Lockheed Lenticulars Update

My suggestion of a possible source for the famous Kelly Johnson case (discussed below) was a very densely packed lenticular cloud. In searching for photographs of clouds that matched the one I was proposing, I had to look far and wide. Most lenticulars are nowhere near dense enough for the scenario I proposed. I finally found the excellent photograph by Mark Meyer that I used in the piece. I love that image but have always hoped that I would find even better ones.

Recently some photos that seem to be of a lenticular cloud taken in Brazil have surfaced that feature the extremely smooth edges that I suggested may have fooled Kelly Johnson. 

Here is one of them:


Such a beautiful photo. And so very like the description given by Johnson and Crew.

Here is a discussion that features more of the photos of the same cloud.

Thanks to Leonardo Araujo for permission to use the photo here.

Jim Moseley, Journal Subscriber, 1931-2012

My friend, Jim Moseley, died last week.

Jim published the longest-running UFO publication, Saucer Smear, an irreverent look at the personalities involved in the UFO field. His sense of humor was legendary and you can be certain that anyone who tells you that they didn't like Jim is a pompous ass. The term, "Journal Subscriber," above, is an inside joke that I know the Moseley faithful will appreciate.

I talked with Jim on the phone about once a month for 20 years or so.

We would laugh and talk for hours. I am gonna miss that.

I met Jim in person on a few occasions. In 2001, I interviewed him for my now abandoned documentary on Otis T. Carr. We shot the interview at the site of the famous Silver Bridge collapse in Gallipolis, Ohio. I dug up the footage and threw it together yesterday. I was amazed to find how all-encompassing our conversation was. We covered most of the Moseley canon: Long John Nebel, his cross-country UFO pilgrimage, the contactees, the Straith hoax, Gray Barker, Men in Black, Mothman, Phil Klass, Stanton Friedman, Karl Pflock and, of course, Saucer Smear.

When we started filming, I asked Jim to agree that he wasn't expecting any financial renumeration for the interview. Without batting an eye, he said, "Well, I can always hope...!"

I enjoyed watching Jim tell the old stories and I hope you will, too.


The Lockheed UFO Case Revisited

The 1953 Lockheed UFO case has become a favorite among UFO enthusiasts. The case was unknown for decades, hidden in the files of Project Blue Book, but has gained many fans since being championed by several prominent UFO researchers. Canadian filmmaker, Paul Kimball, featured it in his oft-cited documentary, Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings (it was number five). UFO researchers often refer to the case as a solid example of an unexplainable UFO experience.

A refreshing aspect of the Lockheed case is that it hasn't been tainted by dubious interviews decades after the event, like the supposed Roswell Incident, for instance. Virtually everything known about the sighting is contained in the Air Force's Project Blue Book file. The entirety of the evidence consists of only 8 pages of testimony from the actual witnesses. But as we will see, UFO believers can still manage to obscure and confuse things, even when the evidence is so easily digested.

A quick note: I painstakingly created and maintain a facsimile transcript of the sometimes hard-to-read Blue Book microfilms and I encourage interested readers to take a look at the evidence for themselves. I also welcome corrections to my transcript.

Download Johnson Case Transcript

You can see the Project Blue Book microfilm record here.

The Case

Photo Feb 2, 2012 11:59 PM

The main witness in the Lockheed case was someone intimately familiar with unusual things in the sky, having himself created some legendary and near-mythical aircraft.

As chief engineer for Lockheed, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson designed cutting-edge aircraft like the U-2 spy plane and SR-71 Blackbird. He was also influential in the creation of the SkunkWorks, the secret projects division of Lockheed. Johnson certainly qualifies as one of the most famous of UFO witnesses.

On the late afternoon of December 16th, 1953, Johnson, noticed a dark object in the sky to the west of his ranch near Agoura, California. The object was a long thin distinct black ellipse with no visible detail. Johnson viewed it for a couple of minutes as it seemed to stand motionless against the brilliant sunset sky. He then sensed that the object was moving directly away as it got smaller and smaller and, after about 90 seconds, disappeared.

If that was the only thing that happened, this surely would have been a rather forgettable sighting.

But the next day, Johnson learned something startling. One of the Lockheed test pilots, Rudy Thoren, began to tell Johnson about his own UFO sighting while flying a Constellation WV-2 on a test run the day before over the Santa Barbara channel. Thoren, was quickly interrupted by Johnson as the chief engineer interjected his own story and the men decided that they had seen the same thing in the sky: a dark distinct object against the brilliant sunset that disappeared to the West. The witnesses in the plane were Roy Wimmer (pilot), Rudy Thoren (co-pilot/Chief Flight Test Engineer), Phil Colman (Chief Aerodynamics Engineer), Joe Ware, Jr. (Flight Test Supervisor) and Charlie Grugan (Flight Engineer).
Johnson wrote his personal account of the event the next day and, over the next month, four of the five men in the plane also wrote their own accounts (Grugan did not file one). Despite some reluctance by Johnson, fearing how flying saucer stories might affect his reputation, these accounts were forwarded to the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and eventually ended up in the Blue Book files.
Photo Feb 2, 2012 11:38 PM
The Blue Book Conclusion: Lenticular Cloud

We don't know what the Air Force did with the case. We don't know if a full-fledged investigation followed or if the entire thing was ignored. All we have is their terse unadorned conclusion as to what caused the sighting: a lenticular cloud.

UFO proponents hate this. For them, this conclusion besmirches the name and talents of Johnson and his team. Paul Kimball, in a recent interview, said, "If these guys, the top test pilots and aerodynamic engineers and flight designers of their time, would mistake a lenticular cloud for a structured aircraft or object of some sort, no reasonable or responsible military would continue to employ these guys...the military gave a bogus explanation." Another UFO site calls the Air Force conclusion a "rubber stamp explanation".

My knowledge of lenticular clouds was limited, I don't think I have ever seen one in the sky but I have seen many photos of lenticulars, usually in UFO books. Most UFO authorities agree that lenticular clouds do sometimes cause UFO reports. But since lenticular formations are relatively rare, these mistaken reports must also be pretty rare. And anyway, the photos I had seen of this type of cloud didn't really seem to have much in common with the Lockheed testimony. So I agreed that the cloud explanation seemed unlikely, especially after seeing the Best Evidence presentation of the case, which was faithfully parroted by other UFO web sites.


I decided to delve into the actual evidence, the testimony of the men, and found a disturbing trend. In the video, it was obvious that the evidence was being looked at from one particular perspective, a pro-UFO one, and evidence that didn't tend to lead to a UFO conclusion was often being ignored or misinterpreted. 

Here's a few of the things I object to in this account:

Photo Mar 18, 2012 2:21 PM
The white shaded area defines where the object might have been according to Johnson's testimony. The green and blue lines enclose the area in which the plane may have been. The red shaded area is where the plane was when the object was first sighted. Image Created by Stray Cat at JREF Forums

1. The film uses a sort of faux-science to suggest that the location of the object can be accurately "triangulated" by using the known location of Johnson at his ranch and the location of the plane. In reality, the testimony does not allow us to know precisely where the plane was, much less its vector to the dark object. The graphic at right shows the true story of what we can determine from the evidence about the location of the object and plane. This is not really a major point but it does show how UFO researchers pretend to have some degree of precision in order to bolster their authority.

2. The film takes the words of the witnesses literally, when the meaning may have been figurative. For instance, several of the witnesses describe the object as looking like a flying wing headed straight at them, which could reasonably be interpreted as a featureless ellipse, much like Johnson described. Indeed all of the witnesses agree that they could discern no details in the black shape. Notice how the video takes this description and runs with it, clearly showing a flying wing-type aircraft. But now it isn't flying straight at us: we see it in the video from a low-angle. The object stops looking like a flying wing and actually becomes a flying wing with details that none of the witnesses ever reported.

3. One of the most obvious examples of how the video goes for maximum ooga-booga instead of truth is demonstrated in the descriptions of the "departure" of the object and how long that event lasted. Here is how the actual witnesses estimated that time:

"In 90 seconds from the time it started to move, the object had completely disappeared." -Johnson

"In the space of about one minute it grew smaller and disappeared." -Wimmer

"In probably an elapsed time of somewhere around a minute, the object had reduced in size to a mere speck and disappeared." -Thoren

"In just a minute or two it completely disappeared" -Ware

So far so good. The men all seem in agreement of the basic time it took for the object to disappear. Wimmer and Johnson both viewed the object almost continuously so their estimates are probably the most important ones. But now we come to one last estimate:

"...in a time, in the order of 10 seconds, [the object] disappeared from view." -Colman

Can you guess which estimate was used in the film and presented as absolutely precise and enabling them create to all sorts of other amazing figures like 130G acceleration? That's right. They chose the ten second figure! This is UFO science at its most impressive!

A Solution?

One thing that did strike me as I read the accounts is that these men weren't trying to fabricate anything. They seem to be honestly attempting to report what they saw without embellishment.

One of their first guesses as to the nature of the object was that it was a cloud.

"Thinking it was a lenticular cloud, I continued to study it." -Johnson

"I saw what I thought was a small cloud." -Wimmer

After viewing it for a while, they all decided that it couldn't be a cloud, mainly because its edges were too distinct. Indeed most of the images I have seen of lenticular clouds still look more or less like clouds. So I was fairly amenable to abandoning the lenticular explanation.

But then I came across this startling photo:

Photo Mar 11, 2012 9:18 PM
Photo Courtesy Mark Meyer Photography (photo-mark.com)
Johnson Drawing
Johnson's own drawing of the object.

This photo, taken in Wyoming, shows a very compact lenticular cloud much more like what the men described seeing in 1953. Of course, this is still clearly a cloud. But I began to wonder what this cloud might have looked like from much further away. In the photo above, either the cloud is very large or the camera is very close to it. It fills a good portion of our visual field. This was not the case for the Lockheed witnesses. Johnson doesn't say how large the object was in the sky but he strongly implies that it was rather small, comparing it to an aircraft flying near Point Mugu, some 30 miles away. From my work in visual effects, I know that taking an object with fuzzy edges like a cloud and making it smaller causes the edges to become more distinct. So I decided to simulate what the same cloud might have looked like from much further away. This is not a real photo; it was created as a demonstration using Photoshop (click on the image for a larger view):


Photo Feb 28, 2012 7:40 PM
This photo has been manipulated in Photoshop for demonstration purposes only.

This is much more like what the men described. The edges of this cloud are now so distinct that it loses it's cloud properties and just becomes a dark object with no discernible detail. In other words, it looks exactly like what was being described by the Lockheed staff. And note that I used the entire real cloud to make this image, including the wispy tail on the left. But details like the tail disappear as you get further away (here simulated by making the cloud smaller). Another detail that vastly improves the illusion of a solid object is the silhouette effect caused by the brilliant sunset, exactly the same conditions during the Lockheed sighting

"...the sun had gone down below the horizon but the sky was red and this object was perfectly silhouetted against this red background." -Thoren

So now I began to think that there could be something to the cloud idea but there were still some issues to consider. Other than its distinctness, what else convinced the men that they weren't seeing a cloud?

Well, there isn't much. Johnson says that the fact that it didn't move was one factor. This may show that Johnson wasn't really very familiar with lenticulars, which very often hang in the sky held motionless by two opposing air masses until they dissipate. 

Animated 6
Sequence courtesy Donald Collins

Of course, one other part of the account must be addressed: the departure. As I looked at videos of lenticular clouds dissipating, I noticed how, as the clouds got smaller, there was sometimes the impression that they were moving away. Here is an imperfect demonstration of this principle. I realize that these clouds don't look that much like saucers but hopefully you can get a feeling for the illusion of motion.

This is part of my working theory of the case: that the departure was actually the dissipation of the cloud.

The way that the witnesses described the departure certainly fits in with this theory: 

"the object had reduced in size to a mere speck, and then disappeared." -Thoren

"I suddenly realized it was moving away from us heading straight west. In the space of about one minute it grew smaller and disappeared." -Wimmer

"When I got the glasses focused on the object, it was already moving behind the first layer of haze. I gathered its speed was very high, because of the rate of fore-shortening of its major axis." -Johnson

Johnson also reported that the object took a long shallow climb (this was not reported by the men in the plane, interestingly). I am suggesting that this apparent climb is also caused by the dispersing cloud as the top or bottom disappeared unevenly.

One nagging issue for me was that I honestly had no idea how long it would take for a cloud to dissapate. The theory requires it to be around a minute. I started work on writing this article without knowing the answer to this question but I knew that this one issue could invalidate the whole idea.

Some Additional Info


Earlier this year, Tim Printy, publisher of the skeptical UFO newsletter (SUNlite) pointed out a thread at the JREF forums discussing this case and I was happy to see that several folks there had independently seized upon this same scenario. The thread generated much helpful data, including some evidence from UK forecaster, Nigel Bolton, that the December 16th, 1953 weather conditions were ripe for the formation of lenticular clouds.

Just a few days ago I found some amazing lenticular cloud videos on YouTube that were shot right near the same locations of the Lockheed case. Here's one taken in Santa Clarita, looking to the west towards Santa Barbara:


I spoke with Chris, who shot these clouds (and many more, check out his site) and shared the theory with him. I was delighted with his reply:

Indeed your theory is quite likely. Lenticulars can form in a nearly limitless variety of sizes and shapes. When you add variations in lighting (sun angles, etc.) and point of view, many visual effects are possible.
A cloud which is forming or dissipating more-or-less overhead would be difficult to mistake for solid object moving towards or away from the viewer.  However, when Lenticulars are at a distance, they would be much closer to the horizon and viewed on edge. A well-formed saucer-shaped cloud could look quite solid, especially with help from a setting sun. Any change in size could be interpreted as movement closer or further away from the viewer. Since Lenticulars do change size, shape and position depending upon the direction, speed, temperature and humidity of the airflow which they are forming, they may also appear to be moving left or right.
The speed at which they form and dissipate can be quite rapid...  A huge cloud may take only 20 minutes to appear or completely disappear. Smaller ones only a minute or two..  I have watched (and less often filmed) areas of Lenticular activity in which smaller, saucer-shaped formations seem to pop in and out at random as the air currents shift around. I’ve missed many a shot because the cloud vanished before I could get my camera set up.

Having this opinion from someone who is intimately familiar with lenticular clouds certainly strengthens the theory. 

Final Thoughts

I hope the reader doesn't feel that I am suggesting that these witnesses were ignoramuses. I'm not. I think all of the witnesses did an incredible job of reporting the facts as best they could. The theory above postulates that several factors came together that did fool the witnesses:

1. Compact lenticular cloud.

2. Silhouetted against brilliant red sunset.

3. Seen from enough distance that the edges bcame totally smooth.

In short, I am suggesting that nature conspired to create a sort of illusion that fooled these observers.

It should also be noted that this theory is not presented as the final word on this case. I am delighted to hear confirming or disconfirming information. 

Please feel free to share your own comments below.

I want to thank Tim Printy, Mark Meyer, Don Ecsedy, Donald Collins,  Frank Stalter, Michael Allen, Chris@DCM and the gang at the JREF forums, particularly Stray Cat, 23_Tauri, Akhenaten, GeeMack, Puddle Duck, TJW, TomTomkent and ufology and also my wife for their help in preparing this article. This article was slightly revised on 3/23, hopefully slightly improving the tone.

Saucers, Lies and Audio Tape

The UFO field has produced more than its fair share of frauds and charlatans. One of the most amusing and yet appalling things about this fact is that, even after exposure, many of these hoaxers are warmly welcomed back into the arms of believers.

George Adamski (L) and Dan Fry
George Adamski, the UFO contactee, for instance, was outed as a complete fraud in a definitive and devastating exposé published by my friend, Jim Moseley (Saucer News, October 1957). And yet Adamski is still has many apologists. Their rationalizations usually take the form of claiming  that Adamski saw something "real" initially but then hoaxed his later photos and sightings, all for the good cause of fostering fellowship between man and the Space Brothers. Recently, the prolific (and none too picky) paranormal author, Nick Redfern's "Contactees: A History of Alien-human Interaction" treated the claims of many known frauds as serious and worthy of discussion, instead of silly and worthy of laughter. One does what one must in order to sell books, I suppose.

An amusing glimpse of how these con men work was seen when Daniel Fry, another contactee, was publicly deconstructed on a radio program (The Betty Grobley Show, November 1966) by Phillip Klass. In that program, Klass systematically shows that Dr. Fry's claimed PhD came from a "university" that doesn't seem to actually exist. He also got Fry to admit that many of his claimed professional credentials were fraudulent. It is fascinating (and very funny) to hear Fry in action on that program. For instance:

Betty:     "Did you say you are you a graduate engineer? You have a BA?"

Fry:         "I am not a graduate engineer in the sense that would be accepted..."

Betty:     "Where did you get your BA from?

Fry:         "Uh, I have not said that I have a BA"

Betty      " Well, how can you get a PhD if you don't have a BA or an MA?"

Fry:        "Uh, this is beyond my understanding..."

Note the grey rectangles below are audio players containing supporting material.

Grobley Show  

Second_lower_shot "Understanding" was ironically the name of Fry's metaphysical organization. Despite revelations such as those above, there are still those who think Fry should be taken seriously. Noted UFO author, Timothy Good, in discussing one of Fry's UFO films (the sad saucer is obviously a prop dangling from a string), says this, "But does this prove that Fry was lying about all his previous experiences?  I think not. Most probably, he thought that a few fabricated movie films of 'saucers' would bolster his unprovable claims."

Apparently there is nothing that a UFO huckster might do that would discourage or cause a second thought for the true believer and those who make a living by peddling paranormal ideas.

Recently, I became interested in the claims of respected UFO and paranormal author, Philip J. Imbrogno. Imbrogno has written many paranormal books. Perhaps his best known was the account of the Hudson Valley UFO sightings he co-authored with J. Allen Hynek, Night Siege.

This spring, Imbrogno and his co-author, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, were making the rounds of all the paranormal talk shows to promote their book, The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agenda of Genies. I know that the title sounds like a put-on but no, they really were selling a book about vengence seeking genies! I listened to one of Imbrogno's appearances and was struck at how little he had in the way of evidence. This was never an issue on the shows because the last thing any of the hosts of these shows ever ask for is evidence.

Another thing was quite striking about Imbrogno: he was a real scientist. Imbrogno's bio, as it appeared on his web site (and was faithfully recited by most of the radio hosts) partially went like this:

"Imbrogno holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics, astronomy and chemistry from the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2010 he was awarded a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from MIT. He is a staff member of the McCarthy Observatory in New Milford, Connecticut, and is a founder and former director of the Astronomical Society Of Greenwich, and former director of the Bowman Observatory."

Here is a web archive of the bio as it looked back in May 2011:

Download Bio (requires Safari)

Mitshirt Pretty impressive. From every indication, Imbrogno is an accomplished man of science, certainly a rarity in the more earthy environs of the paranormal.

But one thing was bugging me.

It really started with the shirt.

Many websites carrried a photo of Imbrogno in an MIT T-shirt. A New York Times article about Imbrogno actually mentions him showing up in the shirt.

I started thinking to myself, "Man, he is selling MIT pretty hard!" It seemed a little desperate to me. This was the whole reason I decided to look into the claims of Imbrogno.

I really didn't expect to find anything. I certainly didn't expect to discover anything so easily. Using the Degreeverify.com service, I ran a search to see if I could verify his degree claims with MIT. The results came back negative. I was shocked. 

At this point, I still thought that I could have made a mistake in my query (in my first try, I spelled "Philip" with 2 "l's"). I also didn't know how reliable the online search was.

So I contacted the registrar's office at MIT. A very nice lady there helped me and kindly sent me this response:

MIT Imbrogno Redact
A telephone conversation with the office further determined that there has never been a student with the last name "Imbrogno" attending classes at MIT. Wow. Can it really be that easy?

While I was looking into this, I also contacted several paranormal talk show hosts and personalities to see if they might shed some light on the matter. I wanted to see if there was something I missed. Was I barking up the wrong tree?

Many of these folks initially greeted my inquiries with suspicion. Chris O'Brien, co-host of the Paracast radio program, asked me "Who elected you credentials cop anyway?"

Soon I noticed that Imbrogno's Djinn book web site had been quietly changed. All mention of MIT and other achievements had been removed! In the meantime, I looked into those observatories mentioned in his bio. They both seem to be volunteer-run amateur facilities at a high schools. Phil was on the volunteer staff of one. 

One day an announcement appeared at the Djinn site from his co-author, Guiley:

"Philip J. Imbrogno has informed me that he is withdrawing from the paranormal and will no longer be involved in research, including the Djinn. 

Soon after, Guiley added another sentence:

"I have ended my research and writing collaboration with him."

I managed to get in touch with Imbrogno to ask him for his response to this matter. His answers to me seemed evasive. He never claimed to have the degrees. Instead he made three bizzare and incompatible excuses.

EXCUSE 1: Other people had mistakenly made the MIT claims not him.

In an email to me, Imbrogno said:

"I don't know why you are after me. There have been multiple mistakes in my background listed, I don't know how but things happen."

EXCUSE 2: He used a second legal name when registered at school.

From his email:

In any event I register at school with a different name than I write with.

The problem with this is that he uses the name he writes with for everything else. It's the name his phone is listed under and the name he uses at his teaching job. It doesn't make sense that he would have chosen another name JUST for the purpose of going to school. Is it even legal to have two legal names? I don't know. And the reason he gave me for this was strange:

"I respect your work, however the name I  write with is different than the name I use to register for reasons of people in the UFO field trying to track me down."

Huh? I had no problem tracking him down. I just uh, used his name!

EXCUSE 3: He made stuff up about his background in order to confuse UFO stalkers.

This excuse came in a later email after I had told him that I actually had found interviews in which he himself claimed the MIT degrees (which destroys excuse number 1).

"I really have no recollection of saying that if I did It was most likely to secure my privacy...I will often give misleading information about myself to secure my privacy. Once again you will just be going around in circles. I have NEVER given  information out when dealing with UFOs and the paranormal that I can be traced back too because of stalkers. As far as you know I could have a degree in Engineering!. Its because of nut cases that I protect myself and personal information." 

Imbrogno and MIT 

I was still undecided about what to do with my information. Imbrogno had threatened me in his emails with legal action (apparently unfamiliar with the 1st amendment) and I was rather satisfied that he had decided to leave the field. I didn't know just what I wanted to do.

In the end, someone else broke the story for me. The Paracast show (and a suddenly more skeptical O'Brien) revealed my findings (without my input and without mentioning my name, naturally) and soon the internet was buzzing about the revelations.

After the story came to light there was much use of hind sight. Lots of folks claimed that they knew all along that Imbrogno's stories were too good to be true. Indeed, I found some threads that did seriously question the tales and Imbrogno's credibility but so many more people wrote about what a fantastic researcher he was and how he was their favorite author, things like that.

I had to listen to lots of terrible podcasts to find Imbrogno making the MIT claim himself. He usually just let the host read the bio and never commented on it. While listening, I certainly wondered why folks believed this man was a great scientist when all I could hear was his sometimes poor grammar and odd pronunciations of words ("A-NOM-A-NA-LY for "anomaly, "CAV-REN" for "cavern", for instance).

Worst of all were the stories.

His stories sounded like poorly written fiction to me. There was a certain aspect to the tales that made them sound as though they were being thought of right off the top of his head. For example, Imbrogno makes much of his association with the esteemed J. Allen Hynek. He mentions Hynek often in interviews and stresses their close relationship. In one story, Imbrogno related Hynek's opinion of the famous Roswell UFO story.

"He [Hynek] believed that the Roswell crash never happened. He told me that he believed that it was this Project Mogul." 

Imbrogno on Hynek and Roswell

I see a big problem with this story and Kevin Randle, probably the foremost expert on Roswell, agrees: the Project Mogul balloon scenario for the Roswell Incident had not been discussed until the mid-1990's. Hynek died in 1986.

Other researchers have since posted their findings about other aspects of the Imbrogno story. They are reporting that they cannot find records of any of his claimed undergraduate degrees. Long-time UFO authority, Don Ecker, says that Imbrogno's claims of service in the US Special Forces also appear to be bogus. There are apparently other revelations in the works.

Sadly and predictably, there are already a few apologists for Imbrogno. A writer at one forum said:

"I think whether he faked his credentials or not is a moot point. There, I've said it. We do indeed have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because one element is false does not automatically mean that any other elements are also logically false."

But the vast majority of folks seemed to think that this incident should signal a new way of looking into the claims made by paranormal purveyors, some of them calling for a vetting process before allowing people on the air.

I hope that does happen but, knowing the history of the subject, I certainly have my doubts.

I would like to offer thanks to Angelo Fiorentino, Don Ecker, Ron Collins, Ricky Poole, Kevin Randle, Gene Steinberg and Jeff Ritzmann for their invaluable help in preparing this story.

Bigfoot Hunters Expose Their Own Show, Finding Bigfoot in Review


A new paranormal reality show has found some unlikely critics: its own stars. The new Animal Planet show, Finding Bigfoot, is already being debunked by its own on-camera team of Bigfoot hunters.

Finding Bigfoot is designed from the same mold as a TV ghost hunting show with a crack team of Bigfoot "experts" going to different places each week to search for the elusive North American apeman. The team arrives at a location, listens to the stories of the locals and then uses (and often misuses) various technical gear to pretend to find evidence. Each episode features the same tired production techniques of other reality shows: fast cutting, re-creations, night vision footage, sound effects and silly face-mounted cameras to build excitement out of basically nothing.

Is it a bad sign that the official Animal Planet press release for the show refers to the team by first name only? Lesser shows might have soberly discussed the credentials of their scientific team and perhaps even mentioned their last names. But paranormal reality shows don't roll that way so presenting the team members as characters fits right into the spirit of the thing.

The team, Matt, Cliff, Bobo, & Ranae usually attempt to re-create a piece of Bigfoot footage or evidence each time, perhaps imagining that such pointless activity shows a scientific approach or maybe this is just another way to pad out the hour.

Much use is made of a FLIR thermal imaging camera as the team walks around the woods at night looking for a "Squatch" (apparently the producers decided that this term is snappier than "Bigfoot" because everyone on the team uses it in an embarrassingly self-conscious way).

In a recent show, the team stumbled upon an upright figure in a field. The figured showed up very brightly on the FLIR. It was hard to make out just what it was but it looked alive.

The team approached closer and closer and, just as it seemed we might find out what the object was, the producers clumsily cut away from the FLIR image and we are told (but not shown!) that the creature disappeared into the surrounding brush. We lost Bigfoot!

As a viewer, this was a most frustrating experience. Why did they cut away? What was that figure?

Matt Moneymaker explained the whole thing on the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) forums:

Flir_Thermal_Imaging_Equine "The heat blip in the meadow was a horse. I said so on camera. I talked about the horse for a good long while. I figured the producers would edit it honestly, but they didn’t. Their editing made it look as though I did not identify the figure before it ran off. I did. It was a horse. They inserted lines from other scenes where I talk about something running away before I could figure out what it was."

Moneymaker, founder of the BFRO, is leader of the Finding Bigfoot team. His statements are a rare revelation from the actual makers of a paranormal show that what they are doing is cynically and completely fake.

In another show Matt is again in the woods viewing things through the FLIR and sees a figure on a hill above him. He takes off yelling and wildly running after it. We see fleeting glimpses of humanoid figure fleeing. Is it Bigfoot? Alas, the creature gets away again. Should the show really be called "Losing Bigfoot?"

After some stilted and manufactured drama in which the team argues with Matt about how wise it is to run off alone after a potential huge hairy unknown creature, Matt ends the argument by saying, "Let's go back and look at the tape." For some reason we viewers are not shown the tape again. Why would that be?

Moneymaker says:

"… the thing I ran after up the hill was a human — someone who was sneaking around us in the woods trying to watch the production in progress. I said so repeatedly and vehemently at the time, for the cameras, but they edited out all of that in order to make it seem unclear what I was chasing after."

Other members of the team also seem to be upset with the way the show came out. In another forum, someone claiming to be Bobo wrote about the show:

"Everything Matt said is true. We’re getting screwed. You people have no idea how much Matt and I fought with the producers to have any legitimacy on this show...Sorry to all of the squatchers that are bummed out on how they’re doing it. I assure it isn’t us."

While it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the producers of this low budget, low ethics show might be willing to fake things to attract more viewers, it should also be said that the Finding Bigfoot team itself shows very little in the way of scientific integrity or know-how.

It's like a perfect storm in which the worst kind of producers meet the most credulous of believers. It's a match made in crackpot heaven.

One obvious example of the team's lack of scientific rigor is how they take take "evidence" that they have gathered from widely separated areas and claim that these unrelated bits of information somehow corroborate and support some other bit of unlikely evidence, a blurry video, for instance.

In one of their superfluous re-creations, the team has Bobo position himself near a stump in order to simulate a supposed "real" Bigfoot video in which Bigfoot steals a candy bar. Using an infrared camera, the team's efforts look exactly like the original video which proves that the figure in that tape must have been man-sized, not Bigfoot-sized.

Undeterred, the team immediately decides that the "Bigfoot" in the original video must have been a baby one. It is obvious that, regardless of their findings, this team is always going see Bigfoot wherever they go. Their theories are unfalsifiable, a sure sign of pseudoscience. Why even do the re-creation if the outcome is already known?

Matt makes unintentionally funny pronouncements over and over on the show. He proclaims that Bigfeet like peanut butter, that Bigfeet like to walk along electrical lines, that Bigfeet hunt and slaughter deer in a certain way. For Matt, Bigfoot exists everywhere and is a known quantity. The only thing Matt lacks is an actual, you know, Bigfoot.

This is all very funny except there is a good possibility that the show received good ratings and thus will return for another season. Matt vows that things will be different if that happens. From what we have seen so far, at least there is nothing that can make this show any worse.