The Strangest Real-Life UFO Cases in America

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:54:10 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Matthew T. Rader/Unsplash

The first-ever recorded UFO sighting in America was written down by John Winthrop in 1639. He noted that James Everell and two others were in a boat on the Muddy River when they saw a large light in the sky that " … stood still … flamed up … [and] ran." The figure was shaped like a pig, and when it disappeared, the men were surprised to find that they had mysteriously been transported one mile against the current.

Since then, Americans have only seen more UFOs. Read on to learn about some of the strangest cases in recent U.S. history.

Project Blue Book

Project Blue Book was a research group set up by the U.S. Air Force to investigate UFOs. During the project’s existence between 1948 and 1969, the United States Air Force investigated a whopping 12,618 reported sightings. 701 of those remained unidentified.

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Photo Courtesy: Belinda Fewings/Unsplash

Project Blue Book was eventually shut down because of its expense, but not before it concluded that "no UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security." Furthermore, Project Blue Book said that the sightings that remained "unidentified" were likely not extraterrestrial vehicles or advanced technology. Were they correct?

Kenneth Arnold, 1947

Kenneth Arnold was a civilian pilot who was flying his small plane near Mount Rainier in Washington on June 24, 1947. Suddenly, he spotted nine blue, glowing objects in a "V" formation flying at an estimated 1,700 mph. Arnold thought the crafts might belong to the military, but the military said they did not.

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Photo Courtesy: Daniel/Unsplash

Kenneth said the UFOs’ flight was analogous to "a saucer if you skip it across water," which is where the name "flying saucer" came from. After the report, several other people also said that they had seen nine UFOs, but the government claimed that Arnold was hallucinating.


Roswell, 1947

Roswell has been referred to as the mother of all UFO sightings. In the summer of 1947, a rancher named William "Mac" Brazel found some suspicious debris, including metallic rods, unusual paper-like pieces and chunks of plastic.

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Photo Courtesy: Roswell Daily Record/Wikimedia Commons

When he reported it, soldiers from Roswell Army Air Force base came to take the debris away, and the military said it was nothing but a crashed weather balloon. The weather balloon, according to the military, was part of a secret Soviet detection project, and they released a 231-page report to that effect. Even so, UFO enthusiasts have questioned this explanation ever since.


Levelland, 1957

In 1957, dozens of people in Levelland, Texas separately reported witnessing a combination of strange lights and a rocket that messed with their cars to the point that they didn’t work. The police first thought the accounts were an elaborate hoax until they, too, saw the lights.

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Photo Courtesy: Johannes Plenio/Unsplash

Project Blue Book looked into the strange lights and rocket, but it ended up determining that either an electrical storm or a rare phenomenon called ball lightning was behind the phenomena. However, while the weather was overcast, there were no reported thunderstorms in Levelland that night.


Lubbock Lights, 1951

Three science professors from Texas Tech were enjoying themselves on the night of August 25, 1951, when they saw lights flying above them in a semicircle. In the next few days, many other people reported the same thing, and one student, Carl Hart Jr., even snapped a picture of what was deemed the Lubbock Lights.

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Photo Courtesy: Elred/Wikimedia Commons

Project Blue Book investigated the lights and at first determined that they were reflections of the new street lights in Lubbock off of plovers, a kind of bird. They soon retracted this explanation, but while officials said they were confident the lights were not spaceships, they declined to specify what they believed was responsible for the lights.


The Battle of Los Angeles/The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, 1942

The Battle of Los Angeles and The Great Los Angeles Air Raid are the modern names given to an artillery barrage fired in response to strange lights in the sky from February 24 to 25 in 1942. The U.S. military thought that the Japanese military was attacking, but they later dubbed the incident a false alarm caused by "war nerves."

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Photo Courtesy: LA Times/Wikimedia Commons

"Swarms" of flying objects were reported of all sizes, altitudes and speeds in the sky. Over 1,400 shells were fired in the area. The mystery objects did not fight back and appeared to be unharmed. However, there was property damage and five civilian deaths attributed to friendly fire.


Vernon Baird, 1947

Vernon Baird, the pilot of a commercial photographic plane, was mapping the area between Helena and Yellowstone Park at 32,000 feet on July 7, 1947. He reported seeing a flying disc. Startled, he then took evasive action to avoid it.

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Photo Courtesy: Miriam Espacio/Unsplash

Baird saw the disc split in two and appear to lose altitude over the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana. Nothing was found on the ground in a later search, and Baird’s boss publicly called the story a hoax the following day.


Mantell UFO Incident, 1948

25-year-old Captain Thomas F. Mantell of the Kentucky Air National Guard died January 7, 1948 after his P-51 Mustang fighter crashed while in pursuit of a UFO described by onlookers as a "very white" object with "a flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist."

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Photo Courtesy: Mark S. Hilton/Wikimedia Commons

An investigation by Project Blue Book decided that Mantell died while chasing a top-secret Skyhook balloon. However, the incident caused a marked shift in public, media and government perception of UFOs after it raised the prospect that they might be hostile.


Chiles-Whitted UFO Encounter, 1948

On July 24, 1948, near Montgomery, Alabama, commercial pilots Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted observed a glowing object that passed by their plane and then disappeared into a cloud with a burst of flames out of its rear.

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Photo Courtesy: Artem Kovalev/Unsplash

Project Blue Book supervisor Edward J. Ruppelt was convinced that UFOs were real after the incident, but the Air Force later concluded in 1959 that a meteor was the cause of the incident. Both Chiles and Whitted said that the object resembled a "wingless aircraft" with "two rows of windows."


Gorman Dogfight, 1948

In 1948 over Fargo, North Dakota, George F. Gorman saw a wingless flying object with a blinking light while piloting a North Dakota Air National Guard plane. At 9:07 pm, Gorman contacted the control tower to ask if there was any other air traffic in the area beside a nearby Piper Cub. There was not.

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Photo Courtesy: Thomas Millot/Unsplash

The passenger and pilot of the Piper Cub as well as air traffic control also saw the blinking light. Gorman attempted to pursue it, but it was traveling far too fast. When it increased its speed, it stopped blinking and got brighter. Eventually, the U.S. Air Force concluded that the UFO was a lit weather balloon.


McMinnville UFO Photographs, 1950

The most famous photographs ever taken of a UFO were from McMinnville, Oregon in 1950. Life magazine and many newspapers printed the photos, but many people believed they were a hoax.

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Photo Courtesy: Anonymous/Wikimedia Commons

Evelyn Trent was walking to her house when she saw the metallic disc. She called for her husband, who took two photos before the UFO sped away. In an interview in 1997, the Trents said that they thought it was a secret military aircraft and feared the "photos might bring them trouble." Until their deaths in the 1990s, both Trents insisted the photos were real.


Mariana UFO Incident, 1950

On August 15, 1950 in Great Falls, Montana, Nick Mariana and Virginia Raunig of the Great Falls Electrics, a baseball team, were inspecting Legion Stadium’s field before a game. They ended up taking the first film footage ever of a UFO.

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Photo Courtesy: parkerdonaldmusic/Youtube

Mr. Mariana saw a bright flash in the sky and two bright silver objects rotating and flying at an estimated 200 to 400 mph. Mariana ran to his car, got his 16mm movie camera and filmed the UFOs. The U.S. Air Force said the objects were reflections of two F-94 jet fighters.


Carson Sink UFO Incident, 1952

On July 24, 1952, two United States Air Force Colonels, John L. McGinn and John R. Barton, were flying in a B-25 near Carson Sink, Nevada. Both colonels worked for the Pentagon and were familiar with military aircraft of the time.

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Photo Courtesy: thumperward/Wikimedia Commons

Both men saw three unknown bright silver delta wing aircraft with no tails or pilot’s canopies flying in a V-formation, which was unusual at the time for military aircraft. The UFOs were flying at a speed three times as fast as an F-86. The incident was never explained by Project Blue Book.


Orfeo Angelucci, 1952

Orfeo Angelucci was a strange man who suffered from poor health and extreme nervousness. He also claimed to be in contact with extraterrestrials. In 1952, Angelucci said that he started seeing flying saucers on his way home from his work in Burbank California.

Photo Courtesy: Paris Flammonde/Wikimedia Commons

Angelucci believed he was taken by one of the saucers into orbit, where he saw a giant mothership. He also had episodes of missing time that he couldn’t immediately account for and only remembered later. Mr. Angelucci wrote several books and pamphlets about his experiences among the people-friendly aliens.


The Washington, D.C. UFO Incident, 1952

There was a series of UFO sightings over Washington, D.C. from July 19 to 27 in 1952 reported by several people. According to historian Curtis Peebles, the event marked the zenith of a spate of UFO sightings that year.

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An air controller, Edward Nugent, spotted seven objects on his radar. Nugent reported that the UFOs were not following any accepted flight path. His radar was checked and found to be working normally. Another air traffic controller described the UFOs as "bright light[s] hovering in the sky … [they] took off, zooming away at incredible speed."


Flatwoods Monster, 1952

The Flatwoods Monster is also known as the Phantom of Flatwoods and the Braxton County Monster by West Virginians. On September 12, 1952, a bright object was sighted in the night sky, and then a humanoid entity was seen in the town of Flatwoods.

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Brothers Edward and Fred May and their friend Tommy Hyer spotted the bright light, and a group of people went to investigate. They saw a pulsing red light and a 10-foot tall "man-like figure with a round, red face surrounded by a pointed, hood-like shape." The figure made a hissing noise and "glided" toward them.


Felix Moncla, 1953

A United States Air Force pilot, First Lieutenant Felix Eugene Moncla Jr., disappeared over Lake Superior while performing an air defense intercept on November 23, 1953. The Air Force reported that Moncla crashed, but search and rescue found nothing.

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Photo Courtesy: Gordheath/English Wikipedia

Radar operators had identified an unusual target near Soo Locks, so Moncla was dispatched and closed in on the object in his Scorpion. He was being tracked by radar, but as he approached the object, the two the two blips that represented him and his target merged as if Moncla had been engulfed. The remaining single blip continued on its course, leaving no trace of Moncla or his plane.


Barney and Betty Hill Abduction, 1961

On September 19, 1961 in New Hampshire, Betty and Barney Hill were purportedly abducted by aliens while driving. It was the first report of an alien abduction that was widely publicized by the media, and the incident became known as The Hill Abduction or the Zeta Reticuli Incident.

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Photo Courtesy: Clementi/Wikimeda Commons

Betty saw what she thought was a falling star, and Barney stopped the car. The star turned and raced in their direction, and Barney saw around ten humanoid figures wearing glossy black uniforms and caps on a rotating spacecraft. The Hills returned home the following day with no memory of what happened after they were captured. They only recalled the events of the night after speaking with a psychiatrist.


Lonnie Zamora Incident, 1964

On April 24, 1964 in Socorro, New Mexico, several witnesses said that they saw a UFO. A police officer named Sergeant Lonni Zamora had gotten the closest to it. He heard "a roar and saw a [bluish orange] flame in the sky" while chasing a speeding car.

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Photo Courtesy: JMK and JSayre65/Wikimedia Commons

His car windows went down spontaneously, and he saw what appeared to be a shiny object that looked like a letter "O." He saw two small but otherwise normal people in white coveralls before a fire started under the craft. It went straight up into the sky, presumably with the people onboard.


Exeter Incident, 1965

On September 3rd, 1965 near Exeter, New Hampshire, 18-year-old Norman Muscarello was hitchhiking to his parents’ home around 2 am. He saw five flashing lights in the woods moving toward him. Terrified, he flagged an oncoming car, and he was driven to the Exeter police station.

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Photo Courtesy: Vuitton Lim/Unsplash

Officer Bertrand drove Muscarello back to the place he saw the lights, and they walked toward the woods. Nearby horses began kicking their stalls and shrieking, and dogs in the area started howling. Both men then witnessed a "huge, dark object as big as a barn … with red, flashing lights."


Kecksburg UFO Incident, 1965

On December 9, 1965, a fireball was reported by thousands of people from Pennsylvania to Canada. When the fireball streaked over several states, reports of hot metal debris that started grass fires, sonic booms, blue smoke and vibrations came in. The object crashed in Kecksburg, PA, and the area was immediately sealed off by the military, although they reported that they had found "absolutely nothing."

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Photo Courtesy: Navy2004/Wikimedia Commons

Astronomers at the time dismissed the sightings as a meteor bolide, and NASA released a statement in 2005 explaining sharing that fragments from the area were from a Soviet satellite.


The Portage County, Ohio, UFO Chase, 1966

In the early morning of April 17, 1966, several police officers from Portage County, Ohio, saw an object rise up from the ground, and it bathed them in light. They chased the UFO into Pennsylvania, and other officers were alerted and also began chasing it.

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Photo Courtesy: The Beaver County Times/Youtube

Deputy Sheriff Dale Spaur described the UFO as " … this thing … it was coming up … about 100 feet. It started moving toward us … it stopped right over top of us … the only sound in the whole area was a hum." When fighter jets showed up, the UFO disappeared straight up into the sky.


Maury Island, 1947

On June 21, 1947, two patrolmen on Maury Island in Puget Sound, Fred Crisman and Harold Dahl, said that they saw six "doughnut-shaped" discs in the sky. According to both men, one of the discs released a substance resembling "white metal" onto their patrol boat, which broke an employee’s arm and killed a dog.

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Photo Courtesy: James Orr/Unsplash

Army intelligence officers concluded that the entire incident was a hoax. However, on their return flight, their B-25 aircraft experienced engine failure, and both men were killed. Combined with claims from Dahl that a mysterious stranger had warned him not to speak of the supposed incident, a conspiracy theory was born.


Pascagoula Abduction, 1973

On October 11, 1973, co-workers Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker were fishing off of a pier on Mississippi’s Pascagoula River when they heard a whirring noise and saw two flashing blue lights and a large, oval UFO.

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Photo Courtesy: SMG2019/Wikimedia Commons

Both men reported to the Jackson County Sheriff’s office that they were "conscious but paralyzed" when three "creatures" transported them aboard the aircraft and examined them before releasing them. Hickson later gave lectures, went on talk shows and performed interviews. He then wrote a book called UFO Contact at Pascagoula.


Illinois Black Triangle UFO, 2000

There were many eyewitnesses to what became known as the Southern Illinois UFO or Highland, Illinois UFO, including five on-duty police officers. People all over the towns of Highland, Dupo, Lebanon, Shiloh, Summerfield, Millstadt and O’Fallon reported a massive but silent triangular craft in the sky at treetop level.

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Photo Courtesy: Nicolas Hans/Unsplash

One of the officers managed to take a picture of the craft. The sighting inspired television shows like ABC’s Seeing is Believing with Peter Jennings and the Discovery Channel’s UFOs Over Illinois, among others. Sufjan Stevens even sang a song about the incident on his album Illinois in 2005.


Morristown UFO Hoax, 2009

The Morristown UFO hoax was a series of events in the sky involving floating red lights near Morristown, New Jersey, that happened between January 5, 2009, and February 17, 2009. The people putting on the hoax were Joe Rudy and Chris Russo, who said they were doing a social experiment.

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Photo Courtesy: Castle14/Wikimedia Commons

Flare lights were attached to helium balloons and released by the two men, and people in several counties saw and reported the lights to the police. On April 1, 2009 — April Fool’s Day — Rudy and Russo publicly announced that the hoax was to prove that UFOs are not real.


Charlotte, North Carolina, 2007

On January 26, 2007, in Charlotte, North Carolina, a UFO was reported that looked like a "bright blue-green ball with a white tail," according to eyewitness Jim Neal. Another witness, Julie Bigham, said that the UFO was a " greenish-like light low in the sky. We thought a small plane or helicopter was going to crash."

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Photo Courtesy: New York Post/Youtube

Others said the flying object was "creepy," "had a haze" and "almost looked like a flare." An officer dispatched to confirm that the object existed called it "a shooting star or something." According to Wikinews, all planes and helicopters in the area were accounted for.


Tinley Park Lights, 2004-2005

Hundreds of people near Chicago, Illinois witnessed a triangular formation of red lights flying at low altitude between late 2004 and early 2005. Three separate incidents produced many videos and pictures of the phenomenon.

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Photo Courtesy: History/Youtube

The large object flew slowly over O’Hare International Airport during a time of busy air travel, prompting an investigation by the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). MUFON is a non-profit organization in the United States that studies UFO sightings and has over 4,000 members.


Arizona Pilot UFO Sighting, 2018

The pilots an American Airlines Airbus A321 and a Phoenix Air Learjet 36 both radioed in odd sightings of a UFO. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Albuquerque Air Traffic received the reports from the two eastbound aircraft just minutes apart that something had passed over them.

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Photo Courtesy: Ambir Tolang/Unsplash

They were traveling at an altitude of 40,000 feet, and air traffic saw nothing on radar. Coincidentally, these sightings occurred just 500 miles away from Roswell, Arizona, which is famous for UFO activity. It was later concluded that what the pilots likely saw was a high-altitude research balloon.


Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

The United States government has never concluded that UFO was an alien spacecraft. Sightings are usually explained as weather balloons or something similar. However, the US Navy did admit that three military video clips released between 2017-2018 are in fact "unidentified aerial phenomena."

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Photo Courtesy: Asael Pena/Unsplash

Navy spokesperson Joe Gradisher told CNN in 2019 that the UAPs are "just a fraction" of what the Navy sees. However, just because the military can’t identify every UFO doesn’t mean each (or even any) of them is a visitor from the world. After all, a UFO is by its very nature unidentified. The mystery lives on.