The Gulf Breeze UFOs & Arizona Lights—Were These Psychological Experiments?

by Dr. Greg Little

In 1997 Arizona recorded what might be considered to be the most witnessed UFO incidents known. The events are sometimes called the "Phoenix Lights" since so many witnesses in that city saw the lights and so many photos and film of the phenomenon came from Phoenix. The Arizona lights were actually seen in Arizona, Nevada, and as far south as Sonora, Mexico. In 2007 another event took place in the same area that partially replicated the 1997 sightings. There is no doubt that something was present in the sky at those times, the question is what these lights and "craft" actually were? The presence of military aircraft in the area at the same time have added to the mystery for some while explaining it for others.

While many UFO researchers and writers prefer to believe that the Phoenix lights are evidence of extraterrestrial craft flying around in earth's atmosphere, there are others who simply accept that the U.S. Air Force was conducting training exercises by dropping strings of flares and testing experimental aircraft. Randall Fitzgerald has written a recent article (part 1) on the events in which he relates that the incidents may have been a "psychological warfare experiment." Fitzgerald was sent to Phoenix by Readers Digest to investigate the events almost immediately after the first reports surfaced in 1997. He spent two months interviewing witnesses and traveling Arizona. I don't have much else to say about the event except that when it occurred, I immediately suspected it was a military experiment. This was because it reminded me of my own investigation into a different event that had occurred in Gulf Breeze, Florida 10 years earlier. Last month (February, 2010) I returned to Gulf Breeze to follow-up on my earlier research there and to gather some film of the sites for an upcoming book and documentary on such events that Andrew Collins and I are compiling.

The Gulf Breeze Fiasco—Three Different Types of Reports

The Gulf Breeze events can actually be viewed as a series of three related—but distinctly unique—types of reports. The first reports came from a local construction and real estate developer, Ed Walters, whom I met one night in 1992 in a park at Gulf Breeze where he was selling his books out of his car trunk. In November 1987 Walters allegedly snapped a Polaroid picture of a craft that he claimed was hovering over an undeveloped road near a shoreline at Gulf Breeze. After initially supplying the local newspaper with the photo anonymously, the resultant articles created such a stir that Walters came forward, and offered even more photos. Walters soon got a contract to write a book of his story and photos and was paid a reported $200,000-250,000 advance. According to other sources, Walters also got about $400,000 for a network documentary, which was never made because of subsequent events. MUFON's Walt Andrus became a huge supporter of the case and Walters' photos were initially assessed by MUFON "experts" to be genuine. At last, many people thought, absolute proof of exterrestrial craft had come forward and MUFON asserted that it could be the most important UFO case ever. But then it all fell apart. One of the local reporters who had been assigned the story from its very beginning, named Craig Myers, started interviewing a lot of locals who knew Walters as well as following up on all of the possible leads he found.

After Walters' book was published he bought a new home. In 1990 Myers visited the new owners of Walters' house (named Menzer), where Walters had many encounters with the UFOs and a few entities he had also reportedly encountered. While he was talking to the Menzers in Walters' former house, Myers asked them if they had experienced any odd events there or found anything unusual. They had seen nothing unusual there they said but Mrs. Menzer then walked into another room while Myers continued to chat with Mr. Menzer. Mrs. Menzer then walked back into the room and held a white object in her hand. She stated that they had gone into the attic after they moved in to find a water line necessitating that they move several sheets of insulation. Under a sheet of the light weight insulation, hidden safely in a corner, they found a small styrofoam model that looked exactly like the UFO photographed so many times by Walters. In his 2006 book on his investigation, War of the Words, Myers presents a photograph of the model. There is no mistaking it as the Gulf Breeze UFO. Myers and the photographers subsequently created a series of photos of the object using a Polaroid camera replicating many of Walter's photos. Myers had indeed, uncovered the affair as a hoax.

In my 1994 book, Grand Illusions, I gave a synopsis of this hoax-revealing event, because it had been reported almost immediately when it was found in 1990. Walters, of course, denied it was his model and alleged that it had been planted by skeptics. But MUFON continued to support Walters for a time, especially since they had already certified his photos as genuine. But lesser known is that a local resident admitted that Walters asked for his help in taking double exposure photos of the object and hoax more events. And Myers has also found other people who claim to have seen Walters with models of the craft at night outside his home. Then, in 1992, one of Walters' photos was determined to be a hoax—a multiple exposure—by MUFON. In Myers' 2006 book, he also reveals that Walters was known locally for creating trick photography at children's parties. It's mind-boggling but Walters still has some supporters in MUFON, but few.

Unfortunately, it simply has to be assumed that the Gulf Breeze affair started with a hoax, taking advantage of the will to believe, gullibility, and outright denial. For decades I have debated with various individuals about why people hoax events. It remains inexplicable to me why it's so hard to understand. Some hoaxers can make a lot of money. According to Myers, when he divorced not long after the hoax was exposed, Walters and his wife split $2.4 million. It's true that UFO books don't sell well today, but in 1987 they were big business. Some hoaxers want attention for deep-seated reasons. Some hoaxers derive a sense of pleasure that they can fool experts. But the deeper motive is often a desire to make one feel superior. In short, aside from the possibilities of gaining money and fame from a hoax, there are deep-seated psychological issues at work.

The Second Events—While Gulf Breeze certainly started as a hoax, it's perhaps even more curious what transpired after it began. The second type of event, and one that continued for some time and overlapped the third type (described next) involved other people claiming to have seen the same craft, different craft, and having close encounters with entities in Gulf Breeze. There were hundreds of reports from other people over a period of perhaps a decade. There was no photographic evidence put forth—only witness statements. In February 2010 I listened to one such story while filming during the day at Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze. A local told my wife and I about seeing several saucer-shaped UFOs close-up. One way of looking at this is that UFO flaps, an intense period of UFO reports coming from many people, can be started by simply having a lot of people looking in the sky for such events after the initial report causes so much excitement. And Gulf Breeze is a focal point of military air bases and has been the location of testing of sophisticated military aircraft. But it has to be mentioned again that people perpetrate hoaxes for a lot of reasons.

The Third Events—In May 1992 we spent several days and nights at Gulf Breeze interviewing various people and photographing the areas where the alleged events took place. But by that time the UFO flap at Gulf Breeze had evolved into something completely different. Starting in November 1990 a local MUFON group, calling itself the GBRT (Gulf Breeze Research Team) had organized nightly "skywaches" from regular places. These were Shoreline Park, the bridge park that runs between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola, and at Pensacola Beach. On many nights a "hovering" red light was seen in the distance, occasionally two or more lights were seen, and less often a series of moving lights were seen in the sky. Sometimes the lights were white. On the night we saw and photographed the "red light" it had appeared the prior 8 nights at precisely the same time in the same place. The night before we arrived the light had been filmed by a Japanese film crew.

At 9 pm on May 24, 1992, there were 85 people in Shoreline Park. By 9:30 the crowd had swelled to over 100 and everyone became jovial and loud. Everyone looked to southeast where the light typically appeared and, this is the truth, chants of "It's time now Bubba" started. Some people yelled "come out, come out, wherever you are." The locals had adoped the nickname "Bubba" for the UFO. At 9:40 pm an intense round red light simply appeared off in the distance over the bridge between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. It lasted precisely 90 seconds. It was much smaller than the moon but larger and brighter than any star or planet would be. The light pulsed slightly for 80 seconds, but never went out as it pulsed. One MUFON member who I was with told me to "watch now because it was going to turn white." It then turned bright white and expanded to about 10 times the size of the red light, approaching the visual size of the moon. After about 8 seconds the MUFON member told me "watch it as it explodes." The white light then shot out small sparks of light around it for about 2 seconds and then, it was gone. That was the last night that Bubba appeared for a time, but Myers (2006) book reports that the red light phonomenon occurred over 500 times with 168 of the sightings documented by the GBRT MUFON group. On my two recent night visits to Shoreline park in February 2010, no one else was there, and all I saw were a lot of planes. An email to the local MUFON representative revealed that GBRT was dead and MUFON was essentially inactive in the area.

In Grand Illusions I related that the atmosphere at Shoreline Park back in 1992 was similar to a tailgate party. Everyone was speculating on the the origin of the lights and having a good time drinking, cooking out, and conversing. But it was an odd event, especially with the sale of Walters' book, his presence, and the underlying tension that had been created by the possibility of a hoax. Even more oddly, many people knew exactly what time the light would appear, where it would appear, how long it would last, and the phases it would go through. GBRT related back then that the red and white lights were definitely not flares, although they admitted that flares had been seen dropping from the large military aircraft in that area. One GBRT member stated that the military would occasionally try to "trick" them into reporting a UFO. Oddly, no one seemed to be bothered that the location of "Bubba" was usually over or near Eglin Air Force Base. And the fact that Bubba was so cooperative in appearing at the same time and in the same place seemed irrelevant to GBRT. And oddly, few MUFON members took note when local residents reported seeing large balloons carrying a red flare at the end of an attached rope.

In Grand Illusions I wrote that it seemed to me that this was a perfect venue for mass psychology experiments. The Navy's Office of Naval Research is based in Pensacola near Gulf Breeze. In 1972-3 I worked on a large research project for the psychological division of the Office of Naval Research and visited the Pensacola base labs about 6 times. What I actually did in the project was travel to all of the Navy's eastern Naval Air Stations over a period of 18 months. There were two of us on all of the trips; the other individual was a former member of the military. We tested over 1000 experienced pilots who had been flying extensive combat missions in Viet Nam. We escorted them into the medical labs at each base—one-by-one. We put them into a copper shielded, sealed, airtight room. A milk-colored cone-shaped object about 4 inches long was placed into their ears for about 5 minutes and we made recordings of brain activity while an ultra-high frequency was buzzed into their brains. We carried what was then the most sophisticated "black-box" recording apparatus known for this research. Actually it was two large green metal cases. Carefully lugging them from one site to another was one of more unpleasant tasks. They were shipped back to Pensacola when the experiment was concluded. The data from each subject came out from a hole punch printer that spit out a card for each subject. The cards were the type used in early 1970's computers. Perhaps the one thing I learned that's most relevant to this article is that the officers who were "over" this military research could do just about anything they wanted to do and they seemed to answer to no one. Our "boss" was actually a full colonel who had been commander of the Ft. Knox psychological research center. We carried two pieces of documentation with us when we visited each base. One was an ID. The other was a sealed letter to each base commander, usually a lower-rank Admiral. After entering the base we were escorted to the comander's office and immediately handed him the sealed letter. (I had long hair and usually wore drug-related t-shirts and jeans. I was a graduate student in psychology serving as a research assistant.) After reading the letter he invariably ordered his subordinates to give us rooms in the BOQ (Bachelor Officers Quarters) and to carry out our orders. "Give them anything they need" was the typical order. I never read any of the brief letters. But what I know is that we could call anyone in for the tests we gave and no one could refuse. And the medical facilities at each base gave us complete autonony. Most of the time the base commander was on our list of subjects. Not a single person refused. I was never privy to the full results of the study.

What Was Happening At Gulf Breeze?

I believe that what happened at Gulf Breeze was a series of events that was quickly exploited by military researchers. The research may have been known to only a few people. Oddly, most people assume that military research projects are known to many people but that's not always the case. In psychologial research one thing that happens often is that a single researcher, who oversees a laboratory and has personal authority to essentially conduct studies on whatever he or she likes, can order and conduct a study. Those who actually go into the field and perform the experiment are typically completely unaware of why they are doing what they have been ordered to do. The red and white lights at Gulf Breeze are an example. Myers (2006) actually terms the lights as "flares" although they are not the type of flares typically used on roads, railroads, and boats. Keeping the special military flares stationary is actually easy, by having them suspended under a hovering helicopter.

One type of psychological research that is conducted very often is termed "I wonder what if" research. It simply means, "I wonder what will happen if we do this or that?" In essence, after the initial Gulf Breeze fiasco took place and the town became a Mecca for UFO watchers, a simple experiment took place. Back in 1992, after Bubba appeared and I took my one photo of it, I turned around and walked around looking for people who might be "observing." I can't say I spotted anyone suspicious (except perhaps Ed Walters), but if it was a psychological experiment conducted by the military, I probably would not recognize them anyway. When I went to the bases in 1972, no one would have had any idea whatsoever what I was doing nor how I had authority to do it.

Phoenix and Gulf Breeze

Nearly every UFO researcher accepts that some UFO sightings have been of military craft and even the Phoenix events have been found to have a definite military involvement. Many times I have asserted that some UFO cases appear to be a Rorschach test being conducted by the military. A Rorschach is a series of inkblots shown to individuals with the underlying idea that people will project their own beliefs, preconceptions, and unconscious issues onto the inkblots when asked what they see. Phoenix and the Gulf Breeze lights were a form of inkblot test used to determine the public's reaction to an unknown seen in the sky. They were mass psychology experiments.

Government Research

I'll end this by saying that UFOs do exist and I completely accept as fact that unknown anomalous lights and objects have been and are being seen. But Phoenix and Gulf Breeze are not what many people believe them to be. On the other had I can add that there is ongoing experimentation into certain aspects of the UFO phenomenon that I wrote about extensively when Alternate Perceptions was a paper magazine. There is complex experimentation into close-encounter type phenomena using plasmas and electromagnetic fields going on in various places. A lot of this research studies effects on genetics and brain biochemistry. Today such research is carried out mainly in tightly controlled experiments conducted in numerous locations through government grants specifying the parameters. The researchers involved typically study only one specific aspect or one variable and have their results published in government journals that are not online. Many of these researchers are unaware of how their project fits into a bigger picture. A visit to a government document library (usually an enclosed subsection of a large university research library) is where they can be found. Finding the research is difficult as these publications are coded and are not indexed like regular journals articles. There are such studies to be found in journals with the title "plasma" and "electromagnetic" as well as in the military research journals.