More Thoughts on UFOs – May 1, 2011

I recently started reading Leslie Kean’s UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record (Crown Publishing, 2010). Call it my last-ditch effort to understand the UFO phenomenon.1

As advertised, the book presents the testimony and conclusions of sober, respectable people—most trained professionally to observe and report—from many parts of the world. The contributors have either encountered unexplained aerial phenomena themselves or were charged with investigating these phenomena on behalf of their government or military. The consensus among these people is that, while 90% to 95% of sightings are either naturally explained or proven to be hoaxes, approximately 5% to 10% are unexplained. The further consensus is that these are physical objects,2 demonstrating flight capabilities currently unknown to human technology, and moving under intelligent control. The uniform presumption, although this cannot be proven, is that they represent visitors from beyond our solar system.

Kean and her contributors are a bit coy about attributing the phenomena to extraterrestrial visitors, because the term “UFO” has become negatively associated in public and official minds with alien spacecraft and little green men. The author insists that while those 5% to 10% of sightings represent good evidence that these are real, physical objects, there is no proof of the alien spacecraft hypothesis. Kean wants a new agency to undertake further official study on the basis of “militant agnosticism” about the origins of the phenomena. That is, they’re there, but no one yet knows what they are.

Okay. I’ll play along. Let’s call them “electric angels.”

Although I obviously don’t agree with many of the author’s conclusions and proposals, I’m inclined to think this is an honest work of investigative journalism, and that the contributors may well have had real encounters. On that basis, the material in the book prompts a number of thoughts.

Impossible Flight Characteristics

The electric angels exhibit flight without obvious means of lift and propulsion like jet or rocket engines and aerodynamic surfaces. They hover soundlessly. They zoom away suddenly. They achieve impossible accelerations and speeds several times that of sound, all without generating a sonic boom. They sometimes appear on radar and sometimes not.3

This is as puzzling to me as it is to everyone else. The only phenomena in human experience that act this way are non-physical: reflections and projections of light from objects that are actually someplace else. (Think of the erratic movements of Tinker Bell’s light beam in the Peter Pan stage play. An operator moves a spotlight to make the beam do impossible aerial maneuvers.) The UFO observers who report faithfully may be seeing images that appear real and yet reflect solid objects that are not actually present in the observer’s own space and time. The object-as-reflection hypothesis would also account for lack of appropriate sound and radar effects.

A second thought occurring to me is that gravity nullification—such as associated with thrustless hovering—and rapid acceleration to high speed may be attributes of a technology that can locally manipulate time. Gravity, as described by the equations of standard physics, is nothing more than an acceleration toward the center of a nearby mass. Acceleration is speed (unit of covered distance over unit of elapsed time) changing over elapsed time (which adds another time component to the equation). If you can locally manipulate time, so that your seconds appear to be longer than seconds in “normal” spacetime, then you can accelerate faster and move faster than people operating in that “normal” frame of reference.

But how you manipulate time is a mystery. A second mystery is how you obtain the initial impulse to change hover elevation and induce acceleration without obvious mechanisms of lift and thrust.

I also recognize that all this is playing the same number games I derided in my blog Fun with Numbers (II) from September 26, 2010. Just because you’ve got an equation that describes a physical event, like falling in gravity, doesn’t mean you’ve explained the event. And playing with the terms of the equation doesn’t mean you can change the event. Still, it’s fun as an intellectual exercise—which is what most of physics has become these days.

The Question of Intent

The actions of the electric angels as described in Kean’s book raise disturbing possibilities. As I noted in Where Do Aliens Come From?, I find it improbable that intelligent beings would cross the gulfs of space between the stars—or in the case of angels, descend from Heaven—and yet act as described in virtually all UFO encounters. They seem to creep around without making an effort to announce themselves and greet us. One would expect such courtesy from intelligent visitors from another civilization or plane of existence.4 At the same time, they take no real effort to cloak and conceal themselves, causing overt anxiety among many of the people who encounter the phenomena. One would expect more discretion from scientists studying a new-found and perhaps fragile society, or caretakers from a benevolent higher power.

Kean’s book and its contributors all report the strong feeling that these physical objects are under intelligent control, either on board or by remote sensing. The electric angels can distinguish between human commercial and military aircraft: merely shadowing commercial passenger jets but actively engaging in aerial maneuvers—although apparently without hostile intent—with military craft sent to intercept them. One Peruvian Air Force pilot reports firing a machine gun burst into a UFO without effect or hostile reaction. Other military pilots report obtaining a missile lock and then seeing their own aircraft’s electronic systems go dead for the time it took the angel to evade. These electric angels have also been reported hovering over U.S. nuclear missile silos, and the missile circuits subsequently going dead.

This sort of playful, non-hostile activity reminds me of how humans interact with the lower animals: teasing a cat with a sparkly toy, or dabbling our fingers in the water near a goldfish. You may play with a cat or goldfish, but you don’t actually send an embassy or seriously consider communicating with it as an equal. Nor do you much consider its rights and feelings if you want to move the fishbowl or sell the house.

The second thought that occurs, especially with respect to the aerial maneuvers and attention paid to nuclear missiles, is that the electric angels are testing us. One dogfight with a military jet, one flyby of a nuclear silo, should be enough for any advanced intelligence to analyze the current state of human technology and capability. But perhaps the angels don’t trust what they see. We fly confidently across our skies, but not as fast or as smoothly as they do. We create and store big bangs suitable for all-out war, but don’t use them. Are humans really this weak? Or just some of them? Or are our feeble jet aircraft and simple fusion bombs concealing a more sophisticated technology that we don’t regularly demonstrate. All of this requires more testing, more forced encounters.5

Testing for what? If the electric angels have really been coming here for more than sixty years, then they must know a lot about us, even accounting for the vast differences between us and them in terms of communication technique, language, mind structure, and constructive reality. They know a lot about us, and we’re still not even sure we actually see them.6

I’m beginning to hope that Leslie Kean’s book may turn out to be an elaborate literary hoax.

1. See my Where Do Aliens Come From? from March 6, 2011.

2. A military policeman who encountered a UFO on the ground actually touched it and confirmed that the object was made of metal.

3. The erratic nature of the radar evidence, as explained in Kean’s book, may be due to the way air traffic control (ATC) radar actually works. The radar antenna itself sweeps a circle or an arc of sky over a period of several seconds. Each human aircraft also carries a radio transponder that uniquely identifies the plane. Computer software in the ATC center puts together the timed radar blips with directional detection of the plane’s transponder signal to paint a picture on the operator’s screen of continuous movement by an identified craft. A solid object with no transponder, either hovering or moving at unexpectedly high speeds, will tend to appear and disappear with the radar sweeps and so confuse this software.

4. Much of Kean’s book describes the actions—or lack of action—by the U.S. government. While governments in Britain, Belgium, Brazil, and elsewhere actively collect UFO sightings and encourage reporting, the United States after closing the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book in 1970 began actively debunking the UFO phenomenon, refusing to take reports, and offering lame explanations for any public sightings that do attract media attention. Yet indications also exist that this country is tracking sightings elsewhere with great interest through various government agencies. The conspiratorial thought occurs to me that the U.S. government may know much more about UFOs than it admits, perhaps has even made formal contact, and wants to keep everything a secret. But of course there’s no proof of any such thing. And if the electric angels already have a deal with the U.S. government, why are they still blithely flitting around in the airspace of other countries?

5. Another thing I notice from Kean’s book is that, generally, the UFOs visit one location or area and then don’t return. The visit may be a “wave” of sightings and encounters covering days or weeks or even months. But once the wave ends, it does not seem to recur. Each part of the Earth—rural Belgium, the Hudson Valley, central Arizona—gets its moment of special attention, and then the focus moves elsewhere. This certainly looks like testing.

6. Why am I reminded of the quote from Ellen Ripley in Aliens? “God damn it, that’s not all! Because if one of those things gets down here, then that will be all! Then all this—this bullshit that you think is so important, you can just kiss all that goodbye!”