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Just Don’t Call Them UFOs

by Marina Koren                     April 27, 2019                      (theatlantic.com)


• Apparently, enough incidents have occurred in “various military-controlled ranges and designated airspace” in recent years to cause members of Congress to ask questions and to prompt military officials to establish a formal system to collect and analyze the unexplained phenomena. The U.S. Navy is drafting new rules for Navy officials and pilots to report such sightings. The Navy is trying to assure its pilots that they won’t be laughed out of the cockpit or deemed unhinged if they bring it up.

• While the Navy indicates it’s willing to discuss the taboo topic, it is loath to make any reference to “UFOs”. Instead, they’re called “unexplained aerial phenomena,” “unidentified aircraft,” “unauthorized aircraft,” and, perhaps most intriguing, “suspected incursions.” This is peculiar since it was the military that came up with the phrase “unidentified flying objects” in the first place.

• Government programs dedicated to investigating UFO sightings in the late 1940s treated UFO sightings as a big joke. As a rule, officials dismissed and debunked any reports as hoaxes and hallucinations. The military created Project Blue Book to investigate claims of strange objects in the sky. Its director, Edward Ruppelt, introduced the term ‘unidentified flying object’ sometime around 1953. The definition carried no hint of extraterrestrial life.

• Edward Ruppelt probably didn’t imagine the journey his three-letter abbreviation would take over the years. Military reports were careful to avoid any mention of the dreaded ‘UFO’. In 1955, Ruppelt wrote: “… facts have been obscured by secrecy and confusion, a situation that has led to wild speculation on one end of the scale and an almost dangerously blasé attitude on the other.”

• Notwithstanding, UFOs infiltrated the public consciousness. They sailed into Hollywood with stories about aliens, from friendly creatures to nightmarish monsters. The lines between fiction and reality blurred. People told harrowing stories of nighttime abductions. UFOs became the focus of conspiracy theories about government secrecy. The people who believed in UFOs and aliens were regarded as ‘crazies’, a lasting stigma surrounding UFO truthers.

• After two decades in operation, Project Blue Book eventually concluded there was “no evidence that [UFOs] were intelligently guided spacecraft from beyond the Earth.” They attributed most sightings to clouds, weather balloons, and even birds. And any project that studied UFO was deemed a waste of time and money.

• Christopher Mellon, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence in the Clinton and Bush administrations and an advocate for UFO study, has said service members worry that reporting UFOs puts their careers at risk. They also worry that staying silent could threaten national security, in case one of those mysterious objects turns out to be a new form of aircraft from a rival country. “Nobody wants to be ‘the alien guy’ in the national-security bureaucracy,” Mellon wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last year. “Nobody wants to be ridiculed or sidelined for drawing attention to the issue.”

 

Pilots are about to receive a new memo from management: If you encounter an unidentified flying object while on the job, please tell us.

The U.S. Navy is drafting new rules for reporting such sightings, according to a recent story from Politico. Apparently, enough incidents have occurred in “various military-controlled ranges and designated airspace” in recent years to prompt military officials to establish a formal system to collect and analyze the unexplained phenomena. Members of Congress and their staffs have even started asking about the claims, and Navy officials and pilots have responded with formal briefings.

The Washington Post provided more details in its own story: In some cases, pilots—many of whom are engineers and academy graduates—claimed to observe small spherical objects flying in formation. Others say they’ve seen white, Tic Tac–shaped vehicles. Aside from drones, all engines rely on burning fuel to generate power, but these vehicles all had no air intake, no wind and no exhaust.

The Navy knows how this sounds. It knows what you must be thinking. But the fact stands that some pilots are saying they’ve seen strange things in the sky, and that’s concerning. So the Navy is trying to assure pilots that they won’t be laughed out of the cockpit or deemed unhinged if they bring it up. “For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report,” the Navy said in a statement to Politico.

Yet even as the Navy indicates it’s willing to discuss the taboo topic, it’s also shying away from three notorious little letters. UFO carries an airport’s worth of baggage, bursting with urban legends, government secrecy, and over-the-top Hollywood movies. The statements and quotes that the Navy provided to news outlets are devoid of any reference to UFOs. Instead, they’re called “unexplained aerial phenomena,” “unidentified aircraft,” “unauthorized aircraft,” and, perhaps most intriguing, “suspected incursions.”

The message is, if you see something, say something, but for God’s sake, lower your voice. Don’t call it a UFO. Which is funny, since the military came up with the name in the first place.

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