My Dad, the UFO Hunter

1976, at an unpublished location in the hills around Austin, Texas:
In the background, my dad and the other members of Project Starlight International are readying the UFO/VECTOR system they created for a night of UFO hunting.
The “UFO/Video Experiment Console for Transitional Overt Response” system assists Project Starlight in detecting, recording, and communicating with extraterrestrial spacecraft. The team members are wearing white jumpsuits — to better protect from flash burns — and green goggles. Besides looking cool, the goggles protect from the laser, which is transmitting information at 300 baud along a joystick-guided path. There’s a magnetometer that can detect the movement of ferrous objects overhead, and a 100-yard circle of computer-controlled spotlights flashing “pi pi pi” into the Texas sky.
The team’s white jumpsuits have “PSI” logos embroidered on them. They look damn sharp. Who says science on the fringe of respectability can’t look good?
Meanwhile, that’s me in the foreground, gathering rocks in my hat. My mom is taking the pictures, and made the smiley-faces on my knees. I think she was taking pictures that would appear in a Texas Monthly article.
You can some more photos of the hunt for alien life. My favorite is when Ray Stanford, the leader of the project, would stand on his platform, making hand gestures into the sky: “we have no weapons”, he would sign to the stars. “Land over there!”


About an hour after posting those pictures to Flickr, I heard from Ray, who clarified some of my anecdotes (see comments on this post) and let me know what he’s up to now.

I’ve also heard from other members of Project Starlight International, who — in addition to sending me pictures of the kit-build stunt aircraft they’re making in their garages, the R&B groups they’re playing with, and their online rabbinical ministries — and that’s all in one email message — who, I say, have linked me to more information about all the Badass Seventies Technology they were using. Pictured at right: the ring of spotlights used to draw attention to the landing site. I think, but I’m not sure, that the white dots are actually paint carefully added by my mom with a retouching brush.

You can also read about the

Communicate with UFOs by transmitting signals along a joystick-guided laser.

Track and record moving ferrous objects (see comments for correction from Ray) magnetic fields overhead. It’s pictured below — check out the tape drive! And the big capacitors!

Other tech articles are on the main PSI tech page here.

Ray Stanford, the head of the project, urges that UFO to stop begging the government to “WAAH give us the truth”, and instead go out there and GATHER it. Using awesome instrumentation, with giant capacitors, naturally. He needs to be given some kind of Doc Emmett Brown award, especially since he’s now a successful dinosaur hunter(!!!)

What’s the term for stylish seventies science?

Steampunk” is the name applied to mustachio-ed, waistcoat-ed gentleman scientists of the Victorian age, who were half science, half showman, and ALL AWESOME. Project Starlight clearly falls into that mold: Kitty Bo (Hello, Kitty Bo!!!) just weighed in in the comments that they used to be called “Ray Stanford and his Lilly White Space Cadets”. What’s the term for seventies steampunk, done in embroidered jumpsuits?


5 responses to “My Dad, the UFO Hunter”

  1. John Young was only four years of age then, and should be forgiven for his at least thirty-year-old memory of what he heard me mocking. I was actually helping to keep myself and all us late-night sky watchers awake by demonstrating what, at one of George W. Van Tassell’s Giant Rock, California, ‘Spacecraft Conventions’, a very wide-eyed little old lady did when she thought a balloon with a red flare (secretly put up my some cal Tech physics students)was a UFO containing the locally mythological “Ashtar”, who, Van Tassell claimed was some sort of ‘space fleet commander’. My memory of what I had witnessed nearly two decades before, at about age nineteen, was performed in a high-pitched, warbling falsetto mockery of the little old lady’s highly excited voice, so it’s not surprising it lingers from what was, then, a four-year-old boy’s mind, albeit, after over thirty years, now, totally distorted as to purpose.
    For an accurate account to what I, Ray Stanford, am now tracking, please see the photos and read the Associated Press article:
    Ray Stanford


  2. Ray, how could I have forgotten the warbling falsetto? Man, that’s even better. And it’s true, I didn’t know you were joking!
    Anyhow, I’ve long cherished the memories of Project Starlight International as a group of incredibly stylish boffins doing science on the fringe of respectability (but science nonetheless!) I completely agree with your statement at the end of the AP article you link to , expressing frustration with the UFO conspiracy theorists who beg the government to tell them the truth, rather than go out and actually, you know, *look* for them.
    So I hope very much that the following things come through:
    * Admiration for science done in white embroidered jumpsuits
    * Admiration for green laser goggles
    * Admiration for doing science in secret desert locations
    * Admiration for lasers guided by joysticks
    …and that my memories don’t come across as mocking!
    Fond regards,


  3. That is awesome. I remember my father (who is a super gruff, non storytelling type) telling us kids a story about how one day when he was out driving to a job (he worked outside doing masonry) he saw a UFO. When pressed, he would always tell us the same thing. That it was silver, about 8 feet long – to his guess and that it made no sound. He said that it hovered over the trees and then took off super fast. This was in the daylight. Bucks County PA (1960s or 70’s I suppose).


  4. What a surprise this was. I always get a funny feeling in my gut when I see things from this era of my life. The Texas Monthly article described us as Ray Stanford and his Lilly White Space Cadets. That is what I think of when I think of those outfits. I also think about how when I had to go to the bathroom out behind the cedar trees, I was terrified that a 4.5′ humanoid was going to walk up and catch me with my lilly whites down. John,give my love to your parents. If you are ever in Texas, please look us up. kb


  5. Ray just emailed me with some corrections! So I’m reprinting them here:
    There are a couple of things that, IMO, could use some tweaking, though, but only at your discretion, of course: In the section about the recording magnetometer, you have a heading: “Track and record moving ferrous objects overhead”. I’m glad you gave that link, but we had no thought of tracking ferrous objects overhead — unless, of course, a high nickel-iron meteor should pass overhead 🙂 — because I kind of doubt than any advanced technology would be using much iron in construction. No. The reality is that UFOs — based on world-wide reports and, more reliably, upon the project’s own magnetometer recordings of filmed, daylight UFOs (and two nocturnal ones, too) producing quite strong electromagnetic effects in the extreme low-frequency range. What we have monitored are unquestionably not ferromagnetic fields, but an alternating dipolar magnetic field. On 12-12-77, I got an excellent daylight movie of a UFO approaching our Braniff Flight 9 (La Guardia-to-DFW, cruising at 39,000 feet), with the pulsing electromagnetic field beautifully visible due to light-emitting plasma contouring its magnetic lines of force. To add icing to that particular UFOlogical cake, there was a rather solid cloud layer below us at 11,000 feet (data from official record) onto which sunlight was casting the clear, pulsating refraction shadow of that powerful, plasma-contoured magnetic field, enabling calculation of the object’s size, speed, and even a ballpark figure of the field strength.
    On November 16, 1989, while standing right in front of the Administration Building (Building 8) at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland, I got five 35 mm photos at 20-X (using a 1,000 mm catadioptric lens) of an approaching UFO. By the last two photos, the laminar plasma (making object appear to glow) was dispersing into the object’s dipolar magnetic field, that field becoming wondrously and beautifully visible around the object in photo # 5, after which the object vanished almost instantly.
    So, UFOs do not need to contain any iron to be picked up at great distances, using our magnetometer. In fact, we’ve recorded their field effects from as far as over 90 miles away, and since dipolar fields drop off in proportion to the inverse CUBE (not square) of distance from the body of radiation, that tells us that their fields can be very powerful, indeed.
    Speaking of which, I was disappointed by your put-down of the 1970s electronics of that to-this-day, highly reliable recording magnetometer. It was, after all, state-of-the-art when it was built, as was our video-modulated helium-neon laser, made by Liconix. What would you expect for such a device made back then? Furthermore, as I said, the magnetometer still works just as reliably today, over thirty years later, as it did when new. There was never any need to replace it, except the recording part being replaced by CD recording. I can’t help but wonder if a similar induction coil magnetometer built today with state-of-the-art electronics would still work reliably over thirty years later.
    Good heavens, I think Ray misunderstands my fondness for electronics that you could actually beat someone over the head with for a put-down. Crafting suitable reply now!


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