Project Blue Book Episode 3 Review: The Lubbock Lights

Project Blue Book gets one of its most puzzling cases while the show continues to slide into mythological UFO conspiracy.

This Project Blue Book review contains spoilers.

Project Blue Book Episode 3

The latest episode of Project Blue Book centers around the mysterious case of the Lubbock Lights. Hundreds of local witnesses in Texas spotted strange lights in the sky, including scientists. The show preserves many of the salient aspects of this real-life UFO event, but there was a hard turn into make-believe land that is continuing to propel the show into conspiracy and intrigue. The show is venturing pretty deep into La-La land, which is entertaining, but I hope the facts don’t get too lost in a sea of conspiracy. Then again, that is what I’m here for.

The episode begins with a young man in a control tower flirting with a girl over the phone when suddenly he captures something strange on the radar. Soon, he spots a V-shaped row of lights shooting by. I love the CG effects and dramatization of the sightings, it adds to the mystery and the idea that something is going on that is hard to explain.

The next scene is an interview with UFO author Donald Keyhoe. Keyhoe was a real-life UFO researcher, and this scene mimics a popular video that can be found online of Mike Wallace interviewing Keyhoe. On the show, the interviewer is not identified, but they discuss flying saucers and the Air Force coverup, including Roswell. After the filming, Keyhoe is approached by a man who wants to let him in on the phenomena witnessed in Lubbock, Texas, the town he is from. Keyhoe eventually gives him time and agrees to look into the sighting. As the two men talk, it is revealed they are being watched, and their stalker is taking pictures.

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It turns out the photographer works for the Air Force guys who are pulling strings behind Project Blue Book, Captain Quinn’s superiors, General Hugh Valentine (Michael Harney) and General James Harding (Neal McDonough). They decide Keyhoe is a threat, so they have him brought in and have him roughed up a bit. Keyhoe tells them their intimidation will not work on him, so they shove a gun in his face. We do not see him again after that, but Valentine and Harding receive a visit from a plainclothes man who appears to be their superior. 

Harding and Valentine have been warned that criminality is not acceptable, and if they continue breaking the law, the president will get informed of their secrets. But we are left wondering if the message was understood and if Harding will continue to go to extreme lengths to accomplish his goal. We did learn at the end of the second episode that Harding views himself as a protector of the people. His duties, managing the secret behind the flying saucers, justify his actions in his mind.

Back in Texas, Hynek and Quinn are dispatched to Lubbock to figure out what is going on. They visit a University to gather witnesses. Quinn gets sidetracked flirting with a college girl, and then they walk into a room to talk to witnesses. The place is full, and Quinn assumes these are mostly students trying to get out of class. He tells those people to scram, but no one leaves. Hynek takes over and asks everyone who has seen the lights to raise their hands. They all raise their hands.

Hynek has filled the chalkboard with notes on the sightings, and once everyone is gone, he explains how he has ruled out any conventional explanation for the lights he can think of. That is when a professor enters and tells them he needs the room for his class. Hynek and Quinn protest, but the professor claims to have solved their case anyway. He pulls out a picture of the lights that look just like what everyone has described. However, he tells them he has figured out they are birds called Plovers that have been illuminated by the recently installed streetlights in town.

read more: Project Blue Book Actor Caught the UFO “Bug”

Skeptical of the bird answer, Hynek talks Quinn into going to town and watching for UFOs. In town, the local townsfolk get in a tizzy over strangers looking around. Locals seem to get in a tizzy often in this show. The locals tell Hynek and Quinn they already had a visit from other men who were looking into the lights. After sharing a WTF glance at one another, Hynek and Quinn then seek a more secluded location to look for the UFOs.

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Now in a field, the two chit chat and admire the stars sans UFOs. Hynek senses Quinn would like to find the girl he was flaring with earlier, so they decide to leave. Hynek chooses to take one last look while Quinn starts the car. Suddenly, the lights and the radio in the car start going in and out. Then Quinn appears to be captured by an electrical field. They had seen this happen to a witness to the lights in the hospital. Hynek runs to help Quinn, who mutters for Hynek not to touch the car. As Hynek tries to open the door, he receives an electrical shock that throws him to the ground. Hynek gets up again and then sees the V-shaped lights in the sky. He watches them, and as they get further away, the car returns to normal. Quinn gets out of the car in time to see the lights in the distance.

Quinn actually agrees with Hynek that this experience confirms there is something more to the Lubbock Lights than reflecting Plover bellies. They two then visit Harding and Valentine, but Harding explains that what everyone had been seeing was a Top Secret v-shaped aircraft. To keep the aircraft secret, they are ordered to tell the public the Lubbock Lights were birds. Hynek protests, but is essentially told to quit his bitchin’.

There is more intrigue with Mimi, who continues to spend time with Susie, the Russian spy. Another mystery man is also seen keeping an eye on Mimi for unknown reasons. Mimi also ends up buying an Atom Bomb shelter. The shelter serves not only as a device to give insight into the concerns people had in that era, but to also highlight that Mimi is feeling alone and a bit frightened being alone with Hynek gone so often. A feeling she expresses to him when he gets home.

The Project Blue Book Files

Now to the real-life case of the Lubbock Lights. The Lubbock Lights sightings took place mostly in August and September of 1951. The case was so baffling that Project Blue Book Chief Edward Ruppelt personally investigated them. Ruppelt also included an entire chapter to this investigation in his book The Report on Flying Saucers. It can be read in its entirety online

Simply put, there were three major components: objects caught on radar, strange lights/objects observed by hundreds – often several times in one day, and one outlier report by a woman and her daughter who claim to have seen a pear-shaped metallic object flying around.

The radar report came from Larson Air Force Base on August 26th of an object observed on the radar for six minutes traveling at 900 miles per hour.

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“Object was on a course of 340 deg with only slight deviations enroute (sic),” the Project Blue Book Report states. “[Altitude] 13,000 ft but accuracy of measurement questionable due to brief length time the object was detected. F-86 scrambled but radar contact with the object was lost before a/c were airborne (sic).”

Ruppelt says the submitter was curt and wanted him to know they absolutely ruled out weather interference. As Ruppelt covers in his book, Project Blue Book at this point was known for explaining away cases. Sure enough, the Advanced Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) still claimed the readings were likely weather interference. Ugh.

However, Project Blue Book closed the report of the pear-shaped object by the two women as “unidentified.” This was the designation for cases in which they really had no explanation and generally indicates the Air Force found the witnesses credible. In this case, the two women say they were driving in Matador, Texas, about 80 miles northwest of Lubbock, when they spotted a pear-shaped metal object “drifting” about 150 feet off the ground. It was August 31, just before 1 pm. They estimated the object to be 40 feet long and 16 feet in diameter. They watched it for a short period. Then it accelerated up into the sky to the east. It was out of view in a few seconds.

The latter incident was much different than the bulk of the sightings. Most sightings were of groups of bright lights zipping through the night sky. They were not always in a v-formation, most often they were grouped randomly. On the evening of August 25th, a young Lubbock resident waiting up to see the lights everyone was talking about was kept an eye on the night sky. He saw the lights and rushed outside with his camera, but the lights were gone.Fortunately, they returned, and he snapped a couple of pictures. The objects then came back again, and he got a few more shots. The photos made it into the local newspaper, and it is one of these images, or a reproduction of it, that Historyused in the Lubbock Lights Project Blue Book episode. The lights in the show also looked just like the v-formation in the images.

read more: Aliens in America: A History of UFO Storytelling

There was one particular group of witnesses Ruppelt especially appreciated, a group of professors from Texas Technical College. One evening four professor of various disciplines were sitting around outside drinking tea when they saw the lights several times. Their sightings triggered an investigation by them and other colleagues who were interested in the mystery or were witnesses themselves.

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They were able to discover the lights flew north to south, and they appeared at about 45 degrees off the northern horizon and disappeared at about 45 degrees off the southern horizon. This calculation could give them an estimate of the speed of the objects, but they could not determine how far the objects were or how large. The group never did figure out the secret of the mystery.

Another witness claimed to have more luck. He said he discovered they were Plovers. He said he saw the lights and admittedly got excited but then was able to determine they were indeed just Plovers reflecting light from the town. However, Ruppelt did not believe Plovers could explain the entire phenomenon. One reason being Plovers only fly in pairs or small groups, not large groups like in the photos or the large groups of lights witnesses reported. Another was that two of the Lubbock Lights encounters were during the day, and in both cases, the witnesses reported seeing a silent flying wing craft fly above them with rows of lights along the wings, which would appear as V-shaped lights viewed at night. Ruppelt’s investigation showed it was highly unlikely these were human-made craft.

In his book, Ruppelt said the case was baffling, and he could not come up with an answer. However, he says an anonymous scientist did. Ruppelt says he promised not to divulge the identity of this scientist, and in sharing how the scientist made the discovery and what the revelation was he would be exposing the scientist’s identity, so he can not say. Talk about a letdown.

Further, just like in the show, the Air Force decided to close the case with the Plover explanation. The real Lubbock Lights case did not include effects to vehicles, like in the program. However, UFO witnesses have reported this sort of thing before. One of the most baffling was a case in November 2009 in which a witness’ car stopped during a sighting of a cigar-shaped object above his head. After the encounter, investigators discovered the car was emitting an unusually strong magnetic field. They guy was so freaked out by it he sold the car.

Ruppelt’s book leaves one with the impression that the Air Force was as baffled by these cases as everyone else. In History’s Project Blue Book, as in UFO mythology, the Air Force knows much more than it is sharing. The later makes for a more exciting program, but alas, the prior seems more plausible. Unfortunately, we may never know what the Air Force really knows about UFOs, but in History’s Project Blue Book universe new revelations come weekly.

I look forward to new revelations on either front.

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4 out of 5