, and had been in bed about a half hour, when he saw a formation of the lights appear in the north… cross an open patch of sky, and disappear over his house. Knowing that the lights might reappear as they had done in the past, he grabbed his loaded Kodak 35, set the lens and shutter at f 3.5 and one-tenth of a second, and went out into the middle of the backyard. Before long, his vigil was rewarded when the lights made a second pass. He got two pictures. A third formation went over a few minutes later, and he got three more pictures.”

After developing the photos, Hart took them to the offices of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal where they were soon reprinted around the nation and in Life magazine. According to Ruppelt, the Physics Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio extensively analysed the Hart photographs after which he released a statement to the press saying “the photos were never proven to be a hoax, but neither were they proven to be genuine.”

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Article

However, the Texas Tech professors disproved the photos and said that they did not represent what they had observed, because the lights had flown in a u-shaped formation rather than v-shaped. In fact, Project Blue Book astronomer, Dr. J. Allen Hynek later contacted one of the professors who explained the lights as being a common type of birds known as plovers reflecting the city street-lights.

Witnesses who supported this explanation included T.E. Snider, a local farmer who on August 31, had observed birds flying over a drive-in movie theatre whose undersides were reflected by the light. Another pair of witnesses Joe Bryant and his wife on August 25, observed a group of lights flying overhead before circling around their house. The couple claimed to have identified them as plovers by sight and sound.

On the other hand, J.C. Cross, the head of Texas Tech biology department and a game warden interviewed by Ruppelt claimed that the sightings could not have been birds. Professor Mead also disputed the plover explanation and said: “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 hear…to have gone as fast as this, to be birds, they would have to have been exceedingly low to disappear quite so quickly.”

Chief Photographer of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, William Hams, also took several night-time photos of plovers flying over the street-lights of Lubbock city in an attempt to replicate the Hart photographs, but with no success.

“they were not birds, refracted light, or ‘spaceships’ […] [they were] positively identified as a very commonplace and easily explainable natural phenomenon […] It is very unfortunate that I can’t divulge exactly the way the answer was found because it is an interesting story of how a scientist set up complete instrumentation to track down the lights and how he spent several months testing theory after theory until he finally hit upon the answer. Telling the story would lead to his identity and, in exchange for his story, I promised the man complete anonymity. But he fully convinced me that he had the answer, and after having heard hundreds of explanations of UFO’s, I don’t convince easily.” Ruppelt concluded in his report.


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