The Lubbock Lights were a UFO event that took place over several months in Lubbock Texas in 1951. It is best known for a photograph of one of the sightings, which shows a large number of lights grouped together in a "V" formation as they fly overhead. The photo has led a lot of people over the years to think that it was just one sighting, but this was not the case. The sighting was investigated by Lt. Edward J Ruppelt as part of Project Grudge/Blue Book: "Officially all of the sightings, except the UFO that was picked up on radar, are unknowns."
The first "official" sighting that started this series of events off occurred on August 25, 1951. Three professors from Texas Technical College (now Texas Tech University) were in the backyard of one of their houses and having a discussion about micrometeors when they saw "a fast-moving, semicircular formation of 20 to 30 lights". These lights were described as blue-green in colour, as bright as stars but bigger, and silent. The lights moved across the sky, northeast to southwest, in seconds. The professors knew that these lights were not any kind of meteor, and as they were discussing what they had just seen, a second formation of lights appeared - the same as the first, and traveling in the same direction.
The professors told their story to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, and as a result of that, three women came forward to say they had also seen what they described as "peculiar flashing lights" on the same night. Another professor, Carl Hemminger, also reported seeing the lights that night, while the head of the college's Journalism department, J Russell Heitman, reported seeing the lights several days earlier.
Then, on August 30, 1951, Carl Hart Jr., a college freshman, saw a group of 18-20 white lights in a "V" formation flying overhead. Hart grabbed a 35-mm Kodak camera and went into his backyard and waited to see if the lights would return. They did so, twice, albeit at a higher altitude the second time, and he was able to take five photographs of them. After Hart got the photos developed, he sold them to the Lubbock Avalance-Journal for $10. The photos ended up not just published in the local paper, but in papers nationwide and even in Life magazine. They became, obviously, the image people automatically thought of when the Lubbock Lights were brought up, but it also meant that the Lights ended up being thought of as a single, isolated incident when it was anything but. Of the photos, Ruppelt stated:
...the [Hart] photos were never proven to be a hoax, but neither were they proved to be genuine."
Back to the trio of professors who made the initial sighting. Between August 25 and November 1, the professors, along with other witnesses on several occasions, had between 10-12 other sightings of the lights. For example, on September 1, the three professors were joined by two others and they saw a "flight", although this was described as "more irregularly grouped" than previous sightings. This sighting continued throughout the evening, until 12:17am.
This flight passed directly overhead, flying very slow, in the general direction of North to South, and was seen by every member of the group. Dr. Robinson observed that in the case of this flight, an irregularly shaped yellow light appeared in the rear. The formation included dark diffuse areas, and the arc itself quivered or pulsated in the direction of its travel. Each object had an angular magnitude that would be the equivalent of 12 inches across at a distance of a group of 12 to 15 pale objects, producing a pale-yellow blinking light and moving noiselessly.
Another sighting occurred on around September 5, when the three professors were joined by another two colleagues, and the five again waited to see if the lights would appear:
Suddenly we first sighted the objects just a little bit before they were directly overhead. I suppose maybe they were 10 or 20 degrees to the north. These objects went over so fast that it is hard to say now exactly how many there were. We don't know whether there were a number of objects or whether it was the lights of just one object itself.
The objects appeared to be about the size of a dinner plate and they were greenish-blue, slightly fluorescent in color. They were smaller than the full moon at the horizon, but might have been about the size of the moon overhead. I think there must have been about a dozen or fifteen of these lights[;] they were in a cluster and they all moved exactly together, so we don't know if they were different objects all moving at the same rate of speed or whether there was just one object with these different portholes of light.
One of the professors, chemical engineer A G Oberg, had suggested after the August 25 sighting that the "glow" of the lights might have been lights reflected from the city of Lubbock below, and therefore the objects might have been birds, possibly geese, ducks or plover. Other witnesses disagreed with this, pointing out that, at the height the objects were estimated to be flying at (around 2,000 feet), the objects would have had to have been moving at around 600mph, which is probably a bit fast for geese, ducks or plover. Certainly, the photos that Carl Hart Jr took were not of birds, as this was tested by others, by attempting to replicate the photos with birds flying over the city at night; the resulting images were too dim to be considered accurate reproductions of Hart's photos.
It should also be noted that the professors who had the majority of the sightings said that their sightings did not look like the photos Hart took - Hart's photos showed a V-formation, while the professors claimed to have seen a U-formation.
The Lubbock Lights were investigated by Lt. Edward J Ruppelt as part of his work on Project Grudge, which was later renamed Project Blue Book. One thing that Ruppelt noted was that on August 25 - the same date as the professors' first sighting - a guard at Sandia Base in New Mexico saw what was described as a "flying wing one and a half times the wing span of a B-36". This object was estimated to be moving at 300-400mph at an altitude of less than 1,000 feet, and was silent. At its trailing edges, "six to eight pairs of flowing lights could be seen". No planes were in the area at the time.
At some point in August, before the sightings "officially" began, the wife of one of the professors reported seeing a "huge, soundless flying wing" fly over their house. These sightings, along with other sightings in the surrounding area, such as a 40-foot long, silver pear-shaped craft was seen on Highway 70, 50 miles northeast of Lubbock, show that clearly something was happening in the area, and it was much more than just an isolated incident.
Officially, the Lubbock Lights are considered "unknowns" and "good UFO reports" by Grudege/Blue Book. Ruppelt noted that the US Air Force did possess a "flying wing" jet bomber, and therefore some of the sightings could have been of that, although that did not explain how the sightings were all silent. Ruppelt later wrote that "they were not birds, refracting lights, or 'spaceships'... [they were] positively identified as a very commonplace and easily explainable natural phenomenon..." In 1960 Ruppelt claimed that this phenomenon was "night flying moths".
Moths, of course, may not apply to the Hart photographs, which were said to be both brighter and a different formation to what the professors said. Certainly, moths could not have been the sightings of the "flying wing" seen by several people either, or the silver pear-shaped craft. There is also the mystery of the sighting that, according to Ruppelt, was captured on radar that only gets a brief mention in all of this. Something was definitely happening in the Texas-New Mexico area between August and November 1951, but whether it was moths, birds, top-secret aircraft or something else still isn't entirely clear.
Lubbock Lights (Wikipedia)
Clark, Jerome, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomena From the Beginning (Third Edition), Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2018.