Unidentified Flying Object

A UFO or Unidentified Flying Object is any real or apparent flying object which cannot be identified by the observer and which remains unidentified after investigation.

Sightings of unusual aerial phenomena date back to ancient times, but reports of UFO sightings only became fashionable after the first widely publicized U.S. sighting in 1947. Many thousands of such claimed observations have since been reported worldwide.

In popular culture throughout the world, UFO is commonly used to refer to any hypothetical alien spacecraft but the term flying saucer is also regularly used. Once a UFO is identified as a known object (for example an aircraft or weather balloon), it ceases to be a UFO and becomes an identified object. In such cases it is inaccurate to continue to use the acronym UFO to describe the object.

Unusual aerial phenomena have been reported throughout history. Some of these strange apparitions may have been astronomical phenomena such as comets or bright meteors, or atmospheric optical phenomena such as parhelia. Examples of these reports include:

* During the reign of the Pharaoh Thutmose III around 1450 BC, there is a description of multiple “circles of fire” brighter than the sun and about 5 meters in size that appeared over multiple days. They finally disappeared after ascending higher in the sky.

* The Roman author Julius Obsequens writes that in 99 BC, “in Tarquinia towards sunset, a round object, like a globe, a round or circular shield, took its path in the sky from west to east.”

* On September 24, 1235, General Yoritsume and his army observed unidentified globes of light flying in erratic patterns in the night sky near Kyoto, Japan. The general’s advisers told him not to worry -- it was merely the wind causing the stars to sway.

* On April 14, 1561 the skies over Nuremberg, Germany were reportedly filled with a multitude of objects seemingly engaged in an aerial battle. Small spheres and discs were said to emerge from large cylinders.

These sightings were usually treated as supernatural portents, angels, and other religious omens. Some contemporary investigators believe them to be the ancient equivalent of modern UFO reports.

Before the terms “flying saucer” and “UFO” were coined, there were a number of reports of strange, unidentified aerial phenomena. These reports date from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. They include:

* On July, 1868, The investigators of this phenomenon define as the first documented sighting modern the happened in Copiapo city, Chile.

* On January 25, 1878, The Denison Daily News wrote that local farmer John Martin had reported seeing a large, dark, circular flying object resembling a balloon flying “at wonderful speed.”

* On November 17, 1882, astronomer E. W. Maunder of the Greenwich Royal Observatory described in the Observatory Reports “a strange celestial visitor” that was “disc-shaped,” “torpedo-shaped,” or “spindle-shaped.” It was said to be very different in characteristics from a meteor fireball. Years later, Maunder wrote it looked exactly like the new Zeppelin dirigibles. The strange object was also seen by several other European astronomers.

* On February 28, 1904, there was a sighting by three crew members on the USS Supply 300 miles west of San Francisco, reported by Lt. Frank Schofield, later to become Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Schofield wrote of three bright red egg-shaped and circular objects flying in echelon formation that approached beneath the cloud layer, then changed course and “soared” above the clouds, departing directly away from the earth after 2 to 3 minutes. The largest had an apparent size of about six suns.

* The so-called Fátima incident or “The Miracle of the Sun,” witnessed by tens of thousands in Fátima, Portugal on October 13, 1917, is believed by some researchers to actually be a UFO event.

* In both the European and Japanese aerial theatres during World War II, “Foo-fighters” (balls of light and other shapes that followed aircraft) were reported by both Allied and Axis pilots.

* On February 25, 1942, an unidentified craft was detected over the California region. The craft stayed aloft despite taking at least 20 minutes worth of flak from ground batteries. The incident later became known as the Battle of Los Angeles, or the West coast air raid.

* In 1946, there were over 2000 reports of unidentified aircraft in the Scandinavian nations, along with isolated reports from France, Portugal, Italy and Greece, then referred to as “Russian hail,” and later as “ghost rockets,” because it was thought that these mysterious objects were Russian tests of captured German V1 or V2 rockets. This was subsequently shown not to be the case, and the phenomenon remains unexplained. Over 200 were tracked on radar and deemed to be “real physical objects” by the Swedish military. A significant fraction of the remainder were thought to be misperceptions of natural phenomena, such as meteors.

The post World War II UFO phase in the United States began with a reported sighting by American businessman Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947 while flying his private plane near Mount Rainier, Washington. He reported seeing nine brilliantly bright objects flying across the face of Rainier towards nearby Mount Adams at “an incredible speed”, which he calculated at at least 1200 miles per hour by timing their travel between Rainier and Adams. His sighting subsequently received significant media and public attention. Arnold would later say they “flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water” and also said they were “flat like a pie pan”, “shaped like saucers,” and “half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear. ...they looked like a big flat disk.” (One, however, he would describe later as being almost crescent-shaped.) Arnold’s reported descriptions caught the media’s and the public’s fancy and gave rise to the terms flying saucer and flying disk.

Arnold’s sighting was followed in the next few weeks by several thousand other reported sightings, mostly in the U.S., but in other countries as well. Perhaps the most significant of these was a United Airlines crew sighting of nine more disc-like objects over Idaho on the evening of July 4. This sighting was even more widely reported than Arnold’s and lent considerable credence to Arnold’s report. For the next few days most American newspapers were filled with front-page stories of the new “flying saucers” or “flying discs.” Starting with official debunkery that began the night of July 8 with the Roswell UFO incident, reports rapidly tapered off, ending the first big U.S. UFO wave.

Starting July 9, Army Air Force intelligence, in cooperation with the FBI, secretly began a formal investigation into the best sightings, which included Arnold’s and the United crew’s. The FBI was told that intelligence was using “all of its scientists” to determine whether or not “such a phenomenon could, in fact, occur.” Furthermore, the research was “being conducted with the thought that the flying objects might be a celestial phenomenon,” or that “they might be a foreign body mechanically devised and controlled.” (Maccabee, 5) Three weeks later they concluded that, “This ‘flying saucer’ situation is not all imaginary or seeing too much in some natural phenomenon. Something is really flying around.” A further review by the intelligence and technical divisions of the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field reached the same conclusion, that “the phenomenon is something real and not visionary or fictitious,” that there were objects in the shape of a disc, metallic in appearance, and as big as man-made aircraft. They were characterized by “extreme rates of climb and maneuverability,” general lack of noise, absence of trail, occasional formation flying, and “evasive” behavior “when sighted or contacted by friendly aircraft and radar,” suggesting either manual, automatic, or remote control. It was thus recommended in late September 1947 that an official Air Force investigation be set up to investigate the phenomenon. This led to the creation of the Air Force’s Project Sign at the end of 1947, which became Project Grudge at the end of 1948, and then Project Blue Book in 1952. Blue Book closed down in 1970, ending the official Air Force UFO investigations.

Use of “UFO” instead of “flying saucer” was first suggested in 1952 by Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt, the first director of Project Blue Book, who felt that “flying saucer” did not reflect the diversity of the sightings. Ruppelt suggested that “UFO” should be pronounced as a word — “you-foe”. However it is generally pronounced by forming each letter: “U.F.O.” His term was quickly adopted by the Air Force, which also briefly used “UFOB” circa 1954. Ruppelt recounted his experiences with Project Blue Book in his memoir, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956), also the first book to use the term.

Air Force Regulation 200-2, issued in 1954, defined an Unidentified Flying Object (UFOB) as “any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object.” The regulation also said UFOBs were to be investigated as a “possible threat to the security of the United States” and “to determine technical aspects involved.” Furthermore, Air Force personnel were directed not to discuss unexplained cases with the press.

Beginning in the 1950s, UFO-related spiritual sects, sometimes referred to as contactee cults, began to appear. Most often the members of these sects rallied around a central individual, who claimed to either have made personal contact with space-beings, or claimed to be in telepathic contact with them. Prominent among such individuals was George Adamski, who claimed to have met a tall, blond-haired Venusian named “Orthon,” who came to warn us about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Adamski was widely dismissed, but an Adamski Foundation still exists, publishing and selling Adamski’s writings. At least two of these sects developed a substantial number of adherents, most notably The Aetherius Society, founded by British mystic George King in 1956, and the Unarius Foundation, established by “Ernest L.” and Ruth Norman in 1954. A standard theme of the alleged messages from outer-space beings to these cults was a warning about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. More recent groups organized around an extraterrestrial theme include Ummo, Heaven’s Gate, Raël, and the Ashtar Galactic Command. Many of the early UFO sects, as well as later ones, share a tendency to incorporate ideas from both Christianity and various eastern religions, “hybridizing” these with ideas pertaining to extraterrestrials and their benevolent concern with the people of Earth.

The notion of contactee cults gained a new twist during the 1980s, primarily in the USA, with the publication of books by Whitley Strieber (beginning with Communion) and Jacques Vallee (Passport to Magonia). Strieber, a horror writer, felt that aliens were harassing him and were responsible for “missing time” during which he was subjected to strange experiments by “grey aliens”. This newer, darker model can be seen in the subsequent wave of “alien abduction” literature, and in the background mythos of The X Files and many other TV series.

However, even in the alien abduction literature, motives of the aliens run the gamut from hostile to benevolent. For example, researcher David Jacobs believes we are undergoing a form of stealth invasion through genetic assimilation. The theme of genetic manipulation (though not necessarily an invasion) is also strongly reflected in the writings of Budd Hopkins. The late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack (1929-2004) believed that the aliens’ ethical bearing was to take a role as “tough love” gurus trying to impart wisdom. James Harder says abductees predominantly report positive interactions with aliens, most of whom have benevolent intentions and express concern about human survival.

An interesting 1970s-era development was a renewal and broadening of ideas associating UFOs with supernatural or preternatural subjects such as occultism, cryptozoology, and parapsychology. Some 1950s contactee cultists had incorporated various religious and occult ideas into their beliefs about UFOs, but in the 1970s this was repeated on a considerably larger scale. Many participants in the New Age movement came to believe in alien contact, both through mediumistic channeling and through literal, physical contact. A prominent spokesperson for this trend was actress Shirley MacLaine, especially in her book and miniseries, Out On a Limb. The 1970s saw the publication of many New Age books in which ideas about UFOs and extraterrestrials figured prominently.

Another key development in 1970s UFO folklore came with the publication of Erich von Däniken’s book Chariots of the Gods. The book argued that aliens have been visiting Earth for thousands of years, which he used to explain UFO-like images from various archaeological sources as well as unsolved mysteries. Such ideas were not exactly new. For example, earlier in his career, astronomer Carl Sagan in Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966) had similarly argued that aliens could have been visiting the Earth sporadically for millions of years. “Ancient astronauts” proposals inspired numerous imitators, sequels, and fictional adaptations, including one book (Barry Downing's The Bible and Flying Saucers) which interprets miraculous aerial phenomena in the Bible as records of alien contact. Many of these interpretations posit that aliens have been guiding human evolution, an idea taken up earlier by the novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

UFOs constitute a widespread international cultural phenomenon of the last half-century. Folklorist Thomas E. Bullard writes, “UFOs have invaded modern consciousness in overwhelming force, and endless streams of books, magazine articles, tabloid covers, movies, TV shows, cartoons, advertisements, greeting cards, toys, T-shirts, even alien-head salt and pepper shakers, attest to the popularity of this phenomenon.” Gallup polls rank UFOs near the top of lists for subjects of widespread recognition. In 1973, a survey found that 95 percent of the public reported having heard of UFOs, whereas only 92 percent had heard of US President Gerald Ford in a 1977 poll taken just nine months after he left the White House. (Bullard, 141) A 1996 Gallup poll reported that 71 percent of the United States population believed that the government was covering up information regarding UFOs. A 2002 Roper poll for the Sci Fi channel found similar results, but with more people believing UFOs were extraterrestrial craft. In that latest poll, 56 percent thought UFOs were real craft and 48 percent that aliens had visited the Earth. Again, about 70 percent felt the government was not sharing everything it knew about UFOs or extraterrestrial life.

There have been a number of civilian groups formed to study UFO’s and/or to promulgate their opinions on the subject. Some have achieved fair degrees of mainstream visibility while others remain obscure. The groups listed below have embraced a broad variety of approaches, and have seen a correspondingly wide variety of responses from mainstream critics or supporters.

Documentary channels, such as the Discovery Channel and the History Channel airs UFO, alien related material from time to time.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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