UFO: Everything we know so far about the flying saucer phenomena

All the secrets about UFOs you need to know.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
Senior couple waving at flying UFOs.gremlin/iStock

In May 2022, two senior U.S. defense intelligence officials appeared before a House of Representatives intelligence subcommittee hearing on UFOs. It was the first public U.S. congressional hearing on the subject in fifty years. The hearing came 11 months after a government report documented more than 140 cases of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, observed by U.S. military pilots since 2004.

In April 2022, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the US Department of Defense, filed by a British news agency The Sun, resulted in the release of more than 1,500 pages of documents related to UFO sightings from the secretive Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). The cache of documents included reports of nerve damage, radiation burns, and even "unaccounted for pregnancy" related to the sighting.  The appearance of these documents has again fueled the market for debates concerning alien UFOs.

According to a 2021 research report by the Pew Research Center, slightly more than half of Americans regard UFO sightings reported by people in the military as likely evidence of intelligent life outside Earth. Around 40% of these say that military-reported UFOs are “probably” evidence of extraterrestrial life.

By and large, the public does not view UFOs as a major threat to the country. In the same survey, 87% of respondents said that UFOs are not a threat or are a minor threat. Just one in ten felt UFOs are a major threat to U.S. national security.

Military officials have a different view. Defense Department officials have previously commented that unidentified flying objects are real and pose a potentially serious threat to the country. However, military officials also do not generally consider UFOs to have an extraterrestrial origin. Instead, military officials believe that nearly all unexplained events can be explained with more research and observation. 

Who gave the term UFO?     

UFO: Everything we know so far about the flying saucer phenomena
A UFO drawing from the CIA. Source: CIA/Wikimedia Commons

Any flying object that you see in the sky but can not confirm its identity is a UFO. Many conspiracy theorists believe that such unidentifiable objects are actually alien spaceships that arrive on Earth from a different planet. The UFO concept gained popularity during the Cold War era when many countries including the US were increasing their air combat capabilities by developing new types of fighter planes and related technologies.

The modern era of UFO sightings began in the year 1947. On June 24 of that year, American aviator Kenneth Arnold claimed reported seeing nine, bright blue-white objects flying in a “V” formation over Washington’s Mount Rainier.

 He estimated their speed at an amazing 1700 mph, and compared their motion to “a saucer if you skip it across the water.” Newspaper reports at the time misinterpreted this and described the objects as "flying saucers".

Thousands of UFO sightings were reported in the years after the “flying saucer” news and UFOs became such a complicated matter that even US Air Force began investigating the sightings secretly. In the 1950s, Air Force Captain Edward James Ruppelt initially headed up an investigation into UFO sightings under a project code-named Blue Book. The project, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force BaseOhio, had two primary objectives: to perform a scientific analysis of all the UFO-related data available at that time and to find out if UFOs should be considered a threat to national security. 

During their investigation, Ruppelt's team, and those that followed, eventually reached the conclusions that no UFO that had been reported or evaluated was ever a threat to national security; that there was no evidence that the sightings represented technology outside the understanding of modern science; and that there was no evidence the sightings were extraterrestrial in nature. 

They also concluded that the description of "flying saucers" did not fit all the UFO sightings. Many reports of unknown flying objects described objects that appeared completely different from that of a flying disc or a flying saucer. So a new and more suitable term ‘UFO’ meaning unidentified flying object was coined by Ruppelt, however, some sources, including the Oxford English Dictionary suggest that the term was first applied by American marine aviator and writer Donald Edward Keyhoe in 1953.   

Most sensational UFO sightings

UFO: Everything we know so far about the flying saucer phenomena
Photograph of a purported UFO in Passaic. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, on May 17, 2022, the first public congressional hearing concerning UFOs was held at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. During the hearing, Pentagon confirmed that military personnel had reported at least 400 UFO incidents between 2004 and 2022. Interestingly, until 2021, the UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) task force admitted to only 144 UFO encounters.

Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Scott W. Bray said at the hearing "We've seen an increasing number of unauthorized and or unidentified aircraft or objects and military control training areas and training ranges and other designated airspace,” he further added, “I can't point to something that definitively was not man-made, but I can point to a number of examples which remain unresolved." 

Apart from the events that were discussed during the recent congressional hearing, there have been numerous UFO sightings in the past that still excites ufologists (people who investigate UFOs and related phenomena) and raise curiosity in the minds of the general public. These famous UFO sightings have even led many people to believe that UFOs sightings are linked to aliens, but the government does not want the public to know about it.

Here are some of the most incredible UFO incidents:

The Roswell incident

In June or July 1947, rancher W.W. “Mac” Brazel found a wreckage on his property, around 75 miles north of Roswell, New Mexico. The wreckage included materials such as rubber strips, tinfoil, and thick paper. He took some of the material to the Roswell sheriff, who in turn brought it to the attention of Colonel William Blanchard, the commanding officer of the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF).

The RAAF released a statement, saying, “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff's office of Chaves County.”

The local paper, the Roswell Daily Record, ran a story that included the press statement, but Army officials quickly released a new statement, stating that the found debris was actually from a weather balloon.

In the years that followed, many ufologists and conspiracy theorists remained highly skeptical about the government's conflicting accounts, and have claimed, although without evidence, that multiple UFOs containing extraterrestrial beings have crashed at the Roswell site and the government had both the spaceships and the aliens under its custody.

UFO: Everything we know so far about the flying saucer phenomena
Source: Roswell Daily Record/Wikimedia Commons

In an interview, Kevin D. Randle, an army veteran turned ufologist told All About Space, "everyone agrees that something fell at Roswell, but there is no terrestrial explanation." However, the US Air Force has rejected all the alien and UFO-related claims. It released a report in 1994 admitting that the weather balloon story was fake but claiming the wreckage came from a then-classified spy device. The device consisted of a connected string of high-altitude balloons equipped with microphones and was intended to float silently over the USSR, monitoring Soviet nuclear tests. The report claimed the fake weather balloon story was an attempt to conceal the existence of the secret spy project.

Needless to say, ufologists weren't buying it.

The Levelland alien attack

Farmworkers Pedro Saucedo and Joe Salaz in Levelland, Texas, claimed to have encountered 200-foot rocket-shaped UFO on November 2, 1957. Frightened by the incident, they told the local sheriff that an unidentified flying object accompanied by a blue flashlight had been about to collide with their truck, making them jump out of their vehicle. Although the UFO  didn’t hit the truck, when it passed by, it messed with the electronic system of their vehicle causing its engine and lights to stop working.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only UFO encounter that happened that day. Many locals including motorist Jim Wheeler, Texas Technological College student Newell Wright, and Levelland’s fire commissioner Ray Jones reported incidents describing blue light flashes, strange objects, and car electronics and engine system failures on the road. However, later, the US Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigated the claims and concluded that the sightings and electronic malfunction in the vehicles were due to intense electrical storms and ball lightning events.   

Westall UFO sighting

Hundreds of students and teachers at the Westall Secondary College in Clayton South city in Australia reported seeing a flying saucer-shaped UFO on April 6, 1966. No photos were taken but many eyewitnesses claimed in different interviews of seen a UFO. 

However, later officials from the local weather bureau said that they released a weather balloon the same day. They claimed that the balloon could have landed in the college field and probably mistaken for a UFO. The Royal Australian Air Force also disapproved of claims suggesting any unexplained aerial phenomena in the sky on April 6.  

However, more recently, in 2021, one of the teachers, Andrew Greenwood, who witnessed the event claimed that after the event, two men claiming to be government officials came to his home. The men told Greenwood that he "was mistaken about what he saw" and should not say anything more about it. According to Greenwood, when he protested, the men threatened to have him fired.

President Ronald Reagon encountered UFOs twice

These are one of the most talked-about UFO sightings in American history. Some reports claim that long before Ronald Reagon became the US president, he saw UFOs. The first encounter supposedly took place in the 1950s when Reagon was going to actor William Holden’s home in Hollywood to attend a party. American actress Lucille Ball who was also present there reveals in the book Lucy in the Afternoon that Reagon and his wife Nancy admitted to having spotted a UFO on their way to Los Angeles.

Reagan again saw a strange aerial phenomenon in 1974, while he was governor of California. This time he was flying in a Cessna, on the way to Bakersfield with two security guards, when his pilot Bill Paynter observed a strange blight light following his plane. “Everyone on the plane was surprised….the UFO went from a normal cruise speed to a fantastic speed instantly. If you give an airplane power, it will accelerate-but not like a hot rod, and that's what this was like," said Paynter.

Unsurprisingly, Reagan remained tight-lipped about his UFO encounters during his presidential tenure. However, he did use the theme of alien encounters in a speech to the UN regarding the reduction of Cold War tension, where he said, "What if all of us in the world were threatened by an outer power, from outer space, from another planet. We would all of a sudden find out that we didn't have any differences at all." Perhaps he knew something after all.

A fleet of UFOs arrived in Belgium

A wave of triangular-shaped UFOs was seen in the skyline over Belgian for over several weeks in November 1989 and March 1990. During the sightings, more than 13,000 people reported seeing large black triangles hovering in the sky. The Belgian Air Force also detected strange objects on their radar system and sent two F-16 fighter planes to investigate the matter.

UFO: Everything we know so far about the flying saucer phenomena
A supposed photograph of the triangular UFOs. Source: J.S. Henrardi/Wikimedia Commons

The pilots also detected some radar activity for some seconds but didn’t notice any UFO flying in the sky during their search operations. Later, many scholars and experts who studied the Belgian UFO wave highlighted that SOBEPS, a team of ufologists who claimed to have been investigating the events had spread misinformation and created a mass delusion. The researchers pointed out that SOBEPS used the news to manipulate people into believing that anything unusual in the sky could be a UFO.

A picture of a triangular UFO also went viral, but in 2011, 20 years later after the sightings, it was revealed in a TV interview that the picture was fake. The forger created a UFO model from polystyrene, painted the same, and clicked a photo that looked like what many people have claimed to witness in Belgian.

Interesting facts about UFOs and related sightings

UFO: Everything we know so far about the flying saucer phenomena
Flying saucer. Source: oorka/iStock

Here are some cool and less known UFO facts:

  • Just because news agencies started reporting about UFOs in earnest only after the Kenneth Arnold incident, that doesn’t mean that UFO sightings weren't made before this. From time to time, ancient writers, historians, philosophers, and astronomers have also written about strange flying objects. For instance, Julius Obsequens, a Roman writer in the 4th and 5th centuries, wrote about the arrival of wondrous things, including unidentified phenomena in the sky. Whereas, legends from Germany and Switzerland describe battles in the sky in the 16th century. 
  • In the US, the first recorded UFO sighting took place in the year 1639. John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay region at that time reported a flying object witnessed by a man named James Everell. According to the description of the UFO, taken from Winthrop’s diary, the unidentified object was seen over a muddy river in Boston. It had flames and could contract in size.      
  • UFO enthusiasts across the globe celebrate World UFO day on July 2 (in the memory of the Roswell incident), and some also celebrate on June 24 (commemorating the Kenneth Arnold sighting). People gather in groups and go skywatching in hopes of UFO sightings. Also, the goal of these celebrations is to raise awareness on UFO-related matters and to encourage the government to disclose more classified information concerning UFOs and extraterrestrials.  
  • The Hill abduction is a popular UFO story that mentions a strange incident experience by a couple driving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. According to several news reports that covered the incident, on September 19, 1961, Baney Hill was returning from a vacation with her wife Betty, when they observed a flying object in the sky coming toward them. Barney drove the car away but after some time, the object descended in front of their vehicle. Betty and Barney confronted the beings that came out of the UFO and passed out for some time. When they woke up they found themselves to be about 35 miles away from their previous location. Betty and Barney contacted the Pease Air Force Base about the events they experienced and their report was sent to project Blue Book for further investigation. Later, this incident was researched by many scholars and was even adapted into a television film The UFO Incident. The Hill abduction was also discussed in one of the episodes of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and served as an inspiration for ‘Jose Chung's From Outer Space,’ an X-Files episode. 

Recently, NASA has also decided to get involved in the UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena) investigations. The decision has come after the congressional hearing on UFOs during which the U.S, House also discussed the security risks associated with unknown flying objects. A NASA representative said, “[We are] evaluating how to provide our expertise in space-based Earth observations to improve understanding of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs)”. 

We don’t know for sure whether or not UFOs of extraterrestrial origin exist for real. However, the growing interest of the government, scientists, and research agencies like NASA in UFO investigation is a good sign. Their collective efforts could possibly bring out logical explanations for the many UFO sightings that take place every year, plus it would make the general public more aware of this enticing subject.

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