SOLVING THE 1964 SOCORRO NM UFO CASE
A step-by-step chronology of Larry Robinson's investigation:
Over many years, I put together a very plausible solution to the April 24, 1964 UFO landing at Socorro, New Mexico. Here
is a detailed account of the stages that led to this solution:
- 1963-1964: I saw an advertisement in a magazine, showing a balloon belonging to or sponsored
by the International Paper Corporation. The logo is a circle containing an arrow, made of the letters I and P, pointing
up. They were going to go on a cross-country exploration with it. 1
- 1965-Feb 1967: I saw an article or ad showing the results of a multi-state series of hot-air
balloon flights. A map was included, showing the landing points of the balloon, and some amusing anecdotes of things that
happened to the balloonists. One of these was an encounter with a lawman. He was hiding behind his patrol car. They thought
was going to shoot it out with them. Their balloon had freaked him out. So they made a hasty retreat into the sky.
A quote from the article: "We later found out that he thought he was seeing some sort of space
If anyone can point me to this article, it might complete the proof.
- Mar 1967: I bought the LOOK special, Flying Saucers. 2 I first saw
the account of the Socorro sighting here. For some reason, the name Socorro NM was very fresh in my mind at the time. I had
just seen it on a map. I thought of a map I saw in Popular Science involving a performance run of a car, but Socorro was
not on it. I did not see the drawings Zamora made until June 1968. 7 I immediately thought of the logo I had
seen earlier, but I discounted a balloon at that time, because I did not know that balloons could be noisy.
- Summer 1976, Noon: Our dog Penny suddenly let out a loud long howl. She was barking straight
up. Then I heard a loud ROAR, lasting about 5 seconds. I ran out into the yard. Less than 200 ft up was
a round object. I could hear the occupants talking. They mentioned the pattern I had mowed into our yard for use with a
The object was a manned hot-air balloon owned by a local winery. It roared again, and I saw the flame come from the
burner to make more lift. The flame went up from above the basket into the envelope. The balloon flew out of sight
behind some nearby trees.
Wow! A noisy balloon!
- 1988-1992: Several more times I have seen the balloon. Three times I have seen the
balloonists unpack the balloon, fill it, and take off. I saw a touch-and-go landing, plus four landings at the end of a
flight. During these events, I became aware of the sounds given off by the balloon, and the procedures necessary to
- Feb 1996: I reread the Socorro sighting accounts I had at the time, and put the whole
story together. All of the observed effects tally nicely with what the balloon does.
Now comes the hard part: proving it.
- Mar 1996: I noted from Dr. Hynek's observations that he was thinking of a thrust-blast
powered craft. 3 If this were the case, there should have been much more blast damage. But if the flame were
there to produce aerostatic lift, everything makes sense:
- When the balloon landed, the pilots shut down the burner pilot for safety. They probably had the flat triangular
platform used before 1966. I can imagine two scenarios:
- As the platform landed, it left 3 marks. The crew then set up a stand, or held the mouth ring, to hold the envelope
mouth open. This left the fourth mark and the footprints. They relit the burner (thumps), and refilled the envelope.
The superstructure might have looked like "legs" to Zamora.
- When the platform landed, it turned over. The superstructure, the propane cylinders, and two corners made marks.
The frame around the edge would have looked like "legs" to Zanora, with the center being like the grille
on a fire escape. The crew then turned the platform upright, making another mark and thumps.
- I noted that the propane hot air balloon was only 4 years old at the time. Also, the early versions of these used
a flat platform instead of a basket. I have photos of square and triangular platforms. Some were wood, and some were
metal street-drain grates. A few had railings to keep the pilots from falling off.
- The burner blasts sideways during refilling, until the envelope lifts. This process probably set fire to the brush
(if the landing didn't). With a possibly deranged (from their point of view) cop hiding behind things, maybe ready to
shoot it out with them, they beat a hasty retreat into the sky.
- Apr 1996: This is harder than I thought it would be. None of the periodical guides have
reference to the article I remember. Computerized cross-references only go back to 1980. Scott Munro (of the now defunct
UFOlogical Spectator and formerly of the IUFOS Review) was a great help with this project. I emailed International Paper,
asking if they had any information about sponsoring a hot-air balloon expedition. No mention of any UFO was made in this
- Jun 1996: International Paper has not answered my e-mails. The article is still not found.
I read Philip Klass' comments on the shapes of the "footpads". 4 They agree with an isosceles
triangle of the platform, with the stand or mouth ring making the 4th pad. Not enough measurements were taken to describe
the exact shape of the quadrilateral made by the four marks. At least one diagonal should have been measured.
- Oct 1996: I now have The Hynek Report on UFOs 3, and it gives the
complete dimensions of the prints. Now things make sense.
- Feb 1977: I received a reply from International Paper. They had no records older than the
25 years they were required to keep them (In this case, 1972). So there is no record of anything they did in 1964. Another
fact I discovered was that they changed to the logo mentioned in 1966. But it is possible the logo was used earlier for
the balloon, because their old logo (a real tree in a circle) would not do for the required identification symbol for a
balloon race. And I remember seeing the logo on a balloon in a poster that was in a room I have not entered since
My observations on the case:
- Zamora's first sighting: Only the flame
- Object was originally on Zamora's right. Did the car roof hide the balloon?
- The reported flame colors (blue and orange) agree with the propane flame used by hot-air balloons.
- The platform was behind the hill, because the bottom of the flame was behind it.
- The initial dust seen could be from the landing impact, or just windblown dust.
- Zamora's second sighting: Object and figures
- According to published maps 5, this sighting was toward the west, not the south (as Zamora reported).
The road curves.
- Zamora estimated the distance was about 60% of the measured distance on the map.
- The size estimate was off due to Zamora thinking it was a car on end.
- Scaling up to balloon size from car size also scales the people and balloon up to normal size, and scales the
distance away from Zamora up to the actual site distance.
- The "legs" might be part of the platform superstructure, or an overturned platform's edge.
- Zamora's third sighting: Takeoff
- Zamora broke the world 50-meter-dash record if he saw it only the 20 seconds he said.
- When first seen here, the envelope had lost lift, and was lying on the ground.
- Apparently, the balloon envelope never went slack enough to be seen as fabric.
- Zamora never saw the full shape clearly. He lost his glasses before it rose enough.
- He never saw the platform. It was behind terrain, then he lost his glasses.
- The dust Zamora saw here could have come from the burner blast.
- The envelope went straight up as it lifted and centered over the platform.
- The envelope remained in this position until it had enough lift to raise the platform off the ground.
- Once the platform lifted off the ground, the wind moved the balloon horizontally.
- With a northerly wind, the envelope was farther away than the measured 103 feet.
- Because of this, the distance estimate is about 60% too small here.
- On the reported wind direction:
- The reported wind direction was taken at an unknown time at an airport miles away.
- With a strong southerly wind, Zamora should have smelled combustion products.
- A southerly wind would make the top of the balloon face Zamora, hiding the flame.
- If the balloon top faced Zamora, no insignia would be visible until near liftoff.
- Zamora had lost his glasses by liftoff, and wouldn't have seen the insignia well.
- Weather stations report the direction the wind is blowing from.
- Maybe someone reversed the wind direction, thinking north winds blow to the north. (Coral Lorenzen,
of APRO, was known to have repeatedly done this).
- The reported departure direction varies from south-southwest to west-southwest.
- Other details:
- Zamora's account says his first view of the object was to the south. 5
- Maps show this direction to be west. 5, 7 Maybe curves in the roads confused him.
- One map shows his car parked facing west. 5 It faces south-southeast in another map in the same book.
- Zamora said he parked his car facing southwest.
- The direction and location of the dynamite shack were different on each map. 5
- The envelope concentrates the roar of the burner and directs it downward.
- The envelope opening was aimed toward Zamora when the envelope was lying down.
- The burner sound does not carry too far, so Mr. Philips might not have heard it.
- The analyzed silica came from the rock, not the object. Sandstone is silica. 6
- Nobody mentions possible private or commercial sources of the object, just military.
- The privately owned propane hot-air balloon was produced in 1962, just two years earlier. Although it was mentioned in
Time Magazine and Popular Mechanics, it was not well-known at the time. The burner itself was
invented in 1960 for a military project.
- Possibility of faking the UFO or planning it in advance:
- No one can plan a balloon landing site, making a "tourist-attraction plan" impossible to set up in advance.
(This was a proposed solution to the sighting.)
- If it was a balloon, the landing on the mayor's property was accidental.
- That the mayor and Socorro made money from the sighting is irrelevant.
- The marks might have already been there, but the brush was smoking when Chavez came.
- Someone faking a UFO landing site would make four identical marks, in a perfect square.
- Power requirements of various types of existing flying craft:
- Lighter-than-air gas lift (gas balloon) - Very low in flight, medium to make gas.
- Thermal aerostatic lift (hot-air balloon) - low
- Airfoil lift (airplane) - medium
- Rotor lift (helicopter) - medium high
- Jet or rocket thrust lift - high
- Ion drive - so high it can't lift its own power supply off the earth
Any of the following would be helpful in completing the proof:
- The article telling the story of the flight, or how to find this article.
- The balloon picture I saw in 1964.
- The log kept by the balloonists, or excerpts from the New Mexico portion.
- Evidence that the balloon existed.
Type in the address without the spaces inserted to fool spam robots.
- 1 Credit will be given if and when the source is found again.
- 2 Flying Saucers, ©1967 Look Magazine
- 3 The Hynek UFO Report, ©1977 J. Allen Hynek, Dell Publishing
- 4 UFOs Explained, ©1974 Philip L. Klass, Vintage Books
- 5 Project Blue Book, © 1976 Brad Steiger, Ballantine
- 6 Incident at Exeter, ©1966 John G. Fuller, Berkely Publishing
- 7 The Reference for Outstanding UFO Sightings, Thomas M Olson,