“UFO + U” | The UFO Phenomena in Modern America

UFOS are as American as apple pie and the saucers they’re both served on. A country of immigrants looking for new lands and opportunities, colonists looking to exploit resources, explorers by nature, we can’t help but project wonder onto the continued aerial phenomena; we’ve got kinship. UFOs have, in one manner or another, left a strong imprint on American cultural folklore for roughly the past century with no sign of abating. Being the stuff of legend does not, however, make the unexplainable, or in this case, ‘unidentifiable’, any less real.

Project Sign begat Project Grudge, which begat Project Bluebook, which spawned the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Now, there is the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Taskforce, a program within the Office of Naval Intelligence. Most recently, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a brief, nine-page declassified UAPTF report, “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”.

At first read, the report does not provide any conclusive revelation. It doesn’t assert much of anything. It does, however, lay considerable groundwork for a potentially robust renewal of earnest inquiry into the continued presence of UAPs across the gamut of our country’s modern history at both National and individual levels.

It is, at least, a step in the right direction toward public acknowledgement to the presence of UFOs and impresses upon the reader that further and more extensive research is being conducted at the highest levels of the Military and US Government (USG). Whether these objects derive from a different planet or are being sent from an earthbound country’s military is moot if it the investigation leads to a conclusive answer to the reality of their continued presence one way or the other.               

The report came after mounting pressure from both the public and several members of Congress to address a string of seemingly unexplainable aerial phenomena that were not only witnessed, but also captured on camera, by fighter pilots stationed aboard aircraft carriers such as the USS Nimitz and the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Three videos known “GIMBLE”, “GOFAST”, and “FLIR” show visible unidentifed aircraft from the cameras aboard the US fighter jets trailing them. The footage was released to the public by Luis Elizondo, former head of Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program after resigning from the Pentagon post out of frustration these incidents were taken more seriously.

The Nimitz sighting is unique in that this UFO had been witnessed by on radar by crews for a preceding two weeks before the FLIR footage was shot on November 14th, 2004.  The purportedly had been hovering at approximately 80,000 feet above a relatively localized region of the Pacific ocean. Pilots David Fravor and Alex Dietrich tailed the aircraft only for it to disappear from their sights. A second wave of pilots were dispatched. Among the second wave of pilots, Chad Underwood’s fighter jet was equipped with an advanced infrared camera which revealed the strange aircraft was still there. This implies the potential for a cloaking device.

In 2019, a Pentagon spokesperson was quoted as saying that the sightings were “part of a larger issue of an increased number of training range incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena in recent years” Also acknowledged by the Pentagon that year was footage of a sighting from personnel aboard the USS Russell in 2019 and a separately recorded sighting aboard the USS Omaha.

The ODNI briefing centered on the years between 2004 and 2021 and focused on “144 reports originated from USG sources. Of these, 80 reports involved observation with multiple sensors.” These sensors were listed to include radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapons-seekers, and human visual observation. Among these cases, “18 incidents, described in 21 reports, observers reported unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics. … In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency energy associated with UAP sightings.”

The fear of government officials is not rooted in outer space but in foreign lands. While serving as Chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio speculated that the sightings may stem from Chinese or Russian technology making incursions into US airspace for any number of reasons.  Physicist Adam Frank put forth the premise in a New York Times article of this year that the sightings are “drones deployed by rivals like Russia and China to examine our defenses; luring our pilots into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus revealing our electronic intelligence capabilities.”

The Mutual UFO Network’s State Director for Oregon, Tom Bowden, is of two minds regarding the ODNI report. “In the past, the Military in general, has not wanted to talk about the subject. It’s not like they tried to deny it, they tried to pretend that it was a non-subject, something not even worth discussing in the first place. Now, at least the door is open. In that sense, it is a step in the right direction. It is also a ‘kicking it down the road’ situation because there is much more evidence that we are certain parts of government has.

“When I say ‘government’ I’m speaking of specific parts, the Military branches, Central Intelligence, National Security Agency, those organizations have more information than they want to talk about. There are a lot of reasons for it, not everyone agrees they should keep it secret. There are two sides to it. One side feels we should know everything. The other side feels this stuff is so sensitive and difficult to talk about that we’re not sure we want to try and bring it up with the public.”

Bowden’s Ohio counterpart, fellow MUFON State Director Thomas Wertman, feels the report is far from substantive and more of an appeasement to allay Congressional fears that the objects are the result of foreign agents. “They have national defense concerns,” he says. Wertman highlights a passage within the ODNI report that details eleven instances where these still unknown aerial phenomena came close enough to US military aircraft “in which pilots reported near misses with a UAP.”

“UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology.” The ODNI report goes on to state. It also draws attention to the fact that “most reports described UAP as objects that interrupted pre-planned training or other military activity.”

At the civilian level, Bowden and Wertman investigate reported sightings within their respective regions of operation. Alone, Wertman has looked into between 500 to 600 reported sightings since joining the organization, according to his estimations. His research employs a number of inter-related aspects which perform a process of elimination. Astronomical information, weather reports, flight records, the metadata from a witness’s cellular phone are all taken into account before anything out of the ordinary can even begin to be conceived.

This year alone, Wertman estimates 200 to 250 reported sightings in Ohio, down from five years previous when the state tallied 360, according to the MUFON state director. “Right now, we’ve got twenty some cases in the last thirty days here in Ohio. That’s just the ones who file a report.” “It’s hard to determine what’s going to be a hot spot,” Oregon’s Bowden says. “I’ve had certain places where, for a few months, there will be a high rate of sightings then that fades away and goes somewhere else. A lot of people make a big deal about ‘hot spots’, but I think, in a lot of cases, the hot spots are not as reliable as a real indicator.”

The individual is not without their technological means to compare data. The Magnetic Anomaly Detection and Automated Recording, MADAR, is a series of interconnected detection nodes located throughout the United States, and some international locations, which allow the user to track geomagnetic disturbances and background radiation in real time. These readings can either be cross-referenced against reported UFO phenomena for potential corroboration or as an early warning device as alluded to in a brochure available on the “privately supported” National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena website, “Madar 101”.

“If we are to get even close to solving the UAP riddle we must try some new ideas. … these crafts, at times, can be detected and an early warning system can work and additional scientific data collection by alerted personnel will prevail over a century of lies and cover-ups by world governments. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The same brochure explains, “An alert email goes out to the operator to document the event while other alerts go out via [cell phone] in attempt to get the op[erator] and his team outside looking and recording data on possible local sightings of interest.” The MADAR system was first developed by Francis Ridge, in 1973. Ridge, who serves as Subcommittee Chairman for NICAP, spearheaded MADAR’s original running operation until 1992. The system lay dormant until new technology set the groundwork for a more sophisticated second iteration in the early 2000s which added for detection of local electromagnetic disturbances. This was followed by a third generation MADAR system introduced in 2016 with the help of Rich Vitello.

The MADAR website, madar.site features an interactive map of for all detection units across the world, providing real- time monitoring and alerts. Users are also able to chart various environmental conditions for any given device. As helpful as these measures are, for Bowden, nothing is more important than the human connection. “We don’t go into the field unless there is some compelling reason like needing to see the lay of the land, or if there is an alleged landing sighting. We’ll go out to collect physical data if we need to, but most of what we do is contact witnesses. What we’re really looking at are the people who are reporting UFOs, because that’s what we have to work with.”

Art: Misha Burahov

This human element can, in its own way, serves as a boundary toward public acknowledgment. Regarding the struggle for potential witnesses to discuss the phenomena openly, Bowden says, “If you try to talk about it to the general public, most people think it’s too weird. To really understand it on a deeper level, they either can’t or won’t. It’s just too much weirdness for them. They can’t digest it. They go into denial.”

Wertman agrees, “So often they just need someone to talk to about this stuff. They may be embarrassed to talk to family members or co-workers.”

He relates a recent encounter with a man in his seventies who had never spoken about a sighting he experienced in the 1960s. “In the end, he felt good for being able to get his story out. I told him that we may not be able to get any answers, but just talking about it made him feel good.”

Bowden recalls a 2003 incident in Gresham, Oregon. A witness reported sighting a large, black triangular aircraft hovering low in the air above the road he was driving. Bowden was also independently contacted by a woman from Gresham with a matching report of seeing a black triangle craft outside of her home at approximately the same time and day of the vehicular sighting. From similarities in both reports, Bowden concluded the craft to be approximately 90 feet across at a height of around 500 to 700 feet above ground.

The woman’s report mentioned effects to her pacemaker within the presence of the craft. This physiological reaction matches another report Bowden filed involving a group of campers hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Their report detailed visible electric discharge rippling across the hull of the ship and the sensation of “standing in front of a large speaker at a rock concert,” according to Bowden’s retelling.

Could this be a consistent marker when compared to the ODNI’s report of “radio frequency energy associated with UAP sightings” in a “small number of cases”?

“There are a lot of black triangle sightings. A lot,” Bowden states. “They’re among the most prevalent kind of sightings.”

Wertman agrees that black triangle sightings are prevalent, but that doesn’t mean he’s convinced. “When people see a triangular light pattern, their minds try to fill in the blank spaces and what they get is a triangular object. That doesn’t mean what they’re looking at is necessarily triangular in shape.”

He explains that when typical commercial aircraft bank at certain angles their lights can appear to disappear suddenly. He has gone on to display this common mistake in potential sightings using filmed simulations and models during his frequent live seminars.

Another potential explanation to the preponderance of triangular UFO sightings may be caused by what is known as a ‘bokeh’, an optical illusion that causes out of focus and distant lights to appear triangular in shape due to the aperture of certain lenses. These simple answers may very well rule out a vast number of potential sightings, but not all of them, and clearly not enough to satisfy members within the US Government.

The ODNI report states that the Department of Defense’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force is working to “standardize incident reporting across US military services and other government agencies to ensure all relevant data is captured with respect to particular incidents and any US activities that might be relevant. The UAPTF is currently working to acquire additional reporting, including from the US Air Force, and has begun receiving data from the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“The UAPTF is looking for novel ways to increase collection of UAP cluster areas when US forces are not present as a way to baseline ‘standard’ UAP activity and mitigate the collection bias in the dataset. One proposal is to use advanced algorithms to search historical data captured and stored by radars the UAPTF also plans to update its current interagency UAP collection strategy in order to bring to bear relevant collection platforms and methods from the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community.” The report also intimates the UAPTF is seeking continued and increased funding, for “investments … guided by a UAP Collection Strategy, UAP Research and Development Technical Roadmap, and a UAP Program Plan.”

With ongoing technological advances available to the public and a renewed interest from bodies within both the Military and Congress, we may be closer than ever to gaining significant insights into the generationally elusive riddle of the UFO/UAP phenomena. Whether they, you, or I finally witness the unassailable remains to be seen.

It is now a question of time.

How long until enough data points, enough witnesses, enough innovation and determination reveals what has perennially transfixed a nation for a century? How long until that fateful camper, bystander, jet pilot, or man behind the desk is forced to acknowledge their understanding of reality may be far broader than they’re comfortable with?

Our conversation with Oregon’s Tom Bowden closed with inadvertent sagacity while explaining how to record potential sightings. “If you rely on autofocus, the camera has a hard time understanding what it’s supposed to be looking at. It can’t decide what to zero in on. The best thing to do is focus on infinity.”

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