UFO as wildlife
Three Decisive Admissions
The recent ↆ Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (June 25, 2021), from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), is the latest iteration of official US government positions on UFO, now flying under the moniker of UAP or "unidentified aerial phenomena." The plural is embedded in the euphemism, and the report refers to 144 such phenomena observed by US military and surveillance systems since 2004 "with the majority coming in the last two years."
Most commentators with both feet in what is popularly called ufology disparage the report as inconclusive, disappointing or a whitewash. I take the sanguine position that the report makes three new and decisive admissions:
(1) UAP are real. Eighty were observed with "multiple sensor systems," including expert visual scrutiny.
(2) UAP display "advanced technology" that includes "signature management" and "unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics"; and
(3) UAP pose "a real hazard" of collision to aircraft and "a potential threat to national security".
The jargon "signature management" is a sometime synonym for "stealth technology" but generally refers to the capability of a potential adversary to minimize or thwart detection by terrestrial, aerial or orbital surveillance systems across a large part of the electromagnetic spectrum radio, radar or microwave, infrared and visual radiation. What the term means in this context is explicitly vague, but we will learn from public testimony that it includes "jamming" radar, which some interpret as an "act of war."
However, neither the ODNI lack of disclosure nor its place in the seven decade history of governmental evasion and disinformation (AKA, Project GRUDGE, Project BLUE BOOK, the Roberston Panel and the Condon Committee) are my focus. I consider continuing government evasion of the topic to be just one of many human responses to the same predicament of knowledge: a confrontation with the uncanny and unexplained.
I present what I gleaned over seven months of inquiry as an interested citizen, relatively uninformed on the topic of UFO but intrigued by a 2017 New York Times article (cited below) and by the lack of substance in the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment." I approach the topic of UFO from the perspective of scientific inquiry, not with any expectation of conclusive answers but to reframe what has become a historically stifling and stagnant conversation.
I summarize or quote relevant sources and link to interviews and videos for readers unfamiliar with UFO phenomena or the extent of evidence about them. I transcribe all quoted statements verbatim and cue cited videos to any quoted passage, but I encourage readers to watch the video files end to end for the full context.
Remarkably, after seven decades of experience with UFO we still lack a standard language to classify them or describe their attributes. The current quibble over acronyms shows a complete breakdown of consensus public language. I define my terms and avoid "vehicle" or "object" as implying a constructed or material nature, when most of what we actually know about UFO is observational. I decline UAP and UFO as flexibly singular or plural, just as we say "one aircraft" and "many aircraft" or "one sheep" and "many sheep."
After a review of public knowledge and video evidence, I argue that we should approach UFO as wildlife both scientifically, esthetically and ethically. This means that we accept that UFO are "known" or factual; that demonstrated innate control capabilities justify interpreting them as a life form; that we study UFO using the analytical tools and organismic concepts of the life sciences; that ethically our objective does not include the intent to "capture or exploit" UFO for human purposes; and that we declare all extraterrestrial storytelling as "unknown and undecided" until public corroborating evidence suggests otherwise.
This wildlife approach replaces the various "super intelligent extraterrestrial" scenarios with the far better documented facts that UFO, described in the language of the life sciences, are aware of their environment, show adaptive dispositional responses to the environment, communicate with the human species, and display simple forms of social behavior.
Recent UFO Legislation
The ufologist's complaint is a good place to start. David MacDonald, director of the civilian Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), correctly states that the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" does not fulfill the congressional requirement and does not even reaffirm facts that diligent nonmilitary researchers have "known for decades about the phenomenon." I come to those facts later, but begin with the reason we have an ODNI report to disparage.
The admission that UAP "interrupted pre-planned training or other military activity," or that nearly a dozen of UAP reports describe a near air collision, are disclosures that an $800 billion per year military/intelligence complex would be loath to make public. The fact that the report appears at all is due to an extensive clause inserted by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA) in the June 17, 2020 Intelligence Authorization Act, mandating the production of a report on the current understanding of UAP within 180 days of the passage of the act.
Congress was very specific as to what this UAP report should deliver. After a brief introduction and declaration of the report deadline, the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act continues:
The Committee further directs the report to include:
The ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" includes this text as an Appendix (p. 9), but misquotes it by substituting "requests" for "directs" and by impudently deleting the last line, which is at least the ODNI admission that they haven't given us an unclassified "detailed analysis." The listed items in 2 are not discussed at all (as we will see, geospatial intelligence in particular is scrupulously avoided); items 3 (review of FBI data), 4 and 5 (description of an interagency process for data collection) are omitted entirely. These are petty misrepresentations, but they are examples of the power struggle between the defense/intelligence establishment and civilian oversight that characterizes the UFO issue.
The ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" was an early counter in this evolving struggle. Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) proposed amendments to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as House resolution HR 4350 and Senate amendment SA 4281 respectively, to create an "Office for UAP Research" or an "Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office." Most points in the Gillibrand version of the Gallego amendment were reconciled as an amendment (Section 1683) to the 2021-2022 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1605) that was passed by the House on December 7, 2021, by the Senate on December 15, and signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 27.
This yet to be officially named office of UAP research will be administered either solely within the Department of Defense or as a function shared with the ODNI, where it will develop "procedures to synchronize and standardize the collection, reporting, and analysis of incidents regarding unidentified aerial phenomena." This syncretic archival office of incident reports will also "coordinate" with (extend Defense Department secrecy restrictions over) other agencies holding useful data, specifically to include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Energy (DOE) and "allies and partners of the United States, as appropriate." Note that NASA and NOAA manage observational satellite assets, but the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the most sophisticated sensor network in the world, and the United States Space Command (USSC), both under the direction of the US Air Force, are not mentioned.
The pretext for all this collecting and archiving is our national security need to understand what the hell these things are and why they are here. Crowed Gallego in his press release:
"Whether emerging tech from strategic competitors and adversaries or aerial phenomena from unknown origins, our military must have a full intelligence picture and the tools to respond quickly to these potential threats. My amendment creates a permanent office at DoD to comprehensively evaluate these UAPs."
However, this permanent office is also required by the Act to submit regular reports to the true study goals of the Department of Defense appear in the substance of a "Science Plan" originating in the Gillibrand amendment, where the focus is explicitly on aeronautical weapons and countermeasures:
(f) Science Plan.--The head of the Office established under subsection (a), on behalf of the Secretary and the Director, shall supervise the development and execution of a science plan to develop and test, as practicable, scientific theories to--(1) account for characteristics and performance of unidentified aerial phenomena that exceed the known state of the art in science or technology, including in the areas of propulsion, aerodynamic control, signatures, structures, materials, sensors, countermeasures, weapons, electronics, and power generation; and (2) provide the foundation for potential future investments to replicate any such advanced characteristics and performance.
With "science" like that, who needs a military? But this clause confirms the congressional understanding that UFO are real, otherwise no benefit to weapons development would result from studying them.
The NDAA incorporates three directives found in both the Gillibrand and Gallego amendments and in the exact same wording, which gives the directives a specific emphasis. These require reporting of:
"any efforts underway on the ability to capture or exploit discovered unidentified aerial phenomena"
Gillibrand mandated a civilian "advisory committee" to consist of 20 citizen experts in science, engineering, medicine and ufology, but this was deleted from the final Act. However, the final version does include Gillibrand's repeated emphasis on UAP events "associated with military nuclear assets, including strategic nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered ships and submarines, ... facilities or assets associated with the production, transportation, or storage of nuclear weapons or components thereof, ... nuclear power generating stations, nuclear fuel storage sites, or other sites or facilities regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission." This potential threat to nuclear assets is possibly a genuine national security focus of concern, but it is spun up with no official discussion of declassified evidence in the public record to justify it, which for a civilian must be the most concerning aspect of the issue.
From 2022 to 2026 this permanent office of UAP or "anomaly" research is tasked to provide biannual briefings and annual reports to the congressional armed services, appropriations, foreign affairs and intelligence committees. These reports will summarize the available data about the number and nature of UAP events in the past year as well as any information gleaned from their observation. This seems to open the door to a superficial public analysis. But the standing DoD disclosure policy is to "not comment on ongoing investigations," so the citizen oversight of UAP investigations will be limited to the congressional committees, which must conform in any public disclosures to the military designations of secret information.
Thus it's hard to know whether the UAP Office is a bad development because it extends military secrecy over the UFO issue or a good development because it opens the door to routine congressional oversight.
As if to hedge the bet, the Act allows the DoD to provide, instead of disclosure, an "enumeration of any instances in which data relating to unidentified aerial phenomena was not provided to the Office [of UAP research] because of classification restrictions on that data or for any other reason" which means even the Office may not have security clearances adequate to the task. Although it (and possibly also the congressional committees) will at least know where those firewalls are located. And while there is a requirement to provide an unclassified report, this will hang on a "classified annex," which means the public will likely learn as little from future "unclassified" reports as it has from prior DoD limited disclosures.
So we are left with the precedent of the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" and its reliance on the niggling qualifications and weasel wording more familiar to us as deceptive contractual language. When we read that "the limited amount of high-quality reporting ... hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions" (p. 3), or "UAP probably lack a single explanation" (p. 5), the astute reader will wonder what the limited reporting allows us tentatively to conclude or what explanations the DoD and ODNI have entertained to account for the most compelling observations. This posture of evasive ambiguity appears in every substantive page of the report.
That policy was reaffirmed in the uninformed questions and vaguely reassuring replies at the May 17, 2022 House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence public hearing on UAP, the first congressional hearing on the subject of the military investigation of UFO since 1970, where Undersecretary Moultrie in effect admitted that, a year after the mandates in the previous 2020-2021 NDAA, the Department of Defense still had not established systematic data collection from all relevant sources such as NASA and the FAA. Over 250 cases have been added to the archive, but many of these are "historical" cases, so we cannot judge whether that increase means less stigma toward witnesses who submit UFO reports.
Nevertheless the three main admissions stand out clearly. Something real is observed; it displays verified and remarkable aeronautical capabilities; it is real and remarkable enough to disturb the serene majesty of the defense and intelligence establishments. These are admissions never before made public by the US government or its armed forces.
Recent Government Research
Since we have just seen what the defense/intelligence establishment is directed by Congress to investigate about UAP, this is a convenient point to review the recent backstory of "undisclosed and unacknowledged" government UFO research. These efforts were under the direction of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as two intertwined bureaucratic creatures, carefully unraveled in a Popular Mechanics article by Tim McMillan. The history has been muddied by contradictory DoD statements and a florid culture of speculative conspiracy theories, but the corroborated accounts show that the Department of Defense was investigating UFO long before that fact was made known to the public. (The origin story of UFO studies, dominated in this country by the US Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency, is reviewed in a later section.)
This governmental interest in UFO studies comes to light in a letter from ↆ Senator Harry Reid to Secretary of Defense William Lynn dated June 24, 2009 that has been made public by the Department of Defense (DoD). This letter refers to an ongoing special program within the Defense Intelligence Agency that is broadly connected to weapons development, and requests a subgroup within that program be established as a restricted special access program (SAP) whose identity would be secret both within and outside the DoD and would be known only to a "restricted bigoted list" of eleven names, including Reid, Lynn, and a DIA special intelligence agent named Luis "Lue" Elizondo.
The Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP, pronounced "aw-sap") was a research program authorized in July, 2007 by a congressional Supplemental Appropriations Act jointly authored by Reid and Senators Daniel Inouye and Ted Stevens; the program was "black money" funded up to $22 million. A research request for proposal was posted by the DIA in July 2008 and Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), as the only bidder, won the contract. (Robert Bigelow, founder of and principal investor in BAASS with a strong interest in UFO, was instrumental in involving Senator Reid with the issue.)
This program puts "weapon system" front and center on the research agenda, and the original solicitation for bid declares that the AAWSAP "primary focus is on breakthrough technologies and applications that create discontinuities in currently evolving technology trends." But according to the Pentagon project administrator Dr. James Lacatski, BAASS project manager Dr. Colm Kelleher and veteran investigative reporter George Knapp, as recounted in their tabloid tale of Skinwalkers at the Pentagon, the term "breakthrough technology" was a cover for paranormal research. Polymath engineer Travis Taylor provides a first person assessment of the various paranormal weirdnesses at the Ranch, some of which are documented by the History Channel. Recall that in the 1980's the Defense Intelligence Agency was evaluating the spy potential of remote viewing, or the psychic ability to visualize real time activity inside the Kremlin from a windowless room in Alaska. The government has a long tradition of probing the paranormal or what their research reports call the "psychoenergetic" aspects of mind.
As Lacatski and Kelleher tell it, between 2008 to 2012 when the project was shut down, AAWSAP compiled the "largest UFO dataset in the world" from a variety of public domain and historical UFO datasets. But the main focus of the program was to amass a "stack of reports six feet high" on a variety of fringe physical science ideas and to investigate rumored "werewolf-like shapeshifters" and paranormal poltergeist phenomena at Skinwalker Ranch, Utah. According to the book, the investigations produced personal anecdotes about infectious, stalking "dark spirits" and the ↆ health effects of exposure to near ionizing electromagnetic radiation (NIEMR) attributed to what may have been close UFO encounters or paranormal effects. (Taylor describes his own episode of evident radiation poisoning from an unknown and undetectable source.) According to McMillan, AAWSAP was run as a "commercial contract in confidence," which is a standard DoD method to game the requirements of the 1996 Economic Espionage Act to keep a project both unclassified and a closely held secret and, importantly, an unclassified secret that is shielded from FOIA requests for information.
AAWSAP was followed within the DIA by the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP, pronounced "A-tip"), instituted in 2010 and directed until its dissolution in 2017 by Luis Elizondo. As Elizondo describes it, AATIP was established to focus specifically on military reports of UFO encounters. It was a follow on program started as AAWSAP was winding down its research and notably AATIP used no civilian contractors, meaning it had no connection to BAASS. After AATIP was shuttered in 2017, it was replaced by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), like its predecessors under the direction of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and, like the AATIP program, ruled exempt from FOIA requested disclosures.
We have much to hear from Elizondo and a bit to say about him below. I believe his leadership of AATIP is fully verified by the 2009 letter from Reid, by a 2021 reaffirmation, by public testimony from former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon, by information gathered and reported by McMillan and Knapp, and by a thorough background check by the New York Times. I judge his public conduct to be consistent with a truthful and competent witness a skeptical criterion of evidence I defend later.
The UAPTF was subsequently replaced by the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group or AOIMSG (pronounced "AIM-sog"), whose purview is expressly limited to special use areas (SUA) under military, civilian or scientific surveillance. A name and acronym change for this group was promised in May, 2022 congressional testimony, and the group became the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office or AARO in July 2022. As this bureaucratic shuffling illustrates, the public does not have a clear understanding of who is studying what, using what data obtained from which sources.
In any case, back to that windowless room in Alaska ... the lasting interest of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Skinwalker investigations even after both AAWSAP and AATIP were shuttered is signaled by the fact that Taylor was hired by the UAPTF as "chief scientist" in its UFO investigations. Travis was at the time conducting his own research program at Skinwalker Ranch while also employed by the US Space and Missile Defense Command.
In the weeks before the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" appeared, Elizondo cautioned against unrealistic hopes about what the report would disclose. In a Zoom conversation with reporters, he set expectations by saying that "in some cases it takes longer to remodel a kitchen than it does to provide a 180 day report to Congress." Just getting security clearances for raw data necessary to begin an analysis might take eight months; a comprehensive assessment might take another year. Normally I would concur with this assessment. My experience as a business consultant to large corporations here and abroad is that novel tasks are difficult for them to do. Centralizing available data and making a judicious analysis of its significance, regardless of the topic, is a laborious, time consuming and resource draining task for any bureaucratic system defined by its procedures, pay grades and annual budgets.
But this is not a novel task. As just noted, much of the relevant information is already in legacy AAWSAP/AATIP files, according to an unattributed claim from this 20 December 2017 report by the Las Vegas Channel 8 I-Team:
Persons familiar with the five year study told the I-Team the effort resulted in three dozen thick reports, some of them several hundred pages in length, as well as another three dozen or so technical reports which projected how this kind of exotic technology might usher in a new era of aviation, and what that might mean [emphasis mine].
Unfortunately the DoD has only released 13 of the 38 technical reports and they turn out to be blue sky, fringe science speculations of no informational value to our inquiry. (It is suggestive to compare, on the issue of quality, the titles that have been released with the titles still held as classified.)
What scientists most urgently require at this point is not speculative science but the observational data about UFO, starting with that world class UFO dataset compiled from public sources, and including the recent UFO events investigated by UAPTF. The press release by the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU) in reaction to the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" made this point clearly:
[W]e are pleased to have confirmation of multi-sensor data, such as "radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapons seekers, and visual observation" [quoting p. 3 of the ODNI report] on reported unusual UAP flight characteristics. According to the assessment, the federal government is in possession of such data from 80 of the 144 referenced UAP reports. These data can help corroborate similar UAP descriptions by US military witnesses, such as speed, angle of bank, and acceleration, that are stated in our forensic studies on the 2004 USS Nimitz and 2013 Aguadilla UAP events [discussed below]. The SCU is disappointed by the omission of an unclassified, summarized description of these data related to at least some of the 80 referenced cases, and we reiterate our call for the release of these data in a manner that does not compromise national security so that the scientific community can better understand these phenomena.
Observational and sensor data are far and away the most valuable knowledge possibly the only reliable knowledge that we have about UFO and if properly redacted or summarized present no risk of divulging national secrets regarding sources and methods to citizen scientists or foreign powers. Until that release of information and data happens, citizen scientists are put in an extraordinarily weakened position and the deliberations of the public become dangerously uninformed. That in itself is a double national security issue that needs justification before it should be tolerated.
Bureaucratic obfuscation and the weaponization of science are unmanageable complications, in the hands of a government that for many understandable reasons is guarded about what it reveals in public. As civilian scientists we have to start with the things immediately under our control, and there the priority is our language.
Words anchor concepts, and concepts shape thinking, and over the past seven decades our thinking about UFO has been disfigured and misdirected by a word culture that is muddled, prejudicial and unscientific.
Unpacking "UAP". Let's start with labels. In 1980 Dr. Richard Haines, a NASA Ames research scientist and cofounder of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), defined the term unidentified aerial phenomenon or UAP as follows:
An Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, UAP, is the visual stimulus that provokes a sighting report of an object or light seen in the sky, the appearance and/or flight dynamics of which do not suggest a logical, conventional flying object and which remains unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making both a technical identification as well as a common sense identification, if one is possible.
However, Haines did not originate this definition, he merely shortened the definition of UFO offered by astronomer J. Allen Hynek in his 1972 classic, The UFO Experience:
We can define the UFO simply as the reported perception of an object or light seen in the sky or upon the land the appearance, trajectory, and general dynamic and luminescent behavior of which do not suggest a logical, conventional explanation and which is not only mystifying to the original participants but remains unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making a common sense identification, if one is possible. (For example, there are many thousands of people to whom the planet Venus is unknown, but UFO reports generated by this brilliant object in the evening or dawn sky will not fool an astronomer.) (p.10)
These bizarrely fussy definitions indicate the serious difficulty we have putting a conceptual box around what we want to talk about. Both definitions have three parts: the UFO is cast as a subjective perception or "stimulus," not as an external, physical fact; the identification requires a social framework for reporting and evaluating the report; and the evaluation depends on a categorical double negative as both "not a conventional identification" and "not a technical identification."
The social framework requires that a UAP be "strange" enough to provoke a sighting report by the witness, which assumes that the witness's conception of strangeness is culturally prepared; MUFON researcher Cynthia Hind suggested cultural factors to explain the lower incidence of UFO reports in Africa. The definition requires the witness to actually make a report, which assumes that there is an established reporting procedure, and the witness is not intimidated or inconvenienced by using it. Then the report must be examined by expert judges, which assumes that "technically capable" judges of UAP phenomena exist; these judges must be chosen and tasked to analyze the report, which implies there is an authoritative institution or jurisdiction that will certify their expertise and approve their interpretation.
These are the same cultural obstacles that have impeded UFO research since the mid 20th century. Reports that exceed cultural credibility have been declared "unbelievable" or have been suppressed by nonexistent or onerous reporting procedures or by the negative personal or reputational consequences of making a report. "Expert" institutional judges have attributed the "reported perception" or "visual stimulus" to human error, denigrated the competence and truthfulness of witnesses, or declared that "close scrutiny" unmasks every UAP with a commonplace explanation (Hynek's Venus), mooting the topic. Hynek and Haines require all these social hurdles to be cleared before the light or object qualifies as a UFO/UAP by their definition. I come back to why these scientists made these glaring blunders, but psychological and social factors do not belong in either a lay language or scientific definition of anything we want to study.
If we strip out these nuisance subjective and social references, the definition becomes:
An Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, UAP, is an object or light seen in the sky, the appearance and/or flight dynamics of which do not suggest a logical, conventional flying object that cannot be identified using technical or common sense criteria.
Rewording is necessary to exclude those censorious judges, and the intent of "technically capable of making a technical identification ... if one is possible" is wholly opaque to me. Following Hynek's use of Venus as an example, I interpret the "technical" identification to include "natural phenomena" such as sun dogs or meteors and what traditionally have been called "commonplace objects" such as air trash or Chinese lanterns as identification categories in addition to conventional, logical flying objects.
The double negative requires two separate failures of identification: something that is "not any known aircraft" and also "not a natural or commonplace phenomenon." But there are two reasons a "stimulus" would satisfy those criteria: because we can't define it (the light or object does not fit into any existing category of known phenomena), or we can't describe it (the light or object is not clearly observed, recorded or reported). Here, again, Hynek & Haines open the door to established social procedures to resist taking UFO sightings seriously.
The routine method to deflect acknowledging UFO as a distinct category of phenomena, from Project BLUE BOOK down to today, has been to declare that there are sightings of "unknown" UFO but that these unknowns could be explained away with "better data." As Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (no relation to Richard) recently reprised it: the category of UAP includes things we don't understand, not because we cannot explain them but because "we don't have a consistent way of reporting the information, we need to integrate, frankly, a lot of data that we get, we need to get better at collecting information that's useful to us from different sensors that are available to us ..." and so on. Data reporting and integration is really a keypunch issue of epistemology that is trivial compared to the lack of explanation from the data that have already been collected.
The Department of Defense seems to recognize these conceptual deficiencies, because the DoD briefing cards define a UAP in elegantly simple terms:
"A UAP is any aerial phenomena that cannot immediately be identified" [emphasis original].
This eliminates the social framework of stigma, reporting procedures, expert juries and an authoritative institution; it excludes the task of explanation entirely by anchoring the definition in an immediate failure of visual recognition.
The 2021-2022 NDAA adopts this UAP definition (and, with two emendations, so will I), but expands the definition to include transmedium objects or devices. These include sonar contacts with objects that display UFO like characteristics of agility or speed under water, and radar or optical targets detected descending into or moving out of the Earth's atmosphere. Transmedium objects are very poorly documented in public information and it is unclear how they might be related to the observed aerial phenomena, so the fact that they are explicitly included in the NDAA language and implicitly accommodated by the "All-Domain" in AARO is noteworthy.
UFO stigma. As a result of these various issues, after 1980 neologistic alternatives to the term UFO actually proliferate. The problem with these is that they are prejudicial they assert an interpretation or explanation of UFO that has no evidence to back it up.
Most of these claim to know the origin of UFO as a technology, for example in the AAWSAP/AATIP jargon anomalous aerial vehicles (AAV). In the scientific community the "technology" coinages I have seen include unidentified anomalous vehicles (UAV) or unidentified anomalous aircraft (UAA) or unmanned aerial system (UAS) or unidentified aerial object (UAO) or unidentified aerospace phenomena (UAP) or anomalous aerospace phenomena (AAP) where "vehicle," "aircraft," "system" and "aerospace" are all engineering rather than scientific terms. A minority of the acronyms deploy vague physical science concepts such as unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) or anomalous atmospheric phenomena (AAP).
Though prejudicial and fatuous, these acronyms have a single theme: to find a euphemism that might avoid UFO stigma the kneejerk dismissal, personal harassment and professional ridicule associated with the stereotypes of alienist beliefs and "little green men in flying saucers." As the DoD briefing cards say: "We use the generic term UAP in communications so as not to pre-judge the results of any investigation (and so aviators are not hesitant to report unidentified intrusions)." Even the reticence of the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" is pierced by the issue of witness stigma (p. 4):
Narratives from aviators in the operational community and analysts from the military and IC [intelligence community] describe disparagement associated with observing UAP, reporting it, or attempting to discuss it with colleagues. Although the effects of these stigmas have lessened as senior members of the scientific, policy, military, and intelligence communities engage on the topic seriously in public, reputational risk may keep many observers silent, complicating scientific pursuit of the topic.
Quoting the 24 September, 2019 Popular Mechanics:
While a "UAP" may be an unfamiliar term, that's sort of the point. UAPs are essentially the new UFObut with a lot less historical baggage. A Navy spokesman told The Washington Post that the acronym "UFO" carries so much stigma that it discourages someone from reporting a sighting. "That term is so loaded at this point, that you are never going to change people's understanding of what it means," journalist Leslie Kean, who co-wrote the 2017 New York Times investigation into the Pentagon's UFO (or UAP) program, tells Popular Mechanics. "All you can do is adopt a new one."
There are two reasons why this rebranding has failed. First, the sheer variety of those acronyms indicates that nobody takes them seriously, even as a merkin. All of them are couched in the connotation that "you'll know what I'm talking about when I start talking about it" because they are all quickly disrobed as "unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), or UFOs," which completely defeats the euphemistic purpose and makes the person affecting the acronym appear rather simple.
In the same way, public commentary by civilian and military officials routinely use and understand UAP as synonymous with UFO. Of course they do. None of us or them is interested in the category of real or illusory things that can't be immediately identified; no one believes weapons development will be enhanced by the study of "unidentified" air trash or Chinese lanterns. We are interested only in the real things that display advanced technology or pose a threat to national security.
The second reason for failure is what Harvard University psychology professor Stephen Pinker has called the euphemism treadmill or "the game of the name":
People invent new 'polite' words to refer to emotionally laden or distasteful things, but the euphemism becomes tainted by association and the new one that must be found acquires its own negative connotations. "Water closet" becomes "toilet" (originally a term for any body care, as in "toilet kit"), which becomes "bathroom," which becomes "rest room," which becomes "lavatory." "Garbage collection" turns into "sanitation," which turns into "environmental services." The euphemism treadmill shows that concepts, not words, are in charge: give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name.
Whatever explicit and unambiguous terms and acronyms we eventually settle on in the scientific study of UFO, the stigma around the topic can only be cured if people who created or endorsed the stigma publicly disown it, and the people who were previously given permission to deploy ridicule on the stigma are instead told to knock it off.
As a historical fact, the US military (specifically, the US Air Force) has encouraged UFO stigma for many decades by insinuating that truthful and competent UFO witnesses are either confused, incompetent, "individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetuate a hoax or to seek publicity" or "psychopathological persons." The science community bears a colluding responsibility for perpetrating this policy through ludicrous explanations in public media. UFO witnesses need to be assured that they will be taken seriously again as truthful and competent observers. This will be necessary before the military and science institutions that created the stigma can "engage on the topic seriously in public" with the public.
Current Language. The ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" has only made things worse. It entirely ignores both the Robert Haines and DoD definitions of UAP and innovates its own definition of "unidentified aerial phenomena" to mean "the broadest category of airborne objects reviewed for analysis" ("Definition of Key Terms," p.8). That is, the ODNI definition means "all the reports we selected for further study" but avoids telling us what criteria were used for the selection.
The ODNI does tell us that 144 events were chosen for analysis: of those, 143 remain unexplained, 80 were measured with multiple sensors, 18 showed "unusual UAP patterns" and 11 involved in near air collisions. It tells us nothing about where, when or how the UAP were sighted or how they were reported or why the reports deserved analysis. And the ODNI lists (pp. 5-6) five categories of things that their undisclosed selection criteria might possibly include:
Airborne Clutter: birds, balloons, recreational unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV or drones), or airborne debris like plastic bags
This ODNI new and improved categorization shifts the emphasis away from any stigmatizing assessment of the truthfulness or competence of witnesses and onto the "commonplace objects," manufactured or natural, that might be misperceived by observers or unresolved by the evidence. It finds two ways, domestic and foreign, to insert the historically discredited hypothesis that UFO are an unconventional and secret human technology. But again, the ODNI does not tell us how many of those 144 events fall into each of those five categories, except to say that one of them was "airborne clutter" (a deflating balloon). This implies that the credible witnesses of inexplicable UFO events are among the 143 unexplained reports tossed into what the assessment calls a "catchall 'other' bin" and denigrated by association with a trash can.
There is also a confusion between define and discern created by the term "unidentified." This comes out of the national defense imperative to identify friend or foe. Military personnel, especially pilots, are trained to recognize visually a wide range of air vehicles domestic and foreign, and both commercial and military aircraft use automated radio and radar systems such as TCAS to assist in that task.
In lay language we would more likely say that something clearly observed but undefined is unrecognized or unfamiliar or something I've never seen before in my life, because we do not have prior experience of the thing or terms in our language to communicate what we see. The standard DoD deflection is repeated by Travis Taylor: "We had a lot of sensor data on some of them, that, that we couldn't determine what they are."
Even in the military perspective UFO are not "unidentified": they are unexplained. We can in fact make a positive and confident UFO identification by means of several characteristics of "appearance and/or flight dynamics" such as Elizondo's five observables. So it is more accurate to say that UFO are identified but unexplained aerial phenomena. Similarly, senior politicians and defense and intelligence sources do not claim that those "other" lights or UAP objects are "unidentified," they repeatedly insist that unambiguously identified UFO are unexplained aerial phenomena. UFO is not a "catchall 'other' bin" of unidentified ambiguity: it is the identifiably entire reason the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" was written.
Meanwhile, nearly all public discussions of UFO use words that, like the many acronyms, make unsubstantiated assertions without any justification in public facts. These mostly arise as collocates from two separate language domains: the unverified storytelling of ufology and the jargon of academics and the defense/intelligence professionals.
The storytelling of ufologists relies on pilot, operator, operated, alien, intent, purpose, extraterrestrial, alien and intelligent, especially superior intelligence. The military jargon includes aircraft, airframe, capability, guidance, evasion, jamming, act of war, arsenal, threat, next generation and breakthrough capability. Technology and vehicle are the easy reach in both lexical domains. Here is a macaronic example from an NBC News segment by Gadi Schwartz, quoting filmmaker and ufologist Jeremy Corbell:
"It is an extraordinary piece of technology. Whoever is operating these technologies are far more advanced than anything we have in the US arsenal. An and that should be a warning sign. We need to find out the intent of the operators of these vehicles."
We do not have a factual demonstration of the so called extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) that we are witnessing alien pilots and their star voyaging vehicles. We cannot factually disprove the ETH with publicly available evidence, but until a trophy extraterrestrial spacecraft or an alien dead or alive is presented for public evaluation, science has nothing to say except: Is it aliens? Not yet. Until it really is aliens, it seems in the interest of accuracy and objectivity to avoid terms such as "alien" or "pilot" or "intention" or "extraterrestrial" or "act of war" because they all, in my view, run ahead of the publicly available facts.
My Terms. After seven decades of awareness and study of UFO phenomena, we have inherited a tradition of groundless, evasive, euphemistic or enthusiastically uncritical language about UFO which has nothing to recommend it to a scientific inquiry. Our vocabulary suffers the handicap of empirically prejudicial terms about alien technology, and scientific investigations are inhibited by military secrecy and popular stigma against "belief in aliens."
Science definitions build on factual denotations: an equivalence between a specific term, symbol or constant and a specific physical fact, observation or reliable method of measurement. They cannot usefully meddle with double negative conundrums of ignorance. And this has been the difficulty all along: a scientific definition requires us to say what UFO are, not what they are not.
I use the term UAP to mean:
A UAP is an aerial sighting or sensor report of a light or object that cannot be confidently recognized due to an insufficiency in the evidence itself (cf. Figure 26).
I adopt the sense of the NDAA/DoD definition with two changes. I replace "immediately identify" with confidently recognize so that a UAP remains a UAP for however long one lacks the necessary evidence or expert analysis to classify it, and I add "sensor report" to include the many forms of relevant evidence (radar, sonar, electrical interference or radiation, etc.) that are not optical or visual. This definition explicitly harmonizes with the definition adopted by the ODNI and its emphasis on the insufficiency of the evidence and its lack of quality.
I use the term UFO or unidentified flying object as it was coined in 1951 by the then head of the Air Force Project BLUE BOOK investigations, USAF Captain Edward J. Ruppelt. It is both an "extraterrestrial neutral" substitute for the popular but inaccurate term "flying saucer" and the military recognition that unexplained flying objects exist. I mark that denotation by pronouncing it as it was pronounced originally, as "yu-fo." I suggest a positive definition for UFO later, but for now i use it to mean:
A UFO is a light or form in the sky that displays "strange" brightness, maneuverability or speed without visible wings, control surfaces or signs of propulsion.
I avoid prejudging the UFO as an "object" or "vehicle" or "technology" with the circumstantial term observable to mean either a UAP or UFO as the real, external focus of interest not the "stimulus" or "perception"that derealizes the UFO event as a psychological phenomenon. Senior officials who are privy to classified information notably seem to prefer in public discussion the relatively neutral "thing" or "these things" (not "stimulus" or "these perceptions"), which asserts a physical reality but avoids any assertion about their origin or nature. Observable is anchored in the fact that almost all our knowledge about UFO comes from sensor evidence (effectively visual evidence) rather than material evidence, the touchable.
I use attribute to mean anything about the observable that we can measure. In the physics vocabulary Elizondo uses, observable means any physical attribute that we measure; the physical object or process or force we actually study doesn't matter. The term can be applied to anything that is being measured, obscuring what is being measured. I put the focus where it belongs, on the UFO or UAP, and describe the attributes we use to recognize it.
If we make the empirically justified and limited claims that UFO display environmental awareness, dispositional patterns of behavior, and innate energy, then the entire behavioral and analytical vocabulary of the life sciences becomes available. Wildlife terminology, like physics terminology, can describe the world without any allusions to a vehicle technology or the alien culture necessary to build and fly it.
Scientists need to remedy the assumptions and ambiguities that are still embedded in the language we use to talk about UFO. This will allow different disciplines to address the evidence without struggling against the distorting preconceptions in our words. Once that is done, the talk about UFO can flow in potentially different and insightful directions, free of the prejudices from the past seven decades of speculation.
Public UFO Evidence
How do we identify the things we can't explain when we see them? In a May, 2021 interview with CBS 60 Minutes, Luis Elizondo laid out the "five distinct observables that set this technology aside from everything we have in our inventory":
"Imagine a technology that can do six to seven hundred g forces, that can fly at 13,000 miles per hour, that, uh, can evade radar, and that can fly through air, and water and possibly space, and oh by the way has no obvious signs of propulsions, no wings, no control surfaces and yet can still defy the natural effects of Earth's gravity. That's precisely what we're seeing."
In the metric units scientists prefer, Elizondo describes a velocity of at least 5800 m/s (meters per second) and a linear acceleration from a standing start to 6900 m/s² (meters per second per second). In fact, UFO velocities up to 8500 m/s and linear or radial accelerations in excess of 5000 m/s² have been documented since the 1950s and recent research has suggested values more than three times greater than those cited by Elizondo.
Note that a positive ↆ g force can describe the stress on both pilots and their aircraft created either by abruptly increasing velocity along a linear direction of motion or by quickly changing direction within a limiting radius of turn. The velocity, thrust and agility at the huge numerical values that Elizondo and others describe are really more of an order of magnitude than a metric: in qualitative terms, UFO are capable of "near instantaneous" or "explosive" acceleration to velocities that can easily outrun an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" lays particular emphasis on "breakthrough aerospace capabilities" and "unusual flight characteristics." This is consistent with Elizondo's talk of "technology," but it is revealing to compare Elizondo's brief but riveting performance profile with what the ODNI considers a "detailed analysis":
Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects given that a majority of UAP were registered across multiple sensors, to include radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers, and visual observation.
This fastidious imprecision deflects attention onto the regrettable quality of the collected data, which is however publicly admitted to be data sufficient enough to identify potential "breakthrough technology" or "threat to national security." We do not have a clear picture as to what are the diagnostic UFO attributes or how they are identified with data. Our attention to detail has been deflected by a sequence of handwaves. UAPTF chief scientist Travis Taylor brought it sharply into focus with a simple observation: No, I don't think I understand the physics of it but what I do understand is they're flying in a way that we don't."
Historical Public Knowledge. You get a sense for what is not being openly disclosed in the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" by contrasting it to any previous public analysis in other words, established facts about UFO capabilities or behavior that have been in the public domain for decades.
The earliest public summary of citizen UFO reports that I can find is at the conclusion of a 1949 CBS radio report "The Case of the Flying Saucer" based on "extensive research collected with the aid of CBS affiliated stations and CBS newsmen across the country" and narrated by Edward R. Murrow:
"Here is what we found. Nearly all these observers are in agreement on the color of the objects: it's a metallic color they say, something like aluminum or silver. Almost everybody agrees the objects are generally disk shaped, but with wide variation; sometimes balloonlike or resembling a giant rubber ball. Still others describe them as elongated, cigar shaped thing. Speed of the saucers has been estimated at from zero to twelve hundred miles an hour [540 m/s]. And when we get into the question of maneuverability, the observers seem not to be able to find the precise or adequate words. They say that the saucers hover, accelerate and decelerate rapidly. They say that some of the objects flutter, oscillate, drift, whirl or float. There seems to be no fixed pattern of flight in cases where more than one or two disks have been reported. But several persons have said that in group flights, one of the disks seems to be of a distinct color, indicating (possibly) that this off colored disk was the monitor or the control disk for the others. A small percentage of the observers said the disks bore light, and in five cases, at points as far apart as Alabama and California, the viewer said the disk suddenly disappeared in flight. But when we get around to estimating altitudes at which the objects were sighted, we find that some observers say they saw them at two hundred and fifty feet; others guessed the disks were at forty thousand feet [12 kilometers] in the sky. While one observer estimated the number of disks seen at one hundred, nearly all thought the number was less than ten, and about half those who claim to have seen the objects said they saw only single saucers. Well, these are the things men and women in various parts of the United States say they have seen in the sky. Men of science and high government officials cast a skeptical eye at these reported sightings of celestial phenomena." (t=25:10-27:15)
Remarkably, this very early CBS report describes UFO attributes that have been consistently reported down to the present day.
Again in the public domain, here are the "unofficial official" conclusions reported in the April 7, 1952 LIFE magazine article by H.B. Darrach Jr. and Robert Ginna, based on "more than a year of sifting and weighing all reports of unexplained aerial phenomena" by the journalists "with Air Force officials of all facts known in the case." The article describes seven events in US Air Force files opened "for the first time" to independent study, and three events discovered in LIFE's own reporting:
Out of this exhaustive inquiry these propositions seem firmly shaped by the evidence:
My reservation here is that "solid nature" is an inference from appearance, not a fact demonstrated by "solid" evidence. The ten UFO event reports included in the LIFE article, all from multiple or expert witnesses, offer speed estimates for the Lubbock lights made by multiple university professors and size estimates of a UFO seen by expert witness Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto. The double attribution of "artificial devices" and "created and operated by a high intelligence" is the "interplanetary" or extraterrestrial hypothesis. I argue later that the ETH is a fragile series of inferences, many of them not supported by available public evidence; but despite that it is one of the earliest and most persistent witness and expert explanations for UFO events.
Historical Military Secret. Both the CBS documentary and the LIFE magazine article let us examine a second contrast, this time between public knowledge in 1952 and a military assessment around the same time: the top secret 28 October, 1947 "Draft of Collection Memorandum" from US Air Force Brigadier General George F. Schulgen to the Secretary of the Air Force, known today as the Schulgen memo:
1. An alleged "Flying Saucer" type aircraft or object in flight, approximating the shape of a disc, has been reported by many observers from widely scattered places, such as the United States, Alaska, Canada, Hungary, the Island of Guam, and Japan. This object has been reported by many competent observers, including USAF rated officers. Sightings have been made from the ground as well as from the air.
Schulgen based his memo in part on a 23 September 1947 letter from US Air Force Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining in his "AMC [Air Materiel Command] Opinion Concerning 'Flying Discs'," known as the Twining Letter. This marks the day that the United States military officially concluded that "flying saucers" were real "objects":
2. It is the opinion that:
And almost three months after the reputed Roswell crash, Twining (section 2.h.(2)) also remarked on "the lack of physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits which would undeniably prove the existence of these subjects."
I personally don't see much daylight between these public and secret military descriptions. What was being broadcast and was publicly known about UFO as factually reported by news organizations approximately corresponded to the important points of the top secret military knowledge about UFO. What the military knew we also knew, within reasonable limits. This might be typical of the first public encounter with the unknown, when institutions of authority are candid about the reliable information and the search for explanations.
Recent Military Knowledge. But how do things stand today? We can compare the public facing admissions of the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" with the information known to the people who wrote the report. There is at least one example of this kind of information, and that is the 2010 AATIP USS Nimitz report by Jonathan Axelrod of the 2004 encounter by the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier task force with one or possibly two "Tic Tac" UFO (described below):
The Anomalous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) was no known aircraft or air vehicle currently in the inventory of the United States or any foreign nation.
Note that this report firmly concludes that the "Tic Tac" UFO is not "human technology," while the ODNI pads out its UAP categories with domestic and foreign human technology. And two things become clear in the comparison between this official summary of findings in 2010 and the public military consensus of the early 1950s the Schulgen memo and the CBS report taken together.
First is the extent of evasion deployed the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" in its use of vague terms such as "considerable speed" or "maneuver abruptly." This qualitative language implies the imprecision of "unidentified," when it is in fact the imprecision of "can't explain." While it is certainly true that we do not know what these things are, we do know them when we see them thanks to the explicit, quantitative attributes described by Elizondo and others and there is no national security reason not to use these quantitative attributes to describe the current military understanding.
Second is the almost complete lack of progress in our empirical understanding of UFO between 1950 and 2010, apart from the novel suggestion of an undersea capability. This has starved scientists of the data necessary to make progress in explaining UFO, and the lack of scientific progress in understanding UFO is one of the most remarkable and significant facts in the modern history of the topic. In the almost eight decades since UFO became a public and military concern and Kenneth Arnold created the imperishable flying saucer meme, we have learned essentially nothing new in official pronouncements or publicly available information about the nature, operation, behavior or activities of UFO beyond what was immediately apparent in observations summarized around 1950 in top secret military documents that were based on only about one hundred UFO reports. Whatever else we might conclude from this, it clearly signals that impediments to our understanding exist. What those impediments are secretive government, bad data, poor sensors, physical mystery or alien evasion is a topic that distracts from what we have in public evidence and what we can conclude about it.
Other UFO Attributes. And the five attributes already introduced by Elizondo are by no means all that have been observed. We glean a few more insights from other highly placed US sources, especially those (like Elizondo) speaking in public but not in an official capacity. In a Fox News interview with an agog Maria Bartiromo, former ODNI director John Ratcliffe disclosed that:
"Frankly there are a lot more sightings than have been made public; some of those have been declassified, and when we talk about sightings we're talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots or have been picked up by satellite imagery that, um, uh frankly, um, engage in actions that are difficult to explain; that, um, movements that uh, that are hard to replicate, that we don't have the technology for, traveling at speeds that, you know, exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom. In short, um, things we are observing that are difficult to explain. ... There have been sightings all over the world, and, and when we talk about sightings the other thing I will tell you is, um, it's not just a pilot or just uh, a satellite or some, um, uh, intelligence collection, usually we have multiple sensors that are picking up these things."
Note the allusion to satellite imagery (another topic called out in the Intelligence Authorization Act that is completely omitted from the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment"), the global range of sightings, the absence of sonic boom (both attributes of UFO documented since the 1950's), and the affirmation against doubters that multiple sensors corroborate the events. Note too that "unidentified" is never mentioned but "unexplained" is emphasized twice.
In an interview for the Washington Post, congressional correspondent Jacqueline Alemany asked whether UFO seem to be attracted to nuclear weapons or nuclear reactors on military ships. After expressing a peculiarly effusive gratitude for the question, Elizondo essentially corroborates the 1967 Malmstrom 16 March event or something very like it:
"Yes, that is, that is one of the concerns we have from a national security perspective, that there does seem to be some sort of congruency or some sort of intersection between these UAP or UFO sightings and our nuclear technology, whether it's nuclear propulsion, nuclear power and generation, or nuclear weapons systems. Furthermore the same observations have been seen overseas in other countries. They too have had the same incidents. So that tells us this is a global issue. Now in this country we've had incidents where these UAPs have interfered and actually brought offline our nuclear capabilities. And I think to some they would probably say well that's a sign that that whatever this is, is is something that is peaceful. But in the same context we also have data suggesting that in other countries these things have interfered with their nuclear technology and actually turned them on, put them online. So that is equally, for me, just as concerning. Um, I think that there is certainly at this point enough data to, to, to demonstrate there is an interest in our nuclear technology, a potential to even interfere with that nuclear technology ... " [emphasis in tone].
This issue is thoroughly aired in Robert Hastings's UFO & Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites (2017), which cites historical incidents from the 1950 to 1970 period that bear little on the current situation and does no credit to his credibility by quoting (Chapter 1, pp. 35-36) the claim of "interplanetary craft" found in the hoax Schulgen memo. A 2015 study by Laurent & colleagues indicates a "surprisingly high" number of "unexplained" UFO sightings within 20 kilometers of nuclear facilities in France. There, ironically, it useful to recall the caution stated in the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" that sensitive areas would produce "a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies."
And it is prudent to contrast the evolving US government claims of "potential threat" to the finding from the May, 2006 UK Ministry of Defence report, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in the UK Air Defence Region, a very interesting and informative document, that came to exactly the opposite conclusion (ↆ Volume 1, Chapter 3, pp. 13-14):
Contrary to certain media suggestions that there is some sinister UAP agenda that there are repeated UAP visits to locations of national importance, no evidence has been found that RAF strategic sites are some sort of target at which UAP appear more often than over certain other areas (e.g. over highly populated areas or along air corridors). There is no evidence that regular or irregular repeat visits occur at any RAF site, strategic in nature or otherwise. ... There is, therefore, no firm evidence which points to the repeated presence of UAP at, for example, US or RAF strategic or tactical Bases (airfields), Army assets or RAF or Naval HQ or special assets (in particular, at nuclear assets, such as Faslane, Aldermaston, Capenhurst, etc.). [emphasis original]
The major hazard cited in the UK report is that near approach of a UFO might cause a pilot to make an unrecoverable evasive maneuver, especially during landing or takeoff.
There are other reliably reported attributes of UFO, in particular regarding electromagnetic emittance, that I discuss below. These are related to the potential "health effects" of UFO events that are called out in the Gillibrand/Gallego and studied as NIEMR effects by AAWSAP and that Elizondo has recently referred to as "the sixth observable." A NICAP summary covering fifteen years of reports (1948-62) indicates consistent physiological effects such as loss of consciousness, brief or prolonged paralysis, temporary blindness or irritated eyes, sensations of intense heat, superficial reddening or blistering burns, prickling skin sensations, and galvanizing "electric shock." In an interview with Curt Jaimungal, Elizondo seems to step back from the reputed "hitchhiker effect" or paranormal "contagion" that has attached itself to the UFO topic and points instead toward people who have been psychologically affected or "deeply and emotionally impacted" by a UFO event in a way that altered their outlook. The specific example he describes is actually the stress and humiliation of dealing with the blowback and stigma that is directed at a public UFO witness.
Military UFO Videos
The verbal reports from authoritative sources have been supported by the limited release, with later verification of authenticity, of unclassified video and photographic imagery from the Department of Defense. In 2007 two unknown persons released a video of the 2004 USS NIMITZ event to the Above Top Secret web site. In 2017 former deputy assistant secretary of defense Christopher Mellon facilitated the release to the New York Times of two UFO videos recorded through the targeting systems on US Navy aircraft. These are known as FLIR1 (acronym for advanced targeting Forward Looking InfraRed) dated November 14, 2004; GIMBAL (because the observable appears to rotate in flight) and GOFAST (because it does!), both dated January 21, 2015. FLIR1 was first leaked on the web by an unknown Nimitz crewmember in 2007. GIMBAL and GOFAST both contain audio of the comments between the pilot and the weapons system officer (WSO, pronounced "wizzo") who operate the aircraft as a team. The ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" asserts that the radar and weapons systems involved on which our national defense depends, I should add "generally operate correctly and capture enough real data to allow initial assessments" (p.2).
These videos supplement a 16 December 2017 article in the New York Times about the investigations of UFO by AAWSAP/AATIP, a story brought to the Times by Elizondo and investigative journalist Leslie Kean (pronounced "Kane"). New Yorker staff writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus recounts this story in How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously that provides helpful background about the individuals and groups involved. Various media corporations have edited the three videos to improve the audio quality, delete profanity or insert subtitles, for example here. All three have also been converted into heatmap imagery, which shows some details more clearly.
2004 "Tic Tac" Intercept. The context of the FLIR1 video is described by retired US Navy pilot Cdr. David Fravor in an interview with vlogger Joe Rogan. He gives a first person account of the 2004 USS Nimitz 14 November or "Tic Tac" event, by far the most famous and inexplicable modern UFO encounter, and interprets all three Navy videos. One gets a sense for his quals both as a pilot and a squadron commander in this PBS carrier landing documentary.
His telling makes an interesting contrast to the clinically circumstantial tone of the "unofficial official" AATIP USS NIMITZ report made public through the efforts of investigative journalist George Knapp. The SCU has prepared an extensive SCU USS Nimitz report that contains additional witness testimony.
The context is that the USS Nimitz carrier fleet was assembling about 195 km [120 miles] south southwest of San Diego for training prior to a war deployment to the Persian Gulf. During this training the advanced, 5 million watt AN/SPY-1 radar aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Princeton repeatedly detected groups of about a dozen UAP that appeared at an altitude above 24 kilometers [80,000 feet] and descended in less than a second to between 8500 to 15 meters [28,000 to 50 feet] above the ocean surface and spaced widely over about a 260 square kilometer [100 mile] area, where the targets would remain stationary for a brief time before randomly dispersing at extremely high speeds. (The same behavior of a high altitude hover, a descent to very close to the Earth's surface, and then a rapid ascent after 15 or 20 minutes, is also described as "a not infrequent occurrence" in NORAD radar observations from 1970.) On this morning a single observable was located about 110 km [70 miles] southwest of the carrier group. Concluding that the UAP were a recurring but unknown hazard to scheduled air training flights, the Princeton's radar Senior Chief Kevin Day requested an intercept to determine its nature.
Lt. Col. Douglas Kurth, commanding officer of a Marine F/A-18 Hornet squadron with the fleet, was the first plane tasked to investigate. From an altitude of about 3 km [10,000 feet] and a distance of 9 km [5 nautical miles] he saw only a "white water" disturbance about 50 to 100 meters [150 to 300 feet] in diameter (about 4 to 7 times the estimated length of the "Tic Tac") but did not see the UAP itself before he was requested to return to the carrier. When they were tasked second to the location, Fravor and his WSO were en route to a training exercise with junior officer Lt. Alex Dietrich and her WSO LCdr. Jim Slaight, second in command of Fravor's "Black Aces" squadron. Fravor and Dietrich were both piloting very agile F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jets.
In the event, the observable was detected from an altitude above 6100 meters [20,000 feet] while it was performing an energetic and cruciform "white water" agitation on the surface of a calm sea. (Although the origin of the "white water" is unknown, note that Fravor described the observable as very close to the surface, the surface resembled "boiling" water, and water can be brought to a boil by a rapidly alternating magnetic field.) Once the UFO was visually acquired, the senior pilot descended toward the target while Dietrich circled as overwatch. As Fravor spiraled downward the UFO seemed to notice his approach and began to ascend, mirroring his trajectory like a matador circling a bull at a distance of about one mile. At around a 3600 meters [12,000 feet] altitude, Fravor made an aggressive maneuver to "come close aboard" the ascending observable, but at a closing distance of about 800 meters [one half mile] the UFO suddenly "vanished." Lt. Slaight, observing from above in Dietrich's plane, testified that it "rifled off, out of sight in a split second. It was as if the object was shot out of a rifle." Both Fravor and Slaight describe the observable, nicknamed a "Tic Tac" for its resemblance to the color and shape of the breath mint, as "elongated or egg shaped, solid white, smooth, with no edges ... uniformly colored with no nacelles, pylons, or wings," and estimated in the SCU USS NIMITZ report about 14 meters [47 feet] long with 4:1 proportions length to width. (The AATIP USS NIMITZ report gives dimensions of 120 feet; in the Rogan interview Fravor states "about 40 feet." Other similar discrepancies occur throughout different narratives of the event.) When first seen, such an object would span an angular extent of about 7 arcminutes or 1/4 the width of a full moon, and at the distance where contact was broken off, it would span about 1 degree or twice the width of a full Moon in length and one half the width of the full Moon in diameter approximately the visual dimensions of a 12 meter transit bus viewed from 700 meters [~⅓ mile].
"In seconds" a new radar return (either from the same observable or a second one just like it) appeared about 100 km [60 miles] to the east and was unsuccessfully searched for by the returning fighters. After Fravor and Dietrich had landed and reported the sighting, the still hovering target was approached at 110 m/s [250 mph] by a fourth F/A-18, whose WSO Cdr. Chad Underwood made the 76 second long FLIR1 recording in two different FLIR sensor modes before the target abruptly sped away. In the Rogan interview, Fravor refutes the claim that this video was originally much longer, although he observes the resolution is lower, apparently due to "copying." (There is also a "secret" narrative attached to the aftermath of this event.)
The Navy Videos. Both the GIMBAL and FLIR1 videos toggle between two different modes in infrared, and FLIR1 also toggles between medium and high magnification, which requires understanding of the imagery. WIRED magazine prepared a short video with former Air Force colonel Andrea Themely that helpfully glosses some technical points. Her analysis is that GOFAST was traveling at around 225 m/s [500 mph]; other more rigorous trigonometric analyses support an estimated velocity around 200 m/s or Mach 0.6. Note that the UFO in the BLK HOT image of GOFAST is much colder (white) than ocean water and therefore certainly not a bird. The full GIMBAL flight path is presented in a stitched panorama here. And note that the UFO in GIMBAL and in FLIR1 both display a distinctive "spiky" aura that in GIMBAL appears colder than the observable itself. Travis Taylor explains the quality of the ATFLIR equipment used to record the GIMBAL event and the improbability it shows us a jet exhaust, especially as the GIMBAL observable was traveling at a leisurely 60 m/s [140 mph].
NBC reporter Gadi Schwartz asked Elizondo whether the trio videos are "the only videos that you know of that the United States government has that shows unidentified aerial phenomena?" Elizondo replied (with a scoffing smirk): "No, absolutely not. These are probably some of the least compelling videos. In some cases, you know, we've seen these things fifty feet away from the cockpit."
A fourth video, PYRAMID, is attributed to an anonymous sailor standing on the deck of the USS Russell and filming with a handheld night vision camera; it shows an apparently triangular and flashing observable that was among a "swarm" of UFO around the ship. The triangular shape is actually a geometric blur or the projected image of the aperture stop: you see the same artifact in the faint background stars near the end. The video does not accurately image the form of the observable but instead briefly captures its flashing emittance and testifies to the near passes that the UFO made to the ship.
Three more videos, obtained by Jeremy Corbell in 2021, document different aspects of a single swarm event in July, 2019 around the USS Omaha and other ships off the California coast southwest of San Diego. The first 2019 USS Omaha 15 July (1) event shows several snippets of a video recording of as many as 9 simultaneous radar returns from as many as 14 UFO that swarmed the ship for about two hours; two of the radar returns simply vanish (t=12s), implying they had either ascended above the radar range, descended into the ocean, or initiated some form of cloaking. The 2019 USS Omaha 15 July (2) event shows what appear to be either two bilobed observables or four closely paired observables hovering at an indeterminate distance and joined later by a third, more luminous and more distinctly red light, all flashing in different patterns. (See also Figure 20e below and interpretation of the video here.) Note that the video appears to show either two different camera views of the same time sequence or a single view of repeated and similar behavior. During the morning of the following day, a third video 2019 USS Omaha 16 July shows a single, approximately 2 meter diameter oblate observable in night infrared optics (apparently in WHT HOT mode) that reportedly appeared as a self luminous form hovering near the ship for several hours before it "splashed down" into the ocean. (I interpret it to extinguish at the surface like a guttering candle, or simply to "vanish" in the air.) The authenticity of all three videos is confirmed by the US Navy.
Similar swarm events are documented between July 14 and July 30 around the USS Russell, the USS Paul Hamilton and the USS Kidd (both, like the Russell, Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers), and these events prompted the deployment of SNOOPIE photographic documentary teams, electronic countermeasures and "kill force" weaponry; the USS Kidd adopted EMCON or "emissions control" measures that reduced the electromagnetic emittance profile of the ship. These measures were apparently ineffectual against swarms of numerous observables. Although these actions are generally described as defensive countermeasures, they also served to test the response or reaction to the electronic behavior of the AN/SPY-1 radar, to anti drone electronic and kinetic weapons and to the turbulence produced by near misses with large caliber shells in a way that would provide important physical and behavioral information about the observables. These have been described (but not conclusively identified) as "drones," an interpretation that has been vigorously challenged based on uncorroborated crewmember interviews.
Other Government Video. These seven US Navy videos add to four others recorded by government or military surveillance.
In 2019 the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the 2013 Aguadilla PRI 26 April event recorded by a skilled operator with a FLIR device aboard a DHS surveillance aircraft (DHC8 turboprop). The video shows an approximately 1.2 meter wide observable, appearing visually as a "reddish/pink colored light," that was tracked flying at an average speed of 32 m/s [70 mph] against the prevailing wind over Rafael Hernandez Airport (Puerto Rico) before slipping several times under water and either spawning or encountering an identical UFO moving in the same direction (t = 2:33; see Figure 15). The SCU AGUADILLA report provides a detailed forensic analysis of this event and explains why it cannot be a balloon. UAPTF chief scientist Travis Taylor explains the thermodynamic incongruity of this apparently transmedium observable.
In 2021 a DHS recording of the 2019 Baboquivari Peak AZ 23 November or "Rubber Duck" event was leaked; this shows a bilobed, asymmetrical and freely rotating form, at least as cold as background snow drifts in BLK HOT, traveling at about 5 m/s [11 mph] near the Baboquivari Peak Wilderness Area. This has yet to be analyzed by the SCU, but the group discussion led by Chris Lehto, David Falch and others contributes a useful discussion of the IR display, the IR appearance of different targets and the conclusion that the rubber ducky is really a slowly waltzing Ice Swan. Michael Sailer, an experienced FLIR operator and instructor, argues from many contextual details in the video for a "cold soaked metallic payload hanging from an out of frame latex balloon" interpretation, possibly a drug smuggling attempt. The discussion is a good example of the expert analysis of UFO evidence and an important illustration of how the lack of witness confirmation of the video contents means much of the speculation is about the foreknowledge required for the intercept and the filming choices of a camera operator who did not scrutinize the target with alternative IR or magnification settings, as would be routine procedure in the case where the target was an unknown. The behavior of the object itself is odd but not inexplicable, which demotes the event to a UAP.
Journalist Tim McMillan published a third video, 2018 Picacho Peak AZ 6 November or "Longbow 281," a video recording of the helmet "heads up display" or HUD from a US Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter weapons systems officer, shows three observables traveling at parasonic speeds with braking and acceleration that would produce, according to one estimate, over 70 g of inertial force. The three observables appear as a flight turning from east to south, and two observables perform a brief circular maneuver, too rapid for conventional aircraft, near the Picacho Peak. By the hyperagility and anaerodynamic criteria, at velocities that exceed any drone, these are confidently identified as UFO. The fact that the pilot declares himself detached from the event ("I'm not looking up there"), makes the WSO the sole witness to the event (absent public radar corroboration), another documented example of the very common UFO "sole witness" syndrome (e.g., 2007 TARBACA, 2019 BELLEVUE).
The 1994 Nevada Test & Training Range NV n.d. event displays hyperagility (hovering), anaerodynamic form and indifference over restricted military air space. It was recorded by contractor operators of base surveillance cameras and a copy was leaked to news media which vouch for its authenticity. The full 1994 NEVADA TEST RANGE video, without image stabilization, is here; the extreme background flare is due to a direction of view toward the Sun. Michael J. Powell has authored a detailed, three page forensic examination of the video, replete with a plan and profile interpretation of the bizarrely shaped observable form. The linked video includes analysis and comparison to the 1991 Mexico City MEX 11 July event (cf. Figure 19d), also a hovering solo object, that was videotaped by at least six solar eclipse observers at widely spaced locations.
A fifth video apparently of military origin, 2021 DOUGLAS, shows an A-10 "Warthog" fighter making a close pass with a meter sized UFO. This video is discussed later as evidence for UFO oscillating movement.
Universal UFO Witness Declaration. A rather consistent UFO attribute is passed over in almost all discussions of the phenomena, except the notice by Bill Whitaker in the 60 Minutes segment linked above. It has nothing to do with the UFO itself but with the human observers. The event nearly always creates a state of witness arousal disbelief, wonderment, excitement or confusion particularly at first encounter and the initial interval of observation. In analogy to the photosensitive sensors on a digital camera, this is a form of glare or saturation: the cognitive and emotional limits of human comprehension are overwhelmed before they have time to adequately adjust to the situation. J. Allen Hynek in The UFO Experience alludes to this as the "high strangeness" of the most compelling UFO encounters.
US Navy pilots are not known for their excitable and unreliable temperament, but the GOFAST and GIMBAL videos are peppered with astonished laughter and exclamations: "Whoo hoo!," "My gosh!" "Look at that thing dude!" "Oh my gosh, dude!" "What the fuck is that?" "Look at it fly! Ha ha!" "Wow!" The exclamations, profanity and colloquial "dude" reflect a shift out of routine work communications as air sentries and into the informal or intimate register characteristic of human play and the childlike excitement in witness of magic.
The essays in UFO: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record by Leslie Kean include comments from senior military officers, military and civilian pilots, radar operators, investigators and civilian eyewitnesses that all come down to the same universal UFO witness declaration. As Hynek observed (p.12): "In my experience interrogating witnesses one phrase has been repeated over and over again: 'I never saw anything like this in my life.'" The two police officers who chased the ↆ 1966 Ravenna, OH 17 April UFO by car for 60 miles agreed: "I never seen any thing like it before" and "I've never seen any thing like this in my life." The AATIP USS NIMITZ report authored by Elizondo's group concludes (p.13) with "They had never seen anything like this before and never again."
Twelve UFO Attributes
It would be handy at this point to have labels rather than descriptions for UFO aeronautical capabilities or performance in particular the capabilities known in the ufologist community as Elizondo's five observables. I refer to these distinctive characteristics as "attributes." Attempting to find accurate labels for these attributes illustrates again the influence of our words and concepts on the focus of analysis. It also shows that when we try to describe UFO capabilities we must coin new words to do so.
These capabilities are not candidly framed in the ODNI report or in its definition of key terms, and public discussion by Elizondo, Corbell, Ratcliffe, Rogan, Woolsey and the rest adds, removes or remixes the attributes when they describe UFO. (Compare for example Elizondo's statement of the five observables to 60 Minutes (linked above) with his presentation here.) This illustrates the need for consistent terminology. Science terms are tools to communicate concisely and unambiguously a specific definition or physical fact or abstract concept. They eliminate uncertainty or misunderstanding as to what we are talking about.
"Speeds up to 13,000 mph," "700 g forces," and "Hover in winds aloft" [Place hover]
Two criterion attributes that have been recognized and quantitatively described since the 1950's are observations of high velocity and very high acceleration, both as a linear increase in velocity and as the radial force induced by a sharp turn. These are characterized in the recent literature as velocities up to 8500 m/s [19,000 mph] and g forces up to 7000 m/s² [700 g]. In addition to these attributes of great speed and high g force, there are reports that UFO can hold a stationary hover for two hours or more and "can move in any orientation relative to the wind or the Earth's gravity." Reports of near air encounters compiled by NARCAP indicate that UFO can also move in any orientation relative to their shape. And the 2006 UK MoD UAP report indicates "spinning" as the most frequently observed dynamic behavior.
These attributes suggest concepts familiar to us, although we need terms to indicate that UFO capabilities are far outside the familiar range:
hypervelocity for the enormous peak speeds that UFO exhibit;
Acceleration is measured in meters per second per second (m/s²); and thrust is the force required to produce acceleration. Thrust is measured in newtons, the force required to accelerate one kilogram to a velocity of 1 m/s in one second. (One newton applied to one kilogram produces about 1/10th g force.) Hyper in all cases means "exceedingly, to excess" the attribute exceeds our prior expectations and is excessive within our understanding of aeronautics. In fact, according to some analyses, UFO "defy the laws of physics."
A common label for hypervelocity is hypersonic, which denotes velocities greater than about 1700 m/s [3800 mph] and is undesirable because it anchors the velocity expectations far too low.
The alternative "hyperkinetic" suggests itself, as the Nimitz eyewitness reports describe the observable as abruptly reversing direction like a ping pong ball rattled in a glass. However, agility is an aeronautics metric based on the directional change in a flight path measured against the time or the flight distance required to achieve it at a given air speed; or the change in air speed within a given time or distance. Note that aeronautical agility suffers the same measurement problems as acceleration: beyond a certain point it becomes qualitative because of imprecision in the measurement of time and the spatial resolution of the flight path.
The third Elizondo "observable" or attribute is the capability for apprent cloaking or "signal management" in both the visual and radar bandwidths. This brings us to consider the evidence from radiometry and optics, two domains that uncork a surprisingly complex bundle of attributes, including those NIEMR health effects mentioned above.
As a preliminary matter of language, Elizondo's claim that UFO "evade radar" and the legal implication that this is an "act of war" often attach to this attribute. I emphasize that these insert preconceptions that the military brings to UFO studies. The concept that UFO evade radar through some form of "signal management" is based entirely on an observed distortion in the reflection of radar returns. This distortion does not in itself indicate a conscious agent who makes the decision to deploy countermeasures against detection. That interpretation requires the concept of UFO as an occupant controlled adversarial technology: either the UFO "pilot" has jammed the radar as a defense against possible attack, or the UFO is using stealth to gain an offensive advantage.
But that is by no means the only possible construction on the evidence. The observed distortion might be caused by the physical properties of the UFO itself, refracted or wave shifted in some way that cannot be represented by the radar imaging software. The 2006 UK MoD UAP report explores this possibility explicitly as the effects of a reflecting plasmoid body, in the "Aircraft as a Charged Body" section of Vol.3 of the report. Even if we choose to infer an intent, the "jamming" may be peculiar form of refraction, much as convection turbulence creates heat shimmer and mirages. Or it may be an inability of the radar system to interpret the return from a bright/dark and "fuzzy" body that combines emitting, refracting and absorbing properties in paradoxical ways. We have clear analogs for that effect in the several visual records (e.g., see Figure 3 and Figure 19e) where "jamming" seems to be an inappropriate overinterpretation. The better term sometimes used instead is "low observability," which makes no claim about occupants nor their intentions to deploy an extraterrestrial military capability.
The fact that UFO may or may not appear as radar returns has been known since the 1950s. It is difficult to know how much this depends on the radar equipment or the UFO. Over the eastern US seaboard recently UAP were undetectable or only appeared to be atmospheric or technical anomalies in the APC-73 radar on US fighter jets, but when equipment was upgraded to the APC-79 radar they were more clearly and consistently detectable. However, visually located UFO have been documented to be either detectable or not on radar since the much more primitive radar systems used in the late 1940s, for example in the Ted Stevens "foo fighter" encounter described below. This similarity in detection or lack of it that is somewhat independent of the type of radar technology suggests low observability is an inconsistent or variable attribute of UFO that can affect different radar interrogations in the same way and affect the same type of radar differently in different circumstances.
Another "jamming like" EM attribute is the reported UFO capability to disable the electronic systems of nuclear missile sites and aircraft electronic controls, as well as affect the electrical operation of radios and internal combustion engines. An electromagnetic discharge or continuous EM field of microwave or radio frequencies seems implicated, and this attribute is not related to the behavior of UFO as it occurs both in flight and hovering near the ground. NARCAP reports that all 57 reported encounters of commercial aircraft with the "fireball" form of UFO resulted in some kind of electrical or electronic malfunction in the operation of the aircraft. Similarly, the 1957 Levalland TX 2 November series of incidents were produced by one or more large, "egg shaped," very bright and heat emitting UFO. The Australian "General Intelligence" report on UFO (linked below, jump to p. 24) cites a large number of radio and vehicle electrical malfunctions, and NICAP compiled a similar list of electromagnetic effects from 1945 to 1963. Data from CUFOS (reprinted by Michael Swords and Robert Powell in their extensively documented UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry, p. 252) indicates anomalous spikes in these electromagnetic incidents in the fourth quarter of 1957 and the years 1967 and 1973. These indicate that "fireball" and ground hovering "spheres of light" are episodic phenomena and not a consistent attribute of the UFO population.
Many UFO have been observed to emit directed beams of high intensity energy, sometimes toward the ground and sometimes at the observer either on the ground or in aircraft. Lt. Ryan Graves describes UFO emittance as "almost as if someone was shining a flashlight, uh, down my sensor ... almost like something was shining at me, high energy beam reflected at me." The NARCAP report on the 2020 REYNOSA encounter says that when the observable first appeared the pilots observed a signaling or scrutinizing light beam directed at their aircraft. These beams are observed even when the UFO appears to be "cold."
Erling Strand provides a few details about the electromagnetic spectrum of the Hessdalen lights, which appears to extend from the visual down to the 30 to 30,000 Hertz range, approximately the acoustic frequency range of human hearing that (in low end of the electromagnetic range) can produce mild sensations of vertigo. Both the visual spectrum and the lower frequencies can have either a broadband or "smooth" emittance profile (Figure 1) or a peaky, "LED like" profile of high emittance within a nearly monochromatic frequency band. In the radio frequency range these peaks have been measured at about 80 megahertz intervals, vaguely like the chromatic keys on a piano. All this suggests that UFO are highly "colorful" across the EM spectrum.
This spectral modulation can apparently produce either high emittance or nearly zero emittance within limited bandwidths across almost any frequency. In the visual, a narrow bandwidth produces highly saturated or monochromatic hues (cf. Figure 24). Note that a high flux that is limited to microwave and infrared can appear visually dark or black in daylight. The fact that "bright" and "dark" do not characterize two different types of observable is demonstrated by the change from bright to dark in a pair of observables early in the 2021 NEW YORK event (t=0:47). But even a daylight dark observable might appear gently luminous at night, when UFO are more often described as shining with an extremely bright white light, comparable to a gibbous Venus or the full Moon (visual magnitudes between 5 to 13). Assuming a 1 meter radius spherical surface viewed from one kilometer, an illuminance equal to Venus at its brightest (2.5e6 lux) implies a luminance of at least 40,000 nits. Observables can also suddenly appear out of thin air or fade into invisibility, and the transition can occur abruptly: as both Cdr. Fravor and LCDr. Slaight observed, UFO can simply "vanish."
Across the visual, UFO emittance can appear as a steady light; as a regular pulsing or blinking; or as a nonperiodic fluctuation. The most commonly reported color at night is white, although UFO also display a wide variety of sometimes strongly saturated hues, in particular red or orange. Figure 2 (below) shows the range of hues in 2021 GLENDALE that in its chromatic pitch and temporal changes resembles a signaling function. Note that it omits entirely the "red" running light of aviation and produces a continuous scale of values toward the high energy end of the spectrum and along the saturation limits of the sensor. This spectral complexity argues against fixed elemental (ionized) emission lines as the source. A signaling interpretation is possibly consistent with Erling Strand's anecdote that an observable stopped blinking each time it was illuminated by a handheld laser. In any case, light can characterize the entire observable form or appear as discrete sources on a visually dark form (cf. Figure 23). Considering that the stimulus for "hue" is effectively a form of emittance profile; UFO may present recognizable "hues" as different profiles of not only visual but infrared and microwave emittance.
A final peculiarity is that UFO seem associated with US Navy guided missile ships the USS Princeton, the USS Omaha and the USS Russell that emit copious and rather specifically tuned, beamed and sweeping radio and microwave energy from the Aegis Combat System and AN/SPY-1 radar, or possibly with the frequencies generated by novel systems of electrical power. I propose a "bizarre connection" or "attraction" in UFO to certain electromagnetic sources or signals, which indicates that the EM spectrum should be both measured and probed at all practicable frequencies to understand the limits and temporal patterns of UFO emittance and sensitivity to environmental energy.
All this is evidence that UFO are capable of emitting behaviorally distinctive EM signatures across a very large span of the electromagnetic spectrum. I suggest this very complicated picture can be summarized first by removing the unproven attribute of a "jamming" motive from consideration, then dividing the rest into two attributes: (1) full spectrum EM emittance to suggest an emittance profile across the entire 10¹³ to 10¹ Hertz spectral range; and (2) EM modulation to include the variable power emitted as total flux; the variable flux within any frequency band; the "peaking" of radiation within narrow frequency limits (as described by Strand); and the time course of power brightening or dimming, blinking or flashing, and eventual vanishing.
"Fly through air, water and possibly space"
The fourth attribute, usually described as transmedium travel, refers to evidence that (1) UFO observed traveling in the atmosphere have also been observed to enter and/or emerge from ocean waters (as in the 2013 AGUADILLA and 2019 USS OMAHA JULY 16 videos), sometimes at high velocities, and (2) UFO have been detected entering the Earth's atmosphere from altitudes publicly reported at 24,000 meters [80,000 feet]. Elizondo observes:
"And so, you know I I think the, there's there's two, there's two congruencies that we see. We see a, we see an interest in our nuclear capabilities and then we have this really bizarre, ah, what eh, tsk! I don't know if you'd call it an interest but there seems to be a connection with water, and these things have a av ah, have a tendency to be seen in and around water."
In an interview with Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, Washington Examiner national security writer Tom Rogan injected a substantive commentary gleaned from the usual anonymous but well placed sources:
"There isn't anything that we have, top secret information, uh, about what Russia or China have, or what we have at Area 51, ah, that can do what these things do in terms of the variable performance. And I think specifically relevant to this video, uh, in the coming months and years an area that we will learn more about, ah, is the interaction of US Navy submarines, nuclear, uh ballistic missile submarines and attack submarines um, picking up sonar contact of things moving, um, at hundreds of knots under the water. Um, and so there is a undersea dimension to this, ah, that the Navy has sort of pushed off to the side as the pilots, ah, talk more about their experiences. So, there is a lot more to come out is is I think the best way to put it."
One hundred knots is about 50 meters per second, about twice the speed of a standard modern torpedo.
UFO that travel for extended distances under water are termed transmedium objects or devices by the 2021-2022 NDAA or unidentified submerged objects or USO in the ufology literature. Unfortunately the US Navy does not seem to have an established procedure to collect anomalous sonar data, and whatever data in the hands of Navy intelligence has not been publicly revealed, so it is unclear how far aerial UFO explain the under water observations and how far USO seem to be separate things. Submarine sonars are also limited in temporal resolution due to the much slower speed of sound under water (around 1500 m/s or 500 ft/s), which means that USO if they exist are probably poorly resolved. There is very little public information about USO beyond the hints from Tom Rogan (quoted above).
Because UFO also appear on or disappear from radar at high altitude, the inference is that they can and do travel in space, although we lack any public data other than reports that they "appear suddenly" in descent from altitudes of around 24 km [80.000 feet]. As context, the International Space Station orbits the Earth at an average altitude of about 420 km [260 miles], the Earth's stratosphere extends to an altitude of 50 km [31 miles], and the highest altitude sustained by military air breathing aircraft is around 27 km [90,000 feet]. Thus we only have public evidence that UFO display "stratospheric" or high atmosphere rather than "outer space" behavior.
If UFO operate at any higher altitudes then that fact might be revealed by military surveillance, mapping or weather satellites, and data from these platforms has notably been withheld by the Department of Defense despite congressional requirements that it be at least referenced in unclassified reports. A few astronauts, such as Soviet Colonel General Vladimir Kovalyonok, describe UAP encounters while in space, but all these appear to lack corroborating witnesses or sensor evidence. Otherwise, according to the 2006 UK MoD UAP report, UFO seem to prefer to operate at altitudes below 20,000 feet [6 km], although this estimate obviously may be biased by the observational limits of terrestrial visual observers.
This shielding is usually interpreted as a layer between the environment and the "vehicle." The 1948 Project SIGN Initial Report first raised the possibility that UFO might utilize some form of "intelligent application of boundary layer control," or the possibility that UFO might be "enveloped" in a boundary layer that reduces friction with the surrounding medium. This is visually most apparent in the remarkable shape instability of 2013 AGUADILLA (cf. Figure 18).
2013 AGUADILLA is the best documented "transmedium" event in public view, and fortunately it was filmed by a skillful and alert camera operator using military grade equipment. The observable has a robust structure that seems to gradually fade away until the observable appears to transform into an elliptical glow under the water. During this first, 5 second immersion this glow moves under water at the same speed as in the air and at one point appears suddenly to accelerate (Figure 3, dotted line), then drops back to the targeting marks where it briefly reappears. Two more apparent immersions follow but the operator seems to lose the target in the longer, 11 second interval because he drops to lower magnification until the observable resurfaces just prior to spawning. I think the first immersion shows sufficient evidence of movement under the water to confirm the transmedium capability; the fading change is made very gradually (Figure 3, top) yet shows no signs of either a bow shock or wake disturbance. It also and reveals (red frame) two cores of heat connected by an arc of heat that reappears after the spawn event (Figure 15). The two subsequent episodes only show the observable disappearing from view, but is is hardly visual evidence of transmedium movement, as it appears to disappear several times while over land (e.g., at t=86 to 94s) where there are no ground obstacles to account for it.
Across the entire terrestrial flight the observable appears to present "lensing" or funhouse mirror changes in shape, internal radiance and contour (cf. Figure 18) that imply a relatively thick envelopment and, as a purely visual analogy for the microwave domain, suggest the kind of form that military radars are tasked to interpret. This might align with other capabilities that suggest a similar shielding from the environment:
In the medium of air, UFO display hypervelocity without causing a sonic boom.
The shimmering effect is reported in widely different cases, including the 1994 RUWA ZWE or "Ariel School" event where one witness student described the observable as appearing "like the Sun reflected in water poured over a large rock." In an interview with Navy Cpt. Tim Thompson, quoted in the SCU USS NIMITZ report (p. 11), LCDr. Slaight described the "Tic Tac" UFO appearance as blurred by a "thermal" border: the observable had "defined edges" but there appeared to be a "fuzzy or wavy looking border around the entire surfaces of the object. ... It looked like what the heat waves would look like coming off a hot paved road or what the carrier deck looked like if you looked across it when in the Gulf in the Mid-East." A witness to the 1975 Loring AFB ME 27 October event (quoted by Swords and Powell, p. 338) chose the same analogy: "The object looked like all the colors were blending together, as if you were looking at a desert scene. You see waves of heat rising off the desert floor. This is what I saw."
The anonymous image analyst comparing the 1994 NEVADA TEST RANGE and 1991 MEXICO CITY videos (linked below) found both of them to have a quality distinct from the shimmering: an unresolved "ball of cotton" indistinctness:
"When we looked at these images, ah we can't get the definition of the geometry that we would expect for objects as close as this one was to a very good camera. Uh ... the objects by nature are fuzzy, or undefined or unclear. This one was shot by a very expensive, uh, tracking camera, uh, on a very stable mount; uh, this one was shot by a hand held, uh, consumer video camera, and there's no difference in, in, uh resolution, and we find that puzzling, that uh, no matter how many of these images you get from whatever source, they all have that 'ball of cotton' syndrome or that fuzziness to 'em."
See Figure 18 for clear examples of this effect in 2022 ISLAMABAD. The same "convection refraction" is visible as interior variations in the erratic movements of a tiny black dot in the 2020 REYNOSA observable (below) at the maximum magnification, and as the scintillation of the high magnification observable in 2021 CALIPATRIA. There is a momentary "fuzzing" of the completely black observable in 1993 GULF BREEZE, only visible in the slow motion version, just before its explosive departure. These examples suggest that the shimmering effects may only be visible if the observer is not far away, perhaps a kilometer or two; if farther away, the predominant visual effect may be "fuzziness."
Related to these observations are the occasional reports of UFO displaying local magnetic effects identified by redirected compass needles or variometer readings (as in 1965 Laurie Island ATA 3 July), by magnetizing iron objects or soils in ways that can be measured later (ↆ 1992 Gulf Breeze FL 11 September), or by producing dark rings around the image of the observable viewed through a polarizing filter (1953 Yuma AZ 5 May). Magnetism is the complement of electricity in the electromagnetic spectrum. A rapidly oscillating magnetic field is known to increase water temperature to a boil, as was possibly observed as "white water" in the 2004 USS NIMITZ encounter. Magnetic fields are also associated with the polarization of light and the generation of plasmas.
Elizondo claims that UFO have a "bizarre ... connection with water," but there is no public evidence to clarify or back up that claim. And water may not be the whole transmedium capability. There are incomprehensible but well documented accounts of UFO impacting the Earth with an explosion and leaving a crater but no sizeable wreckage or crash debris (the 1946 Kölmjärv Spökraket). In fact there is no public UFO wreckage, and investigated crash sites have only turned up metallic slag. That might weigh in favor of a transmedium capability, or a UFO immateriality.
So I suggest we have two distinct attributes confusingly described as one: a fundamental kinetic, chemical and thermodynamic detachment from the environment as an immaterial electromagnetic source, and a habitat that includes water:
The better documented attribute is envelopment, which means no kinetic effects (bullets are harmless, there is no sonic boom, no bubbles of cavitation, we see them move weightlessly), no chemical condensation (mostly) and no apparent respect for thermodynamic laws (no ablation or propulsive exhaust, always) ... we get nothing except, in some cases, radar "jamming" or the appearance of glare. This all seems to be evidence of a kind of barrier or caul between the UFO and its environment that both prevents the disruption produced by travel through a dense medium and shields the UFO from damage from random collision or crash.
Again, 2004 USS NIMITZ, 2013 AGUADILLA, 2019 USS OMAHA JULY 16 and a hearsay anecdote from Cdr. Fravor are public record that some part of UFO activity is cloaked under water. But Tom Rogan seems to have misspoken, because the submariners still haven't been allowed to tell their story.
"No control surfaces," "No nacelles," "Move in any orientation," "Spinning" and "Flutter or oscillate"
This gathers together the various observations that amount to the conclusion that "this thing shouldn't be flying." It is a form of structural bafflement, an admission that the exterior form of the thing gives us no hint as to how it stays in the air or maneuvers in flight.
The various forms of UFO are not "designed for flight" or aerodynamic: instead they have been described as a sphere, a disk, a triangle, a cylinder, a cone or isocahedron, a cube, a cube within a sphere, a wedding cake, a wheel with spokes, an ice cream cone or a dumb bell (see Figure 17b). They are most often lumped into five taxonomic shape groups fireball (or ball of light), sphere, disk, triangle and cylinder (or "cigar") a classification scheme originated by Project SIGN in 1948 and still used by NARCAP today. Only the "disk" potentially qualifies as aerodynamic.
These forms are not modified in ways that produce lift or control surfaces, and most are shaped and often oriented during flight in ways that are aerodynamically drag creating. UFO have been observed to roll, pitch or "tumble," yaw or rotate and flutter or oscillate as they fly, sometimes even at high speed. The 2013 AGUADILLA observable seems to change orientation almost randomly in flight (Figure 18). Even the aerodynamically plausible disks have been observed flying with a flat surface forward, which seems to invalidate any aerodynamic purpose for the form. Control surfaces are flaps to direct airflow or vanes to control exhaust; nacelles are anything streamlined in consideration of airflow: there's a "nose versus exhaust" in terms of where it is likely going. With a fighter aircraft, this is easy to see; in a UFO, it is not. UFO can move as if in free fall, where any tumble or spin doesn't affect the center of gravity trajectory. This is why you cannot tell which direction a UFO is flying from a single UFO photograph.
But any large fluttering movements or oscillations in the flight path constitute a costly and highly undesirable flight performance. It is one of the UFO behaviors that has the greatest disconfirming implications for UFO as a machine or cultural technology. Physics is anchored in concepts such as energy minimum, shortest path, least time, and aerodynamic principles incorporate the principle of minimum drag. But even if we argue that envelopment insulates the UFO from the effects of atmospheric drag, gross flutter or flight oscillation is undesirable both for the energy requirements necessary cyclically to cancel a yaw motion with a yaw reversal and for the structural stresses created by those momentum shifts.
The point is that the term anaerodynamic or "not aerodynamic" also covers for now the performance attributes of oscillation or flutter that would be undesirable even the vacuum of space. Since we can't really explain why drag does not appear to be a consideration, we also have no way to explain why oscillation or flutter is not a superfluous cost unbecoming a "breakthrough technology."
"Defy ... Earth's gravity," "No lift surfaces," "No visible propulsion" and "Hover for hours" [Time hover]
The last of Elizondo's criteria is stated as "no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, ... and yet can still defy the natural effects of Earth's gravity." Yet we learn from the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" that UFO can hover against prevailing winds for hours on end, implicating a continuous power output and potentially large energy reserve.
Again, these are descriptions rather than defined attributes, and several attributes seemed bundled together. I suggest the attribute comprises as many as four separate concepts:
1. a source of energy (fuel reserves, batteries, fissionable material) that can sustain hovering in place for several hours
In the aeronautical vocabulary, "defy Earth's gravity" is related to lift, produced in conventional aircraft by lift surfaces (wings) or buoyancy. Vertical propulsion (propellers on a helicopter), and the forward motion with wings is produced by thrust, or propulsion. Lift can be simulated as buoyancy and thrust by drag or wind resistance, for example in the sideways motion of a balloon or sailboat, but these are ruled out by the observed UFO velocity and maneuverability. Some commentators invoke the concept of an "anti-gravity propulsion" but this assumes an understanding of UFO motive power that is both publicly unproven and scientifically implausible.
For this unknown energy source (attribute 1) in the form of apparent power (attribute 2) I suggest the term impulsion. Impulsion means the observable is inherently "impelled" rather than "propelled," primarily because we cannot tell whether the movement is produced by a pushing or pulling force, or some combination of both modalities. Impulsion presents dynamically to an observer as highly nimble, insectlike flight that presents as a weightless (gravity free) lift and an "explosive" (mass free) acceleration. But the point is that we do not understand the source of the energy or the process of power generation, much less peak power output.
UFO often exhibit erratic, spontaneous and "impulsive" changes in speed, direction or altitude; abrupt, 90° or "zig zag" turns horizontally or vertically, and abrupt, "stop on a dime" deceleration. These indicate that the thrust vector must be shifted extremely quickly in any direction at any power. The extent of the capability is illustrated in 2004 USS NIMITZ, where the confined and rapid switching of the Tic Tac trajectory from north/south to east/west was "like a ping pong ball rattling in a glass." This capability, separate from how it is used in behavior, is probably part of the impulsion attribute.
A second reason for a new term is that the impulsion appears to be almost inherent to the substance, like a metabolic product, rather than generated like a combustion or particle jet. Impulsion also means "the movement of a horse when it is going forward with controlled power." I enjoy the possibility that aliens might be riding stallions of force and even more that UFO might be the animal itself. But the factual point is that rather small UFO have been observed to hover for hours yet do not seem to require physically capacious reserves of energy or fuel, or massive thrust generating equipment. The process of impulsion appears practicable in observables as small as 1 to 2 meters (2013 AGUADILLA, 2021 DOUGLAS, 2019 USS OMAHA JULY 16 and possibly 2022 ISLAMABAD), which greatly limits the physical dimensions of the energy reserves and the power/thrust generating process. We may be able to disassemble, reverse engineer and duplicate some mechanism of propulsion, but impulsion might expire with the capture.
The third motive for the term is that UFO are characteristically profligate with their energy. They can radiate at a very high power, perform energetic flutters or oscillations in flight, scamper and jump in ways that would seem to result in enormous g forces. Neither to we see UFO stalled in the meadows or floating out of gas in a low Earth orbit. Whatever is the energy source (1) of impulsion it appears to be copious and freely consumed.
In any case the term "impulsion" is conceptually completely empty, a mere placeholder word. It has the useful purpose to declare we have no idea what it refers to. If someone asks, "What is impulsion?" I can confidently affirm my ignorance: "Impulsion is an unknown power of movement."
Without a knowledge of impulsion we cannot infer anything about how it might be generated or controlled within a UFO. Concept 3 separates from the concept of power as evidence of intelligent control. Our only path into the impulsion, other than through the "capture" and disassembly of a UFO itself, seems to be a combination of more precise performance analysis, a more explicit correlation of performance to all measurable forms of electromagnetic output, and a more rigorous distinction between the range of power and attributes of control when interpreting hyperdynamic attributes.
The tremendous speeds and anaerodynamic orientation that UFO can display raises the question of how flight is controlled to avoid orographic obstacles and to execute complex maneuvers such as shadowing aircraft, dodging near air collisions, outmaneuvering pursuing military planes, or hovering stationary against displacing winds. We don't know the physical origin of impulsion, but we observe that it can be directed and modulated in ways that indicate it is under a reactive (sensor assisted and tactically coherent) control.
At velocities of 8500 m/s [19,000 mph] or an equivalent acceleration, controlled maneuvers would seem to require a very large, high resolution sensor space and continuous information about location and dynamic trajectory in order to avoid collisions with landscape, buildings, birds, drones or aircraft. Yet UFO consistently do not appear to have sensing structures such as antennae, receivers, windows or sensor ports. And the fact that UFO can tumble, rotate or "helicopter" during flight would require the sensory field to extend very far in all directions and adjust for changing orientation as well. We lack here a basic picture of the UFO Umwelt or "experience world."
Control generally requires an intelligence or guidance programming that has an objective, but we don't know what objective the intelligence or programming of UFO is trying to achieve. In fact, I argue the possibility that UFO are not very intelligent and may not have a collective purpose. We see control in a robotic vacuum cleaner; intelligence is something closer to problem solving. But the problems we see UFO solving are not very complex. When they are encountered by military aircraft they seem to choose the simplest and most effective solution: evasion and retreat. At the same time, we can't think of a logical reason why UFO would create hazards by violating restricted airspace, why they would shadow planes or weather balloons or hover over nuclear missile silos. What to make of the repeated pilot statements that UFO were "toying" with them (for example, by appearing immediately at secret coordinates)? This concern is directly raised by many commentators, such as Jeremy Corbell's "intent of the operators" quoted above. I discuss the issue of UFO "intelligence" below, and I describe there the basic human tendency to see mind and intent even in inanimate motion. We have to be aware of our own attributional biases when we interpret UFO behavior.
In addition, UFO show a primitive form of social behavior in the observed ways that UFO interact, for example to form stable formations or pairings known as flights, to gather or swarm in a single place for an extended period, or to splt or join in spawn events. Otherwise UFO do not seem to gather or "roost" together in any terrestrial location, although they are observed to descend in groups from high altitude, a behavior pattern clearly documented in 2004 USS NIMITZ but also observed in early reports such as the Schulgen memo (2g) and 1952 WASHINGTON DC. This implies that UFO form up at high altitude before descending on a common signal to the same location. Solitary UFO are most often observed as they hover, transit, or "explore" through a complex sequence of behavior acts, which typically concludes with a high velocity escape up, up and away. So our ability to characterize the social relationships among UFO is unclear. We can say with high confidence that UFO lack the mutualism of nurture or collective defense, but they do display a dispositional behavior or pattern of doing characteristic things in characteristic ways.
A widely observed but poorly understood aspect of the UFO phenomenon has already been described as witness arousal and the universal UFO witness declaration. That topic gets the next chapter. Apparently health effects are known that resemble radiation poisoning, near infrared microwave burns, cardiovascular arousal, cognitive disorientation, and emotional states such as fear or wonderment. These can characterize a UFO sighting as reliably as any signature hyperagility.
Despite a very small number of military reports involving intercept and pursuit, there are effectively no reports that describe UFO as provocative or aggressive. UFO have demonstrated a limited fixation on human flying objects. They have approached and shadowed high altitude balloons and long haul aircraft from WW II to the present day (2021 REYNOSA). There is anecdotal evidence that certain military installations and US Navy ships have also attracted UFO, especially in the period 1950-1975.
Setting aside the truly murky topic of "alien abduction" as a separate issue (discussed below) and focusing only on the aerial phenomena, the totality of UFO reports paints a fairly clear picture of observables behaving in ways similar to those in the 2004 USS NIMITZ encounter. They seem not to seek out human contact or solicit human attention; they evade or escape human attention when it is initiated as an aircraft intercept or radar interrogation; but otherwise they hover and migrate as they choose, very often dropping from high altitude for a few hours of sojourn near the surface. They seem to move without regard for the possibility of public notice or the clutter of urban airspace, and the are capable of controlled speeds that minimize visual detection at altitudes that avoid conflict with commercial aircraft.
The 2013 AGUADILLA observable appeared over the ocean north of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and flew directly south at about 45 m/s [100 mph] over the beach. The video begins as the observable passes over a residential area north of the airport, then traverses the Rafael Hernandez Airport runways at low altitude (t = 0:16) to an undeveloped area south of the airport (0:27) while making a slow turn to the east. Then it turns sharply north, flies back over the airport runways (1:04), the residential area (1:24) and beach (1:54) and returns to the sea, where it skims in and out of the waves, splits into a mirror pair, and disappears.
What does behavior like that suggest about the UFO/human relationship? It seems to me most likely that UFO violate restricted airspace or ignore national boundaries or conflict with commercial air travel because they lack awareness that such behavior is not allowed in human custom or law. Concern would also be absent if the concept of a human restriction was known but disparaged, or known but misunderstood, but these overinterpret the simple fact that such restrictions are not observed by UFO. Instead, human and UFO seem to interact along the same behavioral lines as bathers and shorebirds at the beach. Each is perfectly content to go about its business without the other and each accommodates the other through avoidance, including taking wing if necessary. I think the best characterization of how UFO utilize the control attribute toward the human species is indifference.
The twelve attributes
By relabeling two of the "five observables," analyzing the other three into two or three attributes, and adding the two attributes that everyone mentions but nobody uses as a criterion (indifference to restricted airspace or national boundaries, arousal in human witnesses), we end up with a UFO criterion profile of twelve attributes:
Hypervelocity: Recorded speeds from 0 to at least 8,500 m/s (25 times the speed of sound)
This is a bit much, as attributes go, but it still doesn't capture the full behavioral spectrum of UFO events, the things we see UFO doing, separate from the individual capabilities of a UFO. These include imputed sensory capabilities observed as "exploratory" behavior and collision or crash avoidance, and the lack of cultural behavior defined as any consistency or purpose of activity.
At minimum, the exercise of translating descriptions into labels illustrates the difficulties we encounter when we conceptualize through labels the attributes of inexplicable phenomena, and UFO are most certainly unexplained. The labels I adopt in this review are only intended to remove assumptions and point explicitly: for that purpose they do not need to be definitive. UFO are often described as almost instantaneously "vanishing" from view: is this an extreme instance of hyperacceleration, or a form of electromagnetic modulation (cloaking in the visual)? Is hovering in exactly the same location regardless of wind an example of hyperagility or of control, or both? How do we interpret envelopment as a shielding from our spacetime environment or as an immateriality that can pass through any matter?
It also makes us think carefully about our words as they apply to novel phenomena. These and other UFO attributes are still outside our understanding and athwart the historical distinctions of our scientific, military and technical cultures. All we can do at present is describe observed appearances and effects. We very likely will innovate new concepts and new metrics to describe what we witness. At the same time, the attempt to define a more specific criterion list has brought what I believe are the confirmed, persistent and distinctive UFO attributes into sharper focus.
As with other aspects of UFO research, there is no customary language to talk about the effects of UFO interactions with human. Recently, however, the US Congress has twice written law mandating the study of the "health-related effects for individuals" that may be caused by UFO/human interactions.
The appearance of a UFO typically causes disbelief, wonderment, excitement or confusion, particularly at first encounter and during the initial moments of observation. These effects have been described since the 1960's and as documented in Hynek's The UFO Experience and the NICAP report ↆ The UFO Evidence.
Biologists define communication as behavior in one organism that causes a change in the behavior of another organism, and in the wildlife approach UFO/human communication is already empirically well established. We see it when hovering UFO evade military intercepts by subtle evasion or instantaneous retreat: the human behavior causes a change in the UFO behavior. But there has been a general failure to examine the UFO behavior that changes human behavior, except by the military which determined that the influence of UFO behavior on human behavior was a threat to national security.
Four Stages of UFO Recognition. I think it is useful to examine the physiology of UFO observation as it involves four progressive stages of witness psychological involvement.
The principal feature of the first stage of the witness encounter is the attention fixation produced by a sudden flash or flicker in the corner of the eye, the peripheral notice of a meteorlike streak, or an unusually bright star, or a peculiar cloud or moving shadow. Attention fixation interrupts and pauses the person's ongoing activity and provokes a visual scrutiny to answer the arousal question, what is that? A precise description of this initial stimulus is very poorly probed or recorded in the UFO literature, and is usually abbreviated as, for example, "I looked up and saw..." or "We noticed ...."
This initial scrutiny often produces a misrecognition such as "at first I thought it was" or "it looked like" something familiar or easily put into words. Alternately, the UFO can immediately seem uninterpretable, for example as flashing lights or movement in a shadowy form. Either way, this first impression is subjectively understood to be an imperfect or inconclusive recognition, so there is an interval of recognition scrutiny where attention is consciously focused on the observable in order to find appearance clues that allow for a conclusive interpretation. This conclusive interpretation is a classification, a concept of the nature of the thing itself, and this classification governs all the possible ways that the thing so classified can affect or interact with any other classified thing.
This recognition scrutiny culminates in the confirmation that the appearance is unexplainable, described as the perception of strangeness, the surprise if not shock of "I never saw anything like that before in my life." This seems to place UFO in the empirical category of never experienced that before but also, to a surprising degree, seems to provoke the response needs an explanation.
Up to this point, the combined effects of attention fixation, misrecognition, recognition scrutiny and strangeness produce an initial witness arousal. This arousal seems to manifest in different ways, from fear to fascination, but many witnesses report cardiopulmonary arousal and distortions of time. This arousal becomes more or less acute as the event unfolds and depending on the spatial proximity and strangeness of the encounter, discussed below.
In any case, corresponding to the continued scrutiny of the observable is the emergence of a classification response where the best available description of the observable implies a most likely classification of the observable even if that is the category of things "never seen before in my life" as well as the category of extraterrestrial vehicles. The classification response is an intentional or involuntary behavior that corresponds to the classification of the UFO as a certain kind of thing: something marvelous, alien, threatening, hazardous, suspicious, trespassing, invasive. This response usually resolves either as the observational priority to continue scrutiny of the UFO, or the witness decision to retreat or shelter from the object, move to a better viewing position, or pursue a moving observable in a car or plane.
At some point we reach the event conclusion. This occurs as a result of the behavior of the UFO (a rapid ascent, disappearance behind structures or clouds), external events independent of the observer's intentions (the observer is riding in a vehicle that turns away from the observable), observer circumstances such as fatigue, disinterest or distraction, or sensor limitations such as loss of focus or power.
Physiological & Behavioral Arousal. For witnesses who are in a moving car, a key decision is made when the driver pulls over and stops. This generally indicates a significant witness arousal. Here is the witness statement from the 1960 Red Bluff CA 13 August event. Two Highway Patrol officers observed a completely silent, football shaped UFO for two hours in the careful manner of ethologists stalking a wild animal. Their contemporaneous report is worth quoting at length (inserting later comments in a letter from Carson to a NICAP investigator), as it illustrates the full progression of witness arousal:
Officer [Stanley] Scott and I [A] [Officer Charles A. Carson] were E/B [east bound] on Hoag Road, east of Corning [a town in California about 20 miles south of Red Bluff and 100 miles north of Sacramento], looking for a speeding motorcycle when we saw what at first appeared to be a huge airliner dropping from the sky. The object was very low and directly in front of us. We stopped and leaped from the patrol vehicle in order to get a position on what we were sure was going to be an airplane crash. From our position outside the car, the first thing we noticed was an absolute silence. (There were no clouds or aircraft visible.) Still assuming it to be an aircraft with power off, we continued to watch until the object was probably within 100 feet to 200 feet [30 to 60 meters] off the ground, when it suddenly reversed completely, at high speed, and gained approximately 500 feet [150 meters] altitude. There the object stopped. [B] At this time it was clearly visible to both of us. It was surrounded by a glow making the round or oblong object visible. (The object was shaped somewhat like a football, the edges or I should say outside of the object were clear to us ... [the] glow was emitted by the object, was not a reflection of other lights. The object was solid, definitely not transparent. At no time did we hear any type of sound except radio interference.) At each end, or each side of the object, there were definite red lights. At times about five white lights were visible between the red lights. As we watched the object moved again and performed aerial feats that were actually unbelievable. (The object was capable of moving in any direction. Up and down, back and forth. At times the movement was very slow. At times it was completely motionless. It moved at high (extremely) speeds and several times we watched it change directions or reverse itself while moving at unbelievable speeds.) [C] At this time we radioed Tehama County Sheriff's Office requesting they contact local radar base. The radar base confirmed the UFO completely unidentified.
The entire event can be broken into stages, documenting [A] "initial shock" and misrecognition, recognition scrutiny and perceived strangeness of the observable; [B] description of the appearance of the observable; [C] confirmation of the reality of the observable; [D] passive observation of the observable and its behavior up to its disappearance; [E] post incident corroboration and location of witnesses. The radar confirmation was officially repudiated the next day and the civilian officers were denied their request to interview the radar operator.
This report is famous for the strangeness described, but it is also evidence for the human response to a UFO event. "We saw what at first appeared to be a huge airliner" marks the attention fixation and first interpretation; both "leaped from the patrol vehicle" and prepared for an impact, suggesting a high level of arousal during the recognition scrutiny. The cognitive shock that occurred when they observed the "airplane" immediately reverse course and shoot upward is not noted, but it surely induced amazement and fascination described as "our initial shock". After they verified that the observable was not an airplane, the two officers make a classification response to follow the observable for as long as practicable, primarily focusing on the UFO attributes rather than their activities. The event ends when the observables disappear "below the eastern horizon."
As we find in nearly all similar "high strangeness" cases analyzed by Project BLUE BOOK after the Robertson Panel in 1953, the official explanation was twice botched. The first official explanation was that the officers witnessed a temperature inversion that caused "refraction of the planet Mars and the bright stars, Aldebaran and Betelgeuse," both red. When it was discovered that all three celestial objects were below the horizon at the place and time of the event, the refraction light was attributed to the star Capella, a middling bright white star. Responding to this evident disparagement, Carson told NICAP:
(I served 4 years with the Air Force, I believe I am familiar with the Northern lights, also weather balloons. Officer Scott served as a paratrooper during the Korean War. Both of us are aware of the tricks light can play on the eyes during darkness. We were aware of this at the time. Our observations and estimations of speed, size, etc. came from aligning the object with fixed objects on the horizon. I agree we find it difficult to believe what we were watching, but no one will ever convince us that we were witnessing a refraction of light.)
Contrast that "trustworthy witness" and "multiple witnesses" and "multiple sensor" (radar, radio and visual) official report with this anonymous testimony from a Selma, Alabama resident, included in the Murrow CBS broadcast (t = 12:53). This is a witness who did not stop the car and get out to observe, and therefore displays a fundamentally lower state of attention fixation and recognition scrutiny and possibly only an esthetic classification response that seems vaguely linked to religious feeling:
"We were riding along the open country, and had been odser observing a very beautiful sunset. And uh, as the sun dipped over the western horizon ... I looked to my right. And there in the sky were three, small lights which to me appeared to be, three very small clouds. I looked steadily, and I said 'No, they are not clouds, they are airplanes.' Then I called my husband's attention to it, and he said 'No, those are not airplanes, they are lights.' And we observed them very closely. But being in motion ourselves, to us they were motionless, because we didn't stop. But, as we rolled along, for something over a mile they hung there in the sky, and they were, to us, had the appearance of tubes of fluorescent light, a beautiful, silvery, pink tinged, moonlight. And I said to my husband, 'That gives me a feeling, that God is trying to say something to us.' And uh ... we have had that feeling within us, since."
One reads this account with a feeling that it is very likely not included in a Project BLUE BOOK case summary and never received an official explanation. The scrutiny is less focused and the perceptions less precise (they are changed twice, from clouds to planes to lights) and the evidence seems more amenable to a prosaic explanation. The inflection of this account, and the ones from Arnold and an anonymous antiaircraft sentry that precede it in the CBS broadcast, suggest the large individual variation in affect and behavior that appears in UFO reports. But all the reports describe the impact of the UFO event on human behavior, and sometimes describe post event trauma as well.
Human Impact. The relative strangeness of the UFO event and the cognitive and visceral reactions to it depend in large part on the perceived distance of the observable. At a very far distance recognition as a UFO may not be probable, in the near distance comes the declaration that I never saw anything like that before in my life. At a very close distance of tens of meters or less the visceral arousal due to fear may be extreme and the witness may suffer wounds consistent with near ionizing electromagnetic radiation (NIEMR).
This general theme that the impact of a UFO event increases with decreasing distance is reflected in J. Allen Hynek's sixfold typology of close encounters:
Nocturnal Lights: Observables witnessed at night, often very bright and blinking or moving quickly
A variety of NIEMR related health effects have been noted in close encounter witnesses, although these are not generally serious and none are known to have resulted in death. The most serious case in public record is the passage of a grapefruit sized UAP through the torso of a man and the car he was driving, reported by Lacatski & Kelleher. Nevertheless there are reports of UFO emitting heat or radio interference that could have serious health consequences.
A far more complex issue of human impact is raised by the biological definition of communication: any behavior in one organism that causes a change in the behavior of another organism. By that standard, UFO to human communication has been ongoing and produced a rather astonishingly large reverberation in popular consciousness, given the actual frequency and material importance of the UFO events that do occur, which are rare and nugatory.
The general view is that books and movies and interviews about UFO are part of the human enterprise demonstrating its unquenchable thirst for knowledge about the intent of these alien invaders. But from the biological perspective we can see the human response as a confirmation that UFO have communicated to the human species. The response can be interpreted to represent the effect of UFO on all levels of human behavior, but the most significant response on any level is that UFO provoke the human instinct for talk. It's really the gross disproportion between what we know about UFO and the amount of talk about UFO that becomes a very significant fact, and seems to justify the defense/intelligence assessment in 1952 that this sort of UFO communication was a national security risk.
"Breaks the Laws of Physics"
The "white," "metallic" or "silver " (lustrous gray) appearance that is often attributed to UFO can be the artifact of a completely black form whose luminous power is around one third the ambient illumination or about five times the average reflected environmental luminance. These approximate ratios in luminance cause human vision to perceive the luminance area as a reflecting "white" or "metallic gray" surface rather than as self luminous light. Under office illumination this zone of luminance is used by a computer screen to simulate the white surface of document paper. For an object in clear sky noon sunlight, and assuming a "black" reflectance characterizes the external surface itself, this is a surface luminance of around 9500 nits (candelas per square meter), which at night will appear quite bright. To my knowledge only Hermann Oberth in his 1954 lecture notes clearly pointed to this visual effect: "In sunlight, which is brighter than their own gleaming, they appear glittering like metal. They are dark orange and cherry red at night."
Of course metallic objects also produce a more or less diffuse specular reflectance or lustre, which causes a local brightening that distinguishes it from a matte surface. I describe below the "bright/dark" appearance that characterizes many UFO and conjecture that it may be an artifact of the impulsion. This would explain the apparent bright reflection from a "metallic" surface, especially if the "reflection" is described as a "very bright reflection" on the bottom or unilluminated side. This interprets "reflection" as the perception of emittance, and "metallic" as a luminance contrast effect not as the veridical perception of a reflecting material.
The strong possibility remains that in many or most cases the "metallic" appearance is a luminance contrast effect or a perceptual illusion. The traditional daylight visual interpretation of UFO as convex, opaque, shiny or metallic forms with a symmetrical or geometrical shape, strongly biases interpretation toward an object recognition rather than an inherently energetic process. I describe later the evidence to suggest that the UFO "bright/dark" form may be misperceived due to a number of observer limitations and by a variety of perceptual illusions caused by rapidly changing optical patterns, erratic movement, flickering and spinning. These emerge in the sometimes large differences between the observable recorded in photographs or video and the form described from visual observation.
Why are UFO sometimes said to "defy the laws of physics"? Certainly a 700 g force acceleration will crush a human body into icky porridge, but that is a biological limit not a law of physics.
In 1967 Science magazine, the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a prestigious reference for any scientist, invited physicist William Markowitz to interpret the extraterrestrial hypothesis, under the editorial subtitle Reported UFO's cannot be under extraterrestrial control if the laws of physics are valid. Markowitz concedes that "I do not take issue with reports of sightings and will not try to explain them away. I agree that unidentified objects exist." But he attacks the extraterrestrial hypothesis by using common principles of thrust, weight and mass to show that chemical combustion is insufficient to account for assumed UFO interstellar capabilities, and that principles of atomic physics suggest that propulsion based on energetic particles would demand more power than the entire world electrical generation capacity and would vaporize any mechanism used to direct the thrust.
The lawbreaking emerges from the assumption that UFO are a transmedium "vehicle" or "airframe" or "object" with the mechanism necessary for a "propulsion system." Make that out of whatever exotic alloys or isotopes you choose, the thing is going to be hefty. The core problem with heft is the force required to achieve that 700 g acceleration. Acceleration is defined in Newton's second law of motion, which passed into scientific law in 1686 from an earlier draft by Galileo Galilei:
Given that the observed linear acceleration can reach 7000 m/s², a UFO weighing 100 kilograms (220 pounds) would require a thrust of 700,000 newtons; a one ton, 1000 kilogram mass would require 7 million newtons; and a 10 ton mass would require 70 million newtons. In comparison, the twin General Electric afterburning engines on the F/A-18 Super Hornet deliver a combined thrust of 200,000 newtons. The Super Hornet weighs around 14,000 kilograms, so it would need 98 million newtons to match the "Tic Tac" performance (without a crushable pilot, of course).
The critical assumption is not the kind of propulsion that could produce the observed acceleration but the total mass that is being accelerated. As Erling Strand points out, the UFO mass may not be as hefty as our intuitive analogies to fighter aircraft or automobiles would require. The fact that UFO appear to hover against prevailing winds for hours on end is a demonstration of positive lift and hyperagility that would require large reserves of fuel or energy for a helicopter or drone to emulate.
Kevin Knuth and colleagues (2019) identify the second, thermodynamic way in which UFO seem lawless:
For example, the Tic-Tac UAV dropping from 28,000 feet [8500 meters] to sea level in 0.78 seconds involved at least 430 billion joules of energy (assuming a mass of 1000 kg), which is equivalent to about 100 tons of TNT or the yield of 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles released in 3/4 of a second. One would have expected a catastrophic effect on the environment.
The problem, as Ronald Reagan might have put it, is "Where's the heat?" We do not see anything near the radiant flux that such enormous amounts of power would necessarily produce.
These two facts crystallize the sentiment that UFO "defy the laws of physics." There are highly speculative attempts to explain the observed attributes of UFO using currently understood physical theories to explain how a massy object can produce huge accelerations, for example by moving along "geodesics of spacetime." These theories are worthy of scrutiny and scientific testing, but with the current level of observational information about UFO such theories make a number of as yet unproven conjectures, the most fundamental being that UFO are the manifestation of some form of technology, which requires the corollary assumption that, as a technology unknown to human, it must be a technology of extraterrestrial origin.
Notice that we are implicitly caught between two practical assumptions: that UFO have a substantial, "metallic" mass, and that the motive power is generated using a process analogous to a rocket or jet aircraft. The mass required for power storing batteries, power releasing fuel or power generating engines that can achieve millions of newtons is enormous. Yet this power source must be able to fit within UFO "vehicles" that have been observed to be as small as a suitcase or, in the Gorman encounter, the size of a soccer ball. And the assumption that UFO must generate such huge amounts of energy without any thermal output seems thermodynamically impossible. It's more accurate to say that UFO do not defy the laws of physics so much as point to a problem either with our observations or our assumptions. This is precisely the nub that leads the 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap 3, p. 4) to suggest:
[O]ther evidence from the reports leads to the supposition that the objects might have little or no mass. One might further surmise that if the object had little or negligible mass, it could be buoyant or semi-buoyant and, importantly, that if it had electrical charge or magnetic properties it might be propelled by interaction with other charges present on the surface or in the atmosphere.
In this way both the hyperdynamic power requirements and the impulsion source are attributed to the elemental electromagnetic force of nature, which is free to produce astonishing behavioral attributes thanks to the assumption of "negligible mass." Of course one assumption does not invalidate another, different assumption: it merely illustrates that free assumptions rather than constraining facts shape our provisional understanding of what we observe.
A final, important point is that a physical law is not a physical process. A process is a specific application or combination of physical laws to produce a specific effect. There is no direct way, for example, to account for the transformation of crude petroleum oil into aspirin, acrylics or aniline dyes in terms of basic physical laws; in themselves, comparing a flask of crude oil to a pile of synthetic organic pigment, these transformations appear miraculous. There is no obvious way to deduce from chemical principles the processes of the Krebs cycle or photosynthesis that have evolved in carbon life forms. These processes are only comprehensible as a specific combination of chemicals, temperatures, pressures, reagents or catalysts and a specific sequence in which these ingredients are combined. In the same way, we cannot account for UFO using basic physical principles because we do not understand the processes involved.
There are however many cases in which UFO have approached or rested on the ground and produced indirect physical traces. These are usually described as scrapes, burns or broken twigs on nearby trees or bushes; flattened, crushed or dessicated grass; depressions in the ground; and "oily" or "brownish, sticky" deposits or grayish stains in the earth. The SCU has published a study of the 1971 Delphos KS 2 November event where a 10 foot [3 meter] wide stationary UFO impregnated the dirt to a depth of 14 inches [35 cm] with a brightly glowing luminescent substance that on chemical analysis turned out to be an organic compound resembling a surfactant. Unfortunately, these traces provide little insight into the observable mass or structure, but they do clearly indicate the physical nature of UFO independent of radar or visual observation.
There is no publicly acknowledged UFO crash debris as identifiably machined or manufactured parts (although these are rumored among alienists to be held in secret by the government). The better substantiated point is that all publicly identified UFO "crash sites" have yielded scanty metallic "samples" vastly less than what we would expect to find in the crash of an aeronautical object. The Kölmjärv Spökraket made a splash, uprooted plants, threw mud and dredged an identifiable crater in the lake bottom, but despite intensive searching not a shred of metal could be found. (As a point of comparison, the contemporaneous crash of a V2 rocket reportedly resulted in about one metric ton of metallic debris.) The amount of publicly reported metallic materials recovered from UFO crash sites is miniscule compared to the mass necessary for any plausible "vehicle."
Ufologist Jacques Vallée provided Stanford immunologist Garry Nolan with gravel sized samples of metallic slag from the reputed Ubatuba crash site. These and other samples reputedly have isotope ratios that are ↆ unlike the ratios found in terrestrial minerals. Keith Basterfield summarizes the analyses of other reputed crash remains samples. However, Nolan could not replicate those findings in debris ejected during the 1977 Council Bluffs IA 17 December event, as reported in this peer reviewed ↆ aeronautical journal.
Less reputable are the samples sent anonymously to radio personality Art Bell in 1996, known among alienists as "Art's Parts," and purchased decades later by the To The Stars Academy. These coin sized fragments, said to come from "the bottom of a wedge-shaped UFO in late 1940s near White Sands Proving Ground, NM" (e.g., the Roswell crash), have been variously debunked as the louvred sheet metal commonly used in car radiators, bits of industrial slag (either from a smelting vat or a sputtering chamber) and, most embarrassingly, a photo of a touted "groundbreaking metamaterial" that is only the grayscale version of a Shutterstock photo of the common mineral malachite. (In fact, passing off industrial slag as UFO metals is a hoax that is literally as old as flying saucers themselves.)
Overall, I suggest that the absence of publicly verified substantial crash remains or recovered "vehicles," mixed with unreplicated analyses and a helping of obvious hoaxes, leaves unsubstantiated the claim that UFO are aeronautical objects. The physical traces left by falling or resting UFO indicate that something substantial is involved, but these ambiguous clues so far do not advance an understanding of the mass, materials or mechanism of the origin "vehicle."
Other technological requirements
There are other "technological" difficulties, such as the system sensor and flight control capabilities required to point the impulsive power in the direction of desired travel within a continuously running calculation and reaction time of milliseconds. This simply adds more mass, more engineering, to a "vehicle" that is already of substantial weight. Nevertheless, we observe these measurably cold "vehicles" move as if weightless, and we infer they must be capable of enormous acceleration without damaging the technical payload or "pilots" within.
In alienist storytelling the thermodynamic impossibility is "solved" by ascribing the impulsion to either gravitation or electromagnetism the only two fundamental forces of nature with infinite spatial range. A fundamental force, in this explanation, requires no exhaust to produce a continuous supply of energy. The "payload" implications of acceleration are handled by the imputation that this force also shields the "vehicle" from space and time by bending spacetime, for example with a warp drive, so that the "occupants" feel no change in momentum. Actual scientists have had less to say, because we have no public evidence of a UFO anti-gravity reactor or spacetime warping force field, nor a coherent physical theory to explain how that might work, despite widely discussed conceptual patents for nuclear fusion power plants granted to US Navy aerospace engineer Salvatore Pais or unsubstantiated rumors that a technology for spacetime modification might presently be "operable."
Witnesses frequently and spontaneously attribute UFO behavior to an "intelligence." That may actually be true, but it is also factually unknown. It seems based on the observation of UFO reaction to environmental events, specifically air intercepts, and the coordination among UFO in flights or swarms. I interpret it as an esthetic affirmation akin to the Turing Test in natural language programming. I'll call it the Gorman Test: the witness declaration that "What I observed displayed intelligent control of astonishing capabilities." It is closer to an inference or a judgment than the universal UFO witness declaration: "I never saw anything like that before in my life."
Citizen UFO Videos
When we turn to sighting reports, photography and video documentation from citizen witnesses we discover aspects of UFO behavior that have not attracted military attention as violations of restricted airspace or hazards to commercial aircraft, including near air collisions. Instead, we discover in these reports behavior different from Elizondo's five observables but equally fascinating.
There are video recordings of one or more of the hyperdynamic (GULF BREEZE, GOFAST, BEAVER, PICACHO PEAK, ISLAMABAD), anaerodynamic (TESTING RANGE, GULF BREEZE, MEXICO CITY, TARBACA) and hyperluminous (GIMBAL, GRAZ, KROMĚŘÍE, FLIR1) attributes among the twelve attributes. I think these and many other videos represent exceptionally useful information about UFO and allow us to make generalizations that can be illustrated with visual evidence. The 2013 AGUADILLA video is the most compelling public evidence of envelopment; the sideways acceleration of the UFO in the FLIR1 video has been calculated at 80 g or an acceleration of 780 m/s², illustrating hyperacceleration and a point estimate of the potential impulsion power output (depending on mass). GIMBAL and 2013 AGUADILLA show orientation independent of impulsion, a signature of hyperagility.
But there are also videos of a less understood dimension, a social dimension of parallel or interactive behavior, complex swarms and geometrical formations, and inexplicable episodes of spawning (MEXICO CITY, WILMINGTON, AGUADILLA). So citizen videos not only give us a wider sample of behaviors that have been established through visual appearance across many different witnesses and types of sensors; in many important categories of behavior they provide the only source of evidence we have in the public domain. This is the face valid argument that citizen videos constitute a significant and unique source of information about UFO.
Citizen video evidence
Before we get to that, we have to evaluate three issues that characterize images produced by citizen witnesses: hoaxes, insufficient background information, and poor quality.
1. Hoaxes. Hoaxes are the obvious first complaint. UFO photographs have always been susceptible to fakery or misinterpretation, but now the tools of computer animation make it easy to modify any B roll or tourist video into a mind blowing UFO visitation.
Forgery and deception are a chronic hazard at the limits of knowledge. Many prestigious science journals must now routinely check for fake photos in laboratory or observational data. Editors have become more vigilant, but a signs of fakery have been detected in the photographic data submitted to science publications. Viral UFO videos could fare no better.
I don't believe that convincing behavioral or "real world" UFO hoaxes are numerous. The French vlogger clown Rémi Gaillard recently attempted a hoax (with the knowing collusion of a local weather station to promote the falsehood) using an LED equipped drone (cf. Figure 27e), but the hoax was almost immediately sussed out by careful debunking and Gaillard amusingly had to reveal the ruse before the air went out of it completely. Otherwise, hoaxes require a bit of legwork to pull off and sometimes come with criminal consequences.
But the psychological incentive to use modern software tools to create digital fake videos or manipulate existing videos is harder to judge, which puts greater weight on the quality of the evidence, the provenance, the witness testimony to its authenticity, and the public judgment of its veracity. When this is combined with the human tendency to mistake common objects for uncommon things, and video recordings are made of these things, then the potential contribution of useless videos to the stream of authentic ones grows potentially large.
In some instances, fake UFO videos are fairly obvious and therefore entertaining: "too good to be true" animations that are mostly tongue in cheek. But there are also astonishing CGI capabilities to perfectly simulate the appearance of physical objects, and clever fakes that understand both what to show and what not to show and also how not to show it, which leads to the search for technical or essentially esthetic clues that even sophisticated fakers might have overlooked or would lack the skill or the patience to simulate. Thus the 2020 Desert Hot Springs CA 13 October event shows a "Tic Tac" UFO passing behind several trees and also changing apparent size as it moves across background objects and disappears behind a hill. The witness is known and publicly testifies to its veracity, which annoyingly is what both a truthful and hoaxing witness would say. This illustrates that absent factual rebuttal or illustration of CGI fakery, evidence often must (and can) stand alone on expert scrutiny of the authenticity of the evidence itself and the chain of custody that brought it to public view.
2. Insufficient Information. The second problem is the lack of background information. Presumably in deference to fears of ridicule or MIB investigation, sites that accept UFO documents do not require sufficient contextual information. There isn't a standard report template for civilian witnesses, and where a minimal standard template exists (for example, in the decade of UAP reports to the UK Ministry of Defense), there is usually incomplete information given. I suggest the minimal observer information necessary for a valid report should include:
1. geographical location and altitude; if in aircraft, include vector, velocity and wind direction and speed
Even when a camera is used, the narrative (5) is particularly important because some aspects of the observable, such as color or visual blinking, path and speed before recording begins, and any visual interpretation of form, are not often clearly visible in consumer optics, especially in events at night. IR recordings generally do not have an audio, which can be important to assess witness state of mind, observer competence and a contextual narrative. The 2020 BABOQUIVARI PEAK event is an excellent example, as much of the analysis centers on what the camera operator knew about the observable before capturing it and his persistence in using a single magnification and IR band after it was located. A follow up interview could obtain this kind of information if it is lacking, but often it is not forthcoming for fear of identification or stigma.
The 2021 Trenton NJ 28 August event suggests the problems we usually encounter. This 80 second video shows four UAP appearing and moving slowly at night. There is no further information, other than what may be learned or obtained by specific inquiry to LUFOS, the archiving body.
A perspective projection analysis of the video (Figure 4) shows that all four UAP appear to rise in the sky over a period of 80 seconds. But how should we interpret this evidence? If we knew that this was a south/southeast direction of view, we might reasonably attribute these lights to night aerial training over McGuire Air Base in the deployment of military flares. Given that McGuire is about 16 miles from Trenton, and assuming that the UAP are blown toward the witness and neither rise nor fall in altitude, we can calculate that the largest upward motion from the estimated horizon would require winds of 32 m/s [70 mph], approximately force 11 or "violent storm" on the Beaufort scale. If we assume the transit is perpendicular to our direction of view then the dispersion in the motions from near stationary to rapid is odd. We do not have the time that the video was recorded, so we cannot correlate it with local wind readings. We don't know the optical details, so we cannot estimate angular displacement. The twinkling of urban lights indicates strong thermal currents, possibly accounting for the blinking or flickering of the UAP. All the lights rise in the sky, but perhaps these are flares lifted by upwelling air. We might contact the Air Force to ask if flares were deployed on that date, but we note that two of the UAP appear very slowly, more characteristic of UFO than of military ordnance, so this might be another instance of UFO violating military airspace. We would like to contact the witness for more information but again that is an inquiry that would have to be made through LUFOS.
The point is that the video embroils us in corroboration, conjecture or estimation, when what we need is evidence that minimizes the requirement for additional explanation or context. This is the current predicament with nearly all public UFO reports and records: we need to know more to understand them. This typically demotes them to the status of UAP.
3. Technical Quality. The third difficulty is the regrettable lack of photographic skill in most citizen photographers. With any photographic or video evidence regardless of source, we inevitably only see the last part of an event, after the witness has noticed the ongoing display, retrieved a camera, adjusted the exposure and focus, and started recording. But most amateur recordings last less than a minute and clearly truncate the record before the event has ended. Many are made on smartphones that lack zoom or high resolution, or are spoiled by an uncontrolled autofocus. Often the amateur camerawork is so unfocused and unsteady that we can only glimpse parts of the episode. Often, the UAP is too small, faint or fast moving to be seen clearly.
Only the slower moving UFO would be visible long enough to catch the notice of downward looking humans, or allow them time enough to begin filming. In contrast, the recordings generated by surveillance, astronomical, news or weather recording cameras, such as this 2021 Buffalo NY 25 August event of one or possibly two observables "searching for something," may occasionally capture UAP and might provide a basis for both behavioral analysis and population estimates. Several probable UFO images have been captured in the background of news broadcasts or random tourist videos, such as video by passenger Thomas Roth photobombed by a 2012 Canberra AUS 4 April "Tic Tac." Another common source seems to be border security and civilian law enforcement aircraft that deploy infrared camera equipment. This 2016 St Anthan GBR 17 September recording from a police helicopter shows a classic bright/dark triangular UFO that resembles 2020 REYNOSA, 2022 ISLAMABAD or 2021 DOUGLAS in low magnification; at high magnification (for example, at the beginning of the recording) the circular form is apparently due to camera defocus. This observable was sighted traveling at about 50 m/s, was visible only in the infrared images (in BLK HOT mode) and disappeared over the ocean.
Sources and Selection Criteria
In making the collection of videos and linked information, the following web sites were particularly useful:
I select videos and photographs that are not officially authenticated but that seem to me more plausibly authentic than fake or easily explicable as birds, planes, flares, balloons, dry cleaner bags, dioptric artifacts or hoaxing. I make no representation beyond replying to likely alternative interpretations. I identify all videos by year and location, and if these are unavailable then a recording is not included. (The sole exception is 2021 DOUGLAS, which appears to have censored all location and date information from a DoD display to shield the identity of the leaker.) Most of these videos may be difficult to use as scientific evidence, but they illustrate important aspects of UFO behavior fully documented in witness reports and radar tracking since the 1950s.
I consider my selection criteria to be esthetic rather than empirical. There is an emphasis in the discussion around UFO regarding definitive proof or certain evidence that I cannot endorse. As I argue below, evidence in and of itself can never be conclusive. Evidence rests on witness integrity, testimony and provenance. And these, ultimately, are not factual but esthetic judgments. Ultimately, I offer the kind of evidence that seems to me to be the kind of evidence that UFO should produce. I cannot claim with certainty to offer only actual UFO evidence. The difference between the two is my outlook, and my outlook may differ from yours. The issue is always whether you and I can look at the same evidence and come to the same conclusion through different but convergent outlooks. That is what transforms the esthetic into the factual.
UFO Behavior Patterns
To continue our inquiry: Elizondo's five criteria apply to observables witnessed in isolation, and implicitly frame the interpretation of UFO. The focus is on the capabilities of UFO vis-à-vis the capabilities of the US military Air Force and Navy the Air Force principally in its management of terrestrial intercontinental ballistic missile sites, the Navy principally in the UFO mobbing of AN/SPY-1 guided missile ships and in territorial defense and air collision hazards.
But the twelve attributes are isolated, almost "tool use" capabilities that do not tell us how an event is shaped by the UFO behavior, how the capabilities are used. We know from citizen records that UFO sometimes transit in formations, sometimes interact in complex balletic sequences, and even spawn new UFO. These patterns indicate the mutual influence of behavior between conspecifics that biology defines as social interaction. This means our interpretation of the UFO attribute of control must be expanded beyond autonomous reaction to the environment to include interactions of intention between UFO. And it is essential to observe UFO behavior passively rather than in hot pursuit in order to form an accurate interpretation of the social dimension of UFO behavior.
UFO Behavior Acts
Behaviorists in the life sciences analyze behavior by breaking it down into discrete, categorical behavior acts or behavior units that represent a behavioral repertory. UFO characteristics fall into four distinct categories: (1) energy consuming emittance states, such as radiance and radiance variations (bright/dark, blinking, flashing, shining, etc.); (2) energy consuming kinetic states (spinning, fluttering or oscillation during movement); (3) energy consuming spatial movement of the center of mass; and (4) a repeated temporal sequence of these electromagnetic, kinetic and spatial attributes as a behavior pattern.
We don't have a standard vocabulary of behavioral acts or energy states that applies to UFO. Descriptions of UFO as "watching us" or "giving us a warning" and so on impute motive or intent where there is absolutely no evidence to justify it. From a wildlife perspective, the "center of gravity" spatial movements of the UFO, categorized as (3), consist of a remarkably limited number of acts, primarily because UFO do not seem to have the capability to interact with the environment except possibly through crash explosions and possibly through spawn events. The generic solitary UFO can:
hover at a stable location and altitude; the stability of this hover can be estimated from the variance in the position over time weighted by the strength of the prevailing winds
Again, language matters. Even an apparently neutral term such as "flying" brings with it causal expectations of kinetic or mechanical propulsion and aerodynamic drag that contradict our observations of UFO in apparently weightless, apparently massless, apparently propulsionless and thermodynamically sealed motion.
My pattern categories are based on "flying saucer" reports since the mid 20th century. This means I relied on many different sources of report, and tended to prefer the most astonishing reports to illustrate patterns that are repeated across many reports. Swords & Powell summarize many significant cases; I draw others from J. Allen Hynek's classic The Hynek UFO Report and from the legacy reports posted at the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). In particular, readers should know NICAP's 1964 ↆ The UFO Evidence for an overview of the historical and largely empirical understanding of UFO at the time of the notorious Condon Committee.
UFO Oscillation or Flutter. 2021 DOUGLAS AZ 14 April or "A-10 Warthog" is an unsourced infrared video in both BLK HOT and WHT HOT of an encounter between a military jet and a rather small UFO. The original was posted by the Instagram account @ny_uap_discussion, then apparently in order to disguise the source of a classified video the date and GPS data were masked. (The event occurred about 35 km [20 miles] northeast of Douglas, AZ and the same distance south of Chiricahua Peak.) The copy I originally linked has been deleted and the currently linked video is actually a video of a computer monitor playback, possibly to erase the original video metadata. The fact this doubly modified copy replaced the high resolution original file suggests an attempt to suppress its public viewing. It illustrates the points just made about the ephemerality of citizen videos and the failure of UFO organizations to identify and archive them.
In any case, UFO skeptic Mick West took on the painstaking task of aligning individual frames of the original video to the steadily moving profile of the fighter, and the location of the observable in each frame created a dotted line relative flight path (Figure 5).
Bunkists claim this shows the typical flight path of a "bird," but the poor bird lacks a head, neck or tail for its triangular wings and the flight path is approximately a sine wave and completely uncharacteristic of the smoothly curving, momentum conserving natural trajectories of bird flight or the gusty randomness of air trash. (Larger birds, such as crows, can create an oscillating pattern with beating wings [e.g, at t=0:29], but the amplitude is no larger than the wingspan and the body center of gravity still traces a smoothly curving trajectory.) Later in the video (t=0:27) the observable seems to increase speed sufficiently to catch up with and briefly shadow the jet at a speed too fast for any bird. A closeup of the observable suggests it is of the same type as 2020 REYNOSA (Figure 10) or 2013 AGUADILLA (Figure 3). West has reconstructed the path as a white silhouette of the observable at each step, and this reveals a tendency for the shape of the observable to be slightly smaller (the white icons in the path appear lighter or thinner) at the top of each wave, and larger (brighter or thicker) at the bottom, especially at the left end, suggesting a rotational or fluttering motion within the path and again showing a pattern inconsistent with the symmetrical amplitude of beating wings. The point of likely closest approach (Figure 5, inset) would make the UFO about 1 meter wide.
From the earliest observations described in the CBS report (above) down to the present day, UFO have repeatedly been observed to oscillate, flutter or wobble in flight "like you take a saucer and throw it across the water" in Kenneth Arnold's simile. Figure 5 (bottom) illustrates a report from a 1954 Korean observation of oscillation in perspective that strongly resembles what we see in the 2021 DOUGLAS video. NICAP analyzes these movements as "wobble on axis," "pedulum/falling leaf motion" or "side to side oscillation," but the latter two categories have few observations. In any case, the dynamical differences among the various types of flutter, wobble, swinging, swaying undulation and oscillation are difficult to interpret as signatures of a propulsion unless intrinsic . All dynamical instabilities of motion are energy draining and can be structurally catastrophic. This implies to me that UFO cannot be the "breakthrough technology" or material objects that adhere to the concept of "flying saucer."
Nevertheless the report of a UFO "wasting energy" through these various kinds of apparently superfluous motion is a frequent enough visual feature that it needs to be confirmed as either present or absent in any UFO report. Many of the movements will be at too small a scale to appear in video but may be detected visually in UFO that are transiting in daylight without orientation.
A temporary discharge or "exhaust trail" is an aspect of UFO behavior that has been occasionally observed since the 1950's (the ↆ Schulgen memo (2e), the April, 1948 ↆ Project SIGN "Initial Report" (item 5.f), and a June 27, 2013 pilot intercept report). Project SIGN indicated "exhaust trails" were observed in 23 out of the earliest 115 sightings, but in later sightings such plumes appear to become more infrequent. These plumes would necessarily come from only two sources: an external reaction with the atmosphere, or (2) exhaust from a process of thermal power. But these together or separately would require a higher rate of observed exhaust trails than appears in the data, so the generalization that UFO show "no exhaust trails or evidence of combustion" is true more as an average state than a necessary observation.
Six Behavior Patterns
I identify and describe here six patterns of UFO behavior documented in the publicly available record. The categorization depends on (1) whether the observable appears rigid and opaque or amorphous, (2) the number of observables involved in the event (one, two, three or more), (3) the motion of the observable relative to geographic location, and (4) the positions and motions relative to other observables.
Solo UFO A single UFO displaying autonomous behavior as an "object" or "light"
(0) UFO WAVE consists of multiple UFO events that exceeds the average incidence of observed events within a geographically limited area and/or a limited period of time.
As it is typically used, a UFO "wave" represents the most basic form of interaction between different species that are members of the same biological community: they encounter each other because they inhabit the same physical space. The "wave" implies that the density of one of the species rapidly increases, as for example in a locust swarm, which increases the random encounters between the two species. The number of encounters depends on an increase in the numbers of one of the species only when the encounters are essentially random. A constant number of one species can increase the number of encounters through a specific pattern of encroachment or change in behavior, for example when humans notice a greater number of rodent noises in the attic during the winter or ants around the kitchen sink during the drought months of autumn.
However, a more basic problem with the concept of a UFO "wave" is the lack of a clear definition. A "wave" only requires a significant increase in the average incidence of events, or in the number of reports of events, assuming that the normal incidence is effectively zero. This means a "wave" might describe a single event reported by a large number of witnesses, or multiple events reported by a small number of witnesses. A wave might also seem to involve a human response effect as well, an increase in the number of reports that is caused by media descriptions of the increasing number of reports. Yet there is, in fact, little evidence for a media driven or "mass hysteria" effect.
Figure 6 (top) is a map of reported UFO and UAP events within the US, which clearly corresponds to the density of human population: more human eyeballs, more reports. This map by itself is a fundamental piece of evidence about the mixed bag of UFO and UAP sightings: over the long run, they are randomly distributed across the entire extent of a major part of the North American continent. Akin to the technique of gravestone rubbing, the sightings simply reveal the underlying distribution of human density. This strongly indicates that (1) UAP/UFO events are, over the seven decades summarized in the figure, effectively uniform and random; (2) these random and uniform events are frequent enough to "color in" even sparse population densities with sufficient resolution, and (3) because we infer they are random and uniform, UAP/UFO events are fundamentally unrelated to or unconcerned with specific geographic areas of human activity.
Unfortunately, we can't put much trust in those conclusions because the map muddles together the sightings of genuine UFO, which depend on the joint distribution of UFO and human observers, with the sightings of UAP, which depend in large part only on the human eyeballs to misperceive commonplace objects.
This brings us to a more serious issue: the lack of standard methods of measuring or reporting. Figure 6 (bottom) summarizes the number of reports filed in the United States with NUFORC since 1940 and with the UK Ministry of Defense from 1956 to 1996. There is clearly no correspondence between the UK and USA profiles, as we might expect given a "random and uniform" distribution, despite their geographical separation. The NUFORC data show that the number of reports is approximately constant from year to year around 300 reports per year before 1994 and around 4700 reports per year after. This is perhaps the only evidence to suggest that the UFO population appears to be neither growing nor shrinking, at least not at a rapid rate. But these reports do not seem to spike during the UFO waves described by both Swords and Powell and J. Allen Hynek (in The Hynek UFO Report, Chapter 11). Those sources identify the years 1952, 1957, 1966 and 1973 as years with an especially high report volume, based apparently on Project BLUE BOOK (US Air Force) received reports; 1947 is considered a "wave" year as well.
After 1994 the reports surge due to the rapidly increasing availability and use of the internet for information search and communication of reports (indicated by the founding of the internet indexing site Yahoo!). This illustrates the extremely large effect that cultural factors (recalling the problems with the Haines UAP definition) will have on UFO reporting. The sharp sawtooth form of the reporting across all periods is due to the universal effect of UFO reports to increase during summer months when more people are outdoors during the day and evening. There is also a suggestion that the concept of a UFO "wave" may actually represent the peak year in a decade long interval of increasing and decreasing reports from 1962 to 1971 and 1971 to 1981 in the US, between 1965 to 1975 and 1975 to 1985 in the UK data, and from 2010 and 2020 in the NUFORC data. This led the 2006 UK DoD UAP report to consider and reject a correlation between UFO sightings and sunspot activity. (They found instead a modest correlation with meteor showers, which I attribute to the greater number of observers outdoors to see the showers and the greater number of meteors to be mistaken for UFO.) For all these reasons the concept of a "wave" does not provide much analytical clarity to understand the underlying phenomena.
Nevertheless, the "wave" or "flap" is represented by a long series of historical precedents, going back at least to the 1561 Nuremburg DEU 14 April event, if not the celestial battle witnessed and reported by the Jewish historian Josephus in 65 CE as "armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities" of Judea. Interpreted as dramatic UFO events with multiple observables reported as multiple sightings, the "wave" or "flap" is a useful historical bookmark for significant UFO reports. (A single dramatic UFO event that involves a single UFO or multiple UFO witnessed at a single time is often described as a "case" or "incident.") In the modern era, some waves or "flaps" are famous and others are notorious. Among the more noteworthy, well documented or intensively analyzed (some of them considered to be widely observed single "incidents" rather than "waves") are:
the United States "Mystery Airships" wave of 1896-97 (which began with the Great California Airship)
The June-August, 1946 GHOST ROCKETS (Swedish Spökraketer) wave is the modern UFO "origin event" the first to be widely witnessed, widely reported and alarming to military authorities in Europe and America. It began with the 1946 Landskrona SWE 24 May event when two night watchmen saw a "wingless, cigar-shaped body of dimensions of a small airplane, flying at an altitude of around 100 meters, which at regular intervals spurted bunches of sparks from its tail." Over the following summer citizen and military observers generated nearly 1000 documented sighting reports of around 100 fireball, cigar shaped or rocketlike phantoms.
The Ghost Rockets were conclusively identified as artificial objects because they traveled in relatively slow, horizontal flight and produced erratic, nonballistic radar tracks. At least seven were observed to impact the Earth but none of them hit the ground: one descended into the sea and six crashed into lakes (map, left) a pair falling together in Norway and three on the same day, July 19, in Sweden. The most impressive of the three fell into Lake Kölmjärv, made an enormous explosion, dredged up water plants and mud, left a crater in the recently surveyed lake bottom, but not a shred of wreckage or debris could be found. The binomial area probability of six lake hits on six random trials is shown in the map. If we factor in the probability that three bolides would impact in a single day or that six would impact within a month in such a limited area of the planet, the probability that these were astronomical objects becomes astronomically small.
During this UFO wave, Erik Reuterswärd stopped to rest during a summer hike in the countryside north of Lindesberg, Sweden and was enjoying the view from a lookout tower when he photographed a "greenish white" fireball (Figure 7). The photo was widely disseminated in European news media at the time of the Ghost Rocket reports. Many will demur that this UAP photo actually captures a bolide that was witnessed by hundreds, but authenticity is not my whole pretext. I accept this eerily tranquil landscape on esthetic grounds as an image of the historical moment when UFO fireballs first fell into modern human awareness and front page news. At the same time, the rocketlike appearance of the intruders raised concerns within Swedish and US military intelligence that the Spökraketer were a new Soviet weapon, possibly based on a captured Nazi secret project an interpretation of the UFO that was rather quickly discounted.
Similar green fireballs were observed over a small area in New Mexico US, and there too the horizontal path and the geographic and time concentration of the sightings (ten in December 1949 alone) statistically exclude meteors as an explanation. The technical proficiency of the witnesses, including a large number of research scientists and astronomers at the Sandia and Los Alamos laboratories, excludes probable error in judgment.
A similar spate of green fireballs occurred recently: 2015 Bangkok THA 3 November, 2019 Gainesville FL 30 March, 2020 Singapore SGP 12 February, 2020 Pilbara AUS 15 June, 2020 Larvik NOR 7 November, 2021 Izimir TUR 14 August and 2021 Raleigh NC 11 November (with the classic witness exclamation: "I hope I got that on video!"). I offer these spectacular examples because bolides are said to resemble the "fireball" form of UFO as described by expert observers of Green Fireballs in the past and because they exemplify how brief a UFO observation can be. (The advice on how to observe fireballs is good advice for potential UFO witnesses too.) The differences in the video equipment used, the magnification and the length of the bolide display also resembles the variety in video evidence about UFO. A few of the fireball videos record real time outbursts of witness arousal that echo the universal UFO witness declaration: I never saw anything like that before in my life.
On the topic of green fireballs, Figure 8 reproduces a striking photo by Gunarto Song to illustrate the basic difficulty with UFO evidence: we have so little of it. The reason we have so little of it is the improbability of its capture in video. Song's image captures a very improbable observation of a spectacular green bolide in a magnificent wilderness setting by an incredibly lucky witness with the equipment and skill at the ready to make the capture. The impression of the uncanny and inexplicable depends quite a lot on the high improbability that all the elements of the scene would combine in just this way and the even greater improbability that they would all be captured in the moment as a perfectly posed photograph. The reason we have so few good UFO videos is the same reason we have so few photos of a meteor falling into a volcano: they just happen very rarely.
(1) SOLO UFO. The solitary or solo UFO constitutes by far the largest proportion of witness reports, accounting for about 82% of sightings in the 2006 UK MoD UAP report. This justifies the solo UFO as the fundamental unit of ufology and scientific description, and also implies that UFO social connections are tenuous.
Solitary UFO seem to be noticed initially because they are either very bright, moving rapidly or erratically, or just hovering; and they hold attention with those attributes especially if they are stationary in wind; in daylight they have a bizarre or unrecognizable shape and frequently "disappear" rapidly in an upward direction. The 2006 UK MoD UAP report (ↆ Vol. 1 Chap. 3, p. 44) tabulated the reported motions of UFO, and casually taking the eight reported adjectives as rank ordered pairs generates four common descriptors of solo UFO behavior. The most common was (1) spinning stationary, followed by (2) climbing fast, (3) slow hovering and (4) pulsating bobbing.
Despite their frequency in UFO sightings, solo observables are almost certainly underreported. A single UFO is likely to be ignored as a plane moving at constant speed, or through lack of movement either unnoticed or assumed to be a star or planet, or moving at such a high speed (as in 2016 BEAVER or 2018 PICACHO PEAK) that it cannot even be glimpsed. In general, images of single UFO, especially photographs, have to held to high evidence of authenticity. I come back to solo UFO in the discussion of morphology, below.
One of the earliest solo images and a still classic "flying saucer" image comes from the 1950 McMinnville OR 11 May event (Figure 9). Note also the classic image of a citizen observer and his personal camera forebear of today's newsworthy citizen cellphone recordings in this LIFE magazine photo of frugal farmer and honest witness Paul Trent.
As with many other UFO images, the McMinnville UFO has been declared a hoax on the thesis that the photos show us an object such as a garbage can lid or truck mirror hanging by a thread from the overhead wires even though these obviously slack and flimsy structures show no downward angle over the dangling hardware, and the angle of the dangle does not change when the position of the observable changes. As the LIFE article notes, the two photos were sandwiched on both sides in the emulsion film roll by occasional domestic photos, which means the alleged hoax would have been staged only once, without trial and error shots, in a roll used over several months.
Although I consider these authentic photographs, the perennial focus of interest has been whether the UFO is real. LIFE magazine provided the only possible answer to that question: "No more can be said for [the photos] than that the man who took them is an honest individual and that the negatives show no signs of having been tampered with." In the end, farmer Trent and his wife (who claims to have called him to witness the thing) were the only people who knew for sure the authenticity of the images. They honestly and competently affirmed both photos are of a real event. And there you are. Your only recourse is to accuse the Trents of creating a hoax.
If we ask "What can I infer about UFO from this photo?" then answer is that the photo doesn't tell us anything specific about UFO capabilities other than a possible shape and a surface reflectance in relation to an illumination reported to be after sunrise or before sunset. Analyzed with enhanced gray (middle value) contrast, the bottom of the UFO is brightest around the rim but otherwise very dark and featureless, while the upper surface is not uniformly bright but is darker on the upward (sky illuminated) side and brighter on the sunward side with a shadow dark at the base of the small protrusion. These are shadow signatures of a reflective solid volume at the time the photos were taken. But such a form was never seen again, which makes its usefulness as evidence nugatory. On those grounds we can leave Mr. & Mrs. Trent in peace.
Instead, we can examine much more interesting evidence, such as the 2020 Reynosa MEX 19 March event, documented in numerous photographs and a remarkable five minute video by the flight crew that records real time witness statements and the cockpit ACAS radar display showing no returns from the observable. The entire encounter displays hyperagility (rapid descent and stop in a fixation), control (pacing the aircraft), anaerodynamic form (the kernel appears to be polygonal), EM modulation (pulsating), "hairy" or blurred edges (envelopment), indifference (lack of aircraft identifying signal) and witness arousal (the boyish giggling, the exuberance of "This is hot shit!" "That is nuts!" "I gotta call my brother in law" and "Platillos! Platillos!").
This video is the highest resolution, most dynamic, most significant and most beautiful UFO record known to me (Figure 10). The event is documented and analyzed in a NARCAP report. And this video is an excellent example of what a reasonably skilled, adequately equipped and responsive citizen witness can produce as scientifically useful UFO documentation. But its greatest importance is to indicate that at least some UFO are not a type of machine have a more animalistic or organic character of form and behavior.
The bunkist claim that this is the planet Venus is countered by the Stellarium 0.21.2 finding that Venus was at a zenith angle of about 70° at the location, date and time of the event (Julian day 2458927.62500, with some uncertainty in location and time), and ignores the flight officer's declarations (at t=0:00 and t=3:30) that the observable "dropped out of the sky [like a meteor] ... and then stopped and hovered" [paced the aircraft] at an altitude somewhat above the aircraft. It's also refuted by the structure of the image itself: Venus at that time was approximately half phase, with the lighted side facing the Sun below the horizon (that is, with a flat top edge and a semicircular bottom) which bears no resemblance to the most compact image in the video, assuming a consumer video camera could resolve a disk only 22 arcseconds in angular diameter.
The claim that the periodic changes in size are an autofocus artifact is countered by three facts: a geometric blur would have a uniformly defocused or "flat" luminance, not the "core and shell" structure shown in the video; it would have the approximately circular shape of the aperture (compare with an actual defocus at t=3:55); and the crisply defined, animated black dots that appear within the observable (e.g., after 2:30, indicated in Figure 10 by short lines and best viewed "full screen") indicates that the focus is precise. The highly magnified images also show delicate wreaths or tufts of light from the brighter outer shell, suggesting envelopment. Notice too that on each pulse the shell first contracts to a bright, gemlike form, expands abruptly to a diffuse maximum diameter, then immediately snaps back to a smaller diameter that appears to be the base (longest lasting) state in three visibly distinct steps, over and over in about 1 second intervals. That is not the recognizably woozy, in and out uncertainty of an autofocus but a periodic pulsation. These near miss or shadowing incidents (what the NARCAP report calls "an aviation safety-related encounter with a UFO") are a legitimate concern as an air safety hazard, although the shimmering 2020 REYNOSA images put to question whether UFO are substantial enough to be struck.
It is possible though not proven that such encounters have caused air collisions. The major risk in these encounters seems to be the reflexive evasive response by the pilot that can put the plane into an unrecoverable descent, especially near landing or takeoff. More often, however, the UFO seem to follow planes the way porpoises follow ships and with a consistently similar lack of apparent intent to menace or do harm. Either way, the hazard needs to be better understood. In the link, Ted Roe calls out the failure of NTSB and the FAA to document or investigate such incidents, which might give a more accurate picture of the problem.
The video drone capture of a 2016 Beaver UT 9 January flyby, with an explicit provenance and detailed public witness confirmation, might illustrate UFO hypervelocity and hyperagility coming through a sharp turn and flying close to the terrain at a leisurely 5600 m/s [12,500 mph], provided it is not something else. The two witnesses, professional video producers within 150 meters of the drone, saw nothing and heard no sonic boom; the drone video registers no air shock after the UFO passes by, all possible signs of envelopment. This video has been carefully examined and found to be either authentic or a superhero gyrfalcon far south of its geographical range. Other suggestions are that it is a flying insect; entomologist Adrian Smith at the University of North Carolina suggests it is a grasshopper (personal communication). However, the critical feature here is that the path of the target, whatever it is, closely follows the topography of a hilly and sloping terrain in a way that the flight of an insect or bird would be extraordinarily unlikely to duplicate at random; a parallax pixel analysis is also consistent with a physical object. There is also no public evidence of witness deception or image manipulation, and close analysis strongly suggests the flight path is obscured at the beginning by distant trees. Based on witness, provenance, signature and the insufficiency of competing explanations, I accept it as authentic.
(2) PAIR UFO is two UFO of the same appearance that maintain a spatial proximity either in hover or transit. Pairs are a frequently reported type of event and possibly an important unit of UFO social behavior.
Pairs are described in foo fighter reports filed by Allied pilots in Europe, and a pair appears in one of the earliest film records we have, the 1950 Great Falls MT 15 August "Mariana UFO" event filmed by Nick Mariana and witnessed also by his secretary.
The behavioral significance of pair UFO is that their maneuvers indicate mutual influence that would require a controlling communication between them either as master/slave or as some form of consensus/compromise algorithm. The observational significance is that the mutual movements are nothing like airplanes, helicopters, balloons or birds: they are more easily recognized as "odd." Some of the recorded interactions are intricate and resemble the dominance or mating displays between solitary conspecifics or playful scampering (1952 WASHINGTON DC, 2018 PICACHO PEAK). The radar tracks in Figure 14 show a spawned pair UFO travel a considerable distance while maintaining the same spacing, despite a peculiar "zig zag" waver in the shared path and mutual acceleration to a velocity of 800 m/s [1800 mph].
The time scale of both pair and solo events is usually minutes, and a fading or "dying out" of luminance or a brisk disappearance vertically or into the distance are common endings in both recorded and reported events. This 2015 Reading GBR 14 September event (best viewed full screen, as the UFO images are faint) shows two UFO circling each other before one and then the other fades from view. This 2021 Calipatria CA 17 December event shows two scintillating and (according to the witness) pulsating observables in a hovering flight before one fades and disappears; the high magnification image at the end shows a rapidly changing irregular form. Evidence of hyperagility (hovering), EM modulation (pulsating and fading), envelopment ("thermal" texture and changing outline), anaerodynamic form and witness arousal make this a high probability UFO record. The still photograph shows two gemlike white kernels surrounded by a pinkish shell that strongly resembles the 2020 REYNOSA observable (Figure 11). Another example of a useful citizen video that only needed a steady camera and a continuous recording to be invaluable. The intriguing verbal report concludes: "We both saw what appeared to be a beam of light come out of the sky with the ufo's out of sight it was so fast and thin that we both didn't know what we were looking [at]." Witness follow up would yield a clearer description of the time course, movement, light beam and departure.
Pairing is also implied in the bilobular form of some UFO and in the appearance of UFO in many of the linked videos as a pair of lights (2019 USS OMAHA (2) and Figure 20e). In this 2015 Graz AUT 2 October interaction (which lacks sound and file provenance), two observables align and appear to become two bilobed observables, before merging into a single light that changes color and seems to dissolve away. And when the three observables in 2021 KROMĚŘÍE finally resolve they are each a pair of closely spaced lights.
(3) UFO FLIGHT is two or more UFO that are moving faster or farther in transit than they are in relation to each other. A flight usually appears as a stable arrangement or formation moving across the sky, although some flights are loosely arranged or maintained. The stable formations imply either mutual or hierarchical control of movements to align the formation in space, or a "structural" unity as component lights as part of a single larger form.
Probably because of the striking appearance, flights are among the earliest UFO events, such as the 1904 USS SUPPLY event described later. In the "modern" era the 1947 Mt. Rainier WA 24 June "Flying Saucer" sighting by Kenneth Arnold was a flight of nine lenticular, mirror bright forms. A similar flight of eight observables appeared over 1947 Tulsa OK 12 July, and twelve in a diamond formation in 1947 Rapid City AFB SD 15 August.
The Mariana video is a flight of two, as the distance and azimuth orientation between the two UFO apparently remains constant. A possibly more common formation is a group of three observables in an equilateral triangular formation, as in the 2015 Beirut LBN 22 July event. The 2013 Hazlet NJ 25 December event appears at night as a formation of three equally bright, red lights in triangular arrangement. Gradually the spacing between the lights changes as they appear to recede; first one, then all three lights fade and disappear. The 2010 NEW YORK observables maintain a possibly equilateral triangular formation of evolving span across several minutes of interaction.
The Lubbock Lights consisted of numerous flights that passed rapidly overhead on multiple nights. Competent witnesses (four college professors in science and engineering) judged their progress to be about 30° in one second; a fifth professor calculated the speed at over 300 m/s [670 mph], nearly Mach 1. (Visually, a speed of Mach 1 is not exceptionally fast when viewed from the ground, and appears slower for targets at higher altitude.) As photographed by Karl Hart, Jr. (Figure 11), the flights were accompanied by a singular, larger "monitor" observable leading or flanking each formation (arrows in the image below). The same configuration of a larger observable accompanying a flight of smaller observables was observed in the GIMBAL event as well, where a flight of five smaller observables ("Look at those things!") flying with the GIMBAL broke away as a formation in a different direction. Similar echelon flights were observed during the Hudson River Valley wave; Kean (p. 184) reprints witness drawings of 8 of them.
Mr. Hart's photos of the "Lubbock Lights" have an exemplary history. They were published in the local paper by a publisher who promised to "ruin" Hart if they were a hoax; Hart stood for investigative interviews, surrendered the negatives to the Air Force for evaluation, and then went on with his life. (He died, still a resident of Lubbock, in September 2020.) Civilian Edward Ruppelt, in the 1956 first edition of his classic The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, testifies to Hart's competence as a witness (an aspiring sports photographer familiar with tracking moving athletes to minimize motion blur), and we have no reason to presume and no evidence whatsoever to suspect that Hart lied when he affirmed that the lights were in the sky and the photo accurately represents what he saw.
Yet writing of the Hart photos, Ruppelt came back with the odd pronouncement that "The photos were never proven to be a hoax, but neither were they proven to be genuine" (p. 107). The question for Ruppelt would be: if the camera functioned correctly, the emulsions were sound, the film properly developed, the photographs show different flights, the photos correspond to the observations by other witnesses, the photographs show no evidence of tampering, the witness reenacted the event with you in his backyard, his description of the speed of the flight matches the description given by four university science and engineering professors, the witness confirms the photos are of the lights, and the witness is truthful and competent ... what other evidence is required to accept the photographs as "genuine"? How would such a proof be made? This highlights the fundamental probative anchor of all UFO reports, even reports with photographic, video or sensor evidence: the truthfulness and competence of the witness.
Flights are rare in the video documentation, possibly because they are factually rare or because their motion carries them out of view before recording can begin. The 2015 Chicago IL 12 August UAP event occurred near and during an air show, providing a skeptical alternative and, as with most public documents at present, both the witness and provenance information are lacking. I include the video because it illustrates the difficulty of photographing a flight in high speed transit. These lights have an irregular and complex variation in luminance that does not resemble aircraft running lights and does not seem bright enough to be dramatic for an audience on the ground.
A slower night flight appears in this 2020 Bossier City LA 5 January event, filmed by a patient, intelligent and carefully narrating witness near the Bossier AFB; we see self luminous form and strange EM emittance: intensely bright, steady light and then asynchronously flashing lights with witness report of "those things are changin' colors ... they flashin' like pink, purple, blue, green ... yellow" after t = 4:30 (compare with Figure 2), and later "it's like every time they flash they turn a different color," making this a highly probable UFO record. Visual proportions judged against the local streetlights suggest the flight was 9 times farther away on first observation than at the end of the 12 minute recording; if we assume they were a mile distant at the end, they were traveling at around 18 m/s [40 mph], speeds but not emittance consistent with drones.
The 2021 Beach Park IL 28 November event shows groups of 3, 5 and 2 UAP in slow transit within a few miles of Lake Michigan, described by the witness as "red glowing lights in formation flying toward Lake Michigan and vanished in mid air." The closest airport is the civilian Waukegan National Airport, but these lights are not stacked as departing aircraft. This 2016 Mudgee AUS 1 July flight of seven loosely grouped UAP observables shows self luminous forms but neither strange EM emittance nor hyperdynamic movement. A bright cloud at the end reduces the sensor gain sufficiently to make the observables disappear, suggesting these UAP are not extremely bright.
The 2021 New York NY 20 April event records a flyby of 15 UFO in groups of two, three or four recorded over ten minutes. Note the close pass between pairs of observables at 1:01 and 3:09 and the image change from luminance to dark silhouette in the two observables at 0:47; the witnesses both remark that an observable "vanishes" at 7:30. The solo observables at 3:17, 4:53 and 7:55 appear approximately round with a flashing red hue, but these details are poorly captured by the saturated pixels of the camera. This is an excellent record by a skilled and steady photographer over an extended period of time, with date and location information that would allow the event to be corroborated by other sightings or checked against air traffic information. Note the bizarre "altercation" between the two observables that both change from bright to dark after 0:47: they appear to collide and fall together out of the flight. These are not aircraft or drones.
The Hart photos can be interpreted as a formation of 17 to 19 lights in shape of a "V" or as running lights on a single wing or echelon shaped form. This is an ambiguity that cannot be resolved at night. During the Phoenix UFO wave "hundreds" of witnesses saw a slowly moving formation of five widely spaced lights, while "hundreds" of other witnesses, including the governor Fife Symington, saw a single winged craft that they judged to be about a mile wide. Neither interpretation was an obstacle to calculating altitude from the reported azimuth and zenith angle of different observers, which Bruce Maccabee used to compute altitudes of 2.5 to 5 kilometers [8,000 to 15,000 feet].
(4) UFO SWARM is the appearance of three or more UFO in a slowly evolving pattern where the relative angular positions of separate observables is greater than their collective transit motion.
Swarms are found in some of the best attested videos, likely because the swarm is a rather dramatic and unmistakable display that unfolds over a long enough period to be noticed and recorded or observed with attention. The earliest swarm account I know of is of a 1936 or 1937 event reported years later to J. Allen Hynek and reprinted in The Hynek UFO Report (p. 113):
I say between 10 or 12 UFO because of their constant motion and eccentric darting movements which made it virtually impossible to make an accurate count. Some were hovering absolutely still while a few would be darting haphazardly to and fro, coming to stops that were unbelievable. Their darting motions were of one constant speed with no visible evidence of acceleration or deceleration; comparable to sliding a checker piece on a checkerboard with one's index finger in a quick, jerky movements. All this activity took place directly beneath the clouds within an area roughly 500 feet in diameter. They were all identical in size, shape and color. ... We watched these objects cavorting and doing their acrobatics for approximately ten minutes, when suddenly they converged, as if on signal, to one point under the clouds; stacking one above the other and climbing vertically up into the cloud bank and disappearing from sight.
One of the most striking UFO swarm records is also one of the earliest, the 1952 Tremonton UT 2 July event filmed by Navy Officer (with the title of Chief Photographer) Delbert C. Newhouse and witnessed also by his wife and two children. The quality of the film is unfortunately jumpy and unevenly exposed (possibly, in an experienced photographer, a sign of arousal), but it was subjected to over 1000 hours of analysis by the Photo-Reconnaissance Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the US Navy Photo Interpretation Center in Washington D.C. The conclusions of those studies were that the "objects" appear to be round emitting sources of bluish white light, were moving at more than 150 m/s [340 mph], and were not birds, balloons, conventional aircraft or atmospheric phenomena. The sequence after 5:38 is especially striking as it shows pairs of UFO moving in tandem in relation to other observables while changing distance or orientation in relation to each other. (See also the comparative still images of individual observables in Figure 19 and Figure 20.)
What we can see of the 1952 TREMONTON event (Figure 12a) has a strikingly ceremonious, balletic quality. A more recent and equally remarkable example that seems quite similar is the 2014 Astana KAZ 20 June event of an uncountably large number of self luminous UAP swarming in the night sky in what appears on careful and repeated scrutiny of single lights to be back and forth or pairwise circling movements. The evident altitude and extremely large and random changes in luminance make this unlikely to be, for example, birds illuminated by a ground source. A second event of similar scale is this 2004 Guadalajara MEX 10 June swarm of perhaps 100 separate UAP observables (Figure 12b), which in magnified shots appear to show the same elongated, bright/dark aspect as the Great Falls and Tremonton films discussed below (Figure 19), and at the end captures a particularly bright observable that resembles 1994 NEVADA TEST RANGE. Unfortunately it also shows aliasing defects caused by serial copying; location of the original video and witness identity are unknown to me. (A swarm of similar size is described in the CBS radio report. Compare with this dated but unsourced swarm video here.)
A fourth instance of these mutual interactions is the extended 2010 New York NY 15 October of three interacting orbs, with two solo observables of similar size and luminance hovering nearby. This eight minute film has excellent provenance from the New York, NY CBS station (WCBS-TV) and briefly captures architectural objects for visual scale and a crowd of observers witnessing the event among many passersby who ignore it.
The obvious skeptical interpretation will be "balloons," but three details make that interpretation unsatisfactory. (1) The observables appear self luminous and, at the beginning, one or more of them appears briefly to brighten (e.g., at t = 0:13, 3:00), dim or briefly disappear (t = 0:22). (2) In the early part of the record, the observables oscillate simultaneously toward or away from the group centroid and otherwise move with a weighty path inertia; balloons tethered together will appear to linger or drift, and one balloon will yank the others if caught in a slightly faster or slower gust. (3) At the end, the spacing between the three observables widens considerably, minimizing the possibility that they were tethered, yet they remain in a consistent, almost rigid relationship. The two solitary observables also approach the trio at the end, while air currents would be more likely to separate objects than cluster them together. Most interesting to me is that the trio seems eventually to form a stable equilateral triangle in foreshortened view that retains its orientation despite doubling in size (Figure 13).
The three 2019 USS OMAHA videos introduced above show different aspects of a swarm of about 14 UFO around a US Navy littoral combat ship during the night and following morning of July 15/16. The 2017 Paris FRA 24 June event shows as many as eight observables, three of them (one white, two red) apparently holding an approximately fixed positions against two solitary white observables followed by a very brightly flashing observable and one or two companions approaching and stimulating the first white observable to flash in reply. This presents interesting evidence for UFO communication through light and communication implies a form of species interaction.
Two additional videos illustrate the difficulties with much of the UFO evidence. This stupefying video appears to show a swarm assembled in a highly complex inverted square pyramid. It is useless as evidence because there is no witness testimony, the tape is sourced to a YouTube account that has been deleted, and the UAP were filmed while the witness was doing "a quick EVP [electronic voice phenomena] session." Although all the criteria for a UFO swarm are present, there is obviously a very high probability that this is a hoax.
Finally, there is this intriguing 2020 Kroměříe, CZE 10 April UAP event that shows an unresolved line of lights in the distance as filmed by the passenger in a moving car. Eventually the driver finds a place to stop just as the lights resolve into six paired or three bilobular observables apparently moving as a flight. There is an airport about 16 miles [26 km] south of Kroměříe, and another about 32 miles [52 km] west at Brno, probably too far out to make these aircraft landing lights. Both are single runway airports, making it implausible that three approaching planes would attempt to land at the same time. At least two witnesses claim to have identified the observables as airplanes, but a photo taken by another witness does not resolve the issue. Without witness testimony as to the location and direction of view the attribution to aircraft cannot be dismissed. The video shows anaerodynamic and self luminous forms but no strange EM emittance or hyperdynamic movement.
There are a number of UFO swarm videos on the web that were recorded at locations near US military bases and posted without noting the location, time and direction of view. As with the 2017 TRENTON video, I could not determine whether they represented UFO over open country, UFO indifference to military airspace, or routine training with aerial flares. MUFON is building a fine library of UFO videos but their report template should require time, location and direction of view, as well as a minimum description of the event. Providing that information is also a minimum demonstration of observer truthfulness and competence.
(5) UFO SPAWN is an event where a discrete UFO either emerges from or disappears into another. Both spawn and flux are energetic displays of observable transformation for which the concept of "technology" seems a rigid metaphor.
Hermann Oberth described spawning behavior in 1954: "It sometimes happens that these disks placed one upon the other, the largest in the center, the smaller toward the ends, to form an object the shape of a cigar, which then flies away with high speed. Sometimes one already saw a cigar (UFO) stopping and untie into separate disks." The 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap. 3, p. 29) states that "The merging of UAP together is frequently reported. ... Those that diverge or merge appear as a group within the same location over a limited volume of airspace, usually a few hundred metres in diameter." (2019 GRAZ is an example.)
The earliest spawn event known to me is a one line description of a 1947 Hacked JPN 1 July event where an observable traveling at more than 220 m/s [500 mph] "split into two targets, each estimated to be larger than a P-51." A more detailed occurrence was recorded as radar returns in the 1952 USS Philippine Sea 2 February event, where a single large return split into two identical returns traveling in parallel about 8 to 20 kilometers [5 to 12 miles] apart and at speeds up to 800 m/s [1800 mph]. The original radar plot (Figure 14) illustrates the kind of schematic data that the Department of Defense could share with the scientific community without compromising national security. The 2013 AGUADILLA event also documents a single observable that appears to split into a matching pair traveling on the same path (see Figure 04).
Perhaps the most famous spawn sighting is the 1976 Tehran IRN 19 September or "Tehran UFO" incident. The declassified primary documents are posted at the Black Vault. This is an astonishing event that combines corroborating observations by citizens on the ground, air traffic controllers, air traffic radar, commercial pilots, senior military pilots, aircraft radar, repeated aircraft weapons and communications malfunctions, and an air force general. A glowing red orange object resembling a ceiling fan was observed by two independent witnesses to split into two parts; and an observable consisting of four lights (red, yellow, green and blue) flashing strobelike and forming square corners around a red orange center light was observed to discharge two smaller lights. One light flew rapidly to Earth, illuminating the desert for 2 to 3 kilometers and temporarily blinding the observing pilot's night vision; the other chased a military fighter jet then returned to its origin. Brian Dunning makes a solid attempt at debunking some specifics of this incident but the variety and number of witnesses, including high credibility witnesses, the precise visual description and detailed strangeness of the UFO behaviors, the electrical, electronic and visual effects of the UFO and the long term consistency of witness testimony seem to me to constitute an irreproachable narrative as DIA Colonel Evans concluded, "of high reliability and value" that assumed radar failures and visual misattributions of celestial objects do not plausibly explain.
Spawn events can be prolonged or complex and at times verge on flux events in their evolving appearance. A UFO spawn event illustrating this complexity is 1950 Hecla SD 30 June. In the Swords and Powell account (p. 57):
[A] husband and wife saw an odd object, like a lighted mass, from their automobile. They stopped to look. Others did, too. After a while, the lighted mass seemed to get larger and then "throw off" three small pieces. These satellites assumed a very regular isosceles triangle around the larger mass. All objects now appeared silvery [metallic], like polished aluminum. The central object then broke apart into an aggregate of many small objects, which seemed to fade away. The satellite triangle moved away, becoming further separated and also dimmer as if going to a great altitude, always maintaining the perfect triangle. The project officers who interviewed the witnesses were impressed with their sincerity and meticulous detail. The husband, who was a chemical engineer and an amateur astronomer, said "I am familiar with the new large plastic balloons for weather or cosmic ray observation. It could not have been one."
The appearance change described as "fade away" appears in its simplest form in this 2019 Manosque FRA 24 March event. A second light emerges from the first, which immediately extinguishes, just as the second light also fades away. But similar fading appears in 2013 AGUADILLA, 2019 GRAZ and 2021 NEW YORK, and is frequently remarked on in the historical record. The Schulgen memo (quoted above) refers to it as a "complete disintegration."
Spawn events in the public record usually involve observables moving only slowly or hovering, and the spawning during acceleration observed in 1952 PHILIPPINE SEA may be unusual. This 2013 Mexico City MEX 3 June event shows a linear or chain UFO spawning two fainter single UFO (at 0:57 and 4:44) with fluctuations in the color of a pink or pale red "tail." The zoom forward and back indicates that the observable was above the cumulus clouds, which usually form at altitudes above 2 kilometers [6500 feet].
With background stars as a helpful reference, this remarkable 2012 São Paulo BRA n.d. event shows two large observables spawn several smaller ones, and at the end (7:55) the lower light decomposes into a tiny, tight triad of lights. This video, silent because filmed in infrared, is interesting for the witness arousal (camera unsteadiness) that occurs during a double spawning episode near the middle. This 2021 São Paulo BRA 8 August event captures two smaller lights spawning out of a single bright and more rapidly moving observable.
Instances of spawning have also been observed in the study of the Hessdalen lights (Figure 15): "You are talking about flashes, just short flashes, can be hard to see; and you have this ball of light, sometimes with different colors onto it. Sometimes, um, smaller ball of light is coming out of this ball of light, and sometimes, some other light, small light, just go into the ball of light."
(6) UFO FLUX is a static or slowly transiting observable that displays an aperiodic variation in luminance as a continually changing form. The earliest witness account of flux that I can find is 1948 Bakersfield CA 5 March display, repeated over four consecutive days, in which (quoting Swords & Powell p. 53, quoting Project BLUE BOOK microfilm roll 2) the display "seemed to disintegrate or disappear. Air Force investigators said that it was similar to 'star shell' bursts, but no such activities were known to have gone on."
Probably the most intriguing and inexplicable of all UFO behavior, flux cannot be more specifically defined than as a continuously evolving display of radiant form. These events most closely correspond to the preferred UK theory that many UFO are actually buoyant atmospheric plasmas. Flux events appear to emit large amounts of energy in the visual, but possibly also occur in other frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. To my knowledge, flux events only occur at night and at an apparently high altitude, and video recordings of flux displays are sparse in the public domain, despite the fact that the events tend to be prolonged and even repeat over successive nights (as the witness comments in 2013 AITKEN COUNTY, linked below).
The fact that flux sources form a variety of undefinable shapes and patterns, flow from one source center into another or appear and disappear makes it extremely unlikely that flux is a manifestation of a physically defined observable within. The sudden appearance or "vanishing" of UFO could be reasonably attributed to the UFO feature of cloaking, but flux seems so fluid, amorphous and complex that "objects" do not describe it adequately. Flux is the single strongest piece of evidence that UFO are or can be without a "structured" manifestation as an "object" or "vehicle," which strongly implies that UFO consist of at least two or more completely distinct phenomena.
One of the longest flux videos known to me is this midnight 2021 Wilmington CA 17 June event (Figure 15, top). The witness is a knowledgeable observer ("No, [asteroids] come by way faster than that.") and family member distracted by a missing binocular while filming for a herculean 7:26 minutes with decent focus, a fairly steady hand, and a clear sky. This is sufficient to capture an extraordinary evolution from one luminance center into two or more others, after which the observables coalesce again into a single light. The witness conversation reveals that this is only the end of a longer display.
Numerous instances of UFO flux have been documented in the nearly four decade study of the Hessdalen lights, aerial phenomena reported since the 1930s that seem to have peaked in the 1980s when as many as 15 to 20 events would be observed in a single week. The study, cofounded and managed by Norwegian engineering professor Erling Strand, has produced a large body of evidence, some of it summarized and interpreted by Massimo Teodorani. A particularly spectacular display was captured in this 2016 Hessdalen video, with curving streamers indicating lines of force emanating from the brightest sources (Figure 15, middle).
Figure 15 (bottom) shows the 2013 AGUADILLA spawn event (after t=1:50). The observable emerges from the water after a prolonged immersion and appears to brighten then split into pair observables. At this point the camera operator switches to high magnification and we can see in detail the mirror resemblance as one and then the other either fades or dips into the water before both shortly disappear. This is one of the clearest and most explicit spawn videos and again shows the implausibility of interpreting something that can divide itself as a "vehicle technology."
The unnerving 2013 Aitkin County MN 12 September flux appears (in the short intervals of focus achieved by an impaired witness) as spherical eruptions of light across an apparently coruscating and three dimensional surface. This resembles the brief but extremely beautiful 2021 Yucay PER 13 May event, which we first see in mid progress as a dancing swarm of lights similar to 1952 TREMONTON that evolves into at least two spawn incidents of UFO flux and ends with what appears to be the gathering of UFO into a ring flight that ejects a faint tail (t=1:50) before the display fades away; the audible vocalization near the end suggests the witness coping with arousal or straining against fatigue.
The 2007-09 Kumburgaz TUR case over the Sea of Marmara is in a class by itself. The available record is divided into almost two dozen videos; image stabilization has been applied to limited excerpts. The record includes isolated lights, a pair of lights that suddenly switch off, and a symmetrical hovering swarm of six lights, sometimes visible during the early morning. The video here samples the recordings as still images, making them easier to study. Occasionally the planet Jupiter appears in wide angle shots. Documentation includes a witness interview, description of the recording instrument and analysis of the video.
The primary observable is in the form of a circular segment enclosed by angles between 45° to 90° (Figure 16). Across three consecutive summers there were repeated appearances of four variations of this observable, identified in Figure 16 by colored stripes. Differences between the forms are apparent for example in the two bulbous features in the five repeated appearances of the red stripe video. These are claimed by alienists to be the heads of two extraterrestrial pilots. A brief interval of the video that includes shots of a gibbous moon suggests the segment is about 20 arcminutes wide along its base and, according to a map provided in the documentation, the location of the observable is estimated to be about 10 to 20 kilometers [6 to 12.5 miles] from the witness. This would make the segment about 58 to 115 meters [190 to 380 feet] wide and the ~½ arcminute "alien heads" at least 1.5 meters [5 feet] wide.
The body of the segment sometimes contains faint concentric striations and nearly always what appears to be a raised edge of smallest radius at the bottom of the segment. This bottom edge is approximately level but is not perfectly straight, as it would be if formed by a uniform barrier such as the ocean horizon, but is consistently angled slightly upward on one side mostly on the right, as the red and gold stripe images show clearly, but also on the left (June 6, 2008). The edge also appears as a contour of surface rather than a stop, as if the segment is partially submerged in a basin of black oil. The circumference appears rounded and is marked by various bulbous, wedge shaped protrusions or a central notched indentation.
Despite the semblance of a metallic, reflecting surface, the observable is entirely self luminous. Stellarium confirms that on every morning except March 27, 2008 the Moon was below the horizon at the times indicated in the videos. In the 12 June 2008 event (Figure 16, right) there are rapid changes in subtle coloring and animated patterns of brightening and darkening in the target luminance. This displays "strange" electromagnetic emittance in an anaerodynamic form that makes the Kumburgaz event valid UFO evidence in my judgment. The strange variations of bright/dark structure (cf. Figure 19) that make the observable appear to be made of reflecting metal is a strong demonstration of the way that luminance contrasts playing over a completely dark body can simulate the appearance of metallic reflectance or a "white" surface.
The popular bunkist interpretation is that the feature is actually the curved bridge of a luxury cruise ship, which ignores those 12 June luminance variations and the negating facts that the observable was several degrees above the surface of the water and marine tracking data (AIS) for the dates of the recordings verify there were no ships in the Sea of Marmara on the nights and times that the recordings were made. I would add that the form is nothing like a human structure but has a weirdly organic rather than machinelike appearance. The observable might be a recurring optical defect, but the fact that the segments do not visibly change aspect when zoomed or displaced by hand tremor, and do not exactly match when equally magnified and superimposed, makes that explanation unlikely.
The puzzle is not whether the videos are a hoax or a misidentification but what function the UFO were performing in three consecutive summer seasons a self luminous, anaerodynamic and previously unknown form, hovering in place while changing appearance almost moment to moment. All we can say is that it is further evidence for the periaquatic attribute.
The third and last category of UFO attributes, after capabilities and behavior, is the morphology or exterior appearance. Morphology is the "platform" or structural basis for flight capabilities and patterns of behavior, and is therefore a critical aspect of UFO to understand.
Variety of appearance
Despite the popular conception of a "flying saucer" or "saucer shaped disk," summarizing the variety of UFO shapes is an unexpectedly difficult task.
Because we do not understand both the physical nature and power generating processes of UFO, the significance of shape is complicated by the possibility that an intrinsic "limb" of the UFO exists in a form that we would not consider material nor bounded by a shrinkrap volume. An analog of this problem is the fact that a disk seen from the side can be mistaken for a "cigar" and seen from below can resemble a sphere; or that within each person is a consciousness that is not cellular.
A second and more specific problem is that even if we assume UFO are material, built as a technology and clearly viewed, the available images and witness descriptions do not point to a single generic design or form. Instead, I suggest we can identify three categories of UFO appearance
some substantial part of the events involve UFO described in purely luminous terms, as solitary lights, glowing or pulsating orbs, or streaking fireballs;
Within these last two groups it is extremely rare to find images from two separate UFO events that appear to show identical objects. The representative inventory of photos at the defunct UFO Evidence website, archived here (choose the "Thumbnail" option and use the "Next" button to browse), suggests the variety with over 200 intriguing UAP photos. These include several that I accept as authentic, several that have been debunked as IAP, and several that are amusing hoaxes. Looking for yourself will impress on you the circularity of the problem: we would like to have a "pure" sample of UFO images in order to identify and verify shape variations, but we need prior knowledge of the actual shape variations in order to weed out the false positives.
There have been various attempts to categorize or inventory UFO shapes. The forensic chart from NICAP's The UFO Evidence (Figure 17a) is a classic attempt to be comprehensive. It summarizes the impressions of UFO witness as ten basic shapes that are all solids of revolution. The chart is clearly an artifact of its era with the heavy emphasis on "disk" forms and also in its simplification, which may reflect limitations in witness verbal descriptions.
In contrast, the whimsical but more representative chart of OVNIs (the French acronym for Objets volants non identifiés) by Christophe Verdier (Figure 17b) presents a more representative sampling of reported shapes, including many (such as Août 1980, Janvier 1988 and Février 1996) that we'd have to describe as "undefined" or "unknown." Each UFO thumbnail helpfully includes the date of the event, which is sufficient in most cases to search for the witness description. If you do so, you may conclude that many of these depictions stoop to caricature, possibly because Verdier relied on secondary sources that interpret or embellish the actual witness description, and perhaps from artistic whimsy. (Adding to the sense of play, the chart includes at least three known hoaxes.)
A third problem is that, even when the same taxonomy or visual categorization of UFO forms is applied to reliable reports, different UFO datasets vary widely in relative proportion of the shapes observed:
The comprehensive tally of shape descriptions at NUFORC indicates that about 30% are classified as lights (light, fireball, flare, flash; generally indicating that glare overwhelms any shape detection); 20% are unknown, unreported, indescribable or changing shape; and the recognizable forms, 11% are described as "round" (circular, egg shaped, oval, round, spherical), 5% are "triangular" (triangle, pyramid, delta, cone), 3% are described as disks, and 2% are "cylindrical," "torpedo" or "cigar" shaped.
Overall the tallies suggest that a geometrically regular appearance characterizes only a minority of the UFO forms, but among these the sphere, disk, and triangle predominate and the cylindrical, "torpedo" or "cigar" shape is rare. It also appears that "expert" or multiple witness descriptions diverge significantly from the average single observer's impression. Sightings of two historically important types, the UFO with the appearance of a rocket or missile (the 1946 SPÖKRAKETER) and the "fireball" type important in the 1948 ARIZONA WAVE, seem to have drastically declined.
In the publicly available reports, the most commonly reported sizes of UFO are between 2 to less than 50 meters along the largest dimension (width, length or diameter). The SCU "Shape and Approximate Size" analysis found a median size across all shapes of 20 meters; cigars and triangles were largest while spheres, "Tic Tacs" and disks were smallest. However, the range of estimated sizes is enormous. UFO can be as small as a meter in diameter (a US Navy hazard report [#4] describes the observable as "small in size, approximately the size of a suitcase, and silver in color"), or 20 cm (foo fighters and the Gorman report). They can appear as large as a commercial airliner, a football field (the estimate of multiple witnesses in the Belgian UFO wave) or "as large as a small town" in the 2007 ALDERNEY report (Figure 19h) by Captain Ray Bowyer, another stolid citizen witness, whose first person account is included in Kean's book. The most extreme size manifestations known to me are UFO "the size of a fifty-cent piece" (viewed about 7 feet from the ground and 12 feet from the observer) in the astonishing 1949 Camp Hood TX 27 April event, and the report from Lieutenant Colonel H.C. Peterson, cited by Kean as responsible for Danish UFO investigations, who disclosed that "a space ship was observed from Almind and Sønder Bjert, bearings showing that it must have been at Fyns Hoved and that it was at least three kilometers [1.8 miles] in length." While these observations strain even generous credulity, both are military reports from active duty personnel, minimizing the possibility of hoax. Whatever "propulsion technology" we aver is lifting all these "objects," it must be capable of extreme miniaturization yet also capable of scale necessary to lift a structure far larger than any "vehicle" humans have ever built.
I interpret the heterogeneity of UFO shapes and large range of sizes as a finding. Certainly, a variety of visual illusions can be produced by a variably luminous and moving source, especially when briefly observed. And there is obvious visual difficulty in judging size when the distance of the UFO cannot be accurately determined especially when observed above landscape obstructions in a clear sky or at night. The variations in UFO form are not entirely due to observer limitations, perceptual illusions or verbal imprecision. UFO exhibit a remarkable diversity in visual appearance and (possibly) physical form, and this enormous variability in apparent UFO size and shape strongly suggests that we are not dealing with "the same thing" in the sense of a species or "type of manifestation" ... unless we consider the manifestation to be as an image.
Nevertheless, excluding the reports that are too uncertain to characterize, the basic categorization of UFO morphology either as a luminous form, as an anaerodynamic solid of revolution, or as a form requiring an extended description, might be called the three fundamental forms in the UFO literature.
Rigid vs. amorphous form
An important limitation to the various schemes of shape classification is the repeatedly observed ability of solo or pair UFO to change apparent shape while under continuous visual or photographic observation. An illustrative event is 1956 England AR 23 July, when several observers, one using a binocular, "reported an object that seemed to change shape (initially oval, then flat, then to a diamond configuration)."
The change in form appears in two ways: as (1) a change in what appears to be the solid form of the observable, or as (2) a change that appears to be due to an interposed refractive layer:
The framegrab enlargements from 2003 NEW WESTMINSTER in Figure 18 (top) show a gradual change in the observable appearance from an apparently reflective, spherical body, into a dark sphere, then a dark egg shape or ellipse, then an elongated "cigar" or coin shape, and finally a turbulent edge that precedes disappearance. To my eye this resembles the projection of a circular aperture opening into darkness that tilts increasingly to one side from the observer location. But it suggests the observation in the 1947 Schulgen memo that some UFO disappear through "complete disintegration."
We might call the claim that UFO represent a single "technology" or even a single physical process the unity hypothesis. The variety and instability of UFO appearance and disappearance argues rather strongly against this claim. A variant is the idea that things we consider to be different kinds or different manifestations of UFO are somehow coordinated by a single overarching alien strategy. The difficulty there, aside from the extraterrestrial hypothesis the claim rests on, is integrating the social consequences of alien abduction with aerial UFO, the physical processes of solo UFO and UFO flux, and the lack of any observed organized or purposeful behavior. In any case, the interpretation of UFO as "objects" is supported by the observation that UFO are not generally observed to grow or diminish in physical dimensions, apart from perspective changes in the apparent size and brightness as the observable appears to approach or retreat from the witness. In other words:
Different UFO events will appear as different observable shapes or configurations across an enormous range in size, but concentrated within the range of about 2 to 50 meters with a median size of about 20 meters.
The 2020 REYNOSA video and witness testimony document what appears to be a physically pulsating observable, and this joins with the many spawn and swarm events to illustrate the very "unmachinelike" capabilities and behavior of UFO, and possibly even joins with flux as a changing physical structure. It seems a procrustean conclusion to assert that the Aitkin County UFO flux, the Kumburgaz circular segment, the disk documented in the Costa Rican survey photo and the menagerie photographed by US Navy pilots (Figure 20a) are all different aspects of the same entity or process. But, in combination with the variety of reported shapes and the highly unstable reported proportions in which those shapes appear, I suggest we have strong empirical justification to relax our conception of UFO phenomena as physical objects and specifically to think of them as machines or machine made objects.
If the observed variety does in fact result from a single overarching process, then one possibility is that what we observe as UFO phenomena is some form of factitious image, involving physical processes that behave more as refractive layers around a source of highly energetic emittance. These refraction effects could simulate or cloak a solid body as some other form, and "crashes" of these energetic but illusory "objects" might release energy but leave only material remains equivalent to a few kitchen magnets.
If we relax our expectation that UFO appear as specific shapes or represent specific kinds of solid objects, other ways to describe UFO become easier to see.
A frequent UFO characteristic in both verbal reports and photographic or video images is a distinctive "bright/dark" (light emitting/light absorbing) manifestation, consisting of discrete sources of brilliant white or chromatic light associated with a larger, completely light absorbing or "dark" body. The 2006 UK MoD UAP report attributes this dark appearance to a "'total absorption' optical phenomena" caused by a "total internal reflection" within the field between buoyant plasmas:
Occasionally and perhaps exceptionally, it seems that a field with, as yet, undetermined characteristics, can exist between certain charged buoyant objects [UFO] in loose formation, such that, depending on the viewing aspect, the intervening space between them forms an area (viewed as a shape, often triangular), from which the reflection of light does not occur. This is a key finding in the attribution of what have frequently been reported as black 'craft', often triangular and even up to hundreds of feet in length.
But this bright/dark appearance is hardly exceptional. It is a consistently recurring visual and photographically documented feature of UFO across seven decades of observations. And it seems to me accurate to extend this characteristic bright/dark appearance to all UFO as a spectrum of appearances. At the complete brightness side are the entirely luminous UFO (often appearing as spheres or fireballs), and at the complete darkness end are the entirely dark or "shadow" UFO (as in Figure 18). A large amount of photographic evidence exists to support the claim that UFO often appear as some discrete configuration of brightness and darkness that is perceived as a single form (Figure 19):
(a) An enlarged frame of the Mariana pair, from the 1950 GREAT FALLS video (t=2:32) of an original 16mm movie camera. This shows the fundamental dark/light character of a silhouette "without wings, without tail, without visible means of propulsion." The film states: "The surface wind was 25 to 28 mph [55 to 60 m/s]; ... The objects moved almost directly counter to the wind direction. They are not balloons. ... They are definitely not free-falling. They are not meteors, birds, nor any kind of known aircraft."
Early reports that describe the bottom of "flying saucers" either comment on its unusual brightness (the Schulgen memo) or its "blackness" (e.g., McMinnville). The witness description of a pair of Spökraketer that both fell into the Norwegian Lake Mjøsa was reported on the front page of the July 20, 1946 Oslo Aftenposten: They were cigar-shaped, about 2½ meters long, with about 1 meter long wings. The wings were set about 1 meter from the nose, and the fore and after parts had a metallic gleam, but the midsection with the wings was black. The carefully evaluated ↆ 1965 El Toro CA 3 August or "Rex Heflin" photos show a black band around a "straw hat" shaped observable; this was the suggested origin of a ring discharge of black vapor left as the observable disappeared in vertical flight. The film serendipitously captured by US Coast Guard photographer Leland Hanson in the 1966 Catalina CA 15 April event shows what appears to be an early image of a "Tic Tac" aspect that clearly consists of a bright/dark figure. Many copies of this short film are available online and some are reversed, cropped or enhanced; I've linked to a stabilized version (visible in the dancing frame edges).
The witness report of the 2021 Norwalk CA 6 March event describes the observable as "Round organic looking glowing orb with flashing white light randomly, also seemed to be spinning. I was looking up at a clear blue sky in the afternoon when I noticed this white glowing object moving with random flashing white lights moving quite fast in the sky. It seemed to be spinning around and when the lights were off it looked like a black mass." (Compare with 2021 ENCINITAS, Figure 19f, and 2021 SPRINGFIELD, Figure 23a.) The 2011 Yokosuka JPN n.d. event, filmed from a stopped car by the driver and his passenger, shows the characteristic "cotton ball" fuzziness (cf. Figure 18) and bright/dark appearance with momentary "strange" electromagnetic flashes; the extended view upward shows the observable was hovering, an attribute of hyperagility. Proponents of a "balloon" hypothesis need to explain the origin and purpose of the form, which appears to me to be a dark, generally nonreflective body, roughly spherical in profile but with a tunnel aperture through its center and various "pocket" apertures symmetrically placed around its circumference, and with small "mirror" patches that can produce an intense reflection of the Sun. The film has been rectified, enlarged, tinted, and contrast enhanced here. Compare with this 2021 Essexville MI 11 December observable, when viewed in stop motion on full screen, briefly shows both the same "donut" appearance and a bilobed light appearance (at around t = 7s).
The 1994 NEVADA TEST RANGE observable is especially interesting as it traveled athwart the line of sight between the video camera and the afternoon Sun, producing a backlight that "X-rayed" the translucent (transmitting) parts of the form. The commentators in the linked video claim that the "object" changes shape, but I suggest this is more likely the effect of strong light passing through an optically complex area around the figure that transmits the light differently depending on the incidence angle and the angle of view (as one observes in a lens or thermal cell), and are not opaque features of structure.
The same bright/dark contrast appears in other observables of a very different configuration, for example the cigar shaped "Guernsey UFO," the remarkable change from bright to dark in two observables in the 2021 NEW YORK video (t=0:35), and the repeated bright/dark transformations in the 2008 KUMBURGAZ 12 June event illustrated in Figure 16 (right). We cannot tell if changes in these bright lobes are due to changes in the viewing geometry or in the impulsion, and we lack public evidence to conclude that the luminance is an atmospheric side effect of impulsion (the way contrails are a side effect of thermal exhaust) or is inherent to the power output (the luminance would also appear in the vacuum of space).
The dark area of these observables sometimes appears to be a black painted surface because of luminance variations that resemble shadows or apparent object irregularities, as in 2022 ISLAMABAD (Figure 18) bottom, middle row). But often it presents the uniform, deep black suggestive of a blackbody a theoretical material in quantum physics that absorbs all electromagnetic radiation incident on it but emits radiation only at the frequencies determined by its own temperature in Kelvins. The completely featureless, deep dark or superblack appearance of 1991 MEXICO CITY and 1994 NEVADA TEST RANGE is characteristic. A blackbody absorbing incident energy and radiating primarily in the infrared and microwave would appear completely black in the visual, even when quite hot (up to a temperature of around 550°C or 820 K) or "bright" in infrared. This is the kitchen lesson that you can't tell the temperature of an iron skillet just by looking at it.
Opaque, Translucent and Luminous Forms
Figure 19 might imply that most UFO have a bright/dark appearance. But other UFO images, both in the visual and infrared, document a variety of apparently opaque and metallic appearances. Figure 20 includes eight different video or photographic records that I accept as authentic; all but the 2015 GRAZ image include witness disclosure and provenance record. They are remarkably dissimilar:
(a) Photos released by the US Navy to George Knapp, all taken by US Navy pilots off the eastern seaboard within a 1/2 hour interval on the afternoon of 4 March 2019. Provenance is excellent but there is no witness disclosure nor specific location for the three photographs. The "Metallic Blimp" is the least plausible of the three and resembles a WW II antiaircraft balloon except for strange extensions on top and bottom. "Sphere" may be an image of what is more often described as "cube within a sphere," just barely discernable in the image. (Note the resemblance to 2020 REYNOSA.) Chris Lehto estimates the width of "Acorn" to be about 2 meters; the observable was described as having just left the ocean and was photographed heading straight upward.
The FLIR1 video provides an interesting contrast for morphology, as the two different IR modes seem to capture distinct aspects of the form (Figure 21). Fravor identifies and describes the interpretation of the display metrics and the fact that the infrared BLK HOT mode (hot objects appear black) has an angular magnification greater than the WHT HOT or TV mode. (How much greater is unclear.) Both the dark infrared shape and the spiky TV nimbus change significantly during the F/A-18 approach. The BLK HOT shape becomes possibly bilobular at 0:42, and the 1:10 view in TV is more clearly defined, more brightly emitting at the right end and tapering toward the left; then it retreats to the left without any significant change in form or brightness. The SCU AGUADILLA report describes the approximately 1.3 meter object as containing "a warm section shaped vaguely like a dumbbell"; the inset in Figure 21 suggests the 2013 AGUADILLA and the much larger 2004 FLIR1 object may have a similar bilobular design. Compare also the asymmetric placement of the white area around the Aguadilla form with the similar asymmetric appearance of 1993 GULF BREEZE (Figure 19c). These comparisons suggest that UFO might build on a common basic form, as we see for example in the morphology of birds and aircraft. A similar point may apply to the bilobular or "twin light" appearance documented in Figure 20d and 19e.
A key question raised by Figure 21 and the NICAP and Verdier charts of UFO shapes (Figure 17) is: what are all these forms for? What are their distinguishing performance characteristics or functional purposes? At present we do not have either a clear taxonomy of form beyond the simple geometrical labels or distinct behavioral attributes we can associate with the different forms or use to discriminate among them. This suggests that the variety of UFO shapes may have no significant purpose a counterintuitive inference to make about a supposed "breakthrough technology."
A second series of images from the GIMBAL video switches once from WHT to BLK but does not switch back again, a regrettable lapse since the observable seems to change shape from an asymmetrical cylinder to a nearly perfect ellipse, with an "aura" of cooler air around the much warmer target observable as it rotates counterclockwise in the recording. The stability of the aura complexity is much more striking in the video than in a single image.
Point Source, Beam & Plasma Emittance
Many UFO either appear only as point source, blinking or flashing lights, or display what appears to witnesses to be a fixed array of point lights on its surface. Some visual reports describe illuminated "windows" or "portholes" along the side, famously in the 1948 Montgomery AL 24 July or "Chiles-Whitted" event. But fluctuations in light also apply to the entire observable or the form of the observable can appear to pulsate. The 1978 KAIKOURA film includes a smaller UFO brightening or fading from view (1:28), and toward the end there appears a single, more luminous observable (2:30) that either flashes or changes aspect at different rates.
Point Source Emittance. The significance of UFO emittance is unclear. In a few reports the lights appear to have a signaling character, as in the 2021 CARSON CITY video and the display recorded in this 2021 Glendale AZ 1 August event. The observable appears to flash through very high pitched (picohertz) hues in the green yellow to violet span of the visible spectrum which are clearly not within the standard chromatic limits of aircraft running lights. In 2019 USS OMAHA the reddish color of the pair UFO changes when a larger, more chromatic, blinking red UAP appears.
The attribute of fading and brightening, changing color, or fading out of view and reappearing at a different location nearby seems to be a repeated feature of pair interactions. This implies EM modulation as a signaling function. In many UFO reports, lights seem to outline a curving edge or mark key spots in a triangular or echelon structure (e.g., 1951 LUBBOCK, Figure 11). A Connecticut state trooper photograph from 1987 shows an arc of colored lights that may be the outline of a single observable or multiple UFO in formation (Figure 24).
A strong chromatic content characterizes the light from some UFO, as for example in this 2021 Carson City CA 29 August event. The green and red colors resemble standard aviation running lights, but the irregularity in the lights (flashing vs. steady) and the rapid descent of the observable are quite unusual for a helicopter (the witness narration indicates that it was first noticed to descend from a high altitude). In some cases, videos of UFO only show the chromatic content in defocused images, as images limited to few pixels can be saturated into whiteness. In general, the colors of UFO are diverse. The most often reported color is white or yellowish white, red or red orange seem to be associated with some types of observable and green or blue with others; very rarely violet or magenta (an extraspectral color) are seen (but cf. Figure 2). Interpreted as blackbody correlated color temperatures, the series implies that the native range of UFO is disproportionately toward lower rather than higher frequencies, and hues from red through yellow and white can be explained by broadband blackbody radiation. However, human vision does not perceive saturated green, blue or violet hues in blackbody radiation: these require the emittance to be limited to the middle or high energy third of the visual spectrum, evidence of EM modulation.
Beam Emittance. A characteristic feature of some UFO reports (probably less than 10%) is the description of beam energy emanating from the UFO and directed either toward other UFO, toward the ground, or toward the observer (either in an aircraft or on the ground). In general these beams are described as brief or intermittent, filling a very small solid angle, and being intense but not so powerful as to cause burns or ignite fires. The evidence available suggests they serve different functions:
in communication, as beams flashed between UFO, or as multicolor light displays
The 1960 RED BLUFF observable (described here) had a very peculiar characteristic, as reported in Swords & Powell (pp. 295-97):
[The observable's] most spectacular features were two lights, one at either end, which could project a powerful six-foot diameter sweeping beam. The beams were red and had a peculiar character that was so odd everyone seemed hesitant to mention it . ... The light beam projected by the object seemed like what would be described today as a big, fat laser beam. That is, it did not spread out or diffuse "properly." But worse than that, the beam seemed to have an "end" to it. Even Carson, who was much the more verbal of the two officers, did not talk about this in the earlier reports. However, in a 1966 interview with [atmospheric physicist James] McDonald, he had become comfortable enough that he said: "Its beam seemed to extend out a distance in the air, and then to end in some curious manner that [I] did not understand then or now."
I believe we need to visualize these two "beams" as behaving like fixed appendages of an unvarying length that appeared to wave about in a downward direction like insect antennae. The authors comment that "Today there are dozens of other sightings mentioning this peculiar sawed off light," and in an endnote they tally 44 similar descriptions of "so-called 'solid lights'" in reports received from around the world. Once again the variation in UFO morphology extends even to a specific feature of the observable: as described across all reports, UFO beams seem to have sometimes a signaling function, sometimes an interrogating or sensor function, and sometimes serve a guidance or support function for the movement of spawned observables.
Plasma Emittance. A theory in current discussion is that the observables appear to be surrounded by a "plasma sheath" resulting from a high energy field. The 2006 UK MoD UAP report (ↆ Vol. 3 Chap. 1, p. 2) asserts that it's not a sheath but the whole form, that "the majority, if not all, of the hitherto unexplained reports may well be due to atmospheric gaseous electrically charged buoyant plasmas." These are said to originate in the local energy created by a charged dust from meteors that "neither burn up entirely nor hit the Earth." Distinct hues have been attributed by some to a "plasma" around the observable captured within a magnetic field, which would also account for some features of its envelopment and spectral profile.
This interpretation seems to have gained traction especially in the United Kingdom, as explained in the 2006 UK MoD UAP report (ↆ Executive Summary):
12. Considerable evidence exists to support the thesis that the events are almost certainly attributable to physical, electrical and magnetic phenomena in the atmosphere, mesosphere and ionosphere. They appear to originate due to more than one set of weather and electrically-charged conditions and are observed so infrequently as to make them unique to the majority of observers. There seems to be a strong possibility that at least some of the events may be triggered by meteor re-entry, the meteors neither burning up completely nor impacting as meteorites, but forming buoyant plasmas. The conditions and method of formation of the electrically-charged plasmas and the scientific rationale for sustaining them for significant periods is incomplete or not fully understood. (p. 7)
Unfortunately there is neither a coherent physical argument maybe UFO are due to "more than one set of weather" conditions, maybe they're due to "meteor re-entry" nor a sufficient explanation of observed UFO behavior in this hypothesis. How do plasmas formed of meteor dust evade pursuit by military aircraft (Figure 38), fly in formation (Figure 11), hover "as if looking for something," spawn new observables, swarm in balletic or coordinated patterns, or swarm around guided missile ships? We do not even have a physical theory for the formation of ball lightning, a relatively less controversial phenomenon than UFO but one that some scientists believe is a hallucination (or "luminous perception") created by the magnetic discharge of a lightning strike acting on the visual cortex of the brain. The same hypothesis is used elsewhere in the UK report as a possible explanation for some UFO sightings (Vol.2 Part Q), but the report also found that UFO reports did not correlate with reports of thunderstorms, and therefore "many ... UAP must be caused by something else" (Vol.1, p. 21). That "something else" must consist of two things: an energy resource that can be transformed into propulsion (impulsion), and a structural complexity that can support both geospatial hover and pursuit evasion (control).
In any case, the envelopment around many UFO is on the whole cold: it appears such in the BLK HOT images of 2015 GIMBAL or 2013 AGUADILLA, and Strand describes a light that was observed to make an impression in snow without melting it. Temperature is one fact against the plasmoid theory, unless the reach is for "cold plasmas" produced by esoteric technologies such as magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) propulsion. The difficulty here is the implied direct link between a propulsion discharge and an emittance, which means changes in UFO color should transparently indicate changes in propulsion output and therefore correlate with visible changes in behavior. Instead, it is common to see changes in UFO color that do not correspond to changes in motion (2019 USS OMAHA (2), 2020 BOSSIER CITY, 2019 GLENDALE) and changes in motion in UFO of a constant color. And if the plasma is not a discharge directly related to the system of propulsion, then why is it there? The plasma theory seems actually to require three theories: a physical theory to account for the existence of the plasma, another to account for the source of an accelerating and braking propulsion, a third to account for flight dynamics that display evidence of control.
Another claim made for the plasma theory is that the plasma imparts color. But how? Atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen produce a characteristic bluish air glow seen around lightning or nuclear radiation, so ionized "noble" gases would be the alternate source of UFO color but these gases are extremely rare in our atmosphere. Do UFO move around within a bubble of neon?
These objections do not rule out the possibility that a plasma envelops some observables; but it is a difficulty for the hypothesis that plasma envelopment is a necessary or common UFO attribute or can be the source of the sometimes strongly saturated UFO luminance.
The diversity just described does not give much cause for trust in witness visual acuity or verbal description. In fact, many limitations affect a human observer or optical record, as pointed out in the 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap. 2, pp. 7-9). The average witness has a limited and imprecise vocabulary for geometric forms; "circular" can be used to describe a spherical appearance or "triangle" to describe a tetrahedron. In addition, a wholly unfamiliar form viewed from a single location or angle of view can be grossly misinterpreted, especially if the form is briefly observed. However, the chart by Verdier suggests that many of the forms cannot be accurately described as geometrical solids. Separate from the ability to recognize and name geometrical shapes is the problem that geometrical shapes may be an inadequate form of description.
Drawing Ability. Drawing ability; age dependent, occupationally dependent. The alternatives to often unclear optical imagery are either a graphical interpretation of the imagery or a drawing of the observable by the witness. The pervasive shortcoming of drawings is that witnesses generally lack the necessary draftsmanship, much as their verbal descriptions draw on a limited vocabulary of geometrical shapes. Leslie Kean reproduces an exceptionally precise drawing made by a French cellular biologist, "M.H.," who observed an emerald green, tub sized 1982 Laxou FR 12 October "Amaranth" UFO slowly descend to hover above his tiny front yard garden. His drawing (Figure 22, left), the most precise witness drawing known to me, shows proportions (0.8 by 1.5 meters) and details (the small shelf around the upper dome) with the exactitude of a microscopist or engineer. It is also based on an extended viewing period: the observable hovered motionless for 20 minutes (the witness consulted his watch to be sure) and then shot straight upward "as if pulled by a strong suction," which made the grasses underneath briefly stand upright.
The second drawing (Figure 22, right) is by a Soviet cosmonaut of a very complex and arresting event on 1981 Salyut 6 5 May event:
"It was a round object which resembled a melon, round and a little bit elongated. In front of this object was somethat that resembled a gyrating depressed cone, I can draw it, it's difficult to describe. ... The object resembled a barbell. I saw it becoming transparent and like with a 'body' inside. At the other end I saw something like gas discharging, like a reactive object. Then something happened that is very difficult for me to describe from the point of view of physics ... I have to recognize that it did not have an artificial origin. It was not artificial because an artificial object couldn't attain this form. I don't know of anything that can make this movement contracting, then expanding, pulsating. ... Then a kind of explosion happened, very beautiful to watch, of golden light. This was the first part. Then, one or two seconds later, a second explosion followed somewhere else and two spheres appeared, golden and very beautiful."
The observable M.H. drew was hovering in place; Kovalyonok's observable was undergoing rapid changes of form that also struck him deeply with an esthetic effect "golden ... beautiful ... difficult to describe." In addition to the obvious differences in drawing skills between the two men, the drawings illustrate that UFO events can be so complex and beautiful as to be difficult to describe or draw.
These two drawings confirm the implicit consistency of the Verdier chart: a UFO generally does not display external features of propulsion or control, there aren't access hatches or doors, no windows or apertures for sensors to see outside, no registration markings or national icons. If it does, it's likely a hoax image. This implies either an evolved embodiment where doors would be illogical or a technological construction using methods of material printing where access would be impractical alternatives that illustrate the contrasting processes of growth or assembly that characterize the human distinction between life and machine.
Distance & Size. There are also ambiguities due to perspective and point of view. Circular disks observed at an angle can appear elliptical or egg shaped, and viewed edge on can appear as cylinders or "cigars." Running lights on a single form observed at night can appear to be separate lights flying in formation, and lights in formation can appear to be a single large object. Unless observables pass in front of or behind landscape objects, their distance is often hard to determine, even in daylight but especially at night, and therefore distance estimates (and object dimensions based on perceived distance) can be wildly unreliable. Angular motion is not useful as an indicator of velocity unless the distance to the observable and the direction of travel are known, for example by combining an optical recording with radar information.
I do not put great weight in visual or optical estimates of UFO size except in rare cases where there is an unambiguous cue of distance: the observable moves behind clouds, casts a shadow on the ground, dips behind distant ridges and so on. There are several recognizable perceptual difficulties with size estimates:
UFO are commonly described as not emitting any sound, which would bias the estimated distance to be farther than it actually is
Nevertheless, the strength of radar returns often indicates to experienced radar operators a reflecting area that approximately corresponds to the middle range of sizes commonly reported from visual observation between 5 to 20 meters.
UFO are predominantly observed at night, and often the form is too bright to reveal details of structure or shape. In daylight, observables are often described as having a changing, somewhat obscured or blurred appearance. There seems to be an inherent fuzziness in most images even with high resolution optics, as if the UFO are enclosed in a distorting envelope, not a surface reflection but more like a scattering or bending of light from a refracting and thermally distorted layer. Both the 1994 NEVADA TEST RANGE and 2013 AGUADILLA videos show clear examples of this enveloping distortion.
Illusions of Motion. I am intrigued by a number of cases with a photographic record, such as 1950 GREAT FALLS or 1952 TREMONTON, where the witness recounts seeing "disks" but the recorded image shows only an oblate or elongated "bright/dark" form. Nick Mariana reported that he saw two disks but his secretary said she saw two spheres; perhaps an observer separation as small as ten or twenty meters can produce a significant change in aspect. These seem to indicate observer or optical limitations that are not due to observing conditions, perspective effects or lack of distance cues, but to attributes of UFO form that may be due to motion induced perceptual illusions. The comparison here is between visual judgments and photographic evidence.
The 2021 Springfield MO 26 October video seems to me a holotype for the first characteristic movement of stationary spinning: the witness says "that is a cube, spinning on an axis ... it's flickering, got lights around it," and the cube appears approximately stationary despite the hand tremor that makes it seem to move back and forth between utility lines. Yet screengrabs from the full screen video (Figure 23a) show a dark, apparently oblate form that does not appear to be spinning but displays brief flashes of light around various parts of its circumference that could evidently mimic the visual appearance of a rotating cube. Note in Figure 23a that the observable at times almost disappears, evidently when its luminance matches the background sky, and the overall range of appearances cannot be attributed to be a helicopter, drone, balloon or bird
Even stronger evidence appears in this 2021 Irving TX 28 April event, filmed with a smartphone at a much smaller optical scale (view full screen), presents a similar transformation of appearance with simultaneous witness arousal. (This enlarged, contrast enhanced and stabilized version is easier to evaluate.) The observable appears to be a rather active example of the bright/dark form, yet the witness commentary describes it as "moving really weird, it's like spinning and it's got another disc inside of it that's spinning." The article quotes the elaboration: "A large metallic ring that floated around a separate metallic sphere within the ring, like a flying armillary sphere." It is possible that the observer's vision can capture motion that is too rapid for the camera sensor to resolve, but the erratic sequence of bright and dark appearances does not display any periodic or rotational cues.
The astonishing 2019 Bellevue WA 20 February or "Blueberry Farm" event displays an anaerodynamic form and "strange" EM emittance (changing bright/dark aspect), with audio demonstrating verbal and physiological ("This heart is racing right now") witness arousal. (An image stabilized version is available here, cf. Figure 23b.) There is a remarkable range of aspects including episodes of near "cloaking" in the visual and a range of appearances that includes a completely dark form of amorphous and changing shape and angular dimension, a completely bright form, a bilobular form, the more commonly observed "dark oval with bright edges," and an novel imitation of an annular solar eclipse with a smaller point source of light seen drifting over the black figure like an internal reflection from an refractive surface (Figure 23b). An intriguing feature of this event is that the same observable seen at night would be interpreted as a flux event because the dark form would be invisible. The witness does not provide a verbal description, but this video suggests the difficultly of describing a briefly observation of a visually complex and unrecognizable form.
The 2003 New Westminster CAN 11 August event is a fourth example that began as a bright flash, became "a round object hovering over the trees [that] flipped over and turned bright blood red," and resolved in the video into a circular form of displaying bright/dark luminance contrasts (strongly resembling 2019 BELLEVUE), then transformation into an elongated, possibly foreshortened dark disk that becomes optically unstable and appears to dissolve. The dancing dark speckles that briefly appear within the spherical form resemble the tiny dark spots inside 2020 REYNOSA.
These three examples, which demonstrate "strange" or bright/dark EM emittance in an anaerodynamic form, illustrate the large discrepancies between eyewitness descriptions and video documentation of form, especially in forms that are inherently difficult to describe. They suggest that witness perception and event description may easily misinterpret or misrepresent rotating, flashing, distant or complex shapes, especially those in motion and while the witness is experiencing arousal. There is a surprisingly large number of perceptual illusions, and some of the most dramatic are caused by the overlay of a shimmering or periodically refracting envelopment over a stable form, for example in these shape and motion illusions. It may occur that flickering light within or around a dark form can produce the illusory recognition of geometric figures.
In particular, UFO are often described as "spinning," and spinning is consistent with the fact that the majority of reported UFO shapes sphere, disk, cone, cylinder, cigar are solids of revolution or shapes made by rotating a contour around a fixed axis. The shimmering envelopment or flashing emittance could be interpreted as metallic surfaces, or the metallic appearance could result from the rapid spinning of a bright/dark form to produce a "white" or "silvery" visual mixture. The change in the 1956 ENGLAND observable from oval to flat to diamond could be produced by a single figure rotated around one or two differently aligned axes.
Even schematically, the causal "chain of human perception" is complex: originating in a three dimensional form in motion that is presented as a two dimensional retinal projection that is foreshortened through perspectival distortion; a form that either emanates, refracts or absorbs light in complex ways or internally generates emittance as beamlike directional variations in luminance; the combination of shape and rapid, erratic brilliance creating various kinds of perceptual misinterpretations that the witness must describe with a personal and nearly always limited geometrical vocabulary. Other than a superficial analysis by Michael Wertheimer in the Condon Report, the only sources known to me that takes these issues into account are various UFO debunkers such as Philip Klass and, in a layperson's clumsy perceptual terminology, the 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap. 1, p. 3):
A visual picture is often 'seen', which may not necessarily equate with that 'seen' by another observer of the same phenomenon located nearby. This suggests that the 'picture' formed may have been mentally adjusted, possibly due to some other factor present at the time.
In all, the disparity between visual descriptions and photographed shapes suggests we should not rely too heavily on UFO shape and surface material descriptions based on eyewitness visual memory of distant and apparently spinning, flashing or pulsating forms.
And finally there is the issue of where the energy comes from for the 40,000 watt luminance, the hyperacceleration, the extended hover. These issues are related directly to questions of event duration and observable persistence.
I know of no study that examines event duration or compares duration to specific kinds of UFO behavior or flight patterns, but a summary graphic from the 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap. 3, p. 51) suggests that most events either end within 10 seconds or last for between 5 to 20 minutes. Ten seconds seems to be the perceptual minimal time for the UFO to be detected, which implies a slow transit if the observable is moving. The longest events are quire long. The 1980 RED BLUFF event was observed for over two hours, the 2022 ISLAMABAD event was clearly taped over two hours or more, judging by the narration, the changes in the clouds and in the color temperature of the daylight. Short events would logically implicate rapid movement and longer events hovering. And hovering would mean that UFO are initially misperceived as a star, or planet, or aircraft, or streetlight a misperception that is corrected by some additionally recognized kinetic or emittance sign in the stimulus that are enumerated in the UFO definition.
My general sense is that events are rarely recorded for more than two or three minutes (often due to observer fatigue or disinterest in a static form), that UFO are more often recorded in flight rather than hovering, and that even extended hovering monitored by radar is described in terms of hours rather than days. Dynamic contingencies that one behavior will lead to another, such as the probability that a hover will be followed by either a fast or a slow departure, have also not been analyzed, although many witnesses describe a fast departure that includes a vertical climb. Overall the reported events tend to be brief and their location and duration are unpredictable.
The related question is whether an observable possesses a physical continuity longer than the event itself; whether, for example, after their transit they park at home base where they are serviced and refueled for another sortie on another day. The "plasma" theory requires that UFO are uniquely generated at each event, like snowflakes out of a storm cloud or "buoyant plasmas" out of a meteor shower. This conjecture seems unlikely given the observed variety of individual UFO despite the limits of witness geometric vocabulary or perceptual abilities unlikely too because UFO display dispositional responses such as evasion or exploration that imply awareness and cognition. In any case, UFO do not seem to have the uniformity of technologically manufactured form and function, but they also lack the dynamic signature and behavioral "blindness" of a natural process.
The evidence clearly shows that UFO appear in an enormous variety of sizes, shapes and electromagnetic characteristics. Apart from the frequently seen spherical or "sphere of light" UFO (which is different from the equally anonymous "fireball" form), it is rare that two different events involve identical observables. The "bright/dark" form appears as a description of UFO form with wide generality and relevance to human perceptual limitations. However, some of these aerial phenomena may not involve the same physical process. UFO flux and spawn events cannot reasonably be associated with any metallic or otherwise rigid "technology," "object" or "airframe," yet "Acorn" and "Metallic Blimp" appear to be physical volumes entirely reflecting light. This "metallic" appearance strongly biases interpretation toward the interpretation of UFO as a "breakthrough" aerospace technology. However, there is no public physical evidence to support the conjecture of metallic construction or of a persistent physical nature, which makes a physical interpretation of the recorded multisensor data more difficult, because it is effectively different forms of electromagnetic image data.
UFO as Wildlife
I've described seven decades of UFO and UAP reports from civilian and military sources as a representative picture of what we currently know about the appearance and behavior of UFO. Any compilation of this kind has to deal with hoax, storytelling, bunk, UAP misidentifications and what can only be called the human predicament. I have tried to be accurate and responsible, but can't hope to be entirely successful. Please let me know by email if you disagree.
What has struck me almost as forcibly as the credibly documented attributes of UFO themselves is the extraordinary human difficulty in understanding them. I've attempted to mitigate bias in my exposition by a careful use of language and a limited technical vocabulary that avoids unproven assertions. But the real predicament for human knowledge is dealing with the unexplained. In that predicament, the human response to UFO has been to an extraordinary degree overinterpretive if not superstitious.
UFO come into human awareness with no forewarning, no explanation, no analogous priors. They do so in a way that violates our most deep rooted understanding of physical laws and our cosmological isolation, defies our assumptions about human understanding, control, and "ownership" of the planet, and perhaps most vexingly affronts our primitive vanity as a force to be reckoned with. They are, of course, also rather marvellous.
I interpret this as a form of cognitive and emotional challenge that strains the sensemaking ability of our storytelling nature. As a partial release from this tension, I suggest we approach UFO as wildlife.
This wildlife approach rests on two assumptions: (1) we study UFO in the same ways we study wild animals, and (2) the boundaries of our relationship to UFO are the same as the boundaries of relationship with any other wild animal: they are ecological, not cultural. The concepts and methods of biology rather than physics or military frame the scientific inquiry.
I do not imply that UFO are a carbon based life form or a new branch of cephalopod (although there are strange things that live in the sea). They can easily consist of novel materials with strange electromagnetic and kinetic properties. Nevertheless UFO appear to be environmentally aware, intrinsically motivated, autonomous social entities that we can conceptualize and study by adapting some of the tools and concepts of ↆ wildlife biology rather than defaulting immediately and reflexively to the presumptions of technology, physics and military outlook. I also assume that UFO, whatever they may be, may have a biological level of structural complexity.
The objection that UFO create power and display capabilities like no other known life form is just to make the limits of our existence the limits of all existence. Both the wildlife and "advanced technology" interpretations assert that UFO are real and display awareness and dispositional behavior; the wildlife approach does not require an alien homunculus to do it but can easily accommodate an alien if it ever steps out of its vehicle.
The metaphor of UFO as animals has been suggested more than once, for example in this conclusion from the February, 1949 Project SIGN final report (pp. 24-25):
2. The objects may be some kind of animal.
but also in the public musings of Luis Elizondo in 2021:
"This is something we have been dealing with for, for a long time, and, and like a lot of things Imagine the first person who decided to get on a boat and sail over the horizon, right? And there's discussion of sea monsters and Krakens that will devour you and destroy your boat. And yet, we did it anyways. We did sail, and and and we we explored the world, and it turns out, you know ... heh, 500 years later yeah, there really are sea monsters! Except, except what we call them the great squid of the Pacific, and we call 'em great white sharks and whales. Uh, now they're just part of nature, they have a scientific name. But, you know, those sea monsters still exist. They're there, um, we just learned to understand them. And maybe this is just the same thing, maybe this is just yet another uh ah, another expedition over the horizon in which we're going to realize what we thought were were monsters are really just ... neighbors."
or again, in this interview with Curt Jaimungal.
In a 2018 ↆ SETI theoretical paper, Jacques Vallée and Garry Nolan suggest that we keep an open mind to novel forms of physical process:
Because it is hard to imagine all possible life forms, and given the short time that life and consciousness have been scientifically studied (less than one century), it would be prudent not to rule out possibilities that may appear unfashionable. Life may thrive underground and in space, near and far from planets and stars, and under conditions we may now consider prohibitive. With the newly essential understandings of quantum physics and quantum information, are "biological brains" the only place consciousness could have evolved?
There are many UFO observations at a distance spawn, swarm and flux behavior specifically that also seem inappropriate to describe as a technology. Even more bizarre observations occur at close range, for example as organic excretions left by a resting UFO, or this hair raising report by "Walter B." of an extraordinary 2009 hair and bone observable viewed from a distance of approximately 15 meters and moving at about 1 m/s:
"It was a ball shaped object in the air with a roughly two meter diameter (left to right, top to bottom). It was covered in patches with a hair like substance, strands of dark to brown hair which was protruding out from a smaller ball shape within, which looked like bone or wood. In others words the smaller (inner circle) was roughly a meter diameter and had hair protruding from it in patches. Each clump of hair was upright and wavy and I'd say about a meter long. The best way to put it was to say it looked like bird bones clumped in a circle with hair like protrusions around the circular shape emanating from it. These hair like structures were coming off all sides of the inner (bone) structure. The hair was not down but rather upright and wavy no matter from which side of the inner bony structure it protruded from. Almost like static hair defying gravity. Not firm and upright but wavy and upright. Whether facing up or down. Hence the total object remained circular."
Walter's 13 year old daughter was outside flying a kite, also saw the phenomenon, and described the appearance as "clumps of a horse's mane or ostrich feathers; the shape of a palm tree's leaves; and branches/bones. It looked like these objects had been clumped together and the main color of it was dark brown/black." It is difficult to find "technological" similes that encompass these visual perceptions.
The wildlife approach provides a resource of less prejudicial "constructs," concepts and systemic principles in particular evolution and social behavior that can be used to guide the collection and interpretation of UFO data. If we frame the known facts with this perspective, a variety of new insights become possible. Here I suggest some of the more important.
The wildlife approach presents a novel conception of UFO as an object of study
Currently, the public and military evidence regarding UFO is observational. At best we hope for observations from multiple "sensors." This immaterial evidence for UFO makes the intrinsic nature of UFO inscrutable. Evidence for their physical nature as a power generating machine is publicly nonexistent and their observed behavior is so far inexplicable to physics. The most serious problem is not the process that is described but the thermodynamic consequences of the enormous resources of energy and instantaneously directed power required to produce the observed hyperdynamic motion. We simply don't observe these consequences, which makes UFO the theoretical cousin of energy creating perpetual motion machines.
From the standpoint of what we can explain about the process, we are very much in the same situation as 18th century physiologists trying to understand the nature of body heat and metabolism. If we view UFO from the same point of view as we view wildlife, the problems of process and propulsion step somewhat into the background as similarly incomprehensible, and our focus shifts to the observable behavior and the contexts in which the behavior occurs. This is a shift from the theory of an inferred intrinsic process that the explains UFO capabilities to the things that UFO use those capabilities to do and the place and time where they do them.
The principal claims of the wildlife approach concern the attributions we make to UFO as phenomena, attributions that define the viewpoint we use to approach the domain of study. The viewpoint is anchored in five substantive claims:
1. UFO are a real and novel form of animate process, different from the animate material process we know as terrestrially evolved carbon based life but with analogous capabilities of intrinsic energy, autonomous motion, environmental awareness and "dispositional" behavior.
The wildlife approach places human and UFO in a creature relationship in the same way that we have a creature relationship to whales or eagles or insects. We can take the stance that we hope to "capture or exploit" them, as military beasts of transport or war; we can hunt them, like big game; we can tell stories about them, like unicorns; or we can marvel at them and attempt to study them without molesting them in the minimalist approach of biological science. In this creature relationship the manner in which we approach UFO says fundamental things about human nature and human dignity as well.
The biological approach is consistent with any other scientific interpretation
The most important principle to begin with (since it determines the utility of everything that follows) is that the concepts and methods of biology are not prejudicial to any other scientific perspective.
The first, historically most useful strength of wildlife biology is that it rests on the foundation of observation and description in the natural environment rather than manipulation and experimentation in a laboratory. Encountering a new species in the wild, the biologist seeks to establish basic facts of identification and description, morphology, diurnal or nocturnal behavior, strategies of foraging or predation, habitat, range, the various forms of communication, territorial defense and social organization in patterns of dominance, kinship and specialization. The biologist seeks to understand how the species is adapted to thrive and reproduce by means of a vocabulary of possible actions within the physical environment and in possible interaction with other life forms around it.
From that point of view wildlife biology can provide an intellectual audit of what we know and do not know about UFO and identify shortcomings or unexplored avenues of study. For example, one of the first tasks of wildlife biology is an accurate description of the animal to be studied that depends on its unique and distinguishing characteristics; but when we turn to the current knowledge about UFO, we find that current definitions are based on ignorance.
The second strength is the generality of behavioral observations. Provided they are simply factual, these observations will always be true in any future narrative of cause and effect. Nearly all the processes and temporal transformations documented in biology have ultimately been explained in terms of the enduring and universal laws of how stuff works. Bodily warmth becomes the metabolism of organic chemistry, breathing the prerequisite of oxidation. Taxonomy and phylogenics have migrated from fossils and morphology to genomes and gene splicing, predator prey relations follow systems theory. We study genetics as a natural form of nanotechnology, and there is expectation that we can anchor the origin of carbon chemistry in purely chemical, aqueous and geothermal principles of astrogeology.
This ability of biology to adapt to different interpretations of the physical world is symbolized by the early 20th century proposal from D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson that species bauplans are transformations of form produced by principles of projective geometry (Figure 25), or are described by mathematical proportions such as the logarithmic spiral in a Nautilus shell. These deep transformations of morphology are now studied as the evolutionary modification of genes that control development, especially very early in life. Observations originally interpreted as aspects of life create no impediment to study in other terms, even the abstract terms of projective geometry.
The third benefit of the biological approach is that it releases us from the entrenched biases in our thinking. We are no longer limited to aeronautical technology or operator intent as explanatory concepts; we can set aside the terms "object" or "vehicle," "pilot" or "intention" as metaphors that in many contexts seem inappropriate to describe how UFO are physically constituted or how they actually behave.
Biology has handled an extraordinary range of highly complex, behaviorally autonomous, self organizing, self reproducing, environmentally aware and mobile energy systems for many centuries. We are used to thinking of them as animals or plants. The fact that we find intelligence evolving from material processes, or find intelligence in systems made entirely of electronic parts and software instructions, suggests that intelligence can inhabit many different material exemplifications indeed, that they are two different things entirely.
Biology requires a unique combination of attributes in the definition of a taxon
Biology puts life forms into conceptual boxes, a necessary task to discover connections within in the incredible diversity of living things. This conceptualizing is taxonomy, the grouping together all recognizably equivalent instances as members of a taxon.
A species is the taxonomic category of biologically indistinguishable individuals that share an enormous number of structural and behavioral attributes. We describe all members of a species as if they are a single individual, documented as the holotype specimen. There are always differences between the individual members of a taxon, and this variety and the significance of the differences that are included within the taxon increases as the taxon becomes a more fundamental unit in the "tree of life." Because the species taxon generally contains only negligible diversity, species form the "leaves" of taxonomic tree where diversity is considered inconsequential. Animals with backbones can be as different as whales, giraffes, gibbons and snakes, and this enormous diversity means the defining attribute of vertebrates appeared much earlier and therefore is much more fundamental in the taxonomic tree of life.
The biological tree of life is called a phylogenic tree because it represents the paths by which newer species evolved out of common ascestors within three domains all organisms of nucleated cells and two forms of unnucleated bacteria. Of course, by the standards of taxonomy UFO are not a new branch on the tree of life: they appear as a separate tree, like the viruses. This new "tree of life" is completely separate from the biological tree and will therefore be distinct from us in more ways than we can anticipate.
However, all taxons are defined by a set of specific attributes that apply equally to all members of the taxon. In the most basic UFO taxon we require traits that are common to all UFO. These traits must involve either morphology, capability or behavior and, given our current understanding, the traits will necessarily only be attributes we observe rather than discover though a physical or anatomical analysis. Nevertheless, the wildlife approach requires us to identify what those traits are.
Definition of UFO. According to Ted Roe of NARCAP there are many behavioral commonalities across UAP reports in the NARCAP database, and they are all in my terms indicators of hyperacceleration and hyperagility. It is also relevant that the root concept here, flying saucer, refers both to an anomalous kinetic signature ("flying") and a clearly anaerodynamic appearance ("saucer"). These twin attributes afford the basis for an affirmative definition of all members of the taxon UFO. We can disparage the undesirable historical associations of the acronym by pronouncing it not as a letter string, but as Ruppelt originally spoke it the word "Yoo-foe":
A UFO is a continuous aerial or transmedium manifestation of (1) controlled hyperdynamic movement or "strange" electromagnetic emittance observed in (2) a self luminous or anaerodynamic form.
This definition effectively describes UFO as a display of energy in a visual or optical object form. UFO are only conceived as an electromagnetic source with paradoxical form or powers of motion. It inserts no prejudgment about the physical or material nature of UFO, their structure or operation. It acknowledges the fundamental anchor of knowledge in appearances, just as riches from the 1849 California Gold Rush grew from the simple visual principle: "look for the pebbles that glitter." Definitions can invoke essences or appearances, and appearances are entirely suitable provided the appearances are unique to the thing defined.
In the UFO definition, I require a combination of the appearance of energy emitted and an appearance of form or movement. Energy is inferred either from the radiance of the form or its hyperdynamic motion (which require assumptions about mass to be dynamically interpreted); the visible form either affirms that the observable lacks lift or control surfaces (is anaerodynamic) or is a volume object that emits EM radiation from its surface. The emittance appears in one of three forms: (1) as a clearly defined, "bright" or "white" optical extent ("self luminous form"), (2) as an opaque, reflecting metallic or "bright/dark" anaerodynamic form, or (3) as a light absorbing or dark form. As explained above, these various visual or photographic impressions do not depend on the absolute luminance of the form but on the relative contrast between the emitting form and the luminance of its surround or background.
"Strange" emittance may seem imprecise, but it encompasses anything that absent motion would convince us we were not looking at the planet Venus, which includes (1) beams, (2) extreme brightness, (3) fluctuations in brightness as flashing, rotating or pulsating; (4) saturated or changing chromaticity, and (5) unusual features of the infrared profile, which varies from very hot to very cold. The contour and interior of many UFO are described as "shimmering," and in many observables the "cotton ball" lack of clarity of the visual form is a positive diagnostic feature (see Figure 18).
These four attributes self luminous form, anaerodynamic form, controlled hyperdynamic movement and "strange" emittance allow UFO to be identified as six different pairwise combinations of two attributes, and these vary in diagnostic force. The category of a self luminous, anaerodynamic form includes the Chinese lantern, a perennial UAP stimulus (Figure 27) and is the weakest evidence for a UFO and the strongest evidence for Venus. Controlled hyperdynamic movement in combination with any of the other three attributes is the strongest evidence. An identification based on anaerodynamic form (an optical recording of an apparent "object" in visual or infrared (2022 ISLAMABAD) is stronger evidence than the basically photometric evidence of a self luminous form such as GIMBAL, because "bright" objects hide the UFO shape and structure. And because the number of light sources in the sky is quite large (planets, planes, flares, etc.), sightings of self luminous forms, typically at night, require the "strange" EM emittance or a controlled hyperdynamic flight path to confirm a UFO event.
A definition based on appearances does not require material calculations of g force and thrust, because these rely on uncertainties about mass and the mechanisms of propulsion. The criterion of "intelligence" is omitted, but the definition makes clear that this attribution can only be supported by the energy displayed as movement, as the signaling function of several discrete lights, or as the grouping of lights into flights or swarms. It is not demonstrated by the anaerodynamic form alone but in some combination of form and hyperagility or form and "strange" EM emittance. It does not require that UFO have mass, nor carry a homunculus pilot. It treats UFO more as a kind of image than a material object, even when UFO appear to be and are described by the witnesses as a "metallic object."
Definition of UAP. In very many cases, the evidence itself is ambiguous, or lacks sufficient context for the event report witness testimony of authenticity and sighting circumstances, information about location and date, public records of commercial air flights or ship movements may be lacking. In those and similar cases we lack sufficient information to come to a conclusion, and that state of affairs defines a UAP:
A UAP is an aerial or transmedium sighting or sensor report that cannot be confidently explained due to an insufficiency in the primary evidence or the validating contextual evidence.
The three categories of events combine to make a logical labeling scheme, something currently lacking in UFO research. We adopt both the military version of the Haines definition of UAP ("unidentified," unrecognized) and the BLUE BOOK definition of a UFO (a generalization of "flying saucer") while dismissing the third usage, "UAP means UFO," along with all the acronyms that supposedly mean UFO, as duplicitous. The result is illustrated in Figure 26 below.
In this scheme we clearly distinguish between those things we can explain as either a UFO or an IAP (identified aerial phenomena), and the things we lack evidence to decide, the UAP. The category of UAP will eventually produce assignment to the many categories of conventional causes or to the taxon of UFO, but there will always remain a number of cases that cannot be decided either way due to an insufficiency in the evidence. These remain UAP indefinitely.
The positive definition of UFO clarifies the specific ways that circumstances might cause witnesses to misperceive aerial phenomena. Reports might describe an anaerodynamic form that lacks hyperagility (a trash bag in the wind), or lights that do not display hyperagility or EM modulation (aircraft lights or drones), or hyperagility lacking envelopment (engine noise, sonic boom or thermal plume). This categorization can clarify the UFO characteristics that most reliably distinguish them from other aerial objects and phenomena.
Figure 27 provides some examples of common UAP and the application of the UFO definition to exclude them from further consideration:
(a) Lens flare repeatedly discovered in Google Maps "street view" images. When seen against the sky this flare is unexpected and convincing to some alienists, but it wasn't until this photo showed the flare against the ground that interest was put to rest; most of these photos have been replaced by newer "street view" photographs. Optical artifacts turn up frequently in UFO photography, which either signifies a witness population unfamiliar with optics or a hoaxer population happy to exploit a convenient method to generate evidence. The photos themselves show no evidence of hyperdynamic movement or strange emittance.
These better defined attributes should also support the definition of UFO subcategories or subtaxons resembling families, phyla or species. We find that new forms such as "acorn" or "cube in a sphere" or the Kumburgaz "circular segment" continually turn up. I have suggested there is good evidence that the morphological variations in UFO are large and also probably include a large component of perceptual error, and we are currently nowhere near an understanding of this diversity. The principles of selection, whether as evolution or technological development, strongly imply that shape variation should have functional or behavioral implications, yet it is still unclear whether a triangular UFO is different from a disk UFO in any task or function. We also lack documentation of UFO emittance and absorptance profiles across the electromagnetic spectrum but in particular in the infrared, which may be necessary to connect the day and night appearance. According to NARCAP, electromagnetic disruption of commercial airline instrumentation and communications already seem important to distinguish the "fireball" type.
The wildlife approach requires a definition of what we want to observe. Neither the Haines UAP, the various acronyms spun out of it nor the ODNI corruption of the term will serve. If, after seven decades of observations and reports from highly trained and experienced observers, scientists interested in this issue still cannot positively define what it is that they are talking about then what are they talking about? I believe the main features of UFO have remained constant enough over the past seven decades to support a positive definition that identifies most UFO exclusively.
UFO impinge on the human ecosystem as a potential symbiont
Species that coexist in the same ecosystem (or the same physical space) form a community. All the life forms on Earth form a single terrestrial community, with regional variations we call ecologies.
If we approach UFO as a life form and a member of the community of life on Earth, UFO behavior can be interpreted as an adaptation to the terrestrial ecosystem that includes humans and human activity, and humans will reciprocate with an adaptation to the presence of UFO. Each species defines a role in this mutual adaptation, and the pairing of roles between the species creates a symbiotic relationship in which each species is a symbiont in relation to the other.
In a biological analysis there are nine possible categories of symbiotic role relationships (Figure 28). The role of the instigating or more controlling species is listed first as the rows of the table, and the consequent role of the less controlling species as the columns. As either species can instigate in different ways, two tables are necessary to chart this reciprocity. This is a very general way to think about species relationships; the tables can describe species behavior in the aggregate, for example as "what the human species does as normal behavior" or as specific acts, such as "humans attempt to exploit or capture UFO." The charts help to organize thinking and lead us to examine situations that we may not have considered.
The symbiotic relationships widely observed in our terrestrial, carbon chemistry organisms are:
mutualism (winner/winner, green) where both species benefit from the interaction, for example the way zebras accompany herds of wildebeest, acting as better eyes to warn the herd and exploiting the massed animals as a predator shield
There are also the null situations of range overlap (unaffected/unaffected), for example between insectivorous and granivorous birds, or coral and fish, that live in mutual indifference within the same habitat, and mutual harm (loser/loser) where for example a plague microbe drives its host extinct and perishes as a result.
To explore the possibility of a symbiosis we first summarize the pattern of human/UFO interactions as it appears in the public record (Figure 28, left). It does not appear in the public record that any human initiated contact is a benefit to UFO, so the "winning" column of the table is empty. At points where humans initiate contact, especially when approached by military aircraft, UFO rather consistently seem to successfully evade (retreat, flee or "vanish") and may initiate radar jamming or "beam cloaking" (glare) directed at optical equipment. This might imply that in a potential human/UFO relationship, the UFO perceive human approach as either predatory or annoying, which means that UFO interpret humans as a life form analogous to a wolf or a wasp. However UFO do not, as humans often do against wolves or wasps, deploy harming or fatal countermeasures, although the jamming radar or the "levitating" aircraft anecdote described to John Greenewald by former CIA director James Woolsey suggest mild analogs of antibiosis where human seems to come off the loser without much harm to the UFO (loser/unaffected). There does appear to be an opportunity for human initiated behavior to benefit from UFO either through observational scientific study without affecting the UFO, or through the more aggressive capture or exploit stratagems necessary for weapons development programs that may impede, damage or destroy UFO. In the wildlife approach, this implies that the government judges UFO not to be the artifacts of a superior civilization, since the government seems to plan on capturing one of them.
Next we summarize the reciprocal pattern of UFO/human interaction (Figure 28, right). Despite the religious or enthusiast claims that UFO are here to help humanity solve its problems, or rise to a higher spiritual plane, or transport survivor humans from a ravaged Earth to a new home planet, or harvest human genetic material to benefit a future human race, there is no public evidence that UFO initiated contact directly benefits humans in any way, so the "winner" column is empty in this table as well. This excludes mutualism or mutual benefit from consideration. At the same time, both sides of the symbiosis seem autonomous and competent enough to avoid initiating actions that result in harm or loss to the initiating agent, so the "loser" row is empty in both tables except in the limited case where the military goes out of its way to make trouble.
There are many reports of UFO seeking and following commercial airplanes, creating an air hazard by indifferently lingering in commercial or restricted military airspace, rudely "buzzing" aircraft or causing an air collision hazard, and swarming battle fleets in a manner suggestive of curiosity or vigilance. During the very infrequent incidents of "close encounter," UFO sometimes cause NIEMR like physical harm and witness paralysis or cognitive impairment, and can disrupt electronic or electrical systems that pose a potential defense hazard. The abduction phenomenon is outside my limited area of interest, which is the factual nature of UFO as observable phenomena; but assuming that abduction events have an existential reality then human plausibly loses as a host to a form of parasite. The only opportunities for mutual toleration are either mutual avoidance, which in practice appears to be a responsibility that falls largely on UFO; or that UFO are here to exploit some natural resource, such as using our bountiful oceans as a place to spawn. Otherwise all UFO initiated interactions have the potential to cause harm.
Comparing the two tables indicates first an asymmetric bias in the potential symbiotic relationship that implies one species will have superior behavioral capabilities in relation to the other. The asymmetry extends to the specific way in which each side can "win." Humans seem to foresee more possibility that they can be "winners" in relation to UFO primarily through scientific research that leads to new insights, or weapons/countermeasures development that can mimic UFO capabilities for military purposes. In contrast, the analysis suggests that UFO can profit from interaction with human through abduction, hybridization or some form of covert control of human activities. Admittedly, both these human and UFO scenarios are highly conjectural, and we lack the information necessary to choose among them because, at present, we have no control over UFO behavior.
Otherwise it is apparent from the comparison of capabilities that human/UFO interactions will tend to have undesirable or "loser" results for humans, either through the wasted effort of chasing UFO, the negative consequences of possible UFO countermeasures, or the health and electronic systems effects resulting from air hazards or close contact. And UFO presence could affect human indirectly, for example if UFO plumes change the Earth's atmosphere or their undersea existence alters the ecology of the oceans. UFO could also affect human health or psychology in a physiological way, for example through the collateral injuries from microwave radiation; or psychologically through a stress reaction to the event or the UFO stigma that typically follows the report. Or UFO could affect human only rarely, randomly and accidentally, for example by causing near air collisions or crashes.
We find, in rudimentary biological analysis, that both sides in the human/UFO symbiosis most likely perceive and respond to the other as an annoyance, a threat, or some form of prey. We would expect to find, separate from encounters produced randomly by the overlap of relative population numbers and local densities, that there should be a gradient toward reduced interactions. The large increase in reports over the past two decades seems evidence against that, unless we attribute the uptick to the proliferation of better cellphone videos into a larger number of citizen hands with the internet access for easy reporting. And perhaps, in the social dynamic of the wave, a larger number of eyes willing to look up and wonder.
Population numbers and inhabited or seasonal range are basic wildlife attributes
The wildlife approach considers information about a species habitat and range as key information about behavior and adaptation. Wildlife guides routinely show a range map that identifies the geographic area inhabited by a species, with the seasonal variation in range or appearance (pelt in animals, flowers in plants) where these are significant. This information is completely lacking in UFO documentation.
A simple population estimate is perhaps the more important missing piece, but producing a useful estimate is extraordinarily fraught. As decribed under UFO wave, observers and surveillance cameras are concentrated in urban areas and populous countries, and we have very sparse human distribution over the oceans. When sightings are reported per capita (controlled for population density), there appears a contrasting rural effect probably due to long agricultural work hours, dark skies and very small population denominators, which makes the per capita ratio prone to factitious extreme values.
Figure 29 shows a simplified version of the sampling issues involved to estimate the UFO population based on confirmed (validated) UFO reports. The proportions indicated in the figure are illustrative only because we lack reliable quantitative information at almost every step:
event population The population we are interested to measure is limited to UFO that enter the Earth's atmosphere. It may be true that UFO also travel under water or in space, but our ability to detect UFO in those environments appears to be limited.
At this point there is a discontinuity in the vertical scale of the chart. We can confidently assume that the number of UFO within the detection intersection is smaller than the total number of UFO incursions (because some incursions occur outside of geographic locations where they can be detected); we know factually that the number of confirmed reports is smaller than the number of reports, and we have good evidence that the number of reports is smaller than the number of sightings. But we have no evidence, and no plausible conjecture, to indicate the number of incursion events that result in sightings, nor the proportion of UFO sightings to the number of IAP sightings. So the two sides of the chart represent different numerical proportions, as indicated by the double slashes through the connecting lines.
sighted This represents the total number of sightings. For visual the proportion is shown as one third of the visual detection intersection, which is the time that humans are not sleeping or indoors at school or work. This is surely a gross overestimate as it implausibly assumes that every UFO that enters the visual detection intersection will be sighted (every day has perfect weather conditions, people spend their entire time not working or sleeping scanning the sky, etc. (see Figure 31). The reduction in sensor detections is unknown but is probably extremely large, as sensors are generally oriented to other tasks than UFO detection; many radar systems include software that "scrubs" anomalous returns as spurious, terrestrial mapping images may be scrubbed to eliminate random "clutter" such as clouds, and weather satellites probably have resolution too coarse to identify small forms.
The schematic argument illustrates the daunting uncertainties that complicate statistical estimates of the UFO event population. But it illustrates the almost certain inference that both reports and confirmed reports are a miniscule fraction of the total event population and are strongly skewed toward visual as opposed to sensor detections. "Sightings" still depend primarily on human sight at habitable sites and factually, by a roughly 2 to 1 proportion, are not in daylight but at night.
Similar problems confront the identification of UFO "habitat" or preferred routes of transit. The only transit analysis known to me, from the 1948 Preliminary Project SIGN report, indicates about an equal number of north/south paths, almost no east/west paths, and the largest number of paths headed northwest, but this is uninterpretable because it is averaged over about 200 sighting locations. And while there are anecdotal reports of intermittent concentrations of UFO events around geographical "hot spots," or undisclosed methods to "attract" UFO through specific kinds of EM emittance, these are not confirmed in public disclosures.
The most useful source of evidence at this point is the defense radar and satellite sensor information, especially in circumstances where terrestrial radar and satellite sensors observe the same column of space. Satellite data is explicitly mentioned by director Ratcliffe and explicitly called out in the 2020-21 and 2021-2022 NDAAs, but omitted from any mention in the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" or subsequent DoD disclosures. This surveillance has reputedly shown "objects" traveling to and from Earth, and the questions that possibility raises are how many objects, seen how often, traveling to what parts of Earth from what celestial coordinates of approach? Transits that occur periodically from a fixed geographic direction (such as a geosynchronous orbit), or a consistent astronomical origin (such as the location of the Moon or the direction of a specific star), or toward consistent destinations (such as bodies of water or known UFO "hot spots" such as Iino, JPN), would strongly constrain hypotheses about UFO origins. The exact spatial coverage and orientation of these satellite sensors is known, and this would yield an "exoplanet" census of UFO that can be compared to the "near surface" census based solely on terrestrial observation to produce a contrast portrait of deep space and near Earth transit and hover.
The upshot of these questions, framed in the approach of wildlife biology, is that we understand very little if anything at all about the overall population, geographical clustering or possible patterns of migration or transit among UFO.
UFO operate within a limited sensor space or Umwelt
All organisms have limits to their sensory capabilities. In most situations a human cannot physically detect Xrays or radio waves; the ambient surface radiation in those bandwidths is invisible and unfelt. Inside those limits, the world of things that can be perceived or felt is the Umwelt of the animal. From within, as the phenomenal experience of an organism, the Umwelt can be quite florid. But from the outside to an observer it only appears when the organism reacts to some environmental fact.
I can find no specific assessment of UFO sensor or communication capabilities, but I suggest the 2004 USS NIMITZ encounter and east coast 2015 USS ROOSEVELT encounters (GIMBAL and GO FAST) generate a possible profile in four dimensions:
1. UFO have a challenge threshold between 5 to 10 kilometers. (a) The first "Tic Tac" did not appear to notice or respond to the approach of Cdr. Fravor's aircraft until he descended from 6100 meters to about 5500 meters, whereupon it suddenly turned its long axis to point in the direction of his plane and kept that orientation as it ascended while mirroring the radius of turn in his descent. This maneuver was so distinct it was noticed by Dietrich and Slaight as well. (b) When the second radar return was approached by Lt. Underwood's plane, it began an evasive maneuver and then abruptly disappeared while the intercepting fighter was (according to Underwood's estimate) about five miles [8 km] away. (c) On the east coast, the GIMBAL observable stopped and reversed direction when the approaching plane was about 8 miles [13 km] away. (d) At least one flyby can been made close enough to capture images with cockpit cellphones (Figure 18).
This narrative implies a sensor profile of the UAP active at that time: some kind of alerting communication from the intercepted "Tic Tac" to the others at distance, an apparent lack of coordinating communication among those widely dispersed observables, the capability to identify a specific location in space by means of covert observation, and the ability to detect approaching aircraft at a distance less than, yet remain unaware of an approach that is greater than, a distance of perhaps 5 to 10 kilometers [3 to 6 miles]. The 2020 REYNOSA video suggests that the observable detected the airliner from a much higher altitude and descended "like a meteor" expressly to shadow it, which also suggests the airliner was detected from a large distance. Navy pilots also report that their attempts to intercept and visually evaluate a UAP radar return result in the observable descending on their approach. The approach distance at which these maneuvers happen is not stated but one of the first encounters was a near air collision between a dark gray "cube in sphere" between 5 to 9 meters [≤ 30 feet] in diameter that "split the section" or 30 meter [100 foot] separation between a pair of F/A-18 Hornets entering their CAP station (shown to relative scale in the figure, above); this is apparently the origin of the Elizondo anecdote that "we've seen these things from a distance of 50 feet." These conflicting features long range signaling, near range threshold for alert, lack of apparent coordination, implied military operational surveillance, indifference to near air passes but evasion of intercept approach present an intriguing picture of the UFO sensory space.
UFO display basic forms of social behavior
UFO social behavior is evident in a very limited range of mutual behavioral control: as pair interactions (parallel flight, mutual hover), as flight or swarm formations, and in spawn behavior of merging or separating. These all imply if not require some kind of mutual recognition as entities in spacetime, as conspecifics in a conspecific state (friendly or not, "part of this echelon formation," etc.) These seem to require an exchange of information specific ways to recognize and communicate with your own species.
Social species evolve specific forms of intraspecies communication, but the medium and manner in which UFO mutually communicate is unknown. The 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap. 1, p. 11) comments that:
The lack of evidence of signalling in the form of electronics communications signals is also an enigma if extra-terrestrial entities are involved. Despite considerable attempts in serious scientific monitoring programmes over many years, no evidence has been found which can correlate with vehicular activity on Earth. Either there is none or the 'entities' are communicating using a medium which we do not have or even understand, which seems unlikely, based on all the evidence and the emerging evidence reported in this study.
But the evidence of communication is possibly in plain sight as EM modulation outside radio frequencies, including the blinking or flashing light associated with some observables, which can be rapid, complex, synchronized and chromatically variable (e.g., 2019 USS OMAHA (2), 2020 REYNOSA, 2021 GLENDALE and 2021 CARSON CITY). Visual signaling is very common in the animal domain, especially in predator/prey interactions and courtship or dominance displays between conspecifics. Communication can also occur through microvariations in mutual trajectory and spacing, for example when a pet dog solicits play by bounding back and forth in view of a nearby companion.
One aspect of social behavior is the emergence of a hierarchy of control, and this has been observed in UFO as a group or flight of observables accompanied or shepherded by a single "larger" or brighter observable. Among the events cited here, this was observed in the 1950 FARMINGTON NM armada, the 1951 LUBBOCK TX lights, in GIMBAL (with the echelon of five "cube in sphere" observables off screen), and in 2019 USS OMAHA (2). The fact that the hierarchy seems to correspond with a morphological difference the escort is usually reported as a "larger," brighter, redder light is highly significant for its analogy to guiding sheep or fledglings. Some form of communication among the observables seems required to produce these arrangements, and communication is the fundamental element of social behavior.
However shared or common behavior is a low level of cooperation compared to forms of mutualism where the behavior produces a species and often an individual benefit. UFO do not seem to groom one another, stand guard or assist in defense, transfer cargo or energy reserves, or in any other way show behavior that implies a species unity of adaptive purpose or a cultural unity of strategic objectives.
Finally, as with consumer handheld remote controllers, the channel utilized may be in the infrared, which would perhaps explain the real function of the "beam glare" reported in some UFO infrared imagery or the "beam interrogations" directed at fighter and commercial aircraft. And, obviously, the wildlife approach does not require the ETH to explain any communicative behavior that may be discovered.
Although UFO appear responsive to and emitting across a broad spectrum of EM frequencies, we apparently only have a poor understanding of the UFO attribute of EM modulation. This is in large part due to the distance at which UFO are observed but also to the channels of radio, radar, infrared and visual that are being recorded and the time intervals of the sampling. It seems potentially important to pursue full spectrum EM measurement across extended and continuous time spans in order to locate channels and codes of communication in use or to exclude EM definitively as the medium being used.
UFO do not appear to collaborate for constructive purpose
It is difficult to interpret a mutual interaction without the context in which it appears. But I do not believe there are any reports of constructive or goal directed behavior among UFO. These could be behaviorally simple, such as several UFO defending a UFO pursued by an intercepting fighter by mobbing the pursuer, in the way that some bird species will defend other birds pursued by a hawk; or UFO moving objects or prohibiting access to certain aerial zones through a show of menace; or in any way manipulating the environment to create a lasting structure or to extract a natural resource. Nearly all events consist of UFO either hanging around, or flying by in formation, or hanging around and then accelerating vertically at incredible speeds, or shining brilliantly and then accelerating away, or fleeing from pursuit by military planes, or pacing commercial aircraft. Across all events the speed and direction of travel seem largely random.
As General Samford (quoted above) put it, there is "no pattern of purpose or of consistency" that we can associate with any form of constructive or collaborative purpose. UFO do not seem to be doing anything. They just hang out, alone or in groups; and buzz from here to there, in groups or alone.
That interpretation is limited by the significant discontinuities in the evidence. Citizen reports are inherently truncated, because the event isn't noticed until after it has already started. Videos rarely last more than a few minutes, and unfortunately seem to fatigue the photographer or exhaust the battery before the signature "vanishing." Reports indicate that overflights sometimes happen within a minute or two, barely time to unpocket and turn on a smartphone camera. Lights appear at distances too great to permit visual identification. Events witnessed by civilians may differ significantly from events involving military operations, installations, and surveillance sensors. Reports from pilots and citizens go to different agencies. Radar anomalies are ignored or expunged by error filtering software, and when a UFO leaves the span of any single radar the report is not referred to other radar stations to continue tracking. Jets intercepting UFO find they retreat out of visual or sensor range.
UFO events sometimes involve a consistent, transiting geometrical figure such as a triangle (2013 HAZLET, 2015 BEIRUT, 1950 HECLA), echelon (Figure 11), arc (Figure 24) or circumference. Except for 1561 NUREMBURG, there are no reports of different groups of UFO doing battle or competing. We normally do not observe where UFO formations assemble or disperse before travel, for example as in the appearance in 2021 KROMĚŘÍE. In many reports, starting with 1952 WASHINGTON D.C., UFO were seen to "suddenly appear" on radar, as if descending from an altitude beyond the radar range, but once arrived they seem to keep the arrangement in which they first appeared or to move about randomly or erratically. But most UFO events involve solitary observables which appear to be loitering or searching for something (in 2021 BUFFALO), or energetically churning a random patch of ocean surface (2004 USS NIMITZ).
To the extent that UFO create a range overlap with human habitation without otherwise affecting human activity, it would appear they are here for some other reason than the blessings of our conversation, for example to exploit or utilize some natural resource on Earth. If this is so then the major resource of interest appears to be water generally and the oceans primarily, either as a habitable medium or as a material resource for some unknown purpose, process, or benefit (for example, as cloaking).
UFO do not display a high level of intelligence
The issue of whether we can attribute intelligence to UFO phenomena, either intrinsically or contingently, is decided by the coincidence of three distinct UFO behavioral attributes:
1. Reactive or environmentally controlled behavior: principally, evasion of pursuit.
However, judged against the standards we apply to wildlife, the overall range of UFO behavior is not tactically subtle, strategically consistent or very alert. We've seen that military observers and weapons trained thinkers describe UFO behavior as an "ineffectual penetration" that shows "no pattern of purpose or of consistency."
Here we have to assess the human ability to objectively perceive agency, intent or intelligence. Many phenomena we now can explain purely in terms of natural laws and processes were attributed at earlier stages of human history to supernatural forces or spiritual beings with magical powers. There is no peculiarity in this, it's just the storytelling temperament of a social animal attempting to explain the inexplicable.
In the deservedly famous "experimental study of apparent behavior" by gestalt psychologists Fritz Heider & Marianne Simmel, subjects were asked to watch a contrived geometrical animation and then describe or explain to another person what happened in the film. The typical social narratives that come back recount the film in terms of characters, action and motive (and, amusingly, even with attributions of gender) where there are only erratically moving geometrical figures. The larger triangle, for example, was described by the study participants as "aggressive, warlike, belligerent, pugnacious, quarrelsome, troublesome, mean, angry, bad-tempered, temperamental, irritable, quick to take offense, bully, villain, taking advantage of his size, picking on smaller people, dominating, power-loving, possessive."
This study illustrates that humans naturally perceive animated or episodic phenomena, regardless of its physical nature, as having a character and purpose motivating the action. This translation of motion into disposition becomes explicit even in a few words, for example in Lt. Graves's description of the "rotation or uncertainty" of UFO. And the Heider-Simmel experiment, a study frequently replicated, is also replicated in the belief of some AI engineers that chat bot computers have become sentient.
The Heider-Simmel experiment demonstrates that we perceive animate characteristics in properties of motion that are not periodic, invariant or kinetic but to properties that are erratic, reactive and unpredictable. UFO display this kind of motion, both when erratically "looking for something" and when provoked to reactive evasion by military pursuit. In terms of our perception of them, these motion attributes qualify as characteristic of life. Not as a life form in the normal sense, but as something animated by an autonomous energy autonomously managed, apparently aware of and responding to the same physical world that we inhabit. And from that root, the branches of alien storytelling grow.
The testimony that UFO operate with intelligence is in fact very narrowly premised. NICAP records four types of behavior that are taken to be signs of "intelligent control": (1) environmental inquisitiveness or "looking for something," (2) reaction to the environment (evasion of pursuit, reaction to being illuminated with a laser beam), (3) powered flight, and (4) coordinated formations in flight. And, in an ironic parallel with the Heider-Simmel stimulus film, the forms of UFO are typically described as round or triangular in shape. This strong resemblance between erratically moving geometrically shaped UFO and the Heider-Simmel film of erratically moving geometric figures must direct our critical scrutiny at the tendency of human observers to overestimate or misattribute "intelligence."
Reactions to the environment consist in particular of evading military aircraft in aggressive pursuit or pilots that attempt, as Cdr. Fravor did, to "come close aboard" for a visual examination. After his famous and fruitless pursuit of a soccer ball sized foo fighter, Lt. Gorman concluded:
"There was thought behind every move the light made. It wasn't any radar-responder gadget making it veer away from my ship. ... It reacted differently at different times. If it had been a mechanical control, it would have turned or climbed the same way each time I got near it. Instead, it was as if some intelligent mind was directing every turn like a game of chess, and always one move ahead of me."
A very different view appears in the many cases where UFO are observed through civilian eyes and the UFO actually initiate approach or operate unmolested. In instances of airliner contact, UFO sometimes behave in ways that resemble courtship displays, such as the 1956 Charlotte MS n.d. retrospective report where a solitary UFO dropped to a position directly in front of a commercial jet airliner and paced it at that distance while performing a variety of gratuitous maneuvers such as zig zag right angle turns, 360 degree loops, and a final signature departure in extreme vertical acceleration. In 2020 REYNOSA the observable seems to be pulsing alongside the aircraft as if seeking acknowledgment or a pairing of some kind. Other witnesses report childlike or inexplicably playful behavior. The 2010 NEW YORK and 1952 TREMONTON events have the elegance of a juvenile dance performance. Dulles Airport senior air traffic controller Harry Barnes offered the newspapers a description of the 1952 WASHINGTON event:
"The only recognizable behavior pattern which occurred to me from watching the objects was that they acted like a bunch of small kids out playing. It was helter skelter, as if directed by some innate curiosity. At times they moved as a group or cluster, at other times as individuals over widely scattered areas. ... If no planes where in the air, the things would fly all over the most likely points of interest. ... One or two circled our radio beacons. But as soon as an airliner took off, several would dart across and start to follow, as if to look it over."
The 2004 USS NIMITZ encounter is another case where multiple UFO behaved in an agitated or disorderly manner. This implies the social coordination among UFO is actually weak and easily disrupted, and it puts an interesting light on the fact that echelon flights, such as 1952 LUBBOCK or GIMBAL, are typically accompanied by a visually more significant "guide" or "monitor" observable, and the fact that many brightly colored observables are also geometrically associated with a circular or linear arrangement. The Nimitz episode also suggests that UFO may have a relatively small radius of threshold for alerting perception, especially when the UFO is preoccupied with some form of task. Near air collisions also suggest that UFO do not avoid aircraft that are not in pursuit and seem completely unaware of the consequences of a startling approach.
Indeed, UFO not infrequently appear rather moronic or a bit confused skittering about on what appear to be empty errands, following no discernable routes or schedule; wandering the sky "as if looking for something" (2021 CALIPATRIA, 2021 SPRINGFIELD); loitering like a stray cat in an urban garden (1982 LAZOU) or in the middle of a road (1957 LEVALLAND); churning up a cruciform spume hundreds of kilometers from land (2004 USS NIMITZ); ineptly intruding into restricted air space (2013 AGUADILLA); pacing a ship rather like a porpoise or a seagull (2019 USS OMAHA) or shadowing an airplane like imprinted geese (2020 REYNOSA). We do not observe a manipulative or predatory intelligence that operates through stratagems, snares and coordinated attack or defense through packs or mobbing.
Even complex and prolonged interactions with UFO do not uncover evidence of cleverness. The Morocco 1953 Nouasseur AFB MO 23 March event described by Hynek (pp. 76-80) and in part summarized in Figure 30 involved two UFO making multiple near collision passes at an aerial tanker aircraft and concluded with one of the observables spiraling downward and slowing to an eventual landing within the restricted airport perimeter, where it "vanished" before a ground security detail could reach it. What definition of "intelligent" applies in this case? It seems to me more like the death spiral of a UFO that is about to "disintegrate."
The UFO attribute of control requires that a sensor equipped system of robotic maneuvering or a conscious life form or "pilot" is involved, either proximally or remotely. From appearances, UFO can respond quickly to near collisions, aircraft challenges, possibly even weaponry such as air to air missiles or gunfire; they also closely avoid orographic obstacles at very high speeds, for example in the Kenneth Arnold account of nine UFO "snaking between the mountain tops," at a velocity he calculated as around 800 m/s. These feats of fast, close maneuvering or evasion make remote control implausible, given the latency that distance would impose on sensor interpretation, trajectory calculations and control instructions.
Again, we need to take what we learn from the Heider-Simmel demonstration as a caution not to overinterpret the undeniable evidence that UFO are possessed of awareness and control. The wildlife approach suggests that we interpret the observed awareness and control as an intrinsic attribute of the UFO itself rather than to some passenger or remotely controlling "pilot," and that science should focus on the behavioral level of intelligence necessary to account for the range of UFO environmental interactions we actually observe, and not the technological level of intelligence we conjecture, almost always without any evidence, must be necessary to "build the vehicle."
The history of biological science suggests a mix of citizen and surveillance research tools will be necessary
Early research in biology was haphazard. Specimens were collected as part of exploratory voyages or survey expeditions. The most novel and valuable were collected by the wealthy and stored in a cabinet of curiosities that evolved by aggregation into natural history, archaeological and medical museums such as the Hunterian Museum in London, UK. Throughout the 20th century up to today important fossils have been unearthed in road grades or eroded geologic strata, and new species turn up in fishing nets. Even today, much of what we know about the number and distribution of species on this planet rests on a foundation of lucky discoveries and robotic sensors.
In the same way, most of what we know about UFO comes from random, lucky sightings by one or more witnesses. The most useful observations do not involve any obvious molestation by or interaction with human activity. This suggests the greatest observational results can come from passive and remote sensors, and once again implies a special significance to measures with geospatial intelligence, especially surveillance in infrared, a band that appears difficult for UFO to mask.
The 2006 UK MoD UAP report bemoans that "Unfortunately, to this day, there remains a persistent lack of scenarios where solid scientific measurement can be made either at or directly after an event." However I suggest that the situation may have changed since this report due to significantly improved radar systems, the anecdotally claimed capability to "lure" or attract UFO through some form of electromagnetic stimulus, and the increasing ODNI/DoD focus on the UAP issue that very likely will lead to the development of special purpose surveillance and measurement capabilities.
The very low sampling rate of confirmed UFO reports compared to the rate of UFO/dectection intersection implies that fixed array surveillance systems would have a very low probability of a useful video capture. But those rates depend heavily on the capture rate of random visual detection. In fact, most humans at most times are either sleeping, indoors (at work, school or shopping) or outdoors staring at a digital display or the pavement under their feet (Figure 31).
All sky surveillance systems with unobstructed views of the sky would have the fabled 24/7 attention span for everything that passes within a many kilometer radius hemispherical space, and software can be used to review the recorded data for kinetic signatures or spectral profiles of interest. Mounted in areas of observed high UAP activity, they would have a potentially much higher capture rate than distractible, shoegazing human observers. This imitates the wildlife biology approach of establishing motion triggered video cameras along wildlife trails and sites of congregation like waterholes.
The hovering UFO frequently detected in the latest generation ship and aircraft radars obviously suggests the use of probe drones, commercial or military drones modified to increase operating range and flight time that serve as close approach sensor platforms. These would be carried by jet aircraft to a relatively near distance from hovering or slow moving UFO and released to continue a less threatening approach to distances where prolonged EM and high resolution optical study may be possible. These would probably need to be relatively small, possibly no larger than one meter, and designed to maximize flight time and signal management in order to reduce the possibility that the UFO would react to their presence. Trial and error would be necessary to determine the minimum distances of approach that would not disturb the hover of the target, but once the operational protocol was worked out these probes could potentially gather very large amounts of high quality data in a relatively short time period of perhaps a few years.
Efforts are already under way to encourage greater citizen participation. Sky Hub was a Patreon funded volunteer network intended to produce such UAP evidence, as appears to be the case in this event. (Stellarium shows that this configuration of Moon and planet does not fit the ascribed location and date of 2020 Houston TX 27 May.) Sky Hub disbanded in August 2021 and has been superseded by Sky360, a European effort chartered in Austria. UFO-DAP manufactures data collection cameras developed by Ron Olch that have captured some interesting video data, including a UFODAP camera tracking an aircraft but glimpsing a form that makes two quick 90° turns. The Olch equipment is among the tools being used or considered for use by UAP Expeditions Organization (UAPx), cofounded by "Tic Tac" veterans Kevin Day and Gary Voorhis and with a mission I strongly endorse to educate and enroll citizen witnesses. Instructional materials on building simple equipment and analyzing the data are already available for example as this 2019 citizen UFO guide to spectroscopy with a smartphone camera and constructing a fisheye surveillance camera by physicist Jean-Pierre Petit. It may not be vain to imagine the growth of citizen UFO observation to surpass the growth of amateur astronomy and amateur telescope making in the 1950s.
Substantial progress with citizen reports is possible with the support of governing institutions. At present, reports from commercial and private aircraft crews are not encouraged and preserved by non military agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which seems like a basic oversight responsibility now that UFO are a recognized issue in the Department of Defense. Separate from that, a pilot outreach program from NARCAP that encourages crewmembers to bring their personal video recording equipment with them on all flights could increase the number of high quality, sustained video records such as 2020 REYNOSA or the foo fighter recorded by a Pakistan International Airline flight crew. This mimics the routine practice of wildlife amateur observers and field biologists of carrying photographic equipment that can be used to document the sighting of specific species.
As with any wildlife research, the research task is appropriately a civilian rather than military activity
Finally, the wildlife approach strongly implies that scientists, not the military should lead the study of UFO; and that UFO should not be approached a priori as "artificial" (technological) artifacts.
Before making this justification, it is important to emphasize again that there is nothing in military dogma or technical praxis that is unfamiliar to wildlife biology, "red in tooth and claw." Predators and prey, armies and slaves, camouflage and hiding in ambush, traps and chemical warfare, armor and offensive weapons, attack by air, land or water, even the neural or behavioral "hacking" performed by zombie parasites biology has seen it all. In no real sense does the biological perspective or method disparage or diminish the concerns of the defense/intelligence establishment. The issue, again, is the outlook and methods of inquiry.
I infer that "exploit" UFO in the 2021-2022 National Defense Authorization Act means that UFO might be manipulated into proxy weapons, the way porpoises might be trained to carry nuclear weapons into enemy harbors. The concept of "capture" (in the general sense of acquisition of capability) may include, in the 2006 UK MoD UAP report analysis of Russian research objectives, the development of "very high power energy generation, RF [radio frequency] Weapons, Impulse Radars, air vehicle drag and radar signature reduction or control, and possibly for radar reflecting decoys" (Executive Summary, p. 10). The "Science Plan" described in the 2021-2022 NDAA (quoted above) implies a much wider range of research interests, all of them with clear significance for weapons/countermeasures development.
Certainly the advanced radars, geospatial platforms, continual vigilance and global distribution of military assets indicates that the national militaries of most nations are well positioned to make important observations and collect highly insightful data about UFO. But the fundamental premise, in the perspective of wildlife science, is that we are asking commercial whalers and big game hunters to provide scientists with their wildlife data. There is certainly much useful information that can be gathered from these sources, but there are three obstacles to a scientific endorsement of that approach:
1. As part of a weapons development program, all the data would be considered secret and shielded from any form of FOIA disclosure or unclassified "detailed analysis"
Without necessarily approving the research goals or proposed methodology of the Galileo Project, I generally endorse its conception of scientific inquiry (in the peculiar Harvard University tradition of spelling imprecision):
1. The Galileo Project is only interested in openly available scientific data and a transparent analysis of it. Thus, classified (government-owned) information, which can not [sic] be shared with all scientists, can not be used. Such information would compromise the scope of our scientific research program, which is designed to acquire valid scientific data and provide transparent (open to peer review) analysis of this data. Indeed, the Galileo Project will work only with new data, collected from its own telescope systems, which are under the full and exclusive control of Galileo research team members.
I have repeatedly suggested that, viewed as wildlife, UFO pose no documented "threat" to human activity that requires a military response. There are very limited reports of lives or materiel lost due to UFO, bracketed by the widely reported 1948 Ft. Knox KY 7 January crash of Cpt. Thomas Mantell in pursuit of a UFO "of tremendous size"; the 1953 Kincheloe AFB MI 23 November "Kinross Incident" that resulted in the complete disappearance of a jet piloted by Lt. Felix Moncla and Lt. R.R. Wilson, his radar observer; and a similar disappearance of a plane in flight, the 1978 King Island AUS 21 October or "Bass Strait" incident, narrated on radio to airspace control by the Australian solo pilot Frederich Valentich. (A transcript of the radio communication, but not the actual recording, is in the public domain.) The 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 1 Chap. 3, p. 30) alludes to an uncited Russian report of four pilots and several aircraft lost in pursuit of UFO, which may either refer to the events just listed or testify to the unusually annoying conduct of Russian military pilots. Because there has not been an increase in such hazardous encounters to match the enormous increase in air traffic over the past half century, one might infer that UFO have learned successfully to evade aircraft. At worst, UFO comprise recognizable and potentially serious military hazards, but hazards on par with a seagull choking an aircraft jet engine or a squirrel short circuiting a nuclear missile power grid. As wildlife hazards they are assumed to have no intent or even awareness of harm, certainly none in the public record, and this puts the onus of avoiding harm on the military.
At the same time, the importance of replicated observation necessary to identify behavioral patterns requires the participation of civilian observation. Science can rightly claim to be shortchanged by military nondisclosure, but it is also guilty of largely ignoring citizen testimony and outreach to citizens for observational reports and treating the cumulative video evidence from civilians as a form of technological gossip. High school students especially inclined to science and engineering and familiar with the basics of video recording would form a truly remarkable cadre of diligent citizen witnesses in the manner of Karl Hart Jr.
It's entirely possible that UFO are not a tool but just a different kind of seabird, having nothing to do with us, harmless except when they unintentionally interfere with the continual expansion of human technological activity. Other than that, behaviorally indistinguishable from a rare and random seabird on the wing in our unilateral ownership of the sky.
Outlook, Narrative & Storytelling
To the extent it is supported by public facts, my outline of a wildlife approach to UFO is what I call narrative. Narrative is the act of factual explanation. Narrative connects facts through words, mathematics, diagrams or other forms of explicit communication. The instructions for assembling Ikea furniture are narrative; the play by play broadcast of a sporting event is narrative; the scientific explanation of the Krebs cycle is narrative; Newton's dynamic formulas are narrative in the concision of algebra or geometrical proof. The theories and principles of science are narrative, since they connect facts together as a pattern in nature or a network of causality.
Outlook. I gather all the concepts and inferences we understand as true about all the things that have relevance to us individually as our outlook. This does not connote the biologist's perceptual Umwelt or Timothy' Leary's reality tunnel. Outlook does not depend on any single kind of judgment, for example what we might call perceptual judgments of "appearances" or cognitive "reason" or "critical thinking." Expectation is the bedrock, shaped by what we remember as repeatedly confirmed and useful personal experience and guarded by our reluctance to have personal experience challenged by contradiction, logical argument or abstract evidence. Explanations attach to expectations, and although these are often associated with some kind of causal analysis, explanations fundamentally rest on the probability that some categorical agency or thing fits with appearances; causality is a construction from those attributes and, in particular, causal explanations form the major part of outlook that we derive not from our own experience but from the testimony of others. And outlook is highly dynamic in the sense that depends on our expectations in all the classes of things that we encounter in experience, and on our evaluation of all the exceptions that occur to our expectations, and how we feel about each of them individually and in the context of all the others.
There's good and bad news about outlook. The good news is that others cannot normally affect your outlook except in limited ways and only to a minor degree, except to the extent that they in some way create revealing or teaching experiences for you. The bad news is that you don't have much control over your outlook, either. It represents your individual answer to the mysteries of your life. This was summed up in an aphorism of murky origin but repeated by Anais Nin in her in "Seduction and the Minotaur": "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."
We'd expect, and we do find, a great variety in outlook across individuals. A major feature of the UFO literature is the broad polarization between "UFO believers" who may go so far as to claim UFO are alien spacecraft piloted by superintelligent beings of an approximately primate bipedal bauplan, and "UFO skeptics" who may go so far as to claim that all UFO evidence is either misinterpreted or fabricated by UFO believers or promoted by liar witnesses. There is insufficient public evidence to justify either claim, even in a less extreme or probabilistic version, which only demonstrates that outlook is not primarily shaped by reason or argument but by personal experience, mental and physical attributes, and the personal temperament that has responded to experience in the creation of a life history.
I say all this not only to introduce a useful term and concept but to explain why I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to convert one side to the other. Outlook is durable and tenacious. It's not the purpose of this screed to change minds that are already decided, but to propose that we adopt a less prejudicial, more scientific approach to what a very large body of evidence suggests is both real and unexplained.
Narrative vs. Storytelling. The essential ingredient in all narrative is the arrangement of public facts, which I define as any evidence explicitly described, reliably documented and publicly available. Explicit description is required in order to understand exactly what we are talking about; public view is necessary to establish the truthful things we can say about it.
In contrast, storytelling is not connected to public facts but to fact free assumptions, unsubstantiated claims, hearsay evidence or single witness testimony; and storytelling allows the freedom to talk that can include complete lack of evidence, misinterpretations of evidence, shading of the truth, illogical argument, reasoning by association, resemblance or analogy, begging the question, and other rhetorical gestures. Storytelling is not inherently good or bad; it is valuable as part of fictional entertainment, scientific hypothesis generation, investigative guidance and prophetic vision. But it has the twin flaws that its words are not tethered to facts and the claims that substitute for facts are not necessarily connected by logic, plausibility or causality. A story, judged by the standards of narrative, is unjustified.
This means stories must be justified in other ways, as soothing fictions and entertaining tales, as business scenarios or scientific hypotheses. Here for example is storytelling from Johannes Kepler, the 17th century naturalist who calculated the orbit of Mars, identified the three basic patterns of orbital dynamics, and justified Galileo's telescopic observations to doubters of the era by explaining exactly how telescope optics produce an image. Kepler ruminated about a large crater on the Moon he noticed in Galileo's lunar drawings (below), and on an unsubstantiated assumption began a long fable, quoted in Albert Van Helden's version of the Sidereus Nuncius or the Sidereal Messenger:
I cannot help wondering about the meaning of that large circular cavity in what I usually call the left corner of the mouth [of the "face" in the Moon; possibly the crater Ptolemaeus]. Is it a work of nature, or of a trained hand? Suppose there are living beings on the moon ... It surely stands to reason that the inhabitants express the character of their dwelling place, which has much bigger mountains and valleys than our earth has. Consequently, being endowed with very massive bodies, they also construct gigantic projects. Their day is as long as 15 of our days, and they feel insufferable heat. Perhaps they lack stone for erecting shelters against the sun. On the other hand, maybe they have a soil as sticky as clay. Their usual building plan, accordingly, is as follows. Digging up huge fields, they carry out the earth and heap it in a circle, perhaps for the purpose of drawing out the moisture down below. In this way they may hide in the deep shade behind their excavated mounds and, in keeping with the sun's motion, shift about inside, clinging to the shadow. They have, as it were, a sort of underground city. ... (p.95)
Let's interrupt this story to break out its components:
1. Galileo makes a visual observation of a real object through the imperfect telescopic optics of his era; he attends to a visual appearance.
I've chosen this example because it represents many of the difficulties we encounter in UFO reports. In particular, Kepler misinterprets Galileo's report as an accurate picture of the Moon although in fact Galileo has misrepresented appearances; then to account for this misinterpreted misrepresentation, Kepler makes an assumption that is not based on facts in public evidence that there are inhabitants on the Moon. He has not seen those inhabitants nor any public evidence that they exist, but it is a conjecture that is consistent with the misinterpreted misrepresentation, so he writes about them anyway.
The termination of the story in an ellipsis illustrates another feature of storytelling: once a story is launched it can be elaborated indefinitely, so long as it is not limited by contradictory facts or ossified as legend. Kepler has no evidence for those massive lunar laborers or their underground city, any more than we have evidence of spindly extraterrestrial bodies, a cosmic connection to higher consciousness, an origin in zeta Reticuli or anti-gravity propulsion. Nevertheless his storytelling, like much of UFO storytelling, soldiers forth with the invincibility of not having to connect with publicly available facts. We observe the same zombie irreality in our contemporary stolen election claims, flat earth physics, COVID nostrums and QAnon obscenities.
Changing the Facts. The storytelling freedom from facts very often involves a misinterpretation or misrepresentation of facts that are in plain view. Take, for example, a widely repeated ufologist claim for a historical UFO event. Both filmmaker Jeremy Corbell and the content producers at the History Channel endorse a passage from The Journal of Christopher Columbus (Thursday, 11th of October, 1492) as worthy our attention:
"Christopher Columbus had a number of UFO experiences at sea during his journey to the American continent. Columbus took the incident as a sign that he would soon find land. The sighting was documented on the ship's diary. The incident took place on October 11th 1492, 10pm. At the time of the incident it is said that Santa Maria (the ship) was sailing through what is now known as the Bermuda Triangle. The crew first noticed a disc shaped object emerging from the sea. The description given in the ship's log is that of a wax candle light moving up and down in the night sky. Prior to this incident the ship's logs in the month of September (17th and 20th) provide accounts of what are described as stars making noticeable movements in the night sky."
History Channel is referring to a specific piece of text: a translation (from Spanish into English) by Clements Markham, of a single manuscript copy discovered and printed by Don Martin Fernandez Navarrete, of a paraphrasing "abstract" by a Jesuit historian named Bartholemé de Las Casas, of a manuscript copy of the actual Journal del Ammiraglio that was made by a scribe who (according to Las Casas and verified from textual cues) inserted many errors. The Journal itself, now lost, was written by Columbus in Castilian, which was not his native tongue but the language of his patron Spanish royals. (He was born Italian and moved to Portugal in 1477.) Here is the translated text:
The land was first seen by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana. But the Admiral [Columbus] at ten in the previous night, being on the castle of the poop, saw a light, though it was so uncertain that he could not affirm it was land. He called Pero Gutierrez, a gentleman of the King's bed-chamber, and said that there seemed to be a light, and that he should look at it. He did so, and saw it. The Admiral said the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the fleet as inspector, but he could see nothing, because he was not in a place whence anything could be seen. After the Admiral had spoken he saw the light once or twice, and it was like a wax candle rising and falling. It seemed to few to be an indication of land; but the Admiral made certain that land was close. (pp. 35-36)
As you can confirm, there is no mention of a "disc shaped object emerging from the sea" in the translated passage (nor, if you trouble to look, anywhere else in the Journal), although there is some shade thrown on the wits of the royal inspector. A faint light so close to the horizon that one had to stand on the highest part of the ship's deck to glimpse it is not "moving up and down in the night sky." But the text itself, as a translation based on a paraphrase of a bad copy of a lost manuscript, is unusable as literal eyewitness testimony, whatever may be its importance as a historical document. In fact, the scribe's version of the original text is a literary form of hearsay, a literary paraphrase is a second form of hearsay, and translation is yet a third. We are three removes from what Columbus actually said he saw.
Prepositions and verbal phrases such as "rising and falling" are notoriously difficult to interpret or translate (and for non native writers to use correctly), so we can better understand the meaning by consulting a different translation from historian Samuel Eliot Morison:
After the Admiral had spoken, he saw [the light] once or twice, and it was like a little wax candle lifting and rising, which to few seemed to be a sign of land, but the Admiral was certain that he was near land.
"Lifting and rising" is not the same as "rising and falling" and may be a periphrasis for flickering. But the crux is that those are not the words of eyewitness Columbus but of Morison via Las Casas via the scribe.
As for those moving stars, elsewhere in the Journal (17 September), we learn that a peculiar deviation of the ship's magnetic compass from the North Star (Polaris) was observed by the night watch and this event greatly disquieted the crew. The Admiral calmed the anxious grumbling with the explanation that the deviation was caused by the diurnal movement of the Pole Star around the true celestial north: "The cause was that the star makes the movement, and not the needles" [of the compass]. The pleasant irony is that this "official" explanation was designed to calm a disturbed crowd, which has been the purpose of official UFO pronouncements almost from the beginning.
It's perplexing to me that the deflection of the compass needles, as potential evidence of an unidentified submerged magnetic body, is passed over by ufologists. Ignored too is the event of 15 September when, according to the Las Casas paraphrase, "early this night they saw fall from the sky a marvelous branch of fire into the sea 4 or 5 leagues away from them." I would interpret that as most likely a bolide spashdown 10 kilometers or so from the ship but it might have been a transmedium UFO. Both these reports are more intriguing and dramatic than that distantly faint and flickering "candle."
These are trivial yet plain examples of a fundamental problem in the UFO literature. Storytelling alienists tend to ignore contradictory evidence, assert evidence where there is none, or adopt testimony that is unreliable (single witness) or hearsay. The temperamental issue here is enthusiasm, which in its early English usage was associated with excessive religious fervor. One finds in the alienist literature various enthusiastically intricate theories about the nature of UFO that rest on hearsay or single witness reports and a number of misinterpreted or misrepresented facts.
Changes in the Witness. The evidence itself can change color within a single witness. We find this peculiarity in the Kenneth Arnold testimony. His early FBI report of the sighting and contemporaneous press quotations within days of the event all use the word "saucer" or "pie pan" explicitly, yet Arnold later claimed he was misquoted from his description that "they flew like you take a saucer and throw it across the water." His drawing of the observables in the FBi report shows a form very like the classic Rhodes photos, but later in life he seems to have preferred a Buck Rogersish crescent shaped craft instead.
The Arnold example suggests the importance of multiple witnesses, or witness and sensor evidence, as more reliable than single witness testimony, even from experts. This is illustrated in the frequently recorded capability of UFO to "jam" radar or "turn off" human electronic systems, for example at the Malmstrom nuclear missile site. As Fravor explains, jamming appears in the FLIR1 video as the range reading 99.9 RNG 99.
This is the specific basis for two interpretations of the incident. One is put forward both by Cdr. Fravor and by Jeremy Corbell:
"And I think that's super important, Dave, the way he explained it to me, 'active jamming' compared to 'passive jamming' this is a technology that is actively jamming this system."
The other is a more literal description of the radar evidence by Lt. Chad Underwood, the WSO who made the FLIR1 recording, in the AATIP USS NIMITZ report (p. 9):
Lt. [redacted] was controlling the radar and FLIR and attempted multiple times to transition the radar to Single Target Track (STT) mode on the object. The radar could not take a lock, the b-sweep would raster around the hit, build an initial aspect vector (which never stabilized) and then would drop and continue normal RWS b-sweep. When asked, Lt. [redacted] stated that there were no jamming cues (strobe, champagne bubbles, "any normal EA indications"). It "just appeared as if the radar couldn't hack it." The radar couldn't receive enough information to create a single target track file. (p. 11)
The fact that Underwood, since retired from service, now endorses the interpretation that his radar was jammed might illustrate the way observations change into interpretations over time, as in Arnold's testimony. But I challenge the narrative assumption of actively jamming as an unverified interpretation of intent, which infers a factually undocumented conscious agent, either as a "pilot" or as author of defensive software. (This video by Chris Leto reviews the Underwood interview from a military understanding of the event and its technical context.) The "jamming" would not be an intentional "act" if it was a characteristic but involuntary UFO response or a modality of action to focused beams of electromagnetic energy. Perhaps the Doppler pulses were scattered or refracted by the envelopment of the observable, which witnesses often report and some videos show clearly as a "fuzziness" in the appearance of UFO.
Skepticism in Uncertainty. I did not witness the event and it is certainly possible that Jeremy Corbell's, Fravor's and Underwood's interpretations today are more accurate than the WSO's testimony to an AATIP investigator a decade ago. The point is that my interpretation takes conscious motivation out of the picture and is therefore, per Occam's razor, preferable; it also assigns the observation to one of the recognizable twelve attributes, EM modulation, and is therefore, per scientific method, stronger. I say I do not know how to interpret the facts, rather than endorse the story of a homunculus alien intelligence that intentionally gives our patriotic military pilots the electronic finger.
The crux is that the radar screen was not recorded, or if recorded is classified, and we do not have the identity and notes of the investigator who quoted the WSO's observations in an interview that Lt. Underwood says never occurred. So we have no public facts we can use to resolve the issue. We cannot examine the facts for ourselves to affirm or reject the interpretations; instead we have a hearsay interpretation of what the evidence disclosed. This degrades the radar evidence into a mute fact, a fact that cannot be connected into a causal narrative. We have the fact that there was a failed radar interrogation in the FLIR1 video itself, but we cannot make a conclusive interpretation because we do not have the fact itself, the radar recording, to decide the issue.
The inherent ambiguity of mute facts allows them to support divergent stories. We can interpret the acts of UFO as those of an elusive and shy species, as a natural effect of some unexplained natural phenomenon, or as a sneaky adversary "prepping the battlefield." Around it all is the fact that there is no publicly reported pattern of UFO doing aerial combat or harming civilian populations, except in the Hollywood storytelling we enjoy as entertainment.
The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
At the root of the alienist faction, who are evidently the majority among ufologists, is the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH), the claim that extraterrestrial beings have arrived on Earth and we witness them as UFO phenomena.
The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis. It's important to emphasize at the outset that the ETH is an extraordinarily tenacious aspect of the UFO literature. The ETH has been with us since the days when it was the "interplanetary hypothesis" and flying saucers came to us from Mars. Even at the highest levels of technical expertise and analytical rigor, the extraterrestrial hypothesis has been what might be called the "inescapable conclusion." It was and still is spontaneously asserted by credible UFO witnesses, whether military pilots or ordinary citizens, as their interpretation of what they observed.
Looking at the erratic radar tracks, leisurely horizontal flight and rocketlike appearance of Swedish Ghost Rockets and the uncanny lack of material remains at clearly identified Ghost Rocket crash sites led European experts seriously to consider the ETH back in 1946. Citizen Kenneth Arnold, referring to his 1947 sighting in the CBS report (above), said "I'm inclined to believe that it is of an extraterrestrial origin." Project SIGN, the earliest official UFO study group within the Department of Defense, very early in its investigations leaned toward the ETH. German scientist Hermann Oberth, mentor of rocket innovator Wernher von Braun, reviewed UFO performance characteristics in 1954 and concluded: "From what I know today I would say in respect to the questionable 1/10 of unexplained (UFO) reports that the theory of Uranides (that they are operated by extraterrestrial beings) seems to be the most reasonable." The article "Hunt for the Flying Saucer" in the July 1, 1952 LOOK Magazine noted:
Flying saucers could be interplanetary spaceships or missiles. Air Force intelligence men say they are continually astounded by the number of trained scientists who believe they are interplanetary in origin. Lieutenant Ruppelt says he has talked with hundreds of scientists and heard many such theories. He adds, "We can deal with these things if they are from Russia. If they are from Mars, I don't know what we will do. We have no proof that they could not come from outer space and must include this among our possibilities."
The ETH is not something that readers of H.G. Wells or Charles Fort humorously injected into the discussion; it's not a delusional whimsy from the mystic acolytes of cosmic consciousness. It is an objectively common witness reaction to what is measured or experienced. It leaps independently into mature individual minds, of all outlooks and professions, either from the vision of the thing itself or as the "least unlikely" interpretation of witness and sensor reports.
For a social psychologist like myself, this remarkable unanimity of judgment is as revealing of human psychology as it is information about the stimulus itself. Given that the great majority of these witnesses have only seen a UFO at a considerable distance, and typically have only seen it moving in "strange" ways before it disappears, that extraordinary conclusion seems to run far ahead of the perceptual evidence. Indeed, conjectures put forward in the 2006 UK MoD UAP report (Vol. 2), attribute UFO appearances to witness arousal or the effects of electromagnetic radiation on cognition and memory. But this is implausible, because the same extraordinary conclusion is supported by an objective analysis of technical data video, optical sensor and radar recordings.
The Logic of ETH. For all that, the ETH is still a remarkably complex and fragile conclusion, and it is clarifying to unpack the conclusion into its logical genome, starting with the universal UFO witness declaration:
Perceptual claim: "I never saw anything like that before in my life."
This deconstruction suggests the extraterrestrial hypothesis depends on no less than seven inferences, four empirical judgments and three conclusions. The important exercise is to weigh each step against the form of the evidence for or against it and the logical scope of its assertion. As a key example, the claim that human technology cannot duplicate UFO capabilities may actually demonstrate that (1) no technology can reproduce the capabilities, (2) we incorrectly interpret what those capabilities are, or (3) UFO are not a technology.
Significant judgments occur when we reject the inferences that UFO appearance is illusory, that perceiving intelligence is a human bias, that UFO is a natural (not manufactured) phenomenon, its capabilities are judged with false assumptions, its capabilities are technologically impossible, its control is intrinsic, its demonstrated intelligence is rudimentary, its origin is in a secret government project (US or foreign), technical alien civilizations are scarce and widely dispersed, and relativistic interstellar travel is highly improbable (dotted inferences in Figure 32). We reject most but not necessarily all of these opposing claims in order to endorse the ETH.
The Technology Attribution. The root of the extraterrestrial hypothesis is Conclusion 1, which is not that aliens exist, or are populous in the universe, or are already here among us, but that we are observing some kind of vehicle technology. This precedes the claim of extraterrestrial aliens. We do not first perceive the physical presence of aliens, then inquire how they arrived here; we infer the apparent presence of an unusual form of aerial technology, then inquire who made it and why it appears here. The vehicle hypothesis is announced in the Schulgen memo of 30 October 1947 (p. 2):
This strange object, or phenomenon, may be considered, in view of certain observations, as long-range aircraft capable of a high rate of climb, high cruising speed (possibly sub-sonic at all times) and highly maneuverable and capable of being flown in very tight formation. For the purpose of analysis and evaluation of the so-called "flying saucer" phenomenon, the object sighted is being assumed to be a manned aircraft, of Russian origin, and based on the perspective thinking and actual accomplishments of the Germans.
"For the purpose of analysis and evaluation" means the hypothesis is adopted to guide further inquiry. This is the point where the known facts are augmented with fact free inferences about Russians and Germans. This seems required by a specific perceptual constellation:
(1) the UFO appears to be a metallic or self luminous form (the observable induces the object recognition of a solid, reflective, opaque body);
This excludes Hynek's third type encounter (visible aliens present) because the appearance of "pilots" is not necessary to arrive at the ETH conclusion. Many people have claimed to actually see or interact with aliens, but not in any way that produced tangible evidence of their existence. It does encompass nearly all the BLUE BOOK and MUFON reports and is a fair description of the UFO presentation to human awareness in terms of three well studied psychological processes.
The processes differ in one key point. Object recognition is easily affected by basic alterations in two dimensional luminance contrasts, and dispositional (animate) attributions depend on erratic, proactive behavior whether in hyperagile lights or in spinning geometrical figures. Both processes are subject to numerous, well known perceptual illusions. But the errors in recognition can occur when defining attributes are hidden or missing, or when perceptible attributes support more than one interpretation. Recognition is a more sensitive and more extensively remembered domain than recall memory, so we usually judge recognition as a "threshold" quality that we experience as a feeling of prior encounter. In contrast, UFO witnesses usually report feelings of astonishment and fascination, or alternately of fear, which signify a lack of recognition or comprehension "I never saw anything like that before."
The astonishment that arises from UFO appearance and behavior is the attribute of strangeness, a concept utilized if not coined by J. Allen Hynek. Strangeness is the experience that what you are seeing is inexplicable because it is physically impossible or "can't be happening." Hynek quantifies the concept of strangeness as the number of specific UFO event appearances or behavioral details that cannot be explained logically or physically. Or it can be applied as a single rating, from 1 to 4, that indicates a holistic summary of the entire event:
1. Confidently explained (IAP, no strangeness)
Unexplained cases are highly strange, but the strangeness presents in such a large number of ways as flights, as swarms, as "exploratory," reactive or evasive behavior; as sheer luminosity; as "strange" luminance, as anaerodynamic form, and so on that there is no consistent behavioral profile that defines it. There is probably a small positive effect of proximity to produce greater strangeness, but overall this effect is probably small because the great majority of UFO are observed at what appears to the witness to be a significant distance. "High strangeness" can also include the perception of intelligent control (the Gorman Test), although even among witnesses to rather strange events there are those who think it is either a human development of some kind or simply something they can't explain. The perceptual interpretation of a form as an object or as a light or a geometrical figure does not affect the symbolic potential of the form to simulate animate or intelligent behavior, as the Heider-Simmel experiment illustrates. So we must interpret our inferences of "intelligent control" only after we describe the observed behavior we use to interpret it.
The ETH "Intelligence". The extraterrestrial hypothesis anchors the estimate of UFO "intelligence" in the "vehicle technology" conclusion by way of the technology estimate: Empirical claim 1: UFO "defy the known laws of physics" (human science) and Inference 4: UFO exceed the capabilities of human technology. This is where the military concept of "breakthrough technology" is anchored. These inferences depend on key physical assumptions that seem to be required by the interpretation of UFO as a mass and thrust vehicle technology. The difficulty with these assumptions is that they are not verified with public evidence in the form of crash remains , and they seem to describe a machine that violates the basic heat/exhaust requirement of thermodynamics. The 2006 UK MoD UAP report suggests UFO might be more akin to ball lightning than a fighter jet, which illustrates that the "vehicle technology" interpretation is hardly "inescapable."
This technology estimate is then used to benchmark the assessment of alien maker/pilot intelligence. Because they have invented a machine that is not a thermodynamic machine, they must be very far advanced technologically. This "intelligence" necessarily requires a locus the process that originates the intelligence, whether animal brains or silicon chips or binary codes. Our language schemas require this process to be either intrinsic to the form, as philosophy and religion have described the soul in the body or biology describes the intelligence of animals; or contingent to the form, as we think of the different kinds of software that can operate the same computer or the different pilots that can operate the same aircraft. Because we reject the possibility of intrinsic control in the case of UFO, we are forced to infer a homunculus or fictional "maker/pilot" to account for the observed UFO capabilities.
Here the exuberant branch of alienist storytelling takes off (Inferences 4 to 6 and Empirical Claim 3). The "maker/pilot," the intelligence of the homunculus, is interpreted to represent the technology culture required to design, manufacture and operate the UFO (the pilot understands the operating principles behind the UFO, knows how the "hardware" is made, how it operates, why it is deployed on Earth, what the pilot's "mission" is, etc.). The technology culture in turn requires the support of a maker/pilot civilization to supply the complex knowledge, economic commitment, manufacturing infrastructure, population of workers, etc. necessary to fabricate the UFO. And because no such civilization is known on Earth (the empirical answer to the "foreign adversary or secret US project" question), we conclude that an alien extraterrestrial civilization has built and operates this technology, which means we examine the Galaxy for probable planets and scan nearby stars for potential "earthlike planets." This is a very far conclusion from the seed attribution of "strangeness."
We get a far less grandiose impression of UFO intelligence by looking not at what we assume are the scientific knowledge and manufacturing skills necessary to make the inferred "technology" but at how that technology is actually deployed on Earth. The observed UFO movements and light displays are quite limited, apply to no known constructive or collaborative purpose, and (in terms of awareness and tactical complexity) can be accounted for by the intelligence of small animals. Of course, these dispositional attributions are liable to the "puppet fallacy," the assumption that a marionette or sockpuppet displays the same level of intelligence as the puppeteer. But the lack of any documented collaborative or constructive UFO activities strongly implies that the maker/pilot is not an accurate understanding. Exactly what are these superintelligent citizens of an advanced technological culture doing here? The patterns of UFO behavior in relation to human activity are almost entirely characterized by evasion or indifference. And ironically, the same feckless UFO behavior that supports the "ineffectual invention" argument against UFO as a foreign human technology also applies to the possibility that UFO are a breakthrough alien technology. Why would they travel so far in order to evade or ignore human contact nor do anything observably constructive or collaborative after their arrival?
Examined against the evidence, the technology estimate is an inherently suspicious limitation of explanatory possibilities. The failure to duplicate with human technology is consistent with the fact that UFO behavior interpreted as vehicle technology is empirically impossible, which is why human technology cannot duplicate it. Human technology also cannot manufacture life, which is not an argument against life but evidence that it is not manufactured and appears through some other process of evolutionary animation. Whether UFO "defy the laws of physics" depends on which laws we assume apply and on the inferences we use to apply them. This is where we are sent back to the original conclusion and ask whether UFO appearance is not deceiving us that physical laws applicable to mass and thrust motion are required to explain the behavior, when different laws applied in a different way might provide a better answer. Unfortunately, at this point the hypothesis that aliens might possibly understand "physical laws that are 'alien' to us" takes the discussion entirely into the pseudoscientific realm of "things I could talk about, if I just knew what they were."
Explanations of Ignorance. Much of the Markowitz debunk cited above rests on circumstantial or evidentiary issues: the lack of physical traces of extreme heat or radiation at the sites where UFO have reportedly landed; the reliance of the extraterrestrial hypothesis on "magic" or "superstitious" technology that violates physical laws with "gravity shields," teleportation, "force fields" and such; the semi scientific talk of relativistic time dilation that ignores the fact that a collision between the spacecraft traveling at half lightspeed and a single particle of interstellar dust would be catastrophic; the probabilities used in the Drake equation are unknown; no physical spacecraft, "reliable report" of eyewitness alien contact or crash remains have been produced in public; no evidence exists that the aliens have attempted to contact us. Markowitz even opines as a psychologist, observing as a fact of human nature that anyone in possession of evidence that aliens have arrived would not resist the historical prestige of being the person to announce it. These are common and empirically relevant objections to the ETH. However, Markowitz concludes from these shortcomings of evidence or possibility in the extraterrestrial hypothesis that:
(1) UFO's are not under extraterrestrial control.
and two things become clear, when the evidence is compared to his conclusions. The conclusion that UFO are not a threat to national security seems closely tied to the assumption that UFO are not under extraterrestrial control only if we add the conclusion that they are not technology developed by a foreign program. And there is a circularity in the premise that we can analyze UFO as machines in order to prove that UFO are thermodynamically impossible machines, when it is clear that UFO are a possible something and humans still don't know what that is.
This brings us to the fact that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is not a statement of knowledge but an explanation of ignorance. It is not a scientific hypothesis because it shapes no testable empirical question other than replicable two way communications between aliens and humans, and because it provides no insight into the phenomena. It clarifies nothing about the mass and the power that appears as impulsion, or how power is generated; it does not allow us to look at what UFO actually do and infer the purposes of the aliens or anticipate unseen capabilities of their conveyance; we cannot look at a UFO video and explain the bright/dark appearance or the specific means of visible movement. We need to keep close to the facts that UFO are to human a new phenomenon or phenomena, and one that we may not have observed accurately enough in the past because we still observe through our preconceptions rather than our evidence. UFO are so far not "world proof" of a technology only of an electromagnetic appearance, including an optical and radar appearance, without any meaningful estimates of mass or power generation, nor any collision or crash evidence of substantial metallic structures.
Lightspeed Travel. The frequently voiced claim that "there are so many planets orbiting so many stars in so many observable galaxies that we cannot be alone in the universe" is itself a dubious inference, as I explain in the context of the Drake equation. But it is also a seemingly reasonable way to avoid of the issue of UFO, because it is logically irrelevant to the practical problems of thrust, mass, and relativistic travel. These are instead removed by Inference 7 "Fringe science asserts practical interstellar travel is possible." Fringe science is used to justify the remarkable UFO capabilities but also to moot any issues of alien rarity or remoteness. No matter how rare or far removed alien civilizations may be, the alien technology is obviously sufficiently "breakthrough" to bring the aliens here across whatever obstacles to travel may exist.
On that conclusion is anchored the premise for talk about a wide variety of propulsion systems and methods of transport that "defy the laws of physics" with supra lightspeed, spacetime bending, anti-gravity generating, wormhole traversing, quantum warp bubble technologies. What these theories usually do not do is delve the specifics, which often shows the theories themselves are impossible or utterly impractical. And a common problem with all of those alternatives is how the "vehicle" obtains sufficient energy to produce the observed power output both as the mass of a fuel source or energy storage, and in the temperatures generated by any mechanism to transform that energy into the instantaneous output of impulsion.
But in the domain of fringe science, there is really no reason why you cannot violate one law of physics instead of any other. It would be simpler just to say that UFO can violate the conservation of energy and create energy out of nothing. This solves almost all the dynamic paradoxes of UFO, and it reminds us that the major "breakthrough technology" to come out of fringe science so far is the perpetual motion machine.
The alienist asserts the extraterrestrial hypothesis principally on the claim of alien intelligence. What specific physical or energetic form this intelligence takes, and what its intentions may be toward humans, are questions with many answers within the alienist faction. The pressing questions for an alienist are: "Why are they here, and what do they want?
Some alienists assert that one or more humans have actually witnessed or interacted physically with an extraterrestrial species. Otherwise, how would we know what aliens look like? It seems most of these claims arise from the testimony of "experiencers" or alien abductees, a topic discussed below; and from close encounters of the third kind. These interactions are the "origin visions" of alienism, akin to the interactions between messenger angels and humans in the foundation myths of the monotheisms. Literal, eyewitness claims about UFO occupants or pilots are probably the most disreputable and vociferously stigmatized aspects of ufology and are sometimes met with an anger or indignation that strikes me as unhinged.
Other alienists argue circumstantially from the extraterrestrial hypothesis, based on the observed behavior of the "craft" or "vehicle" that the aliens supposedly control. At the extreme, these are rumored to exist as crash remains held by the US government.
The dominant explanation is that UFO are metallic, manufactured objects, validated as solid or "real" by radar returns, infrared imaging or photographs. Witnesses observe these "vehicles" to have extraordinary "powers" of power generation, speed, luminosity or huge size and to display intelligent control through hyperagility, evasion and flight formation. The witnesses nearly always find the experience remarkable, and the concept that best encompasses a metallic, remarkable, intelligently controlled aerial appearance is some form of aeronautical technology. The point is that aliens explain the origin of UFO phenomena, not the other way around. Technology is the actual starting assumption for these extraterrestrial advocates.
The maker/pilots of the UFO technology are variously said to be an interstellar voyaging species from another planetary system, a time traveling future human species, or the manifestation of an occult control system by a transcendental consciousness beyond human perception or comprehension of spacetime. Sometimes the aliens are described as beneficial and sometimes as predatory; sometimes they are said to be indifferent to humans. These and other "backstories" for UFO phenomena depend on probabilities, conjectures and assertions that are rooted in six thematic components or ingredients of alienism:
1. physical aliens (captives, visitors, abductors) or alien remains (cadavers, autopsies)
Fringe science is required to explain the technical capabilities necessary both to emulate UFO performance and to overcome the many practical obstacles to interstellar transport. But the fundamental issue of the power generation necessary to produce the observed UFO flight capabilities is so large that only an unknown form of power generation seems adequate to provide it. The problem with these theories is that UFO seem generally to be "cold" phenomena: they release far less energy as heat than the physics of propulsion seem to require for their observed accelerations. They also rarely emit either noise or vapor trail, but as the "fireball UFO" they appear to generate a strong electromagnetic disturbance. These are important secondary cues to suggest their physical nature.
This is a peculiarly geeky side of the alienist outlook, almost entirely in the hands of male commentators, that is advocated by the single witness testimony of Bob Lazar, who was brought to public attention by Las Vegas investigative journalist George Knapp. Lazar attributes the necessary power to a hemispherical anti-gravity reactor retrieved from an alien craft that arrived here from the planet ZR-3 in the zeta Reticuli star system (see Figure 35). The energy to generate the power comes from the "stable isotope" of something he calls element 115, which may or may not be the atomic element moscovium.
My esthetic (fact free) judgment of Mr. Lazar is that he is someone who had enough government research lab experience to appear casually knowledgeable about the bureaucratic and workplace procedures in those places, and he may have known someone who worked in covert projects (call him Barry), extracted happy hour snippets of fact or hearsay from his informant, and spun up his story to protest government secrecy. He may also, as some claim, be an unwitting operative spreading disinformation in the service of a secret military or corporate extraterrestrial research project. He may also simply be telling the truth from firsthand knowledge, which he does with a sober, patient and sincere demeanor. All the same, his story is often peculiar. According to Lazar, once he felt "concerned" that he was being followed by state security, his response was to take his friends to the desert so they could see a "high performance" UFO test flight for themselves and after the second or third viewing party was broken up by base security it was Mr. Lazar's acquaintances, not Lazar himself, who were most closely scrutinized by the authorities. And there are numerous documented problems with Lazar's story Wikipedia reports that "universities from which he claims to hold degrees show no record of him, and supposed former workplaces have disavowed him." Most significant for me is the fact that no former campus friends or professors, who would have been contacted privately as part of the background security check necessary to work at a highly classified military site, have come forward to vouch for Lazar in public.
Lazar has also been convicted of two misdemeanor criminal offenses, but the criterion of a truthful and competent witness does not require considerations of moral character. I balk at the lack of any corroborating witness (call him Barry), documents or physical evidence to validate Lazar's story; as Lazar himself admits, he has no corroborating evidence of any kind. You needn't bother disparaging someone's character if you simply disregard uncorroborated or hearsay testimony. There is no physical, documentary or multiple witness testimony for aliens or alien vehicles in public view. Alienists simply cite that as proof of a government conspiracy and cover up.
In any case, Lazar answers the origin question: "How is it possible such a technology has fallen into the hands of mere humans?" He makes the claim that the US government is in possession of nine fully or largely intact alien space ships either retrieved from alien crashes or (in one instance) found in an archaeological excavation. Various alien crash accounts might account for the many retrievals. Probably not the "slow moving space ship" reputed to have crashed into a windmill in Aurora, TX on 17 April 1897, leaving behind materials etched with some kind of hieroglyphic and the body of a single occupant who was reportedly buried in the Aurora cemetery. (That event is widely believed to be a journalist hoax and is parodied in the Firesign Theater album, Everything You Know Is Wrong.) But the "unconventional flying vehicle" that was reported to have either crashed or landed near Magenta, Italy on 11 April 1933 is more plausible; it was retrieved, stored in a hangar at the aircraft manufacturer SIAI Marchetti in Vergiate and, according to John Greenewald, "a 'protocol' was sent to the Prefect, intended for the Italian secret services and the newspapers, in order to cover up this news." The fate of this object is unknown. And there is a strange teletype from the US Air Attaché in Afghanistan dated 24 January 1955 reporting the "landing of flying saucer" in northeastern Afghanistan described as "stated 15 meter circumference [16 foot diameter]; metal construction; small, thick glass windows around leading edge of saucer shaped moving object. Afghans attempting to transport to Kabul for Minister of Def." No further information about this report has been uncovered. Wherever they came from, Lazar claims those UFO vehicles are held near Area 51, a highly secure Air Force testing range and weaponry skunkworks 80 miles north of Las Vegas, NV, specifically in an area known as "S-4." The back and forth at this link illustrates the flimsy body of corroborating evidence for these assertions.
Where did these crashed vehicles come from? The foundational retrieval story the "world proof" that alien crashes can be a real thing is by popular acclaim the 1947 Roswell NM 8 July incident, which is notable because news of the crash apparently originated in a rancher's whispered suspicion that became an official military confirmation that was expunged by an official military correction using what was apparently a cover story for a secret military project completely unrelated to flying saucers. Out of that stew, Roswell evolved through "the talk in the community" into an indigenous legend among the Roswell rural families.
On June 14, 1947 ranch foreman W.W. "Mac" Brazel was herding sheep on land owned by J.B. Foster about 30 miles southeast of Corona, NM when he discovered a field of "bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks," some of it held together with "considerable Scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed on it," scattered over an area about the size of five football fields. He returned on July 4 with his wife and two of his children, Vernon and Bessie, to clean up much of the litter, which was bound up and partially buried on site; according to Brazel, "there was no sign of any metal in the area that might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind." The next evening Brazel went to Corona, where he first heard the excited talk about Kenneth Arnold's flying saucer sighting. By Brazel's own account this aroused him to question the nature of the collected debris, so when he made the two hour trip into Roswell on Monday, July 7 to sell wool, he stopped by sheriff George Wilcox's office and "whispered kinda confidential like" that "he might have found a flying disk." This is the seed episode of the "actual" Roswell crash.
The sheriff phoned this report to the local Army air base, which dispatched intelligence officer Major Jesse Marcel and Captain Sheridan Cavitt to assist Brazel in a further, thorough debris collection. Marcel took the debris home that night, spread some of it on his kitchen floor to show to his family, then brought it all to the air base early the next day, July 8. Around 9:30 am, the base commander Colonel William Blanchard (apparently relying on the sheriff's report) directed Walter Haut, the press officer at the Roswell Army Air Field, to announce the recovery of a "flying disc" to the local Roswell radio stations and newspapers, while Marcel was sent on a plane to convey the bundles of debris to the Fort Worth Army Air Base for evaluation. The Roswell Daily Record published the announcement that afternoon RAAF CAPTURES FLYING SAUCER ON RANCH IN ROSWELL REGION which immediately spread over the wire services and brought a deluge of inquiries to the paper and the sheriff's office. The London Daily Telegraph reported corroboration from Army Air Force headquarters in Washington DC that the "saucer" was of "flimsy construction, almost like a box kite ... apparently some sort of tin foil." The afternoon of July 8, Army Air Force General Roger M. Ramey, weather officer Irving Newton and others in Fort Worth examined the debris and concluded that it was a balloon radar target, and Marcel and Ramsey were "staged" with debris of paper, foil and wood by Army photographer J. Bond Johnson (Figure 33, left). Ramey announced that the debris came from a disintegrated "weather balloon" and the Roswell Morning Dispatch published the correction on July 9 the same day that Brazel bemoaned his notoriety by declaring "I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon. But if I find anything else besides a bomb they are going to have a hard time getting me to say anything about it." Within a week the news story was dead.
There was a brief accelerant for public interest in crashes and crash retrievals, including alien corpses, and that was Frank Scully's newspaper columns and overheated but bestselling Behind the Flying Saucers in 1950. This book in turn was based on a version of the "Aztec crash" story by two long con grifters, Silas Newton and Leo GeBauer. In their story, a 30 meter [100 foot] UFO was accidentally downed on March 25, 1948 by a powerful air defense radar near Aztec, New Mexico, and was recovered by the US military under a cloak of secrecy much improved by lessons learned from the botched Roswell incident. The swindlers advanced this story to buttress their claim that a prospecting doodlebug of their design had exceptional performance because it incorporated "breakthrough technology" retrieved from the Aztec crash remains. These claims, reported in Scully's book, fell apart when Newton's story was ↆ proved a hoax in 1952 by journalist J.P. Cahn and both Newton and GeBauer were convicted of fraud. However, retired businessman Frank Ramsey claims that he has, by archival research and witness interviews, unhoaxed this hoax, and this video provides a fascinating example of how alleged UFO crash stories rest on very little circumstantial or physical evidence and much hearsay or single witness testimony. But the fact that the concept of alien bodies and crash retrievals became publicly associated with fraud likely also contributed to the long dormancy of the Roswell story.
Then, like a malarial meme, around 1978 the story flared up again when retired Lieutenant Colonel Marcel publicly recanted his role in the press release and described the debris as unearthly materials. There followed Charles Berlitz and William Moore's The Roswell Incident in 1980 and Stanton Friedman and Don Berliner's Crash at Corona in 1992, which presented increasingly exaggerated, hearsay claims about the Roswell crash debris and recovered alien corpses (and a single alien crash survivor). Meanwhile the US Air Force admitted in 1994 that there was indeed a cover up and it was necessary to disguise a top secret surveillance balloon known as Project MOGUL. This puts a secular gloss on the claim by many witnesses that "what I saw was not a weather balloon" ... it was instead a uniquely constructed and top secret spy balloon. (Weather balloons of the era, which were familiar to both Brazel and Marcel, were made of extremely thin, translucent plastic not sticks, tape and metal foil.)
The books expound intertwining stories about Roswell, which have merged over time into an intricate retrospective timeline centered on a purported "real" Roswell crash site (Figure 33, right) about 40 miles north of Roswell and west of Hwy 285. This site is unrelated to the Foster ranch and therefore not the area that Marcel inspected. This "real" crash site has become ornamented with colorful characters nude campers, stray archaeologists, a roadside military picket, a fire brigade, several local police, random volunteers, a military cleanup detail, FBI intercepted teletype messages, a recovered alien craft with multiple alien corpses, childsized coffins, an alien medical examination, armed witness escorts, prolonged witness interviews, threats to keep secrecy. The witnesses who testify to these events (all now deceased) included a staff sergeant who said he discovered the alien crash site, a packrat pilot who claimed he transported the disk to Wright Field, and a posthumously released affidavit from Haut that he did not write but only signed. Many of the original witnesses are interviewed in this BBC Roswell documentary.
This is a thick mulch of single witness or hearsay testimony, some of it as "deathbed" confessions decades after the event or as tales told by family members of the deceased. These stories all seem to converge on a US government cover up of alien crash remains, but the witnesses recount different episodes at different places and different times, so no two witnesses support each other and none are supported by public corroborating evidence. The most important witnesses, including Kaufmann, Anderson and Dennis, have been disavowed by former supporters. A major "authority" on Roswell, Stanton Friedman, has been discredited for relying uncritically on their testimony. Originally enthusiastic Roswell researchers such as Kent Jeffrey have become disillusioned by the evidence that they have and have not been able to uncover.
In alienist ufology, the pendant to this "real" Roswell crash is that the ineptly leaked 1947 Roswell "crash retrieval" reputedly led to the formation by president Dwight Eisenhower of a Majestic 12 group, sometimes known as "MAJIC-12," that was cloaked by "a security level 2 points above that of Top Secret" and provisioned with its own top secret memos. There is even a modern digital text transcription of a lost microfilm of a printed ↆ SOM1-01 Special Operations Manual for UFO crash remains retrievals. These memos and manual are all proven or widely judged to be hoax documents, even among many UFO or Roswell advocates.
Rendlesham Wood 1980
Just as the Roswell story was being resurrected by Marcel, Berlitz, Moore, Berliner and Friedman and their latter day witnesses, a third and truly remarkable case occurred: the 1980 Rendlesham Wood GBR 26, 28 December events. This is a complex story that involves a human actually touching an alien craft and receiving information from it telepathically, so even by the standards of UFO reports it is a doozy. Kean (pp. 179-88) devotes an entire chapter to its exposition. We can't do better than the official eyewitness testimony titled "Unexplained Lights" that was officially submitted to the Royal Air Force eight months after the event by the deputy base commander at RAF Bentwaters, US Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Halt:
1. Early in the morning of 27 Dec 80 (approximately 0300L), two USAF security police patrolmen saw unusual lights outside the back gate [east gate] at RAF Woodbridge. Thinking an aircraft might have crashed or been forced down, they called for permission to go outside the gate to investigate. The on-duty flight chief responded and allowed three patrolmen to proceed on foot. The individuals reported seeing a strange glowing object in the forest. The object was described as being metallic in appearance and triangular in shape, approximately two to three meters across the base and approximately two meters high. It illuminated the entire forest with a white light. The object itself had a pulsing red light on top and a bank(s) of blue lights underneath. The object was hovering or on legs. As the patrolmen approached the object, it maneuvered through the trees and disappeared. At this time the animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy. The object was briefly sighted approximately an hour later near the back gate.
Halt adds some retrospective details in this 2017 interview. Ridpath has thoroughly critiqued Hart's 2010 affidavit recalling the events 30 years later, and without endorsing Ridpath's claims I accept his suggestion to ignore the document and focus on the contemporaneous evidence.
An odd detail of this testimony is that the deputy base commander has his dates wrong. The lights were first sighted on the morning of Friday the 26, because the first patrol members two enlisted men led by Sgt. Jim Penniston called local police to the scene that day, as verified by the extant police report. The police examined the impressions in the ground and adopted the interpretation of a young forester, Vince Thurkettle, that they were rabbit dustbathing holes. Then an entire day transpired before lights were reported to have returned on the evening of December 27. Halt was summoned away from a Christmas party to assemble men to investigate. This inspection squad consisted of Hart and four other men: Englund, Ball, Nevilles and Bustzina, and they arrived at the site identified by the first patrol after midnight. Both patrols saw lights at around 3 am, so the second patrol saw the lights on Sunday morning the 28th.
Remarkably, Halt recorded his investigation and pursuit of the lights on December 28 in real time, as recreated in this television report. This 18 minute long Hart audiotape is the least controversial evidence in the case, and one of the most unique forms of evidence from any UFO event. (The 1994 Holland MI 8 March event includes an extended recording between a 911 dispatcher and an experienced weather service radar operator tracking UFO in real time.) Although of poor quality, the recording has been transcribed at least twice, by astronomer Ian Ridpath and by journalist Georgina Bruni; Bruni claims to have worked with the "original copy" reputedly "sent by Colonel Sam Morgan, via General Gordon Williams." It is instructive to compare the audiotape with Ridpath's text, as emended with Bruni's glosses and
[t = 15:15] HALT: OK, we're looking at the thing, we're probably about two to three hundred yards away. It looks like an eye winking at you. Still moving from side to side. And when you put the Starscope on it, it sort of has a hollow centre right, a dark centre, it's...
I quote this encounter at length because, when compared to the audiofile, it illustrates the unsteady nature of the verbal evidence itself: the effect that a deleted or altered word can have on the meaning and the ambiguity of "steady," which in the context can mean either not flashing or not moving. Ridpath's elision of filler words that denote thought is unhelpful, as these are evidence of the witness state of mind that includes Hart's vocal emphasis at "Weird!" and "Strange!" and the rising excitement in his voice ("Hey, here he comes from the south"). I hear Hart call the rivulet a "crick" and I hear trembling in Hart's voice but no laughter. The same audio stimulus can strike different people in different ways which is true also of purported UFO photographs and videos.
Ridpath convincingly debunks the original light as the Orford Ness Lighthouse eight miles to the southwest, which is at the azimuth direction and estimated distance of the first observable, flashes in the same five second period inferred from the Hart recording (t = 12:55), and (examine the linked video closely) even reproduces the peculiar appearance of a "black pupil" in the center. But the problem with Ridpath's debunk is that the five men obviously did not just see a lighthouse: they heard a tumult of forest animals ("We're hearing very strange sounds out of the farmer's barnyard animals ... They're very, very active, making an awful lot of noise."), then saw a "strange, sun-like, flashing red light" (or yellow, but not white) that pulsed and moved about. They saw the light approach, then saw it dripping something onto the ground, then saw it fragment silently into as many as five steady lights (not flashing), which then flashed "strange strobelike flashes" before disappearing; then Hart reports two separate "half moon shapes, dancing about, with colored lights on 'em" that changed form as "an eclipse or something" for at least a minute. as they retreated into the sky, a third light approached from the south that shined "a beam toward the ground," followed by a display of colored lights that provokes an outcry from the men. Here Ridpath's appeal to a lighthouse, chromatic scintillation, unfocused binoculars, bright stars and thin, moving clouds does not match the detailed sequence of narration and concrete characterization of the lights, or explain the amazement of the men audible in several places.
As always with UFO evidence, it's useful to step back and ask what is at issue with the question of authenticity. My answer, based on the Halt memo and recording, is that we have a rather unique form of UFO witness testimony that records both audible witness arousal and a remarkable visual report. That report has a strong circumstantial debunk in the form of the lighthouse, which is weakened by the necessary assumptions that the five men on patrol at 3 am, all truthful in the recorded moment, were also unaware of, inexperienced with and not competent to identify a lighthouse at night. Other aspects of Ridpath's interpretation require that they could not recognize stars behind moving clouds, or know when optics were out of focus. I view the report as another "highly strange" incident that is not adequately debunked because too many other details are left unexplained. But, even accepted as an authentic UFO report rather than a case of mixed claims, we do not learn anything unique or specific about UFO.
The whole second patrol episode has been muddled by the claims from Sgt. Jim Penniston, leader of the first patrol, that he actually touched a squat, wedge shaped UFO while his companions remained behind and out of view. Kean gives his testimony a sympathetic forum, and he seems like a cheerful soul, but nothing contemporaneous with the event, including the testimony of his two companions and his own testimony to superiors, corroborates his story. Assuredly, there are reasonable motives that might induce Penniston to withhold telling senior officers in an official inquiry that he had actually touched a flying saucer. But without that contemporaneous admission, there is no reason to accept his later claims that he spent 40 minutes studying the UFO, examining strange glyphs on its exterior and receiving a "telepathic download" of binary codes when he touched its onyx black surface. The next morning he compulsively transcribed the codes into sixteen pages of a journal and (who would have guessed it!) the message has been "decoded" to indicate either various geographical locations, or maybe an I Ching prophecy.
The story from Airman Penniston possibly an intimidated testimony, possibly a hoaxing or delusional story, possibly incredible but true testimony, or possibly an alien false memory implant, take your pick is uncorroborated everywhere outside his journal and a decoded message that points to the mythical island of HyBrasil. And of course there are British hoaxers who claim to have pranked the Yanks, a tale of men wandering the forest in hazmat suits and, to complete the tableau, missing government files and official disclaimers.
The Rendlesham Wood encounter is sometimes called "the British Roswell," and it replicates, as if in a social science experiment, the same Roswell and Aztec proportions of factual testimony, contextual debunk, uncorroborated single witness testimony, hearsay storytelling and claims that can only be revelation, delusion or hoax. This quicksand evidence is typical of many famous UFO cases that claim to prove the physical reality of interstellar vehicles or the terrestrial presence of aliens.
Alien Bodies and Plans
What is said to be known about aliens themselves originates in the single witness testimony of alien abductees or self declared Roswell witnesses such as Glenn Dennis, Jim Ragsdale, Gerald Anderson (age 5½ at the event) and many others. These single witness sources have been embellished with hoax alien cadavers and hoax alien dissections. Some of the hoaxes have been confessed. But apparently even the claim that the hoax alien autopsy is really the autopsy of a progeroid can itself be a form of cover up.
Based on these single witness or abductee accounts, alienists describe the aliens as small in stature and physically frail, with livid complexion, long fingers and large heads, no chin or lips and peculiarly large, creepy black eyes. Many ufologists identify these as the telepathic, unfeeling zeta Reticuli Grays or the safe for work version as Skinny Bob. (Biologists will ask how Skinny Bob evolved the primate furrowed brow of puzzlement.) But never the kind of folks to turn down a visitation, the exophenotypology of some alienists discriminates three to eight subtypes in each of nine or ten separate categories of almost sixty different alien beings.
But once launched from an enthusiast rootstock, storytelling can branch in any direction. The recent Identified Flying Objects: A Multidisciplinary Scientific Approach to the UFO Phenomenon by biological anthropologist Michael Masters is the kind of humor book that can only amuse a science literate reader. Woven around a reasonable bit of valid information about evolution and human biology, the humor lies in the claim that future humans, with a gene pool depleted of diversity and brimming with inherited defects, resort to the unproven capability of time travel in order to harvest healthy genes from present day human.
Present day human already has the capability to manufacture genes and medically modify human genome attributes through genome editing, so a basic question is why that known capability was lost in the future and why time travel is necessary instead. But at least Masters solves the problem of how aliens found our planet and figured out a way to get here. It also, perhaps more importantly, provides a justification for the reports of "medical and hybridization experiments," including offspring of alien/human outcross, that are repeated across many abductee reports.
Eventually it all comes down to a confrontation with facts. An extremely lucid example is the famous 2002 "Wilson/Davis Memo," a cornerstone document of ufology that is surrounded by the many communications of affirmation and denial among witnesses. The whole episode surrounding this document, which asserts a conspiracy to hide rogue or unsupervised corporate research programs into extraterrestrial technology, is masterfully narrated by conspiracy theorist and UFO believer Richard Dolan. In contrast, UFO researcher John Greenewald, Jr. spins an amusing but also insightful story about the Wilson/Davis memo, which purports to summarize the disclosure by a senior military officer of a government secret UFO coverup held in the hands of aerospace corporations. From his perspective as a former film producer of UFO programs for The History Channel, Greenewald interprets the memo as a script written during the Scully & Mulder era by a wannabe film producer. That is basically a stylistic, therefore esthetic judgment, which one grants to Greenewald's professional judgment. I also believe the memo is implausible as a memorializing document, generally in its length but specifically in the stychomythic dialog at the end again, only an esthetic judgment that rests on my business experience and my training in comparative literature. Advocates reply that this was because Dr. Davis recorded the interview and more closely transcribed the critical disclosures.
Greenewald raises the conversation with the highly relevant information that both the person who supposedly wrote the memo and a person close to the leak of the notes both declared a security clearance preserving "no comment," the principal character in the notes (retired Vice Admiral Wilson) flatly repudiates the memo and denies the meeting ever took place, the conduct ascribed to him is implausible given how the Department of Defense actually works, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon could find no record that the complaint process the memo describes ever occurred, former astronaut Edgar Mitchell personally corroborates the predicament of Vice Admiral Wilson described in the Wilson/Davis memo, and people as clever as Dolan accept it as factual.
These aren't reasons to declare the memo as a certain hoax or to accept it as genuine, nor to impugn Davis, Wilson, Mellon, Mitchell or Dolan to make one or the other judgment more plausible. Instead, it illustrates how a fact becomes a mute fact. The sign of a mute fact is that everyone can talk about it but there is no public corroboration to support one interpretation over another. The memo is enmeshed in conflicting hearsay testimony and undocumented circumstances, which is more than adequate justification to disregard it as evidence of anything more than the mute fact that someone wrote the memo and people dispute its interpretation without conclusive evidence on either side. The distinction is between mocking or flatly denying any story or witness and simply setting aside the claims as lacking sufficient public corroboration.
Although a poor fit with the gray aliens but still based on the attribution to an alien consciousness, the French investor, novelist and ufologist Jacques Vallée proposes that UFO phenomena, both aerial and abducting, are the manifestation of a control system striving to shape human consciousness toward a better path. The curious aspect of this theory is that it is both negative and reductive. Pointing out that there are too many UFO visits to serve a useful scientific purpose, the procedures in UFO abductions are too brutalizing to serve a medical or genetic purpose, and the form of aliens too similar to folklore dwarfs, elves and goblins to be interplanetary travelers, Vallée concludes that they must be minds from beyond our perceived four dimensions of spacetime that have been here for centuries to shape our evolution. The fact that UFO behavior does not seem organized for any constructive purpose is parried by Vallée with the bizarre claim that a higher consciousness must necessarily appear chaotic to lower minds. But the entire chain of reasoning hangs on the unproven premises that aliens are here for a reason related to human welfare and are engaged in a project we cannot perceive as such. My question is why a superior consciousness that wishes to influence humans doesn't stop buzzing commercial aircraft and learn to speak French.
The Outer Limits
Storytelling is stimulated to grow by the need to answer questions raised by the story itself; these answers raise more questions, and more questions demand more storytelling. All this is guided by the outlook that aliens are here because of us, another vestige of the vanity of anthropocentrism, and this "me so special" outlook eventually produces wholly unsubstantiated conjectures, incredible proclamations, and vatic witnesses in other words, UFO religions. Wholly in the human character to worship things that human does not understand, these religions are fascinating in their ability to link extraterrestrial technology with tropes from Christianity or nonsectarian goals such as an end to poverty and war or advancement to a higher spiritual plane of peace and love. Others sell the downmarket goods of race superiority (the Tempelhofgesellschaft Aryans from Aldebaran), diluted Theosophy (the Venusan aliens of Share International), the Ashtar version of an interplanetary Noah's Ark (Universe People), the death cult of Heaven's Gate, and the genetic engineering of Raëlism's Elohim who created all life on Earth. These all flourish in western civilizations which combine an infatuation with new technology and a liberal democratic tolerance of fringe beliefs. They don't do as well in Muslim countries.
A more frequent religionist meme among alienists is Billy Meier. The self styled human point of contact for communications from the extraterrestrial Plejaren of Pleiades and the self anointed prophet of yet another UFO religion, Meier may be a fortune telling and photo faking kind of charlatan hoaxer, as many claim. I am indifferent to that issue. I can offer the esthetic judgment that Meier's photographs (Figure 34) are a form of kitsch mythmaking. His photographs invoke the mythical by juxtaposing pastoral landscape with the uncanny; and the kitsch is that the photographs are slick enough to hide any obvious signs of fakery yet are too obviously phony to be worth the effort to debunk them.
I take more notice of the claim from Meier pitchman Michael Horn that the Meier photographs of purported UFO can be confidently declared to be not provably fake. However, "even world experts cannot prove these images are fakes!" is not the same validity claim as "this information is truthful and accurate." That is one of the essential claims in any in scientific inquiry and in his public declarations Horn cleverly declines to make it.
The skeptical view of all this alienist narrative, woven so thickly out of circumstantial or coincidental facts and relying almost entirely on single witness testimony, hearsay and an enthusiastic acceptance of UFO savants and falsified documents, is not that it is "phony baloney" or "too incredible for belief," but that it is "acknowledged but undecided." One of Montaigne's favorite skeptical mottos from Sextus Empiricus was: ΕΠΕΧΩ or "I suspend judgment" and this is the core skeptical impulse. We cannot impugn testimony when we have no material evidence to contradict it; we cannot decide competence on issues outside our experience; we cannot definitively refute claims without evidence to the contrary. We simply temper our assent by asking alienists what they can offer as corroborating public facts. Until then, we are absolved of any responsibility either to deny or to believe.
If we had many single witness reports from people who had no way to share knowledge or factual content, then commonalities in their reporting might be significant. This is a major failing of alienist storytelling: the single witnesses collectively describe places, times, events and evidence that each of them has witnessed individually. With remarkable consistency, no two witnesses tell us independently about the same parts of the same event.
This is a critical evidentiary standard that some claim might apply to alien abduction. These single witness abduction testimonies vary from weepy story to creepy story to revelatory, but many have a common architecture. The witness is somehow alone or, if with others, is innocently separated from them; a strange occurrence such as a light or an impulse to "take a drive at night" draws the witness deeper into solitary contact; then there is a lapse of "lost time" that is usually an hour or so (the Travis Walton abduction lasted five days). The witness is found by the others (who have seen nor heard nothing) or the witness volunteers the tale to family and authorities; an investigation follows; no conclusions can be reached, the goings on remain a mystery. Then through slow recall, often by dreams or regression hypnosis, the witness remembers alien figures; an alien encounter; and release from the encounter with mental alterations such as amnesia, confusion or fear.
The Betty & Barney Hill Abduction 1961
By priority and universal acclaim, the archetypal abduction narrative is the 1961 Indian Head, NH 19 September or "zeta Reticuli incident" involving Barney and Betty Hill, an interracial couple who took a misdirected country drive in rural New England and became lost in lost time, bad dreams, therapy with regression hypnosis, terrifying but liberating recovered memories, a best selling book and a guest appearance on To Tell the Truth. The Barney and Betty regression sessions are available online and are memorialized in the 1975 "made for TV" movie The UFO Incident, which provided a young James Earl Jones the opportunity for some virtuosic monolog acting as the afflicted Barney Hill. The film describes a therapeutic arc from encounter to malaise to healing recall to loving acceptance that is appropriately psychodynamic for the era of Freudianism's last hurrah.
Many alienists put credence in Betty's memory of being shown a three dimensional star map of alien "trade routes," which she reproduced from memory during the time of her psychotherapy (Figure 35a). Years later, Ohio schoolteacher and Mensa member Marjorie Fish claimed to have deciphered the map and identified zeta Reticuli as the alien home (Figure 35b). This is a G type multiple star system about 12 parsecs [39 light years] from Earth. Astronomer Carl Sagan pointed out the arbitrariness of choosing a "connect the dots" star pattern among the roughly 10,500 known stars within 59 parsecs of the Sun, the distance of the farthest star included in the Fish map. But there is a more obvious problem. Hill's star map shows the Sun about half again farther from zeta2 than the zeta pair are from each other, but the actual distance is more than 270 times farther.
This is supposedly because the stars are viewed in 3D or linear perspective and the viewpoint is close to the zeta pair. These are parameters enough to construct a hemispherical projection (perspective view) of the Fish stars in the updated Hipparcos/Gliese data at SIMBAD. The viewpoint can be established using three specific details from the Fish star map: (1) construct a line between zeta Tucanae and zeta2 Reticuli as the line of sight (so that zeta Tucanae is "hidden behind" zeta2); (2) locate the viewpoint about 0.11 parsecs from zeta2 on this line of sight (which places Sol 1.5 times farther than zeta1 from zeta2 in the hemispherical projection); and (3) rotate the projected location of the stars around the line of sight until Sol is approximately above zeta2 (Figure 35c).
From this viewpoint, Fomalhaut is directly on the line to Gliese 86, not above it; Gliese 111 and 55 are far to the viewer's left limits of vision and Gliese 231 far to the right; and both Gliese 97 and 86.1 are behind the viewer's back at distances of 5 and 27 parsecs respectively, which might indicate a calculation or labeling error by Fish. (The Excel spreadsheet used to make this reconstruction is ↆ here.) Thus, the relative distances among the stars in the Fish solution do not correspond to the actual distances among the stars in either absolute or perspective space. Changing the viewpoint or adding stars that are also behind the viewer's back does not improve things.
This illustrates the intricate nature of our assent to factual evidence. As the outlook matching problem, the question is: "How closely does this evidence match my empirical criterion of reality?" As the uniquely matching problem, the question is: "How uniquely, improbably or nonrandomly does this evidence match my conceptual criterion of reality?" And as the competent witness problem, the question is: "How accurately does this witness provide a remembered perception of reality?" Figure 35c raises the outlook matching problem. Sagan raised the uniquely matching problem. There isn't a clear way to evaluate the competent witness problem, except to put a probability around it. The claim is made that Betty had "a photographic memory," I know of no independent test to demonstrate that remarkable facility; in any case, what would be needed in addition is a well developed skill in drawing in order to render all the relative distances accurately as dots and lines on paper.
The Hill's notoriety also provided the script for many later abduction cases that hinge on some form of alien medical examination or telepathic communication. Fiction writer Whitley Strieber, professed abductee or experiencer and author of Communion: A True Story, added other details that reappear in later reports, including the iconic "gray alien" depicted on the cover.
The influence of culture and media on abduction reports is implied by the fact that they collectively evolve over time. The accounts show a progression from reports of strange corpses before 1950, to reports of live alien sightings after 1950, to reports of repressed abductions with painful medical exams after 1970, to fully remembered encounters after 1980 accompanied by a resurgence of hearsay reports by UFO journalists. This evolution implies that UFO abductees had previously heard of UFO, or read newspaper accounts of abductions, or seen Invaders from Mars or This Island Earth which scared the bejeezus out of my preschool sister when our family saw it in 1955 or in some other way were influenced by the mini mania of abduction reports from 1965 to 1975 that became a surge of abduction reports in the 1980s.
The Ariel School Incident 1994
Yet, astonishingly, clinical workers have routinely encountered childhood alien abductions remembered by adults, and even encounters with strange playmates reported by children. The classic case of child reports of a "close encounter" is surely the remarkable 1994 Ruwa ZWE 16 September "Ariel School Incident" observed by about 60 out of 250 primary level rural Zimbabwe schoolchildren at play outdoors during a Friday mid morning recess.
According to the evidence presented in the 2022 documentary Ariel Phenomenon by filmmaker Randall Nickerson, in recent documentary videos and in the recall testimony from adult witnesses such as Salma Siddick and Francis Chirimuuta, the event was memorable. A few students at play saw a bright streak or flashes in the sky moments before one or two dozen other students at the northern end of the playing field saw an oblong or oval, "huge light" or "silver thing" suddenly appear perhaps 100 meters from their playground, hovering over or landed by an outcropping of rocks in a field of tall grass and trees. Many of the children saw glittering flashes and chromatic lights; many of the children saw a strangely moving "black man" or two with long black hair or enormous dark eyes. The manifestation persisted for a brief but unknown interval until some of the younger students screamed in fear and all retreated en masse toward the school buildings. Meanwhile the observable "just went all of a sudden," up and away, and was gone. Nothing suspicious was found by parents who came at noon to collect their children and went out to search the roughly ¼ acre grassy field, nor during several searches that came after.
The following Monday the students made drawings of what they had seen; these depicted the observable either without physical props, with grass, between trees or behind trees, and either omit a figure or include one or two (with or without long black hair and/or huge staring eyes). These details suggest what the students saw but also their observing location when they saw it and also the part of the event that they observed. The most stereotyped "flying saucer" drawings are mostly without visible figures and depict the object obscured behind trees. Students who saw the observable without obscuring trees recorded a luminous or metallic appearance, a form that was either oval or a spherical cap (with the flat side facing downward). The observable was accompanied by one or two figures that resembled a diminutive human with a large head and a skintight, lustrous black suit; one was "sitting on" the observable and the other was making disjointed, repetitive "running" movements nearby. Some of the students saw small spheres of lights that orbited around the large form before suddenly disappearing, and that detail may indicate students who began observing earlier or had a better view. There was a riveting quality to the experience of the staring black man that made it difficult for students to look away; a few triggered students describe receiving a "telepathic" communication from his dark staring eyes.
This is the testimony from the students and the researchers preserved as video. An actual survey of all witnesses what each witness saw, the full transcript of each standardized interview, all the drawings produced, what the child revealed to parents over the following weekend and how the parents reacted, what teachers observed all that would be available in any decent investigative report. But to my knowledge no such report exists, despite the diligent efforts by Charlie Wiser to transcribe and assemble the handmedown scraps of video news reports, investigative footage, drawings and investigator narrative.
The first persons to interview the children (who was not a parent or teacher) was the "local African UFO researcher" and MUFON field investigator Cynthia Hind, accompanied by assistant Gunter Hofer and BBC news correspondent Tim Leach, who had filmed a brief interview with three students on Monday. Hind apparently studied drawings, walked the field and interviewed 15 children but only summarized her investigation as two chatty articles in the 1995 UFO Afrinews (Nos. 11 & 12) and in her 1997 UFOs Over Africa. She recorded student observations in single sentences, and these characterize the depth of her inquiry. Harvard psychiatrist and abductee researcher John Mack arrived two months later to interview a dozen of the children and was convinced by their parallel testimonies and similar drawings. Yet he drafted no report before his death a decade later in an auto accident. Evidently, a decade was not time enough to complete it; the John E. Mack Institute, under various pretexts, declines access to any documents related to the Ariel School event.
These lapses in scientific oversight have left us without the context of reliable circumstantial evidence to support any specific interpretation. We don't even know how long the event lasted (two kids estimated it was between 2 to 5 minutes). We are thrown back onto what we can reconstruct from the words and drawings of a child. And the most important observation is the children's consensus confidence and convergent willingness to report what they saw in filmed interviews with scrutinizing adults. Like all the interviewers who actually met with the children, I have no doubt that they saw something extraordinary, unsettling and visionary. That is the best confirmed and also most important fact about the Ariel School incident.
Yes, but what got the youngsters so aroused? The bunkist suggestion that the observable was a "passing VW bus filled with hippies" is a misperception too gross even for children. Obviously an odd vehicle reflecting sunlight does not match what the children described or account for their response to what they saw at the time and much later in life.
At the stated distance of about 100 meters, a 4.5 meter long VW bus viewed from the side subtends 2.5° and a human head about 8 arcminutes; recognition of human eyes and hair would be easy for acute young eyes. One student compared the observable's angular width to his thumbnail, which implies an angular width of about 1.7° or a physical width at 100 meters of about 3 meters, seemingly too small even for two small black men. The mowed track of grass under utility poles and the fields of tall grass nearby, clearly visible in the documentary videos of the site, revealed no recent vehicle tracks. Finally, the position of the Sun about 48° above the horizon and east northeast of the zenith, the slightly convex and nearly vertical windows of a VW bus, and the fact that the Sun was actually slightly behind the event location viewed from the playground (Figure 36) require that sunlight reflected from the windows would be reflected into the ground on the opposite side of the bus from the Ariel School 100 meters away: the side visible from the school would have been in shadow.
Bunkism proceeds by leaving out, and what is left out here is the children's reaction. Whatever we may think of the glare and pranking passengers of a VW bus viewed from the length of a soccer field, we don't think it would produce such a strong experience in so many students that they would first panic en masse and then show a commitment to testify repeatedly about it. The disparities among the separate student accounts are consistent with honest witnesses trying to explain something extraordinary, unsettling and briefly observed. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest a hoax at the vehicle end of the event, or a contagious common misinterpretation, mass suggestion, or collective fabrication on the side of the students. The Ariel School event is unexplained, like any other genuine UFO event.
We cannot derive from the event description any kind of psychological or physical explanation. Several students reported feeling that the alien figures signaled with menace or invitation that they wanted the children with them; this suggests alien abduction, which is itself unexplained and is therefore not an explanation. Yet many children beginning with the youngest children seem to have reacted with fear, which is peculiar given the large distance between the playground and the reported location of the observable. Panic seems to have been caused by the apparent near approach of the strangely moving "black man" yet even here reports vary. Some children only reported he "was just like a shadow, we just saw a shadow going."
These and other details strongly suggest a visionary or fundamentally imagistic and projective rather than material event, a spectacle of brightness, colored lights, entrancing movements and animate, bizarre figures. Although we only have the subjective reports of children, the event was clearly an uncanny experience for these witnesses; some of the children were kept home to recover from it and some of them suffered post traumatic effects even into adult life. (One female reported she still had not told her husband about it.) Some of these effects were due to parental disbelief and scoffing, and later fear of social stigma, but most of the children were unafraid of public, group or private disclosure.
There are almost one dozen other reported schoolyard sightings, including a very similar episode a large resting UFO and a humanoid figure in a "silverish suit" emerging from the craft known as the 1977 Broad Haven GBR 4 February event, with fourteen child witnesses. But Ariel School was the last.
The Seal and the Signet
The inevitable "reality" questions that come up in these cases "Did that really happen? Did the schoolchildren really see extraterrestrial beings?" seems to me a misguided approach. When you look at the bright red seal on a ceremonial document you can see the shadow of the signet face that was pressed into the hot wax, but not what metal or stone or gem the signet was made of. "Did that really happen?" is a question about the signet; all we have is the seal. These alien near encounters have been impressed into the memory of the experiencers, and that fact merits our empathic hearing and clinical inquiry. But we do not know what form of factual or psychological signet actually impressed those memories, and I do not need to judge as true or false any storytelling that implies we do.
A common psychological basis for alien abduction is implied by the fact that episodes of "lost time" are nothing new to humanity; many of us septuagenarians have even had a Lost Weekend. These episodes are medically well documented as dissociative disorders or dissociative fugue:
The word [fugue] comes from the Latin word for "flight." People with dissociative fugue temporarily lose their sense of personal identity and impulsively wander or travel away from their homes or places of work. They often become confused about who they are and might even create new identities. Outwardly, people with this disorder show no signs of illness, such as a strange appearance or odd behavior. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, conscious awareness, identity, and/or perception. When one or more of these functions is disrupted, symptoms can result. ... Most dissociative fugues are brief, lasting from less than a day to several months.
I hesitate to disparage a transient mental state as an illness or call someone ill who "shows no sign of illness." Perhaps a better framing concept would be hypnagogic or hypnopompic states that often involve a fearful paralysis and disturbing visions associated with sleep. Many if not most abduction reports revolve in some way around falling asleep or waking from sleep, bedrooms and beds, especially the abductions remembered from childhood or reported as teenagers. This makes the daylight Ariel School incident even more remarkable. Alien abduction is a far more involving experience than dreams, obviously, but the dissociative state well describes how abduction events appear from the outside to the friends and family around the person who is recounting the experience.
For factual corroboration we might look for common features that could only come from a single signet, but again we tend to find only a general outline that produces contradictory details. It's within the hypothetical fugue, as the experience of the person in the presumed dissociative state, that the stories blossom with astonishing originality, from alien sexual intercourse to an alien bureaucracy to an alien hybridization project. Here is where our hope of convergent testimony from independent witnesses falls short. Abductees describe different spacecraft, different types of aliens, different medical or experimental tools, different alien interactions, different telepathic "messages" from the aliens. The purpose appears to be to harvest human genetic material and produce hybrid alien/human offspring, or to warn humanity to mend its ways.
Folklorist Thomas Bullard claims these episodes nearly always includes a harrowing medical examination and sometimes an intellectual or "message giving" conference, a tour of the space ship, or a theophany. This is basically a ritualistic interpretation: it resembles the narrative conventions that a cultural anthropologist might use to describe an adolescent rite of tribal passage. But these broad brush categories gather together very different details. Claims that the aliens implanted objects into the abductee's head or body have (in a very limited number of cases) reportedly produced bizarre metallic shrapnel without a matching insertion scar in the skin. Some show superficial wounds or medical complaints; a large proportion show symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
The abductees do describe a derangement of volition and/or memory and a dreamlike surrender to incomprehension as common elements; some describe full derealization including out of body experiences. The predominant if not universal tonality is powerlessness and a brutalizing component of paralysis, terror and extreme physical pain. Clinically, all that might resemble a dissociative episode experienced from the inside. But it also constitutes, if we assume real agents acted in terms of human values, the commission of multiple criminal acts occasional assault, torture and rape within the common crime of kidnapping.
Eventually public interest in abductions and close encounters petered out, I think for three reasons. Most important was that a consensus finally formed that alien abductions don't really seem to harm the experiencers once the event is over, and abductions don't seem to happen to many people. (How many people is not a public fact, but it cannot be very large or the therapeutic services would multiply apace.) Also important is the stigma around the UFO topic in general. Less important is that the stories told by abductees such as Christa Tilton or Debbie Jordan-Krable, or alien corpse dissectors like Ray Santilli or AKA Jonathan Reed exceed even the most empathic credulity. This is never a fixed boundary as our current travails with vaccine microchips, elections stolen with fake ballots or the QAnon hope for the resurrection of JFK make plain. But it is a transgression and eventually provokes a consensus of disbelief, disinterest or coercive ridicule.
A recent addition to the abduction theme of alien/human contact is the AAWSAP research into "dark spirits" at Skinwalker Ranch, including research using the parapsychological method of "remote viewing." This topic is addressed in the book by Lacatski, Kelleher and Knapp (cited above), which curiously includes the topic of "skinwalkers" in its title but not in its index, usually a warning sign in a nonfiction book. The authors claim that visiting Skinwalker Ranch or encountering a UFO may cause you to "catch" a case of skinwalker variously described as a menacing "huge wolf-like creature," a "large, black humanoid shape" or a "dark oval eight feet high" that produces a strong fear response. They examine these spirit infections with contagion models from epidemiology and attribute to them the ability to reset videocameras or drain their batteries in order to avoid detection. But the bulk of the evidence linking skinwalkers to UFO or to adverse health effects is indirect and typically single witness or hearsay anecdotes. This may be an emerging area of UFO research, and possibly connected to the NDAA stipulation to study UFO health effects, but at present skinwalkers do not unambiguously coincide with any prior UFO related phenomena.
John Mack and Alien Authorship
Academic psychiatrist John Mack reported his interviews with over six dozen "experiencers" in Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens and he paints a diagnostic profile of apparently trustworthy and competent witnesses:
I was quickly impressed with the fact that they were discriminating individuals, largely of sound mind, who were as inclined to doubt their experiences as was I. Furthermore, their experiences, which they related with intense and appropriate emotion, were consistent with those of other "abductees" or "experiencers" whom they did not know, including details not presented in the media. They were reluctant to talk about what seemed to have happened to them, and, with rare exceptions, had nothing to gain and a good deal to lose. Clinically speaking, these individuals were talking about something that had really taken place. The only problem was that what they were telling me about was not, from the standpoint of my view of reality, possible.
Remarkably, Mack discovered that many of the earliest remembered abductions occurred in childhood, when aliens are often helpful or playful, and he found that abductions sometimes run in families and tend to occur in unusually attuned or "sensitive" persons. This leads to a second typology of abduction devised by Dr. Leo Sprinkle. After 24 years of working as a regression hypnotist and psychotherapist with abductees, he proposed a PACTS model of five progressive stages in the abductee/contactee experience: (1) preparation (family and cultural experiences of ESP and/or spiritual contacts, including childhood visitations by what Sprinkle called "spiritual beings"), (2) abduction (UFO sightings and/or involuntary abduction experiences initiated by spiritual beings), (3) contact (consensual visitations as an adult, initiated by spiritual beings), (4) training (communication of specific messages, or instruction for a mission or task), and (5) service (cooperation with a program originating in the spiritual beings, such as channeling verbal or written information or providing instruction or assistance to others).
The fact that abduction/contact experiences can appear early in childhood seems to rule out a cultural or "copy cat" explanation of those reports. It implies a susceptibility to abduction that is inherited or shaped by early development and parenting. Garry Nolan has suggested that UFO experiencers have an enlarged basal ganglia, and this could be an inherited characteristic. In any case, alien abductions have been interpreted as an anomalous experience (a clinical euphemism for a wide range of paranormal experiences) that tend to appear after traumatic life experiences, or as an anomalous trauma that can produce PTSD type symptoms or the budding of a spiritual outlook a greater abductee involvement with spirituality, environmental responsibility, and concerns for the future of humanity. As with the variety of observable morphology, we seem to be dealing with a poorly defined cluster of psychological causes and effects.
Professor Mack took the abductee accounts seriously and concluded that abductees believe in the events sincerely. This psychological impact without material evidence is the bare fact, and is very striking. Mack does not emphasize the inherent absurdity of a story that we must assume "had really taken place;" he claims to lack a conceptual box, a "view of reality," to contain the story. I also take abductee accounts seriously on grounds of compassion and care, but my difficulties are not with the reality of the reports but with the logic of the alien process and the "authorship" of the experience.
Let's assume the aliens exist, take at face value the capabilities ascribed to them, and examine the coherence of the experiencer narratives. Since aliens reportedly can produce unconsciousness, why is it necessary for aliens to appear at all, or inflict on experiencers excruciating surgical pain, or present abductees with the supposed offspring of their hybridization? (Some abductees describe nearby friends or family members as falling "deeply asleep" during an abduction.) Why put the animal through pain and fear? Why ignorantly announce that the abductee will remember nothing when that is factually untrue unless it is alien irony to say that what abductees "remember" is not at all what actually happened?
My second difficulty returns to the question: "Was it real? Did these things really happen?" Assuming an "alien" controlling consciousness forces the analogy of the wax seal into the question of authorship. Once you concede that aliens can control your body and your mind can paralyze, levitate, influence you telepathically to stop resisting, stage bizarre but visionary events, inflict pain and humiliation, and erase or distort memory then the entire alien abduction experience is effectively fictionalized or dramatized. If aliens can control your will and put images into your mind, then anything and everything about the episode can be justifiably dismissed as a form of implant, suggestion, delusion or neural malfunction. The "author" of the story is not the "experiencer" who narrates it. In that case, it's the honesty and ultimate purposes of the playwright aliens that become the uncertainty, which the truthfulness and competence of the abductees cannot help us to judge.
The Drake Equation
Whatever may be our attitude toward ufology here on Earth, we have to confront the possibility that technologically advanced alien beings may exist on a planetary system near or far away. There are different ways to come at that issue but the most straightforward is by way of the Drake equation.
In 1961 (the same year as the Hill abduction) the radio astronomer Dr. Francis Drake convened a meeting of ten professional and occasional scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank (WV) to discuss the possibility of detecting radio transmissions from extraterrestrial civilizations. At this meeting Drake presented his equation as "all the things you needed to know to predict how hard it's going to be to detect extraterrestrial life."
The Drake equation is not a scientific statement in any standard sense and it was not originally, as Wikipedia has it, "a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy." It is instead a heuristic, a "recipe for thinking" to guesstimate the probability we could detect such civilizations.
The seven parameters of the heuristic, as described at the SETI Institute, are:
1. R*: the galactic rate of "Sunlike" star formation per year
These parameters are stated as frequencies that result in an estimated number of civilizations that might be detected by a radio telescope on Earth. The conjectures derived at the 1961 meeting were between 1000 to 100 million such detections; Drake himself suggested 10,000. That's an uncertainty of six orders of magnitude, which by itself means that you don't have a reliable estimate. Or, as the SETI Institute itself admits: "the Drake Equation cannot be 'solved' or even accurately calculated."
One problem is that the civilizations that might be detected by radio transmissions would be less than all the civilizations that exist, because they lack electromagnetic methods of transmission, do not think communication a worthwhile endeavor, or cloak their transmissions to remain hidden from other civilizations. These probabilities are completely beyond estimation because they involve not merely the existence of other species but insight into their historical circumstances and view of extraterrestrial communication.
(This is incidentally a topic of fierce debate among scientists about the SETI proposal to beam messages into space to signal our presence. I am firmly in the camp of those who think it is a terrifically stupid idea, not just as a feckless waste of science funding. The claim by Douglas Vakoch that "there may be civilizations out there that refuse to reveal their existence unless we make it clear that we want to make contact" is possibly true, but as a biological and military behavioral strategy cloaking implies an ambush predator at least as much as a defensive burrower. And it begs the question: if all those advanced civilizations we think are out there have unanimously refused to reveal their existence, what is it they realize that we don't?)
By tweaking premises or adding new parameters, the Drake heuristic can be applied to estimate the number of technologically advanced civilizations that exist in the Galaxy independent of our ability to detect them. These estimates range from "billions" of advanced alien civilizations to the dour estimate by Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler and Toby Ord that "When the [Drake] model is recast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it." This study is especially interesting as it provides an analysis based on schematic probability distributions for each parameter and a Monte Carlo meta analysis of previously published point estimates. When combined with the bayesian prior that no other intelligent civilization has yet been detected, the analysis converges on a probability between 53% to 99.6% that we are alone in the Galaxy (it's more likely that we are alone than not alone), and between 39% to 85% that we are alone in the universe.
Despite its inherent incapacity to produce a firm conclusion, noodling the Drake heuristic is a simple amusement I've done myself. While I don't document my assumptions here, I conclude that there are ten or fewer advanced civilizations in the entire Galaxy in comoving time. My conjecture is therefore more sympathetic to the view of evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, in his classic debate with Carl Sagan: getting the biological project of evolution as far as it has gotten on Earth is actually, quoting Mayr, "an improbability of astronomical dimensions." Part of Mayr's argument is that continuous extinction is an evolutionary given, yet civilizations advanced enough for interstellar capabilities would seemingly require many millennia, if not a million years, to develop interstellar travel. Another part is that, as a species attribute, "high intelligence is not at all favored by natural selection." As Mayr points out, of an estimated 50 billion species that have appeared on Earth, only one (us) is known to have evolved an instrumental civilization.
Using our own planet as example the only example we have it took evolution roughly 2.4 billion years to evolve humans, if we start with the cyanobacteria that transformed the carbon dioxide of the Earth's primordial atmosphere into the 21% oxygen content that is integral to the chemistry of most minerals and essential to the metabolism of carbon based life; or it took only 540 million years to evolve humans, if we start with the Pre-Cambrian emergence of complex life forms. And across that 540 million years at least five mass extinction events have occurred on Earth and each of them radically transformed the global ecology of life and one or two came very close to exterminating vertebrate life entirely.
Clearly, the evolution of complex life is time consuming. Geologic time scales rule out advanced civilizations from planets orbiting the few percent of stars that have a mass of 3 suns or more. Stars live longer when they are smaller because they burn through their smaller supply of fuel at a much slower rate due to the weaker gravitational pressure and lower temperature at their core. Massive stars die as novae within a few hundred million years before life can take first breath. These are simple examples of the interdependency between life and astrophysics: bacteria can create a planet's atmospheric oxygen and civilizations can advance far enough to raise the planet's surface temperature, but they both require the longevity of a small, solar type star to do it.
Astronomers Erik Petigura, Andrew Howard and Geoffrey Marcy estimate from the Kepler observatory exoplanet discoveries that about one in five "Sun-like" or main sequence stars shepherd planets with a mass between 1 to 8 times that of the Earth that orbit within the temperate "habitable zone" where the surface water is neither ice nor steam. Given that there are around 100 billion stars in the Galaxy, about one in five of these stars are likely solar type stars, and about one in five of these stars entrain earthlike planets, then there are probably 4 billion potential destinations for our future intragalactic exploration.
But evolutionary biologist Peter Ward and astrobiologist Donald Brownlee outline more reasons for pessimism in their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. The gist is that many complex and lucky factors are necessary to support the evolution of life, much less the evolution of a technological species. A "rocky planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a sunlike star," as some astronomers put it, is hardly enough. Ward and Brownlee argue for a large number of conditions that can affect whether life appears and has time to evolve in the universe, including:
Mass of star F, G or K (called "solar type") star
And we often ignore the inherent difficulties that result from the highly complex social structures necessary for technological advancement. Anthropologist Joseph Tainter has suggested that the repeated collapse of complex societies occurs because innovating more complex ways to do things, the hallmark of advanced civilizations, eventually imposes unmanageable social costs. Thus, our complex technological solution to burn carbon as a way to replace animal sources of energy has produced the unmanageable social and economic costs of climate heating. Eventually the new innovations increase the complexity costs more than they provide the benefit of a complexity solution, and the societies "collapse" or radically simplify through fragmentation, decentralization and a throwback loss of cultural capital. This would compound the instabilities between resource competing cultures that tend toward cultural disruption or extinction due to biotechnology, artificial general intelligence (AGI), or that classic duck n' cover, nuclear winter. The moral is that there are many obstacles on the path not just to continuous social and technological progress but to a truly long term, sustainable level of civilization.
This brings the extraterrestrial hypothesis to its three significant stumbles. Alienists take for granted the existence of advanced civilizations and turn to the transport puzzle. "How did the aliens get here? Supra lightspeed travel? Wormhole tunnels through spacetime? Interdimensional passage of a higher consciousness? The 'spooky action at a distance' of quantum physics?" The basic lack of factual support for these proposals aside, the pragmatic starting problem isn't how the UFO propulsion actually works but how the UFO generates enough power for the observed UFO flight capabilities; and once you've solved that problem, how aliens were able to find us from a great distance and then determine that it would be worthwhile to make the journey.
The second stumble comprises all the known obstacles to near lightspeed velocities, including the physical collision energies with particles of the interstellar medium and the cultural burdens of relativistic time. Given the observed acceleration UFO can attain, near lightspeed velocities might be practical, assuming the issues of collision avoidance and ablation by interstellar gas and dust could be resolved. But voyagers from a distant star system would travel decades or even centuries into the future of the home planet and many generations would have lived and died before their return. This raises considerably the social costs of planning and investing resources for such a journey, and the personal sacrifices by the crew to make it, which increases further the improbability of the venture.
The last problem is, whatever your preference for the potential number of home planets and assuming all advanced civilizations will naively beam their greetings ... we don't detect anything. This is termed the "Fermi paradox" after the nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi who chatted the topic of extraterrestrials with colleagues during a lunch at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (NM) in 1950, arrived at the usual, optimistically huge estimate of the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the Galaxy, then blurted out, "But where is everybody?" According to Herbert York, one of those present:
[Fermi] "followed up with a series of calculations on the probability of earthlike planets, the probability of life given an earth, the probability of humans given life, the likely rise and duration of high technology, and so on. He concluded on the basis of such calculations that we ought to have been visited long ago and many times over."
Yet despite six decades of searching with different types of astronomical sensors, not a single sign or signal of life has been detected anywhere in the Galaxy. Zilch. I add that there is no trace of any fossil life or residue of biotic chemistry on any of the planets and satellites explored so far within our system, nor trace in the spectroscopic signatures from any exoplanets either. The universe as we currently observe and understand it is not only almost entirely empty of observable (atomic) matter but inhospitably barren as well.
But who knows, maybe we won the lottery. There is ufologist buzz about the recently discovered planet Proxima Centauri b (the lowercase indicates an orbiting component), with a mass of about 1.6 earths and orbiting the star nearest to our solar system Hipparcos number 70890, a magnitude 11, measly dim and stormy type M or "red dwarf" flare star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. The orbital period is 11 days at an orbital distance of around 7 million kilometers. At that distance the star, which is only half again larger than Jupiter, would appear about 1.6° or more than three times the apparent size of our Sun. This may seem scorching, but M stars shine with a primarily infrared glow, like a good campfire, that requires a closer orbital distance to melt surface water. And these stars, the most numerous of all types in the Galaxy, are calculated to shine frugally for more than 500 billion years longer than more massive and profligate star like our Sun, and this sip of eternity would give advanced civilizations time to evolve, fall back, learn the painful lessons of cooperation and advance farther. Perhaps a possible radio signal from the system is only human radio interference. Or perhaps Fermi had it right after all.
What interests me at the end of this digression is not that extraterrestrial aliens are rather unlikely to be here, or that probabilities lead to probability distributions: it's that our conclusions summarize our preconceptions. The Drake equation is, as a heuristic for thinking, provocative but hardly conclusive; but cited as a source of knowledge, it is merely pseudoscience. Yes, we have good estimates for astronomical parameters like the stellar birth rate (between 1 to 2 stars per year) or the proportion of stars that are M type: trustworthy methods of analysis were applied to relevant and reliable observations. But the rest we have to "guesstimate" as facts that we do not actually know and have not observed but that we justify through arguments of necessity or probability.
Dress it however you like, the Drake equation is storytelling that can be deployed in support of optimistic or pessimistic outlooks. It depends on our ability to fabricate "facts" and pretend we are doing otherwise. To estimate "the fraction of planets with life that develop intelligent life (civilizations)," we simply look at the ceiling, scrunch our brow just like Skinny Bob and ask ourselves, "Hmm ... how often does a planet of eukaryotes evolve creatures that can worship a king?"
The bunkist faction in the UFO discussion is the antithesis of the alienist faction. Bunkism originates in a reluctant rather than enthusiastic human response to the unexplained, but it goes much farther than skepticism. Bunkists have no theory to explain UFO phenomena because they assert that UFO phenomena do not actually exist. All the evidence advanced in favor of UFO is actually evidence of human misperception, misattribution, or the naughty impulse to deceive. And bunkists advance these interpretations under the banner of intellectual "skepticism."
Skepticism is not a philosophical position about good and evil or the nature of things, but a minimalist assumption about the reliability of judgments based on probabilities or ambiguous evidence. It has a long and noble pedigree as a thinking methodology that does not utilize the rules of logic, which allow you to reach conclusions, but uses "tropes" that argue appearances are relative, which allows you to refrain from conclusions. This is claimed to produce an "untroubled and tranquil condition of soul" that causes us to "cease to dogmatize." Although it is usually described as devaluing any opinion or judgment lacking an actual connection to experience or "appearance," the actual role of skepticism is to weed out the appearances that are either misperceived or untrustworthy, where "the same appearance can be produced by two different things."
UFO research has attracted three different forms of "UFO skeptic." The first, UFO debunkers, can be recognized because they rely heavily on an understanding of context to reject hoaxes and exclude misinterpretations of evidence, and they do the work necessary to document that context. Thanks to them, we have convincing alternative explanations for what were until recently promoted as strange phenomena but now appear more likely to be misidentifications of common objects. A UAP video made by the Mexican Air Force appears to show a fleet of UFO moving through distant clouds, but this has been usefully challenged by Ben McGee as methane flares at distant oil platforms. Another widely reproduced video from a Chilean coastal patrol helicopter appears to show an apparently twin lobed UFO releasing a plume of "hot" material, but careful analysis from several sources, including the French GEIPAN and SIGMA-2, indicate it was actually a ↆ distant jet aircraft, most likely Iberian Airline flight 6830. A goof Twitter post claiming to be a James Webb telescope photo of Proxima Centauri was recognized by many as a slice of chorizo. A recently recorded civilian video (celebrated for the witness exclamation "Ima analyze this when I get home") is plausibly debunked as a drone instead. The photograph of a UFO taken by a Costa Rican mother "who ran outside when her kids started to yell" turns out to be a photograph of a UFO simulation from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics closing ceremony. In these and many other cases, a superficially plausible attribution has been challenged by placing it in a larger context and a wider grasp of information. These UFO debunkers provide an indispensible service in UFO research to reduce the false information that may distort our view of the evidence.
The second kind of "UFO skeptic," such as Michael Schermer, profess with the slogan popularized by Carl Sagan that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." But when it comes to making extraordinary claims without any evidence at all, in Why People Believe Weird Things, Schermer shows he can swing that way, too:
We think magically because we have to think causally. We make Type 1 and 2 Errors because we need to make Type 1 and 2 Hits. We have magical thinking and superstitions because we need critical thinking and pattern-finding. The two cannot be separated. Magical thinking is a necessary by product of the evolved mechanism of causal thinking. ... Believers in UFOs, alien abductions, ESP, and psychic phenomena have committed a Type 1 Error in thinking: they are believing a falsehood. Creationists and Holocaust deniers have made a Type 2 Error in thinking: they are rejecting a truth. It is not that these folks are ignorant or uninformed; they are intelligent but misinformed. Their thinking has gone wrong. (p. xxv)
Disregarding the muddled claims about magical and critical thinking as a useful way to think about human reason, it is dogmatic and therefore not skeptical to claim with certainty to know truth from falsehood, as Schermer does by sorting false positives from false negatives; or claim that human judgment can infallably choose the right and true, as Schermer seems to believe of himself (and of those who agree with him); or that believers suffer from defective thinking, as Schermer explicitly asserts. Those are the tenets of pseudoskepticism or negative dogmatism in brief: declare certain knowledge, assert infallible judgment, and morally stigmatize dissenters.
Unfortunately, when you put it like that, pseudoskepticism is regrettably easy to identify and disparage. For that reason it appears full figured only in social groups that have given up interest in dialog and no longer care what you think flat Earthers, election deniers, mask shirkers, needle phobes, insurrectionists, cutthroats, and even some "UFO skeptics." Indeed, some of the high ranking military UFO skeptics in the 1950's were documented to have become quite angry and threatening about the topic. Pseudoskepticism needs a gentler, less dogmatical face than that.
Bunkism is the family friendly form of pseudoskepticism. I adopt this term to make an important distinction. Debunkers reach with context and reason into the interpretability of evidence and sometimes come up with plausible reasons to believe misattribution occurs. There was bunk or bullshit in the claims made from the evidence, and those were taken out. Bunkists put bunk of their own into the evidence, primarily by disparaging the witness as deluded or hoaxing.
Within the bunkist explanation, the bunkist relies on claims of dynamic similarity, shape analogy, or vague resemblance within a limited or biased view of context. It is a form of rhetoric that pushes the inconvenient details or contextual information into the periphery. Usually it is storytelling that does not deny facts or fabricate information (which we call lying) but simply ignores the implications of evidence as an invitation for you to do the same.
Bunkism doesn't like to reject evidence by openly denying it because this requires the evidence be described and evaluated. It simply ignores the evidence through an empty explanation and by doing so permits us to ignore it as well. A common method to boost the effect is the expertise rinse: get an expert or authority to downplay the evidence. We never look at the evidence and we don't judge for ourselves. We just believe the story we hear.
A Pakistan International Airline pilot recently videoed a UAP and reported it as appropriate, and the "official" explanation was soon delivered from a university professor who said that it was a lenticular cloud. If you accept the authority of professors and you are not familiar with the actuality of lenticular clouds then that story might induce you to ignore the report without examining the evidence for yourself.
But if you actually look at the pilot video you find it provides a very clear view of the observable visually small, self luminous, in focus, at high altitude, apparently hovering in a clear blue sky. Skeptics who are sincerely in search of the truth will be quick to point out that it is certainly not anything resembling an actual lenticular cloud. But a bunkist would never take skepticism so far as to actually point out the ruse, because deflecting inspection of the evidence is how a bunkist works.
The principal deflection a bunkist asserts is that evidence supporting claims about UFO are really claims about extraterrestrial aliens and space vehicles, when very often the claims about UFO are really just claims about UFO. The middle ground of objective phenomena without any interpretation, or simple description, gets conveniently lost.
A second, powerful deflection is to minimize or exclude context. This drastically isolates the evidence, and visual evidence in isolation can almost always be interpreted in different ways. "Parallax" is the very common geometrical argument for relative speed and size, and "witness incompetence" or its instrumental equivalent "sensor error" for basic claims about spatial relations. By far the most popular way is through mere visual analogy, or "seagulls." The esteemed members of the February, 1953 Robertson Panel disregarded several hours of technical analysis from military image specialists when they viewed the 1952 TREMONTON film (Figure 12) before lunch and declared: "Well, it certainly looks like seagulls to me" (Swords & Powell, p. 192). This "looks like a to me" or bare visual analogizing is a fundamental bunkist method. Here is a "seagulls" bunking of the 2019 USS OMAHA (2) video from UFO skeptic Mick West:
"And it shows what looks like uh two sets of lights here and they k both, kind of like a pair of lights and they're flashing. Camera appears to be really zoomed in ... And the things move around they kind of look red sometimes but then sometimes they look white so I think the redness is mostly just uh, kind of an artifact of the, the camera, uh, automatically setting the white balance or something like that, you see them whitish here ... Here you see, uh, two white lights, this is probably the most in focus that they get, and then they go out of focus again ... Zooming around like that you the whites, two white lights, and we also see flashing lights as well which seems to me to be consistent with, uh, navigation lights of, of a plane. So what this looks like to me initially, just from, just looking at this video not knowing anything else, it looks like they're landing lights of, uh of planes that are far away. Uh, it could also of course be drones of some sort that have these types of lights, but it kind of reminds me of, of a plane, just the way the lights are flashing."
These impressionistic visual analogies mimic narrative in the way they appear merely to describe facts in the sequence of time when they also interpret them as sensor error and visual resemblance. The claim to exclude context is explicit when West disregards "knowing anything else" that would distract from "just looking at this video." Yet even without context, the video (linked above) shows that the two "aircraft" turn on their "landing lights" at exactly the same time (at t&$160;= 0:13 and 0:26), and in the second instance this corresponds to the moment that the "third aircraft" passing above them loses its red color and begins blinking in white only. How to account for this temporal coincidence, which is not exactly synchronized (as it would be in a camera chromaticity adjustment) but seems to imply a command and response coordination among the three observables? Because these details are inconvenient to explain, West ignores them and, like the Pakistani university professor, suggests in this way that you can ignore them too.
West's analysis also illustrates how even the acknowledged context can be ignored. Using public data, West (t = 4:20) locates the ship south of San Nicholas Island, about 130 kilometers [80 miles] from any airport, and highlights aircraft flight data that shows airplanes in that area approaching from the west along a single transpacific air route. Looking west toward two approaching aircraft would place them even farther from land. And they are clearly approaching at an altitude much lower than the cruising minimum of 10 kilometers [33,000 feet] and, according to West, with landing lights already turned on. He describes the context but ignores the awkward implication: why are two planes simultaneously preparing to touch down when 130 kilometers from a runway?
Across several carefully compiled and edited videos West "debunks" the GIMBAL video by suggesting the rotation of the observable is in the optical system, not in the source, and we only see jet exhaust from behind. This he demonstrates by showing a sufficiently strong glare will appear to rotate in rotating dirty optics, which assumes the unavailable fact that the GIMBAL optics were smeared with Vaseline. But he also assumes that what is visible is the exhaust glare from a jet far away, not the form of the observable itself. Yet GIMBAL begins with the object in WHT HOT (Figure 21) where it has a softly bordered, compact form that does not appear at all like streaky glare or a jet plane (Figure 21).
A substantial refutation of this bunkist "glare" interpretation is available in this video, with images from the actual type of ATFLIR pod used in the GIMBAL video. This produces much higher quality images than the systems examined by West and makes the "engine flare" conjecture seem much less credible. In fact, UAPTF chief scientist Travis Taylor explains that the image is saturated by the high temperature of the observable, estimated around 660°C. at 10 km. When the range of the observable is made to correspond with that estimate and in line with pilot testimony about the event, the trajectory of the observable describes a hyperagile reversal of motion. See also this summary of evidence.
And we still have not addressed the excluded context. The GIMBAL video is part of an intercept that included both the GIMBAL observable and an echelon flight of five "cube in sphere" UFO (which prompts the exchange in GIMBAL, at 0:05, "There's a whole fleet of them, look on the SA." "My gosh!"); nor that such unidentifiable things were observed daily by pilots over the eastern seaboard; nor that pilots had filed air hazard reports because of them. It omits that every military and civilian aircraft flying in a territorial or restricted "whiskey" airspace would have a transponder that would identify the aircraft to any radar interrogation, which this target clearly did not. I also note that West's analysis is supported by Lt. Graves description of "beam glare" directed at the ATFLIR sensors by some UFO, it is contradicted by the aircrew observations that the observables do show a change of aspect "indicative of rotation or uncertainty" that allowed the pilots to distinguish the UFO from the FLIR image of human aircraft. Instead, West waves away source credibility entirely by suggesting, without seeming "perhaps" to actually suggest it, that GIMBAL is really a training video to illustrate a common defect of imagery in gimbal sensor mounts that was released by the Navy under a false identification for some nefarious purpose, or that the New York Times withheld an imperceptibly higher resolution GIMBAL video in order to discourage people from analyzing the images. Again, we have extraordinary claims with no evidence at all to back them up.
The most serious obstacle that UFO bunkism must overcome is nearly always the credibility of the human witnesses or authoritative sources who can corroborate isolated evidence or add important context. Denigrating the witness is the necessary maneuver of last resort whenever the evidence is especially compelling. After 1953, the US Air Force Project BLUE BOOK went to great lengths to "debunk" UFO sightings, and the "explained" cases provide a large number of examples where even expert witnesses were disparaged or impugned. One of the best pilot testimonies of UFO behavior, and one of the first where the witness was officially discredited, comes from sober businessman and veteran fighter pilot Lt. George F. Gorman, who chased a UFO for nearly a half hour in the famous 1948 Fargo ND 1 October "Gorman dogfight."
The US Air Force ↆ investigated the matter and eventually concluded that Gorman had chased a "lighted weather balloon" that they asserted had been released nearby. The astronomer Donald Menzel, an ardent UFO critic and quixotic evangelist for "mirage" and "optical illusion" explanations of UFO sightings, was not satisfied with the Air Force story because Gorman testified that the blinking weather balloon had become a steady light once it was pursued and because Gorman made a detailed drawing of the encounter (Figure 37) that shows he broke off the pursuit at 14,500 feet or 4.4 km after chasing the UFO in a vertical climb toward the zenith. So Menzel added the conclusion that disoriented Gorman ended up chasing "a mirage of the planet Jupiter."
Gorman's testimony does not seem very disoriented to me:
"I am convinced that there was definite thought behind its maneuvers. I am further convinced that the object was governed by the laws of inertia because its acceleration was rapid but not immediate and although it was able to turn fairly tight at considerable speed, it still followed a natural curve. When I attempted to turn with the object I blacked out temporarily due to excessive speed. I am in fairly good physical condition and I do not believe that there are many if any pilots who could withstand the turn and speed effected by the object and remain conscious. The object was not only able to out turn and out speed my aircraft ... but was able to attain a far steeper climb and was able to maintain a constant rate of climb far in excess of my aircraft."
With blinky "weather balloons" like that, who needs fighter aircraft like Gorman's splendid P-51 Mustang? An extended presentation of the all the evidence and testimony in this case provides a complete view of the context. Physicist James E. McDonald declared "Although the pilot-balloon light became the official explanation there are a number of explicit statements in the Blue Book file that thoroughly discount that hypothesis." I add that the Stellarium planetary software rendition of the Fargo, ND skies when the UFO was first sighted on Julian day 2432826.62500, 9:00 pm local daylight saving time or 7 GMT (North Dakota adopted daylight saving time in 1918) indicates that Jupiter was actually below the southwestern horizon. Meanwhile, a weather observer named George Sanderson had tracked the suspect weather balloon with a theodolite, and he charted it heading far away from the location of the dogfight. None of that suggests we should doubt the veracity or competence of Gorman's account.
The Air Force declared the case closed and Gorman, to his credit, only laughed when he heard about it. As a sensible and confident adult, he recognized that the people proclaiming to debunk him hadn't taken the bunk out of his story at all they'd put bunk of their own into it. They inserted storytelling where they had no facts, or they made up facts and pretended they were uncovering the truth. They were obviously also disparaging his credibility and competence as a witness.
Occasionally, bunkists stoop to actual lying, and this shortcoming strangely occurs in people reputed to be competent and trustworthy analysts who testify against their understanding. Edward Ruppelt generally has a favorable reputation among ufologists, but here is how he "solves" the 13 March 1951 report of the Lubbock Lights observed by four university professors:
Personally I thought that the professors' lights might have been some kind of birds reflecting the light from mercury vapor street lights, but I was wrong. They weren't birds, they weren't refracted light, but they weren't spaceships. The lights that the professors saw the backbone of the Lubbock Light series have been positively identified as a very commonplace and easily explainable natural phenomenon.
What is going on here? Even a casual reader immediately grasps that this is bullshit. Nothing has been explained or "solved" here, especially not by hearsay. Ruppelt makes no public display of the proof that "they weren't spaceships" or birds; he is pointlessly coy about the allegedly commonplace actual cause, which he justifies with a strangely intricate story. Puzzling over it, you might realize that the only way the identity of a scientist would be revealed by his particular explanation of the sightings by a group of four professors is if the explanation relies on facts known only to the professors who made the sighting. Any straightforward explanation of a "very commonplace ... natural phenomenon" could come from any commonplace scientist relying on universally accepted principles of physics or psychology or astronomy, and such an explanation would reveal nothing personal about them. Ruppelt leaves the stink of the bullshit on the witnesses.
However, the point is not that the professors were lying: it's that Ruppelt is lying. It seems the professors had become irritated by the publicity around their sighting testimony and concerned that ridicule might affect their academic prospects ridicule and reputational damage are common concerns among UFO witnesses. So one of the professors, professor Dr. W.L. Drucker, chair of the department of petroleum engineering at Texas Technological College, sent Ruppelt a telegram dated March 17, 1955 (reproduced in Swords and Powell, p. 132) with excuses that amount to a no comment retraction:
Ruppelt certainly understood from the flimsy pretext and admonition to secrecy, in the context of his previous communications with the professor group and corroborating sightings (and photos) from other witnesses, that this assertion was an evasion. But rather than simply concede that a convincing explanation had never been communicated to him which would satisfy both the truth and the professor's request Ruppelt spins his bizarre sarcasm.
Why? J. Allen Hynek embarrassingly gave his "swamp gas" explanation of the 1966 Lima MI 14 March event because ordered to do so, but made up for his sins by founding CUFOS in 1973. And UFO historians note that in 1959, five years after his retirement from the Air Force, Ruppelt went the other way. He revised his 1956 memoire de guerre The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects for a second edition, adding a chapter on bogus "contactees" like George Adamski and a new final chapter that declares UFO are figmentary "our Space Age myth." Some suggest Ruppelt added this content because he was coerced by an intimidating Air Force meeting, or became alarmed at the damage the book might do to the reputation of the Air Force, or realized how easily a foreign adversary might use hoax UFO sightings to strike panic in the heartland. But the Lubbock nonsense appears in the first edition, which means Ruppelt was freely hoaxing explanations even in 1956. This throws the entire record of BLUE BOOK into suspicion.
The irony is that his bullshit puts Ruppelt at the level of a Billy Meier (human ambassador to the galactic conclave on Saturn) or a Jonathan Reed (the only man to kill an alien in hand to hand combat), the same defective witnesses that Ruppelt's hoax was intended to silence. And I don't mean to denigrate the witness with my philosophical term of art, but to highlight the remarkable commonalities in the storytelling tactics of bunkists, alienists, flat earthers, anti vaxxers, and conspiracy theorists in every domain and how much the storytelling relies on the general procedures of bullshit. This does not mean than any of those points of view are wrong according to some standard test of truth: it just means we don't have sufficient grounds to believe they are right.
Our human impulse to explain things seems especially stimulated when we don't understand what we are talking about. When confronted with a lack of facts or an acceptable narrative that can explain the inexplicable, reject the intolerable or condemn the unconscionable, the human explanatory impulse launches into storytelling and in the process assumes the unproven, reasons from resemblances or analogies, eliminates or misrepresents context, fabricates facts, impugns inconvenient witnesses, and makes uncorroborated claims of secret knowledge. These are the stratagems of deception, the same tropes that we deploy privately, in secret, in order to mislead and deceive an enemy or intimate. To see them deployed publicly with the pretense of sincerity is astonishing.
The particular assumptions, reasonings, witnesses, facts and context do not matter, as we find the same tactics deployed to the same effect across an enormous spectrum of beliefs, whether fringe or majority. As a biologist one must embrace this diversity as a feature of the natural variations that evolution requires for natural selection. The nuisance storytelling of bizarre fringe theories is balanced by the visionary storytelling of groundbreaking scientific theory and foundational principles of social or technological change. There is where outlook and insight, anchored in the stubborn stuff of temperament, upbringing and individual experience, always exerts itself over factual reasoning. There may be no nutritional, health or esthetic reason why I should not eat insects, but my outlook rules that menu out of consideration.
The fundamental interpretive problem we confront is that isolated pieces of evidence, in and of themselves, can never be definitive proof of anything other than the mute fact that something called evidence is available. Ultimately all evidence comes down to its place in a network of context. This means the witness, the witness testimony, the collection of all relevant situational information (the place and time, weather, scheduled plane flights, radar recording, imaging, etc.), the provenance of all evidence, a forensic examination of the evidence, an operational analysis of the camera, and so on. Any evidence can be fabricated, planted, corrupted, contested, disputed, explained away, misconstrued or differently interpreted if parts of this network are broken. The fundamental interpretive problem is to assemble multiple independent pieces of evidence or testimony from multiple witnesses that supports a plausible narrative or construction of the context.
Aggregation of multiple pieces evidence of the same kind does not resolve skeptical doubts. Multiple witnesses from the same shipwreck can collude to lie, and multiple photographs from the same camera will have the same dead pixels. The way out of this skeptical predicament is the principle of a trustworthy and competent witness. We eventually must resort to the narrative of other people who stand in the place of our skeptical reliance on personal experience: we ask other people for advice, for guidance, for their opinions. To rely on them in this way, we require them to tell us the truth of the matter, and to be competent in the judgment of the truth a specialist when special facts are involved, or a sober and benevolent common sense when the facts of life are involved. We make a similar inference about devices we use to measure the world: a watch is truthful if it is set to the correct time and competent if it is keeping time when we consult it. What we consider true knowledge is woven both of personal experience and of trust in the experience and testimony of other people, information resources and machines.
The philosophical challenge, separate from any specific controversy, is that a thoroughgoing skepticism is too arduous to be practical. The arch skeptic David Hume, one of my favorite philosophers, answered the objection that skepticism would require doubt in everything that is either a judgment or a claim requiring proof by saying that such thoroughgoing skepticism would be too tedious and impractical to pursue: "The great subverter of PYRRHONISM or the excessive principles of skepticism, is action, and employment, and the occupations of common life."
Activity is the remedy for too much skepticism. We don't need to skeptically weigh information we can safely ignore. We habitually accept information that we judge too incidental to challenge or too difficult to verify because letting them pass helps us get on with things. Most of these difficult to disprove claims are consensual facts, such as the list of US presidents or the atomic weights of the chemical elements, repeated in too many places by too many different sources based on the testimony of many people who are truthful and competent to judge. Consensual facts can take decades to uproot. They can persist because they are believed true, but also because too few people mount a coherent and demonstrable challenge against them. Ultimately a workable skepticism rests on the intellectual capital of what reasonable people believe most of the time over most of memorable time to be true what Sextus Empiricus called the "customs of our country and its laws and institutions."
Reduced to its core, the skeptic principle of the trustworthy and competent witness is the principle that certain individuals have more authority with regard to the facts than our individual experience of appearances. In particular, we yield our judgment of events we did not personally witness to the testimony of people who did, provided they appear to us by any measure we consider relevant to be speaking earnestly and describing clearly. We tend to believe our informants when they speak in a truthful manner, candidly and clearly, and hold their emotions in check. They mean us no harm and they fully answer our puzzled questions with explanations that we understand. We require them to know what they are talking about, to put the most accurate construction or interpretation on the event, to see clearly, to produce on demand their reasoning from the evidence in words, drawings, illustrations, photographs, documents, numerical data, or any other form of fact. This can place a high burden of integrity and skill on a witness, which is why in personally important or empirically abstruse matters we require testimony from professional categories of "impartial experts."
I began by pointing out the skeptical goal of achieving an indecisive balance because, even when decisions are necessary or preferable, balance seems to be characteristic of a healthy and realistic outlook. I have suggested that alienists err on the side of abandoning facts in order to pursue storytelling, and that bunkists exclude context in order to fabricate narrative. Both illustrate a failure of judicious balance, and implicitly declare that individual judgment can stand alone despite an absence of factual support and in contradiction of truthful and competent witnesses. By any skeptical standard, that exceeds the guidance of common sense.
US Government Denial & Neglect
I've placed alienists in comparison with bunkists to show the parallels of storytelling that emerge in response to the unknown or unexplained. But placing the focus on people who spend time on the topic of UFO (either to promote or refute it) risks the false impression that UFO constitute an issue of significant cultural interest or human importance.
A recent Gallup survey suggests that half of Americans think UFO are of human origin or are natural phenomena, and a contemporaneous Rasmussen Report finds that two thirds of respondents have never seen a UFO and don't know anyone who has, and the majority say that UFO are not a national security threat. Although the questions in these two surveys were amateurishly phrased, they suggest that the majority of US citizens have adopted my last example of the human response to the unexplained: whatever it is, just ignore it.
The supreme statement of this denialist approach was developed by a member of the Condon Committee, Michael Wertheimer, a minor light in the Gestalt school of psychologists and a UFO denier who seemed to enjoy needling the "believers" on the panel. The Wertheimer Hypothesis undermined the significance of doing research into the "UFO problem" with two negations: (1) human perceptual error can never be excluded, so eyewitness UFO reports are inherently untrustworthy; and (2) it is impossible logically to prove either the nonexistence of UFO or the existence of aliens (below some exorbitantly high standard of proof). This made the entire UFO "problem" a witness problem, and indeed Wertheimer was a psychologist interested in why people "thought they saw UFOs," based on an assumption that Wertheimer himself said was unprovable the assumption that UFO do not really exist.
Weapons & Science. It is an intricate question how far the government assurance that UFO were almost all explicable events reflected the honest conclusion that UFO were beyond scientific analysis and not a national security threat, or was only a pretense intended to cloak secret weapons development. I recommend the analysis of that question by historians Michael Swords and Robert Powell in their extensively documented UFOs and Government (linked above). A 1971 Australian dossier compiled by O.H. Turner and titled Scientific Intelligence General Unidentified Flying Objects (jump to page 7) provides an informed synopsis of the evolving US military/intelligence policy from the perspective of an impartial analyst in a foreign country:
The early analyses of UFO reports by USAF intelligence indicated that real phenomena were being reported which had flight characteristics so far in advance of US aircraft that only an extra-terrestrial origin could be envisaged. A government agency, which later events indicated to be the CIA Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), studied the UFO reports with the intention of determining the UFO propulsion methods. At that time, OSI was responsible for intelligence on foreign research and development in nuclear and missile matters.
A more detailed narrative of "U.S. Official Attitude to U.F.O's" follows on pp. 9-15 of the Australian UFO report and a "Chronology of U.S. Investigation into U.F.O. Phenomena" on pp. 18-22. These provide a concise timeline of the topic and put events in context.
The conjectural "main programme" of propulsion research and its reputed location at Area 51 of the Nevada Test and Training Range is a longstanding accusation leveled by alienists at the government, especially in the USA. Yet there is no public evidence that a research program utilizing UFO crash remains has ever existed. The US military repeatedly did not pursue opportunities to launch a scientific study of UFO when rigorous scientific study, almost regardless of the cost, would seem invaluable to any intensive program of "propulsion research."
Instead, the military embarked on an extended but poorly documented program to investigate anti-gravity propulsion with the participation of six universities and seven aeronautical engineering companies. The Australian UFO report remarks (in 1971) that 485 theoretical papers had been written on the subject by 1955. This does not suggest the kind of topical or analytical focus that would follow from sizeable and largely intact UFO crash remains.
It is significant that at this time the current theories on UFO propulsion were a mixture of gravity control and electro-magnetic propulsion. ... Such an intensive onslaught on the gravity enigma was entirely irrational from the standpoint of conventional science, and can only be rationalized within the context of a firm belief that UFO's were real and that the intelligences behind them knew how to control gravity. The drive to harness this power before the USSR could do so would be a strong incentive for the U.S. Government to fully support an anti-gravity programme. By 1966, 46 separate projects of this nature were being financially supported, 33 of which were under the supervision of the U.S. Air Force. Although details of most of those projects have been kept classified it would appear that generally they have not been successful."
This illustrates a critical fact: weapons research is not UFO research, even when the weapons are designed to mimic perceived or actual UFO capabilities. The cloak of secrecy must inevitably surround weapons development, and this puts a cautionary frame around the hope expressed by many alienists that the authorization to investigate UFO included in the 2021-2022 NDAA with a "science plan" checklist of weapons related topics will somehow produce public disclosures or advance scientific insight into the actual nature of UFO.
In the past seven decades the US government has apparently put large sums into the development of anti gravity propulsion and in the process we have learned nothing about the nature of UFO phenomena in the same way that investing in aeronautical research will not tell us anything about the nature of birds. As physicist James McDonald put it in his famous takedown of Air Force incompetence in his 1969 address to the AAAS, ↆ Science in Default: Twenty-Two Years of Inadequate UFO Investigations:
No scientifically adequate investigation of the UFO problem has been carried out during the entire 22 years that have now passed since the first extensive wave of sightings of unidentified aerial objects in the summer of 1947. Despite continued public interest, and despite frequent expressions of public concern, only quite superficial examinations of the steadily growing body of unexplained UFO reports from credible witnesses have been conducted in this country or abroad. ... The most grievous fault of 22 years of Air Force handling of the UFO problem has consisted of their repeated public assertions that they had substantial scientific competence on the job.
Yet conventional scientific analysis only clarified that the phenomena cannot be explained by existing scientific understanding. As the citizen scientists consulted by the USAF in 1952 and quoted by Swords and Powell (p. 176) tactfully put it, the solution to the UFO mystery would be found "just beyond the frontiers of our present knowledge." In the stingy estimate of the Condon Report: "further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby."
This problem definition flies against the systemic bureaucratic principle that all problems must be clearly defined, actionable and resolvable. In my view Gen. Samford was wholly candid, if woolly worded, when he admitted that: "Our basic difficulty in dealing with these [unexplained UFO observations] is that there is no measurement of them that makes it possible for us to put them in any pattern that would be profitable for a deliberate, custom sort of analysis to take the next step." Without sufficient evidence that UFO constituted a clear threat to national security, why bother?
The arc of US government interest in UFO can be loosely summarized in four stages:
1. The UFO Craze. 1946-1952. High public interest, numerous and remarkable sightings, major science fiction movies, genuine government security concerns regarding Cold War with Russia.
The UFO Craze. The initial pubic fixation on the UFO meme was acute and enthusiastic. Early sightings, such as the Ghost Rockets, Roswell, Kenneth Arnold or Chiles-Whitted events, produced headline news and global media attention. In January 1950, pulp fiction writer and retired Marine Major Donald E. Keyhoe published "The Flying Saucers Are Real" in True Magazine, followed the same year by a best selling book of the same name. Keyhoe was the first author to join the public claim that UFO were real and of extraterrestrial origin with the conspiratorial theory that the Air Force knew that UFO were extraterrestrial and hid that fact from the public. Two indications of the strong interest in UFO at that time are Edward Ruppelt's comment that "It is rumored among magazine publishers that Don Keyhoe's article in True was one of the most widely read and widely discussed magazine articles in history," and the 500,000 copies of the book sold, equivalent to a run of more than one million copies today.
In entertainment, two groundbreaking alien visitation films, both from 1951, were Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still and Howard Hawks's The Thing from Another World. These illustrate the classic science fiction tropes of aliens come to lead humans to better world and aliens come to capture or attack us. More than 50 subsequent films plotted around extraterrestrial aliens appeared in the next decade, notably including Byron Haskin's The War of the Worlds and William Cameron Menzies's Invaders from Mars in 1953. The 1956 film Unidentified Flying Objects is the story of US Air Force press officer Albert Chop, an original UFO skeptic who is "converted" by the 1952 WASHINGTON DC events; it ends with the Mariana and Newhouse films linked and discussed above as a "see for yourself" testimonial.
During the same period the US Air Force, tasked with confronting UFO phenomena, focused initially on the possibility, as described in the Schulgen memo (above) that UFO were a Russian invention, following disk aircraft innovated by the Nazis. The 31 January 1949 FBI memo on the subject of the "Protection of Vital Installations" begins:
At recent Weekly Intelligence Conferences of G-2, OHI, OSI, and F.B.I., in the Fourth Army Area, Officers of G-2, Fourth Army have discussed the matter of "Unidentified Aircraft" or "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena" otherwise known as "Flying Discs," "Flying Saucers," and "Balls of Fire." This matter is considered top secret by Intelligence Officers of both the Army and the Air Forces. ...
To this list must be added the remarkable series of sightings around the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1949. As Robert Hastings points out, this seems sufficient to take UFO as a threat to national security, but at the time the most probable threat was as a Russian invention. It is true, as the Taylor summary asserts, that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was given serious consideration. As soon as the Spökraketer flew into human awareness, the extraterrestrial hypothesis was advanced by a significant number of citizen witnesses, technical analysts and physical scientists as the least implausible explanation for the observations and evidence. A top secret 4 November 1948 USAF memo recounts the answer given by the Swedish Air Intelligence Service when asked for their interpretation of the GHOST ROCKETS:
Their answer was that some reliable and fully technically qualified people have reached the conclusion that "these phenomena are obviously the result of a high technical skill which cannot be credited to any presently known culture on Earth." They are therefore assuming that these objects originate from some previously unknown or unidentified technology, possibly outside the Earth.
However, Swords & Powell document significant resistance to the ETH within the Air Force almost from the beginning, and Project SIGN's flirtation with the issue received a strong pushback from superior officers before it was retooled as the stigma generating Project GRUDGE. Resistance within the Air Force crystallized in a conviction that the ETH was a dead end, either because the agents tasked with snooping out Russian projects had not yet succeeded or, if UFO really were extraterrestrial, there was nothing to be done until the UFO did something hostile.
During this period the US Air Force public response policy vacillated between military willingness to report and discuss UFO sightings candidly and an evolving intention to minimize DoD involvement and suppress public interest in them. The favorable epochs were roughly from June 1947 to February 1949, when Project SIGN delivered its final report; and from March 1952 to September 1953, the nineteen months when Project BLUE BOOK was adequately funded and staffed to make serious inquiries. (The April 7, 1952 LIFE magazine story signaled this shift in policy when it announced that "The Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation." Note again the evergreen emphasis on unexplained.) The suppressive periods extended from February 1949 until September 1951, when Project GRUDGE was entirely restaffed by General Cabell; and after September 1953 when the policy determined by the CIA and rubber stamped by the Robertson Panel (January 1953) was largely implemented.
The CIA solution. This period approximately concludes with the 1952 Sighting Wave, "one of the largest of all time, and arguably the most significant of all time in terms of the credible reports and hardcore scientific data obtained." Many UFO were seen around the US capitol by multiple witnesses on the ground, in the air and using radar, and a single military pursuit plane was encircled at speed for almost a minute, a maneuver reported both by the pilot and viewed by radar on the ground. The twin events on July 19-20 and July 26-27 received national media coverage and were recreated from a press agent's point of view in the 1956 film Unidentified Flying Objects.
Due to its proximity to the seat of administrative power, President Harry Truman immediately tasked the CIA to examine the issue and the manner in which the Air Force was handling it. The 7 September 1952 Flying Saucers memo from the Office of Central Intelligence within the CIA identified two areas with national security implications: (1) the "mass psychological considerations" that "there is a fair proportion of our population which is mentally conditioned to the acceptance of the incredible" that made them susceptible to "mass hysteria"; and (2) the potential "vulnerability to air attack" caused by an inability to distinguish UFO from enemy aircraft that would run the "risk of false alerts and the even greater danger of falsely identifying the real as phantom." The CIA feared that the Soviets might use false reports of alien attack to panic the population and flood communications channels or stampede urban populations, or might learn to control or mimic UFO events to mask a sneak attack.
During this period the FBI and the military received increasing numbers of reports of both UFO and UFO hoaxes. Cosmopolitan magazine was induced in 1951 to publish a notorious article, shaped by access to USAF senior officers, that implied UFO reports were a waste of military attention and a threat to national security. Ridiculously, FBI agents were actually taking time to post reports such as this July 11, 1947 "office memorandum":
Sgt. Bannister of the Butte Office called at noon today and stated that a [name redacted] Twin Falls, Idaho, at 2:45 a.m. Mountain Time today heard a noise in the back of her home. She thought a collision had occurred and investigated and found in the back yard of the home next door an object described as follows:
The CIA devised a solution for these issues as a three part policy: (1) a program to "educate" the public in how to recognize common UAP objects, (2) publicly "debunking" UFO sighting reports with the alternatives devised by Project GRUDGE (quoted below), and (3) continuing sub rosa to investigate serious reports from expert or reliable witnesses. Publicly disclosing UFO reports became a crime, Project BLUE BOOK's security clearance was revoked, important UFO reports were rerouted away from the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright AFB to the Pentagon, and the Project BLUE BOOK staff was reduced until it was shut down in 1969.
By this time, it seems the estimates within defense/intelligence establishment were that UFO, in themselves, constituted no significant potential security threat, and therefore no risk to ignore. Swords and Powell describe the Robertson Panel approach to that issue as a foregone conclusion (p. 193):
The panel briefly dismissed the possibility that the phenomenon itself was a security issue. Their reasons seemed to revolve around a view that UFOs were like the WWII foo fighters. Both Robertson and Alvarez had some occasion to be aware of the foo fighter phenomenon during the war, and they believed that, whatever they were, they caused no damage, nor even any hindrance to the war effort, and, thereby, were no threat. UFOs, to them, seemed at least in this way to be like foo fighters: no physical threat.
We might call this the foo hypothesis UFO are real, unexplained, and harmless. This was essentially the assessment offered by General Samford in 1952. Instead, the official policy hardened into the practice to ignore, falsely describe or deny UFO evidence, which eventually escalated into claims that UFO were "purely idiotic and wholly nonexistent." But, as we saw in the playbook of pseudoskeptics and in the Wertheimer emphasis on perceptual errors, the policy to discredit evidence evolved into a focus on the integrity of witnesses.
Stigmatization. This policy first crystallized in the December 27, 1949 USAF press release that declared "reports of unidentified flying objects are the result of (1) misinterpretation of various conventional objects; (2) a mild form of mass hysteria, or (3) hoaxes." a posture mocked in a cockpit scene from The Thing. Disparagement of witnesses was made explicitly more extreme in the "Conclusions" of the August, 1949 Project GRUDGE technical report (p. vi):
1. Evaluation of reports of unidentified flying objects demonstrate that these flying objects constitute no direct threat to the national security of the United States.
This official policy to disparage UFO reports and stigmatize witnesses as "nuts" or "fanatics" was not thoroughgoing but emerged like a recurring fever between episodes of judicious disclosure. In this environment Donald Keyhoe, always critical of blatant misinformation coming from official sources and concerned by what he perceived as a continuing military cover up, cofounded the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in 1956 and unsuccessfully attempted several times to get congressional hearings on the matter. This is a complex history, but the point is that these changes in official pronouncements and policy were transparent to the press and visible to any in the public who examined the public evidence. Indeed, it is arguable that many years of indecision and contradictory statements had on public opinion the stimulative effect of a fan dance.
Swords and Powell diagnose the toxic results of this Cold War policy on public confidence in the government:
This policy of public debunking worked well as a tool for keeping the general public in line, but it did not work well with the UFO observers. When the Air Force characterized all UFO sightings as misinterpretations of common things (planes, stars, balloons et al.), or hysterical emotionalism, or deliberate lying, it was the same as characterizing the witnesses as liars, hysterics, or, at the best, incompetents. Worse, it projected an attitude of utter disregard to observers inside the services, whose reports the intelligence officers still wanted to see. Added to the problems cause by the policy was the fact that it was essentially a lie, and responsible people saw through the lie and questioned the Air Force approach and message in its entirety. Moderate analysis of most historical complexities would caution any scholar from labeling such matters so strongly as "the Air Force lied." But there is no room to allow a more polite evaluation. (p.100)
Official Neglect. The ODNI allusion to "disparagement associated with observing UAP, reporting it, or attempting to discuss it with colleagues" is the legacy of this two decade campaign by the US government to shade or deny a real phenomenon of unknown significance. By 1973, the general stigmatization of the issue extended to major new outlets. Walter Cronkite and CBS News and The New York Times among others promoted programming or information dismissive of the UFO phenomenon. The really extraordinary result was that the stigmatization was internalized by the armed services who created the policy of deception: they drank their own Kool Aid and were duped by their own ruse.
As a result, by the turn of the 21st century, there were apparently no "anomalous aircraft" reporting procedures in place anywhere within the defense establishment. In the Joe Rogan interview, Cdr. Fravor gives astonishing testimony on that point. He alludes to his rank as among the "top 20" officers in the entire Nimitz battle group in order to make a point about the apparent lack of interest in the event and the lack of any investigation that followed his sighting of the "Tic Tac" UFO. The gist of his interview with Rogan is summarized in this NY Times profile. The lack of response was described in the AATIP USS NIMITZ report as a perceived lack of response options:
On 14 November following the intercept of the AAV, CDR Fravor reported to CVIC to debrief with Intelligence. He discussed the entire mission and AAV contact with LCDR [redacted], the Carrier Wing Air Intelligence Officer. According to LCDR [redacted], he "wasn't sure what to do." He also stated that they "didn't take it seriously" at first; however, they had absolutely no reason to question the report from a very experienced and well-respected F/A-18 squadron commanding officer. LCDR [redacted] added that they likely would have not given as much attention if it came from a lesser-experienced aviator. He reported it to the Commander of the Air Wing, CAPT [redacted], also a highly experienced aviator but he did not take it very serious. ... Finally, LCDR [redacted] admitted and detailed the high level of ridicule that the aircrew experienced over the next few weeks. ... When [the CSG-11 Senior Intelligence Officer was] asked what he thought the AAV was he replied, based on the area of operations, that he believed it was part of a counterdrug operation.
During this four decade interval of official neglect there may have been constituting what Elizondo has called "an intelligence failure, ah, that would eclipse just about anything that this country has ever faced." This is a perfectly reasonable assessment from a former counterintelligence officer, but it also seems to me a bit extreme. There has been an implicit pattern of nonaggression from UFO toward humans during this period. Even bizarre intrusions such as 1969 MALMSTROM nuclear missile interference cannot reasonably be interpreted as an intentional threat to national security.
The National Security Threat. The historical record allows us to sort through various justifications for the security threat interpretation:
No Hostile Intent. The "foo fighter" hypothesis that UFO do no actual harm
However, a 2019 Popular Mechanics article by Tim McMillan, The Witnesses, presents an alternative account of the events following the "Tic Tac" interception. Five crewmembers of the USS Princeton claim that the FLIR1 tape is not the only video evidence of the "Tic Tac" available, and they testify that within 20 minutes of the event, crews were told to secure data and within hours were told to turn it all over to unfamiliar persons in civilian suits who asked them to erase everything left behind, even blank tapes. Both Cdr. Fravor and Underwood deny any knowledge of these events, but they were pilots on the Nimitz, not radar operators on the Princeton. The Princeton story is also consistent with the view of a defense/intelligence establishment divided and cloaked against itself. Whatever may be the validity of the alternative story, it does not contradict the fact of the widespread and customary ridicule that the pilots received, which is further evidence of report suppression.
The Department of Defense also appears to be actively engaged in a carefully calibrated effort to disparage or discredit Elizondo but in a niggling way that does not rise to flat out contradiction but works through evasive wordplay that is characteristic of both the ODNI "Preliminary Assessment" and the ↆ "strategic influence" praxis of Department of Defense spokesperson Susan Gough. The alteration of the claim that Elizondo had "no responsibilities" at AATIP to her statement that he had "no assigned responsibilities" is the difference between being having no responsibilities and having responsibilities at one's discretion. In addition, the DoD recently confirmed that emails written by Elizondo during his association with AATIP have been destroyed. As usual, Greenewald provides excellent documentation of the controversy and the overall picture of our government is unfavorable.
Disclosure. In summary, the government response to UFO appears to have been an objective interest in the phenomena only sufficient to determine that it represented a minimal military and security issue, at which point the threat concern turned to managing a growing public and cultural interest that nurtured rumor and fantastical speculation, specifically in the context of Cold War tensions with a Soviet Union that suspiciously censored nearly all mention of UFO in its news media.
The pivot is that the military establishment of a democracy became adept at cloaking factual information, misleading public media and influencing the attitudes of the populace to an extent that became grievously costly during the Vietnam War era. In my judgment the most plausible narrative that suffices to explain all facets of official US policy, including any and all possible disinformation campaigns arising from policy, can be anchored in three assumptions:
(1) The US government has concluded that UFO are a technology that demonstrates inexplicable "breakthrough capabilities,"
Defense journalist Ross Coulthart describes his realization that the stigmatization had no substantive purpose because it resisted recognition of a large body of well documented facts. But stigmatization does not usually arise to discredit facts but to support dogma and control belief. Facts are nearly always beside the point. Facts are relevant, however, in the recent government efforts to reverse course, reduce stigma and establish an office of "anomaly surveillance." Reporting anomalous sightings is now not only officially free of stigma but mandated as a duty of military service.
A fair question remains: in a democracy, does military secrecy justify the refusal to provide public justification for significant changes in military policy? When PBS broadcast anchor Hari Sreenivasan asked science correspondent Miles O'Brien, "Why doesn't the government declassify it all?" O'Brien replied:
"I exactly, Hari, I mean eh you and I as journalists that's of course what we're gonna say and everybody at home would say of course you're gonna say that but why wouldn't they? What is the issue? Why hold back at this point? If it is in fact classified programs that the US is involved in I guess we understand that but then maybe they could nod to that effect or that fact to us in some fashion; i don't know. But um, I don't see a lot if if truly, uh we take the report at face value and their indications there that they say I forget the exact wording but this is not anything that the US is developing in a super secret way, if if that is the case, why hold back? Why not share it all, why not lay all the cards on the table? You know, and some of this is just kneejerk classification, as you well know from trying to do our job as reporter, just trying to get um, stuff that is way out there in the open market already, but is technically classified, is very difficult; and it's very difficult to get the government to release stuff that is considered top secret or classified, it's just, some of this is a bias toward keeping it secret I think, but I do believe the more transparency the better and uh, you know, we need, we need to know the full story and I just hope this continues on in a concerted way in a more open way in the future." (t = 6:32)
As O'Brien implies, the story involves the legacy policies and routine inertia of a massive and sclerotic bureaucracy, following policies adopted in the earliest era of the UFO phenomenon that is, of the Cold War and the Red Scare. It apparently also involves a struggle between competing factions within the Pentagon that are for and against disclosure, with resistance said to thrive within the Defense Intelligence Agency.
But, in the Curt Jaimungal interview, Luis Elizondo suggests "hypothetically" that a second reason for the lack of disclosure is that some investigative or research operations may have "gone rogue" because (for a variety of reasons) they no longer report to superiors in the chain of command or do not brief Congress as required by law, or favor one defense contractor over another with access or evidence that provides them with unfair competitive advantage, and therefore makes those involved potentially liable to military or criminal prosecution.
There is no doubt that evasive and deceitful communications are a long established practice between our government and we the people: the Pentagon Papers proved that. The problem for the rest of us is finding an issue that surfaces the practice most clearly. My suggested question for this purpose: why the change in seven decades of official policy? What new evidence supports a reversal in the policy quoted in the 1952 LIFE magazine article that "there is no reason as yet to believe that any of the aerial phenomena commonly described as flying saucers are caused by a foreign power or constitute a clear and present danger to the US or its citizens"? This effectively airs the issue of deception, because it requires the military to address its past claims that UFO witnesses were either mistaken, neurotic, frauds or wackos. Why are UFO reports now encouraged and UFO witnesses believed?
That question hinges on the fundamental assumption that threats to national security deserve an informed and public discussion in a free press. The issue is not what is being covered up but why disinformation, misinformation, shaming and stigma was necessary to cover it up. We should have a government that is open with the public and has publicly argued reasons for what it holds secret. The only way to mend the Cold War wound of disinformation is with an apology for official deceit and a reconciliation of trust with the American people. Both history and current conduct by DoD and the ODNI creates the real "potential threat to national security": a government that is not only inexplicably secretive but also incomprehensibly refuses to say why.
The "Human Technology" Hypothesis
The possibility that UFO might be "USG or industry developmental programs" or "foreign adversary systems" is a justifiable military concern and is responsibly included in the ODNI list of possible explanations. What the ODNI omits from its "Preliminary Assessment" is that the possibility of foreign, industry or US "developmental programs" the possibility that human beings, somewhere and somehow, have contrived to build and operate this technology has been examined many times over the past seven decades and each time has been found to be incredible. In the recent words of former CIA Director of Clandestine Operations James Semivan:
"There's absolutely no way on God's green Earth that these things, are are terrestrial or belong to a government. They are other-world, or other dimension, or other something, but they are definitely not ours, and they are not Chinese, and they are not Russian. And everybody in the government knows that, I might add."
The five arguments against the "manmade" hypothesis can be called (1) the "ancient invention," (2) the "old invention," (3) the "valuable invention," (4) the "ineffectual invention" and (5) "immortal fame." The first four are based on the observed behavior of UFO themselves; the last is a feature of human nature.
(1) The ancient invention argument is straightforward: if you can verify UFO sightings from a historical period when the human construction of UFO would have been entirely impossible, then UFO cannot be attributed to human technology.
There are numerous intriguing accounts reaching back to antiquity, and these all require the skeptic to accept that ancient sightings expressed in ancient terms and concepts qualify as the UFO of modern experience. In a 2007 article for the Classical Journal, NASA astronomer Richard Stothers collects and analyzes 21 reports from 218 BCE to 334 CE after filtering out "the most obvious cases of conventional phenomena." Stothers ranks these events against J. Allen Eynek's "close encounters" scheme and suggests at least one event was an encounter of the third kind. "Flying shields" is a frequently used description, and in passing Stothers offers this insight:
Most reports of flying armaments come from [1st century CE Roman historian] Livy's prodigy lists. ... In view of the time-consuming and costly procedures required by the Roman authorities to investigate witnesses, verify claims and physical evidence, and expiate the more unusual portents, most modern scholars who have troubled to analyze the prodigy lists have come to regard them as trustworthy and accurate. ... [R]egrettably, the reports are always very terse. The military terminology reflects the most advanced technology known at the time, a tendency found in modern UFO reports, in which a witness gropes for a familiar technical vocabulary and perhaps a rationalization to describe an unaccountable phenomenon. (p. 82)
Across two millennia, the collection of UFO reports has been a labor intensive task and subject to a variety of social influences, including a failure to acknowledge them in any way; that is certainly true. But the vernacular similes used to describe UFO often have also drawn on terms from kitchenware and science fiction, so it is the visual comparison with metallic or solid objects that is significant.
Stothers describes the statistically most common features of these observables as round (spherical or disk shaped); of a silvery, golden or red color; appearing metallic or "fiery" (in the era, a term denoting combustion but also "self luminous"); from one meter to many meters in size; seen in the air and on the ground; moving soundlessly whether hovering or flying; and disappearing rapidly.
For its pictorial quality, my pick of the litter is the account in Plutarch's (circa CE 100) Lucullus 8.6-7 (Perrin translation in Oxford commas):
But presently, as [the armies of L. Licinius Lucullus and King Mithridates VI of Pontus] were on the point of joining battle, with no apparent change of weather, but all on a sudden, the sky burst asunder, and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies. In shape, it was most like a wine-jar, and in colour, like molten silver. Both sides were astonished at the sight, and separated. This marvel, as they say, occurred in Phrygia, at a place called Otryae.
"As they say" alerts us to the hearsay character of this account, and hearsay affords a rich vein of doubt and dispute that runs through the entire UFO literature. But we have various intriguing and more recent evidence, such as the testimony in 1679 from 16 Tipperary witnesses of "prodigious apparitions seen in the air" that seemed "something like a ship," or this highly suggestive book cover depiction of a periaquatic disk dating from 1716, or the 1790 Schoharie County event of a spark headed, snakelike meteor, that accumulate over time. These culminate in a spate of highly colorful and quixotic accounts of the ↆ MYSTERY AIRSHIPS wave that includes the patently leg pulling story from a man who claimed his trousers were snagged by a UFO dragging an anchor. Authentic or fake, these stories all contain the same criterion features: lights, movement, strange shapes and marvels in the sky.
More reliable and easily interpreted UFO observations begin to appear in the era before World War I, when air flight was in its infancy and balloons were used for aerial surveillance. Bruce Maccabee reproduces the 1904 USS Supply 28 February or "Remarkable Meteor" report by Lt. Frank H. Schofield (who went on to become a US Navy rear admiral) and based on the observations of three sailors interviewed immediately after the event. Three "meteors," the largest egg shaped with an angular length of 3° and followed by two smaller spherical observables about the size of the Sun (½°), were first observed flying horizontally under the clouds before shooting nearly straight up and out of sight. This last, signature departure cannot be produced in the receding contrail of a bolide. There is a catalog of ↆ Unidentified Aerial Phenomena: Eighty Years of Pilot Sightings with the first entry in 1916. And if UFO are an ancient invention it is very difficult to understand how they can be a human invention at all.
I do not put much confidence in the ancient invention argument because interpretation of the ancient accounts is fraught with witness imprecision, linguistic ambiguity, distortion through retelling and the limited contemporary selection of technological analogies. And the historical evidence adduced for the ancient invention argument only suggests that UFO are not originally a human technological development: it does not exclude the possibility that a modern government has recently learned to "capture or exploit" this ancient UFO "technology" or mimic its performance through independent discovery.
(2) The old invention argument applies sound engineering experience to more recent and better validated observations. These include the "foo fighters" observed by both Allied and Axis pilots during the last year of World War II and extensively documented in pilot flight records. Many more encounters live on as personal anecdotes, such as the encounter that Senator Ted Stevens had when he was a fighter pilot in WW II:
"'I was flying and there was an object next to me. I couldn't get rid of it, I slowed up, it was there. I sped up, it was there. I would dive, it would be there. I called. Nothing on radar,' Reid said. The story told to Harry Reid came from Republican Senator Ted Stevens, whose experience as a World War II bomber pilot was shared during a closed door meeting at the US capitol."
In military reports the foo fighters are described as "balls of light" that shadowed or sported around bomber and fighter aircraft. (The same type of UFO, described as bright and about 20 cm in diameter, was pursued in the 1948 Gorman dogfight.) The first reports appeared late in 1944 and were concerning enough at the time to be treated by the Allies as classified information and considered on both sides of the conflict as potential new weapons deployed by the adversary. And during the Spökraketer sightings in the years after WW II, the US government pursued the hypothesis that the Soviet Union might have captured secret German technology and was testing it over Sweden as a provocation.
The engineering experience relied on is blunt: novel inventions fail, but UFO do not. In 1954 the German physicist Hermann Oberth dismissed the possibility that they might be Russian technology based on information gleaned from postwar surveillance within Russia and on the old invention argument: "To date there is no report of any emergency landing or crash of an UFO. This would be the first time in history for a newly built vehicle to have no failure. ... The security in the operation of UFOs indicates that it is an old invention." The merit of this argument is that was applied in the era when Wernher von Braun and the most skilled technologists of one of the most scientifically advanced nations in the world were still struggling to get the V2 rocket off the ground because it was a new invention.
Even at an early stage, the observed capabilities of UFO convinced analysts that they were not of US origin. The December, 1948 Joint ODI and US Navy ↆ Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the U.S. raised the possibility that the Soviet Union may have taken a "shortcut" in arms development led by the captured German scientist, Dr. Günther Bock and concluded that (p. 4):
It therefore seems that some type of flying object has been observed. ... It is evident from the performance characteristics attributed to the unidentified objects at this time that if they are foreign, they involve efficiencies of performance which have not been realized in any operational airborne device in this country.
For several years after World War II analysts examined the possibility that the Soviet Union had captured secret German technology, and was deploying its new UFO technology to "negate U.S. confidence in Atom Bomb as the most advanced and decisive weapon," for photo reconnaissance, or to test US defenses. This meant that UFO would be a new invention. It would also mean that they represented a valuable invention.
(3) The valuable invention argument relies on the technological value of the capabilities summarized as Elizondo's "five observables." In his Joe Rogan interview, Cdr. Fravor reached for this argument first: whatever this "breakthrough technology" consists of, it would be too valuable to keep secret and not utilize in a variety of applications. Not only would it radically imbalance the military equation between nations, it would revolutionize human transport and possibly power generation as well. How likely is it that a foreign power would keep this valuable development program a military secret, much less refrain from exploiting its economic benefits? What do we plausibly conjecture that a nation state in possession of an advanced propulsion and cloaking technology would do with it?
There would be extraordinary propaganda and diplomatic value in the display of even a partially successful prototype a hovering toaster, for example. If Vladimir Putin, capo di tutti capi of the Russian criminal oligarchy, can boast of a supersonic cruise missile that can transit the globe by means of nuclear power, how would he utilize the publicity generated by a Russian made UFO? How would that capability affect their bargaining power in various international agreements? The commercial value of the invention could be even more alluring. It is possible that UFO are a US technology, but we haven't seen any military demonstration of that prowess, and after seven decades of research one can ask whether the widely reputed advanced propulsion project was ever adequately funded or has in fact produced nothing practical and learned nothing substantive.
For several years after World War II analysts examined the possibility that the Soviet Union had captured secret German technology, and was deploying its new UFO technology to "negate U.S. confidence in Atom Bomb as the most advanced and decisive weapon," for photo reconnaissance, or to test US defenses. But even these vague mission statements were discredited by the aimless and unproductive behavior of the UFO themselves.
(4) The ineffectual invention argument asks: if the intent instead is to deploy the UFO technology but keep it secret, or to choose the most productive deployment, what would such a "breakthrough" innovation be observed to do? If we examine the seven decades of UFO observation we do not find any evidence that UFO are doing anything constructive or purposeful or especially clever.
A theme that appears early in the military assessments of UFO is a disparagement of what they do, regardless of how spectacularly they do it. Referring to the rather aimless and random behavior typical of UFO events, a 1949 US Air Force briefing document states that: "It is believed unlikely that this and similar unexplained incidents represent a foreign craft. It seems improbable that a foreign power would expose any superior aerial weapon by a prolonged ineffectual penetration of the United States." The 1949 Project SIGN final report (p. 24) snarked that "an intelligence capable of making so remarkable device would not be likely to play around in so idle a manner."
More recently, UFO have been regularly observed "hanging out" east of the Virginia coast. Why would any nation use such incredibly invaluable technology to loiter in territorial airspace to perform the task of "threat observation" when the act of being in that airspace constitutes the entire threat in the situation? And what specifically would these breakthrough technologies learn, as they loiter and flit at a 6 kilometer [10 mile] altitude far out over the Atlantic coast, that could not be derived from signals intelligence or orbiting platforms? How would gathering that intelligence justify the risk of one of the vessels falling into enemy hands? Assuming you were a government that had such a technology, probably after spending vast sums and human intellectual and engineering labor to develop it, why would you deploy it for seemingly random, "idle" and "ineffectual" purposes?
Many other questionable behaviors can be added under the attribute of indifference. These all in some way create a human distraction, a commercial or military hazard, or trigger some kind of threat response. Why would a valuable technology be deployed in ways that create potential hazards or malfunctions, and increase the probability of collisions or being shot down? There is no conceivable benefit in the observed behavior of UFO that would justify the use of an extraordinarily valuable technology to achieve it.
(5) The Immortal Fame argument was raised by the debunking physicist William Markowitz for the last argument against human construction of UFO. This simply asserts that anyone who knew of such an invention, and could document that knowledge in some public way allowing for independent corroboration, would become immediately famous and historically immortal. As in until the end of human memory. People have murdered presidents and emperors for a shadow of that immortality; imagine adding to that incentive the wealth and investment opportunities that fame would bring.
Of course practical circumstances, such as the fear of mortal reprisal, would deter many, but not all. Most fame is posthumous, carved in marble and recounted in books; if the verifying documentation could be disclosed only after death, the fame could be had with none of the consequences, albeit with none of the personal rewards. But the long awaited "disclosure" hasn't happened. Nowhere has immortal fame been sufficient to pry the secret loose from military grip.
The informed minds of national intelligence are best situated to judge these five arguments in depth. But as Director Semivan stated at the top, the consensus answer given in declassified government documents and in public interviews with informed authorities is that the UFO "technology" is not of human origin, and this assessment is typically made with a very high degree of confidence. Whatever UFO are, they're not ours and they're not theirs, either.
With apologies for my almost certain inadvertent inclusion of one or more UAP or hoaxes, I present a selection of evidence that I accept as authentic and that illustrates various UFO capabilities. I link them here as exemplar videos of the twelve attributes and the six behavior patterns of UFO events:
Citizen recording: 2022 Islamabad PAK 25 January (UFO detail, observational length, optical and technical quality, witness testimony of context and first appearance, real time narration)
My unexpected insight has been a greater appreciation of the sprawl of storytelling in human affairs. Once you look for the facts behind any claim, you find the number of witness narratives that can be independently corroborated shrinks drastically. I confess that after a prolonged struggle with the issue through the lens of UFO I began a personal exploration of how I believe I know how things are in the world. I am more aware of the way that my world depends on the relative influence of fact, narrative, storytelling and outlook in particular, the very great power of outlook to shape my acceptance of facts, and the very limited leverage of facts to alter outlook.
Absent public facts, the inexplicable nature of UFO has produced a profuse growth of storytelling. Examined as a stimulus to inquiry, UFO embody almost the perfect experimental stimulus in human social cognition: appearing as physical objects yet violating the laws of physics, frequent enough to be perplexing but rare enough to be insignificant, intrusive where unwanted yet evasive when pursued, captivating to the eye and the imagination yet beyond any tangible testing or experimental manipulation, an apparently advanced technology that performs "ineffectual penetrations" of national sovereignty that show "no pattern of consistency or purpose." Alien abduction, the subjective component of the mystery, follows a similar pattern of single witness reporting, psychological novelty and a peculiarity of coherence that resembles folk tales. There is literally no context in which UFO appear comprehensible.
If you know of better video examples, or have corrections to suggest, please let me know by email.
Despite the prolonged immersion that was necessary to write this screed, I do not come away with alienist intoxication, bunkist scoffing or conspiracy paranoia. Instead, it has left me sobered and a bit chastened about my own beliefs regarding everything.
UFO fly in the sky and occasionally touch ground; they are astonishing and arousing to those few who witness them; they sometimes adversely affect the even fewer humans that come in close contact. Those facts aside, they disrupt nothing in human affairs other than very occasionally to affright pilots, disable weapons systems, annoy Navy guided missile ships and trouble defense/intelligence strategists. Outside those professional activities, I can serenely affirm that those who choose to completely ignore UFO will almost certainly never feel a single negative and tangible consequence.
A tiny bit of grit, certainly, but irritating in the eyes of scientific knowledge, military operations and our view of national sovereignty. A little gemlike grit that feels much bigger and more vexing than it otherwise would be because it contradicts our carefully constructed vision of the world with something irrefutably uncanny and unexplained.
I still routinely trawl sources of UFO videos in order to improve the collection of citizen evidence that I have chosen for this web page. But I am not a partisan for any of the current explanations or theories about UFO which have largely devolved into a fact free and hearsay polluted conversation that, as I said at the outset, strikes me as intellectually stagnant and stifling to scientific inquiry.
Finally, a personal admission: I saw UFO once in my teenage years. I was preparing my 25 cm aperture Cave Astrola telescope for evening observations in my home back yard in Long Beach, California. This is a routine and pleasant task for all astronomers opening up the optics to cool down in the evening air, confirming the alignment of the equatorial mount to celestial north, preparing observing accessories so they can be found in complete darkness, and savoring the changes of twilight. The time was shortly after sunset and the sky was still bright and perfectly clear.
As I visually scanned the sky to evaluate observing conditions, I noticed what appeared as a distant light in the southern sky, slowly moving west at approximately a 45° zenith angle. My initial assumption from its angular velocity and brightness was that it was a satellite illuminated by the Sun which, though below the horizon, would still reflect from an object at high altitude. Mostly as a test of my finder scope collimation and my ability to "catch" a moving target, I attempted to anticipate its path with the finder scope crosshairs and then look for it with a low power eyepiece. When it came into view, I was surprised to observe that the unitary light was actually three equally bright lights, white or tinted with an orange yellow or golden hue, in a close equilateral triangular formation and moving in the apex direction. The lights did not flash, fluctuate or change color.
Intrigued, I attempted to catch the lights with a high powered eyepiece and after a couple of failed attempts succeeded. I was even more surprised to find that the three lights were actually nine, arranged in three equilateral groups moving closely as an equilateral formation.
I was able to follow this appearance in sharp focus and long enough to memorize the relative spacing within the formation and between the formation and the field stop of the eyepiece. Unfortunately, at high magnification the darkening sky was greatly reduced in brightness and I could not detect any silhouetted forms.
The next day using plausible estimates of the spacing between the lights based on the dimensions of conventional aircraft and flight formations of the era, and knowing the relative span of the formation within the true field of view at high magnification I calculated that, were those conventional aircraft, they would have had to be flying at an altitude no less than 60,000 feet at supersonic speed. I reasonably concluded that they could not be conventional aircraft. (A more compact formation could of course be at lower altitudes, but then the wingspans would be too small to be conventional aircraft.)
As I've said, personal outlook strongly determines openness to facts or conceptual arguments, and it is probably characteristic of my karmic path that my UFO experience was instrumental, distant and depended on calculation. For those with a more vivid experience or a greater trust in purely abstract reasoning, different conclusions will follow. I regret any statement here that implies disparagement of anything other than a fair treatment of the evidence.
Setting aside the onus of disparagement and ridicule that still falls on anyone professing "belief" in UFO, we are encumbered by a failure of curiosity and objectivity within the institutions of science; by a patchwork of observing tools and reporting channels; by a florid culture of fabulous storytelling, botched language and conspiracist suspicions; and by the government perpetuated falsehood that there is "nothing to see here." All that has been and remains an impediment to open inquiry.
What we do know beyond reasonable doubt is meager but astonishing. Whatever they are, UFO are real and display capabilities that appear to be beyond human craft and comprehension. But we still don't know what we are seeing because we still don't know how to look.