Just because a vintage UFO photo has been analyzed by experts and pronounced either genuine or, at the very least, undebunked, doesn't mean we shouldn't take another look at it.
In 1965, while on the job taking photos of road signs that needed replacing, Rex Heflin took three shots of a UFO passing over the road with his Polaroid 101 camera. For some reason he didn't get out of his vehicle first. He estimated the UFO was 1/8 mile (200 meters) away and 150 feet (46 meters) up in the air.
My immediate instinctual reactions to these photos are (1) it looks like a small, close object, and (2) it looks like a simple machined object from an Earthly factory, or the most boring UFO in UFO history. But instincts aren't enough to debunk the fanciful tale of an honest-man-who-never-retracted, so let's take a closer look.
The first photo was taken out the front windshield of Heflin's truck. You can see a perpendicular road with traffic in the distance, which researcher Ann Druffel says is the Santa Ana Freeway, 7/8 mile (1.4 km) away [Druffel 2000, p.609]. Our other distance clue is the telephone poles, of which there are probably ten per quarter mile. So Heflin's estimate that the UFO was 1/8 mile away is five poles. When we place the UFO at that distance, it's 7.5 poles up in the air, or 225 feet high (close enough to his estimate of 150 feet high).
Even if you perceive the UFO as a large object, I bet you didn't perceive it as sitting way back there in the field. (A human standing directly under that UFO would be only 8 pixels tall.) It "seems" to be a lot closer, approximately above the white pipe sticking out of the ground. In fact, belying the testimony that it was 1/8 mile away, Druffel suggested the dark patch near the pipe might be the UFO's shadow - barely one pole (125 feet) away. Clearly Druffel was also having trouble reconciling her perception with the testimony.
There are other oddities in the initial analyses that make no sense to me. The circled shadow is supposedly that of a telephone pole near the truck. But the photo was taken facing north at half-past-noon, placing the sun just west of overhead - shadows would be very short and would fall to the right. Yet Druffel writes: "The angle of the shadow [to the left!] is consistent with the claimed date, time, and location of the sighting" [Druffel, 2000]. It was also overcast that day, with no shadows from the other landscape features, so it seems highly unlikely that's a shadow at all. Perhaps it's just a stain on the ground. I've seen speculation that it's the shadow of the stick Heflin rigged to suspend a UFO model. In any case, it doesn't look a telephone pole shadow to me, let alone a shadow created by the sun close to noon.
Project Blue Book, after attempting to replicate the photos, concluded they were hoaxed and that the object was a 9-inch tray tossed 15-20 feet in the air [Druffel, 2000].
I think it's much smaller, and therefore closer, than that. I agree with the hypothesis that it's a toy train wheel - in other words, very small and very close. Is there evidence for this?
It's important to know the model of the vehicle so we can determine sizes. Heflin's truck seems to be a first generation Ford Econoline van (c.1961-65) because the side mirror and the features reflected in it (in photos 2 & 3) match. (Let me know if you have a better candidate for the vehicle model.)
From the vehicle's specs I estimate the window size across its middle (minus the triangular part) to be 51.3cm. A more accurate measurement from the actual vehicle would be appreciated. I superimposed a (mirrored) screenshot from this Rex Heflin interview onto his second photo - the alignment was almost identical, making the task easy - and conclude that the UFO, if it is right outside the window, is a mere 1.14" (2.9cm) diameter.
We can cross-check the UFO size (if it's right outside the window, or perhaps right inside - see below) from photo 1. I superimposed photo 1 onto an image of the interior of a 1963 Econoline by matching the curve of the windshield and thickness of the window frame. The UFO width is 3.2% of half the vehicle's width, giving a size of exactly 1 inch.
The closest vintage toy train wheel in terms of shape, that I've found, is an O-gauge wheel made by Lionel LLC. O-gauge was the most common scale in the US until the early 1960s.
Both the examples below are less than an inch, although perhaps within the margin of error, and the profiles are similar to the UFO. They even have the appearance of a dark band around them, which Heflin said the UFO had, and which scientists in 1967 thought was related to the UFO's propulsion system because why not [Druffel 2006, p.53, 58].
However, if the UFO is even closer to the camera than the vehicle's windows - that is, inside the van - it's even smaller than calculated, perhaps under one inch like the above candidates.
It should be noted that the UFO does not appear to have moved between photos 2 and 3. Perhaps Heflin couldn't be bothered to rehang it a third time. Anyway, because of this, a 3D image can be created and was presented on Robert Sheaffer's blog a decade ago. Viewing this by going cross-eyed apparently indicates the UFO is tiny and close.
So, could it be hanging inside the vehicle? It would be easier for Heflin to set up his hoax this way. The train wheel has a convenient hole through it, and the other end of the thread could be stuck to the window frame or the sun visor. The problem with the object being immediately inside (or outside) the window is that Heflin's camera lens would be only about 14" from it, and from the windshield frame, when he snapped photo 1. Would the UFO be in focus at this close range, with the camera set to infinity (which it was)?
This is isn't a problem for photos 2 and 3, which were taken through the passenger window. For photo 1, tipping back his seat would give a bit more room or maybe he climbed into the back of the van. In any case, we can see that the window frame is in focus at whatever distance the camera lens is, so an object directly in front of the windshield - that is, at exactly the same distance from the lens - would also be in focus.
Despite the UFO's proximity to a freeway - you can even see the vehicles on it, in photo 1 - and being only half a mile from El Toro Marine Base, this UFO was not detected on radar and nobody else reported seeing it or the lingering black ring it left behind in the sky that had a "solid appearance; it did not dissipate like ordinary smoke" [Druffel 2006, p.53].
By the way, Heflin apparently liked models... and he also liked cigars.
Over the years, numerous scientists have studied the photographs and made wild unsupported claims about the UFO and surrounding circumstances, straying further and further from good sense because they assumed Heflin's description of a large distance object was accurate and honest, instead of skeptically brainstorming how such a sighting could be hoaxed.
All they needed was some itty bitty rolling stock.
I'm blogging about the Three-Dollar Kit.