Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a UFO. The term was coined in 1953 by the United States Air Force and refers to any flying object or aerial phenomenon that cannot be explained or identified.
Even before the 20th century, people would try to make sense of phenomena observed in the skies. Halley’s Comet was first recorded by Chinese astronomers in 240 BC and maybe even as early as 467 BC. Though the comet reaches the inner solar system every 76 years, it was often identified as a unique event in historical documents. Accounts like these in history were usually treated as supernatural or religious occurrences, but UFO enthusiasts have noted the similarities between religious symbols in medieval paintings and UFO reports.
In 1946, over 2,000 reports were collected of unidentified flying objects over the Scandinavian nations. Most of these were reported by the Swedish military and were known as ‘Russian Hail’ due to speculation that the objects could be Russian tests of captured German V1 or V2 rockets. However, most were identified as meteors. The UFO craze really began in 1947 when pilot, Kenneth Arnold, reported a sighting. He recalled seeing a bright flashing light, that looked like sunlight reflecting off a mirror. Thirty seconds after the first flash he saw a series of bright flashes. He moved his airplane from side to side and removed his glasses to check that these weren’t just reflections off the plane window. They weren’t. These lights were coming from a row of unidentified objects flying in a chain. This incident sparked the term ‘flying saucers,’ leading to numerous newspaper reports which soon became a daily occurrence.
In 1952 the US Airforce set up a programme under the code name Project Blue Book, due to the multitude of sightings, to determine if UFOs were a threat to national security. Over the years there were a multitude of sightings, however the first abduction account to gain attention was the Betty & Barney Hill case in 1961, after they underwent hypnosis and recalled their memories of the experience. Five years later, The Condon Committee was formed, also known as the University of Colorado UFO Project, funded by the United States Air Force. After examining hundreds of UFO files from Project Blue Book, civilian UFO groups and sightings reported during the project, the committee released a final report in 1968, stating that the study of UFOs would be unlikely to yield any major scientific discoveries. A 1969 National Academy of Sciences panel reviewed the Condon report, agreeing with its findings, and after this the Pentagon announced that it would no longer investigate UFO reports.