11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era

Are UFOs worth researching? Could they be real? We take a look at some of recent history's best known cases.
Chris Young
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It's time to take UFOs seriously. So says Alexander Wendt, a professor of international relations at Ohio State University, who believes researchers should fight the UFO taboo, investigate, and pursue an explanation for the unidentified objects as they would any other field of science.

In fact, the once-secretive U.S. government-funded $22 million program, known as the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which investigated UFOs from 2007 to 2012, shows that the U.S. government did take the issue seriously. And it wasn't the first program of its kind.


Here's a look at a few of recent history's most famous UFO sightings, and the government programs that were born from their investigations.

1. The Kenneth Arnold Sighting, 1947

On June 24, 1947, a private pilot called Kenneth Arnold was flying his CallAir A-2 airplane in the state of Washington when he saw a series of bright flashes coming from north of Mt. Ranier. When he later likened their movements to "saucers skipping on water," the press picked it up, and so began our modern fascination with flying saucers and UFOs.

The claims were taken seriously by U.S. officials as, ten days after Arnold's experience, they were corroborated when a United Airlines crew on a plane to Seattle spotted five to nine disk-like objects that kept pace with their aircraft for 10 to 15 minutes.

11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Other witnesses also came forward saying they had seen silver disks from the ground, and several sighting reports were filed by the U.S. government.

During his statement, Arnold claimed the objects were too fast to be any existing human aircraft, and that they easily darted in and out of valleys with impressive maneuvers. 

Arnold's sightings directly led to to the formation of Project Sign at the end of 1947, the first publicly-acknowledged U.S. Air Force UFO investigation. Project Sign evolved into Project Grudge, which then became known as Project Blue Book.

2. The Roswell UFO incident, 1947

Only a few weeks after Arnold's sightings, came an event that has gone down as the most famous in UFO history to date. In the summer of 1947, rancher William Brazel discovered mysterious debris, including metallic rods, chunks of plastic, and unusual, papery scraps, in one of his New Mexico fields.

After Brazel reported the wreckage, soldiers from the nearby Roswell Army Air Force Base came to retrieve the materials. News headlines at the time claimed that a “flying saucer” crashed in Roswell.

11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era
The Kenneth Arnold and Roswell incidents sparked an obsession in the public consciousness, as seen in this 1957 edition of Amazing Stories magazine, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Though the U.S. Army Air Force eventually claimed the object was part of an experimental nuclear test detecting balloon technology made for the highly classified Project Mogul, Jesse Marcel, the officer who originally assessed the crash site, countered this with the following statement:

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"It was not anything from this Earth, that I'm quite sure of... I was familiar with just about all the materials used in aircraft and/or air travel. This was nothing like that...It could not have been."

3. The Tehran UFO incident, 1976

The September 19, 1976, incident in Tehran, Iran, started with phone calls from concerned citizens reporting a bright light in the sky. 

Iran's military sent out F-4 fighter jets to investigate. As they approached the object, their instruments started to malfunction. One pilot said he saw a bright light being released from the UFO. Thinking it was a missile sent his way, the pilot tried to open fire, but malfunctioning equipment didn't let him release any rounds.

Some believe the bright light may have been Jupiter, which was especially bright in the sky that night. The glowing object may have been meteors that were seen above Iran the same day. Others believe the object was a UFO.

4. Rendlesham Forest eyewitness accounts, 1980

The Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, which took place in the county of Suffolk in the United Kingdom, stands out as being one of the few cases where eyewitnesses said they saw a craft land after weaving through trees in a forest.

11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era
Source: ktsimage/iStock

One USAF witness — the U.S. Air Force was stationed at a Royal Air Force base at the time — said, "I moved a little closer... I walked around the craft, and finally, I walked right up to the craft. I noticed the fabric of the shell was more like a smooth, opaque, black glass.”

While the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence claimed that the lights seen were caused by the nearby Orfordness lighthouse, eyewitnesses from the time claim, to this day, that they saw something that was not of this earth, that his since been covered up.

5. The Belgian UFO Wave, 1989-90

The Belgian UFO wave is especially notable because it involves approximately 13,500 people who claim to have witnessed the incident, which took place over the course of several months.

At the end of November 1989, citizens of Belgium reported seeing a large, triangular UFO hovering in the sky. In March of 1990, new sightings were confirmed by two military radar stations. Two F-16 fighter jets were sent out to investigate. Though the pilots could not see anything, they were able to lock onto an extremely fast-moving object, that quickly disappeared, using their radar.

11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era
The fake image of a Belgian Wave UFO, Source: Wikimedia Commons

The photo above was widely spread a few months after the incident took place, though someone later came forward to say he had faked the image. The Belgian Air Force has admitted to having no logical explanation for the activity.

6. The Phoenix lights, 1997

On March 13, 1997, between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., thousands of people reported seeing strange, bright lights over Nevada, Arizona, and part of Mexico.

The first event to be seen was described as a V-shaped object flying through the sky, which was roughly the size of a commercial airplane.

11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era
A drawing of the triangular UFO object by witness Tim Ley recreated in an issue of USA Today, Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to Ktar.com, one witness said, "we don’t have anything that big,” he said. “It was totally silent. I’ve never seen anything even close to the colors from the exhaust that propelled that thing. It was as big as downtown Prescott and completely blocked out the stars."

7. The lights above the New Jersey Turnpike, 2001

On July 14, 2001, several drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike stopped for around 15 minutes just after midnight to gaze at strange orange and yellow lights that were shaped in a V formation over the Arthur Kill Waterway between Staten Island, New York, and Carteret, New Jersey. One of the witnesses was Carteret Police Department’s Lt. Daniel Tarrant.

While air-traffic controllers denied that any planes, military jets, or space flights could have caused the lights, a group, known as the New York Strange Phenomena Investigators (NY-SPI) claim they have FAA radar data that corroborates the UFO sightings from that night.

8. The USS Nimitz encounter, 2004

On November 14, 2004, the USS Princeton, part of the USS Nimitz carrier strike group, detected an unknown craft on its radar 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. Two weeks following the detection saw the carrier's crew tracking objects that appeared at 80,000 feet before diving to hover right above the Pacific Ocean.

When two FA-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz arrived in the area they spotted a white Tic Tac-shaped object appear from the water. It had no visible markings to indicate an engine, wings or windows, and infrared monitors didn't reveal any exhaust. It accelerated away at twice the top speed of the fighter jets. Video from the encounter is one of the three UFO videos recently declassified by the U.S. Navy.

9. The O'Hare International Airport sighting, 2006

Flight 446 was getting ready to fly to North Carolina from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, on November 7, 2006, when a United Airlines employee on the tarmac saw a dark metallic craft hovering over gate C17. A total of 12 United employees, as well as a few witnesses outside the airport, later witnessed the disk-shaped craft.

The witnesses claim the saucer hovered for about five minutes before rapidly shooting up through the clouds, leaving a blue hole in the cloud cover. O'Hare controller and union official Craig Burzych humorously stated at the time that, "to fly 7 million light-years to O'Hare and then have to turn around and go home because your gate was occupied is simply unacceptable."

Others, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, were upset that neither the government nor the airline investigated the incident and dismissed it as a "weather phenomenon." 

10. The East Coast flying saucer sighting, 2015

Leaked in 2017 at the same time as news of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, the video below reveals an encounter between an F/A-18 Super Hornet and an unidentified flying vehicle that was very similar to the craft spotted off San Diego in 2004.

No explanation ever emerged, though the video is one of the three that has been declassified and released to the public by the U.S. Navy "in order to clear up any misconceptions" about whether the video is real or not. The pilots tracked the object at 25,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean as it flew away while also rotating on its axis.

11. Project Grudge Report 13 and mutilated farm animals, latest 2019

In March 1956, UFOlogist reports say that Air Force sergeant Jonathan P. Lovette and Major William Cunningham were searching for scattered debris from a recent rocket in the White Sands missile testing grounds near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico when, as History writes, Cunningham suddenly heard a loud scream from Lovette.

Cunningham hurriedly crossed the dune he was on, thinking he'd find Lovette had been bitten by a snake. Instead, he claimed to have seen the officer with a long snake-like arm wrapped around his legs being dragged into a silver disk hovering above the ground. The craft then pulled Lovette inside, the officer claimed, and rose vertically into the sky.

After Cunningham reported the incident he was taken in for a psychiatric evaluation and searches were launched for Sgt. Lovette. After three days, Lovette's nude deceased body was found. All of his organs were missing. It was noted that they had been removed with extreme precision.

11 of the Most Mysterious Unresolved UFO Cases of the Modern Era
A newspaper clipping from a now-declassified FBI file on animal mutilation, Source: FBI 

According to UFOlogists, this story accounts for report number 13 of the U.S. government's Project Grudge — reports 1 to 12 and 14 are now declassified, but 13 remains a secret. What's more, mutilations of the same unexplainable nature have been reported in animals as recently as last year.

As Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall suggest in a study titled 'Sovereignty and the UFO,' an authoritative UFO taboo exists due to the fact that knowing could upend our society. What do you believe? Are UFOs, also known as UAPs, explainable if we just take the time to research them? Are they even worth researching in the first place?  

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