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Unidentified Flying Objects – UFO’s – have been a popular topic with the American public for the past 60 years, even if mainstream astronomers and scientists don’t take them seriously (except as a human psychological phenomenon). There has arguably been a resurgence of public interest in UFO’s within the past 2 or 3 years, even though UFO sightings have dropped precipitously since 2015. In 2017, the NY Times, CNN, and other mainstream media reported on a US Defense Dept study (the 2007-2012 Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) on UFO’s. And within the past few months, a new story appeared in the NY Times about a series of interesting UFO sightings by US Navy pilots flying FA-18 jet fighters off the coast of Virginia in 2014, while on training exercises.

The Navy incident wasn’t just one guy seeing a brief flash in the corner of his eye while in a 3G turn; there were multiple sightings over several months and several pilots saw the objects. In some cases two pilots would be looking at the same thing and talking with each other about it on the radio, and the objects were also detected by radar and infra-red detectors. Also, the jets returned with video footage of the flying objects (which you can view on the NY Times website; albeit, you don’t see much more than some sort of bright spot zipping around over the ocean).

Interestingly, there were somewhat similar sightings by Navy pilots flying the same type of jets off the coast of California in 2004. There were significant differences in what the objects looked like to the 2004 pilots (the Pacific UFO’s were fairly large and looked something like a flying pill, whereas the Atlantic objects were smaller and looked something like little boxes inside of a sphere). However, in both cases, the objects accelerated and moved around in ways unlike any normal jet or rocket or helicopter can. They also did not put out any sort of visible exhaust. Who knows what was propelling them.

In sum, there were UFO encounters with Navy jets in 2004 over the Pacific off the coast of southern California, and now we have reports of several 2014 incidents with similar Navy jets in the Atlantic off the coast of Virginia. Coincidence? The truth is out there!

An article on a defense-oriented web site called Foxtrot Alpha points out the contradiction of someone building some sort of advanced flying object that can zip around at hyper-speeds and instant acceleration without any exhaust, and yet these things were picked up by our military radar and IR sensing technology. Why didn’t the owners of these vehicles use their advanced technology to hide them with stealth techniques?

More mysteries: If these objects are a secret US government project, why didn’t the Navy explain to the pilots that they belong to us, so as to keep them from making such a fuss. Why did the Navy let these pilots talk to the press about it? Could this have been an intentional dis-information campaign to keep the public (and maybe our adversaries) confused? Yea, but that just keeps people interested in it, including our enemies; why didn’t the Navy try to hush these guys up? It all seems pretty weird. These sightings appear to go beyond the usual UFO explanations, e.g. ball lightening or sun reflections or weather balloons or odd clouds or bright planets close to the horizon. In general, reported UFO sightings are probably over 50% mistake or imagination. The Navy sightings don’t fall neatly into any of these categories. But admittedly, that is not proof that some sort of extraterrestrial vehicles are involved.

Some commentators say that the pilots likely saw some sort of experimental drones made by humans right here on earth. Perhaps they were in fact some secretive commercial project or from a scientific lab testing an advanced drone technology in an out-of-the-way place. Perhaps the testing agency did not want the US military bureaucracy to know about it. (But if so, then why didn’t the secretive agency just get its drones out of the way when the Navy showed up? Drones are supposed to see what is going on around them, that’s usually why drones are used! Did this undercover agency WANT the Navy to know? Arg, where does this stop?).

I myself can understand that a lot of UFO sightings in recent years have probably stemmed from night-flying drones with high intensity lights attached. But as to objects zipping around for hours while 20 or 30 miles off the Atlantic coast — those would have to be rather advanced forms of drones! If this is a government project, it is pretty fantastic — is this like the movie Interstellar wherein NASA was secretly testing a gravity repulsion drive? PS, the Navy pilots themselves considered the classified drone project explanation and rejected it.

Another question about drones and UFO sightings – drone use has steeply increased each year since 2010. UFO sightings did go way up from 2010 to 2014; but since then, they have gone down. Actually, they have dropped quite a bit, from 8,700 at peak to 2,400 per year by 2017. I agree that over 50% of these sights are BS, but still . . . what psychological or cultural explanation is there for such a big peak and then such a big drop within a few years? It is interesting that 2014 coincides with the second series of Navy pilot encounters. Coincidence?? Who the hell knows . . .

When I was still a kid in grammar school, way before the advent of drones, I myself saw what appeared to be a UFO. I never talked much about it, not wanting to be branded as a nut case, as a lot of UFO spotters have been (and too often, that assessment has been mostly correct!). Today, however, US Navy pilots can go public about such sightings without worrying about ending their military careers or being committed to an institution. So maybe it’s OK to talk about it now. A 2018 poll indicates that about 13% of American adults have either seen a UFO or know someone who has. A 2017 poll put the number at 16.7%. So maybe it’s 1 in 8 or 1 in 6 who have seen something strange in the sky. Chances are good that you know someone who believes to have seen a UFO, even if they haven’t told you about it.

My own sighting happened around 50 years ago. It involved a yellow circular luminous object in the eastern sky on the low horizon, maybe 33-38 degrees, moving and maneuvering at unrealistic speeds while seemingly near a cloud just above the horizon. I was in a car with my father in a parking lot along Route 46 east in Lodi, NJ. I would estimate the year as being in the middle 1960s, 1964 to 1966. This object didn’t look like or move like any aircraft light I’ve ever seen; it hovered quite still for a minute or two, then would suddenly change position. It appeared to have come out from behind a small cloud, a part of which seemed temporarily illuminated by whatever this was. It appeared to have a circumferential dimension, it was not a tiny point of bright light; its intensity stayed constant, no brightening or dimming. It seemed bright but not blindly so, roughly like the moon at peak illumination. It was more lemon-yellowy than the moon, however.

This object had moved too quickly to be a helicopter, given the distance it was from me – it seemed to be near a cloud on the low horizon, which would have been at least 10 miles away (interestingly, given the direction and height from where I was, the object could have been over the Bronx or northern Long Island, highly populated urban areas – or over the water between them). The intensity of the light of this object and its shape did not vary – a helicopter would swivel, and any searchlights would change their angle and thus get brighter or dimmer. Some sort of illuminated balloon? I can’t imagine a balloon at such a distance hovering so still and then accelerating so quickly.

Ball lightning? That would seem to be a good explanation, except that I don’t remember the night in question being stormy (and ball lightning usually needs a regular lightning bolt to spark it). My father and I had the car windows rolled up according to my recollection, so it was probably a cool evening in autumn or spring. In northern NJ, that makes a thunderstorm very unlikely. I remember it being a quiet night, weather-wise.

You can try to explain my sighting using psychology, you can say that I had been influenced by the popular stories about UFO’s at the time, that I really wanted to see one myself. But I remember being really afraid of what I saw, I didn’t want to see it, and for many years I just kept it out of my mind and avoided thinking or talking about it. I remember at the time that my father was also looking at it, and neither he nor I said a word while it was happening. The silence between us was deafening! He looked a little bit upset or disturbed after it finally went behind the cloud, after about 2 or 3 minutes. But we never said a word to each other about it. It was just too weird and unbelievable to talk about. I wanted it to go away and never to see it again (and I never did, thank goodness).

I am the first person to admit that old memories are especially suspect and often inaccurate. I have had several incidents in recent years where I had a certain recollection from the past, and then came across good evidence that the details of my memory were quite inaccurate. But this incident really upset me, it seemed to print itself indelibly into my brain. It is one of those rare things from the past that I can see in my mind as if there were a recorded video. In the same vein, I can still remember how I found out that President Kennedy had been shot back in 1964, including where I was and who I heard talking about it, even some of what they said.

However, I am unconvinced that what I saw was extra-terrestrial. I don’t like the fact that even the more credible UFO sightings (i.e., those that are not easily explained by the usual UFO illusion factors, and which do not allege to levitate a cow or invite a person onboard for a visit) all turn out so differently. One looks like a disk, another like a cigar; one blinks, the other one stays the same. One is blindly bright, the other is just a dull glow (sort of like what I saw). One hovers (like mine), another one flashes by at astonishing speed (as with a friend who recently related his own UFO experience to me). One makes a noise, the other is completely silent. There is no rhyme or clue to this. If these were some sort of probes from some civilization beyond our solar system (“Von Neumann probes”), you might expect that they would have a standard design and behavioral signature.

Obviously, some of the variation must be psychological. On the other hand, some of it might stem from something real that is currently not within the realm of information available to the public. A tiny portion might relate to a secretive project being carried out by real humans, using a technology not yet know to most people, perhaps not even to most governments. And perhaps some small component relates to something that is natural but is not yet known to any human. An honest scientist will admit that science is not yet a comprehensive catalog of every possible physical phenomenon. There may yet be rare things left to the future to be understood. Whatever that is does not need to involve something from beyond our planet. Although there is a tiny, tiny, tiny chance that it might.

So for the most part, the U in UFO still means “Un-identified”, i.e. we aren’t sure yet what it is or was. It doesn’t mean some ET’s are on board or are in any way involved. It just means that the skies are a big place where unusual things are rarely but occasionally still seen by people in their right minds (and more frequently imagined by those not in their right mind!).

At the present time, the History Channel is airing a six-part series about the history of UFO sightings and investigations. Get out the tin-foil hats for that one! The History Channel needs to keep things entertaining. When I was young, I thought that I saw something strange up in the sky one evening. I didn’t want to see it, and for most of my life I tried to forget it. And all of the potential explanations for UFO sightings that I’ve come across still don’t seem to resolve it. But I’m now glad that there is still some mystery to life, and that this sort of thing is not particularly dangerous (after 60 years, there aren’t any credible reports of UFOs causing death or injury, although a pilot once died while trying to chase a UFO, but that was attributable to distraction – he climbed too fast and blacked out; in another incident, hot metal supposedly dropped from a UFO into a fishing boat, killing a dog and burning a man’s arm). It makes life a bit more fascinating; as the Zen koan goes, “not knowing is most intimate“. In the end, it all probably won’t mean much, other than that there’s always something more than we think. And whatever we think that “something more” might be is usually wrong!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:21 am      

  1. Hi Jim, Great blog post! UFO stories are always a source of fascination! When I was about twelve years old, I was with a small group of people (including one or more adults) who saw several UFOs hovering back and forth in the distance. This happened on Sixth Street in North Arlington, NJ a few blocks away from where I lived. I’m pretty sure it was just some search lights doing a publicity stunt, but you never know! When he was going to college in Findlay, Ohio, my brother and his buddies saw a UFO and tried to chase it in a car, but alas, it was much too quick for them. By the way, my son Brian the astrophysicist is a contractor to the SETI project out at Berkeley. SETI – Search for Extraterrestrial intelligence. They do deep space exploration using data from radio telescopes. I’ll let you know if they ever find anything out there!

    Comment by Allan Lacki — September 22, 2019 @ 11:21 am

  2. Hey Al, sounds something like my UFO experience (except I only saw one). Glad to hear that your son is doing some cool stuff! Thanks for checking me out, we need to talk before long.

    Comment by Jim G — October 8, 2019 @ 9:04 pm

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