– by Don Ecsedy, May 2012
The photographs taken by William A. Rhodes remain an enigma. Despite sixty years of commentary on them, no one has been able to identify the object, nor has anyone found evidence they were faked. The actual sighting is unremarkable and not of much interest -- if it weren't for the photos. Rhodes took pictures because he couldn't identify the object. The problem for us all is that neither could the Air Force...…apparently.
A key point in this discussion is that we have never seen a print of either negative, only cropped portions of them.
The first part of this story runs from July 7 through July 14
On July 14, Army Air Forces Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) Special Agent (SA) Lynn C. Aldrich reported:
On 8 July 1947, this Agent obtained pictures of unidentifiable objects, (Exhibits 1 and 2) from the managing editor of the Arizona Republic newspaper. The pictures were taken by Mr. William Rhoads, 4333 N. 14th St., Phoenix, Arizona, at sunset on 7 July 1947. The Subject objects flew at unconceivable speeds, making three circles in the vicinity of Mr. Rhoads' home. The pictures were taken with a box camera, size 620. The photograph (Exhibit 1) was taken as the object passed in front of Mr. Rhoads, and Exhibit 2 as the object turned towards Mr. Rhoads. The height of the object was estimated at 1000 feet.
AGENT'S NOTES: See Exhibits 1 and 2, photographs of unidentifiable objects, enlarged approximately 20 times. No further reports have been received by this office of objects seen by military personnel.
Aldrich obtained two enlargements from the managing editor of the Arizona Republic. He appears to believe the two photos are of different objects, as he speaks of them in the plural. Aldrich's style here is not the typical army style which was obsessive in its preference for the anonymity of the passive voice and careful phrasing (see his "unconceivable speeds"). Note the consistent (four times) misspelling of 'Rhodes' as 'Rhoads' which indicates he had heard the name spoken, but had not read it. These two cropped enlargements and Aldrich's report are the documents that seem always to be in the Air Force Projects' files. Sometimes, it seems they are the only ones.
Rhodes’ sighting was on July 7. Aldrich obtains copies of the photographs from the newspaper’s managing editor on July 8, and the Arizona Republic publishes the photographs on July 9. The photographs are cropped enlargements and were placed under the enlarger with the wrong side up, flipping the images. Aldrich then waits until July 14 to send in his report.
[Note: The first photo as published by the Arizona Republic does not appear to have been enlarged "approximately 20 times", which is probably true for the image of the second photo it published, though. Aldrich may be referring to another print made, the enlargement of the first photo of the object in isolation. If so, Aldrich wrote it was from the Arizona Republic. Aldrich did not write anything that would lead me to understand the prints he "obtained" from the managing editor of the Arizona Republic were full frame prints. Instead, he only "obtained" enlargements of the object in each full frame, and not the first photo as published in the Arizona Republic. It has implications. -- Don, March 12, 2014]
The newspaper showed the enlargements and the negatives to “aircraft identification experts”, and Aldrich refers to reports from “military personnel”. It is likely the newspaper in developing the story contacted Williams AAF with the story and that is how the “aircraft indentification experts” and the CIC learned of the sighting and photos. The negatives may have been duplicated by the CIC at this point. The Arizona Republic had already made prints and would not need the negatives back immediately for the next day’s publication of them. We don’t know what happened next to the negatives, until they appear on August 29, 1947 — or the 30th.
One has to assume the CIC knew the story would be published the next day. There is no evidence they attempted to prevent it.
On this date the Arizona Republic (AR) published a story with cropped enlargements of two photos of the object, and one photo of Rhodes and his camera.
This is the caption text accompanying the photos:
This flying object was twice snapped at dusk Monday as it circled north of Phoenix. William A. Rhodes, 4333 North 14th street, first shot the picture at the left as the slow-flying object was approaching him. As it banked to make a tight turn, he obtained the picture above, showing clearly the shape of the object. In seconds, Rhodes said, the "disc" shot away to the west at high speed. It had made three whirling turns north of the city, after approaching from the west. Aircraft identification experts yesterday would not hazard opinions on the object's nature.
And, the main story:
THE FIRST clearly recorded photographs of what is believed to be a mysterious "flying disc" which has 33 states in America and even a few foreign countries on edge with its peculiar activities, was taken by an amateur Phoenix photographer.
Reproduced in the Arizona Republic today, the photographs were made by William A. Rhodes, 4113 North 14th street, who was on his way to his workshop in the rear of his home when he heard the distinctive "whoosh" of what he believed to be a P-80 -- Shooting Star jet-propelled plane.
Rhodes snatched a camera from his workshop bench and by the time he reached a small mound at the rear of his home, the object had circled once and was banking in tight circles to the south at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet, he said.
In the overcast sky, the object continued its speedy flight from north to south and directly east of his position. Rhodes snapped the hurtling missile by sighting alongside his box camera.
Quickly rolling up his last piece of film, Rhodes awaited the return of the craft which continued in a clockwise movement over his home and as it disappeared into the west, the second shot was taken.
Rhodes described the object's disappearance as phenomenal since it apparently winged over and shot up into the ether. "I don't think it was a P-80 since I have observed many of them over here. Also, the fact it made no other sound after the first pass over the house," Rhodes said, "makes me believe it was some other type of aircraft. In its three flights over the house, there was not a sound, even when it zoomed into the southwest," he said.
Men long experienced in aircraft recognition studied both the prints and the negatives from which they were made and declined to make guesses on what the flying object might be.
The caption story refers to "the slow-flying object" which "shot away...at high speed". Hanika blurs this distinction by his frothy 'saucer story' style: the "speedy flight" of the "hurtling missile". In tune with the caption story, though, is "Rhodes described the object's disappearance as phenomenal since it apparently winged over and shot up into the ether."
Keep in mind Aldrich’s misspelling of Rhodes, and that no negatives are mentioned, nor any other prints except the two cropped enlargements, and that the images were flipped. The two performance phases of the sighting, the slow speed at its lower approach, and the “phenomenal” winging over and acceleration at altitude, will not be referred to by the Air Force investigations. The Air Force documents will not refer to the newspaper’s publication of the story or the photos, but they, like the FBI are “touchy” about any possibility they may be published.
Aldrich's report is filed at Headquarters Fourth Air Force, Hamilton Field, CA, which provides it to the FBI office in San Francisco.
Part two of our story runs from August 28, 1947 through September 4th.
A-2, Fourth Air Force, Hamilton Field requests the FBI to interview Rhodes
J. Edgar Hoover attempts to prevent his agents in Phoenix from complying with the Air Force's request for Rhodes to be interviewed by the FBI with an Air Force agent present -- "joint investigation" -- which appears to have been the working relationship up to this point. Hoover's refusal appears to be related to a delimitation agreement. However, Hoover's order was not received by the Phoenix FBI Office. When CIC Special Agent Fugate showed his bona fides, FBI Special Agent Brower accompanied him to interview Rhodes as if the old agreement had not been rescinded by Hoover.
By the time the Brower was writing his report, Hoover had ordered FBI agents to cease investigations of the saucers.
Fugate, accompanying Brower, interviews Rhodes on 47/08/29, and files a report dated 47/09/02.
And on 47/09/04 FBI Special Agent Brower files his report.
The CIC SA Fugate does not say he obtained the negatives from Rhodes. He writes Rhodes had one negative (the first photograph), but he could not find the other negative (of the second photograph). Fugate, though, describes the negative of the “second photograph”, the one he says Rhodes could not find, as having a tree tops and a telephone pole in it, which is what we can see in the Arizona Republic’s image of the first photograph which Fugate wrote Rhodes had.
According to Brower’s report, the negatives “were not in Rhodes immediate possession” and arrangements were made for Rhodes to deliver the negatives to the FBI Office in Phoenix the next day. According to Fugate, Rhodes had the negative of the first photograph, but that he couldn’t find the negative of the second photograph. Fugate refers to the negative of the first as “Exhibit III” as if attached to his report, but no attachment is listed on the copies I’ve seen, and Fugate does not say how he obtained the negative, if he did.
The FBI agent, in writing his report, has several problems. The Phoenix FBI office should not have facilitated the interview, per Hoover’s orders. Brower first has to explain how that happened. More importantly, he has to firewall the FBI from any consequences of the interview. Fugate, by working undercover and identifying himself as a “government agent” rather than a military agent has allowed the subject — Rhodes — to assume that Fugate, too, was an FBI agent. If Fugate collects any evidence from Rhodes, Rhodes would assume it was in the possession of the FBI. Brower creates a paper trail independent of his report by having Rhodes deliver the negatives to the FBI office. I don’t think it would have mattered to Brower if Rhodes had in “his immediate possession”. one, both, or neither negative. He also has to document the transfer of the negatives from the FBI to the Air Force, and he must demonstrate that Rhodes was informed the negatives were in the possession of the Air Force, not the FBI — a matter of importance since Brower learns from Fugate the negatives will not be returned to Rhodes.
The hitch is Fugate is working undercover, covering not that he is a CIC agent, but any kind of representative of the Air Force, and it might have contravened his orders to drop the cover. The next year, Rhodes would write he had given the negatives to “two Federal agents”.
At the time of the interview, Brower was not aware of the change in the relationship, but he had a good reason to request Rhodes deliver the negatives to the FBI office. It is very likely something like what Brower reported did happen, but what exactly, we do not know. Brower’s report was constructed after he learned of Hoover’s orders. He had a good reason to construct the event in its light, but his report of the actual interview was not under such pressure after the fact. However, misbegotten, it happened and Brower reports on it.
In conformance with the new FBI policy, Brower writes he will not copy his report to the Air Force. The Air Force would have Fugate’s report, but without Brower’s, they will not be aware of the significant differences between the two reports. When they do obtain the FBI report in 1949, the Air Force investigators will ignore it, perhaps because Fugate’s report had proved very convenient to Project Grudge on the precise details where the two reports do not concur.
As noted above, the sighting had two moments which were photographed. The first was at its closest (or lowest) approach of the object, between 1000 and 2000 feet, and the second before disappearing into the cloud cover at about 5000 feet. Brower’s report gives a speed of 100mph for the closest approach (the first photograph), and Fugate reports a speed of 400-600mph for the object when first seen at altitude, 5000 feet. As will become obvious, Project Saucer did not have the negative of the second photograph which shows the object at about 5000 feet. In 1949, several opinions regarding the authenticity of the photos (Clinton, Langmuir) conflate the speed reported at altitude (400-600mph) with the photograph taken at its lowest approach (2000 feet), which invalidates the opinions given, as the speed reported was, instead, 100mph. It is also worth noting that 400mph is the cruising speed of a P-80, and 600mph, its maximum speed.
J. Edgar Hoover ends the FBI's participation in saucer investigations.
Hoover to Major General George McDonald, a few weeks later:
One gets the impression Mr. Hoover was not at all happy with the Air Force. It is not easy to decide what among Fugate's and Brower's conflicting accounts is true and what is typical cya (cover your ass). Whatever was going on, Fugate appears to have gotten at least the negative of the first photograph. As per the Project Sign procedure, the negative was turned over to Air Material Command at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio. Project Sign was located at Wright Patterson, and had access to AMC's facilities.Next: 1948 -- Project Sign