I am a big fan of the History Channel’s highly acclaimed TV show, Hangar 1: The UFO Files. I’ve had my own UFO sightings over the years and agree with over 50% of the general public that we are not alone in the Universe. So when I heard that the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), who created the Hangar 1 show, was conducting a full day training for field investigators at their recent MUFON Conference in Irvine, California, I decided to check it out. As a life-long enthusiast of strange and other-world anomalies, it was like offering crack to an addict.
First off, I had no idea how much detailed scientific analysis and interviewing goes into verifying each reported MUFON case. Their database contains over 60,000 cases since they began amassing data in 1950 and their infamous (and very secret) Hangar 1 warehouse contains trace evidence samples along with a host of other corroborating materials. Approximately 20 new reports come in to their online database daily and, once verified by their expert scientific team, some of the more interesting stories make it on to the Hangar 1 show.
The day started with Alabama and Mississippi MUFON State Director, Rich Hoffman, telling us how he became involved with MUFON’s predecessor, the Midwest UFO’s Investigations Network, when he was 13 years old in Dayton, Ohio. His teacher gave him a “D” on a written paper after Hoffman dismissed UFOs as having no scientific merit (the teacher was a true believer), which then prompted the teenage to find out more on the subject. He read research books and was intrigued to learn that Project Blue Book, the military’s (now defunct) UFO investigative arm, was located right in his home town. Coincidence? By age 15 he was participating in area investigations and was clearly hooked. A UFOlogist was born. He’s been doing this work now for over 50 years and is well-respected in the field.
Hoffman related how he once gave a briefing on UFO investigations to military personnel at Wright Paterson AFB. He asked the assembly whether any had witnessed a UFO. Only one brave soul raised his hand. Hoffman recalls that during the break, “I was deluged with other men wanting to tell me their own UFO stories. One man even told me his job was to take pictures of retrieved UFO craft.”
According to statistics, only one out of every 12 sightings gets reported. Fear, ridicule, and career sabotage are the most common deterring factors, but that seems to be changing as more military men are coming forward and going on the record (see The Citizens Hearings on Disclosure).
MUFON has an extensive list of technical experts to draw upon on their Scientific Review Board. They gather data from the FAA, local police, weather services, airport radar, military personnel, laboratory analyzers, and usually file numerous Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA) to get all the data needed to make a determination. They check NOAA to rule out weather balloons and, from what Hoffman claims, the swamp gas explanation is “extremely rare.”
Today’s field investigators rely on a wide range of modern-day phone apps for measuring such things as gauging magnetic fields, altitude, distance, determining hoax photos, identifying commercial aircraft, satellites, and iridium flares, scouting terrain, metal detection, and other electronic applications I had no clue what they actually did. We were given a list of over 30 apps (imagine that!) which can be useful tools to collect data during field research. Years ago they had to carry all this equipment around with them. I had no idea my iPhone had three magnetic sensors already built into it, making a field investigator’s life much easier. However, the paperwork involved is daunting and interviewing techniques were extensive to maintain witness consistency. When there are multiple witnesses present, it becomes even more complex to gather their stories without interference and collusion.
I talked with MUFON’s Chief of Photo & Video Analysis, Marc D’Antonio. He’s ferreted out plenty of hoaxes, like the UFO that was sighted over Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock in January 2011. Film students were responsible for this hoax that went viral, but the inconsistency of their multiple angle footage tripped them up. D’Antonio can tell a PhotoShopped picture quite easily with simple tools. He is currently working on a sophisticated UFO detector that can be placed on any mountain top or a tall pole. Teamed up with Academy Award winning special effects inventor, Doug Trumbull (responsible for the effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey), the two have designed and developed the UFOTOG-2 for MUFON field investigation.
The unique gadget tracks moving objects in the sky, can differentiate and screen out all planes and satellites with a decoder (i.e., that’s United Flight 482), and hone in on real ET craft. The invention has seven high-resolution cameras for overlapping fields and 360 degree viewing 24 hours a day. It includes infrared cameras for night vision and poor visibility. It can detect gamma rays, measure magnetic fields, employs a spectrum analyzer and even has a cell phone antenna so investigators can call it and ask what it’s currently seeing. Since the UFOTOG-2 can signal a GPS satellite, MUFON can send a picture to everyone who has a cellphone and is signed up to receive real UFO pictures. And it all operates on solar cell energy. It’s still in prototype stage, but I want one!
As a clinical psychologist, I wondered about how they handled “the experiencers” of such close encounters of the third kind. The Director of Experiencer Research, Kathleen Marden, just happens to be the niece of Betty and Barney Hill (the most famous and controversial abduction case in history). Marden is a social worker who heads up a team of helpful therapists across the country specializing in PTSD and clinical hypnosis to aid the experiencer, if needed.
Between learning interviewing techniques, how to process data, and keeping clear professional and objective boundaries, I found the entire training to be very enlightening. I hear they also have an investigator’s Boot Camp. Hmmm?