What To Do About UFOs? Change The Name


In my (sometimes) fevered imagination, I can conjure tense meetings in a windowless government conference room where well-meaning functionaries and assistant sub-secretaries are arguing about who’s going to do it.

“Well, I’m not doing it. You do it.”

“I’m not doing it. You have to do it.”

“No way. Someone else has to do it.”

The “it” in this case will be done by the poor bastard who has to push the send button next month on the report detailing what the government knows about UFOs. Along the way, they—or someone—has softened up the target by changing the name: UFOs are now UAPs for unidentified aerial phenomenon. This evidently dates back about 10 years but, like me, you probably never got the memo. It’s a thoughtful change because at one stroke it removes the crackpot stigma and broadens the definition to include swamp gas and hot air balloons made of popsicle sticks and laundry bags. The official imprimatur happened last August when the Defense Department announced the UAP Task Force, whose job is to get a handle on all these sightings and illuminate us as to their origin.

Godspeed, UAPTF. Next, on to Middle East peace.

Why this is going on now appears to relate to an uptick in UAP sightings and not just sightings, but credible incidents. Press coverage of the topic has heated up. The New Yorker just published a major article on the topic and CBS’s 60 Minutes did a segment on UAPs that barely lifts the Dingbat Alarm off the low stop. So, during the month of June, we as aviators will be confronted with some kind of government report that will invite—if not force—us to think about what all this means. I’m already feeling the stirrings of a migraine.

The Defense Department is in a tight spot here. You’ll recall, probably, that it closed down the initial investigation into UAPs (UFOs then) in 1969, when Project Bluebook ended, thus causing a collective sigh of relief from several thousand 2nd lieutenants who trembled at the thought of being assigned to it. Not a real bright career path, that one. Since then, the DoD has basically treated the field with benign neglect, carried on by those second Johns who are now retiring one stars. But now, at the insistence of congress, the UAPTF has determined it will tell the teeming masses what it knows about UAPs. My prediction is that this is going to be: not much. And this will sow more confusion and distrust than ever because two-thirds of the population think the government knows more that it’s telling and almost half—call it 150 million people—think the sightings are alien spacecraft. A measurable portion of them think aliens are living among us, an understandable conviction to anyone who has spent time in the Fly Market at AirVenture.   

Before I go any further, let me note that UAPism is a peculiarly American fetish. Check this out. This a geo-located map of all the known sightings since 1906. It cuts off in 2014, seven years ago. Note that as time advances, there are bits of dots located elsewhere in the world, but the U.S. is splattered in activity, especially east of the Mississippi. Well, sure, that’s where the people are, but the U.S. ranks third of countries in total population but 174th in population density. In other words, we are way the hell over-represented in claimed UAP sightings.

There may be explanations for this related to press freedom, not living in a police state and that we fly airplanes a lot, but I wonder if the larger driver isn’t cultural and a tendency toward media—especially social media—driven mass hysteria. In other words, are the vast majority of these sightings just utter confections made by well-meaning people who have just convinced themselves that what they saw was real? On the scale of things, this seems far more likely to me than aliens or even some super-secret Air Force or Navy aircraft.

Not that I’m suggesting that none of these sightings are credible. Watch the interviews in the 60 Minutes piece. These are three Navy pilots who are, among other things, trained to observe and identify aircraft because their lives depend on that skill. There are a couple of short film clips from those sightings and others. It’s not impossible that these were doctored in some way and any critical viewer should keep this in mind. But however convincing these sightings are or are not, the observers themselves are credible. Same can be said for Christopher Mellon, a former deputy assistant SecDef who says the U.S. has no aircraft capable of the performance these sightings seem to show. But that doesn’t rule out that he knows something and is engaging in active disinformation in the name of some greater good.

And that gets us to the Russians and the Chinese. If it’s not aliens, then it must be one of them, right? On my hysteria versus reality scale, this one again tips to hysteria. The leap of progress evident in the surmised performance of the observed UAPs would be far greater than the Apollo leap to the Moon. The Chinese have a sort of capable Fifth Gen fighter but have been unable to muster the industrial know-how to build an airliner competitive on the world market. The Russians have done little better. That either one of them has somehow birthed an aircraft with 100 times the performance of the flying submarine in “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” strains credulity beyond the breaking point. Aviation Week would be all over this.

And at this juncture, any aliens with galactic flight capability would presumably be able to tune in reruns of “Voyage” and if that didn’t convince them to give this place a pass, one episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” would push them over the edge and on to the next star system. I mean, by now, wouldn’t the alien visitors have revealed themselves and their purpose rather than taunting a couple of Hornet drivers?

But what if the UAPTF actually is the aliens? And the June announcement is the big reveal? Didn’t think of that, did ya? Of course you didn’t. Because you’re still grounded in sanity, like the dwindling rest of us.

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  1. Want to repel intergalactic invaders? Let’s turn our most powerful weapon on them–THE GOVERNMENT!

    How to take the “Unidentified” out of UFO’s? MAKE THEM REGISTER WITH THE FAA!

    Want to drive them back to the far reaches of the Solar System? Make them undergo FAA check rides! (“Make a right-angle 360 degree turn to the right–followed by an instantaneous hover, then a warp speed acceleration.”)

    Want to slow the performance of their spacecraft? Make them undergo vague and non-specific certification standards, like the Beech Starship. The process WORKS–how many new GA aircraft have been certified in the past quarter of a century? Like the toll booth in Blazing Saddles, “This will slow (those aliens) down to a crawl!”

    Let’s turn the most powerful weapon of destruction in our possession on these would-be invaders–THE GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY. It wrecks everything it touches. Being intelligent beings, perhaps they will come to the same conclusion many Earth-Dwellers have–“LET’S GO SOMEWHERE ELSE–THERE IS NO INTELLIGENT LIFE HERE!”

    • This topic is too juicy to pass on. It’s not only government bureaucracy, it’s any bureaucracy that is so large that the top is out of touch with the bottom. Hence the move to break the overall organization into smaller more manageable structures. And, there’s plenty of malfeasance in the private sector, less we forget entities such as Enron and Facebook. You don’t have to look far. As for UFO’s or UAP’s or whatever, everyone loves a riddle. It’s a great distraction from the annoyances of daily life. What we need is UAP’s appearing over national league baseball games, or only hovering over the losing teams, perhaps telepathizing with the fans so that they begin humming the theme to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, that 1977 Spielberg movie with Richard Dreyfuss (gosh, has it been that long?)

  2. Neil and Buzz really did walk on the moon. We just need some help getting some folks to believe that again. The last thing we need now is another small eddy current contributing to the silly conspiracy theory perfect storm blowing around in some quarters. If changing the acronym UFO to UAP helps restore sanity back to that segment of our society once again, bring it on!

  3. “But now, at the insistence of congress, the UAPTF has determined it will tell the teeming masses what it knows about UAPs.”

    Once again, an additional gorilla or two in the room is “congress”. Exactly who in Congress is providing the insistence? Congress has morphed into the collective vague “they” as the primary driver of US curiosity, investigation, opinion, and government information/disinformation. But like the proverbial “theys”, we don’t know exactly who they are.

    Interns generally run the flow of information and disinformation as screeners determining who see what when for their exalted legislative opinion. Are they part of the Congress that is replacing “they” who is providing this insistence? Or is it the lobbyists who control both the interns and the hallowed halls of congressional representation? It really can’t be “we the people”. Congress has not paid attention to us for decades. Our insistence never becomes their insistence. Their insistence becomes our ball and chain.

    Congressional members do not read the bills they sign…nor do they spend any time in writing them. Who can possibly conceive, articulate, and then scribe into words thousands of pages bureaucratic legalize contained in all bills? See above interns and lobbyists. So, what do the interns and lobbyists know, of what Congress really doesn’t know (except for what is put in front of them by the interns and lobbyists), and why now amid all of the serious crisis’ unfolding everyday, are we adding renamed UFO information/disinformation for public consumption? See the above interns and lobbyists.

    Our Congress puts forth quite a floor show for the masses. But they are not the “they” who actually makes the decisions. Congress signs what they are told to sign by the same people who concocted the latest bill, screened the information, formulated the verbage/language/legalize, deciding who sees what, and when. We get to pay for the results. See above interns and lobbyists. They are as mysterious and vague as the “insistence of Congress” as are the proverbial “theys”. But once again, see the above interns and lobbyists as they are the most likely “theys” providing pressure on the Congress for their vague insistence as a whole, the US government publically parade by next month the accumulated knowledge ( if one can call that true knowledge) about the now officially renamed UFO’s. Then we will have “truth” about alien beings. What could possibly go wrong?

  4. Most every top watched movie around the world is about space and aliens. Why are these movies all so popular? Most likely, the greatest percentage of the worlds’ populous believes in advanced cultures beyond our atmosphere. ???

  5. Actually, the more I think about the issue the less concerned I am. If no one takes these things too seriously, and of course we shouldn’t, it’s a welcome diversion from the typical horror stories that are plastered across all media platforms that pass for news. It’s kind of like the Loch Ness Monster, horoscopes, and, of course, flying cars; fun filler articles that give us all a break from reality.
    As for most of the sightings being located in the USA, I consider that to be one of our strengths as a culture. Where else in the world can so many crackpot dreamers get a chance to be taken seriously regardless of how strange or silly their ideas might be. I for one have heard about this crazy gazillionaire that’s building some sort of contraption in Texas to go to Mars. What a nut!

  6. I’ll add a version to the old saw: If you can’t measure it there’s no point in making up a report on it.

  7. Honestly, as far as our government goes, if a person lives to say, 50 years old under average education or older, and still hasn’t learned how to handle the big beast through deflection, manipulation, indifference, interpretation, voting, perception, always being a step ahead of or a host of myriad other methods suited to the individual, then nothing will ever change the minds of these poor victims. Rail on, or to quote a fellow poster, Danger Will Robinson! it’s the gubmint! lol

    In a neighboring colleague’s office was a wall mounted reproduction of The Scream, by Edvard Munch, as to signify his helplessness (or madness) he felt at the governmental VA office where we worked. My colleagues and I felt pity for him and his kind usually, as he pulled around himself many like-minded saps, but also we acutely realized they were to be avoided in conversations on virtually any subject…

    Myself, my son and hundreds of others witnessed the Phoenix lights from the late 90’s. There is a well researched book on the lights and the craft from another witness who was a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic before seeing the lights on several occasions, Lynne Kitei, M.D. This chevron shaped craft was huge, hundreds of yards across, moving silently about 30mph overhead from near Flagstaff south to stopped traffic on I10 south of Phoenix, at about 1200′ AGL, and when it passed under the light from the moon, became translucent, almost invisible, only to become black again with its six or more lights glowing after passing through the moon’s light.

    I’m sure the Navy pilots, Air Traffic controllers at Luke AFB during the above mentioned lights and craft sightings and countless others have suffered their own attacks from the all-knowing. Wherever these UFP’s are coming from – or simply just appearing at – like the Phoenix lights or my grandmother did in her chair when I was a young boy at certain times under certain conditions, we need to expand our sense of exploration again. After all, who are we to decide what’s more real than what’s not, aren’t we just observers?

  8. “….A measurable portion of them think aliens are living among us, an understandable conviction to anyone who has spent time in the Fly Market at AirVenture. ” That gave me a laugh, Paul.
    And…my (1968) State High School science textbook explained our irrelevance in the universe thus:
    Of all the visible stars in the night sky, half of those are the right size, and half of those have planets, and half of those planets are a reasonable size for gravity, and of those, half have an atmosphere, etc etc…
    The final result was… half of those planets have intelligent life, ….half less advanced than ours, and the other half more so. I recall that number of planets with life more advanced than ours, was 50,000 !

  9. It took me a half hour to read this. I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.
    “this causing a collective sigh of relief of several thousand 2nd Lieutenants who trembled at the thought of being assigned to it (project blue book). Not a real career path, that one.”

    On that note… I had one and quickly figured out what it was.
    When flying, I tend to paint a picture of where everyone is around me with the radio. I was flying into Dallas Love Field one night and I heard a jet being called out to follow me in. I glanced over my shoulder to see two landing lights that were separating slowly, meaning in my mind this thing was right on my rear. Without hesitation I turned the aircraft away from the perceived threat. ATC asked what I was doing. After taking a good look behind I realized it was two planes separating for spacing, not one plane right on my rear.
    I sheepishly reported the phenomenon to the controller, was directed back and continued my approach. I was a bit embarrassed but still on heightened alert.

  10. Here is a much better conspiracy theory:

    Remember Howard Hughes and the GLOMAR EXPLORER? Mining for high value metal nodules scattered across the seabed. But actually cover for trying to raise a sunken Russian nuclear submarine. Even the Reader’s Digest was taken in and ran stories about it.

    Well I’m calling the 60 Minutes interview with credible trained observers as a cover story. We are testing something good and people are going to see it. So we are covering it with a UFO/UAP story. Which was my exact reaction when I saw that piece.

    Even AvWeb were taken in and ran stories about it.

    Remember folks – you heard it here first.

    You are welcome.

  11. “The Truth is Out There!” (FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder)
    Just not holding my breath on the upcoming Pentagon information dump. It’ll be more grainy videos and fuzzy photos. No chunk of unobtainium metal from a crashed or captured “alien” spacecraft.

    It’s interesting to observe folks thoughts and speculations. With no tangible evidence I lean toward a “None of the above” choice. This mind is open to evidence. Hopefully not so open that what little I have falls out .

  12. My guess is their report will be incomplete because they have not checked in with my brother. He knows all about UFOs. He lives in California, right next to Hollywood and watched all of the star trek movies. And that proves they’re real.

  13. Thanks for the information.

    ‘aerial phenomena’ covers optical illusions, such as reflections that aren’t expected, and covers types of lightning (a wild example is the red shoots up from high altitude clouds, also note visible reflections from cloud layers of lightning not visible to the observer).

    Gummints do hide things, for example:
    – the typhoid epidemic in Glasgow, 1964, alleged hiding was to not scare the population and not harm trade relations with the source (corned beef that had been cooled in local river water in Argentina before canning)
    – some politicians downplayed the SARS-CoV-2 virus as it was emerging, though some then flipped to deliberately exaggerating risk, neither bunch communicating risk clearly (it is health condition and proximity, thus Florida took action for nursing homes when it saw what happened in Italy, as did some care residence chains who expected that a virus emerging in China would eventually come to Canada).

  14. I thought I seen one while flying a duchess one evening from Houston to north La. But after raising KAEX approach, I found out that Ft. Polk was firing short range missiles in their MOA 30-40 miles west of me.

  15. I remember a TV thing years ago on these phenomena. One example was a low quality (always) video of a object darting back and forth over a field. Experts agreed no known natural or man-made object could produce such motion. Eventually it was shown one man-made object could produce the effect – a white T-shirt bag (plastic shopping bag) blowing in the air currents over the field.

    Are there object which appear to be flying to an observer and are unidentified to that observer? Of course. Have most of us experienced that? Sure. Are any of them visitors from another world? Don’t be a child.

  16. After 47 years and 28,000 hours of flying, I’ve never had an encounter but I flew with two different airline pilots who had. One pilot was in a modern fighter during his encounter. He described to me in detail the performance and capabilities of the object, which he assured me were quite beyond anything in the known inventory. The other pilot had his encounter flying back on the tracks from Hawaii and had a long, very close look as the object joined on his wing and rotated completely around his plane, including right off the nose and directly above the cockpit. It departed abruptly at a 90° angle then joined up on the next airplane back on the track as the other plane discussed it on 123.45. These were just two random conversations over a long career flying international and chatting late at night, so I’m certain there are plenty of other stories. The fact is, no one talks about this and no one reports it because they don’t want to be labeled a loon. The report in June may be interesting.

  17. They should get Marjorie Taylor Greene to present the findings. This would be right up her alley!

  18. Thanks Paul, I’ll take drones for $200. I absolutely love the mockup photo. It is a mockup right? I really love folk lore and would be sad to see Roswell be suddenly less interesting. I doubt green men are interested in Earth, but Earth is def interested in green women (The Cage). Sign me up for the Space Force if yaknowhatimean. So far I haven’t seen anything up there, and certainly nothing that I would report. I did get close to an iridescent cloud once, no pot of gold. Betting these reports won’t have one either. I say Lets keep it interesting.

  19. Well, my aluminum foil hat is ready to go and so are my Dr Fauchi approved double face masks. Can’t be too careful. Maybe I should have a garlic clove around my neck just for insurance. Darn i, Paul, now I won’t be able to sleep tonight worrying about things that go bump in the night.

  20. I have followed the various UFO debates since 1995, and am familiar with
    most of the literature on the subject. At the risk of sounding categorical,
    here are the principal points to bear in mind:

    1. What William James said about ESP in 1902 still applies, not just to that
    topic but in general: “90% of it is moonshine; the rest cannot be discounted.”
    That is the best and wisest rule-of-thumb imaginable for dealing with cases,
    claims, and the broad range of individuals and groups making them.

    2. Cold War anxiety is responsible for the prevalence of sightings, both in
    the U.S. and elsewhere, notably, in the former USSR. “The Day the Earth
    Stood Still” (1951, dir. Robert Wise) is an exemplary allegory of the fear
    of nuclear annihilation, released in the same year as the Soviet Union
    exploded the first H-Bomb, causing shock waves of despair and dismay,
    yet counterpointed by the Roswell incident (1947), which led to all of
    the official denials that in turn prompted Project Bluebook, in the ‘50s.
    Nothing has changed since, except the source of the anxiety itself, be it
    the Cuban Missile Crisis, global warfare, 9/11, or the looming threat of
    planetary ecocide. There is also a strong element of religious atavism
    involved, be it the search for the Holy Grail, the longing for a Messiah,
    or the consequences of living in a secular age, in which religious ideas
    and impulses are thwarted, suppressed, or sublimated into grotesque
    and unrecognizable forms. To adapt Henry Adams’ vocabulary, the
    Virgin returns, disguised as the Dynamo, so that we might worship
    her as our redeemer—the “mission” of HAL in “2001” is similar, but
    for the astronaut’s refusal to be sacrificed at the altar of cosmic (or
    hitech) progress, even as the mummies onboard the spacecraft are
    resurrected or reincarnated, thus saving the picture, if not the world.

    3. If you doubt my word, or consider it merely impressionistic and
    anecdotal, read Jacques Vallee, Passport to Magonia [1993], or any
    of his recent books (Messengers of Deception [2008]; Wonders in
    the Sky [2010], with Chris Aubeck), based on his earlier trilogy of
    “casebooks” (Dimensions, Confrontations, Revelations [1988-92])
    on the subject. Vallee is both an erudite humanist and a “tough-
    minded” computer scientist, who transcends the “two cultures,”
    much as James did, before it even had a name. He traces UFO
    mania back to its many roots in antiquity, and to its sources in
    folk beliefs, heresies, cults, and all of the cultural crises which
    created the atmosphere in which such beliefs might arise and
    flourish, as they do now. C.J. Jung, Flying Saucers [1958; tr.
    R.F.C. Hull, 1964; repr. Princeton UP, 1978] is reviled by those
    who “believe in” them or their latter-day analogues, yet it is
    indispensable, not just as an artifact of its times, but because
    Jung drew attention to undercurrents of myth and superstition
    that belie (and outlast) our public allegiance to science and
    rationality, on which the Constitution (democracy is science
    writ large) is based, to which we pay prodigious lip service.
    Like Mark Twain in Connecticut Yankee, Jung realized that
    ideals of the French Enlightenment don’t change the lives
    of ordinary people all that much, which is why we have so
    much trouble comprehending how “Americans can go to
    the moon yet our children can’t learn long division,” and
    why (according to a CBS poll taken a decade ago) 77% of
    American adults “believe in” angels, in ways that neither
    Horatio nor Jimmy Stewart ever dreamt of. Thus Jung
    concluded that it is irrational to expect or demand that
    others be rational—as the grave-diggers described the
    situation to Hamlet, “there the men are as mad as ‘e.”
    Alas, the myths and superstitions are largely our own.

    4. We tend to forget ourselves when confronting even
    the most sober and circumspect reports of UAP (or
    whatever one calls them). A test pilot will say, with
    utmost seriousness, “we spotted something on our
    left at 9 o’clock that was flying at Mach 12.” Sure
    enough. But that doesn’t make it extra-terrestrial.
    Satellites orbit the earth at roughly Mach 22.5 (as
    did Sputnik, in 1957). Granted, they’re in space,
    100 miles (160 km) above the earth, not close to
    the earth’s surface, where g forces operate. But
    the “Mach 12” claim is often made and received
    in a vacuum (sic) of thought, as if that by itself
    were both impressive and convincing—rather
    like advertisements that say “Vitalis has G-7”
    or “Vicks formula 44 fights colds.” The mere
    mention of “Mach 12” has an aura of number
    magic about it, which is both awe-inspiring
    and (perforce) supernatural, even to those
    who should know better than to succumb
    to its hitech charms. The “gee whiz” effect
    is often more powerful and seductive than
    the reports themselves. In fairness to the
    pilots who make such claims, they not only
    are telling the truth, but they are quick to
    note that the behavior of these UAP defies
    explanation precisely because it occurs at
    comparatively low altitudes, in conditions
    where Mach 12 has never been observed.
    Yet at this moment, passenger aircraft
    capable of flying at Mach 6 are being
    designed. Apparently, it isn’t feasible
    to go beyond that without experiencing
    those very g forces that would make an
    average human traveler ill at ease, if not
    seriously ill. But a test pilot could withstand
    that–and probably will, in the near future.
    That doesn’t rule out an extra-terrestrial
    origin for such phenomena, but it is more
    likely that what those pilots saw was an
    experimental craft (or device) designed
    on earth, not something out of this world.
    Absent further details, any other hypothesis
    or conjecture is purely speculative, thus runs
    afoul of Occam’s razor (all things being equal,
    the simplest explanation is the best). In UAP
    annals, as in so many walks and circles of life,
    the mystique of numbers, like that of military
    jargon, is both beguiling and insidious, as it
    paralyzes the intellect and frightens the soul.

    5. As I began with James, so I shall end by applying
    a number of his profound psychological insights.
    The “cash value” of Ufology and its descendants
    is that, like other “over-beliefs” that humans are
    apt to hold, it often proves fruitful in ways that
    true believers and their disciples never imagined.
    In this case, the benefit is that it (finally) compels
    the U.S. government to disclose information and
    declassify documents that either should not have
    been kept secret in the first place, or that were
    kept secret far too long, and for no other reason
    than to satisfy bureaucratic whims and to fulfill
    the anti-democratic agendas and imperatives of
    agencies that shroud all such data in perpetuity.
    Secrets are the currency of those in power, and
    of those who aspire to it. They have exchange
    value to those who hoard them, as well as to
    those who barter them for favors, opportunities,
    or other secrets. They too have a mystique,
    and a powerful attraction that binds buyers,
    sellers, and envious bystanders in a game of
    mutual manipulation, suspicion and mistrust.
    If democracy demands transparency, then
    opacity undermines democracy, even as it
    ultimately betrays itself. The ontology of
    UAP is wrong—childish, sentimental, and
    downright absurd. But its moral and
    political instincts, albeit naïve, are far
    more reliable than all the gate-keepers
    who protect the Wizard and surround
    the Emperor, lest one discover them
    in their nakedness, bereft of magic–
    caught red-handed, steeped in blood
    money from the profits of global war.
    Maybe the Enlightenment isn’t just a
    dream. Maybe it will succeed, where
    idols of the hitech tribe failed, in toto.
    That is no moonshine, but betokens a
    dawn of conscience. As Thoreau noted
    in 1854, “the sun is but a morning star.”

      • I’ll give it a go.
        A. ‘I lack personal, direct experience in all matters extra-terrestrial, inter-dimensional, and extra-sensory, so quoting others in political, governmental or social manner with great mental gymnastics should distract away from that lack quite soundly.

        B. ‘Since I cannot verify through personal experience anything of the above, neither can anyone else.
        -under or over 40? 🙂

  21. Paul – brilliant graphic for your article. Even better might have been to have the image reveal the Wright Flyer

  22. It is strange how all the latest sightings and images are in “heavy military operating areas” San Diego and Norfolk and involve the Navy to a high degree. What is DARPA doing now……?