Pilots and UFOs

Skyscape over Turkey.     Author’s photo.

August 31, 2021

EARLIER THIS SUMMER, the U.S. government released its anxiously-awaited (by some) report on unexplained airborne phenomenon. The investigation was driven by a rash of recent sightings, including the startling video of a mysterious object shot from a U.S. Navy fighter seven years ago.

The findings, as these things tend to go (see Mueller, Warren, et al.) were inconclusive, and brought on little more than collective yawn. Experts analyzed some 120 incidents, and although many could not be explained, that, in itself, was not considered evidence enough to conclude that we’re dealing with intelligent life from elsewhere. Our UFOs remain exactly that: unidentified flying objects. This, for better or worse, is generally how official analysis is bound to go. I don’t know what people expected. Maybe something like, “Alien Beings are Stalking Us, Government Says.”

I’m asked all the time about UFOs. This is understandable, I suppose, given that my office is a cockpit, offering me a wrap-around view of late-night sky for hours on end. Have I ever seen anything I couldn’t identify or explain? Alas; I wish my life was that interesting. The answer is no. While I’ve seen plenty of magnificent and occasionally peculiar things from an airplane, I’ve never seen a UFO. Neither has any other pilot I know.

See chapter five in my book for a list of the more exciting airborne views I’ve enjoyed over the years. There’s nothing there about spaceships, pulsing lights or zig-zagging objects that defy the laws of physics.

Am I skeptical? You could say that. Granted, there are billions of stars in our galaxy, and tens of billions of galaxies in the universe; doubting the existence of extraterrestrial life seems foolish. But whether this life has visited our sad little planet is another story entirely. Factors of time and distance make it rather improbable, and nothing I’ve witnessed suggests otherwise.

If I did see something strange, would I deny it? In the past when this topic has come up, I’ve been accused of lying. A lot of people believe there’s some tacit agreement among pilots — a code of silence — whereby we don’t admit to UFO sightings. This always makes me laugh. As if there is, or could be, a tacit agreement among pilots about anything.

Aside from chemtrails, of course.


In closing, this subject must segue to its rightful place. To the late Grant Hart and one of the prettiest songs of all time. Play loud…

Sometimes I see her, sitting on the rooftop,
Perched in a lawnchair and staring
into the sky.

I know that somewhere, in some faraway galaxy
That some gray men with telescopes are gazing
right into her eyes!


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11 Responses to “Pilots and UFOs”
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  1. Mark R. says:

    Also from “MIRAGE MEN” – the trope about cattle mutilations by aliens seems to have a more terrestrial explanation. In northern New Mexico, where these mutilations supposedly happened, there was a nuclear bomb test that was trying to boost natural gas production. Some of the radioactivity from that test is leaking out at ground level and apparently the military took organs from local cows to test for contamination. But instead of being straight forward, they had some fun with the conspiracy mongers. Much more plausible as an explanation than aliens traveling from other solar systems just so they could harvest organs from farm animals. The delusions seem to be a consequence of getting one’s education from dumb Hollywood films. See BEING THERE starring Peter Sellers for details.

  2. Mark R. says:

    I recommend the movie MIRAGE MEN as the best (and only?) documentary about disinformation. It suggests that much of the “UFO folklore” was a sophisticated military intel “psyop” to distract from Stealth planes and also spread stupidity among gullible parts of the public. Stealth planes look somewhat “saucer” shaped from certain perspectives. And treating people like mushrooms (in the dark, fed BS) is a long tested tactic.

    My favorite UFO hoax is the bug eyed alien, slightly human looking but very distorted. This is apparently how a newborn human is able to perceive before the eyes learn to focus. Some very twisted psychology in fooling people this way.

    My view is the idea of aliens among us is about as likely as virgin births and talking snakes. I can’t prove they’re fake claims, but I don’t believe in them either.

  3. Bruce says:

    —-“But whether this life has visited our sad little planet is another story entirely.”——

    There’s an Iain Banks book with a sub-plot that touches on a theory about this.

    When humans travel, they often do it to see something they can’t see elsewhere: the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls or the Great Wall or Blackpool Illuminations or something. It’s the unique things that make travel worthwhile.

    Earth appears to be very unusual in being having a single, large moon. It’s perhaps unique in having a moon that’s at exactly the right size and distance from the earth to perfectly cover the sun.

    If alien tourists were to come here, the story posits, the place to look for them would be at the sites of solar eclipses, because it’s unlikely that you’d get such a perfect solar eclipse elsewhere.

    So there’s a tip for you all.

  4. Mark Harrison says:

    There is an old joke that goes:

    “The surest proof there is intelligent life in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”

    For a highly advanced society capable of interstellar travel we would be nothing more than a curiosity, at best.

    Elon Musk posits that as a single planet species we are vulnerable to an extinction event. Which, of course, is accurate. He goes on to say that is his motivation to creating a Mars society.

    That’s where I diverge.

    That assumes we are something worth preserving. At our very best, we are awesome. Unfortunately that is heavily alloyed with a lot of negative baggage. If we were to ever become an interstellar species, I’m not so sure that would be a good thing for others in the galactic neighbourhood!

  5. Eric Rife says:

    … and you end it all with a quote from a Husker Du song! If I’m not mistaken, they played “Books About UFOs” the last time I saw them live on the Warehouse Songs and Stories tour.

    Funny, now that I think of it, Grant’s songs were the ones that WEREN’T played at a deafening volume.

    Years later, after he put together Nova Mob, I got to see Hart in a near empty bar. Played a bunch of Husker Du songs and was really a nice guy. It was so sad (but not exactly surprising) when he passed away.

    • Patrick says:

      Yup, Grant was always friendly and approachable. (So was Bob Mould for that matter. Despite his chilly reputation, he was always polite and friendly the times I met him. As was Greg Norton.)

      One of the things I learned about Grant, years on, is that he was something of a historian of the early days of aviation. He collected books and whatnot. Not my thing, exactly, but it made me even more fond of him than I was.

      Nova Mob never got much attention, but they had a handful of very good songs.

  6. Martha says:

    For those who believe in science, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has very reasonable theories about these always murky artifacts. Google and you’ll probably easily find an interview where he addresses the question. I’ve also discussed this with some very high profile astronomers I met during the last total eclipse in Chile. The degree of synchronicity required for another civilization to be advanced enough to travel so many lightyears within the minuscule window of time of human existence (in biological/geological time scale) would have to be monumentally coincidental. Add to that the complete lack of evidence of contact and you end up with around zero odds when computed mathematically. Without getting political, conspiracy theories also compute to close to zero odds. To address is in anecdotal terms, 2 people can’t keep a secret. I rest my case.
    PS. The nice thing about science is that it’s provable, regardless of how you feel about it

  7. Jackalope says:

    I’ve seen all kinds of incredibly fast, highly maneuverable things in the sky. And in every case a few seconds later I realized it was a reflection on the inside of the window.

  8. Jurgen Beck says:

    The only aliens we have on this planet are politicians and senior government employees.

  9. Ryan says:

    Didn’t read the report, but can’t help but wonder how much of those UFO sightings could easily be explained by atmospheric phenomena that most people aren’t aware of, or, haven’t ever seen in-person until they actually see it but don’t understand what they’re looking at?

  10. Ted Roe says:

    We have been documenting pilot reports for 20yrs. See our advisory on our site. https://www.narcap.org/blog/advisoryforpilots
    By invitation, we presented our findings to a special session of the AIAA AV21 conference on Aug 6… here is a link to the videos of the conference, the individual presentations, and our recommendations to the aviation sciences community.