You’d think everyone would be over the UFO nonsense by now

Like Bigfoot sightings, UFO sightings have been in decline…coincidentally, just as video cameras in our phones become ubiquitous. Unfortunately, that just means that the people who still believe have become even more obstinate and resistant to evidence, and the bizarre conspiracy theories and unlikely excuses get even weirder. All that means, though, is that the market has become even more hardcore, and has been distilled down to the most gullible. And that means money. The History Channel is there to rake in the loot.

Jason Colavito reviews the History Channel’s latest descent into ahistorical garbage, Project Bluebook. It stars Aiden Gillen as J. Allen Hynek — Gillen is better known as Littlefinger on Game of Thrones, which ought to be your first warning that no one is to be trusted in this ‘documentary’. You’ll also wonder where Arya Stark is when you need her.

I watched part of the first episode, The Fuller Dogfight. This is better known in UFO lore as the Gorman ‘dogfight’, after the pilot who took part in it, and I have no idea why they changed the name, unless it’s just to make it difficult to look up the facts.

Here’s a reasonably objective account of the event.

One of the early “classics” of UFO history involved Lieutenant George F. Gorman of the North Dakota Air National Guard, who said he had a twenty-seven minute “dogfight” with a UFO in the skies over Fargo.

He was on a routine cross-country flight in 1948, when he spotted an odd light in the sky at night.

Gorman informed the tower that he was going to investigate the other aircraft and pulled his F-51 up and out toward the moving light. He closed to within about l,000 yards and took a good look at the object.

“It was about six to eight inches in diameter, clear white, and completely round without fuzz at the edges [i.e., sharp and clear],” he said. “It was blinking on and off. As I approached, however, the light suddenly became steady and pulled into a sharp left bank. I thought it was making a pass at the tower.

“I dived after it and brought my manifold pressure up to sixty inches but I couldn’t catch up with the thing. It started gaining altitude and again made a left bank,” Gorman said. “I put my F-51 into a sharp turn and tried to cut the light off in its turn. By then we were at about 7,000 feet. Suddenly it made a sharp right turn and we headed straight at each other. Just when we were about to collide, I guess I got scared. I went into a dive and the light passed over my canopy at about 500 feet. Then, it made a left circle about l,000 feet above, and I gave chase again.”

Gorman said he cut sharply toward the light, which was once more coming at him. When collision again seemed imminent, the object shot straight up into the air in a steep climb-out, disappearing overhead. Gorman again attempted to pursue it but his plane went into a power stall at about 14,000 feet, and the object was not seen again. It was then 9:27 P.M.

Gorman was so shaken by the encounter that he had difficulty handing his plane, although he was a veteran pilot and a flying instructor during World War II. He had noticed no sound, odor, or exhaust trail from the object during the “dogfight,” and no deviation on his instruments. At times during the chase, he had pushed the F-51 to full power, sometimes reaching 400 mph. He described the object as round and somewhat flattened.

So…a small light in the distance, he couldn’t close with it despite chasing it, and then it disappeared. That sounds like an optical illusion to me, where he was somewhat disoriented and a poor judge of distances and size. The Air Force says it was a weather balloon, which would be significantly larger than 6-8 inches in diameter (which is also a bit on the small side for an alien spacecraft).

If you watch the History Channel BS, though, it’s remarkably dramatized. It’s a largish ball of light zooming around, and…Gorman opens fire on it. And the UFO fires back. That’s when I gave up. Nothing in any of the prior accounts claims that they exchanged gun fire — it’s a bit of excitement that the History Channel added. It doesn’t even make sense that an Air National Guard plane on a simple cross-country training flight would be carrying ammunition in peace time, firing guns over a city like Fargo would get him disciplined severely, and and getting shot at and hit by a UFO would leave physical evidence that no one has described before.

It’s not much of a story in the first place, but the History Channel just had to polish that turd.

In case you’re still wondering how absurd nonsense like this persists, it’s because there are cheap exploitive television networks that still promote it to credulous viewers. Colavito points out that it is bad television, wooden and boring, but even that doesn’t seem to matter. The gullible will steal eat it up.

Next mystery: was Aiden Gillen’s career also murdered when Arya Stark slit his character’s throat? Why is he stooping to such low quality trash as History Channel fakeumentaries now?


  1. Owlmirror says

    You would also think that people would be over the Flat Earth, but you would be wrong.

    I wonder how much overlap there is between Flatters and UFOers? I seem to recall seeing that at least some Flatters, when the inconsistencies between their model and observations that can be made of the sky are pointed out, declare that the sky is a snare and a delusion created by aliens.

  2. Gaebolga says

    So, Gorman saw something 6″ to 8″ in diameter from 3000 feet away<?I>?

    …that’s some damn good eyesight.

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I think it cross marketing the reboot of the YA drama of Rockwell, premeiring soon

  4. hemidactylus says

    I vaguely recall a series from my childhood which I thought was called Project Blue Book

    The opening rings a bell:
    “Ezekiel saw the wheel. This [UFO diagrams] is the wheel he said he saw. These are Unidentified Flying Objects that people say they are seeing now. Are they proof that we are being visited by civilizations from other stars? Or just what are they? The United States Air Force began an investigation of this high strangeness in a search for the truth. What you are about to see is part of that 20-year search.”

    It started in 1978. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977. UFOs were all the rage. I got sucked into the hype quite young. I used to watch X-Files sporadically, which played on the same paranoia that gave us Illuminati and Reptoids.

    The History Channel’s sole redeeming value is Counting Cars, but there are similar shows on the more appropriate MotorTrend channel (formerly Velocity). There’s ironically more solid history in Counting Cars than most of the misnamed “History” Channel’s other content. I dig muscle cars. I know they existed. They weren’t bequeathed to us by ancient astronauts.

    Is the ungrounded speculative crap found on cable TV a reflection of mindsets that voted for the desperate mess we’re currently enduring?

  5. says


    A suspected optical illusion sure seems like an unidentified flying object to me. I get annoyed at how UFO has come to mean aliens.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Oops I accidentally dissed the Prince of Darkness. Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour touches on some stuff of at least superficial historical relevance, including recounting Ozzy’s misadventure at the Alamo and did an episode in Cuba that was interesting. Not quite a truly historical documentary and though I haven’t watched many episodes, it seems to have transformed into The Osbourne’s 2.0.

  7. cartomancer says

    I will always think of Aiden Gillen as Stuart in Queer as Folk. Which had rather a profound influence on me growing up. Oh well…

  8. says

    Lots of people think Project U.F.O. was called Project Blue Book. Some think it was shown as Project Blue Book in their area of the US and Canada even after they come across an article about the series, something that of course wouldn’t have been done. I’m surprised no one has latched onto it as proof the Mandela Effect. It doesn’t help that the series has never been legitimately released on DVD, despite being a Jack Webb creation.

    I watched it during its original run on CTV in Canada. As an 11 year old I’d read quite a few UFO books, so a lot of the stories were familiar. And that sometimes annoyed me, because the series presented some of them as contemporary events when they weren’t. The one that sticks out was their episode based on perhaps the only UFO incident where someone died, the Thomas Mantell incident. Mantell was an Air National Guard pilot who died when his F51 crashed on January 7, 1948, while attempting to catch a high altitude object. But Project U.F.O. presented it as happening in the ’70s, with a pilot dying when his F102 crashes.

  9. says

    My late friend Bud was an aficionado of the UFO phenomenon from the 50s: Adamski Saucers, Frank Edwards books, and Howard Menger’s LP of “Real Gas Music from Jupiter” — sorry, that last one should be “Music from Another Planet.” He was not a believer in the saucers, he just found the whole edifice of believers and propagandizers to be fascinating. The Firesign Theatre’s “Everything You Know Is Wrong” provides a view of the field, distorted only slightly for humorous effect.

    The saucer boom did resurge in the 70s, when home videos were still reliably fuzzy enough to make deception more plausible. I was listening to a distant AM station one night, and I must have stumbled upon Art Bell in his heyday. A woman caller confirmed the general feeling at the program that everything was real (the opposite of Strawberry Fields). It was the first time I’d heard Roswell mentioned. She said they’d had one of those saucer crashes in their town, and all the guys on board were killed, “except for the pilot fella,” she said, “And he’s here, living in Roswell.”

    And yet I was able to resist hopping on the first bus to New Mexico.

  10. zetopan says

    The History Channel gave up being about history quite some time ago when the scientifically illiterate person in charge decided that phony “reality shows” would attract larger audiences. She was correct, given the poor knowledge level that a large portion of the US adult population suffers from (see the White House for more evidence). So we end up with “reality shows”[sic] like “Pawn Stars”, “American Restoration”, “Ancient Aliens”, “Storage Wars”, and other fake programming aimed directly at the lowest common denominator among the American public. Even “Ice Road Truckers” has some obviously faked situations in it and the History Channel has only gone downhill from there.

    “Reality shows” are obviously much cheaper to produce and the movie industry has also found that making movies about comic book characters is easier than hiring good writers. It all boils down to maximizing income while minimizing expenses and quality is so far in the distance that it is invisible.

  11. The Evil Twin says

    I have no reason to think the History Channel’s reason for them to exchange fire is anything other than hype, but there is a logical reason for a fighter to be carrying ammunition when on a peacetime flight: weight & balance. Many fighters are off-balance when if the fuel tanks are full and the ammo stores are empty (I don’t know if that applies to a P-51, though). It’s not that they can’t take off that way, it’s just a bit more difficult (the big fear would be engine failure during takeoff, in which case the pilot has no choice but to land in the same balance condition they took off in, possibly with other malfunctions, depending on why the engine failed). Technically you could solve that by making a non-functional version of the appropriate ammo that can fill the same space, but to my knowledge that has never been done. Mostly for cost reasons (tough to justify spending money on something that by intention does not work) but partially because of the knowledge that if stuff like that existed, a ground crew would occasionally manage to accidentally load it when there was a real war going on.

  12. bryanfeir says

    @hemidactylus, timgueguen:
    I remember that show, too. Somewhere I think I probably still have the Mad Magazine take on Project U.F.O. (google search says issue #207, June 1979). It was pretty nasty in spots (“I could see it flying across… it was so bright I could see the strings holding it” “Shush, you’re not supposed to say that out loud!” as well as comments about “we blew half our special effects budget on this shot, we’re going to keep using it in flashbacks until we get our money’s worth out of it!”)

    Granted, I think my favourite comment on the U.F.O. craze was in the form of a double-dactyl which I believe I saw in Isaac Asimov’s SF magazine but which don’t have proper credits for:
    Higgledy Piggledy
    Erich von Daniken
    Wrote of grey spacemen who
    Came from afar.
    Next thing you know he’ll say
    Came down to Dallas to
    Murder J.R.

  13. microraptor says

    One of the biggest contributors to the History Channel’s decline was that originally it was teamed up with the Smithsonian but then the museum decided to launch its own channel and pulled all the high-quality stuff they were making from History. At that point History began experimenting with lower quality reality shows and when that proved successful everything went downhill from there.

    Still, despite being the Aliens and Hitler channel, they’ve somehow managed to avoid falling as far as TLC did.

  14. kebil says

    Weird that he noted that he could not smell it. Can pilots usually smell other flying objects? He must have one heck of nose.

  15. KG says

    which is also a bit on the small side for an alien spacecraft

    Somewhere in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series there’s an anecdote about a huge battle fleet that crosses the galaxy to avenge a deadly insult and gets swallowed by a small dog, having failed to appreciate a discrepancy in scale – and the idea wasn’t original with Adams: there’s a John Wyndham short story from the 1950s or thereabouts on a similar theme – I can’t recall the title but it’s in his collection The Seeds of Time.

  16. John Morales says

    See, that’s the thing. It takes energy to transport payload over interstellar distances in a timely fashion, and physics requires a trade-off between mass and velocity for a given energy budget.

    (Smaller is better)

    PS KG, “Meteor”.

  17. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 16:

    There was a very similar Twilight Zone episode with the twist being a scale discrepancy.

    I blame it all (you know its a turn of phrase) on the popularity of Ancient Aliens and the weirdo Giorgio Tsoukalos

  18. Ed Seedhouse says

    All I had to hear was the promo add, which is playing incessantly even here in Canada. PZ has sacrificed his valuable time to confirm my opinion based on the add alone. That’s not a complaint, I admire his willingness to sacrifice for his friends.

  19. wzrd1 says

    I’ve saw plenty of UFO’s over the years. Most eventually are identified.
    Nothing to see, move along, just an unscheduled flight, a U-2, some Blackbird (saw that one on the ground, even if it “wasn’t there”), weather balloon, child’s balloon, helicopter under unusual lighting and atmospheric conditions.

    Where things were sounding likely made sense when he fired at it and it fired back.
    Reflection off of a surface of his aircraft against the curved canopy. Likely, near wherever his aircraft’s cannons were located, as he saw the tracers light reflected back.

    Space aliens, just no. Even if someone invented 7th dwarph drive or something, if they could come here, they’d manage to intercept our communications and take the time to learn our language and honestly, if you could manage such a feat, would you go buzzing around this madhouse?
    I’d peel off early on, report no intelligent life present, only some primitives trying their level best to exterminate themselves.

    I do find it telling, how quickly he was ready to shoot at something that incessantly outmaneuvered him. That’d be my last option, to confirm a reflection. See it harmlessly “shoot back”, look for a reflective surface on my aircraft near the cannon and get it unpolished, as shiny shows up for miles.

    But, I have witnessed a very real flying saucer. It was in formation with a flying cup. Thankfully, the server was unharmed after the trip and near fall.
    Saw a flying pot once, didn’t end well, I had to replace the pot I bent up. All, because I didn’t look where I was walking and tripped over my own extension cord.
    And one flying cast iron skillet, which was flaring badly and dangerously. Never tried that recipe in a small kitchen again! Had an escape plan planned, as I suspected it’d flare badly and it did. Cost me a fine cast iron skillet, a century old model, not the light weight, thinner models common for cheap.

    And yes, I was a chef, advanced to salad chef. Among many other occupations, cooking was and remains a passion.
    Hence, during our reinvention and reminder to command of the much older “hearts and minds campaign”, I established with my working group a group of “foodies” and reformed chefs, our first task beyond meet and greet, a recipe exchange.
    Propaganda may tell tales of alien claws in US soldiers, due to the contact avoidance gloves, due to black metal in a seriously hot sun, but exchanging recipes neutralizes that nonsense in a New York Minute, which is slightly below a Planck time stamp.
    And yes, I’m serious. Propaganda, at various local levels, told tales that US soldiers had bionic arms (not in those words, just translating with the usual adjustments).

  20. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    So, here’s the thing about UFOs/aliens/ET:
    1) There is no mechanism known to physics by which anything can travel faster than light speed. What is more there are very good reason to think that such travel is impossible. This limits the volume of the Universe one could search for intelligent life.
    2) If we assume that any advanced life form out there has some sort of genetic code like DNA, galactic cosmic rays will shred the “genes” over relatively short times/distances. For humans, even a trip to Mars might be prohibitively damaging. Galactic cosmic rays have significant fluxes out to minimum ionizing energies (about 2.2 GeV, plus or minus, per nucleon). Such an ion will traverse about 35 cm of aluminum shielding–so you’d need a sphere of several feet of aluminum equivalent shielding over 4-pi steradians surrounding your “starship”. Even if this were feasible, it would limit your ability to accelerate, increase the fuel (and therefore mass) needed, etc.
    3) Even if you could find solutions to these problems, we are way out on the exurbs of the Galaxy. Most stars are near the center. Given limited resources, why the hell would you pick an unremarkable star near the edge of the galaxy?

    Alien visitation is just another human delusion to prop up our egos in a Universe that would just as soon see us dead.

  21. says

    “6-8 inches in diameter (which is also a bit on the small side for an alien spacecraft)”
    That is very scalist (if I may indulge in onomasticism for a moment).
    They might be tiny spider aliens!!!

  22. wcorvi says

    The very first thing on H. C. webpage about this is wrong – that J. Allen Hynek was an astronomer at Ohio State. When I knew him, he was at Northwestern University in Evanston IL.

  23. gravityisjustatheory says

    Hey all, just passing through after a very long absence.

    I wonder how much overlap there is between Flatters and UFOers? I seem to recall seeing that at least some Flatters, when the inconsistencies between their model and observations that can be made of the sky are pointed out, declare that the sky is a snare and a delusion created by aliens.

    I once got into an argument with a Flat Earther in a chatroom. According to him:
    1) satellites don’t exist and space flight is not possible.
    2) UFOs are actually demons.
    3) The concepts of a round earth, spaceflight, and aliens are all a hoax by NASA, the Freemasons, the UN, etc* to make us think aliens exist.
    4) This is so that when the Antichrist takes over the world people will think that his demons are actually aliens, and therefore welcome them rather than opposing them.

    But not the Jews. I guess they must have missed the invitation to this massive alliance of all the conspiracy theorists’ bugbears.