McMinnville UFO photographs

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One of the McMinnville UFO photographs

The McMinnville UFO photographs were taken on a farm near McMinnville, Oregon, United States, in 1950. The photos were reprinted in Life magazine and in newspapers across the nation, and are often considered to be among the most famous ever taken of a UFO. Most UFO skeptics have concluded that the photos are a hoax, but many ufologists continue to argue that the photos are genuine, and show an unidentified object in the sky.

The incident[edit]

Paul and Evelyn Trent lived on a farm approximately nine miles from McMinnville (the Trent farm was actually located just outside Sheridan, Oregon).[1] According to her reports, on May 11, 1950 at 7:30 p.m., Evelyn Trent was walking back to her farmhouse after feeding rabbits on her farm. Before reaching the house she claimed to see a slow-moving, metallic disk-shaped object heading in her direction from the northeast.[1] She yelled for her husband, who was inside the house; upon leaving the house he claimed he also saw the object. After a short time he went back inside their home to obtain a camera; he said he managed to take two photos of the object before it sped away to the west. Paul Trent's father claimed he briefly viewed the object before it flew away.[1]

Publicity and initial investigations[edit]

It took some time for Paul Trent to have the film developed. When he mentioned the incident to his banker, Frank Wortmann, the banker was intrigued enough to display the photos from his bank window in McMinnville.[1] Shortly afterwards Bill Powell, a local reporter, convinced Mr. Trent to loan him the negatives. Powell examined the negatives and found no evidence that they were tampered with or faked. On June 8, 1950, Powell's story of the incident—accompanied by the two photos—was published as a front-page story in the local McMinnville newspaper, the Telephone-Register. The headline read: "At Long Last—Authentic Photographs Of Flying Saucer[?]" The story and photos were subsequently picked up by the International News Service (INS) and sent to other newspapers around the nation, thus giving them wide publicity. Life magazine published cropped versions of the photos on June 26, 1950, along with a photo of Trent and his camera.[2] The Trents had been promised that the negatives would be returned to them; however, they were not returned—Life magazine told the Trents that it had misplaced the negatives. [3] In 1967 the negatives were found in the files of the United Press International (UPI), a news service which had merged with INS years earlier. The negatives were then loaned to Dr. William K. Hartmann, an astronomer who was working as an investigator for the Condon Committee, a government-funded UFO research project based at the University of Colorado Boulder.[1] The Trents were not immediately informed that their "lost" negatives had been found. Hartmann interviewed the Trents and was impressed by their sincerity; the Trents never received any money for their photos, and he could find no evidence that they had sought any fame or fortune from them.[1] In Hartmann's analysis, he wrote to the Condon Committee that "This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological, and physical, appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses."[1]

After Hartmann concluded his investigation he returned the negatives to UPI, which then informed the Trents about them. In 1970 the Trents asked Philip Bladine, the editor of the News-Register (the successor of the Telephone-Register), for the negatives; the Trents noted that they had never been paid for the negatives and thus wanted them back. Bladine asked UPI to return the negatives, which it did. However, for some reason Bladine never told the Trents that the negatives had been returned.[4] In 1975 the negatives were found in the files of the News-Register by Bruce Maccabee, an optical physicist for the U.S. Navy and a ufologist. After completing his own study of the photos, Maccabee ensured that the photos were returned to the Trents.[5]

Hoax explanation[edit]

In the 1980s two prominent UFO skeptics, Philip J. Klass and Robert Sheaffer, concluded that the photos were faked, and that the entire event was a hoax.[6] Their primary argument was that shadows on a garage in the left-hand side of the photos proved that the photos were taken in the morning rather than in the early evening, as the Trents had claimed.[6] Klass and Sheaffer argued that since the Trents had apparently lied about the time the photos were taken, their entire story was thus suspect. Klass and Sheaffer also argued that the Trents had shown an interest in UFOs prior to their sighting, and their analysis of the photos indicated that the object photographed was small and likely a model hanging from power lines visible at the top of the photos. They also believed the object may have been the detached rear-view mirror of a vehicle.[7] When Sheaffer sent his research and conclusions to William Hartmann, Hartmann withdrew the positive assessment of the case he had sent to the Condon Committee.

In April 2013, three researchers with IPACO posted two studies to their website entitled "Back to McMinnville pictures" and "Evidence of a suspension thread."[8] They argued that the geometry of the photographs is most consistent with a small model with a hollow bottom hanging from a wire, and they claimed to have detected the presence of a thread above the object. Their conclusion was that "the clear result of this study was that the McMinnville UFO was a model hanging from a thread."


After locating the Trent photographs in the files of the News-Register in 1975, ufologist Bruce Maccabee did his own analysis of the photos. He concluded that the photographs were not hoaxed and showed a "real, physical" object in the sky above the Trent farm.[9] In reply to the hoax explanations, Maccabee argued that cloud conditions in the McMinnville area on the evening of the sighting could have caused the shadows on the garage, and that his analysis of the object indicated that it was not suspended from the power lines and was, in his opinion, located some distance above the Trent's farm.[10] He also stated, in response to the IPACO analysis, that "regarding the photogrammetric analysis, I showed that the sighting lines did not cross under the wires and they did not refute this...I still stand on my original work."[11]


The McMinnville UFO photographs remain among the best-publicized in UFO history. Skeptics continue to rate the two photographs as being hoaxes and/or fakes.[12] Ufologists, meanwhile, continue to argue that the Trent photos are among the most reliable and persuasive evidence that UFOs are a "real", physical phenomenon.[13] Evelyn Trent died in 1997 and Paul Trent in 1998; they both insisted to their deaths that their sighting, and the photos, were genuine.[14] The interest surrounding the Trent UFO photos led to an annual "UFO Festival" being established in McMinnville; it is now the largest such gathering in the Pacific Northwest, and is the second-largest UFO festival in the nation after the one held in Roswell, New Mexico.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Condon 1968, Case 46
  2. ^ "Farmer Trent's Flying Saucer". Life: 40. June 26, 1950. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  3. ^ (Clark, p. 373)
  4. ^ (Clark, p. 373)
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Cousyn, Antoine; Louange, François; Quick, Geoff (April–June 2013). "The McMinnville pictures" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Sparks, Brad (August 2013), The IPACO Debunkers Attack the Trent Photos (McMinnville, Oregon, May 11, 1950) 
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ Sparks, Brad (August 2013), The IPACO Debunkers Attack the Trent Photos (McMinnville, Oregon, May 11, 1950) 
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ [4]


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