Friday, 8 November 2013

When flying objects become unidentified

UFO aircraftOccasionally I have seen a remarkable object crawling across the night sky. It consists of a bright white light, usually silent. The photo (right) is a typical example (zoomed in). It is, of course, an aircraft but, in certain circumstances, it could easily be interpreted as a UFO.

In areas near major airports, planes are often 'stacked' while awaiting a landing slot. They move relatively slowly and close to the ground compared to ordinary flight, making them much more obvious to people on the ground than usual. At night you can see one bright light and, if the aircraft is close, two coloured lights on either side. The three lights generally make the sight obviously an aircraft though some UFOs have been described as having multiple lights.

So why would anyone report an aircraft as a UFO? Firstly, when seen at night with lights on, aircraft will look less familiar to many people. Sound normally gives away a flying object as an aircraft. However, when they are distant, or in certain wind conditions, aircraft may appear silent. It is interesting to note that a great many UFOs are described as silent. Indeed, it is tempting to see this as an unofficial popular 'test' that witnesses apply to consider whether an unrecognized object might be a UFO. Interestingly, there are also times when the aircraft do make a noise but there is something louder near the witness which drowns this out. Surprisingly, witnesses may not readily recall this when questioned after the event.

While aircraft in a stack are a familiar sight to anyone living near a major airport, they may not be to visitors to the area. And these stacks can be a fair distance from the airport (see here, for instance, for the stacking patterns for London's Heathrow airport). So witnesses may not readily associate lights in the sky with an airport that could be many kilometres away.

I have come across many UFO reports that sounded just like aircraft in the circumstances I've described here. I've also seen many photos of 'white light' UFOs that could easily have been caused in this way. In many such photographic cases the UFO was not noticed at the time of exposure. Again, something not noticed at the time appears to be seen as an unofficial popular 'test' of something anomalous by many people. Mundane flying objects can easily become UFOs, given the right circumstances and witness.

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