On Down-to-Earth UFO Experiences

Matthew J. Graeber
Magonia 78, June 2002
Is there a signal in the noise of the UFO experience, or does meaningfullness follow silently in its wake? While examining UFO reports over the last 30 years, I have come to realise that some UFO sightings and close encounter experiences have an extraordinarily symbolic relationship to the observer’s psychical status at the time of their experience.

This, by no means, is intended to imply that there is something drastically wrong with the witnesses – but, knowing something about their psychological make up at the time of their experience might afford us a better under standing of the human side of their UFO experience, and the impact that it has had upon the observer’s life. This is of some importance to the objective UFO researcher because it offers him or her the opportunity to explore new avenues of investigation concerning these fleeting phantoms of the sky that we commonly call UFOs.

One such avenue might be to consider UFOs as seemingly `unintelligible imagery’ rather than advanced technological marvels, and to pursue the notion that the ambiguous imagery can be deciphered by analysing the perception of it in much the same way as a therapist might analyse a patient’s dreams. This is not meant to suggest that all UFO experiences are dreams or even waking dreams a fact which several ufologists (of both pro and con persuasions) have more than adequately pointed out in the vast UFO literature.

But, in a previously published case study of a “Dynamic Display” type of UFO experience ('The Raefield Affair', UFO Universe Magazine, spring 1997), I discussed the remarkable UFO encounter of a young man who observed four airborne oddities as he was driving to work in the early morning hours of 26 August 1976. In that case, I explored the possibility that the UFOs were symbolic representations (or “a display”) of his innermost personal “anxieties” and “conflicts” regarding his failing marriage. But, the Raefield encounter involved a UFO observation by a lone witness which, of course, brings us to the question of how in the world multiple witnesses could possibly be involved in a “Dynamic Display” which is also supposed to be rife with the same sort of “subjective symbolic meaningfulness” for each individual involved in the sighting.

In the examination of the “Bailey encounter”, a UFO report that has never been published before (either here or abroad), I will attempt to explain how “self-perception/Dynamic Display UFO experiences of this variety are possible for a small group of individuals.

The Bailey Case: a moving night sky and I, the selected

This report was passed on to us by military personnnel (the officer of the Guard) at Willow Grove Naval Air Installation in south-estern Pennsylvania, at 2200 hr (10 p.m.), on the night of 17 November 1977. However, the actual time of the sighting was fixed at about 7.30 p.m. that evening; and, as it turned out, this was an important point for the investigator to know, for it was raining and completely overcast in the vicinity of the occurrence which was about eighteen miles away from the base. We contacted the primary witness, Mrs Bailey (pseudonym) by phone that night (she was still very excited about the experience) and gathered some basic information before dispatching our field investigator to interview her. In all, three interviews took place during the course of the inquiry, which lasted two months. However, our contacts with her continued until mid-1979.

The Report

Mrs Bailey said that she had observed several strange lights in the sky when she first noticed the UFO. The initial light was yellow in colour, then seven appeared, or was it five? (She seemed a bit uncertain about this point.) Anyway, then one object came into view: it was a disc which was flying very low. In fact, it was so close that it flew right over her car. The saucer was said to be grey in colour, it had a dome on top, and sported a white light on its leading and trailing edges. It also had a red light centrally affixed to its underside. According to Susan, Mrs Bailey’s thirteen-year-old daughter who was also present during the event, the object had an inverted V-shaped protrusion situated on its topside’s trailing edge. Apparently, Mrs Bailey did not see this protrusion because “the UFO flew on a kind of slant”.

The four witnesses), Mrs Bailey (36), Susan, Betty (11), and Debbie (5), all agreed that the object made a humming sound, had several lights that blinked as it approached them, and that it also `seemed to slow down somewhat just as it passed over the car. The total observation time was thought to be about one and one half minutes in duration with the UFO being positioned no more than one hundred feet overhead. Mrs Bailey guesses that its size was “something like seven or eight feet thick and about twenty feet long” (meaning, in diameter).

The initial investigation of the matter was handled by Mr Gordon Myers of UFORIC (the Philadelphia-based UFO Report and Information Center). His report concerning the witnesses’ sincerity and his attempts to shake them from their story reads as follows:
■The people appear to be sincere about their sighting. The mother seemed to be still shook up about it, but did not seem to be afraid to talk about it. Her daughter, Susan, said very little but appeared to be interested in knowing exactly what they saw.
■After talking with them, and after all the data were obtained, I showed them the book with the pictures of the different UFO configurations in it. The mother first she picked out P44, P21 (only upside down), and P13 (with the bottom removed)
■The daughter, Susan, picked out case 22 (but with no windows or triangular protrusions), also U16 and U102 except with an inverted “Y’ on top.
■The references pertain to object configurations found in the Investigator’s handbook – this method of determining what the object looked like is only used after the witnesses’ sketches were gathered or if they were so artistically inept that such assistance was required.
■“I tried to make them confused about the object’s size, distance, and the experience in general, but could not change their stories.

After gathering all the information required for the investigative process employed at UFORIC (an investigative technique that involves a search for both a physical and/or psychological basis for the event), we reached this tentative conclusion regarding the Bailey family’s experience:

Investigative findings

The witnesses’ description of the object’s lighting pattern(s) and its characteristics of flight were not too far out of line to be considered as those being indicative of a small fixed-wing aircraft performing a banking (turning) manoeuvre. This seemed reasonable to suspect since Mrs Bailey and her daughters had agreed on the positioning of the object’s lights and the fact that the UFO made a humming sound “something like a motor” as it passed over their car. The only really puzzling factor remaining was why they saw a fin-topped disc and not an aeroplane’s outline.

We have encountered this type of misidentification many times before at the UFO Center and found that when the human eye fails to obtain a complete configuration for contemplation because of observational distances, darkness and/or restrictive atmospheric conditions, etc., the mind frequently fills in the missing pieces of the image with a subjective outline; or it may, less often, even create several UFOs from a singular object. In such instances, it is very important for the investigator to ask if the objects appcared to be flying in formation.

Additionally, you may recall, according to the Bailey report, that the sky was totally grey (or overcast) in the sighting vicinity and so was the object reported. So, it is not too difficult to embrace the notion that no true outline was actually discernible to the witnesses at the time of the event.

Moreover, Susan mentioned during her interview with our investigator, Mr Myers, that the object first looked like two high beams (car headlights) in the sky. Such is, of course, precisely the appearance of aircraft approach lights – which, in turn, points directly to the fact that many small and medium-sized aircraft fly over the sighting area which is quite close to a civil airport that services several small helicopters, and many privately owned and shuttle-type corporate aircraft.

It was obvious to the investigators that the sighting was almost certainly a misidentification, and it seemed that even the discrepancy involving the odd protrusion on the object’s top side, which the girls has observed but Mrs Bailey did not notice, pointed to a banking fixed-wing aircraft as being the object report; for, the aeroplane happened to be flying on an angle which turned its tail away from Mrs Bailey’s line of sight; while making it a fleeting but, nevertheless, noticeable characteristic to her children.

The impact of the sighting.

Mrs Bailey and her daughters were tremendously affected by the sighting and no amount of persuasion involving a logical (or prosaic) explanation for the event could diminish the validity of their UFO encounter; for, like Mr Raefield, Mrs Bailey staunchly maintains the belief that she had indeed observed an alien space craft. In fact, the impact of the observation was so profound that it rekindled her long latent desire to write poetry. Mrs Bailey’s first effort was, appropriately enough, about her UFO experience. (See below. We wish to thank her very much for allowing us to publish it.)

The psychological probe regarding the event
During our inquiry into the sighting, we asked Mrs Bailey if she would be willing to co-operate with us and permit a psychological probe of her experience. She complied, and the investigation (as with the Raefield affair) revealed a rather remarkable point-for-point symbolic relatedness between the sighting particulars and her immediate personal life’s situation which, as it turned out, was something of a sad state of affairs. For, she had been recently separated from her husband (Doug) and was living in a small apartment with three of her five daughters. Kathy and Susan were residing with their father. Susan was staying with Mrs Bailey at the time of the sighting. She said she felt good about getting away from Doug (her husband of 15 years) but was deeply concerned about how things might turn out for her, and extremely apprehensive about how things might go for the children.

Mrs Bailey’s dynamic display

At first, Mrs Bailey reported observing one yellow point of light in the sky (since the sky was completely overcast, that is, ominously toned, and because Mrs Bailey’s first perception was that of a yellow (caution) light, we might suspect that an intuitively apprehensive attitude was in keeping with the coming event – simply because of its “ominous likeness” to her intrinsic tensions and fears).

Then seven lights (UFOs) appeared (i.e., the total number of family members) then five lights (i.e., the number of children), then one UFO, which was a disc-shaped (tri-lighted) contraption that featured a dome on its top and a fin-like protrusion situated towards its trailing edge. At the closest approach point during the event, Mrs Bailey said that “the saucer passed directly above her car!” causing much excitement and a curious mixture of fear, fascination and awe. In fact, Mrs Bailey’s attention was so riveted to the object that she was totally unaware that her five-year-old, Debbie, was actually standing on the hood (bonnet) of the car, jumping up and down and screaming her head offl It was at this point that the object symbolically took on the great emotional significance which was primarily kindled by a deep-seated fear she had long harboured concerning the potential of an incestuous episode taking place involving Mr Bailey and their oldest daughter, Kathy.

This fear was not a product of fantasy, but a hardcore reality that tore at her from many sides. For Doug had already attempted “this unspeakable act” on a couple of occasions when he was drinking heavily. What’s more, her two eldest daughters who were still residing with him were receiving little, if any, meaningful guidance, and Kathy and Susan were also creating additional stress loads on Mrs Bailey because they were succumbing to a variety of teenage peer pressures.

In fact, the financial situation was so dire that even though Mrs Bailey deeply yearned to have all the children living with her, it really was totally impossible to make all the arrangements, primarily because of Doug’s obstinacy and lack of financial support. But Mrs Bailey’s seemingly monumental problems did not start in recent times – indeed, they were ongoing long before this she was married.


Some background on Mrs Bailey

Her childhood was a somewhat hurried affair – for she was the oldest of four siblings and was called upon to help out quite a bit at home (Mom and Dad were alcoholics). She attended parochial elementary and secondary schools and managed to obtain the equivalent of an academic high school diploma from a trade school. Her grades were average and she seemed to excel in writing short stories and poetry. She was, in every sense of the word, a truly reverent practitioner of her faith and still finds much strength in it; indeed the very strength that carried her through her impoverished youth and fifteen years of marital turmoil. For, in both instances she held firmly to the mistaken belief that things would work themselves out somehow.

At the age of twenty-one she married Doug, who had recently inherited a small business and then went on to lose it about eighteen months later as a direct result of his alcoholism. He then took on a job as a truck driver; and, needless to say, Mrs Bailey was forced to live with the constant fear that his drinking problem might cause a serious accident, cause him to be fired, jailed, or even kill someone.

As time went on, his addiction grew worse and it was not until it was too late that it dawned on Mrs Bailey that she had foolishly used her parents’ drinking habits to gauge his by. Obviously, they were all hopelessly hooked, but Doug’s problem had become far more serious and he was much more dependent upon her than they ever were. She consulted two priests about the ever-mounting problems. They patiently and sympathetically listened, but offered very little actual help. After several meetings, she came away from them with the growing feeling that they could not possibly understand what she was going through, “Being unmarried persons themselves”, just as she could not understand why they insisted on referring to the living hell she was enduring (her marriage) as a blessing, let alone something to be considered sacred.

Although her faith was still intact (for she did believe in God) the Church’s strict rules on divorce had become totally unacceptable to her. Something had to give, she thought. “Why should I die hard!” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” So, she began to look around for something a little more down-to-earth to believe in. But, she was not quite sure what that might be. She knew she wanted some affection, respect, understanding, appreciation, and someone she could depend upon just a little bit.

So she ventured into the world on her own for the very first time in her life, with the only things she had in her possession – five children, the clothes on her back, and an exceptionally high moral standard as her guide. She had grown completely weary of doing for others who did not appreciate it, and she refused to continue to wait patiently for some kind of reward for her years of doing without, while hoping and praying for a change for the better to develop miraculously in others. She realised that being tormented and unhappy was not in the scheme of a merciful Lord’s plan but, rather, something that man inflicted upon man or sometimes even inflicted upon himself. “God helps those who help themselves”; became her new motto and a developing self-confidence was established as her vanguard.

Content of a `dynamic display’ UFO experience

So, it appears that Mrs Baileys UFO observation was played out and experienced through “a dual process of perception” – the first being that of a sudden interruption of her consciousness by direct sensory stimuli (i.e., the observation of a fleeting UFO), and the second being that of a completely unconscious form of recognition and emotional response to the symbolic situational and confrontational dramatisation of her immediate anxieties and fears that was unfolding in front of her. Perhaps Mrs Bailey intuitively summed up her experience best when she wrote in her UFO poem “You came to me in motion, I do not know from where. If my memory serves me right, you just happened to be there”.

Mrs Bailey now expressed the thought that her existence was not mundane but rather exceptional and filled with new purpose (a sentiment often expressed by UFO observers). These remarks were not the kind of ‘ego-inflating’ statement that might signify the lifting of one’s mind from its hinges; but, rather, the kind which bolsters an already battered personality, defending it from more harm.

Indeed, hers were expressions of an extraordinarily soothing nature, which emerged in her mind in a rapid-fire form of cognition. In them she found refuge, strength, and hope. Was her UFO sighting the modern-day equivalent of a genuine religious experience? Her philosophical and “spiritual” transformation (or conversion) seems to be, at least in part, related to the event.

She found herself writing more poetry, sleeping and eating much better (gaining ten pounds in one month); most interestingly, a nightly skywatch (UFO surveillance) performed with binoculars borrowed from her brother became a family ritual for about three weeks (nothing unusual was observed during this time). Since then, her situation has improved – all of her children now live with her and she has met someone who is very special and she thinks that he feels the same way about her. She is thirty-nine years old at the time of this writing and has just started to really live.
Bailey case summary

It appears that we are left with four possibilities to consider regarding these enigmatic experiences; either the UFOs are seemingly weightless alien spacecraft or holographic transmissions (of unknown origin) that tend to behave like (or mimic) mental mechanics and human emotions. Or, perhaps they are “psychical projections” that can leave a trace on a photo negative and even return a radar echo, as Dr C.G. Jung mentioned many years ago. Or, they may represent something that is only perceived by people caught up in a synchronous psychical and physical state or situation. This is a problem that seems to challenge our concept of reality because it may illustrate that the observer and the phenomenon that he or she is observing are one. If true, one could hardly be ridiculed for thinking of such UFOs as modern-day signs in the skies.

Mrs Bailey's UFO poem:


A lonely single little gray
Not at all reflected
A moving night sky
And I, the selected.

No beauty of its own
No moon to chaperon
No cheers, no welcome
I, the audience alone.

No mystery, no illusion
No trick of the eye
Yet, in my wonderment
I did not ask why.
You came to me in motion

I do not know from where
If memory serves me right
You just happened to be there.

You were my childhood dream, come back
On the seventeenth of November
A dream I’d often dreamed
And now always will remember.

A child’s dream come true
But as real as real can be
Born of elements unknown
Somewhere in the galaxy.

And in all your elegance
You stood without a glow
But I’ll remember always
My little gray UFO.