Saturday, June 30, 2018

UFOs Hoaxed by Military Pilots

The study of UFOs has always been complicated by hoaxes, either from false reports or by events staged to fool witnesses. 

The Air Force’s “Status Report: Project Blue Book - Report No. 10” from 27 February 1953 reviewed the record-setting year of 1952, and of the 1000 cases analyzed, less than two percent of them were found to be deliberate fakes, “Hoaxes 1.67%

The problem is that within the remaining cases, we cannot know what fragment of hoaxes were successful and remained undetected, possibly remaining on record classified under “insufficient information” or as an “unknown.”

One particularly interesting species of hoax is when an actual aircraft is involved, but the pilot operates it in a manner to deceive witnesses. This results in sincere testimony by the witnesses, but of a false UFO. The pilots perpetrating the hoaxes are unlikely to confess since it could result in anything from the loss of their pilot’s license to criminal prosecution. Or in the case of military pilots, the loss of their flying career.


Few of these hoaxes by pilots have been documented, but a good example was included as part of the Condon Report: the University of Colorado’s Scientific Study Of Unidentified Flying Objects led by University of Colorado Dr. Edward U. Condon, completed in 1968. In Chapter 1,  “Field Studies” by Roy Craig, he summarizes how in the spring of 1967, seven witnesses were interviewed about their UFO sighting.
Case 23 is an example of a simple prank by the young at heart. A pilot, about to take off from an Air Force base in (a twin-engine Navy) airplane equipped with a powerful, movable searchlight, suggested to his co-pilot, "Let's see if we cant spook some UFO reports." By judicious use of the searchlight from the air, particularly when flashes of light from the ground were noticed, the pilots succeeded remarkably well. Members of the ground party, hunting raccoons at the time, did report an impressive UFO sighting. Our field team found, in this case, an interesting opportunity to study the reliability of testimony. 
That summary is from page 90 of the Condon Report.  
The incident itself is detailed on pages 494 - 497, “ Case 23, North Central, Spring 1967.” 

Anecdotes from Aviation Week

Philip J. Klass, was a senior avionics editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology, but in his spare time, he was studied, debunked, and wrote about UFOs. In his 1983 book, Klass discussed incidents engineered by military pilots.
Some UFO incidents are more accurately characterized as practical jokes. For example, a neighbor of mine confided to me that he had generated a few UFO incidents during the 1950s when he was a Navy fighter pilot based on the West Coast. He explained that Navy pilots would practice intercepting an enemy bomber in darkness by using an unsuspecting airliner as a mock target. The authorized procedure called for the Navy aircraft to come no closer than about ten miles before breaking off. However, this former Navy pilot (who requested anonymity) said that if he felt in a "playful mood" he would turn off his aircraft's external lights and approach quite close to the airliner.
Then, he said, he would reach for his emergency cockpit flashlight and flash it on and off until he could see passengers in the cabin reacting to it. Then he would maneuver to the other side of the airliner and give a repeat performance. Finally, he told me, he would drop below the airliner and turn on his jet-engine's afterburner, creating greatly increased thrust and a long rocketlike plume, and would zoom out in front of the relatively slow-moving airliner. Then he would return to base. "The next day I would scan the newspapers and sure enough there would be a story about an airline flight crew who reported seeing a rocketlike UFO, with confirming reports from a number of passengers who described seeing a bright flashing light,” my neighbor told me.
During one of my UFO lectures, I recounted the story of how this former Navy pilot had generated UFO reports that would be extremely difficult to explain in prosaic terms had he not chosen to confide in me. After the lecture, a man came up to tell me that he was a former USAF interceptor pilot and that while based on the East Coast he also had generated a few such airliner UFO-encounter reports "for kicks." He added: "Here I was creating UFO incidents that another branch of the Air Force (Project Blue Book) was trying to solve, but I dared not reveal my role because it was a serious infraction of the rules."
From UFOs: The Public Deceived by Philip J. Klass, 1983 (pgs. 298-299)

Interesting examples, but Klass was unable to name his sources, so by his own debunking standards we would have to consider them hearsay. Other such rumors have surfaced over the years, but usually just as vague with anonymous pilots. Something more definite recently surfaced - and from an unlikely source - a prominent UFO witness.

The UFO Pilot

Navy Commander David Fravor became famous in late 2017 for speaking about the “Tic Tac” incident, his UFO encounter while flying an exercise from the USS Nimitz on November 14, 2004. Fravor is considered an ideal observer, credible due due to his qualifications, rank and aviation expertise. He’s like a modern Kenneth Arnold, the original all-American UFO witness.

In a recent audio interview about his sighting and its aftermath, David Fravor discussed the need for further investigation, and used his own pranks hoaxing UFO sightings in the 1990s as an example.

“I’ll tell you- so I flew night vision goggles, okay? You know when you’re a pilot, you gotta grow up, but you don’t have to grow up? Sometimes, we can be a little bit childish, ‘cause you’re 34 years old and you’re flying super-cool jets, and even if you are 25 when I started flying a real jet, it’s just fun, and it’s cool, and it’s a great job.
So, we would fly around - I had a NVG O qual. So we would fly around at 200 feet at night with no lights on. ‘Cause we’d be in the warning areas where we’re allowed to do that. So we can technically fly around with no lights on. So, we would. And then we’d see - you can see campfires ‘cause people are below us camping. You can see campfires  from way, way away. ‘Cause the goggles will pick up that light from way, way, far away.
So we would get going really fast, and then we’d pull the power back to idle, so we’d go zinging over the top of these campfires. And then you just light the afterburners and pull up. And you’d leave ‘em on for a minute, then turn ‘em off. So think about - You’re sitting on the ground, got a nice campfire, it’s a pretty starry night, and you don’t hear anything. The all of a sudden, there’s a loud roar, there’s fire above your eyes, you're like, ‘Oh, my God,’ and then the fire goes out, and there’s nothing there. ‘What is that?’
… So when you do that, we always think, God, they’re crazy. Well, maybe they are not crazy, and can you explain it? Now, if there was real investigation… they could track and say that there was an airplane in that area doing low training, and he was just messing with you, but if people never report it, then they’re going to think for the rest of their lives that they saw something you can’t explain.”
Commander David Fravor had a distinguished 18-year career as a U.S. Navy pilot, and retired from the Navy in 2006. Any UFO fireballs seen by campers after that are not his responsibility.

David Fravor is supporting UFO research and investigation, and by speaking publicly, encouraging other witnesses to come forward. If other retired military pilots would also come forward to disclose and document incidences of hoaxing UFOs, that would also be valuable. The more that is known about UFO incidents - false and genuine - the more we can hope to understand the phenomenon and the experience of the witnesses.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hangar 18 and The Saucers That Time Forgot

The companion blog to BBL is The Saucers That Time Forgot, where the focus is strictly on historical matters, "Flying Saucer tales that UFO history has overlooked or would rather forget." Besides lost saucers, we look at topics like the underappreciated influence of seminal events, hoaxes, and the people behind the stories. 

Most often the stories are prompted by original newspaper coverage of the events, and other primary sources. For STTF, Curt Collins relies heavily on Claude Falkstrom who has a knack for unearthing news stories from local papers that provide details the national wire services often missed. There's also an occasional look at the early flying saucer researchers and authors, "The Ufologists That Time Forgot" as well.

Most STTF articles are stand alone pieces, but sometimes there are longer serialized articles such as the investigation into the origins of the Hangar 18 story. Here's a look at the opening installment: 

After the UFO Crash of 1969

The Dark Days after 1969

The flying saucer fever of 1947 created a big problem for the Government, and the United States Air Force was stuck with the job of  handling it. The fact that there was an official investigation was exploited by believers (and opportunists) who insisted that if the USAF was spending time and money investigating UFOs, that must prove that flying saucers are real - and that they were hiding the evidence. Two decades later, the Air Force finally got out of the saucer business, as briefly stated in their UFO Fact Sheet:
From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated Unidentified Flying Objects under Project Blue Book. The project, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was terminated Dec. 17, 1969... The decision to discontinue UFO investigations was based on an evaluation of a report prepared by the University of Colorado entitled, "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects;" a review of the University of Colorado's report by the National Academy of Sciences; previous UFO studies and Air Force experience investigating UFO reports... 
Following the closure of Project Blue Book, public interest in the UFO subject took a nosedive. 

Empty Space

UFOs and outer space were out of fashion in the entertainment industry as well. Paranormal, ESP and psychic topics were what the public was buying, and shows like Night Gallery and The Sixth Sense had memorable runs on television and in 1973, The Exorcist had been a commercial and critical success. Entertainment was coming out of period barren not of just UFOs, but of science fiction, at least of the outer space variety. In the moves, about the closest thing to space aliens was The Planet of the Apes movie series. On television, NBC’s Star Trek series had been the cancelled back in 1969, but was popular in syndication and alive as a Saturday morning cartoon. On prime time, The Six Million Dollar Man was about as "far out" as TV got.

"Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man."

The Literary Front

There were a few important UFO books published in those days, some in response to the Condon Report that enabled the Air Force to shut down Blue Book. Dr. J. Allen Hynek and his 1972 book were profiled by Ian Ridpath in New Scientist,  May 17, 1973, “The man who spoke out on UFOs”:
He is highly critical of the report called The Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, produced in 1969 by a University of Colorado team led by Dr Edward U. Condon and based on US Air Force Project Blue Book files. He has since written his own book, called The UFO Experience, which has been called "Hynek's version of what the Condon report should have been." The book is now in its fourth printing in the United States. 
In 1973, Major Donald E. Keyhoe, the man who had written the first non-fiction book on flying saucers, wrote his last, Aliens from Space. He also blasted the Condon Report, depicting it as part of the Government’s UFO cover-up policy. Keyhoe closed the book with a more optimistic note, proposing an ambitious plan to build a facility at a remote location that would attract extraterrestrial visitors, lure them into a landing where a peaceful close encounter would establish formal contact.

Flying saucers were out of fashion, though. About the closest related matter to the UFO topic that the public really cared about was the ancient astronauts theory as popularized in the Chariots of the Gods? books and its sequels. In 1974, Chariots was in it’s 27th printing and still on the bestseller lists. Publishers Weekly, describing the paperback of its second sequel.
“The Gold of the Gods" ($1.75, Putnam), the latest best seller by Erich von Daniken, is getting a cover stamped with gold metallic letters for its paperback edition — the first time that Bantam has used that process, usually reserved for deluxe editions of hardcover books... will have a first printing of 800,000 copies...

Putting UFOs Back in Business

In late 1973, UFOs made a big comeback in the press, jump-started by the media frenzy surrounding the alien abduction case on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, making 1974 a very good year for the UFO business. In Michael Rasmussen’s 1985 book, The UFO Literature: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Works in English, he describes the resurgence:
By 1973, a major new wave of sightings was developing in the U.S. and around the world, and public interest in UFOs again began to swell... By 1974, UFO-mania was again in full swing. Ralph and Judy Blum's Beyond Earth — Man's Contact with UFOs was a national bestseller, signaling the dawn of a new boom in commercial UFO literature. The Blums surveyed the recent history of UFOs, and summarized the sensational sightings of the year before, including the Pascagoula abduction claim of Calvin Parker and Charles Hickson.

At the end of 1974, NBC broadcast “UFOs: Do You Believe?” It was a one-hour special that featured UFO witnesses such as Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker, experts such as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Jim & Coral Lorenzen of APRO, Stanton Friedman, and Walt Andrus of MUFON. The ratings broke records. UFOs were a viable commercial property once again, and there was an explosion in sightings, hoaxes, news coverage, and also an uptick in UFO lectures and conferences. It was a UFO Revival of sorts. 

In the special STTF series that follows, we’ll examine how a particular chain of events in 1974 changed UFO history. It begins with a paranormal conference in the Tampa Bay area by promoter Lawrence Brill.

The saga continues at The Saucers That Time Forgot:

The UFO and Bermuda Triangle with Charles Berlitz  
. . .


Thanks and acknowledgements to those who provided support, materials, and background detail for this project.

Claude Falkstrom, my co-author, for his work in digging deeper and finding the stories behind the stories, particularly in the case of Lawrence Brill.

Martin Kottmeyer for reference materials from his own Hangar Minus One.

Isaac Koi, for his dedication to the preservation of UFO literature, which helped greatly in the research of this project.

Also, thanks to those who provided other details, materials and verification:
Lance Moody, Brad Sparks, Roger Glassel, Robert Sheaffer, and Rich Hoffman.