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L a b r a d o r   -   J u n e   2 9 ,   1 9 5 4

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 Received : 02/26/08  Martin SHOUGH   

Yes, this is very interesting. A striking idea. I've seen flocking starlings too, and they do produce morphing blobs as described.

I have some doubts though...

Firstly, Wim [VAN UTRECHT] says re the constant bearing off the port beam:

"The explanation could be that, when observed from a moving vehicle, objects that are at a great distance (the estimates given by Captain HOWARD range from 3 to 5 miles) can stay in sight for a long time, even if these distant objects travel at a much lower speed than the vehicle itself. The phenomenon is most noticeable with astronomical bodies. The Moon for example is so distant that it remains roughly in the same position when observed through the side window of a vehicle travelling in a straight line".

This is true for the moon, of course. But the *minimum* relative velocity of the plane and a starling (assuming the maximum velocity of the starling is parallel to that of the plane) is about 220 mph [270 mph - 50 mph]. In 18 min the starling falls aft the plane by a distance of 66 miles. The UAPs reportedly "kept station" off the port beam for 18 min. Capt Howard said they stayed "parallel" and did so "exactly". This was checked by the navigation officer against the windshield post. (The only reported deviation was that the UAPs appeared to move *ahead* of the aircraft a little at one point and then fell back to the same abeam position. This could maybe have been yaw in the aircraft axis)

Let's assume that the witnesses exaggerated the constancy of the bearing. Maybe it fell back over 18 min by as much as 10 deg, say, which might seem roughly constant. Perhaps the Navigator didn't check the angle over the whole observation and missed this drift. In order for this 66 mile distance to equate to 10 deg our starling would have to be nearly 380 miles away. If we require to respect a bearing accuracy of 1 deg then obviously the distance increases to 3800 miles!

If 10 deg is good enough, could a flock of starlings be observed at 380 miles? Well, Capt. HOWARD estimated the angular size of the main blob when in its "telephone" phase as equal to that of an ocean liner at 5 miles. If an ocean liner is (say) 500 ft then we're talking in the region of 1 deg angular width. At 380 miles range that means the main flock would be nearly 7 miles across, and the outliers (spanning 5-10 times the angular width of the main blob according to HOWARD's drawings) would cover about 35-70 miles.

According to HOWARD and others (including a passenger quoted in the press at the time) the blobs were "black", "dark", "solid", "substantial". It seems to me that even allowing for optical contrast illusions in silhouette this implies a substantial density of birds, and given a lower bound on flock diameter of several miles the absolute number of birds would be truly colossal. I very seriously doubt if these figures are realistic for any bird.

Consider also that the flocking displays that we have all seen occur at low altitude usually when the birds are roosting. The characteristic morphing-blob appearance occurs because the flock is twisting and turning over the nesting sites, and the more well-defined and darker shapes occur when the main body of the flock happens to turn along the line of sight towards or away from the viewer, temporarily increasing the density of birds per unit angular area. The shapes change very rapidly for this reason, and the density of the blob thins out in between to the point where it becomes a faint smudge or streak..

If they were performing these flocking-type flight patterns during continuous flight it would add considerably to the average bird velocity over and above the transverse velocity needed to keep the flock at a constant bearing from the jet. This just means that a flock of birds would have to be even further away and even bigger, and reinforces the fact that the above envelope-back figures are only *minima*.

Another factor that might be investigated if we had better data is the *rate of climb* from below the stratocumulus layer to apparent co-altitude at 19,000 ft. That could also place limits on the bird theory.

I think in this case we need (to say the least) a very unusual density of "starlings", a very unusual absolute number of starlings, a very unusual definition and persistence of flocking shapes, at unusual altitude indicating long-distance (perhaps migratory) point-to-point flight which I suspect counter-indicates the type of local roosting behaviour that might produce these morphing shapes.

So IMO, a very interesting idea but not too realistic when you work it out.

Strathconon, Scotland

[Martin SHOUGH is the author of several articles and papers on UFOs and (alleged) radar detection thereof. He has compiled and evaluated an extensive catalogue of radar cases which forms the core of RADCAT, an exhaustive on-line resource presently under construction by Jan ALDRICH and associates at Project 1947. SHOUGH has worked with Dr. David CLARKE, with whom he analysed a number of UK military radar reports. He is a UK Research Associate for the National Aviation Reporting Center for Anomalous Phenomena - NARCAP, whose Science Director is Dr. Richard F. HAINES (see also our discussion of the 1990 Montreal case). Martin SHOUGH's work on two major historical UFO incidents, one radar and one photographic case, can be perused at]

Our reply :

The above reaction was actually sent to British researcher Dr. David CLARKE with cc. to Gary ANTHONY and Wim VAN UTRECHT. It was Dr. CLARKE who had called the attention of Martin SHOUGH to our article on the BOAC Labrador case.

Despite the fact that Martin blew large holes in our attempted explanation for this case, we are extremely grateful for his detailed and pertinent comments.

Martin's clear and analytical approach puts the finger on the weak spots of our bird hypothesis. His argumentation is tight and we agree with his conclusion. The case remains unidentified until further notice.


 Received : 11/08/08  Herbert TAYLOR   

U.S. researcher Herbert TAYLOR sent us the following report compiled by an Australian pilot and describing a phenomenon that bears a striking resemblance to the dark, shape-changing object flanked by smaller objects observed 14 years earlier by Captain HOWARD.....  read more 

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