UFOs of the Air War
|Ball Lightning? Photoshopping? Foo Fighters? Who knows.|
|A close-up of the above photo. It was taken over Italy in 1945.|
There were too many reports of sightings of Foo Fighters to pretend they didn't exist and were just the result of a few too many down at the bar. The US Air Force took them seriously, and they were reported in the (presumably) legitimate press of the time. While many other UFO sightings have been debunked over the years, Foo Fighters remain unsolved. But, that doesn't mean we have to just accept these stories at face value, either.
My goal is to present the basic facts and draw some prudently skeptical conclusions from them. It is unavoidable to be selective in the facts examined in an article of this length, but I will try to be fair. This is intended as an introduction to the topic, not the "last word."
So, let's see what we can uncover about Foo Fighters.
Where the Foo Fighters Story StartedThere have been reports of strange objects in the sky throughout recorded history, including the Bible (Ezekiel's Wheel). However, Foo Fighters are a distinct phenomenon, a well-defined subset of UFO reports, and their discovery has a precise starting point.
|An Arado Ar 234B, operational by late 1944, after its capture in US markings.|
The Times description (and different iterations in other newspapers) is notable for its weirdly precise detail. The "mystery balls" are not unexplained phenomena in this write-up. Instead, they are "German weapons." They also aren't fireballs, but "silver-colored spheres" that can be "semi-translucent." Right from the start, we see that the report was feeding into the narrative that those evil Germans must be up to something - which was going to keep the boys at the front from coming home before Christmas as many had been hoping for since D-Day in June.
|A V2 ballistic missile.|
|A V-1 cruise missile.|
|General Henry H. 'Hap' Arnold.|
|The mascot insignia of the 415th Night Fighter squadron featured Donald Duck on a night mission.|
Yet the "lights" were still glowing – eight or ten of them in a row – orange balls of fire moving through the air at a terrific speed.They did not report the sightings at first. However, that does not mean they did not tell their buddies in the unit about the "orange balls," who then went up looking for them. "A few nights later," two other men in the unit also reported seeing "a huge red light 1,000 feet above them, moving at 200 miles per hour." Then, on 22-23 December 1944, another crew from the same unit also reported seeing "large orange glows" that "leveled off and stayed on my tail," a sighting repeated by this same crew who this time described it as:
A glowing red object shooting straight up, which suddenly changed to a view of an aircraft doing a wing-over, going into a dive and disappearing.Pretty soon, the sightings were extremely common in the 415th. One of the men in the original mission that spotted the lights, radar observer Lt. Donald J. Meiers, gave the phenomenon its moniker. A fan of Bill Holman's "Smokey Stover" comic strip - he carried around copies and actually had one in his pocket when he went to report the incident - he called the lights "F'ing Foo Fighters" (use your imagination). The word "foo" was a typical 1930's nonsense word (like boff or buck or dibs) from the comic strip. A newspaper reporter later took out the "F'ing," and the name stuck: Foo Fighters.
As the stories circulated (military guys read the Times and other papers), pilots in other units began describing similar sightings. They used various descriptive phrases, saw them under a variety of circumstances, and had a variety of experiences with them. The sightings spread throughout the air force, to other air forces, and around the world to the PTO. "Foo Fighters" became the shiznit.
Post-War ReportsThe Foo Fighter narrative died down immediately after the war, but then occasionally erupted again. The "flying saucer" incident near Mount Rainier kept the idea of "strange phenomena" going in 1947, and on 21 July 1952, there was another flurry of sightings. An article in the New York Times, echoing many in other publications, described air force jets failing to catch "lights."
|July 1952 was a hot time for Foo Fighters.|
Gordon Cooper, one of the original NASA astronauts, later recalled his own experience around this time. He adds that later he was present when a "saucer" landed nearby, watched as a professional crew filmed it, and then watched it fly off. He looked at the film the crew had shot, then sent it off to D.C. and never heard another word about it. There were, of course, many other sightings of Foo Fighter-type UFOs during the decade, but then the subject died down again. Belief in UFOs has never gone away, however, but it has become a spectator sport from the ground filmed with cell phones, not observed from high-speed jets. Cooper believed it was from "somewhere else." It is worth observing that the object he described sounds somewhat similar to a modern drone, which is not that otherworldly but certainly would have seemed so then. However, Cooper saw what he saw and he explains what he saw quite well.
Anyway, everyone knows where the UFOlogy topic went from there. The literature on UFOs is abundant. But, the initial report - the Foo Fighter sightings - remains unchallenged.
So, What Was Going On
|This photo is a normal shot of RAF fighters that some people have doctored to show Foo Fighters (see below).|
|The doctored "Foo Fighter" version.|
There is absolutely no evidence that, as described in the original news reports on 13 December 1944, Foo Fighters were any kind of Axis weapon. The Germans had nothing even remotely similar to "glowing balls" that followed aircraft, nor did the Japanese. In fact, today, in the 21st Century, there is no known weapon that resembles a fireball and tracks planes from close at hand.
It also is unlikely that Foo Fighters are "natural phenomena" like St. Elmo's Fire, that is, natural fireballs that follow planes around. The Foo Fighter reports describe a phenomenon that should be seen with regularity every day if they are simply natural events. There should be sightings from commercial airliners by passengers looking out the window and seeing nearby patterns of fireballs trailing along nearby like friendly puppies on every shuttle flight from New York to D.C. While there might be rare sightings like that now and then, they are not nearly common enough to support the idea that the night fighter pilots flying out of Lyon would see them day after day on ordinary nights under average conditions.
|This is a still from a film purporting to show a Foo Fighter following a Concorde.|
- Pure Innocence, as in, I don't know but will listen.
The second choice above is probably the default for most people. Just take the whole issue innocently. There are reports of strange things by credible people, and no other real evidence either way about them. Simply accepting that there are unexplained events in the world shows an open mind and requires no deep thought. Basically, the attitude is, well, that's fine, so what, what difference is it to me? The only danger to watch out for with this attitude is that you do not cross the line into becoming gullible.
The third choice, healthy skepticism, requires you to be a bit cynical and exert some brainpower. The bottom line on this avenue is that, sure, lots of people "saw Foo Fighters," but the whole topic may have decidedly earthly origins.
The first thing to note is that the entire topic appears to have arisen from one unit of the USAAC. A bunch of guys began seeing things, undoubtedly talking to each other about them, scaring each other and goading each other on. They then graduated to seeing more things, and on and on until word spread up the chain of command. With nerves on edge about the unknown German Wonder Weapons, no reports from the Front could be discounted without some sort of investigation. As I note elsewhere, SHAEF may have had its own motivations for publicizing the issue.
Next, the timing of the initial report in the press is a bit convenient for the military. The public had become convinced by the relative ease of the D-Day landings that the war would be over by Christmas. By mid-December, the military knew there was absolutely no hope of that, and, in fact, that the Wehrmacht was building up reserves. Only three days later, the Germans launched their last major offensive through the Ardennes. Preparing the public for unexpectedly strong German resistance with reports of "wonder weapons" and the like served a certain public relations use for SHAEF.
|The famous "Battle of Los Angeles" of 24 February 1942 is cited by some as an earlier Foo Fighter appearance. The official explanation was... weather balloons.|
|The US military has a long history of digging a hole for itself, then spending an eternity trying to fill it in again. Incidentally, the "alien ouster" mentioned in the sub-headline is not, you know, those kinds of aliens.|
|Beaufighter Mark IF night fighters of No. 600 Squadron RAF based at Colerne.|
|This is one of the more venerable photos in the field. Nobody is sure when it was taken or even what types of planes are shown. Could be altered, too.|
However, no matter how you explain away the initial sightings, later sightings are much trickier to explain. Personally, I tend to straddle the second or third category. I combine an open mind with an edge of skepticism. Perhaps there was something odd going on... but the evidence certainly doesn't prove it.
|Leonard Stringfield's sketch of a Pacific air war sighting, drawn years later. Stringfield developed a reputation as an expert on the phenomenon who had personally experienced it.|
ConclusionFoo Fighters were unexplained aerial phenomena during World War II and thereafter which resembled fireballs and acted in unnatural ways. Their nature remains a mystery. The sightings have become intertwined with broader subject of UFOlogy and, in fact, helped to spawn that topic, but that does not mean there was anything "otherworldly" about them. While there are possible explanations for Foo Fighters, different people can draw widely varying conclusions based upon the evidence. However, it requires quite a leap of faith to assume they were a paranormal phenomenon. The subject remains open along with the broader topic of UFOs.