by Jerold R. Johnson


This section provides definitions of the twenty "types" of anomalous sighting reports, indicated by two letters and a number, presenting them in a two-dimensional matrix comprising four groups with five categories within each group. Once a "type" is determined and affixed to a report, it provides for others a quickly understood indicator of the proximity and behavior of a phenomenal event, as well as its level of interaction with the witness(es) and the physical environment. Field Investigators are encouraged to learn and use this readily memorable classification system.


The classification of objects and observed phenomena into a systematic and meaningful set of "types" is a hallmark of all the observational sciences and is considered a required precedent for understanding. The study of anomalous events, if we wish it to be scientific and to proceed in an organized manner, cannot be an exception. The scientist who first introduced the classifying of flying saucer reports by "types" in the 1960s, Jacques Vallee, has given us a set of definitions for a classification system that builds upon the useful portion of J. Allen Hynek's classifications, the well-known Close Encounter categories from his The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry (Regnery, 1972), while at the same time replacing the less useful of Hynek's "types" with a neat, systematic, and readily memorizable set of groups and categories that manage to accommodate the full range of phenomena that we today accept as being part and parcel of the flying saucer mystery. This system was first published in Vallee's Confrontations (Ballantine, 1990) where it appears in the appendix titled "Bringing Order out of Chaos: Definitions and Classifications."

Vallee has proposed four groups with five categories in each group that form a neat, two-dimensional structure (see diagram). the CE group will be mostly familiar, as it has developed from Hynek's famous three categories: Close Encounters of the First, Second and Third Kinds, with a fourth category added to describe the abduction phenomenon and a fifth to denote wounds, scarring, healing or death. For distant flying objects (following Hynek's definition of 500 feet, 150 meters, or more), Vallee suggests classifying them according to the apparent behavior of the object rather than circumstances independent of it, such as daylight or night, into two groups: MA for "maneuvers" and FB for "flyby." The genius of this scheme is in the introduction of the AN group for "anomaly," which allows the classification of the full range and variety of phenomena with which we must deal, such as flashes of light illuminating the sky, detonations or shock-waves from no known source, misplaced masses of earth, persons relocated large distances in a short space of time, sounds, images or artifacts specifically associated with the flying saucer phenomenon in the minds of the reports (with the agreement of the MUFON investigators) in situations where no flying object was actually seen.


by Ron Westrum, Ph.D.


Over something like a century, the developing science of psychology has been able to show that far from being an infallible instrument, eyewitness testimony has a number of significant defects. We cannot rest content with the observation that such testimony is fallible, however, because an enormous amount of the material that we have on UFOs either consists solely of eyewitness evidence or is dependent in part on it. Therefore, we have two tasks: 1) finding ways of separating accurate testimony from inaccurate, and 2) indicating the ways distortions enter testimony, so that one can estimate what was actually taking place.


People tend to be ready to perceive objects according to the general probabilities of encountering them. This means that truly rare objects will be perceived only with difficulty. Hence, since UFOs are not a routine experience, the unbiased witness will not be perceptually ready to perceive a UFO; it is only with difficulty, if he actually sees a UFO, that he realizes that it is a UFO that he is looking at. Hence, he is likely to try out a series of hypotheses on the perception which don't match: "At first it looked like an airplane, then I realized that it wasn't moving. Could it be a helicopter?"

If one encounters a witness who immediately recognized the object as a UFO, one should be very suspicious. This person would have been ready to perceive a UFO and reason for this readiness should be sought by the investigator. Second, how could a person "recognize" a UFO, unless he had seen one before (important point!), or had seen pictures or read descriptions of one? There are persons who are constantly looking for UFOs (such as members of UFO organizations). Also, in flap areas, one should be particularly wary of the "readiness" factor. People often do expect to see UFOs, and if they do, they expect them to look like what they have heard that others have seen. This indicates that much testimony, even of actual sightings, will be biased. This does not mean that it is worthless, but rather that the investigator should try to estimate the extent to which pre-conceptions have influenced what was perceived and remembered. For instance, find out what they think others saw, etc. Seeing a UFO is not a routine experience, and it should be accompanied therefore by some cognitive, if not emotional, impact. The absence of such an impact calls for an explanation.

In addition, most Americans, most of the time, will be engaged in "purposive behavior." They will be going to the store, taking the trash out, coming from work, and so forth. In addition to this purposive behavior, they will often have their minds engaged on some more enjoyable topic (their girlfriend, their next raise) or will be worrying about something. Mention of such "purposive behavior" by the witness adds to the report's credibility.

19.2.1 Critical Observer

Another sign attesting to truthfulness and reliability in reporting is related to "critical checks" made by the witness during the actual sighting event. During the "War of the Worlds" broadcast in 1938, some persons who heard the broadcast believed immediately that the Martians were landing, etc.; while others tried to make checks for other signs as to whether the broadcast was genuine or not. Hadley Cantril, who made a study of reactions to the broadcast, described the latter group as possessing "critical ability." One should always look at a witness's account with a question about "critical ability" in mind: was the witness critical of his own perceptions? Did he make checks to see if he was really seeing a UFO?

There are several ways in which the "critical" observer will try to verify what he is seeing: he may shift position, to try to see the object from other angles; he may ask others if they can see what he sees; he will look for traces after the sighting; he will try to calculate sizes, heights, etc. He will tend to be particularly disturbed by incongruities in the sighting: "If it was that big, how did it stay up without propellers?" "If it had a power supply, then why didn't it make any noise?" The ready acceptance of contradictions suggests a lack of ability to be critical of one's own perceptions. The more "unreal" the sighting from a critical observer's point of view, the more the perception has to be tested.