Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that UFOs are definitely not aliens. You can find a counterpoint here, where Mark Whittington argues that recent UFO sightings could be solid proof of the existence of aliens.
One night in the late 1970s, I saw a UFO.
This was not my first one. A few years before I had been fascinated by them and any light in the sky was an alien spacecraft. Over time, I had studied the phenomenon, read books about it, and realized my lights were just airplanes. This, however, was no mere light in the sky. It wasn’t too dark yet, and this was a tangible, physical object, and it was no airplane. It had no wings, no tail, no fuselage. It was just an aerodynamic shape silhouetted against the sky.
The next morning, much to my amazement, the top story in the Washington Post, under a banner headline, was that there had been a massive wave of UFO sightings all up and down the Eastern seaboard. There had been many sightings in multiple states. There was even a fuzzy photograph of something that looked a lot like what I had seen. Well, that was the end of it. Unlike a lot of UFO waves, that one ended with that spectacular night. The strange visitors were never seen nor heard from again, until about thirty years later.
Finally, the Air Force declassified their material and announced what had happened that night. They had been conducting a widespread test of the F-117, better known as the Stealth Fighter. They had been flying low and slow near airfields all over the East Coast. Many people had seen them in the sky, but not one radar, civilian or military had picked them up. Mission accomplished, and mystery created.
Which brings us to the recent “admission” by military authorities that UFOs are “real.” Of course UFOs are real. Since before the Wright Brothers people have been seeing things in the sky they could not identify. The fact that a thing is not identified does not mean that it is not identifiable. It does not mean that it does not have a mundane explanation. Even if the explanation is quite exotic, such as bat winged stealth fighters when no such aircraft were known to exist, that does not mean it is aliens, interdimensional travelers, angels or demons.
The most recent UFO kerfuffle has been kicked off by a recent “60 Minutes” piece. “60 Minutes” has a long and storied history of presenting the side of the story they want the audience to believe and burying any other point of view. The article in question presents three different videos taken by US Navy fighter jets of strange looking objects in flight. Former government officials and Navy pilots are interviewed saying these things are defying the laws of physics. No other analysis is presented, and the viewer is left with the impression that no other explanation is possible. This isn’t true. For instance, in one segment, two navy pilots describe losing the object they were tracking, It, “disappeared,” they say. It is then stated that the radar on their carrier then acquired the craft almost instantaneously over sixty miles away. Absolutely no basis is given for the claim that two radar images, sixty miles apart, are of the same object. There is no reason to believe they were. The viewer is, carefully, discouraged from thinking about that.
These videos were all declassified and released in 2017. They have been analyzed by those without an interest in finding flying saucers. This article provides a good alternative interpretation of the videos.
The “60 Minutes” feature does at least acknowledge that, if these things are some kind of high technology aircraft, they are most likely of terrestrial origin. One of the pilots says he thinks it is most likely part of some kind of threat observation program. He can not say whose. People are permitted to speculate that the objects could be Russian or Chinese but, given what is known about the state of Russian and Chinese technology, if, and it is a great big if, these are actually some kind of technological flying craft, rather than illusions and false sensor readings, then there is no doubt in my mind that, like the UFO of my youth, they are of American origin.
The best way to approach claims of the paranormal is with what is called critical thinking. Most people today have not been trained in this skill. Possibly the best way to learn it, with specific application to paranormal claims, is by reading the book Flim Flam by the late James Randi. He deals with many different types of paranormal claims, and what you learn is that the key to finding the right answers is asking the right questions. “60 Minutes” failed to do so.
Michael Montagne holds a Master’s Degree in Space Science, is a US Army veteran, and a former engineer at the Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control.