Not long ago, I wrote about the resurgence of our government’s interest in unidentified flying objects and included an account by former Navy Commander David Fravor who in 2004 witnessed such a craft that fellow pilots photographed off the California coast during F-18 exercises.
Working under the unpublicized Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, the project operated between 2007 and 2012 and some aspects of its mission continue, a Washington Post story said.
That column sparked responses from readers who, like me, said they, too, had witnessed UFOs or were close to someone who had.
One man said that in 1969 he “was getting my check ride for night-flight flying between a 100-mile round trip between Lincoln and Omaha.”
His plane was a Piper that only flew about 85 mph, which provided plenty of time on a dark and starry night to see the horizon for miles.
“The short story is that on the way back from Omaha I saw another ‘plane’ in front of me at the same altitude but it was off to my right about a half-mile,” he wrote. “I could tell it was a plane because of the red/green wing lights and white taillight facing me.
“It kept the same pace in front for a while and then my instructor pulled my power and I had to make a simulated emergency landing at the Millard airport outside of Omaha.”
After he’d landed then regained altitude to continue, “that same ‘airplane’ was ahead of me, only a little bit closer. I asked my instructor what I should do as we were flying under visual flight rules. He said just move off to his right a little, which I did.” That’s how they flew along for several more minutes.
“Then, all of a sudden this ‘plane’ I was following for about an hour began flashing red with lights that blinked and moved around the outside of a disk shape,” he said. “The light increased in speed and movement. Then, from out of nowhere, another object of the same relative size came up from the ground so they were parallel to each other. It had the same strobe-light rotation. They moved ahead of me and were out of sight in about 10 seconds. I asked asking my instructor what the hell that was.
“His reply was that it was probably a jet fighter taking off from Offutt Air Force Base/SAC Command in Omaha. I said there was no way that was a jet flying away from us because at that speed we should have at least seen the jet engine with its afterburners red-hot glow as it left us in their wake. We didn’t hear the roar of any engine. He just had no more comments and we landed in Lincoln after earning the night-flight rating.”
Another reader and pilot described this experience as shared by a close friend who had completed Air Force flight school with him in 1954. “He had been regularly flying C-54 airlifts from New Jersey to England and Germany before returning. He told me of an incident one night as he was flying at 18,000 feet over the North Atlantic about 800 miles inbound to Lakenheath, England, when a round, bright object came up within about 20 feet of their left wing and flew in formation with them for about an hour. It turned when they turned.
“This object,” he told me, “stopped in midair, did an abrupt 90-degree turn and zoomed out of sight in seconds.” He estimated it traveled at several times the speed of sound.
“The crew radioed ahead and reported the incident. When they landed, they were met and interrogated in separate rooms by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. They had to sign statements saying they would not repeat the details of this incident to any persons outside official channels.”
The writer told me this pilot was a top flight aviator and officer who retired as a full colonel. “Even the government and the military services were well aware we are not alone in the universe. We’re probably considered a prehistoric civilization by these beings.”
Reader Tom Burch, also a former Navy pilot, wrote to say it’s easier to explain UFO sightings to aviators. In the mid-1960s he was the aircraft commander of a C-130 with co-pilot Jon Hanline leaving Wake Island one night. They had been cleared to fly at 24,000 feet and were rising to that level past 12,000 feet.
Suddenly, he said, “there appeared a string of lights, something like a passenger train in the night. It swooped in from left to right, stopped, then shot up and away to the right. It was dark in the cockpit except for the instrument lights. The engineer was in his seat and navigator was seated at his table.”
Burch said a Pan American Airlines flight was above them at 32,000 feet and both were tuned to the Wake frequency and aware of each other’s positions.
“He said to me, ‘did you see that?’ I said ‘yes, what’s going on?’ We talked about it for a minute before Wake radio cut in and asked if we wanted to file UFO reports,” Burch said. “We told him you’ve got to be kidding. He laughed and told us good night. I’ve told this many times.”
A doctoral student at George Mason University in 2017 researched the subject and found 104,947 UFO sightings “on record” in the past 100-plus years in the U.S., and there are an average of 2,500 sightings for every 10 million Americans. These include a number of astronauts and former President Jimmy Carter.
I understand why pilots are reluctant to report UFO sightings, which means we have no idea how many unreported events have actually occurred over the decades.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.