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The Cash-Landrum Incident: Was a Nuclear Aircraft Involved?

Of all the best-known and often reviewed UFO cases of the last few decades, many would contend that one of the most puzzling had been the Cash-Landrum incident, which occurred near Dayton, Texas on 29 December, 1980.

The story, well known in UFO circles, involved two women: Betty Cash and Vicky Landrum, as well as Vicky’s grandson Colby, all of whom purportedly observed an unusual, very bright source of illumination over a country road on the night in question. After seemingly hovering above the highway for several minutes, the strange object was surrounded by a group of helicopters in tight formation, and removed from the area, according to the witnesses.

Among those seeking to understand the incident, and what the evidence (little though we have) actually entails, researcher Curt Collins has examined the witness testimony in-depth, covering everything from the later developments and health problems reported by the witnesses, to the earliest statements they gave about the object’s shape and appearance, depicted in the image at the outset of this article (the image is an original work produced by Christian P. Lambright, X Desk Publishing, copyright 2013, as featured in Curt Collins’ original article at his site Blue Blurry Lines, which can be viewed here. Also, Curt’s article details a number of other renderings of the object, and I recommend folks visit his site for further background on this case).

Over the years, some have presented this case as one of the best UFO reports of the modern era, rife with details and credible testimony that points strongly toward a physical object seen on the night in question. On the skeptical side of things, it has been argued that this case is yet another crude hoax, and that perhaps the witnesses had gone to great lengths to create the appearance of poor health following the encounter, with hopes of obtaining money in recompense from the U.S. Air Force or some other agency. 

Much like Collins has worked to try and do, looking at the case very carefully, I feel that there may still be things we can surmise about this incident, even decades after it occurred, as I recently outlined in an article on the subject. Following its publication online, one reader wrote to me addressing the long-held theory that the object or craft may have been utilizing an experimental propulsion system, perhaps one involving a nuclear engine:

“I’m a bit surprised you didn’t go into NEPA (Nuclear Engine Propulsion Aircraft) at all Micah. Especially when considering the witnesses suffered from radiation exposure combined with their reports of a rocket type exhaust. As I recall, they reported the craft appeared to be having difficulties, which would help to explain the Chinooks.”

Stanton Friedman - nuclear physicist

Stanton Friedman – nuclear physicist

As a rather interesting aside, a number of years ago I had actually considered what my reader proposes, which had prompted me to ask researcher Stanton Friedman about his feelings regarding this particular case. As a nuclear physicist who had worked on various projects that explored whether a nuclear engine propulsion craft might be feasible for air or space travel, it had been Friedman’s view that no such manmade technology would likely have existed at the time of the Cash-Landrum incident (that was his opinion, at least). Hence, Friedman felt that the object, whatever it was, “hadn’t been one of ours”, if the object had indeed exhibited any kind of a nuclear power source.

One of the first problems with the NEPA argument is actually an obvious one: despite the long-held assertions about radiation poisoning, there was never any real evidence that nuclear radiation had been found at the site (and further, it should be noted that the precise location of the observation could not be found either). Betty Cash’s vehicle similarly failed to display any convincing evidence of nuclear radiation, despite the likelihood that the vehicle had been the same distance from whatever source might have caused the witnesses to become ill afterward. This was confirmed by researcher John Schuessler, who had examined Cash’s vehicle with a geiger counter during his investigation of the incident. 

Betty Cash (right)

Betty Cash (right)

While the witnesses certainly displayed symptoms similar to radiation sickness, it had been the problems with finding evidence of nuclear radiation on the vehicle that led researcher Brad Sparks to consider whether the health problems had been the result of something else; he suggested a chemical component, perhaps an aerosol, that may have been present in the environment instead.

However, I find that the ailments that the witnesses described (especially Betty Cash) were also consistent with health problems associated with exposure to a high dose of some variety of ionizing (or perhaps non-ionizing) radiation; since the object was described as extremely bright, infrared or ultraviolet might be possibilities here. Thus, the effects described might somewhat resemble conditions like sun poisoning, resulting in photochemical damage that seems more plausible than chemical reactions or nuclear radiation… especially since no convincing evidence for either of these had been found.

In my original article on the subject, I also presented information on a specific patent for an infra-heat emitter, designed for purpose of the quick inflation of balloons, and perhaps allowing infrared detection for military applications (night training missions, etc). The patent predates the Cash-Landrum incident by several years, and if we were to consider some similar device had been behind the illumination the witnesses observed, it might also account for a source of radiation–perhaps in the infrared or ultraviolet portions of the spectrum–where photochemical effects (i.e. damage to the skin, etc) certainly can occur.

Finally, we should note that a fairly high-energy ionizing source of radiation would have been able to cause effects such as damage to the skin, without resulting in radioactivity being induced in objects nearby. This seems consistent with the lack of radiation noted by Schuessler during his investigation.

In conclusion, perhaps some of the problems we face in understanding what really happened on the night of December 29, 1980 have more to do with inaccuracies and assumptions that are often made about the case, rather than hard facts. In order to make a proper assessment of the events related by Betty Cash and the Landrums, a careful review of the facts is paramount; and even after more than three decades, it may also help us come to new, better-informed conclusions about the case and its implications.


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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