Introducing Peter Davenport, Director of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), who has served in that capacity since July 1994, when he took over the reins of the Center from Mr. Robert J. Gribble, who founded the organization in October 1974. It has run continuously since that time, and continues to receive UFO sighting reports from around the world, both over its telephone Hotline, as well as via its Online Report Form.
Peter first became a member of MUFON in May 1991, and served during the early 1990s as co-State Section Director for Seattle and King County, and later as Director of Investigations for Washington State.
Peter has been witness to a number of interesting sightings, including his first in July 1954 over the St. Louis Airport.
His first article on the subject of UFOs addressed the “Incident at Exeter” case from Kensington, New Hampshire, and was published in The Derry (NH) News on September 13, 1965, ten days after that dramatic sighting.
Peter published an article in the 30th Anniversary Issue of the MUFON UFO Journal, in which he discussed his proposal to detect UFOs, using “passive” radar. He spoke about his proposal for detecting UFOs at the 2004 MUFON Symposium in Denver, and a copy of his paper is available from the homepage of the NUFORC website.
Peter has been invited recently by Roger Marsh, the newly appointed editor of the Journal, to write occasional articles for that publication.
During the early spring of 2011, the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) began receiving frequent reports of “fireballs,” whose colors generally were described by witnesses as being red, orange, yellow, amber, or gold. What made those early reports noteworthy was the fact that the objects allegedly occurred in clusters of up to approximately half a dozen, and that on occasion, they reportedly appeared to maneuver relative to one another in their respective formations. Some observers reported that the objects were seen suddenly to accelerate, and quickly disappear from sight.
In retrospect, we now observe that this type of report was only just beginning, and that these sightings would continue to the end of 2011. Moreover, the reports have continued into 2012, and they now constitute probably the majority of reports that are being submitted to our Center. These reports remain as great a mystery to us today as they were when they first began, and we still are seeking an explanation for the phenomenon!
Reports of this nature are not unprecedented. Over the last 17 years that NUFORC has collected detailed written sighting reports over the Internet via its Online Report Form, we have received infrequent reports of uniquely colored “fireballs.” A summary of a few of these early reports appears below:
Rockford, Illinois, February 11, 2000—Multiple witnesses, including at least one FAA employee, observed multiple “orange” lights over the City of Rockford. The “fireballs” appeared in two separate clusters, and they appeared to “float” in different directions from one another. High-quality video was captured of the event, and a second, similar event occurred on February 16, five days later.
Carteret, New Jersey, July 15, 2001—Hundreds of witnesses observed a V-shaped formation of yellow lights pass overhead near Newark International Airport. Many of the witnesses stopped, and exited from, their vehicles on the New Jersey Turnpike, in order to watch the objects as they passed slowly overhead. The objects were detected by FAA radar, and they appear to have been the same objects seen passing rapidly overhead by witnesses on the south shore of Long Island, NY.
Meriwether County, Georgia, April 13, 2003—Three adults, driving along a rural highway at night in Georgia, suddenly became aware of a cluster of small red lights following close behind their vehicle. At first, the driver thought that they must be flashing lights on a pursuing law-enforcement vehicle, but quickly realized that the lights were something unique. The red objects, each about the size of a golf ball, apparently entered the vehicle through closed windows, and swirled around the interior of the vehicle for several seconds. At one time during the alleged event, a number of the objects clustered around an abdominal surgical scar of one of the three witnesses, and then equally suddenly, dispersed, and then exited the vehicle, even though the windows were still closed.
Tinley Park & Orland Park, Illinois, August 21, 2004—Numerous witnesses reported a cluster of several red or orange lights, which hovered in the evening sky for an estimated 15-20 minutes. Many witnesses reported that the lights, as a formation, suddenly accelerated, generally to the southeast, and disappeared in the nighttime sky. A similar sighting in the same vicinity was reported by multiple witnesses on October 31st, 2004. Several of the eyewitnesses appeared as guests on radio talk-show programs to describe both sightings.
All of the above sighting reports can be accessed at UFOCenter.com, and many more similar sightings for past years appear in our database, consisting of approximately 76,000 posted cases. The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) has received many of the same, or similar, reports, which can be accessed from its Case Management System (CMS).
By way of comparison to some of those early reports, we provide below a few examples of some of the many hundreds of dramatic sighting reports of these “fireballs” that have been submitted to NUFORC during the summer of 2012:
St. Louis, Missouri, June 1, 2012: An off-duty law enforcement officer, driving on Interstate 55, south of downtown St. Louis, together with his wife, witnessed an estimated 20-30 orange lights “float” across the highway in front of their vehicle. The objects were moving generally from west to east. Vehicles were stopping on the interstate, and a collision occurred, compelling the officer to deal with that issue, and taking his attention from the aerial display. A week after the event, the officer appeared on a radio program, and described the sighting in great detail, adding that the event had shaken his religious beliefs to a profound degree. Similar reports, involving orange “orbs,” were reported from Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, and Washington, on the same date.
Beacon Rock State Park, Washington State, June 02, 2012—Multiple witnesses, camped in the campground on the north shore of the Columbia River, were shocked to see a large cluster of orange “fireballs” approaching from the west. Some of the witnesses viewed the objects with binoculars, and found them to be most unusual in appearance. Two of the witnesses appeared on a radio program, and were insistent in averring that they did not believe that the objects could have been “lanterns.” NUFORC received 31 reports for June 2nd, 21 of which address red or orange “fireballs” observed by the witnesses.
Traverse City, Michigan, July 3rd, 2012: A U. S. Coast Guard station in Michigan directed a boat captain to our Center, following a dramatic sighting on Lake Leelanau. The 47-year old U. S. Navy veteran and aircraft pilot was anchored approximately 150 feet off of the northeastern shoreline of the lake, waiting for a fireworks display, when he and his wife suddenly became aware of a cluster of approximately a dozen “orangish-red orbs” approaching their position from over the lake to the west. Of the 29 reports submitted to NUFORC for July 3rd, more than half of them describe orange, red, or yellow luminous “orbs.” Many other similar reports can be seen in our database for June and July of 2012. Whereas, over the past decade, NUFORC typically has posted 250-300 reports per month, we received and posted almost a thousand reports during June of this year. As this report is being written, we have been receiving reports at an even faster rate during July, seeing as many as 45-50 per day. Approximately one half of those reports for the past two months address sightings of red, orange, or yellow “fireballs,” an unprecedented volume of reports, relative to what we have received traditionally over the last 17 years!!
What makes these “fireball” cases interesting to us today is the fact that the sightings appear to have become so blatant and overt. However, despite the number and dramatic nature of the events, no one appears yet to have come up with a satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon.
Many people remain skeptical that the phenomenon is anything unusual, and many are of the opinion that the sightings are caused by the launching of so-called “Chinese,” or “Japanese,” lanterns, which often are released during social events and celebrations. The balloons, which are available commercially, traditionally are fabricated from balsa wood and rice paper, or from other lightweight and fragile materials, and they contain some type of pyrotechnic device, usually a short-duration wax candle. The flame heats the air inside the lantern’s envelope, which reduces the density of the air, making the object buoyant in the colder and denser air of the atmosphere. They exploit the same principle that a large hot-air balloon employs, designed for carrying passengers.
Despite the substantial number of cases we have received and posted at NUFORC about the “fireball” phenomenon, we are still unable to make a definitive statement as to what the objects are. However, we believe firmly that this proposal that all the sightings are due to “lanterns” does not seem to fit what we know about the phenomenon. First, as we have mentioned above, the lights often are seen to maneuver and accelerate suddenly, in a fashion that suggests to us that the objects are self-propelled. Similarly, they have been reported, on occasion, to move quite rapidly across the sky. This type of movement, if reported accurately, seems incompatible with drifting lanterns.
Also, many witnesses have emphasized how brightly luminescent the “fireballs” are, even when they appear to be at a considerable distance from the witness. It seems unlikely that a candle, or some modest pyrotechnic device, would generate enough light to be called “bright” by witnesses who are a considerable distance from the source.
Finally, given the drought conditions that exist in so many parts of the U. S. during the summer of 2012, we doubt that many people would be incautious enough to release objects carrying open flames in uncontrolled flight! We suspect that law enforcement and fire departments would pursue aggressively any reports of such activity, and we have heard of no such investigations over the last two years.
Sightings of these peculiar “fireballs” appear to be a real phenomenon, for which, to date, we have no adequate explanation. For reasons we cite above, we believe that perhaps a few of the sightings can be ascribed to the launching of toy lanterns, but not anywhere close to the majority of cases can be explained by the launching of these balloons.
We encourage anyone who has been witness to this type of phenomenon to report it in detail to both MUFON and NUFORC. We may write a follow-up article, to update our readers on what we discover about these peculiar sightings.
Peter B. Davenport, Director, National UFO Reporting Center, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.