UFOs: Undocumented aliens or black projects?

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The best news stories are mysteries, and the queen of journo mysteries is the UFO story. It’s been around since World War II, when pilots reported seeing UFOs they called “foo fighters.”

So when it emerged last weekend that 10 years ago the Pentagon stood up a program to investigate UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings by military pilots, the press pricked up its ears.

The initial stories appeared in the New York Times and on the Politico website. The online versions came with a video of a November 2004 encounter off the California coast between Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighters and a UFO that one of the pilots described as 40 feet long, “Tic Tac” shaped, and making aerial maneuvers that seemed to defy the laws of aerodynamics and physics.

By Monday the pilot had been identified as Retired Navy Commander David Fravor, who at the time was the commanding officer of the Black Aces, a Navy strike/fighter squadron — a serious person, in other words.

Asked in an interview what he thought it was, he said, “Something not from the Earth.”

The program was called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. During most of its existence its director was Luis Elizondo, who resigned last fall in protest “of what he characterized as excessive secrecy and internal opposition,” the Times said.

“My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone,” he told CNN in an interview Monday.

“I don’t know where it’s from,” he said during a second interview on NPR’s Morning Edition. “But we’re pretty sure it’s not here.”

The program was run under the Defense Intelligence Agency between 2007 and 2012, during which time it received $22 million in funding. Specific funding for the program stopped in 2012, but the program’s advocates say it was continued within the Pentagon in cooperation with officials from the CIA and the Navy.

The program was started in 2006 on the initiative of then-Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) with the support of late Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

Reid told the Times that his interest in UFOs came from Robert Bigelow, a Las Vegas billionaire. Bigelow, who made his pile from real estate and as owner of the Budget Suites chain of hotels, is also the founder and president of Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing inflatable space habitats. He has said he’s “absolutely convinced” there have been extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth.

Most of the $22 million appropriated for the program went to Bigelow Aerospace, which hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program, according to the Times.

So what’s going on here — close encounters with undocumented aliens of the little green kind, close encounters with barely documented Congressional pork of the long green kind, or something else?

I’m inclined to lean toward “something else.”

And “something else” in this case is almost as exotic and mysterious as extra-terrestrials.

Nearly 18 years ago, the British magazine Air International published an article in its January 2000 issue by Bill Gunston, a highly respected aviation writer. The article was a history of the development of military aircraft engines. It reviewed well-known technology — until it got to the B-2.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

“I have numerous documents, all published openly in the United States, which purport to explain how the B-2 is even stranger — far, far stranger — than it appears… They deal with such topics as electric field propulsion, and electrogravitics (or anti-gravity), the transient alteration of not only thrust but also a body’s weight.
Sci-Fi has nothing on this stuff…

“Various snippets appeared suggesting that electrostatic fields could not only do wondrous things in the field of propulsion but could also reduce aerodynamic turbulence (at any mach number), reduce radar cross-section and even virtually eliminate sonic boom…

“The first Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber was rolled out on Nov. 22, 1988, and anyone with the slightest interest in the aircraft could not fail to have noticed the unbelievable leading edge, with deep profile coming to a knife-edge almost in line with the upper surface…

“What really put the cat among the proverbial pigeons was a feature published in a March 1992 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, entitled “Black world engineers, scientists, encourage using highly classified technology for civil applications.” For the first time in open literature, this article explained how the B-2’s sharp leading edge is charged to “many millions of volts,” while the corresponding negative charge is blown out in the jets from the four engines…

“Take-off thrust of the F118-100 at sea level is given as ‘19,000lb (84.5kN) class’ by Northrop Grumman and as ‘17,300lb (77.0kN)’ by the USAF. These are startlingly low figures for an aircraft whose take-off weight is said to be 336,000lb (152,635kg) … the ratio of thrust to weight is a mere 0.2, an extraordinarily low value for a combat aircraft.

“Everyone who has heard a B-2 take off has been astonished at the quietness… writers have used the words ‘shocking,’ ‘uncanny’ and ‘incredible’ in describing B-2 departures…”

I’ve seen some of the articles Gunston alludes to. The anti-gravity claim is hard to swallow, but there have been a number of reports since Gunston’s piece appeared on the drag-cutting qualities of electrostatic fields and plasmas. That alone would be an aviation game-changer of epic proportions.

So maybe what Commander Fravor saw was of this Earth after all, not a B-2 but a vehicle using a version of the same putative black technology used on the bomber. And maybe the Pentagon was cool with funding a snipe hunt for other-worldly technologies in order to provide a game-changing technology of its own with a bodyguard of lies.

The truth is out there somewhere.

Merry Christmas.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.