Monday, March 14, 2005

Frank Scully's "Barilko" Moment

For Canadians, all roads lead to hockey.

Our musicians do not ask, as Simon & Garfunkel did metaphorically, “where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?” North of the 49th parallel, bands, in this case The Tragically Hip, write songs about the literal disappearance of hockey legend Bill Barilko, a Canadian combination of Buddy Holly (he died in a plane crash) and Bobby Thompson (Barilko scored “the goal” that, at least for Toronto Maple Leaf fans, was “heard” from coast to coast - for more info see

So, for a Canadian, NHL lockout or not, hockey has lessons that are applicable to just about anything… perhaps, some might suggest, even ufology. In hockey, you see, one of the key refrains, heard over and over again by commentators on Hockey Night in Canada, and from coaches (from pee wee hockey to the NHL), is that you should always shoot the puck on the net, because good things will happen eventually. Indeed, I’ve seen dozens of goals scored from the most unlikely of positions, simply because the puck took an odd bounce, or the goaltender misplayed the shot, or, perhaps, because the “hockey gods” smiled at just that moment.

So, can that lesson be extended to ufology? If you fire up enough theories, or put forward enough witnesses or cases (hello, exopolitics!), can some good come of it?

The proponents of such a theory need look no further than Frank Scully’s discredited book Behind the Flying Saucers. Scully took all sorts of shots, almost all of them missing the net (the Newton con sailed into the stands), or being easily stopped by the goaltender (the Mantell case). But at least one managed to “tickle the twine”, ie. find the back of the net.

Scully’s “Barilko” moment? The Farmington Armada.

On March 18, 1950, the following telegram was sent by Lincoln O’Brien, a New Mexico newspaper owner, to Ken Purdy, the editor of True Magazine, about an extraordinary event:


The sightings – which occurred over a period of three days - were reported extensively in the Farmington Times, as well as the Las Vegas (NM) Daily Optic, which ran the headline “'Space Ships’ Cause Sensation.”

Numerous witnesses came forward with their accounts. Clayton J. Boddy, the business manager of the Times, and a former Army Engineers captain who served in Italy, stated, “All of a sudden I noticed a few moving objects high in the sky. Moments later there appeared to be about 500 of them.” He estimated their height at 15,000 feet.

One of the most detailed accounts was that of Harold Thatcher, head of the Farmington unit of the Soil Conservation service. Thatcher made a rough triangulation on one of the objects. He concluded that if it had been a B-29 it would have been flying at about 20,000 feet and traveling more than 1,000 miles per hour. He emphatically denied the explanation offered by authorities that the objects were small pieces of cotton fuzz floating in the atmosphere. “It was not cotton,” he stated. “I saw several pieces of cotton fuzz floating in the air at the time, but I was not sighting on any cotton.”

This official explanation may even have been a cover-up. In a letter to George Popowitch of the Unidentified Flying Objects Research Committee, written on 17 October, 1960, O’Brien observed that the official explanation changed from the initial assessment by local law enforcement authorities. “You will note,” he wrote Popowitch, “that [a] state policeman testified to us about seeing them, and we quoted him, but that the next day he had reported in to state police headquarters in Santa Fe [and] he had changed his mind and decided it must have been flying cotton.”

Edward Brooks, a B-29 tail gunner in the Second World War, observed the afternoon wave. He was one of the first people to report a red-coloured lead object. Brooks, a man who had done a considerable bit of flying, was positive the objects were not airplanes. “The very maneuvering of the things couldn’t be that of modern aircraft,” he told reporters.

His observations were echoed by other Farmington residents. John Bloomfield, a co-worker of Brooks at a local garage, said the objects traveled at a speed that appeared, to him, to be about ten times faster than jet airplanes, and that the objects made frequent right angle turns. “They appeared to be coming at each other head-on,” he stated. “At the last second, one would veer at right angles upward, the other at right angles downward. One saucer would pass another and immediately the one to the rear would zoom to the lead.”

Bloomfield wasn’t the only person to claim that the objects were “saucer shaped.” Marlow Webb said the objects appeared to be about eight inches in diameter, as seen by the naked eye on the ground. “They flew sideways, on edge and at every conceivable angle,” he claimed. “This is what made it easy to determine that they were saucer-shaped. A few years later, in a February 26, 1960 letter to Michael A. Brantley, O’Brien wrote, “The unusual part about [the objects] was that they could go slowly or with great speed and that they could make in passage right angle turns rather than curved turns.”

In short, the Farmington Armada is one of the great unsolved sighting cases in ufological history. On this one, at least, Scully, who mentions the Farmington Armada in Behind the Flying Saucers, at pp. 21 to 25, and again, at pp. 180 -181, got it right.

But here’s the problem – unlike in hockey, where shots on the net will almost never do any harm, in ufology, the one goal is usually overshadowed by all of the misses. In Scully’s case, this is exactly what happened. Even though the Farmington Armada was a legitimate sighting, worthy of consideration and investigation, and for which no valid explanation has ever been offered, it was overshadowed by all of the misses, particularly the big miss – the Aztec con.

The problem remains today. The Aztec story has taken off yet again, while the Farmington Armada remains relegated to the ufological back-pages. Why? Because now, even more than in 1950, crashed flying saucer stories are “sexier” than simple “sightings.” They play into people’s belief that the government is engaged in a massive cover-up, what Stan Friedman has called “The Cosmic Watergate”, or Kevin Randle the “Conspiracy of Silence.” They allow "contactees" and “whistleblowers” to come forward with their wild stories. They allow Michael Salla and Steven Greer and their ilk to flourish, to the detriment of the serious study of the UFO phenomenon.

In short, as much as it pains me, as a Canadian, to admit it, hockey, at least in this instance, has nothing to teach ufology. Better to hold on to the puck until we have a clear shot at the net – the shooting percentage will go up, and ufology will be a lot closer to winning the game.

Paul Kimball


RRRGroup said...


A nicely configured analogy, which should spark interest in the "armada" sighting.

What you relate shows exactly how bogus material and tales get taken for true: hoaxers intersperse their made-up stories with true events or episodes, giving credence to the phony concoctions.

What is interesting about the Aztec saucer crash is the "credible" rendition of details: the buttons, the outfits, the number nine ratio to everything, the physiognomy of the aliens, et cetera.

It's a good tale, with a ring to it; not one that is truthful perhaps, but a well-constructed story, even better than Roswell.

And that's why it's being revisited as you state -- there's nothing like a crashed flying saucer, old or new, to get the attention of the rabble.

Rich Reynolds

Paul Kimball said...


In the case of Scully, he just cast a big net, in which he was bound to catch a fish or two.

Hmm... I liked my hockey analogy better.

Here's hoping the people currently so focused on Aztec switch their attention to the Farmington case. I wouldn't hold my breath, however. Sightings do not lead to book deals and conference bookings, it seems.