• First Night Color UFO Picture: Alan Smith 1965

    Note: This blog is a rebuttal to a guy named James (not his real name), who believes the first night color UFO picture by 14 year old Alan Smith in 1965 was not a picture of a UFO. Rather, James believes it was something called a Christmas tree color wheel used to illuminate aluminum Christmas trees at the time. To James’ credit, the UFO image does resemble the Christmas color wheel, but for reasons I will show you, I believe Alan Smith’s UFO picture holds up to the scrutiny with flying colors. (Please forgive the stupid pun!). If you are unfamiliar with Alan Smith’s UFO picture story, you might want to review the articles noted below before you read further. However, I quote so much from the articles that you can probably piece together the facts without reading the articles…

    The story begins:

    The following are some extensive thoughts and study on Alan Smith’s night time color UFO photo.  Please note the following articles for source material:

    (1) The original Oct. 5th, 1965 article from The Oklahoma Journal that broke Alan’s story:

    (2) The 20th anniversary Tulsa World Article dated Aug. 4th, 1985. I recently made a copy of article from the microfiche at Tulsa library close to where I live.

    (3) Dec. 1985 MUFON UFO JOURNAL: “First Night Color UFO Picture”

    It must be pointed out that Alan’s photo was subjected to a lot of professional photographic analysis. First, by “experienced, highly skilled professional photographers” Cliff King and John Gumm chief photographer for The Oklahoma Journal. “Gumm has served around the world and is known as an expert in his field.” The photographers “shot color pictures of airplanes, stars, etc. in an effort to duplicate the image in some way.” “Mr. King shot another roll of the same type color film, in the same camera, standing in Alan Smith’s backyard at approximately the same time of night. This was done to eliminate the possibility that Alan’s camera had a flaw in it or a light reflection was being bounced off of some earthly object. All tests proved fruitless. The airplane picture looks like airplane lights. The color negatives shot by Cliff King turned up with no image or reflection. There was no flaw in the camera that could be detected by the Oklahoma Journal photographers. The image on the negative is real, he concluded.” “In addition to their own photo analysis, The Oklahoma Journal submitted the one Kodacolor negative, an 8” X 10” color print and the news article from The Oklahoma Journal dated October 5, 1965 to Major Hector Quintanilla, Jr. TDEN/UFO. As head of Project Blue Book, Major Quintilla assigned the project to the U.S.A.F. Photo Processing (DPP) Divisions. In their Photo Analysis Report Number 66-21 dated 9 June 1966, they noted measurement discrepancies in the image size and thus the calculations previously performed by John Gumm and Cliff King. ‘Based upon the information furnished we can neither confirm or deny the identification of an unidentified flying object’ is quoted directly from the report to Project Blue Book. A closing comment was made that suggested an alternative object in the photograph - ‘photo processing personnel noted that the image bears a resemblance, although doesn’t appear identical, to the effect they have observed obtained by photographing a multi-colored revolving filter flood light of the type used to illuminate and color aluminum trees during the Christmas season.”

    You point out James, that you believe “The image produced by an object the size of his naked eye description would not be visible to the naked eye on the negative.” However, it doesn’t appear either of the professional photographic analyses mentioned a problem with Alan’s object appearing naked eye on the negative. The Journal photographers even tested Alan’s camera with another roll of the same film by shooting different night time objects.

    Let’s look closer at what Alan actually said relative to seeing something on the negative and the sequence of events concerning processing the negative.  The Tulsa World article states, “But when the film came back from a processor about two weeks later, there were no prints. ‘I was kinda disappointed… so much for that.’ But his father, A. L. Smith, asked if he’d examined the negatives. Alan hadn’t. When he did, he noticed a small speck in a corner of the negative. He had it enlarged and printed.”

    We can see from the statements that the first processing didn’t print Alan’s object. It took his dad pointing out the possibility that the negative wasn’t printed. When Alan looked again, he saw “a small speck in a corner of the negative”. Then Alan sent the negative to the processor a second time to have it “enlarged and printed”.

    The sequence of events clearly shows that, as you noted in your own experience, the processor didn’t print the negative the first time. Alan sent the negative a second time to the processor.

    Now to the point of seeing the object naked eye on the negative. Alan said he saw “a small speck” on the negative. So the question becomes, was the object big and bright enough to produce “a small speck” large enough to see naked eye on the negative? I did a little digging to find a relevant equation that might shed some light on the apparent size of the object in the sky. How big, in comparison to the apparent size of the sun, was Alan’s object? The operative word in the argument is “apparent” size.  The sun’s apparent size in the sky is about 1/2 degrees. “The width of your thumb, seen at arm’s length, is about 2 degrees. The angular diameter of the Sun or the Moon is only about 1/4 of that, or just over 1/2 degree” (

    There is an equation called “Angular diameter” ( that can help us find how big Alan’s object was in comparison to the apparent size of sun/moon. By the way, the sun and moon are basically the same apparent size in the sky.  The sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon, however, the moon is about 400 times closer to earth than the sun. This is the reason we can have solar eclipses as the moon covers the sun almost perfectly.

    Let’s crunch some numbers according to the angular diameter equation ( 2 arctan (1/2 d/D)).

    Sun =  2 arctan (1/2 (865,000 mi/92,955,807.27 mi)) = .53 degrees

    Alan’s object = 2 arctan (1/2 (30 ft/5280 ft) = .33 degrees

    Alan’s object is only 1/6th smaller than apparent size of sun or moon. I would say that is a relatively large apparent size object. In other words, that is a large gibbous moon-sized object flying in the sky. 

    Before we leave the apparent size subject, I thought this was an interesting comment on apparent size discrepancies by witnesses. “It’s a common error to suppose that the Sun, say, looks about as big across as a dinner plate; to some people, it seems bigger than that, but to others, it’s smaller. So such attempts to describe apparent sizes in linear terms lead to misunderstanding and confusion” ( 

    Now, after answering how big the object appeared to be, lets turn to the question, how bright the object appeared to be.  The Journal chief photographer John Gumm points out, after doing his analysis, that “Measuring the density of the film, the brightness of the object would be relatively twice that of the full moon.”  Okay, Gumm said the density of the object on the negative was 2 times the brightness of the full moon. The albedo of one full moon is .12 or said another way reflects 12% of the light of the sun (  Brightness is measured in lux; the full moon equals .27 lux. Now, Gumm said the density was 2 times the full moon.  Therefore, the brightness of Alan’s object was equivalent to the reflection of 24% of the sun’s light or .54 lux.  One “full moon has a mean apparent magnitude of -12.74 and the Sun has an apparent magnitude of -26.74” ( One would have to multiply logarithmically to find apparent magnitude of two full moons. I haven’t done the math on that one.

    In summary, though this information doesn’t prove that an object with apparent size of .33 degrees and brightness of .54 lux could leave “a small speck” on a negative. I think these numbers do show mathematically that the object Alan observed was relatively big and bright in comparison to the sun and moon. Given the mathematical perspective of the object, the testimony of the professional photographers, and the fact that John Gumm tested Alan’s camera with another roll of the same film, I don’t believe it is a stretch to believe the object could leave “a small speck” on the negative. 

    James, you state “The fact that the object was in the corner of the film indicates that it was not the subject of the photo. The camera was not aimed at it. The camera would have been aimed at the UFO.”  Let’s look at what the witness said concerning how he aimed the camera. The Tulsa World article states “‘It looked like it was coming straight overhead.’ Again the object hummed, moving from southwest to southeast picking up speed. While the others watched the object, Alan grabbed his camera and raced to the rear of the backyard, where lights were dimmer, braced himself against a clothesline post, and pointed his camera. ‘I panned the camera a second or two. When I thought I had it dead-center. I clicked the shutter.’” The MUFON article says further, “When it (the UFO) was almost directly overhead - about 11 o’clock high - Alan relates, he raised his camera and shot the picture.” Summarizing, Alan said the object was picking up speed. He leaned against a post, pointed the camera when it was almost at zenith, and snapped the shutter. The object wasn’t hovering it was speeding up and moving across his field of vision. Again, it is not a stretch to see how a moving object almost straight above a witness leaning against a post could fail to center the object in the lens, resulting in the object being in the corner of picture. 

    I want to include the rest of your arguments under the section I will call statistical improbability. You believe that Alan’s negative of the UFO was the wrong negative. That in fact, Alan’s negative was “an image of a Christmas color wheel” where the flash bulb failed. The following is the sequence of events relative to the timing of Alan’s UFO photo. The Tulsa World article points out, “Actually, there were two UFO’s that passed over his parents’ home in southwest Tulsa’s Carbondale area on the nights of Aug. 1 and 2, 1965. They appeared during a summer when thousands of people from Minnesota to Mexico reported seeing brilliant, colored objects in the skies… On a Saturday night, after finishing his chore as a route carrier for the Tulsa afternoon newspaper, Alan was in his backyard, listening to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game on the radio until his father got off the night shift as an American Airlines mechanic. Through the mimosa tree, Alan and a friend noticed a huge orange light float from northeast to southwest. It was making a humming noise, but wasn’t an airplane or helicopter, Alan said. ‘It was a round brilliant object. There didn’t appear to be a craft behind it… just a light.’ Alan added. The craft disappeared, silently. Alan remembered his camera, a Christmas gift the year before. He bought a roll of film the next day, loaded the film in the camera and put it near the back door.”

    Let’s pause there a moment to summarize. There were actually two UFO events. One on Aug 1, and the second on Aug 2. These occurred during the well known summer of the 1965 UFO flap. Alan sees one UFO on Aug 1. He remembers his camera that he was given for Christmas less than a year ago. Hoping to see another UFO, he buys a new roll of color film on Aug 2, then loads the camera.

    Continuing with the time line… “On Sunday night, Alan waited again. This time, his father, his sister, and a friend were watching, too. Nothing happened, for awhile. ‘We’d almost forgotten about it,’ Alan said, ‘and were getting ready to go in the house. I looked around, and saw that orange sucker again.’”

    So the UFO appears the second time on the night of Aug 2nd, and Alan grabs his camera to make the photo shot.

    The MUFON article states, “The family waited 7 to 10 days before sending the film out for normal commercial processing, since they wanted to use the entire roll. The film was sent to Exel Camera Store in downtown Tulsa for processing.”

    Tulsa World states, “But when the film came back from a processor about two weeks later, there were no prints.”

    This is the timing so far. Alan purchases the new color film on Aug 2. He makes the shot. Alan sends the film to the processor somewhere between Aug 9 to Aug 12. Then around Aug 16th, Alan receives his prints from the processor, and finds the UFO picture wasn’t printed the first time.

    “But his father, A. L. Smith, asked if he’d examined the negatives. Alan hadn’t. When he did, he noticed a small speck in a corner of the negative. He had it enlarged and printed.”

    “Publisher W. P. “Bill Atkinson, who had launched his Oklahoma Journal newspaper the year before, heard about Alan’s photo. Atkinson, Managing Editor John Clabes and Journal photographers visited Alan. For weeks, the Journal tried to duplicate the photo, without luck. Finally, the Journal decided to print it, reserving publishing copyrights.”

    Around Aug. 16th, Alan’s father gives him the tip to check the negatives again, and Alan discovers the small speck on the negative.  The negative is sent a second time to be “enlarged and printed.” The Journal eventually gets wind of the photo, and sends a team to Alan. Then “weeks” pass with the team trying to duplicate the photo unsuccessfully.

    The Journal makes the decision to print the photo on October 5, 1965.

    The time line is clear-cut. The window is Aug 2nd from the time the UFO is shot to Oct. 5th, when the Journal decides to print the photo. 

    Now that the time line is established, the alternative theory of the Christmas tree color wheel suffers serious problems. Since the Journal team was observing and testing Alan’s photo no latter than September, but probably in late-August, who sets up an aluminum Christmas tree in Aug-Sept?  I would say that there is almost zero chance that the picture of a Christmas tree color wheel was made by Alan in the normal course of taking pictures with his new roll of film. Therefore, only three reasonable possibilities remain: (1) Alan and company staged a hoax; (2) the photo processing lab gave Alan the wrong negative; or (3) the first night color UFO picture is real.

    Let’s turn to the 2nd option, where the photo shop processor gave Alan the wrong negative.  This establishes what I call my list of at least nine statistical improbabilities. All of these variables would need to come together at the same time before the wrong negative theory could be considered reasonably true.

    (A) The negative was accidentally switched.
    (B) The negative was a night time picture as opposed to a daytime picture.
    (C) The negative was a picture of a light source, as opposed to a picture of a person, car etc.
    (D) The negative was a picture of a round object as opposed to a square etc object.
    (E) The negative matched all 4 colors of Alan’s UFO: white, red, blue and green.
    (F) The negative was color film as opposed to black and white film, which was at the time more popular because of expense.
    (G) The negative was ASA 64 speed, Kodacolor X as opposed to another speed and brand of film.
    (H) The object on the negative matched the approximate size according to witnesses estimate.
    (I) The negative was a Christmas time negative in August.

    I’m not claiming the following is scientific, but I think it gives a rough estimate of the statistical improbability of the accidentally switched photo negative theory.  If each variable has a 50% chance of either happening or not happening, then P(A) x P(B) x P(C) x P(D) x P(E) x P(F) x P(G) x P(H) x P(I) would apply.

    .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5  =  .0020
    .002 x 100  =  0.19 %

    The accidentally switched photo negative theory has less than 0.2 % chance of happening randomly.

    I believe it is far more reasonable to believe that Alan hoaxed the photo or that the photo is real, than it is to believe that the negatives were accidentally switched producing a mini-miracle.

    Let’s look at the hoax theory.  There were 5 witnesses involved: Alan Smith (14 years old); his father A. L. Smith (43 year old turbine engine inspector for American Airlines); his sister Sheryle Holt (18); Sheryle’s husband, Ron Holt (18); and a neighbor boy Daryl Swimmer (15).  According to Tulsa World, Alan still states 20 years after the incident, “I’m not a hoaxster or attention seeker. I took a picture of an object flying, that hasn’t been identified.”

    The hoax theory becomes harder to believe and more complex when you add more than one witness. Plus, his photo held up to the Journal experts and the Air Force experts. Even though the Air Force suggested that the “photo processing personnel noted that the image bears a resemblance, although doesn’t appear identical, to the effect they have observed by photographing a multi-colored revolving filter flood light of the type used to illuminate and color aluminum trees during the Christmas season.” The Air Force still reluctantly stated the photo was an unidentified flying object, and that the photo resembles but “doesn’t appear identical” to a Christmas color wheel.  Alan also stood strong at the time of the incident as, according to Tulsa World, “He spoke to UFO groups across the state.”  

    In conclusion, the Alan Smith 1965 UFO photo could be a hoax, but if it is, it is a very complex and successful hoax for a 14 year old teenager. I believe, however, more than likely the photo represents something bizarre flying in a night time Tulsa sky. Perhaps the photo indicates a secret military technology, as Alan still believes it was. There again, the secret never revealed itself even after 45 years, while on the other hand, the secret Stealth technology of the eighties for example, did eventually come to light in far less time. Or perhaps the UFO photo indicates something far stranger - an extradimensional force? I don’t know, but the famous photo bares further study and even an open mind to things unexplained.

    Finally, that the Alan Smith UFO photo bares similarities with the Christmas tree color wheel shouldn’t surprise ufologists. We have seen this Christmas time dreams connection before in The Mothman Prophecies. As John Keel has said before “the phenomenon is imitative.” Keel continues, “This paranormal mimicry is difficult for many to understand but I run across constant examples.” We should also realize that the phenomenon negates itself fostering “both belief and disbelief in the reality of flying saucers.” Again quoting Keel, “If the phenomenon has built-in discrepancies, then no one will take it seriously.”

    “Our skies are filled with Trojan horses and always have been. They are operating on a mysterious timetable, deliberately sowing confusion and nonsense in their wake.” (John Keel)



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