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The Ufology Handbook:
In the decades following their first appearance in 1947, UFOs have established a solid hold upon the popular imagination. Books, television, magazines and newspapers detail a dazzling diversity of sightings, from the latest astounding encounters to the notable UFO events of yesteryear. In each quoted instance they seem totally beyond explanation, their origin beyond understanding. But is that truly the case? For all the astounding claims made about them, the scientific community remains sceptical of UFO, as (it appears) are the governments of every major world power.
So, what is the truth about UFO's? The best answer anyone can give at present is that nobody really knows for sure; in that sense they remain a real-life mystery. However, there are many aspects of the UFO phenomenon that are well documented. In this booklet, the author attempts to briefly outline the history of the UFO problem as well as its basic attributes; hopefully answering the majority of questions you have ever wanted to ask about this subject.
THE BIRTH OF MODERN UFOLOGY
The UFO as we know them today came into being around 2.59pm on Tuesday, June 24th 1947. Kenneth Arnold (a fire control systems engineer) was flying his private "Callair" aircraft over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, USA through a clear, turbulence-free sky, attempting to locate a missing C-46 aircraft (a reward having been offered for its recovery). Puzzled by a bright flash reflecting onto his aircraft, he looked around him for the source of this reflection. As he did so, Arnold caught sight of a "diagonal chain" of nine "mirror-bright" objects moving in a manner "a saucer would if you skipped it across the water". It was on his description of their motion (and not their shape, as many believe) from which the expression "Flying Saucer" originates. Kenneth Arnold's sighting was widely featured in the newspapers of the day, causing a minor sensation throughout the United States.
In the wake of the publicity surrounding this seminal UFO report, many other people came forward with "flying disc" sightings of their own, some which occurred several months before Arnold's experience.
UFO's IN EARLY HISTORY
Observations of strange aerial phenomena have been claimed throughout recorded history. There is much debate whether certain ancient religious texts and myths contain references to "UFOs" (such as the vision of the prophet Ezekiel featured in the Old Testament). There are many accounts dating from Classical, Medieval and Renaissance times chronicling sightings of flaming spears, burning shields, dark globes and ships seen in the sky. Similar aerial oddities feature in diverse scientific journals throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. These events could be early UFO manifestations, or simply the natural phenomena which still initiate spurious UFO sightings in our time. There are also alleged pre-20th century accounts which are suspected hoaxes; two notable examples being the so-called "Tulli papyrus", detailing "circles of fire" supposedly seen in ancient Egypt in the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III (circa 1500 BC) and an account of a shiny disc purportedly seen over Byland Abbey, Yorkshire, England, during the 13th century.
THE 1890'S AMERICAN AIRSHIP WAVES
However the first instances of aerial phenomena comparable to modern UFOs occurred in the United States during 1896 and 1897. Various newspapers recounted nocturnal observations (mainly in the central region of North America) of dark elongated forms carrying brilliant "searchlights", moving in an erratic (by our standards) slow-moving manner. Similar "airship" reports appear in other parts of the world thereafter; Britain experiencing several such "waves" of sightings from 1903 to 1914. Those who took these reports believed the airship was the secret construction of an American inventor, who would eventually come forward once his craft had been either perfected or patented. The media at the time featured the claims of various individuals who alleged they had constructed it (none of which were ever substantiated). Others entertained the possibility that the airship(s) originated from the planet Mars. Others blamed the clandestine activities of certain foreign powers (the Spanish and Germans during the American and English airship "scares" respectively).
As far as aviation history is concerned, airships were on the verge of being perfected in the 1890's, and became fully viable during the early 20th century. There is no solid evidence that the 1896-97 reports were instigated by any flying machine known to have existed at the time (although some believe an airship could have been secretly constructed, somehow destroyed and as a result lost to history). It is however known that a number of the American airship sighting-claims are hoaxes. One notorious example of such a fabricated reported is the claim made by Alexander Hamilton (and others), describing six "strange... beings" hauling a calf aboard their vessel in Le Roy, Kansas in 1897 (the report a prank, perpetuated by a so-called "liars club"). Some suspected at the time that at least some incidents were observations of bright stars or the planet Venus.
FOO FIGHTERS AND GHOST ROCKETS
The next recorded instance of pre-1947 "UFO" phenomena occurred during World War 2. Many pilots claimed observations of Foo Fighters; silvery-coloured "spheres" or orange, reddish, white or yellow "balls" of light which reportedly "paced" or "played tag" with aircraft for protracted periods of time. Most of the records we have of this phenomenon come from Allied (mainly American) aircrew, but similar observations were also made by Axis pilots (the extent of which has yet to be determined). The name "Foo Fighter" (used mostly by American pilots) possibly relates to "Feu" (the French term for fire), and is thought to be inspired by a sarcastic aside from the (then-popular) "Smokey Stover" comic-strip; "Where's there's foo, there's fire". At the time they were believed to be secret weapons developed by either the Axis or Allied powers; however, no convincing evidence to support this assumption has ever been uncovered.
In 1946 (just a year before "the" birth of the UFO) high-altitude cigar or fiery spool-shaped objects were seen over the night skies of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. These so-called "Ghost Rockets" were often reported to exploded in mid-air or "crash" into lakes. Some alleged "ghost rocket" fragments were recovered on at least one occasion but were found to be simple lumps of carbon! When assessed by the Swedish Defence Staff, most reports could be explained as observations of bright meteors or aircraft, around 20% of sightings could not so accounted for.
AMERICA AND THE UFO; A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
America, being the country where the concept of UFO's were conceived was, as a result, the focus of many of the penultimate events in the subjects development. For almost thirty years various political and military bodies in this country were concerned with assessing the phenomenon. America's conclusion that they were probably explicable in natural terms and hence posed no threat to anyone's liberty or airspace has markedly influenced the UFO policy of numerous other countries.
The first appearance of the "flying saucers" in 1947 initially caused the government of the United States notable concern, due to their unknown origin and their (reportedly) superior flight characteristics. The first UFO reports were investigated by the Air Technical Intelligence Centre (ATTIC), based at Right Pattern Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio (due to this department's brief of monitoring developments in aircraft and missiles by foreign powers). With the "flying discs" appearing at the beginning of the Cold War, there were genuine fears that they could be Russian devices (possibly constructed with the aid of German rocket-scientists captured at the end of World War II).
The early saucer sightings were deemed sufficiently convincing for ATIC to request the establishment of a project to study them. As a result, Project Sign was founded in December 1947. Sign was given a high "2A" priority rating and a "Restricted" security classification (until the early 1950's, even the very names of project "Sign" and "Grudge" were classified information; both being publicly referred to as "Project Saucer"). From the beginning, opinion within Project Sign concerning UFOs was (often emotively) divided between those who thought the sightings were natural phenomena, hoaxes and hallucinations and those who believed they involved advanced aerial devices. In late 1948 (following a number of startling high-profile sightings) Project Sign issued an top-secret "Estimate Of The Situation". This lengthy report detailed the case for an extra-terrestrial origin for UFOs. These conclusions were subsequently rejected as poorly-substantiated speculation by the (then) Air Force's Chief-Of-Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
The study-project was swiftly reorganized as a result of this high-level dismissal of its findings. Those within Sign who supported an extra-terrestrial origin for UFOs were gradually reassigned elsewhere, and the project was renamed Project Grudge early in 1949. Grudge was assigned the task of deflating the "UFO craze" by both attempting to explain all sightings reported to it and (through the media) publicly demonstrate that "flying saucers" had no objective existence. It issued a lengthy report in 1949 concluding that UFO's were not a threat to either America or her allies, and that "there is no evidence that objects reported upon are the result of an advanced scientific foreign development...and constitute no direct threat to national security".
In late 1948, numerous observations of so-called "green fireballs" were reported from the American state of New Mexico. Some astronomers felt they were too green, large and bright to be conventional meteors (their trajectories also being more slower and horizontal than is usual for bolides). The fact that the sightings involved repeated, localized observations of a phenomenon with near-identical attributes only added to the uncertainty. Furthermore, when their trajectories were plotted (and subsequently checked) no meteorite fragments were ever discovered.
To resolve the uncertainty surrounding the green fireballs, the USAF initiated Project Twinkle in the summer of 1949, involving the usage of specialized tracking-cameras to acquire solid evidence of this phenomenon. Although the project had initially planned to use three cameras, only one actually entered service (due to a lack of funding and manpower). Project Twinkle was eventually cancelled in the middle of 1950 (due to military spending being prioritized for the Korean War), the single fielded tracking-camera failing to record any fireball events. However, the green fireballs were still reportedly seen in the New Mexico area for (at least) several years afterwards. It was later suggested in the early 1960's by astronomer D. H. Menzel that they may have been "cometoids" composed of frozen nitrogen (explaining their colour and the lack of recovered fragments).
It was at this time that Dr. J. Allan Hynek (then Professor of Astronomy at Ohio Sate University) first became involved in the subject, acting as astronomical consultant for the various USAF study projects. At first sceptical of UFO reality (and, as a result, often the target of the ire of UFO buffs), Hynek eventually reached the conclusion that some sightings had an extraordinary origin, warranting more than causal dismissal. Following his retirement in the early 1970's he became the subjects most prominent champion, founding the Centre Of UFO Studies in 1973. He played a major role within the world UFO movement almost right up to his death in 1986. The organization he helped established (now renamed the J. Alan Hynek Centre For UFO Studies in his honour) still remains active, acting to stimulate interest in the UFO problem within the scientific community.
By this time, it was apparent that most sightings could be explained fairly satisfactorily as mistaken observations of such things as weather balloons, the planet Venus and aircraft. However, despite their efforts, 23% of Project Grudge's reports were classified as "unknowns". However, Grudge believed nonetheless that "all evidence and analysis indicate[s] that..(UFO)..reports are the result of: 1: Mis-identification of various conventional objects, 2: A mild form of mass-hysteria and war-nerves, 3: Individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetuate hoax or to seek publicity.. [and]..4: Psycho-pathological persons". Following a decline in the number of UFO reports (which some believed was the "flying saucer fad" running its course) Grudge entered a virtually dormant state. Fresh UFO reports were (minimally) processed through normal intelligence channels, and its records of past sightings were placed in storage.
However, as the number of UFO reports began to pick up again in the early 1950's Grudge (renamed Project Blue Book in 1952) was revitalized under the directorship of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt. The USAF study-project reached its zenith during his administration; conducting detailed and balanced assessments of the UFO sightings it investigated.
In January, 1953 fresh concern over UFO sightings resulted in the C.I.A convening an evaluatory committee, comprising of a panel of technical experts headed by physicist Professor H. P. Robertson. After taking a week to examine various items of UFO evidence, the so-called Robertson Panel concluded that UFO's did not pose a threat to national security. Concerned over the possibility that large numbers of spurious UFO reports could clog military intelligence channels in a time of crisis, it recommended that "UFO's were to stripped of the aura of mystery they had so unfortunately acquired". It recommended that a information campaign be conducted to reduce the "current gullibility of the public" regarding UFO reports.
Following the conclusions of the Robinson Panel, Project Blue Book became less dynamic. Its staffing-levels and funding reduced, Blue Book's investigations into UFO sightings became minimal, with many reports being "explained" in a presumptive and arbitrary manner.
There were many who were unhappy with the sceptical (even dismissive) attitude towards UFOs adopted by Project Blue Book. This resulted in the birth of a civilian study movement in the United States, devoted to conclusively proving the reality of UFO's. The two largest unofficial UFO societies active during this era were APRO (the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, founded in 1952) and NICAP (the National Investigation Committee for Aerial Phenomena, established in 1956). Both groups are now no longer active. Given the UFO study movement was born out of disaffection with official attitudes, it is unsurprising that the 50's and 60's were a time of bitter verbal conflict between the USAF and the various civilian UFO groups.
In 1966, with Blue Book savaged by protracted public criticism, the USAF founded a independent short-term project, who's aim was to conduct detailed scientifically-based investigations into a limited number of UFO events (assisted by a wide range of scientific disciplines ranging from astronomy to psychology). This program (staffed mainly by scientists) was headed by Dr. Edward U. Condon and based at the University of Colorado. On the project's termination in 1968 it concluded "that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby". The University of Colorado UFO project was typified by notable in-fighting, controversy concerning the actual impartiality of those involved and the fact that (despite its negative verdict and its policy of in-depth case investigation) some 33% of the reports it studied were listed as "unexplained". Following the publication of the Colorado project's report into its activities (in what is usually termed the "Condon Report") Project Blue Book was closed down in 1969. In 1977, France established a body called GEPAN (which continued until very recently, albeit in a reduced form. Several recent efforts within the ECC to found a Europe-spanning UFO co-ordination effort floundered in the mid-1990's due to a lack of support.
Since 1969, the majority of UFO investigation and research work has been conducted by nonofficial study-groups staffed by civilian volunteers. In the United States MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network), established in 1967, gradually evolved to become America's dominant civilian UFO group and is now currently the largest such UFO society in the world.
By the mid-1990's the United Kingdom was dominated by three large UFO groups; BUFORA (the British UFO Research Association, established in 1964), Quest International (initiated in 1981 as YUFOS, the Yorkshire UFO Society) and Contact International (founded in 1967). Quest International however, ceased to exist as a UFO group by the mid-1990's, thereafter taking the form of a colour A4 publication called UFO MAGAZINE, which managed to achieve (and sustain) newsstand circulation for almost a decade. This magazine ended publication in March 2004 following the death of the journal's editor, Graham Birdsall; although several internet-based magazines ("UFOData" and "UFO Monthly") have been subsequently established by some of those formerly involved in UFO MAGAZINE. UFOData has subsequently organised several large UFO conferences following its establishment. By 1997 BUFORA possessed both a significant membership base and produced an A4 colour-cover magazine entitled UFO TIMES. However, the downturn of interest in the subject manifesting from the late 1990's onwards resulted in BUFORA suspending it's publication (thereafter utilising the group's website as its prime mode of communication) and restricting membership to active researchers and investigators only. While Contact International also still exists, it has also experienced a degree of contraction; the contemporary British "UFO scene" dominated by numerous small local groups who widely utilise websites and Internet forums as their main means of communication. Despite this trend, the United Kingdom is also host to the publication Flying Saucer Review - a private circulation magazine which commenced publication in1955 and remains in production.
OFFICIAL ATTITUDES TO UFOs IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.
In 1952 Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a memo to the (then) Air Ministry asking "what does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to?". Their reply came a short time later. Basing their findings on the USAF study-projects, the Air Ministry stated that all UFO sightings were probably explicable as natural phenomena, hoaxes and hallucinations. The United Kingdom has never conducted any long-term monitoring of reports comparable to Americas Project's Sign, Grudge or Blue Book. A memo written in the mid 1960's to the USAF stated that no serious political pressure had been mounted in England to establish a Blue-Book style project, due to the Air Ministry's policy of "play[ing] down" the UFO subject. This is ironic, given that the Air Ministries' policy on UFO's was itself based on the findings of Project Blue Book! In 1979 the late Earl Of Clancarty tabled a motion in the House Of Lords for a Governmental study of UFOs. This motion was defeated on the grounds that "there are a wide range of natural explanations to account for such phenomenon" and that "there is nothing to suggest ...[they]... are alien space craft".
The Air Ministry was replaced by the Ministry Of Defence (MOD) in 1964. Its view of UFO reports remained identical to that of its precursor. The MOD (as the USAF) works on the assumption that virtually all UFO reports have rational solutions. MoD-derived sighting statistics printed in 1969 shows around 10% of reports listed as "Unidentified (Insufficient information)".
UFO reports made through official channels (i.e. those reported or originating from military bases, civil airports and the police) are passed onto various "filter" military establishments, who then submit them to a MOD secretariat termed DAS, based in Whitehall, London. British UFO sightings reported through official channels have always been given a fairly low priority; DAS being the same department responsible for complaints relating to low-flying aircraft. The MOD's interest in a UFO report is only to determine whether the "object" observed posed an actual or potential threat to Britain's security. Once it is apparent that a sighting has no "defence implications", investigation into it ceases. In regards to unidentified radar contacts "penetrating" UK airspace, the Royal Air Force (as all other air-forces throughout the world) are known to use "various means" to identify them, including interception.
The precise structure of the government's UFO sighting evaluation system is shrouded in secrecy. However, it is almost certain that DAS passed sightings onto so-called "Air Defence Experts" (MOD staff with extensive knowledge of aircraft, meteorological phenomenon, radar systems, etc) for evaluation. It has been further suggested that RAF Rudloe Manor (an extensive facility in Wiltshire known to deal with low-flying infringements and other matters) once played a significant part in the government's UFO assessment activities.
UFO's are raised from time to time in the House Of Commons; mainly in form of Questions from Members of Parliament (M.Ps) concerning specific UFO events occurring in their constituency. Sometimes requests from M.Ps to clarify current policy regarding UFOs or the number of reports made in a given year are forwarded to (and answered by) the Secretary for Defence.
In January 1995 an apparent near-collision between a Boeing 737 jet and a wedge-shaped object approximately 14 km SE of Manchester Airport resulted in an air-miss enquiry being conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). They were unable to discover a mundane solution for this incident, officially concluding in the final report that "the nature and identity of this object remains unknown".
From 1997-2000 a presently unknown military contractor was given the task of formally assessing the UFO issue by the MoD. The final report (codenamed Condign) - which involved only an indirect assessment of the evidence - concluded UFOs were unlikely to have an extraterrestrial origin. It further concluded that "unexplained" reports were probably instigated by sightings of natural plasma-like phenomena, which the Condign authors termed "UAPs". These conclusions appear to have resulted in DI55 ending it's monitoring of UFO reports.
Attempts to determine the Government's past and present involvement with UFO's were hampered by the considerable secrecy inherent throughout the whole English "body-politic", prior to the Freedom Of Information Act (2000) (FOIA). All official documents were withheld for at least 30 years before being publicly disclosed. However as a consequence of the FOIA and pressure from UFO researchers David Clarke and Gary Anthony resulted in disclosure of the Condign Study in 2006, in addition to numerous UFO-related documents and concise listings of recent sightings reported to the MoD. As with all previous releases, the documents infer (as a totality) that actual MoD policy and approaches to UFO reports reflected its publicly-stated stance. One significant fact which emerged is that the MoD generally ceased visiting witnesses after 1967; thereafter only conducting indirect enquires into sightings,
To understand what a UFO actually is, one must first define both what the term means and what human experiences it is applied to. "UFO" is the acronym of Unidentified Flying Object, a term first popularized by Edward J. Ruppelt in the early 1950's. "UFO" was intended to replace the expressions "Flying Saucer" and "Flying Disc". These two earlier terms had (by the 50's) both become much derided by sensationalist media coverage and rendered inaccurate by numerous sightings of non-discoid "objects". However (despite Ruppelt's efforts) the expression "flying saucer" is still used by popular culture even today. There have been many attempts to define the UFO. One of the best was suggested by the so-called "Condon project" in the late 1960's, which defined "UFO" as equating to;
"...the stimulus for a report made by one or more individuals of something seen in the sky (or an object thought to be capable of flight but seen when landed on the earth) which the observer could not identify as having an ordinary natural origin..."
The fact that a plethora of differing phenomena are (probably) "grouped" under this (and every) definition of a "UFO" has resulted in extreme difficulties in determining the phenomenon's parameters. The fact that such events always occur out of the blue (and usually leaves no physical proof in their wake) has handicapped attempts to discover the nature of the phenomena to a considerable degree.
To determine whether an UFO report can be deemed truly anomalous, it is necessary to conduct an investigation into that incident; comparing the "UFO's" attributes to that of various mundane phenomena. When this is conducted (given the sighting-account contains sufficient information to permit a reasoned assessment) it is discovered that around 80-95% of all reports are explicable in terms of misperceptions of natural and man-made objects, hoaxes and hallucinations. Such "false" UFO sightings are collectively termed "IFOs" (or Identified Flying Objects).
However, around 5-20% of sightings also appear to be "True UFOs"; reports that (even following an intensive investigation) cannot easily be explained as misperceptions, hallucinations or fabrications. Most UFO investigator or researchers (who collectively are termed Ufologists) use the term "UFO" as a general description for all claimed sightings, whether explicable or not (hence the need to use terms such as "true UFO" or "IFO" when precisely discussing specific types of reports). Around 15% of all reports are too ill-defined to permit a reasoned evaluation (important details such as date and/or duration of observation being absent or poorly recalled). Such observations are referred to as "Insufficient Information" incidents. Technically, they are neither True UFOs or IFOs, and are effectively set to one side in the (usually forlorn) hope that further data concerning them will be eventually uncovered.
To further the cause of UFO research, UFO (& IFO) reports are placed into various (arbitrary) categories, based on either their reported distance from the observer(s) or on the general nature of what allegedly occurred. The system most often used in Britain today was originally devised by Dr. J. Allen Hynek in the early 1970's and later amended during the late 1970's by British researchers Peter Warrington & Jenny Randles. This system defines UFO reports in the following manner;
The term LOW DEFINITION (LD) is used to define UFO reports involving claimed observations of a single pin-point of light, a "cluster" of multiple lights or a poorly-defined (often unluminated) shape - the term LITS (Lights In The Sky) also being utilised to describe such events by many UFO investigators. On the other hand, UFOs described as having a well-defined shape are classified as MEDIUM DEFINITION (MD) incidents.
UFO events involving alleged effects on a human, animal, machine or its surrounding area which cease once the UFO leaves the sighting location are labelled CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FIRST KIND (CE1), while the term CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE SECOND KIND (CE2) describes UFO events where alleged UFO-originated effects on humans, animals, machines and/or the environment reputedly occur and endure for some period following the sighting.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (CE3) define UFO reports which also encompass claimed observations of supposed UFO "entities". Additionally, some researchers specifically define a certain type of entity encounter - the so-called UFO "abduction" - or incidents featuring notable psychic elements as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FOURTH KIND (CE4), although the use of this particular definition class remains controversial.
- Ufologists often refer to UFO events classified as CE1's (or higher) as "High Strangeness" incidents, due to them being associated with more anomalous aspects than LD or MD reports.
INSTRUMENTALLY DETECTED (ID) events - sometimes treated as a sub-category of the various other UFO "clades" - relate to UFO reports involving a stimulus reputedly recorded or detected by a device during the sighting; which can potentially range from a camera to a radar scope.
Sample of 1,003 UK reports investigated by the Northern UFO Network during 1978-1979
(divided into UFOs & IFOs and grouped by sighting-class):
From Randles 1981: pp 24-27
It is estimated (on figures derived from various "opinion polls") that 2%-7% of the British population (1.1 - 4 million people) have observed what they believe to be a UFO. It is further estimated that only around 10% of these witnesses report their sightings to the Ministry of Defense and/or civilian UFO societies. This would suggest that a total of around 100,000-400,000 recorded British sightings exist, held by the various bodies involved in collating UFO data.
Obviously, these substantial figures do not indicate that we have hordes of alien space vessels flying overhead! As previously explained, of those containing sufficient data to permit an investigation, 80-95% of any given sample of UFO events turn out to be explicable. Many such reports involve very basic text-book descriptions of various mundane
phenomenon, so basic that they are often identified by simply asking a few basic questions to a witness over the telephone. Other IFO-based incidents are more complex, requiring a major effort to resolve them.
Whatever their level of complexity, Ufologists have discovered most IFO reports are instigated by only a few types of natural and man-made phenomenon (with other causes appearing only occasionally).
Common sources of IFO reports and the approximate percentage of explicable sightings they generate
(based on a dataset composed solely of IFOs):
|Stars & Planets.||33%|
|Bolides and Satellite re-entries.||10%|
|Other (birds, flares, clouds, etc.||8%|
Based on Hendry, 1980.
(see Figures 3a and 3b below for a more detailed breakdown of IFO types)
Aircraft and helicopters generate a considerable number of IFO reports. Depending on an aircraft's angle and distance to an observer, anything from one to four or more lights may be observed. Aircraft body-lighting follows precise regulations established many years ago by the C.A.A (Civil Aviation Authority). A white light must be located on a aircraft's tail, a green light on the left wing, a red light on the right wing, with one (sometimes two) red flashing lights mounted on the fuselage. Alternatively, brilliant white strobe lights can be used on the wings and tail, in place of the conventional steady white, green and red lights. Furthermore, all aircraft are equipped with brilliant landing lights. These are switched on long before touchdown during misty, nocturnal conditions and can be seen from many kilometres away. A physiological process called perceptual filling may result in an observers' mind "joining together" a configuration of lights, resulting in them perceived as being attached to a darkened, unearthly-looking (but spurious) form.
Aircraft can also assume very strange illusory shapes even under daylight conditions. If travelling directly towards a witness, an aircraft can temporarily assume a "domed disc" like appearance, or a shiny cigar/disc shape object if viewed from sideways-on or below during a sunny day (its wings obscured by distance, angle or solar glare).
In the United States light aircraft are employed in nocturnal advertising ventures, employing a matrix of lights attached to a metal grid (located either below its wings or trailing behind it). When activated, it functions as a luminated bill-board, able to display a variety of computer-generated commercial messages. If viewed from some distance (on an odd angle), they can present a confusing, shifting light-pattern, often taken to be a rotating flying saucer by the unwary! Such advertising aircraft of this type are currently rare in Britain, airships using near-identical "bill-boards" (positioned on the sides of its gasbag) enjoy a limited use in that country.
Airborne refuelling tanker-planes may be occasionally observed in certain parts of the United Kingdom (often near coastal regions and restricted military air-zones). They utilise a number of non-standard diverse lighting configurations located on their wings and fuselage. Operating at considerable altitudes, their engine noise is often muffled by their marked distance from ground-based observers.
Another common source of IFO reports are bright naked-eye planets and stars (the planet Venus being the most commonly misperceived astronomical body). The majority of astronomical-derived incidents involve nothing too outlandish; usually observations of stationary distant lights visible for ten minutes or more. However, they can also be subject to numerous adverse perceptional and atmospheric effects. They can rapidly and repeatedly "flash" different colours of the spectrum (often white, red, green and blue). This effect is induced by atmospheric turbulence, a more extreme variety of the condition which causes stars to "twinkle".
Otherwise unnoticeable involuntary eyeball movements become starkly apparent when observing a bright light against a dark, featureless background. This phenomena (termed the Autokenesis effect) can cause a star or planet to make apparently erratic, stop-start "darting" motions confined to a limited area of sky. Similar motions can be induced by viewing an astronomical object through hand-held binoculars or a camera, (induced in this instance by involuntary hand-tremor). Finally, induced motion is another effect able to impart illusory motion onto a stellar body. A star or a planet viewed from a moving vehicle will seem to "follow" or "pace" it, stopping and starting when the vehicle does.
Bolides are super-bright, long-duration meteors which have generated a fair share of spurious UFO reports over the years. Bolides are usually seen during the night, but exceptionally bright ones may be visible in daylight. They often described as resembling a glowing sphere or (at night) a darkened cigar or disc with luminated "windows". These so-called "windows" are, in actuality, fragmented sections of a bolide luminated by atmospheric friction and following the same course as the original complete body. In either instances a long, incandescent trail is nearly always emitting from its rear. Bolides follow continuous straight or curved trajectories, and are usually visible for 10 seconds or less (up to 30 seconds in a few rare instances); a bolides' demise often marked by it exploding with a loud bang. Expended rocket-sections or satellites re- entering the atmosphere results in a similar phenomenon, but tend to be slower moving and visible for around two minutes.
Weather balloons are responsible for many daylight "UFO" observations. The majority of spurious reports are generated by large balloons used to accumulate data on upper-atmospheric conditions. The smaller (more common) "radiosonde" type balloons are harder to observe and burst within hours of launch, but research balloons can endure for many weeks, travelling a notable distance during their "lifetime". Balloons can (depending on lighting conditions, viewing angle and degree of inflation (which changes with height) ) assume a spherical, tear drop, triangular or discoid shape. Their colour is dependant on the prevalent lighting conditions; white or slivery on a sunny day, greyish when overcast. They may even slowly "change colour" (from white to red) when observed around sunset. Balloons drift with the prevailing wind, but may suddenly shoot rapidly upwards and/or temporally dart off in a different direction if caught in a air-thermal. Really high altitude balloons can travel on upper-atmospheric winds, which may blow in a different direction to winds prevalent at lower altitudes.
Artificial satellites appear to the naked eye as a single, distant, whitish pin-point of light traversing along a swift, continuous arch-like path. A satellite may vanish suddenly near the horizon, as it becomes eclipsed by the earth's shadow. They can also seemingly assume a "zig-zag" course, an illusion also resulting from the Autokenesis effect. Satellites were once a notable source of IFO reports, but are less so today.
Since their introduction in the early 1980's, laser-light displays have become a major source of IFO reports. Sightings from those unaware of their actual origin described either a multitude of swiftly-moving white lights executing repeating, rhythmic motions (such as circling, meeting at a single point and then shooting away) or a dark spinning "disc" with white lights running around its edge. These displays can be seen from a considerable distance if the prevailing cloud base is fairly high.
Birds, parachute flares, model aircraft, airships, toy disc-shaped balloons spotlights and highly-reflective "Mylar" kites also generate numerous reports, but much fewer in comparison to aircraft, balloons and astronomical bodies. Rarer still are sightings instigated by Ball lightning, mirages, lenticular or noctilucent clouds and sun (or moon) dogs (fuzzy glows created by free-floating ice crystals, reflecting the light of either the sun or the moon).
Almost as uncommon are sightings based on subjective causes, such as myopia (the so-called "spots before the eyes" effect) and "after-images" (transient "blurs" on the eyeball caused by staring at bright light-sources). Despite the remarks of various casual UFO detractors, few reports involve either alcohol or narcotic-induced hallucinations. Those that do appear mainly involve naturally-induced altered states of mental consciousness (especially common in people on the verge of falling asleep or waking up).
Hoax sightings are also quite rare, only amounting to around 5% of all reports. Fabricated "UFO" experiences tend to involve either photographs, purported physical traces and claims of "close encounters", rarely basic observations of aerial "objects".
Statistical break-down of 1,051 "UFO" sightings originating from Northern England during 1975-1979:
IFOS: 785 (74.60%*) INSUFFICIENT DATA: 111 (10.56%) TRUE UFOS: 155 (14.74%).
* or 85.20% if also incorporating all "insufficient data" reports.
Breakdown of IFO types....
AIRCRAFT: 312 CONTRAIL: 9 HELICOPTER: 38 AIRSHIP: 2 BALLOON: 53 MODEL AIRCRAFT: 1 KITE: 4 FLARE: 14
METEORS: 84 SPACE DEBRIS: 4 SATELLITES: 48 STAR: 55 JUPITER: 1 VENUS: 20 MOON: 18 SUNSPOTS: 1
BIRDS: 20 CLOUD: 11 INSECTS: 2 FIRE: 4 MIST: 1 SUNSPOT: 1 AURORA: 1 GROUND LIGHTS: 9 DOG: 1 FUNGUS: 1
BALL LIGHTNING: 12 ELECTRICAL SPARKS:3 CORONA DISCHARGE: 3 FILM DEFECT: 1 AIR RESIDUE: 1
OPTICAL PHENOMENA: 20 PSYCHOLOGICAL: 10 HOAX: 17
From Randles, J (1983) UFO Reality London: Robert Hale; pp.25- 27.
205 UK reports Jan 1980- Dec 1982 (from BUFORA records):
IFOS: 118 (57.5%) INSUFFICIENT DATA: 57 (27.8%) UFOs/UAPs: 30 (14.5%)
Breakdown of IFO types.....
AIRCRAFT: 28 METEORS: 18 C/L(?): 11 VENUS: 10 STARS: 7 BALLOONS: 7 SATELLITE: 5 BALL LIGHTNING: 5 SIGNAL FLARES: 4 HELICOPTER: 3 JUPITER/SATURN: 2 MOON: 2 HOAX: 2 HALLUCINATION: 2 KITE: 2 LIGHTHOUSE: 1 SEARCHLIGHT: 1 GROUNDLIGHT: 1 REFLECTIONS: 1 NOCTILUCENT CLOUD: 1 FIRE: 1 FARM EQUIPMENT: 1 MYOPIA: 1 VAPOUR TRAIL: 1
From Wootten, N.R. (1985)," A Statistical
Overview 1980-1982". JTAP (Journal of Transient Aerial Phenomena)
Vol 4, issue 1 pp.20-27.
THE "WHO", "WHERE" & "WHEN" OF UFO REPORTS.
Who studies UFO reports?
The term "Ufology" defines the study of UFO sightings and the theoretical elements relevant to that issue. However, "professional" Ufology" as a subject does not exist, largely attributable to the scepticism this subject is viewed by within mainstream academic and scientific circles. While it is true that there are scientists who show an active interest in UFO’s, such individuals initially acquire a degree (and, following their graduation, continue to work in) a conventional, long-established area of academic study; such as physics, chemistry, etc. It is fair to say such people are not so much Ufological scientists but scientists who happen to be Ufologists! They often have to tread carefully; aware that important funding at their university could be jeopardized through them making reckless statements to the media concerning UFO’s . However, it has been known for students to sometimes be granted approval to write doctoral thesis on a ufological topic in the "soft" sciences, such as sociology, media studies and philosophy. But this practice is a much less accepted one in the "hard" sciences, such as physics and chemistry; an attitude resulting in the formation of the so-called "invisible college"; a small, discrete group of physical scientists who happen to share an interest in the UFO problem.
Given the nature of this issue, the disciplines useful in the study of UFO’s is very broad; covering such wide areas of expertise that no one person could possibly be qualified in them all. The most important of these subjects include Astronomy, Chemistry, Engineering, Geophysics, Information Technology, Meteorology, Physics and Statistics. Archaeological, Medical (or Veterinarian) skills also occasionally come into play.
However, the term "professional Ufologist" can also be taken to mean someone who is paid to investigate and research UFO’s. As a career, this is possible, but very difficult. The only people able to pursue such a calling are writers and journalists. It is very difficult to become an established writer; many hundreds try, but few ever get their work published by mass-circulation publishers. Being paid to write about UFO’s obviously requires a large quantity of people interested in buying such material. Interest in UFO’s is fickle, and a mass audience often tire of this subject for very long periods (UFO’s only enjoying sporadic periods of notable public interest). Furthermore, for a writers work to be acceptable to a mass audience, this often means writing material conforming to the mind-set of casual UFO buffs; i.e. copy implying, usually uncritically, that UFO’s are extraterrestrial spacecraft! Articles dealing with UFO’s from a sceptical or (even) a "paranormal" perspective rarely ever see print. There is a market for serious UFO material among "serious" Ufologists; however, they are insufficient in number to sustain one reasonably prolific author, let alone several. In the real world, a Ufologist-cum writer/journalist writes about UFO’s only occasionally, and usually has to branch out into other areas (such as the paranormal or more conventional topics) to make any kind of reasonable living.
While not officially accepted by society as a legitimate profession, investigating UFO reports even on a part-time, "amateur" basis far from represents a casual hobby, but a demanding, emotionally taxing and unpaid job. Investigators often have to deal with people who have been unsettled (even emotionally traumatized) by their experience. Because UFO investigators are, in effect, "filling in" for science, the ideal is to work to very high standards of documentation and objectivity. This entails documenting UFO claims in considerable detail, and make serious attempts to find rational solutions. UFO investigators must possess a good working knowledge of the natural causes responsible for false UFO incidents, and be able to interview witnesses without distorting their testimony. Case studies are utilized in UFO research, and hypothesis are also formulated on them; therefore, it is essential that UFO investigations are both competent and comprehensive. To answer such concerns some UFO groups require prospective investigators to pass a training course, and (sometimes) to abide by a Code Of Practice, which they must conscientiously follow whilst investigating sightings. Of course this is an ideal - many so-called UFO "investigators" lean towards almost theological levels of belief in UFOs and uncritical "assessment" of reports.
Hence, the average UFO investigator is usually a non-scientist conducting investigations on an unpaid, voluntary level. While some researchers continue their involvement within the subject for the remainder of their lives, most researchers only spend a few years of actively involved in "Ufology". This is largely due to the relatively prosaic nature of UFO "evidence"; the vast majority of cases involving very basic sightings of lights, which (nearly) always have a rational solution. Even in high strangeness cases, the only evidence that usually is a witnesses' insistence that "something wonderful" happened.
Who sees UFOs?
UFO reports have been made by members of every profession, from politicians, scientists to roadsweepers. Sighting reports made by so-called "trained observers", i.e. those from occupations specifically tutored to quickly assimilate observed data (pilots, astronomers, policemen, etc) are outnumbered by about 4 to 1 by those made by "untrained" observers (such as blue and white-collar workers). This appears consistent with the fewer number of "trained observers" within society. Men report approximately the same proportion of sighting as women. It is not uncommon for UFO and IFO observations to involve two people or more, who sometimes may be situated at different locations. IFO types which manifest within the upper atmosphere (such as satellite re-entries) are often observed by hundreds of people at a time.
Observations of IFOs and UFOs involve the same types of people; IFO reports even being made by a considerable number of "trained" observers. This is because nobody (no matter how well schooled) are instructed in recognizing balloons and planes at every misleading angle and situation. Furthermore, certain IFO types do not fall within the scope of a persons' life-experience; an astronomer would recognize a stationary twinkling light as a bright star, but is as likely to mistake an aircraft travelling along his or her line of sight as a "domed" disc as anyone else. This said, some statistics do appear to show that skilled observers make fewer IFO reports.
The level of a witnesses' prior interest in UFOs is a matter of great concern to Ufologists. Some samples of UFO report data (based on those made largely by members of the general public) have shown that a higher proportion of witnesses (around 2 out of every 3 observers) were interested in the subject before their sighting, compared with those claiming to be just indifferent or uninterested in them. Whether reports made exclusively by pilots, policemen and military personnel to official bodies (such as the MOD) would show a similar bias is unclear. Not surprisingly, many UFO witnesses develop an interest in the subject following their experience. This again raises concern as to whether their report has been "contaminated" by their perusal of the subject. The fact that information on UFOs (albeit superficial and sensationalized) appears virtually everywhere in our culture suggests that there are no "UFO- innocent" witnesses; stereotypical portrayals of the phenomenon being known to almost everyone.
The majority of witnesses have only one sighting-experience during their lifetime, but a few have more. There are individuals (termed repeaters by Ufology) who report a greater number of UFO sightings than normal, often over an extended period of time. Close-encounter participants often have repeated close-encounter episodes, and usually also claim psychic abilities and/or "paranormal" experiences. Other "repeaters" report a constant stream of low/medium definition observations (which, on investigation, turn out to be probably explicable, with distinct indications present that the witness is over-keen to accept IFO phenomena as something more outlandish).
ASTRONAUTS AND UFO's
UFO sightings by astronauts in space are highly prized by some Ufologists, and are a major topic of UFO conspiracy theories. Numerous claims have been made of UFO's being observed during various Apollo missions; either following the various capsules to and from the moon, or of landed UFOs being observed upon the lunar surface. All of these stories are, however, denied by the astronauts concerned.
There are, however quite a number of "genuine" observations of "UFO's" made during NASA's "Mercury" and "Gemini" missions. Unfortunately, nearly all these events seem to have reasonable explanations; ice-flakes from rocket fuel tanks, satellites, expended rocket-stages to ejected garbage from manned space capsules. None have any close similarity with "standard" UFO reports, the absence of any (known) "close encounter" type cases being particularly noteworthy. Others are proven hoaxes or forgeries. For example a photograph taken during the "Gemini 8" mission (showing a reflection from the capsules' window) was doctored by airbrush trickery to look like two glowing oval-shaped "UFO's"! In recent years several shuttle missions have been associated with claimed UFO incidents. As with the early Astronaut UFO sighting claims, several are hoaxes or exaggerated prosaic events. However, a film taken from the Shuttle "Discovery" in September, 1991 shows several fast moving streaks. Although the majority opinion is that this film show ice crystals, others strongly disagree with this evaluation.
When are UFOs usually seen?
All types of UFO experiences have occurred on every hour, day, week and month of the year. However, a few general temporal sighting-patterns have been uncovered. It is known that about three out of every four events occur at night; the majority of UFO and IFO incidents happening around the hours of 8-11pm (with activity peaking around 9.00pm). These times closely match those of when the majority of people are home from work. There is a notable bias for sightings to occur during the Summer and early Autumn months (i.e. from June to October). In regard to day of the week, various studies have either shown no clear pattern or a different "favoured" week-day (Wednesday in one instance, Saturday in another).
Where are UFOs usually seen?
UFO's have been observed virtually everywhere in the world, from a variety of locations (outdoors, indoors, in cars and aircraft, cities, towns, countryside and wilderness). However, sightings tend to occur more often in rural rather than urban areas (a factor possibility attributable to "light pollution"; the powerful combined "glare" of urban lighting which swamps out all but the brightest lights in the sky). On occasion, it has been known for a "cluster" of many UFO incidents to suddenly occur within a period of a few weeks, or even up to several months. Ufologists call these periods of increased localized UFO activity flaps. Most active in ufology accepts that most flaps are caused by media publicity being given to a single UFO report (or a recently-formed local UFO group appealing for sightings), which encourages others to come forward with their observations. However, a few statistical samples do apparently show a disproportionate rise in "true UFOs" during some flaps; a situation obviously of considerable interest to ufology.
Flaps tend to be fairly localized events (effecting only a county or district). However, national surges in the number of UFO reports (termed Waves) have occurred on several occasions and often lasting for several months or more. Examples of notable "Waves" in past times and places include 1947,1950 (United States), 1954 (France), 1957, 1965-67 & 1973 (United States), 1967 & 1977 (United Kingdom) and 1978 (United Kingdom, Italy and New Zealand). As with "flaps", the majority appear to be media-driven, but a few appear to have been host higher-than normal levels of "true UFO" activity (such as the wave that occurred in the United States in 1952, where the percentage of "true UFOs" was estimated to be around 20%). There have also been periods when the number of reports have fallen dramatically, often on a global scale (such the early 1970's and the early-mid 1980's).
A few areas on Earth appear to be host to higher levels of UFO activity than other regions, often for years (even decades) at a time. The Pennine Hills in Northern England and the Hessdalen valley in Norway are examples of two such places, termed "Ufocals" (or sometimes "Windows") by some UFO researchers. It is suspected that local geological features (such as earth-faulting) are responsible for naturally generating the majority of aerial anomalies seen in these regions. Other supposed ufocals, however, have a more dubious Ufological "history". From the mid-1960's (up to the late 1970's) the outskirts of the town of Warminster, in the British county of Wiltshire, were famed as a place of intense UFO activity. Unfortunately, the majority of sightings originated from non-locals, usually over-enthusiastic UFO buffs attracted to Warminster by books proclaiming it to be a UFO hot-spot. Given the town is adjacent to Salisbury Plain (home of the largest army testing-range in the United Kingdom). it is probable that many sightings were attributable to military activity, as well as satellites, astronomical bodies and aircraft.
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