The McMinnville UFO Photographs also referred to as the Trent UFO photographs, were shot by a pair of farmers, Paul and Evelyn Trent, on May 11, 1950, near McMinnville, Oregon, United States. The shots were republished in Life magazine and newspapers around the country, and are commonly regarded as some of the most famous and reliable UFO photographs ever captured. UFO skeptics believe these shots to be a hoax, however, many Ufologists suggested that these photographs were genuine and consisted of three-dimensional unidentified flying objects in the sky.
These photographs have emerged as the McMinnville UFO Photographs, the Trent farm was located outside Sheridan, Oregon, about nine miles, southwest of McMinnville. As per the astronomer, William K. Hartmann Evelyn Trent was returning to her farm on September 11, 1950, late evening after feeding her bunnies. Prior to arriving at her residence, she observed a slow-moving, disk-shaped metallic object approaching from the northeast.
She called for her husband, Paul, who was inside the house; he reported to have seen the object upon leaving the house. After observing the object for a brief time, he returned to their residence to get a camera; he claimed he was able to take two photographs of it before it raced off to the west. Additionally, Paul Trent’s father said that he briefly observed the object before it flew away.
Hartmann’s account of the incident is based on an interview the Trent gave to KMCM, where the host Lou Gillette, cited in “The Oregonian” on 10 June 1950. Two days earlier, on June 8, 1950, the Trent’s gave a slightly different account of the incident to the local McMinnville newspaper, the “Telephone Register.” Evelyn Trent in this version stated:
“We’d been out in the back yard. Both of us saw the object at the same time. The camera! Paul thought it was in the car but I was sure it was in the house. I was right—and the Kodak was loaded with film.”
The Appearance of the Disk according to the Trent’s
The UFO resembled a disc with a flat bottom and some sort of superstructure. Years later, the Trent’s told investigator William Hartmann that the object resembled “a good-sized parachute canopy without the strings, only silvery-bright mixed with bronze”. One of the images depicted the object inverted, revealing its bottom. The witness sensed a breeze that they correlated with the object’s movement at that time. They believed the UFO was “something the Army was experimenting with”.
Initial Investigation Of McMinnville UFO Photographs
The Trents’ camera had a partially used roll of film, so they did not develop the film immediately. The film was not developed until May 14, 1950, when the remaining frames were utilized to take family portraits for Mother’s Day.
In a 1997 interview, the Trent’s stated that they originally suspected that the unidentified object they had captured to be a secret military aircraft and that they thought the photographs “could get them into trouble.” When he reported his sightings and images to his banker, Frank Wortmann, he was sufficiently impressed to exhibit them in his McMinnville bank window.
Local newspaper writer Bill Powell subsequently persuaded Mr. Trent to send him the photographs. Powell reviewed the photographs and saw no sign of tampering or forgery. The McMinnville Telephone-Register published Powell’s account of the events alongside two photographs on the main page on June 8, 1950. The headline stated, “At Long Last, Authentic Photographers Of Flying Saucer?”
The report and accompanying photographs were then followed up by the International News Service (INS) and distributed to other newspapers around the country, resulting in widespread coverage. On June 26, 1950, Life magazine published cropped versions of the photographs alongside a photograph of Trent and his camera. The Trent’s had been assured that their negatives would be produced, but never retrieved. Life magazine informed the Trent’s that the negatives had been misplaced.
Investigation Done By The Condon Committee
In 1967, the photographs of the Trent photographs were discovered in the files of United Press International (UPI), the news agency that had amalgamated with INS several years prior. The images were then lent to Dr. William K. Hartmann, an astronomer who was an investigator for the Condon Committee, a government-funded UFO study organization headquartered at the University of Colorado Boulder. The Trent’s were not notified immediately of the recovery of their lost photographs. Hartmann was pleased by the Trents’ genuineness when he questioned them; the Trent’s reportedly never asked for payment for their photographs, nor did he uncover proof that they had sought fame from them. Hartmann wrote to the Condon Committee in his analysis 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.”
This result was supported in part by the photometric analysis of the photos. Hartmann observed that the illumination of the object’s underside looked to be brighter than the shine of the oil tank’s underside as shown in the photos. This could be due to atmospheric extinction and scattering, the same processes that cause distant mountains to appear “blue” and “washed out.” This impact showed that the things were farther away from the camera than the tank, rather than being little and nearby. However, Hartmann also mentioned the possibility that the photographs were fabricated.
“The object appears beneath a pair of wires, as is seen in Plates 23 and 24. We may question, therefore, whether it could have been a model suspended from one of the wires. This possibility is strengthened by the observation that the object appears beneath roughly the same point in the two photos, in spite of their having been taken from two positions.” and concludes “These tests do not rule out the possibility that the object was a small model suspended from the nearby wire by an unresolved thread.”
Hartmann also identified a discrepancy that would become the primary objection of subsequent skeptics. He observed that the overall lighting of the photograph was consistent with what would be expected at sunset, but he also observed that there was a significant difference in the lighting in the background.
“There could be a possible discrepancy in view of the fact that the UFO, the telephone pole, possibly the garage at the left, and especially the distant house gables (left of the distant barn) are illuminated from the right, or east. The house, in particular, appears to have a shadow under its roof that would suggest a daylit photo, and combined with the eastward incidence, one could argue that the photos were taken on a dull, sunlit day at, say, 10 a.m.”
After completing his inquiry, Hartmann returned the photographs to UPI, who subsequently notified the Trent’s. In 1970, the Trent’s requested the photographs from Philip Bladine, the editor of the News Register (the successor to the Telephone Register). The Trent’s observed that they had never been compensated for the photographs and so desired their return. Bladine requested that UPI return the photographs, and UPI complied. However, Bladine did not inform the Trent’s that the photographs had been returned for some reason.
Analysis By Maccabee
Bruce Maccabee, an optical physicist for the United States Navy and Ufologist, discovered the negatives in the News-Register archives in 1975. After finishing his own analysis of the photographs, Maccabee ensured that the Trent’s received the original negatives.
Maccabee determined that the photographs were not a hoax and that they depicted a “genuine, physical” object in the sky above the Trent farm. His methodology relies heavily on densitometric observations, comparable to Hartmann’s photometric analysis. Maccabee believed that the brightness of the object’s bottom indicated that it was at a considerable distance from the camera, as opposed to being a smaller object nearby.
In addition, Maccabee assessed the position of numerous items in the image as well as an image created by Hartmann during his June 1967 visit to the site. Depending on this, Maccabee concluded that the line-of-sight of the two images overlapped some distance behind the power lines visible in the photographs, offering additional evidence, in his opinion, that the object was not a miniature model dangling from the lines. Maccabee reported that his examination of the object revealed no indication of a string or thread suspending it from the electrical cables.
Maccabee made the argument that cloud conditions in the McMinnville region on the evening of the sighting could have induced the shadows on the storage shed, in response to skeptics’ claims that shadows on objects in the photographs demonstrated that they were captured in the morning rather than in the early evening, as the Trent’s had claimed. In addition, he indicated, in reaction to the 2013 IPACO photo analysis that found the photographs were a fraud:
“Regarding [their] 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.”
The McMinnville UFO Photographs are among the most widely disseminated in UFO history. The skeptics continue to assert that the two photos are hoaxes and/or forgeries. Ufologists maintain that the Trent photographs are credible proof that UFOs are real, physical phenomena. Consistently, the Trent’s have been depicted as straightforward, innocent farmers who never attempted to profit from their photography or the fame they brought them.
Evelyn Trent passed away in 1997, and Paul Trent in 1998; both insisted until the end of their lives that the sighting and photographs were authentic. McMinnville’s yearly UFO Festival is now the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest and the second-largest UFO festival in the United States after the one held in Roswell, New Mexico.