Written with Ralph Blumenthal
Is this the case UFO skeptics have been dreading?
Sightings of mysterious flying craft with capabilities unknown on Earth have confounded mankind throughout recorded history. Most have been convincingly explained away as unfamiliar aircraft, natural phenomena or illusions. But then there are the others, witnessed in our time by pilots and air traffic controllers, military leaders, scientists, law enforcement officers and other trained observers, sometimes with physical evidence, including corroboration on film and video.
"We don't know what they are," says Nick Pope, a former head of the official UFO office in Britain's Ministry of Defense. "But they do exist."
As agreed by authorities around the world, these truly unexplainable unidentified flying objects appear solid, metallic and luminous, able to operate with speeds and maneuvers that defy the laws of physics. And, most chilling of all, they often behave as if under intelligent control.
One such case has just come to light in Chile, and was presented by government officials for the first time at a press conference on March 13.
It was a glorious, sunny morning on Nov. 5, 2010, when crowds gathered to celebrate the changing of the Air Force Command at El Bosque Air Base in Santiago. From different locations, spectators aimed video cameras and cell phones at groups of acrobatic and fighter jets performing an air show overhead. Nobody saw anything amiss.
But afterward, an engineer from the adjacent Pillán aircraft factory noticed something bizarre while viewing his footage in slow motion. He turned it over to the government's well known Committee for the Study of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena, or CEFAA, for analysis.
The stunning conclusion: The Chilean jets were being stalked by a UFO.
In the clips below, the UFO is difficult to see because it's moving so fast. The clip is repeated with the UFO highlighted as it makes passes around three separate groups of airplanes:
CEFAA was established in 1997, within the Department of Civil Aeronautics, the equivalent of our FAA. Its creation was sparked when aeronautic specialists and others reported multiple sightings of anomalous lights near Aeropuerto Chacalluta -- an airport in Northern Chile -- which were then reported in the press.
Gen. Ricardo Bermúdez, formerly chief commander of the air force's 3rd Air Brigade (southern area) and an air attaché in London, was one of CEFAA's founders, and he currently directs the agency with a full-time staff of three.
"Our mission is to study cases of unidentified aerial phenomena for which there is adequate data, to determine any possible risk to air operations," says Bermúdez. "Since this is a worldwide phenomenon, it should be subjected to rigorous scientific analysis so we can come to viable conclusions."
CEFAA officials collected seven videos of the El Bosque UFO taken from different vantage points. Bermúdez commissioned scientists from many disciplines, aeronautical experts, and air force and army photogrametric technicians to subject the videos to intense scrutiny. They all came to the same conclusions.
Each video included three different, mainly horizontal loops flown by the UFO within seconds of each other. The object made elliptical passes either near or around each of three sets of performing jets. It flew past the Halcones, F5s and F16s at speeds so fast it was not noticed by the pilots or anyone on the ground below.
Images show it as a dome-shaped, flat-bottomed object with no visible means of propulsion. The rounded top reflects the sun and appears metallic; the bottom is darker and flat, emitting some form of energy which is visible in photo analysis. Infrared studies show the entire object is radiating heat, just like the jets.
This extraordinary machine was flying at velocities too high to be man-made. Scientists have estimated the speed, depending on the size of the object, to be at least 4000 - 6000 mph. Humans inside this object could not survive. And, somehow, it made no sonic boom, a noise similar to thunder which occurs whenever something exceeds the speed of sound (750 mph at sea level).
The shock waves generated from an object at such high velocities would normally be enormous. But no known aircraft or drone could possibly fly this fast at such low altitudes anyway. Our fastest air-breathing jet, the SR-71, has a maximum speed of just over 2,000 mph, but that's at high altitudes.
And, this strange object is clearly operating under intelligent control. It zooms toward each set of jets at about their height, circles around and zooms back out again. Pilots who were shown the trajectory of the object in the three flybys were amazed that this maneuver is characteristic of reconnaissance aircraft coming in for a quick look at others in the sky.
Astronomer Luis Barrera from the Metropolitan University of Sciences in Chile, who has an asteroid named after him, was one of eight highly skeptical scientists who analyzed the footage. He was able to rule out a meteoroid, pieces of meteors or comets, space junk, a bird or an airplane.
"The object performed a risky flight maneuver in front of the Halcones from W-E-W, at low altitude and high speed," Barrera concluded. "It had intentional movements. It moved east with 25 degrees inclination, which is the same angle of spacecraft when entering the atmosphere."
Alberto Vergara, an expert in digital imaging, reported that "when we examine the whole scene frame by frame, we have been able to realize that it has, apparently, moved at a speed far superior to any flying object of known manufacture."
Has Chile found proof of something possibly extraterrestrial?
"At this time, this incident cannot be scientifically explained," Bermúdez wrote in a recent email. "As agreed by those who have studied the videos, we can affirm that there is an unidentified aerial object present. We do not know what it is or where it came from."
Watch a slide show showing the trajectory of the UFO in the three flybys. These images come from one of seven videos taken of the UFO over the El Bosque Air Base, which were analyzed by aeronautics experts, scientists and air force technicians:
Chile is among a growing number of countries around the world that officially take UFOs seriously. Others include Brazil, Peru, Equador, Uruguay, Argentina, Belgium, France and Britain. The United States is not on the list.
In 1986, Brazil's entire defense system was put on alert while F5 and F103 jets were scrambled to intercept multiple UFOs. The acting commander of the Brazilian Air Defense stated in an official report that radar readings from both the Air Defense System and intercepting jets were recorded simultaneously while the pilots observed the objects through the cockpit window. The document says that the phenomena made sudden accelerations and decelerations, had an ability to hover, and moved at supersonic speeds.
In 1989-90, Belgium was repeatedly visited by UFOs. The Belgian air force actively responded by putting radar stations on alert and scrambling F16s. A dedicated group of scientists made voluminous records of the sightings -- some from police officers and military personnel -- and conducted over 650 investigations.
"Hundreds of people saw a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately 120 feet and powerful beaming spot lights, moving very slowly without making any significant noise but, in several cases, accelerating to very high speeds," says retired Maj.-Gen. Wilfried De Brouwer, chief of the operations division in the Air Staff at the time, referring to the first night of the Belgian wave.
America's closest ally, Britain, had a "UFO Desk" within the Ministry of Defense from the 1950s until 2009, when the program was closed due to the overwhelming number of Freedom of Information requests clogging the system. But the MoD acknowledges that any "legitimate threats" -- cases involving military pilots, air defense installations or objects tracked on radar -- will still be properly investigated.
The French government agency studying unidentified aerial phenomena is part of the French National Space Agency, known as CNES, the equivalent of our NASA. This office has been operating for 35 years with a focus on pure scientific research. It has amassed many compelling case studies, some involving landed UFOs affecting the immediate environment.
Former CNES Director-General, Yves Sillard, who later became assistant secretary-general for Scientific and Environmental Affairs at NATO, founded this agency, GEIPAN, in 1977. "The objective reality of unidentified aerial phenomena is no longer in doubt," he wrote in a recent essay. "The climate of suspicion and disinformation, not to mention derision, which still too often surrounds the collection of reports, illustrates a surprising form of intellectual blindness."
In contrast, the U.S. government wants nothing to do with UFOs. The Air Force once had an official, public investigative office, called Project Blue Book, in operation from the early 1950s until 1970 when the Air Force declared that UFOs were not national security threats and no longer warranted attention.
Blue Book had been overwhelmed with reports, and was incapable of explaining the phenomenon. In 1953, a classified CIA report encouraged all branches of government to use the media to "debunk" and demystify UFOs as a means of dealing with something beyond their control. Some respected professional scientific organizations urged continuing scientific investigation, despite the close of Blue Book, but ridicule and a lack of resources have made that all but impossible.
One example from many: Even though hundreds of citizens witnessed massive delta-shaped objects traveling silently over Arizona on March 13, 1997, the government ignored inquiries from state officials and never offered the public any explanation. This dismissal occurred despite a letter to the Air Force from Sen. John McCain requesting an investigation, and a class action lawsuit, filed by witnesses, seeking information from the Department of Defense.
Former Arizona governor Fife Symington acknowledged in 2007 that he, too, had witnessed this "craft of unknown origin" while in office, which he did not disclose at the time for fear of ridicule.
Incomprehensibly, pilots are ordered not to report sightings. The FAA Aeronautical Information Manual states that "persons wanting to report UFO/unexplained phenomena activity" should contact a civilian collection center, or, if the encounter is life-threatening, "report the activity to the local law enforcement department."
By way of contrast, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Europe requires that such incidents be reported. And in Chile, CEFAA reporting forms are readily available at every commercial and military airport in the country.
Why this longstanding U.S. government posture of willful ignorance and dismissal of UFOs? Maj.-Gen. Denis Letty of the high-level French UFO study group, called COMETA, pondered an answer: "I don't think a powerful country like America finds it acceptable to acknowledge that something strange can fly over and the country can't clear the skies of it. Another problem can be panic, created by people imagining that their military can't protect them."
Official investigators from around the world hope that scientific curiosity, and concerns about air safety, will eventually overcome the U.S. government stalemate. They recognize that UFOs provide a challenge to our current scientific paradigm, since the "extraterrestrial hypothesis" must be considered along with others. For this reason, a taboo against the topic remains fixed.
"Scientists should take the subject seriously. It is their moral duty to investigate something that somehow could affect -- one way or another -- the lives of many people around the world," Bermúdez says.
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, author of "Physics of the Impossible" and popularizer of science, believes that the small percentage of UFO cases with "evidence from multiple sources and multiple modes" cannot be dismissed.
"Scientists must stop giggling, and maybe we'll be able to learn more in the future," he says. "If another civilization is 1,000 years, a million years, ahead of us, then new laws of physics open up. And a million years, on the scale of the universe, is nothing."
Co-authored with Ralph Blumenthal
Leslie Kean is an investigative journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller "UFO's: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record" (Harmony, 2010).
Ralph Blumenthal, a longtime investigative reporter at The New York Times, is researching a book on John E. Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist who investigated UFOs and accounts of alien abductions.