(Investigator 65, 1999 March)

As much, if not more, has been written about Unidentified Flying Objects in the past forty years than any other aspect of the paranormal. While most would associate space craft with the technological advances made in rocket design and propulsion since World War II, according to some, UFOs pre-date the advent of Christianity by many centuries.

Best selling authors like Erich von Daniken have theorized that extraterrestrials visited this planet millennia ago in space craft and serve to provide the answers to many an unexplained mystery. In his book, Chariots of the Gods?, Daniken quotes passages from the Book of Ezekiel suggesting that the prophet was describing a spacecraft.

This was taken up by Josef F. Blumrich, a NASA rocket engineer, who wrote a book, The Spaceships of Ezekiel, in which he presents a plausible argument confirming that which Ezekiel saw and was unable to explain in modern terms, was in fact a technically feasible UFO.

The first "sighting" (in modern times) took place in 1947, when a private plane pilot, Kenneth Arnold, was flying near the Cascade Mountains in Washington and saw nine unidentifiable flying objects which he described as flying "like saucers skipping over water." This was seized upon by the media who gave the incident wide publicity and the phenomenon of "flying saucers" was born.

Since that time, tens of thousands of sightings have been reported all over the world, and the belief that we are being visited and observed by aliens is widely held. There have even been some cases where people claimed to have been abducted by visiting extraterrestrials.

Following Arnold's sighting, the number of other sightings in the USA and around the world grew exponentially, culminating in an "encounter of the third kind" when George Adamski allegedly met a visitor from Venus in the California desert on November 20, 1952.

Over the past forty years, societies have been formed solely for the purpose of watching for, recording and reporting sightings of UFOs. One of the first, a well known case studied by the US Army Air Force, took place on January 7, 1948, at Goodman Air Base in Kentucky, and received international coverage. Colonel Hix, the commander of the base, was notified of a huge metallic object shaped like a disc hovering over the airfield, its cone-shaped top glowing crimson. He asked a flight of four P-15 pursuit planes already in the air, to investigate. The planes gave chase, then two of them turned back, a third went on to its original destination. The fourth, piloted by Captain Thomas Mantell, reported that he was going to follow the object beyond fifteen thousand feet despite having no oxygen equipment in his plane. Mantell showed signs of great excitement bordering on hysteria during the chase, and after blacking out, he lost control of his plane, crashed, and was killed.

That Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) exist, no one would deny, there are many occasions when, for one reason or another, something seen in the sky cannot be readily identified. However, in the popular context, UFOs are regarded as being alien spacecraft, and have become the subject of numerous books, investigations and films. Cults and UFO associations proliferate, and the existence or otherwise of UFOs continues to be a matter of controversy.

In the 1950s, when the cold war was at its height, reports of strange things in the sky began to concern the U S Air Force, the possibility of some type of Russian device invading the home skies prompting the setting up of an investigating team. In 1952, Project Blue Book was initiated by the U S Air Force, followed in 1954, by NICAP, The National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena, and in 1966, a team under Professor Edward Condon which later became known as the Condon Committee.

All these investigators dismissed reports of UFO sightings and abductions as the products of crackpots and charlatans, concluding that there was no evidence that UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin. The U S Air Force endorsed that view by reporting that there was nothing to UFO reports, either as a concern to national security or as extraterrestrial contact, and got out of the UFO business in 1969. The CIA who also convened a panel of scientists to consider UFOs concluded that no further investigation was warranted.

The most frequently reported sightings of objects mistaken for UFOs are the planets, Venus and Jupiter, which appear when rising as very bright lights low on the horizon, meteorological balloons, cloud formations and temperature inversions.

Two recent reports of alleged UFO sightings which came to the attention of the Australian Skeptics in November 1992, and in May 1993, were both recorded on video cameras. The observers were extremely excited at what they had captured on film and because the objects seemed to move erratically were convinced that they had tangible proof of a UFO.

Examination of the videos and confirmation from the Sydney Observatory about the times and position of the planets Venus and Jupiter dispelled any doubt about what the objects were. The movement recorded and reported by the observers can be explained by the constant zooming in out of the zoom lens as it was focused and the fact that the video was hand-held by someone obviously in a state of excitement. In both cases, the observers were avid readers of UFO magazines and with a predisposition to believe in their existence.

Hoaxes and fakery have also played a large part in encouraging a belief in flying saucers, the most recent being the MJ-12 documents, allegedly written by a U S naval official in 1952, about UFOs that had crashed and been examined. Twelve highly placed government personnel were purportedly involved in producing this and the supporting documents, all of which subsequently turned out to be forgeries.

Books by "abductees", such as Whitney Strieber's Communion, help to perpetuate the fantasy, but to date no one has ever produced one piece of tangible or verifiable evidence that UFOs (in the context of alien space-ships) actually exist.

[From: Skeptoon an illustrated look at some New Age Beliefs, 1994, H Edwards]

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