The So-Called "Belgian Ufo Wave" – A Critical View

2005, May 1st | Emner: UFOs

by Marc Hallet

Many people who once believed in UFOs do not believe in them any longer. In contrast with a vast number of credulous people who believe in anything that gets into print, these former-UFO believers have started to check, systematically, the validity of the testimonies and of the literature that constitute the “UFO phenomenon”. Their doubts have increased constantly. Indeed, as soon as one starts digging a little deeper into this matter, it becomes clear that ufology is unsubstantiated. Consequently, each year, more and more reputed ufologists admit that they have erred or were on the wrong track; after what they join the rank of the ex-ufologists. This important fact is generally ignored by those who believe in extraterrestrial UFOs and is often censored or falsely explained by the ufologists themselves.

One enters and stays “in” ufology just as if it were a cult, sheltered from any hard facts that could trigger a process of disbelief. Ufology is scientific neither in its methodology nor in its achievements. The so-called “Belgian UFO wave” is a fine example of that…

During quite a few years, SOBEPS, a private Belgian UFO organization, tried to convince the academic world that it had adopted a scientific attitude concerning the study of UFOs. In 1991, a few dozen Belgian scientists accepted to listen -without prejudice- to the “evidence” put forward by the main promoters of that group. These scientists came out both disappointed and unconvinced that UFOs haunted Belgian skies. Yet, three months later, the secretary-general of SOBEPS claimed on a French television channel: “scientists are joining us en masse.” It was of course more than an ordinary exaggeration! (1)

In October 1991, SOBEPS published a first book about the alleged Belgian UFO wave; this book was entitled “Vague OVNI sur la Belgique” (UFO wave over Belgium). It will be referred to as “VOB” further in this article.

Ten Belgian scientists from the Universities of Liège and Bruxelles reacted very rapidly to the book and issued a press-release in which they criticized its content and professor Meessen’s work in particular. Undoubtedly, there would have been many more than ten, had it not been for the urgency of drafting this rebuttal. (2)

In spite of this, SOBEPS leaders continued to claim that Belgian scientists took their work seriously. The crude fact is that, since the publication of their first report, SOBEPS collaborators have never been invited by any university in Belgium to defend their point of view and no highly respected Belgian scientist has joined the SOBEPS team or approved its conclusions. Yes, sometimes SOBEPS collaborators have lectured in university auditoria, but it was because they had hired these places as some private groups can do it and not because they had been invited by academic authorities. Yes, SOBEPS has kept in contact with the “gendarmerie” (a police force having then a military status) in order to get information about UFO sightings, but, in Wisconsin for example, a UFO organization founded by contactee Charlotte Blob has the same “privilege.” Evidently, this is not a reason to recognize a UFO organization as a serious research partner. Authorithies accept to collaborate with UFO organizations because they realize now that the information they supply has little value. (3)

Let us examine the “hard facts” which received international publicity through SOBEPS…

First of all there are the “mysterious” radar signals recorded on board a F-16 on March 30-31, 1990. An incident which received world-wide publicity.

A physicist, Professor Meessen (now retired), who joined SOBEPS when it was founded in 1971 and who was convinced from the start that UFOs are from another world, has spent several months studying these recordings (4)

In VOB, professor Meessen wrote:

“The conclusion that logically imposes itself is that ANY HYPOTHESIS OTHER THAN THAT OF UFOs IS TO BE EXCLUDED AT VIRTUALY ONE HUNDRED PERCENT (emphasis in original text).”

He also wrote:

“…I think the only reasonable hypothesis is that of unidentified flying objects, the performances of which indicate an extraterrestrial origin.” (5)

This is what ten Belgian scientists referred to in their press-release as an extravagance. According to them, there were several inconsistencies in the analysis conducted by this physicist and one of these scientists even told me that no university student would ever pass with honours for such an ambiguous work, full of contradictions.

It is important here to underline that the F-16 pilot saw no UFOs at all. I spoke with some of his friends who had laughed with him about the UFO hypothesis. Had it not been for the SOBEPS team, these so-called mysterious radar returns would have been labeled as ordinary “angels”. Another important thing is that at one point the “return” remained unchanged on the screen while the plane was maneuvring, which is indicative of an instrument failure. This is also what Lieutenant-Colonel Salmon from the Belgian Air Force Electronic War Center remarked when he was interviewed by journalists of Science & Vie Junior in 1992. And this is also what I had written in an article that the ten scientists had chosen to add to their press-release in October 1991. (6)

Now, SOBEPS has published a second voluminous “report” about the so-called “Belgian UFO wave”. Not very surprisingly for those who were well informed, compelled as he was by the hard facts, professor Meessen distanced himself from his previous conclusions and admitted that very peculiar atmospheric conditions were probably the cause of the F-16 radar incident. He did it with a lot of verbose explanations, but he did it. (7)

Meessen’s first conclusion was given world-wide publicity. Not his laborious retractation!

May I add that in their press-release, in October 1991, the ten Belgian scientists who had criticized professor Meessen’s conclusion had already written :

“The analysis made by Mr. Meessen seems to indicate that it could be a meteorological phenomenon whereas the (supposed) occurrence of subsonic speeds and sudden accelerations made by material objects is far from convincing.” (2)

One should take into account that these mysterious signals (from a supposedly 100 % real extraterrestrial UFO!) constituted the ONLY “physical evidence” (not counting the Petit-Rechain picture I shall speak about later) that SOBEPS had gathered for its famous first book which journalists were influenced to announce as the “new bible on UFOs.”

In scientific circles, when someone discovers something of interest, a report is drafted and submitted to a scientific publication. Then the article is checked by several referees, returned to the author and proofread until it stands up to stringent scientific standards. Why did professor Meessen choose another way of publication? Why does he prefer always to publish his “scientific UFO studies” in privately published books and magazines or through Internet? Maybe he knows that scientific publications would reject his “demonstrations”…

Here is a sad story about this now retired physicist. In September 1987, in France, a 10 year old boy claimed that he had tape-recorded sounds from a UFO. In what appeared at first sight to be a rigorous scientific study published by SOBEPS, professor Meessen concluded that the sound had such strange characteristics that the child’s testimony had to be accepted. But professor Meessen is neither an expert in acoustics nor a radar expert. A CNRS researcher from the Acoustics Laboratory of the University of Provence, France, established that the sound was nothing more than a parasitic sound familiar to radio hams. This researcher commented on professor Meessen’s conclusions in the following terms : “a façade of seriousness”, “subjectivity” and even “an accumulation of clashing and ill-digested knowledge”. The severity of these comments and those of the ten Belgian scientists is such that it should force anyone
to question the way in which professor Meessen really conducts his research on UFOs.

Let us now look at the famous picture taken at Petit-Rechain. It was internationally distributed by the SOBEPS team and was used for the covers of the two books which this private organization published about the so-called Belgian UFO wave.

The document depicts a black triangular silhouette against a bluish background supposed to be the night sky. One irregular illuminated surface appears in each corner of the triangle. In the centre there is a luminous spot surrounded by a reddish aura.

There are discrepancies between the photo itself and the testimony of the young man who claims to have taken it. The picture was reportedly taken with a reflex-camera equipped with a 55-200mm zoom lens set at a minimum of 150mm. The photographer alleges that he used a long time exposure (between one and two seconds) and pressed the shutter release button for approximately two seconds. But he also said he simply held the camera with his hands against the corner of a wall. Even if he exaggerated, and the shutter button was pressed only for one second, the object photographed could not have had sharp edges; it would have been completely blurred. On the contrary, the triangular object shows at least one sharp edge. The young man said he saw the enormous object in the company of his girl friend. This second eye-witness was so little impressed by the extraordinary apparition that she didn’t even keep her eyes on it! At one instance she said the object left instantaneously and at another time she admitted that she actually never saw it leave. More important: Pierre Magain, an astrophysicist from the Astrophisics Institute of Liège has mathematically demonstrated that the size attributed to the object by the young photographer is completely different from what the camera captured. So, one can conclude that the testimonies of the two witnesses are completely irrelevant to the picture.

In this case, SOBEPS “researchers” have conducted a rather strange analysis. First, they tried to obtain a similar picture by using a wooden model. When this failed, they abusively concluded that if the document was a fake, it could only have been obtained by highly sophisticated means. This completed their “analysis”. A strange way to do a photographic expertise isn’t it?

Later, professor Marc Acheroy, from the Royal Military School, Bruxelles, authorized one of his students to use a digitalized version of this slide to test and increase its skills in computer processing and image enhancement techniques. As professor Acheroy explained to me in a personal letter, he never tried to judge what kind of object had been photographed (a sophisticated plane, a UFO or a model); the main reason why he accepted his student work on this picture was to achieve a better know-how of electronic data system. (9)

Professor Acheroy and SOBEPS have spoken abundantly about that work but few people have seen it. I have made a copy of it and asked for a scientific appraisal from two independent astrophysicists who are expert in image enhancement techniques. Thus, I learned that the digitalization had been so badly made that artefacts had appeared and that the cosine transform technique used by the student had also generated its own artefacts! The whole study was a poor one on a strictly scientific point of view but nevertheless some interesting characteristics emerged. For example, the object appeared to be surrounded by a luminous aura and this aura seemed to emit infrared light, just as if the object had been illuminated from behind by an ordinary spot light. (10)

At the beginning, the testimony of the young photographer was considered unbelievable by the SOBEPS team (11). After having failed to produce a comparable document, their conclusions evolved into a kind of credo that obscured the rather dubious origin of the document. This credo was so strengthened by the analysis conducted by a non-expert in image enhancement technique that they concluded the Petit-Rechain picture showed a real vehicle and that professor Meessen suggested the luminous spots on the slide were true plasma jets created by the magnetohydrodynamic propulsion mode used by the aliens! (12)

Far from sharing this enthusiasm, using very simple technique, astrophysicist Pierre Magain and his colleague Marc Remy from Liège University produced a picture that presented most of the characteristics of the Petit-Rechain slide. Moreover, former-UFO believer Wim Van Utrecht, from Antwerp, obtained also a similar picture with another simple photo-trick technique. These three men have at least proved the lack of imagination and knowledge SOBEPS collaborators have in photo faking.

Even ufologists admit that it is not always possible to prove that a picture has been faked. In this case, several elements seem to indicate a deliberate hoax. But SOBEPS knows there is no definitive proof of trickery and takes advantage of it. This is not a scientific attitude because contrary to what the facts seem to indicate, SOBEPS clearly tries to lead the public to believe that a UFO has really been photographed. This is the kind of argumentation that these UFO believers propose as “scientific evidence”.

During the Belgian UFO saga many people observed strange triangular formations in the skies. Some captured them with video cameras. Mr. Alfarano, from Bruxelles, took the most famous one but it is generally unknown that he also claimed to be in telepathic contact with alien entities. Even the SOBEPS now admits that none of these films shows anything strange or inexplicable. Most of them depict ordinary aircraft lights in a triangular configuration. Nevertheless, most of these people were convinced that they had seen the Belgian triangular UFO. In these cases their testimonies could be checked by examination of the filmed images. What about all those cases in which witnesses claimed to have seen a UFO but weren’t fortunate enough to capture it on film? Is there any reason to accept that they saw something else than those who filmed ordinary aircrafts? In the absence of relevant data it is often very difficult or impossible to identify what people have seen. SOBEPS takes advantage of this ambiguous situation and concludes that all unexplained observations are related to real UFOs, probably from an extraterrestrial origin. This is unscientific.

One can also doubt about the personal qualifications of the numerous improvised investigators SOBEPS worked with. Some of them were so blinded by their beliefs in UFOs they couldn’t even see the most evident things. For example here is a drawing made by a witness and which was published in Inforespace 86 as a true UFO. The testimony and the drawing show evidently it was an ordinary helicopter.

SOBEPS claims that thousands of people saw the Belgian triangle and maintains there is a remarkable COHERENCE in these numerous sightings. This magic word “COHERENCE” introduced by prof Meessen as soon as he worked with SOBEPS has been used again and again by SOBEPS collaborators to try to persuade us that identical objects were seen in Belgium by thousands of people. Look at the two books published by SOBEPS. In many cases, the objects described were triangles; but in all these testimonies, the only point of convergence is the WORD “triangle”. In reality all kinds of triangles were described, not only with very different angles but also with very different general structures and lights. In many cases people saw no triangular objects, but a quadrangle with four lights, a sphere or a disc surrounded with lights or even a rectangular platform as big as a football field reminiscent of science-fiction movies. People have also seen flying discs with cupolas, cigar or boomerang-shaped contraptions, symmetrical or asymmetrical complex geometrical shapes, and even something like an oval ship with paddle. That’s what SOBEPS calls “COHERENCE”!

A valuable piece of information that SOBEPS chose not to pub
lish is that Jean-Luc Vertongen, head of investigations at SOBEPS since its birth, left the group in December 1993. Since, we became friends and I can state that he now says that there was NO COHERENCE AT ALL in the testimonies that SOBEPS collected from our country over the years. But there is more: according to him, SOBEPS operates like a sect whose collaborators are devoted to the extraterrestrial hypothesis which, for them, offers the only logical explanation for the UFO phenomenon. (14)

Genevieve Van Overmeire succeeded immediately Jean-Luc Vertongen at the head of SOBEPS investigations department. Not for a long time: she left the group soon after and claimed also it worked just like a sect and didn’t do a scientific or even serious job. At SOBEPS headquarter, a loud silence answered these grave charges.

I would like now to give you two kinds of examples showing how little serious SOBEPS work was in the case of the so-called “Belgian UFO wave”.

On page 74 of VOB one can read the following about the sighting of a strange flying thing which looked like a bird :

“It was devoided of lights.”

Four sentences later we read :

“Under the wings there were two big white lights and one fixed white light on the nose.”

Surely, this text was checked more than once before it got into print. But, apparently, at SOBEPS headquarter they were unable to see this INCOHERENCE. Other examples of the same kind can be found in SOBEPS magazine Inforespace. In issue number 90, published in 1994, the following can be read about a man who was paralysed by a UFO :

“he was unable to make a gesture.”

Yet, on the next page we read:

“To convince himself he was not dreaming, he pinched himself…”

On the same page (page 9) we are being told that the man though it was impossible to take a picture of the object against the starry sky. Whereas, on page 8, it is said that “not a single star was visible.”

Another kind of INCOHERENCE is found in VOB on page 411, where Patrick Ferryn (who is SOBEPS photo-expert) explains that a UFO filmed with a video camera was nothing more than a street lamp. But, on page 280 and 281, in another chapter entitled “The March 12 mini flap” THE SAME UFO RESEARCHER uses this false UFO case as a real one to strengthen his conclusion that there were two real UFOs in the sky that night! And, on page 347 of the same book, physicist Leon Brenig writes about these March 12 sightings telling us that the testimonies “corroborated each other perfectly”! Last but not least, on page 290, speaking about two alleged UFO videos, Michel Bougard wrote :

“These documents are really astonishing.”

The distinguished SOBEPS President too seemed to ignore that one of these two films showed the now famous street lamp identified by the photo expert of his own organization.

That’s how SOBEPS worked with ITS so-called “Belgian UFO wave”. Surely, that’s why they found it necessary to print with striking letters on the back cover of their first book:

“An objective, rigorous and complete approach: a reference book.”

That’s how thousands of reader of SOBEPS books and magazines have been deluded.

References

  1. TF1 during a talk-show hosted by Patrick Sabatier, May 24, 1991
  2. La Wallonie, Oct. 26 and 27, 1991 page 9 (+ other Belgian newspapers and radio)
  3. Personal communication from US UFO researcher Richard W. Heiden
  4. SOBEPS : Vague d’OVNI sur la Belgique (VOB), Bruxelles, 1991, p. 358-359
  5. VOB, Bruxelles, 1991, p. 394
  6. Science & Vie Junior, Paris, January 1993, p. 14
  7. VOB 2, Bruxelles, 1994, p. 387-413
  8. OVNI-Présence, Aix-en-Provence, n°40, August 1988, p. 19
  9. Personal letter from Marc Acheroy dated from September 24, 1992
  10. Prof. Acheroy during an interview, RTBF (Belgian public television) June 17, 1992 + VOB 2, Bruxelles, 1994, p. 234-240
  11. VOB, Bruxelles, 1991, p. 414-415
  12. Science & Vie, Paris, March 1976, p. 49
  13. Personal communication from Pierre Magain and Marc Remy + VOB 2, Bruxelles, 1994, p. 229-233
  14. Personnal interviews with Jean-Luc Vertongen + Personal communication from G. Van Overmeire to W. Van Utrecht

The author has published, in French, several more detailed studies on this subject:

  1. La vague OVNI belge ou le triomphe de la désinformation, Liège, privately published, Sep. 1992
  2. L’art de la désinformation, Liège, Privately published, June 1992
  3. La prétendue vague OVNI belge, in Revue Française de Parapsychologie, Toulouse, Vol 1, n° 1, p. 5-24

Also useful:

  1. Magain (P), Le rapport de la SOBEPS, Liège, 1992 (Chapter 5 of an unpublished collective book)
  2. VAN UTRECHT (W), Triangles over Belgium – A case of Uforia?, Antwerpen, Privately printed, September 1992
  3. VAN UTRECHT (W), The Belgian 1989-1990 UFO wave, in UFO 1947-1997 edited by Hilary Evans and Dennis Stacy, London, John Brown Publ., 1997
  4. HENDRICKX (P) : Bepaling van de impulsresponsie van een optisch systeem met als doel de restauratie van gemaakte beelden, Afstudeerwerk voorgelegd tot het bekomen van titel van burgerlijk ingenieur, Brussel, Koninklijke Militaire School, akademiejaar 1991-1992 + Personal communications from Pierre Magain (Astrophysics Institute of Liège) and Ronny Blomme (Royal Observatory of Brussels)

Marc Hallet

Marc Hallet has had an interest in UFOs for more than thirty years. During the first ten years he was convinced of their existence and of their extraterrestrial origin. In 1977 he expressed his first doubts by publishing a paper based on the methods of historical criticism, a methodology no ufologist had used till then. Later, through his books and papers, his readers were able to follow the slow but steady development of his skepticism. Finally, in 1989, he published a penetrating study, appreciated by astronomers, in which he concluded that extraterrestrial UFOs do not exist.