SOLVING THE 1965 EXETER NH SIGHTINGS
By Larry Robinson
Source footnotes in parentheses. Updated 06/18/13.
PART 1: SEPTEMBER 3, 1965
THE 9/3/65 SIGHTINGS IN CHRONOLOGY, as reported in references (1,2,3,5,6,7,9,10):
SIGHTING 1: 2330 9/2/65 (1)
- Man in Brentwood (just southwest of Exeter) woke up.
- The whole room was lit up.
- Looked out window, expecting to see car coming down road with brights on.
- Suddenly, everything went dark.
SIGHTING 2: 0100 - 0120 (1,2)
- An unidentified woman was driving 12 miles from Epping NH to Exeter NH (1)
- The sighting was along the NH Route 101 bypass around Exeter.
- The woman was followed by an object with brilliant red flashing lights.
- Object made no sound.
- Object disappeared by shooting up into the stars when car reached overpass.
0130 - 0145 Patrolman Eugene Bertrand talks with woman on bypass 101.
- He stayed with her and looked for the object for about 15 minutes (7).
- Woman indicated bright light on horizon to Bertrand (9).
- Bertrand did not think the incident was important at the time, and did not take her name (9).
- Source (9) gives beginning time as 0030. Other sources (1,2,7) give 0130.
SIGHTING 3: 0200 (1,2,9)
- Norman Muscarello was walking and hitchhiking on NH 150.
- He was traveling from Amesbury MA to Exeter NH. He had sold his car because he had joined the Navy. (1)
- The sighting was at the Carl Dining farm on NH Route 150 in Kensington NH.
- Sighting was near an open field on the farm, at Telephone pole # 668.
- The field is bordered by the road, and tree lines of evergreen trees.
- Object came out of the sky from Muscarello's right directly toward him.
- Muscarello estimated the object was 80 to 90 ft in diameter (see below on this).
- Object had brilliant pulsating red lights around an apparent rim.
- Object wobbled, yawed, and floated toward him.
- Object made no sound.
- Muscarello dove for the shoulder when he thought it would hit him.
- Object backed off and hovered over the Clyde Russell house, almost hitting the chimney.
- When it backed off further, Muscarello ran to that house.
- He pounded on the door and screamed. No one answered.
- Because he was making so much noise, the Russells assumed he was drunk, and didn't answer the door
(1-p62,9). Thus, potential witnesses didn't see the object.
- The object disappeared in the direction of Hampton.
- Muscarello flagged down a car and went to the Exeter police station.
0224 Muscarello arrives at police station, reports sighting to Sgt Reginald Toland.
0235? Patrolman Eugene Bertrand arrives at police station.
SIGHTING 4: 0255 - 0305 (1,2,9)
- Bertrand drove Muscarello back out to the Dining farm on NH 150, arriving at 0245.
- Bertrand parked the car next to pole #668.
- Bertrand and Muscarello walk down to a corral 75-100 yd from the road.
- Bertrand was shining his light at a woods to the east (one account says north).
- Horses at the farm began to kick and whinny, dogs began barking.
- Object rose slowly from behind two tall pines in the tree line beyond the corral.
- Muscarello screamed, "I see it! I see it!" Bertrand turned around.
- Bertrand saw it, dragged Muscarello back to the patrol car. He said he did this because he was
"afraid of infrared rays or radiation." (1)
- At 0255, Bertrand radioed the sighting to Toland (3).
- Object roundish, with 5 pulsating red lights, rocking back and forth.
- Closest approach was when it hovered over the Russell house.
- The object moved with the leading edge lower than the trailing edge (7).
- Object hovered for several minutes, then moved away east toward Hampton.
- Patrolman Dave Hunt drove up, saw object moving left to right toward Hampton.
- Blue Book report says direction of disappearance is 160 degrees (7).
- Total sighting time about 10 minutes.
- Mr. Fiset sees the police cars, but not the object.
- The image at right, widely distributed among UFO groups, seems to be an artist's representation
based on the reported size and height. It may not be accurate, because witnesses have no way to
correctly judge size or distance.
SIGHTING 5: 0317 (1,2)
- Man called Exeter operator from phone booth in Hampton.
- He claimed that a flying saucer was coming right at him.
- The caller hung up or was cut off.
- The identity of this man was later found out by Raymond Fowler, but no testimony was collected (10-p86).
SIGHTING 6: 0415? (1)
- Hunt saw the object while on the NH 101 bypass.
- Object seen to the east, in the distance toward Hampton.
Evaluation of the data and problems found with it:
- Reconstruction of the Dining Farm scene remotely in space and time is hard:
- Exeter is northwest of the Kensington site (4,8).
- Amesbury is southeast of the site (4,8).
- Highway NH 150 runs northwest to southeast (4,8).
- When seen from the road facing the field, the Russell house is to the left (1).
- When standing on the road facing the field, the Dining house is to the right (1).
- Both houses are about 100 yd from telephone pole #668 (1).
- The corral is behind the Dining house, between 75 and 100 yd from the road (1).
- There is a tree line beyond the corral (1).
- The Fiset house is across the road from pole #668 (1).
- The field was on Muscarello's right (but which way was he facing?) (1).
- Hampton is visible to the east or northeast (1).
- Hampton is to the east (4,8,11).
- There's a woods to the north or northeast (accounts vary) (1).
- The woods surround the farm to the north and east (8, 11).
- In a site photo, sunlight comes hits the pole from the direction of the corral.(2)
- The object as seen by Hunt went from left to right.(1)
- The site has been located on USGS maps (1950) and aerial photos:
- The USGS photo is below.
- Go there on Google Maps or Google Earth (Note that the Clayton Clowes link was an error, and was
- You can zoom right in on it.
- There is a street view link. You are there.
- Face southeast in the street view. Telephone pole #668 is near the manufactured home.
- You can walk southeast. But new trees that were not there when the sighting occurred hide the Dining
house when you stand at pole #668.
- The fence by the road is NOT the corral in the book. You see it behind the Dining house when you reach
the end of the fence.
- Notes about the site and photo:
- The field is northeast of the road.
- Muscarello was facing northwest while walking.
- The site photo in (2) was taken in the morning.
- The objects approached from the northeast, and departed to the southeast.
- The objects never crossed the road in view of the witnesses.
- Hampton is beyond the field. Vague witness statements seem to indicate this (1).
- The bright white singlewide manufactured home in the aerial photo was not there at the time of the
sighting. It is about where Bertrand and Muscarello went down into the field.
- Several things to think about:
- One or more witness statements may be in error. There is at least one error between two accounts, which
describe Bertrand and Hunt oppositely in stature (1,2).
- The object(s) may have possibly reversed direction after hovering over the Russell house, returning to
where they came from. If this is true, then the identification arguments given below might be in error.
- The Pease AFB report says the object departed on a heading of 160 degrees magnetic (7). This is so far
away from Hampton, even allowing for magnetic variation, that it is more likely that the error is that the
investigator assumed the road ran north to south at the site. It would have required the object to cross the
road, and head for Amesbury, not Hampton.
- If the sighting was really 4 miles from Exeter, it was in Kensington on 150, halfway to the state line,
where the road runs north and south (8, 11).
- The sighting was really 2.7 miles from Exeter, and 4 minutes away (11).
- Hampton is variously identified as being north (1), east (1), or southeast (7) of the Dining farm. It is
- Several UFO sources give the distance from Exeter to Kensington as 4 miles (1,2,7). The actual distance
is 4.3 miles following the road, so these figures are right (11).
- A UFO source gives the distance from Exeter to Amesbury as 12 miles (1). The actual distance is 9.6
- Several UFO sources give the distance from Exeter to Epping as 12 miles (1,2,7). The actual distance is
8 miles following the road (11).
- Maybe a map calibrated in kilometers was inadvertently used.
- The photo at right shows possible paths, based on various witness statements. But the distances from the
witnesses might not be correct.
- The X in the photo shows the approximate witness location.
- The white rectangle in the photo shows the corral in the narration.
- I removed the manufactured home that was not there in 1965.
- Source (9) gives beginning time of Bertrand's talk with the unidentified woman as 0030. Other
sources (1,2,7) give 0130.
- If the object was really 80 to 90 ft in diameter, as given by Muscarello, it would have been within one
diameter of the ground during most of the sightings. The 70 ft tree would have looked small compared to the
- The Pease AFB report says the sighting occurred southwest of Exeter. The site is due south of
- Some reports say the lights were all on, but they dimmed one at a time in sequence (1-p62,10-p84). Other
reports say that only one light was on at a time (7-pp158..159).
- Fuller (1) investigated one night-aerial-advertising company, the Sky-Lite Advertising Company. But the
question remains whether there were any other advertising companies operating in the area.
- The typical error of assuming that every airport knows of all planes in the air occurred. People wanting
to know the identity of an unknown flying object called one airport. When told they didn't know what the
object was, the investigator took it for granted that it was not an aircraft. But no single airport knows
about all aircraft in the sky. Commercial airports don't know about private or military flights. Military
airports don't know about commercial or private flights. And each private airport knows about only the
flights using that airport.
- Claims about the distance of the object from the observers are inherently unreliable. This is because
binocular vision is good out to only about 20 feet, unless the object passes directly in front of or behind
a known object.
- Data about the size of the object is inherently unreliable for the same reason.
Witness statements about the size, distance, speed, or altitude of an unknown distant object in
the sky can NOT be accurate.
- Many witnesses claim that they can do this accurately, but it is beyond the capabilities of unaided
- To estimate either the size or the distance of an unknown object farther away than 30 feet (10 m),
the other must already be known.
- How do pilots accurately estimate the distance and altitude of an aircraft? Easy! They already know
the actual size of the plane.
- But a UFO witness has no idea how big the object he sees is. It could be 4 inches, or the size of
- This effect often hides the true identity of a misidentified object from both the witness and the
investigator. They think the UFO is a vehicle, so they assume the size is the right size to carry men.
This hinders the correct identification of objects much larger or much smaller than a vehicle.
- One proof of this effect is that many World War II aerial gunners mistook the planet Venus for an
enemy plane, and tried to shoot it down.
- Identical observations of distant lights could be caused by a flashlight, a desk lamp, streetlight,
or a searchlight, when placed at increasing distances from the observer. Without other clues, the
witness would not be able to tell them apart.
- Other data of some import:
- The Pease AFB report gives the wind as uniformly from the west, at low velocity near the ground, high
at 10K ft.(7) Bertrand states in his statement to the AF that there was no wind (7). Since the area is
surrounded by tall trees, the wind may have existed only above the trees.
- The trees might have altered the winds in the vicinity of the tree line.
- It is interesting that all of the objects departed toward the east.
- I would like to know the angular size of the object when it hovered over the Russell house, and when it
passed over the 70 ft trees.
- The angles of any shadows thrown from the object's lights would be valuable data.
ANALYSIS OF THE 9/3/65 SIGHTINGS:
SIGHTING 1: 2330 9/2/65 - Brentwood:
- This could have been anything, since the man did not see an object.
- One possibility is a car that turned off the highway into a driveway.
- Another possibility is that a fire balloon passed the house.
SIGHTING 2: 0100 - 0120 - 101 Bypass:
- The evidence is hearsay and the witness has not been found.
- The speed the car was traveling is not known. But near Exeter, it was an expressway.
- The object might have been a fire balloon. If so:
- It would have been following a wind from the west.
- When it disappeared, it might have dimmed out instead of shooting straight up. This is a common
illusion with fire balloons.
- The suction effect of a moving car might have pulled the balloon, if it was close.
- It might have also been a prank balloon tied to the car:
- A toy helium balloon with foil strips hanging from it would do the trick.
- The tail lights would provide the light, the foil flapping would flash it.
- When the car went under the overpass, the string broke, and the balloon shot up.
- This was a common prank pulled by college students that year.
- Possibly the woman saw an aircraft participating in the "Big Blast" exercise coming in for a landing at
- Another possibility is that the woman saw a bright star or planet.
SIGHTING 3: 0200 - Kensington - Norman Muscarello hitchhiking,
SIGHTING 4: 0300 - Kensington - Bertrand, Muscarello, and Hunt:
- The object probably was a fire balloon, or a flare balloon,
- It exhibited the fluttering, wobbling, pulsating, and hovering of a fire balloon.
- Pease AFB reports a wind uniformly from the west (7).
- The reported flight path is consistent with a westerly wind and a tree line.
- The fire balloon would have moved east until it dropped into the pocket of slow air surrounded by
stands of trees. It then followed slow air currents until it was picked up by the wind again and moved east
as driven by the wind.
- In both sightings, the object followed the same general flight path.
- The leading edge was lower than the trailing edge. If winds were faster at the top of the bag than at
the bottom, the (invisible) top part would move ahead of the bottom, tilting the bag so the leading edge
- The shape, "roundish," fits the general design of these.
- There were 5 lights. Fire balloon designs usually include one, four, five, eight, or nine candles.
- The color is right (I've seen five the reported color, and a yellow one).
- Either candles or road flares could have been used. Road flares probably would require a gas balloon for
- The periodic dimming could have been caused by normal variations in candle or flare intensity, or by
occultation by part of the fire balloon's structure.
- The observed size could have been magnified by the thought that it was a vehicle. Remember that any
attempt to guess at the size of the object is pure guesswork. Without other clues, the human vision system
can NOT correctly find the size of an unknown object more than 30 feet away.
- The reported altitude fits the general flight characteristics.
- They don't make any noise.
- Dark adaptation would make the lights seem brighter, especially if the object was perceived to be larger
and more distant. Halation (light scattering inside the retina of the eye) would make them seem bigger.
- The horses would react to anything strange. They especially would react to anything resembling a fire,
which is a natural hazard to them. I once had a dog howling at a manned hot air
balloon passing over the house, so a balloon could cause the reaction if close enough.
- Two separate fire balloons are required, one for each of these sightings.
- Another possibility is a gas balloon with electric lights attached. Again, two balloons
SIGHTING 5: 0317 - Hampton phone booth:
- The evidence is hearsay and the witness has not been interviewed.
- This is probably the same balloon seen in  above, as it moved east.
SIGHTING 6: 0415? Hunt on 101:
- This is probably another similar balloon.
Three fire balloons, launched approximately one hour apart from the same site, could account for sightings
3, 4, 5, and 6. A fourth launched from another location could be the cause for sighting 2.
Why people can't identify fire balloons:
- They never heard of one. Only the Type 1 fire balloon had received any publicity at all among the general
public, and that was an article in Popular Science several years earlier. But just before the frenzy of
sightings, there were articles In Science Experimenter Magazine on how to make fire balloons for cheap weather
observations. One person thought my article was describing manned hot air balloons, instead of these pranks
made from dry cleaning suit bags.
- Only the bottom part containing the candles is visible.
- The maneuvers it makes seem to be intelligently controlled.
- Witnesses assume it's a vehicle, so it has to be
big enough to be a vehicle.
- Since it has to be big, it has to be far to be the angular size it is. So witnesses overestimate the
- Since binocular vision works only out to about 20 feet, nothing visible contradicts this assumption.
- Under scotopic conditions, the human color identification process works differently. Distant light sources
are reported to have higher color saturation than they really have.
- Halation makes the lights seem bigger than they are, and obscures the shape of the flame.
- I was certainly fooled at first when I saw one. Since I hadn't heard of UFOs at the time, I thought it
was a launch from a missile silo. It was a type 1, so it had only one light.
The page author has reports of many launchings of fire balloons or flare balloons in the general area of
Exeter. Some are from the launchers themselves. The page author test-flew a fire balloon in 1972, but tethered
because of the fire hazard, to learn the properties of one.
In Westport Connecticut, high school students confessed to launching hundreds of flare balloons over the
period from mid-August 1965 to March 1966. Nobody figured out what was going on until parents observed a
If the report that only one light was on at a time is correct(7), then the sightings fit a type of flare
balloon used in 1964 at Caltech. It was a railroad flare on a paddle wheel, tied to a government-surplus
weather balloon. As the paddle wheel was spun by the air passing the rising balloon, it cut off the light from
the flare as both rotated together.
PART 2: OTHER SIGHTINGS IN THE AREA
ACCOUNTS IN THE AREA THAT FIT THE FIRE BALLOON EXPLANATION (from 1):
- July 29, 1965 2200? - Exeter - Lillian Pearce, Sharon Pierce:
They saw lights ahead like emergency vehicles at an accident. Then the object with red flashing lights
rose out of a field next to the road and took off.
- September 21, 1965 0200? - Near Kensington - Blodgett:
Red ball hovered over neighbor's house, then spun and left.
- Late September, 1965 - Near Kensington - Ron Smith, relatives:
Round object, red and white, passed over car, hovered, tilted, reversed, passed over car again. Then
it stopped, and resumed its original course, passing over the car again. Witnesses left, then returned.
Object passed over car again and shot away.
- Late September 1965, Sunday 0200? - Near Exeter - Lora Davis:
Small green light turned into large red pulsating one. Moved east slowly at first, then hovered, and
moved away. Object was shaped like a top (Possibly a blue bag was used).
- Early October 1965, 1825 - Hampton - Virginia Hale:
Blue-green object hovering over the ocean. The color was similar to the first mercury-vapor lamps. It
looked like an inverted bowl with a fin.
- October 17, 1965 1900? - Fremont - Jim Burleigh, Jerline Jalbert:
Red object with silver things hanging down from it (foil strips?) followed power lines.
- October 19, 1965 1815 - Fremont - Mr + Mrs Healy:
White round object flew over, glittered, then turned red-orange. Silver things hanging down from it
- October 20, 1965 2200? - Exeter - Lillian Pearce, Doris Deyo, kids:
Object with white and red lights dropped down toward car, rotated, many lights, silent.
- October 21, 1965 2200? - Exeter - John Fuller, Bob Kimball, Lillian Pierce + others:
Orange round object crossed sky moving to southeast, followed by a jet (from vantage point of
witnesses). Angular size was 1/5 full moon. Went beyond horizon.
- October 1965 - Fremont - Meredith Bolduc:
Object following power lines came down toward the car. White ellipse with red around the rim.
- October 1965 - Fremont - Phyllis Bolduc:
Object following power lines came down near the house. Bedroom lit up with red light. Automatic
barnyard light shut itself off.
ACCOUNTS IN THE AREA THAT PROBABLY HAVE OTHER EXPLANATIONS (from 1):
- Late September, 1965 - Near Kensington - Ron Smith, relatives:
Colored lights seen on Shaw Hill. This could be a downed power line.
- Late September, 1965 - Near Kensington - Mr + Mrs Mazalewski:
Colored lights seen on ground, accompanied by loud humming. This could be a downed power line - could
be the same as the above event.
- Late September 1965 Evening - Exeter:
Object seen over the hospital. Electrical problems in the hospital. The visual object fits a fire
balloon, the power problems could be related to a downed power line.
- The Northeast Blackout case (1,5,10).
PART 3: OTHER INFORMATION RELATED TO THE SIGHTINGS
- This started about the time of the famous Plains States UFOs of August 2-3 1965. The news publicity may
have spurred pranksters into action (1,5).
- This is about the time government-surplus weather balloons and thin plastic dry cleaning bags became
- The fire balloons were reported to have followed power lines. This may be because the wind followed the
wide swaths cut in the trees for the lines.
- There is a college just west of the sighting area, full of fun-loving students.
- A flurry of fire balloon pranks started in mid-1965 and continued well through 1966, ending in 1967. There
were articles in magazines describing the fire balloon that hundreds of kids read and had to try out. The
number of cases where kids admitted launching fire balloons is larger than expected.
- There were some articles in Popular Science around 1961-1963 about old folk toys, and I remember the fire
balloon being mentioned.
- Articles in Popular Mechanics and Science Experimenter intended using fire balloons for cheap weather
balloons for science fair projects.
- Fire balloons were implicated for some of the 1897 "airship" sightings (6).
- At least four of the sightings studied in the Condon report can be shown to be fire balloon sightings.
Many more could probably be fire balloons. They are (from 5):
- Case 6: 4/22/66 Beverly MA - Objects hovered over school, and low over witness' head.
- Case 12: Methuen MA - Object followed car. (not positive ID)
- Case 13: 1/15/67 Granville MA - Disk shaped object appeared 3 times.
- Case 17: 3/67 Dry Creek Basin CO - Many reports of lights in the night sky fit this ID.
- Case 18: 4/1/67 Boulder CO - Lights seen over campus. Positive fire balloon ID.
- Case 27: Summer 67 Harrisburg PA - One fire balloon seized.
- Case 31: 9/9/67 Winchester CT - Trapezoidal pattern of dim lights chased low along a road.
- Case 32: 9/67 Alamosa CO - Objects secondary to case, one with a firecracker in it.
- Case 37: 10/20/67 Milledgeville GA - The initial object may have been a fire balloon.
- Case 39: 11/8/67 Elsinore CA - Car died as rotating, wobbling object sailed over.
- Case 45: Castle Rock CO - "75 ft long" UFO. Positive fire balloon ID.
- Case 59: 11/66 - 3/67 Lakeville CT - Many of the objects match fire balloon effects.
- As long as people showed interest in UFOs, the pranksters kept up their fun. The fire balloons
disappeared after the Condon report came out, and reappeared in 1973 when people started reporting sightings
- Several cases in nearby states involved government surplus weather balloons, helium, railroad flares, and
aluminum foil strips. This is an alternative that is about three times the size of a fire balloon, and much
brighter. The maximum sighting time of one of these would be 20 minutes, where a fire balloon can burn longer
if made right.
- Incident at Exeter - John G. Fuller, 1966 Berkely Publishing
- The TRUE Report on Flying Saucers - 1966 Fawcett Publications
- UFO - The Complete Sightings - Peter Brookesmith, 1995 Barnes and Noble
- AAA Road Atlas
- Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects - Edward U Condon 1969 Bantam
- UFOs Explained - Philip J. Klass, 1974 Vintage Books, p 314
- The Hynek UFO Report - J. Allen Hynek, 1977 Dell Publishing
- US Geological Survey, - 7.5 deg topographic map, Exeter Quadrangle
- The Encyclopedia of UFOs - Ronald Story, Richard Greenwell
- UFOs: Interplanetary Visitors - Raymond Fowler, 1974 Bantam
- Google Maps