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Where did all the flying saucers go?

The real mystery of UFO sightings, writes Andy Martin, is not where they came from but why extraterrestrials stopped visiting Earth

Friday 28 June 2019 12:21 BST
Protestors demand to know about the crash at Roswell in 1947, which they believe was a UFO
Protestors demand to know about the crash at Roswell in 1947, which they believe was a UFO (AFP)

They’re back. Maybe they never really went away. But now UFOs are popping up on our radar screens again. Recent accounts from US navy pilots report sightings of multiple aerial phenomena – “spinning tops” or “discs” or “strange objects” – that can’t be accounted for in terms of current terrestrial technology. They can soar and dive, accelerate, slow suddenly, then hit hypersonic speeds, all without any apparent engine or exhaust plume. Video footage shot on a plane camera, dating from 2015, has the pilot exclaiming, “Wow, what is that, man? Look at it fly!”

I was starting to think that extraterrestrials had given up on Earth tourism. But it is not so long since sightings of flying saucers were as common as planes stacking up over Heathrow.

The first use of the words “flying saucer” to refer to a spacecraft goes back to a Hearst International press release of 26 June 1947 (“UFOs” didn’t appear until 1952). Kenneth Arnold was an American commercial pilot. He was supposed to be looking for a marine transport plane that had been lost over Washington state. He didn’t find the plane, but – on 24 June – he did report seeing nine disc-like objects moving at 1,200mph in the sky over the Cascades mountain range. His account was taken seriously enough to be investigated by two military intelligence officers – who then allegedly died when their plane mysteriously crashed. Arnold went on to collaborate with Ray Palmer, editor of science fiction magazine Amazing, which also published Isaac Asimov.

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