The Raefield Affair

Matt Graeber
Magonia 82, August 2003

In Magonia 78 Matt Graeber discussed a `down-to-earth’ variety of UFO experience that he called `a dynamic display’. Graeber believes that such displays are “unique symbolic dramatisations” of the observer’s personal life status at the time of their UFO encounter; and that the UFO event seems to reflect both the ‘situational’ and `confrontational’ character of the witness’s problems. In this case study he takes another look at a dynamic display (or UFO ‘self perception) that took place on a busy highway in broad daylight.

This report comes to us from a 29-year-old man whom we shall call Mr Raefield. On the misty morning of August 26, 1976, near Chester, Pennsylvania, he encountered four discoid UFOs which somehow managed to knock out his CB radio set and foul up his automobile’s performance. Here, transcribed word-for-word, is his account:

“Time – 0637 (hours) – While driving to work, north on 1-95, 1 observed four disk-shaped objects, three ahead and to my left, and one ahead to my right. All the objects were about 100 yards above any existing or man-made structures. The objects seemed to be approximately 300 yards ahead of me.

“I had my CB in may car and was transmitting at the time of sighting, my transmission was as follows: `Breaker 19 for a southbound on 95. Oh my God! There’s three bogies over houses around Highland Avenue!’ Someone replies, `Breaker 19, I see them bogies!’

“At that instant my radio went dead, not off, just dead! I am very certain that what I saw was real, not a reflection of gas [vapours] of any kind. I knew what I saw was not any type of aircraft that I have ever seen before. I’ve worked for an airline for nearly nine years. The objects were close enough that they did not look distorted. I estimate that they were about the size of a single-engine aircraft – like a Piper cub, about 19 feet long. No noise was apparent. A pale yellowish-white colour emanated from all the UFOs. Also, as they left, a very pale green colour was around the middle of the entire craft from the direction I was coming.”

The duration of the complete sighting was estimated to be about 45 seconds.

A Misidentification?

The investigative report’s findings indicate that we have several very good reasons to suspect that birds (probably gulls or terns) were actually the objects that Raefield observed. However, we also know that this witness has some practical experience at observing aircraft on a daily basis and because of his reliable and intelligent character it is difficult to imagine how he could have been so far off -base and to have mistaken terns, or even the larger gulls in flight to be comparable in size to a Piper aircraft. Additionally, even with this fluke of optics explained, there still remains the question of how asighting of birds could cause a C8-radio to malfunction, and radically affect the relatively new car’s otherwise good performance.

As you probably know, the misidentification of birds is a very common source of UFO reports. In fact one of the most widely publicised cases involving such an event took place in Lubbock, Texas, on the night of 25 August 1951. At that time a group of observers, including several scientists, witnesses many faintly luminous objects silently traversing the sky at an estimated 50,000 feet. Regrettably someone even went so far as to help the story along by producing bogus photos of what was reported. Fortunately, the photos were of such poor quality that the matter was finally brought into proper perspective, after being blown out of proportion by an overzealous, and for the most part unsuspecting, press.

The sky phantoms that flew over Lubbock on that night were said to have been high-flying plover (wingspan approximately one foot) which were dimly illuminated on their feathery undersides by streetlights.

In the files of UFORIC (the Philadelphia-based UFO Report and Information Center) there is an account of a spectacular daylight sighting of many luminous spheres, made with the aid of a rooftop telescope at the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia. This sighting caused quite a stir amongst several in-house technicians and 62 tourists who signed their names to a witness list of the event. Interestingly, what they actually had observed were ‘blurred images of gulls (described as fleeting ping-pong balls in the reports) which were observed sweeping across the lens of the telescope which was pre-set to search the early morning skies for the planet Mercury.

In addition to this type of misidentification, the noted UFO sceptic Donald Menzel described a distraught witness in New England who had mistakenly reported a flock of gulls for an enemy parachute invasion just three days after the Pearl Harbor attack.

So, one can easily account for the tremendously inaccurate estimates of the UFO’s size in some reports simply because of the effects of various atmospheric conditions existing at the time of the event, the separating powers of the human eye at the distance, and the effects of subjective emotional and/or anxiety-laden tensions and fears which may adversely affect one’s judgement considerably. In our witness’s case the assumed size of the UFOs to that of a Piper aircraft does, of course, automatically provoke the piloted though, and in addition to that other visual clues such as the UFOs’ seemingly fixed sky positioning, came across as being an example of a rather well-disciplined flying formation to Mr Raefield. However, a closer examination of the event illustrates that all of the above may have been little more than a chain of mistaken assumptions which, curiouslv, tended to verify and reinforce each other. The problem is that we seldom bother to verify what we have seen with our own eyes; and of course one does not have the opportunity to replay a UFO experience for critical evaluation.
Witness sincerity

But, since out witness’s sincerity in filing the report is beyond question and because it is the very ‘stuff of so many other UFO reports, we must consider the fact that the mere sight of these strange objects must have been a tremendous psychological shock for Mr Raefield. In fact, we might even go so far as to suspect that in such a state (observing and rapidly approaching four alien craft) he was probably experiencing the event emotionally and physiologically as well.

Perhaps he was sweating, nervous, stammering and experiences a momentarily loss of control over his car (i.e. it is suspected that Mr Raefield’s auto drifted onto the roadside shoulder during the UFO experience, simply because his attention was fixed on the UFOs and not the highway). Therefore the abrupt and acutely rough ‘feel’ of the shoulder’s texture which was transmitred through the steering column caused him to assume mistakenly that the engine was malfunctioning.

Additionally, he was aware of the fact that quite a number of well-publicised UFO accounts inform us that UFOs are alleged to have the capability to knock out and adversely affect an impressive array of terrestrial apparatus and instrumentation. But it could also be that he had in confusion turned off the switch of the CB set during the sudden event. Such ‘all too human’ happenings are not uncommon when an individual is under great emotional stress or when one perceives a direct threat to ones safety.

If fact such things can even happen when the tasks required of an individual so affected are supposedly very simple, and indeed often ‘second nature’. An example of this might be a lady who cannot fasten the clasp of her necklace no matter how hard she tries, simply because her dinner guests have arrived fifteen minutes early, and have completely upset her plans.

On such occasions the problem might reach such proportions that she might call for her husband’s assistance, whilst claiming that the clasp must be broken. In so doing she has shifted the cause of her emotional state, its accompanying nervousness and her diminished dexterity, to an alleged fault in the necklace. It seems reasonable to suspect that our witness may have done the same thing – for he informed investigators that the car and CB radio performed very well just before and immediately after his UFO encounter.

With such considerations behind our efforts, we must now attempt to take a more penetrating look at Mr Rae6eld’s psychological make-up before, after, and especially during the event, for our probe of the sighting particulars and the search for physical evidence to establish the fact he alleged (observing an extraterrestrial visitation) certainly appears to have been so reduced that only a ‘subjective’ psychological occurrence of a marked character could account for the report’s emergence. In other words, our witness may have been primed (or ‘set’) to see four gulls in a certain way.

The Raefield Interview

When my wife Grace, and I interviewed him, we found that he was a very interesting and intelligent person – he was sincere and did not come across as the type of person who would intentionally exaggerate his experience. He worked two jobs, liked to read novels and some science fiction, but most of all he enjoyed technical publications on photography, which is his hobby. He was fond of art, and we noticed two postersized prints hanging on his apartment walls. One was a more-or-less religiously-toned rendition of hands (similar to Albrecht Durer’s Praying Hands); while the other was an interesting abstract work in pale yellows, soft greys and greens.

His manner of dress was casual and his apartment was definitely batcheloresque (i.e. lacking feminine touches such as fancy curtains, etc) although it was quite orderly. Oh yes, one small room in particular caught our eye, for it was obviously over-furnished – by that I mean to say that he had a stereo, TV, and table, and an extra-wide reclining lounger crammed into it. This, he explained, was his favourite niche, the place where he and his girlfriend spent peaceful moments together.

As the interview continued, Mr Raefield informed us of his recent ‘marital difficulties’, and this new light, when shed upon case particulars which were already gathered, seemed to bring several things into focus, which led to the following commentary of the Raefield case

Tentative findings: possible psychological factors involved in the UFO report.

This report indicates that the observer is travelling to work, when suddenly, on the highway ahead of him he notices four flying saucers; three of them are situated on his left side, and the fourth disc on his right. The latter, although identical to the others in design appears to be rather smaller, or perhaps more distantly positioned. In this instance, the objects on the left side of the roadway may be interpreted as a triadic subconscious assemblage (or symbols) that were projected upon Mr Raefield’s faulty observation of the gulls.

So, on an unconscious level, these misidentified gulls may represent his family (an estranged wife and two children). While the fourth object, on the right, though appearing to be somewhat small or more remote, nevertheless has the potential of being of the same significance to him by virtue of its exact likeness to the other UFOs. I suspect this symbol is a symbolic representation of his new love and the developing relationship with her. If so, these dynamically-charged symbols indicate that the observer is heading towards the fourth UFO which has its own uniqueness, in that it is situated on his side of the road, which loosely translates as “on his side” in his difficulties.

It is interesting to note that the three objects on the left side of the highway are a potential threat to his progression in reaching his destination, which lies in the direction of the smaller object. For, at any moment, they could intercept him simply by crossing over the central reservation of the highway, to ‘cut him off at the pass’ so to speak. Instead our observer pulls his car off the road (after experiencing some sort of engine and CB malfunction) to take a better look at these fantastic objects; and just as suddenly as they appeared, with an unusual ‘jerky motion’ they ‘blink out’ simultaneously. (both the jerky motion and the blink-out effect are extraordinarily common descriptions of UFO behaviour).

Raefield then looks about quickly for the fourth object, only to discover that that too, has vanished. He ponders his UFO experience, in light of the difficulties with his car, the other motorist’s transmitted message, and the CB’s sudden failure. It seem that much has happened in such a short time, and his mind is still reeling at the marvel of seeing alien craft.

If we take a closer look at the general appearance of these objects (as illustrated by the witness) we have little difficulty in understanding how an early morning observation made through mist might have distorted the appearance of soaring waterfowl which are frequently seen flying about the roadway, due to its close proximity to the Delaware River:
This seems to be more than a reasonable suspicion for, as you might suspect, the combination of the car’s motion and the birds’ gliding flight could easily produce the hovering appearance of the UFOs – in addition to this, the atmospheric conditions at the time of the sighting may also have contributed to the illusion by acting as a sort of prism through which the misty morning’s light reflected off the birds’ white feathers and created the interesting UFO coloration reported (soft greens, whites, and pale yellows). The downward slant of the UFOs’ protrusions situated on the ends of the craft also points towards this avian speculation since gulls in flight often assume pronounced downward slanted wing attitudes when gliding along, hanging on the thermals.

As the reader can see, a curious thing has happened here, for the dynamics of an actual physical event (the UFO/bird sighting) have precisely mirrored the psychodynamics of an unconscious psychical complex affecting the observer (i.e., his immediate marital problems). So, in a strange way, the witness was actually observing and experiencing a real world happening and his inner world’s tensions and fears on display. This unusual mix of perception and projection is then a kind of `subjective dramatisation’.

In this case, it seems reasonable to suspect that the impact of perceiving such a vivid ‘dynamic display’ as we’ve come to call such UFO experiences, would transform the birds into what fits Mr Raefield’s, and the world’s view of the great expectation of our times (i.e.; contact with a highly advanced extraterrestrial civilisation) especially since so few positive visual clues as to the birds true identity were available to his conscious powers of perception in the first place.

If so, then the fact that a second (albeit unidentified) motorist who also saw the bogies in the sky does not in the least bit threaten or destroy our psychological estimate of the situation. For, swely, that individual would have had similar difficulties in recognising what he was looking at through the early morning haze. Unfortunately that motorist did not file a report with the UFORIC, local police authorities of the International Airport, which is located several miles from the sighting area.

Summary on the Raefield UFO encounter

It seems to be apparent that our observer’s personal problems may have been directly projected on a faulty UFO observation – but we cannot, in good conscience dismiss the fact that this synchronous interplay of both internal and extemal elements was caused by an actual physical event, as well as being a coincidence, for we know that the witness was ‘psychically set’ to be looking for an answer to his problems, as well as fearing to run headlong into them, even though he may have been completely unconscious of the fact at the time of his encounter.

Thus, we have discussed how the symbolic contents which were buried in the human psyche can be catapulted into the field of consciousness during a UFO encounter, through the mechanism of a visually-triggered process of self-perception and emotional responsiveness.

But beyond our seemingly in-depth analysis of this UFO encounter, we must also ponder the fact that the investigators of this case cannot categorically prove that Mr Raefield’s experience was triggered by a faulty observation of gulls on the wing. In fact he has never accepted this prosaic explanation, and insists that he accurately reported on the size, configuration and coloration of the four strange craft he observed above the highway.

In light of this impasse, and because of similar statements voiced by others who had similar UFO experiences. I had to consider the possibilities that either the observers were simply reluctant to accept the idea that they had made an honest mistake about what they had seen with their own eyes; or, that I had completely failed to present them with a convincing explanation to what may have actually happened to them.

The problem is that the unsuspecting UFO observers seldom have the opportunity to closely scrutinise the sudden, shocking, and fleeting objects that come upon them. And because the highly emotional experience is theirs (not the researchers), one should not under estimate it’s subjective uniqueness and psychological value to them. For, if a Dynamic Display-type UFO experience is a visuallytriggered ‘self-regulating’ function of the human psyche, one should not attempt to extinguish its potentially beneficial affect upon the experiencers by reducing it to a mere optical fluke of some sort.

Could it be that some UFOs are from outer space, while still others hail from the depths of man’s innerspace; that is, his unconscious mind? Perhaps UFO reports like Mr. Raefield’s offer us a brief glimpse at both the physical and psychical components of the UFO experience and, in so doing, brings us a bit closer to understanding this enigmatic phenomenon? It seems reasonable to suspect that this may be the case, and that by including investigative inquiries along these lines to those currently employed by researchers, we may both enhance our skills and expand our knowledge on the UFOs as well as those who observe them.