A Tale of Two UFOs (a One-Shot Story)

By Dave Powell

If you’d like to have some fun, go to a photo exhibit when the photographer is there. Find an image that intrigues or puzzles you, and ask if they can tell you more about its context. Was anything of potential interest occurring outside the image frame when they triggered the shutter? Or did a wider context of events occur over days, months or even years before or after the shot?

You may get a blank look. Or you might hear a book. If I’d been exhibiting the above terrible fake photo, you’d get a book.

Frustrated by Flying Saucers

I’ve always wanted to see a UFO, and never have. But I’ve never wanted to experience other “paranormal” events… and have “enjoyed” a continuous stream of them over my life. (There must be a reason, but I’m still trying to figure it out.)

So along came the 1960s, and a wave of “flying saucer” sightings hit Columbus, Ohio. One sunny summer afternoon, mom’s sister Florence called to breathlessly report that “a brilliant white saucer” was “streaking across the sky.” My brother, sisters and I ran outside to look, and the only thing we saw was an unusually bright planet Venus “flying” above wind-blown clouds.

I waited 15 minutes, called Florence back, and asked if “the thing was still streaking along up there.” She said yes… and yet another UFO had escaped my clutches. I’d already debunked a more-convincing nighttime saucer, which seemed to hover and rotate above the orchard behind our house. But binoculars revealed that it was the internally illuminated Goodyear blimp… with advertising text scrolling across its belly.

The Next Best Thing

I decided that the next best thing to seeing a flying saucer would be to fake a photo of one! Double exposures were easy with my Kodak Duaflex, and I:

  • Spread mom’s black felt dress on the living room floor,
  • Inverted an aluminum fruit bowl on it (tilted at a jaunty angle like a saucer in flight),
  • Lit the bowl with a flood lamp,
  • and took a first exposure with the bowl in the upper-right quadrant.

Then, I:

  • Took the tripod-mounted camera outside,
  • Positioned it at the foot of our driveway,
  • Framed the road to put passing cars just where I wanted them,
  • and when one streaked by, snapped the second exposure on top of the first.

Thus was born my truly awful photo of a saucer chasing a car down Bethel Road. I was SO (ahem) proud!

But where’s the second UFO promised in this article’s title? That’s where the image’s “wider context” enters the picture. For though I wouldn’t know it for another couple decades, an absolutely real saucer may have been hovering in a secret hangar, behind the photo’s distant tree line, when I shot the car. Or if it wasn’t there then, it soon would be.

A Great Debate

During that 1960s saucer wave, I had three friends (that I knew of) in high school: Steve, Pat and Ted. If any mischief occurred in the school’s science lab, our teacher Mr. Sheerer knew at least one of us was probably to blame. (He certainly regretted showing us how to make contact explosives!)

As much as possible, he loved bringing current events into our classes. When Life magazine published its memorable October ‘63 issue about the “discovery” of DNA, it became our textbook. And when flying saucers seemed to invade Ohio skies, Mr. Sheerer encouraged our lively debates of their scientific merits. Steve and I often ended up shouting at each other from opposing entrenched positions:

  • Steve (who planned to become an aeronautical engineer) insisted that the things couldn’t exist. They didn’t have wings or obvious engines, and their incredible observed speeds and maneuvers “would liquefy their occupants.” He was technically correct, but I wouldn’t admit it.
  • I believed (with equal certainty, but less proof) that his point would be moot if the saucers “created their own private gravity bubbles.” These would insulate the vehicles so well from inertial G-forces that their occupants “would feel no motion at all… regardless of how wildly they managed to zip around our skies.”

Steve and I frequently repeated our arguments, but he remained rabidly unconvinced.

The Saucer Beyond the Trees

I’ve only attended my 20th and 30th high-school reunions. Both were memorable. But the instant I entered the door at our 20th, Steve practically knocked me down in his rush to reach me. He knew I’d understand his six shouted words:

“Dave, Dave, Dave… You… Were… RIGHT!

He had indeed prepared for a career in aeronautical engineering at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. With some 60,000 students, it was a small city. And though it’s not visible in the opening image, Don Scott Field (OSU’s airport and aeronautical-engineering lab) was just beyond my photo’s distant tree line.

Beginning in 1966, Steve spent a lot of time in Don Scott’s library, hallways and labs. One of its doors– labeled “Authorized Personnel Only”— had always been locked, until one day, when it was slightly ajar. Noticing “an unusual hum and glow” coming from its room, he poked his head through the door, and his knees buckled.

Hovering around 10 feet above the floor was (in his still-excited words) “an effing real flying saucer about 30 feet in diameter.” The room was one of Don Scott’s hangars, and Steve wondered whether the facility’s relative proximity to Wright Patterson Field (home of Project Blue Book) had anything to do with what he was seeing. Naturally, he made himself scarce before anyone spotted him.

Stories Beyond the Frame

So, incredibly, at or near the time I was faking my saucer photo, our family may have lived just across a corn field (and its distant tree line) from a real one. And it was truly ironic that Steve was the person to tell me about it! Sadly, I never had a chance to ask further questions about what he saw. Cancer took him two years after our reunion.

But if I attend a photo exhibit where the photographer is present, I try to find an interesting image and ask if any hidden stories lurk within or beyond its frame. One never knows what one might learn!

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

A little note from Hamish: If any other current contributors to the 35mmc would like to submit a post like this, then feel free. I will share these on Wednesday afternoons to begin with, more if they get popular.

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About The Author

By Dave Powell
Trained in mathematics, physics, cosmology, computer programming and science journalism. Retired mathematician, award-winning technical and journalistic writer. 1989 winner of the Bruce B. Howat Award-- an international business-journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. (Only one Howat was awarded each year, IF the committee in Geneva found an article they really liked. But I don't think the prize is granted anymore.) Also a past author and editorial advisor for Sesame Street... where I regularly worked with Jim Henson and Kermit!
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Murray Leshner on A Tale of Two UFOs (a One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 25/05/2023

***** (5 stars, not a redacted word)

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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 25/05/2023

Thanks Murray... No secrets revealed!


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Stefan Wilde on A Tale of Two UFOs (a One-Shot Story)

Comment posted: 25/05/2023

Hi Dave,

My late uncle, who has been in the aircraft industry all his life told me that building a flying saucer and getting it airborne wasn't all that difficult. The basic idea is to stack two saucers on top of each other upside down and have an air intake and engine in the center of the top saucer pressing air in between the two saucers. That way you can create the lift, but once the contraption is off the ground, it is practically impossible to control. My uncle told me that they had experimented with the idea a little and that it had been fun but useless... Maybe your friend saw something like that?

Thanks for sharing the story and your double exposure from way back when!


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Dave Powell replied:

Comment posted: 25/05/2023

Hi Stefan, Your uncle was no doubt describing Canada's late-1950s "Avrocar" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Canada_VZ-9_Avrocar). The "car" in its name was appropriate, since it couldn't reach altitudes greater than a couple feet. This fascinating video about its history-- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFoSYntvFVk-- confirms what he told you about the design's instability. It also shows that there may indeed be many ways to build something that LOOKS like a flying saucer, but getting the result "to altitude" (and to perform the incredible maneuvers of "real" UFOs) is anything but easy. (It might actually be easier to reverse-engineer a real alien vehicle!) Paradoxically, modern hoverboat designers solved the Avrocar's stability problems by putting inflatable balloon skirts below their vehicles. The skirts corral fans' downward thrust and keep it from dispersing uncontrollably. But hoverboats still cannot rise much beyond the height of their skirts... and additional fans are needed to push them around. Compared to that, my friend Steve claimed the thing he saw was about 10 feet off the ground, and the noise from turbofans capable of doing that would have been much greater than the "hum" that he reported! It's also not inconceivable that a real "saucer" might have been at Don Scott, because artifacts from the infamous Roswell crash ended up at nearby Wright Field. And my father-- a former metallurgist at Columbus's Battelle Memorial Institute-- may well have helped to reverse-engineer one of them... a material called "memory foil." I'll say more about that in a piece I'm working on titled "Dad's UFO." But as a bottom line, many of us may enjoy the fruits of his group's efforts each day without even knowing it! In his 1997 book “The Day After Roswell,” Army Colonel Philip J. Corso (Ret.) described how he ran Pentagon efforts to distribute Roswell artifacts to universities and private research labs for reverse-engineering and potential commercialization. (Non-government recipients were prioritized because they would not be subject to information requests such as FOIA.) At the time, dad's Battelle group had the best equipment and expertise in the country for reverse engineering the memory foil. And similarly, OSU's aeronautical labs at Don Scott may have been among the best in the Wright-Pat area. However, if a real saucer was indeed at Don Scott Field, I doubt that it remained there long! Thanks for the info Stefan. As you see, I had fun researching it. And I'm glad you also liked the photo!


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