(Investigator 119, 2008 March)
As much, if not more, has been written about Unidentified Flying Objects in the past forty odd years, than any other aspect of the paranormal. As there are more than enough books written on the subject to fill a library of their own, this chapter will only serve as an introduction.
While most would associate space craft with the technological advances made in rocket design and propulsion since World War II, according to some, UFOs pre-date the advent of Christianity by many centuries.
Best selling authors like Erich von Daniken (1971,1972) have theorized that extraterrestrials visited this planet millennia ago in space craft, and serve to provide the answers to many an unexplained mystery. In his book Chariots of the Gods? Von Daniken quotes passages from the Book of Ezekiel suggesting that the prophet was describing a spacecraft.
This was taken up by a NASA rocket engineer, Josef F Blumrich (1974), who wrote a book, The Spaceships of Ezekiel, in which he presents a plausible argument confirming what Ezekiel saw and was unable to explain in modem terms, was in fact, a technically feasible UFO. Alan Cole, on the other hand, cited in Some Trust in Chariots (1972), gives a far more rational explanation.
The first "sighting" (in modern times) took place in 1947, when a private pilot, Kenneth Arnold, was flying near the Cascade Mountains in Washington State and saw nine unidentifiable flying objects which he described flying "like a saucer skipping over water." This was seized upon by the media who gave the incident wide publicity and the phenomenon of "flying saucers" was born.
Since that time, tens of thousands of sightings have been reported all over the world, and the belief that we are being visited and observed by aliens is widely held. There have also been an ever-increasing number of cases where people claim to have been abducted by visiting extraterrestrials.
Following Arnold's sighting, the number of other sightings in the USA and around the world grew dramatically, culminating in an "encounter of the third kind", when George Adamski (1955) allegedly met a visitor from Venus in the California desert on November 20, 1952.
Since the first "sighting", societies have been formed solely for the purpose of watching for, recording and reporting sightings of UFOs.
One of the first, a well known case studied by the US Army Air Force, took place on January 7, 1948, at Godman Air Base in Kentucky, and received international coverage.
The commander of the base, Colonel Hix, was notified that a huge metallic object shaped like a disc, was hovering over the airfield, its cone shaped top glowing crimson. He asked a flight of four P-15 pursuit planes already in the air, to investigate. Two of the planes turned back, a third went on to its original destination and the fourth, piloted by Captain Thomas Mantell, reported that he was going to follow the object beyond fifteen thousand feet despite having no oxygen equipment in his plane. Mantell showed signs of great excitement bordering on hysteria during the chase, and after blacking out, he lost control of his plane, crashed, and was killed.
Possibly the most publicised account of a UFO and its alien crew, became known as the Roswell Incident, and has endured since the alleged crash of an extraterrestrial craft in New Mexico in July of 1947. The subject of many articles, books and even a feature film, it is still a controversial subject raised periodically by both believers and skeptics.
However, in this case there seems to be absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the spacecraft was in fact an experimental balloon. The debris has been identified by the US Air Force as a six-sided balloon-borne radar reflector and an instrument package launched as part of a secret military effort, code-named Project Mogul. The purpose of the experiment was to enable scientists to study the possibility of detecting lowfrequency pressure waves in the atmosphere from Soviet nuclear weapon tests. Being of a top-secret nature it was not until 1994, when classified documents were finally available for inspection that the ghost was laid to rest, although it has not deterred believers from producing even more complex conspiracies.
That Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) exist no one would deny, there are many occasions when, for one reason or another, something seen in the sky cannot be readily identified. However, in the popular context, UFOs are regarded as being alien spacecraft, and have become the subject of numerous books, investigations and films. Cults and UFO associations proliferate, and the existence or otherwise of UFOs continues to be a matter of controversy.
In the 1950s when the cold war was at its height, reports of strange things in the sky began to concern the US Air Force, the possibility of some type of advanced Russian craft invading the home skies prompting the setting up of an investigating team. In 1952 Project Blue Book was initiated by the US Air Force, followed in 1954 by NICAP, The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, and in 1966 a team known as the Condon Committee under Professor Edward Condon.
All these investigators dismissed reports of UFO sightings and abductions as the products of crackpots and charlatans, concluding that there was no evidence that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin. The US Air Force endorsed that view by reporting that there was nothing to UFO reports, either as a concern for national security or as extraterrestrial contact, and got out of the UFO business in 1969.
The CIA who became involved and convened a panel of scientists to consider UFOs, also concluded that no further investigation was warranted. In the 1970s, the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), in Chicago, investigated over 1300 alleged UFO sightings. Of these, 92 per cent turned out to have very mundane explanations, the balance could not be determined for lack of information.
One case for example, concerned the lighted disks zipping around in the night sky near an air base in Nevada...a favourite spot for UFO watchers. It happens that this was the base from which the top secret Stealth jet flown...only at night. The plane, black against the night sky, has three rotating lights on the underside and performed incredible maneuvers, stops, sharp turns and drops, all which have been associated with alleged flying saucers.
Other explanations include the burning up of rockets and other space junk as they re-enter the earth's atmosphere, meteor fireballs, the planet Venus (which accounts for a large percentage), other bright stars and planets, weather balloons, slow-flying advertising aircraft, birds, cloud formations, particularly lenticular clouds, and ball lightning.
Hoaxes and fakery have also played a large part in encoura-ging a belief in flying saucers, a recent one being the MJ-12 documents (Klass, 1987-90), allegedly written by a US naval official in 1952, about UFOs that had crashed and been examined. Twelve highly placed government personnel were purportedly involved in producing this and the supporting documents, all of which subsequently turned out to be forgeries.
Hot air balloons powered by candles have been used by hoaxers to good (albeit dangerous), effect, and fake UFO photographs have often been touted as authentic.
What appears to be yet another hoax is an alleged archival film of an autopsy being carried out on an extraterrestrial who was killed in the Roswell crash. While authenticity tests have disclosed certain anomalies making the film highly suspect, a release from Dr. Charles B. Moore, professor emeritus of physics and former chair of New Mexico Tech's Langmuir Laboratory, seems to confirm that it is a fake.
Professor Moore's evidence supports the conclusions of a U.S. Air Force investigation report issued in September 1994, linking the debris found at the crash site with Project Mogul – an attempt to develop a means to detect future Soviet nuclear tests by using high-altitude balloons carrying instruments to detect acoustic signals from a nuclear test.
The debris found at the crash site are consistent with the balloons, battery packs, transmitters and box-kite-like radar reflectors used in the experiment.<>Books by "abductees", such as Whitney Strieber's Communion, help to perpetuate the fantasy, but to date no one has ever produced one piece of tangible or verifiable evidence that UFOs in the context of visiting alien spacecraft actually exist.
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