by Ralph Howard
Georgia State Director
Several Georgia sightings during 2012 and 2013 featured excellent witnesses (typically several), strange but carefully-observed object descriptions, solid craft-like appearances, and remarkable maneuvers. Yet perhaps surprisingly, at least to me, the basic FI decision for a conclusion was, in each case, very difficult and unsatisfactory. As will be shown, it can be very difficult to decide whether the sighting was a true unknown, or was in fact a drone, though perhaps an advanced model of some kind.
My informal count is that about 5 to 7 Georgia sighting investigations fit in this group, but for purposes of illustration I will focus on two cases, one that I investigated alone and another done jointly with another FI. These two are representative of the problems and issues involved. In each case, our consensus opinion was that the best solution was indeed drones. However, these are “51/49”-type decisions, and we are not satisfied with them. The sightings are outlined below; more complete reports are in CMS.
CMS 44210, Cuthbert GA
Mr. Donald J. (pseudonym) is a master’s degree-level physical therapist employed by a large medical center in Tallahassee, Florida. By permission he hunts deer on a large wooded land parcel just north of Cuthbert, which is about 30 miles south of Fort Benning Military Reservation. Usually he has a hunting buddy with him, but on Monday evening, November 19, 2012, he was at their usual campsite alone. At about 10 p.m. after hunting during the day, he was kneeling at the entrance to his tent getting things set for the night. He then became aware of a distant, weak, but weird sound, growing louder. He described this as a whirring sound, like nothing he had ever heard before, but possibly similar to a blender, or vacuum cleaner. The sound was high-pitched and “electrical.” The sound was out behind his tent (east), coming towards him. He then stood up and moved to his left, following the sound, and got a good look at the object as it passed just north of him, at about 20 degrees elevation. There was just barely enough light to see it framed by two pine trees as it moved to his left and away (WNW). As shown in the witness sketch, the object cast its own light from red “squares” on it. Both the object and the sound disappeared as if with distance. He could see the top horizontal edge of it and the two side edges at angles; but could not see the bottom, which was obscured due to darkness. The entire duration, from the first hearing of the sound to disappearance, was no more than 10 seconds.
Co-investigator FI Mark Wagoner questioned Fort Benning personnel both by phone and by email. One verbal response to him included a “no comment,” when a simple “we don’t know anything” was expected. This is confounding to say the least. Other factors were more suggestive for a drone. The size estimates given above are possible for a drone at the closer/smaller end. The heavily-wooded nature of the area, with very light population, would make it suitable for test-flying drone prototypes. The rectangular-shaped lights are not common among Georgia sighting reports; instead the lights are virtually always point-sources on tops, edges and corners. The sound is unusual, but could be compatible with an electrically-powered craft that has multiple small rotor-blades, i.e., a miniature-helicopter-design drone. The UFO speed was not particularly fast.
CMS 45437, Sandersville, GA
On the evening of January 24, 2013, I received a telephone call from reporting witness Mrs. L, who lives with her husband and two daughters in Sandersville. To the east, but at various places elsewhere in the sky, she and Mr. L were seeing the same small somewhat-faint, cherry-red light-points “zipping around” as they had seen in 2012 (see earlier report, CMS 39367, June 2012). The evening was clear and cold, but calm, with no wind.
After a short hiatus, at about 7:40 Mrs. L called back and reported that now they had something really different: two larger objects, “ships” for lack of a better term, moving slowly in the sky. Her two daughters were driving to their home from Wadley, about 25 miles ESE of Sandersville, and had called just before, to say they were seeing one of these and to watch for it. Once Mrs. L herself saw it, is when she called me, shortly after which a second one was noticed. Each “ship” at this time appeared to be generally dark with an undefined, possibly oval, shape; but what was most clearly visible was a white light of some kind underneath, triangle or arrow-shaped, on the underside.
Both “ships” originally were off to the south or SE, and at low elevation angles (<10 degrees). One continued along a course from generally south, and then east, of them, towards the NE towards Augusta, while the other made a zigzagging path, similarly towards their left (NE direction) but then made a long, slow zag back to the right (south and east), gradually getting closer. The more distant one, going S to NE, was seen to be nose-diving before correcting itself and leveling out, then was lost to sight due to distance. That one had one red and one blue light on it, while the one coming closer had a red and a white light. On it, the white light was originally thought to be on the lead “point;” but eventually, from viewing the closer object, this was seen not to be the case.
Attention now focused on the one coming closer. At this point, Mrs. L saw the shape as a foreshortened isosceles triangle, like the tip of a wide arrow, about half as long as it was wide. Movement was in the expected forward direction based on the “arrow” shape. However, at its closest the object was up at a higher angle of about 30 degrees, and they got a better, more straight-on and less low-angled view of it. Now, the large dark shape could be seen to be generally like a large boomerang, somewhat curved, with a wide, gently-rounded nose rather than coming to a point. About 8 to 10 bluish-white lights lined the entire length of the forward edge. The white light on the underside in the center was seen to not be at the forward point. Instead, it could now be seen to have the shape of an arrow, just meeting the forward edge.
The “Ship” was trailed by “a gaggle” of smaller faint red single lights, faint and seemingly small but visible, “flitting around in a gaggle that stayed behind it.” These did seem to the family to be the same lights they’d seen earlier in the evening, before the larger objects showed up, and back in 2012; they would blink, briefly being white during the blink, then go back to red.
The generally-zigzagging course continued. The witnesses felt this was almost a ‘parade-like” flight course. The speed of its movement was hard to estimate, but both adults (Mr. and Mrs.) felt it was too slow to hold the thing up if it was assumed to be “flying” in the conventional sense.
Mr. L estimated, using his own thumb at-arms-length with the object in sight at its closest (30-degree elevation), and while on the phone with me, that the object was 1/2-inch in apparent size. He also felt the “Ship” was about 3,000 feet up, and not lower. Using Trig7, if his altitude estimate was in the ballpark, the object would be 128 feet across. If 1,000 feet lower or higher, size would be between 85 and 170 feet. While inexact to be sure, this data still strongly suggests a very large object.
While Mr. and Mrs. L eventually went inside due to the cold, the daughters, staying outside, eventually lost sight of the objects due to distance. Total time the unknowns were visible, was in excess of 1 hour 45 minutes. For almost all of that time I was on the phone with Mrs. L.
The sighting location has a strong bearing on what might explain this sighting. Sandersville is in a rural, agricultural area about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta. The U.S. Department of Defense has a large military restricted airspace, known as “Bulldog Military Operations Area (MOA)” located just to the east of and enclosing Sandersville. The MOA (see map) is actually a composite of three individual adjoining MOAs that form a large, roughly-5-sided polygon of restricted airspace in central Georgia. The total area of the combined MOAs is about 2,530 square miles, which is just under 5 percent of the total land area of the entire state. From Internet research it appears Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter SC, and McEntire Joint National Guard base near Columbia SC, use the MOAs for military training operations.
The case that these are man-made vehicles begins with the fact that they flew in a seemingly obvious, highly-visible, almost parade-like manner across tens or hundreds of miles of the rural-central-Georgia countryside. The witnesses used the phrases “flying majestically” and “parading around” in their interview with me on Feb. 1, 2013. While the “Ships” were somewhat dim, anyone looking at the sky would’ve seen these objects. Also the zigzag, turn-heavy flight path is suggestive of a flight-testing purpose; as though the pilot was “seeing how it handles.”
Second, we have the presence of the huge combined MOA as described above, within which all of the reported movement occurred. Are we to conclude that truly unknown vehicles, belonging to whoever or whatever is behind the UFO phenomenon, are being deliberately flown right through restricted U.S. military airspace in an open-contact manner? A drone solution would propose instead that the objects flew through a frequently-used restricted military airspace because the military owns these vehicles, or at the least is aware of them.
Other features of the object description and flight path support a man-made origin. The boomerang shape, a generally triangular form, is commonly used for aircraft. The slow speed, while seemingly strange and “too slow,” is within man-made capabilities. Recent reports have described large, triangular, lighter-than-air (i.e. dirigible-type) aircraft intended for use as transports that are now under development. As opposed to the commonly-reported fast UFO exit or disappearance, here, the large “Ship” and its accompanying group of red light-points moved off as slowly and deliberately, exactly as they had arrived. Finally, the very long duration of the sighting, which includes the sighting by the daughters as they drove home from out of town, seems very uncommon among unexplained UFO sightings, although there are exceptions in the UFO literature. All of these features together, though, make a “Man-made Vehicles or Objects” solution a better bet than “Unknown.” As will be discussed below however, I have reservations.
Problems and Questions
By now the reader may have spotted some of the problems that lead to reservations about concluding for drones in these cases, and probably others.
In the Cuthbert sighting, if Mr. J is accurate in his distance estimates (despite my contrary interpretation), then the size seems too large for a drone: something 42 feet or 28 feet across would need more motor/engine to hold the thing airborne, and/or it would need to fly faster. Also, while the ‘whirring’ sounds suggest an on-board electrical motor, such sounds are definitely reported in the UFO literature. Thus it may be risky to conclude that the fact of this sound being heard means that the UFO was a “normal” aircraft (even if experimental).
At Sandersville, we have a problem in that no sound was heard from the large “Ships” at any time. The total absence of even the slightest whisper of sound, with four persons aged 15 to 43 listening intently in calm conditions for it, is hard to accept. A July 2012 site visit to Sandersville done together with Georgia ASD/FI Mark Ausmus, showed that this is an extremely quiet rural area, with many types of aircraft being heard before being seen at this location. If these were in fact secret U.S. military aircraft, then in my opinion their display of absolute dead-flat silence represents an astonishing advance that is not being made public. While plenty of news sources indicate the U.S. military is working on the noise problem for aircraft, no sources indicate that the U.S. military has already perfected anything that can make them 100 percent, absolutely silent. I have real trouble with this aspect.
Secondly, if these are U.S. military test vehicles, it makes little sense (even within the MOAs) to fly these in an intentionally-highly-visible manner over property not owned by the government, where the likely result is to get people talking about “these strange craft.” They could instead, for example, fly over Ft. Stewart, near Savannah, the largest military property in the entire Eastern U.S., at 280,000 acres (437 sq. miles). Fort Benning, at 186,000 acres (290 sq. miles), could likewise be used. Why advanced vehicles would be tested in a manner that needlessly risks exposure to citizens, some fraction of whom might dislike the military and might even seek to disclose what they have seen to the Nation’s enemies; why this would be done intentionally is very hard to understand. But a drone, or experimental-military aircraft, solution to this sighting forces one to deal with this inconsistency.
Sightings like these will lead to serious questions that Field Investigators can expect to confront at some point:
1. If a sighted object does not do anything beyond existing aircraft capabilities, but it also is dead-flat silent, should it be assumed to be man-made (as we have done on these two)? Is the basis that its actions could in theory be done by aircraft, adequate to conclude that?
2. If an FI concludes for “drone,” that is, formally, “Man-Made Vehicle or Object,” must the drone be identified as to what exact type? What if the object does not match any publicly known drone - should the FI assume it is “under development” and is “secret”?
3. Following from 2, if the specific drone cannot be identified (“make and model”), what are the rules for determining between “Unknown-UAV” and “IFO-Man-made Vehicle (Drone)”?
I hope the sightings discussed here leads to more discussions throughout MUFON about drones.
My own sense is that I have much to learn in this area.