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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

UFO! Cap'n Aux Investigates the "Phoenix Lights"

#blog #magazine #avgeek #aviation #UFO

Stop the Presses (again)!
Grab a copy of the current Airways Magazine (October, 2013 edition), now available at your local bookstore.
Inside is a review of my novel, The Last Bush Pilots!

And now . . .
UFO! Cap'n Aux Investigates the "Phoenix Lights"
blog, airline, avgeek, cap'n aux, cap'n, capn, captain, aux, aviation, UFO
Nope, we're not alone!
But our "mysterious visiting neighbors" are much closer than you think.

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There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective character, Sherlock Holmes 

People often ask me, 

“Do you believe in UFO’s?”

My answer: “Of course! Any unidentified object that is flying is a UFO.”

Now, a UFO could be a flying saucer from the Pleides come to harvest your innards. But, by the very definition of the phrase—and far more commonly—a UFO could also be an airplane you’re not familiar with, swamp gas, a kite, top secret Air Force contraption, a weather balloon, a kid’s balloon . . . or the balloons strapped to Uncle Bob's lawnchair, who’s sitting in his wife-beater shirt and tighty whities, throwing back a six pack and enjoying the grand view from the nosebleed section.

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It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a UFO!
Oh, it's just Uncle Bob in a lawnchair!

Of course, when someone asks that question, what they really mean is, “Dude, do you believe in flying saucers from outer space?”

My answer: “Umm . . . yeah, about that . . .”

The late astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” (Called the Sagan Standard.) He also said, Billions and billions, about a billion times.

So, by that standard, if Gort and Klaatu landed on the White House lawn, I might be inclined to lean toward beginning to believe. (For the uninitiated, here's the original trailer from one of the best sci fi movies of all time, "The Day the Earth Stood Still"):

Direct Link:

But I digress . . .

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So, about those “Phoenix lights,” viewed by hundreds, if not thousands (but not billions and billions), on the evening of March 13, 1997.

I was home in Phoenix that night, but didn’t personally see them. Nor did I hear about them till the next day. But the moment I saw pics and vids shot by many . . . I knew exactly what they were.
"The moment I saw them, I knew exactly what they were."

And, I’m sorry to say, folks, it’s something far closer to home than the nearest Class M planet. In fact, I’ve seen the very same image many times from my cockpit over the years.

Therefore, the "Mysterious Phoenix Lights" are no mystery at all. And, by our definition, they can't even be considered a “UFO.”

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So many few UFOs
But that doesn't keep goofballs from insisting there were little green men flying around PHX TRACON airspace without a clearance that night.

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"SHADO HQ reports UFO in Sector 2, Blue, Kangaroo.
All Interceptors launch and destroy."
(a pic from 
"UFO!," my favorite TV show when I was 8.
Hey, it may be corny, but they nailed the purple "Hit Girl" Manga hairdoos!)
Hit girl, replete with requisite purple Manga hairdo.
But I digress. Again.
So, let me play military spokesman for the next few minutes and explain. Better yet, let’s take a quote from a YouTube video called, The UFO Phoenix Lights Explained . . . 

Here's the 90 minute vid, if you can stomach it:

Video: "The UFO Phoenix Lights Explained."
Uh, yeah, right. Trust Cap'n Aux on this, not these whack jobs!
Direct Link:

“Military personnel claim that the lights were created by high intensity flares from an Air Force A-10 aircraft . . .”

Oh, those pesky Air Force spokesman, raining on our space alien parade with some cockamamie B.S. about flares from an aircraft! (I especially love how the video uses the loaded word, “claim,” as if to say, “Yeah, right, we know you’re B.S.‘ing us, you nefarious government lackies!”)

Except, in this case, our “nefarious government lackies” are dead on correct.

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A-10 Warthog flares—although NOT the type of parachute flares ejected that evening.

The video goes on to say, “but many Phoenix residents found the government’s explanation difficult to swallow.”

Well, this Phoenix resident “swallowed” it. Why? Because I've seen the exact same flares dozens of times from the air!

"The 'Mysterious Phoenix Lights' can't even be called 'UFO's'"

One “witness,” supposedly a doctor of some kind (the video implying, Here’s a smart person. Believe her!), claimed to have seen the same lights several years earlier, and then again in the same place on the fabled night of March 13, 1977. Well, I completely believe her: she did see the same thing. She just doesn’t know what she saw.

"Great story, Doctor. We believe you! Now, smile for the camera..."
Why? Because, despite her implied intelligence, she has no frame of reference by which to identify them for what they really are. Nor does she have the experience of an "aerial perspective" by which to judge their correct size and distance. So, her brain conjures up the only "plausible" explanation that she can think of.

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Again, having no frame of reference nor perspective, some witnesses even played "connect the dots" and describe one gigantic boomerang ship. Artist renderings and computer generated simulations in this video and others attempt to back up what these people supposedly saw. These renderings jump to fantastic conclusions, such as enormous hulls miles long, or perfectly aligned triangles that the real footage doesn’t show.

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Based on these descriptions, One UFO “expert” in the video even concludes, “. . . it was evolving as a flying was able to make its wings bigger,’s not flares, it’s not A-10 aircraft in’s an unknown.”


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Psychologists have long known that the human mind fills in the blanks where it can’t comprehend what it is observing, and this is exactly the case with the witnesses who described the alleged “boomerang ship.”

We know this, because other witnesses flatly contradict the boomerang ship version. Police officer Dennis Monroe said, “I saw stars between the lights.”  Moreover, MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) Investigator Alan Morey, observing from Scottsdale, said, “They were five independent objects because we could see stars between them.”

"Evolving, mile-long spaceships are more plausible than flares?
WTF, over!"

So much for an "evolving flying machine." Thanks, Mr. UFO expert, but I prefer the raw, wobbly-formation footage to discern what actually happened.

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"Roger, Moonbase. Interceptor One launching now.
Umm...could somebody pull the strings on our plastic model, please?"

Occam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation tends to be the most likely. This has been one of science’s principle guiding maxims since the 14th Century. But, again, that doesn’t keep UFO “experts” from touting the lights as extraterrestrial.

It’s mind-boggling to me to think that (presumably) perfectly normal, semi intelligent people, when confronted with something they can’t immediately grasp, would jump to the most fantastic of conclusions, while an every day, mundane, boring explanation is far more likely to be true. Furthermore, the instant you try to explain the mundane, they get defensive and claim you’re covering up! This must be the frustration the Air Force feels when it explains a UFO as, say, Venus, or a weather balloon, or a rocket test.

The video expert supposedly “analyzes the data” (whatever that means, no explanation given), and concludes, quite emphatically: 

“Our contention is that there is no scientific data that they were flares! We came to conclusion that they were orbs!”

"My response? Bwahahahahaha!"
My response?


ORBS? REALLY? That one just gets me!

I wouldn’t know the difference between a flare and an orb, but the expert’s implication is that it’s either some fantastic interstellar machine from the Andromeda galaxy, or some hyperdimensional cosmic vortex apparition.

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SHADO's Top Secret Moonbase!
A great use for recycled soccer balls.
Dude, I don’t care how emphatic you get, it’s like trying to tell a pilot, “That thing that just passed you was a pink elephant, not a Boeing 747. No, really!” If the pilot has seen a 747 in the past, he or she is damn well gonna know the difference!

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A prized possession: a UFO lunch pail!
Oh, I would have 
killed for this!

Let me further explain why I know it was flares:

  • The lights are the exact size, luminoscity and color that I've seen many times.
  • The vids depict a new light popping up once every 30 seconds or so—exactly the way I've seen them in the past.
  • The lights "bend" downward, the first lights being "lowest"—exactly the way parachute flares slowly descend over the battlefield.
  • The lights stay illuminated for several minutes before "disappearing, as if shooting off at a fantastic speed"—exactly the same length of time and way I've seen them fade out.
  • I've talked to PHX Air Traffic Controllers first hand who say there was nothing on the radar scopes that night, although they fielded dozens of calls reporting them (flares do not show up on ATC radar.)
  • I recently had a fellow company pilot on my jumpseat who was flying that night and saw them. He agreed, they were the same flares we've seen many times before.

blog, airline, avgeek, cap'n aux, cap'n, capn, captain, aux, aviation, UFO, phoenix lights

As for the claims by witnesses and "experts":
  • The "downward bend" I described above is what is responsible for witnesses describing a "boomerang"-shaped object.
  • Since the winds and timing blow the flares in a less than perfectly symmetrical way, it appeared from certain viewpoints that one was "ahead" of the others, like the point of light at the nexus of a boomerang.
  • The witnesses' minds conjured up the lights as being "perfectly symmetrical," despite the vids and photos showing otherwise.
  • Some witnesses' minds conjured up the lights as being one giant ship, despite others reporting seeing stars between them.
  • "Experts" claim that flares don't fit the eyewitness accounts, because no parachutes nor smoke trails were observed; however, due to the vast distance between the flares and the eyewitnesses, they could only have seen the lights anyway—further convincing said witnesses that they were (cough cough) "orbs."

blog, airline, avgeek, cap'n aux, cap'n, capn, captain, aux, aviation, UFO, phoenix lights

The very pilot who ejected the flares, Lt. Col. Ed Jones, was tracked down years later. He said the lights were flares dropped during nighttime exercises at the Barry M. Goldwater Range. On the way back to Tucson, not far from Gila Bend, Jones says, he reminded pilots to eject their leftover parachute flares.  He went on to say that can't believe a decision to eject a few leftover flares turned into a UFO furor that continues to this day.

Jones says, "All this stuff just blew up."

blog, airline, avgeek, cap'n aux, cap'n, capn, captain, aux, aviation, UFO, phoenix lights
“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains,
however improbable, must be the truth.”
—Sherlock Holmes

If I could, I would say Sherlock's wise words to the witnesses of the "Mysterious Phoenix Lights." Except in this case, "what remains" is not only probable, but a ho-hum, every day occurrence.

Albeit one that has bamboozled millions around the world . . . .

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If you're a UFO buff, take heart: I never said there aren't any UFO's out there. I am merely debunking the Phoenix Lights as nothing special. In fact, I believe "flying saucers from outer space" may even exist!
"While I've never seen a flying saucer from the cockpit, I did see one when I was a kid"


According to the Drake Equation, there could be up to 12,000 civilizations in our galaxy. If true, then it's plausible that some could be advanced enough to travel between the stars.

"Cap'n Aux, you have traffic 12 o'clock, type unknown, moving at Warp Factor 2!"

While I have never seen a "UFO" from the cockpit (in the flying saucer sense of the word, that is), I saw one—actually two—flying saucer UFO's when I was a kid.

I was at an outdoor public event, with thousands of people around. I happened look up into the Phoenix night sky. To my surprise, I saw two perfect yellow discs of light, flying in formation, across the sky. I was so shocked I didn't even point and shout out, "UFO!" Years later, I began to doubt my own eyes, until, sitting around a campfire telling UFO stories, a friend described seeing the exact same thing on the exact same night!

Now, how reliable is a kid as a witness to a UFO event? Not much, obviously. I have no idea how big nor small they were, as I had no "frame of reference" to discern dimensions or distance.

Like our bamboozled witnesses to the Phoenix Lights, I may not be able to comprehend what I witnessed, but "I know what I saw."

Sherlock Holmes may have something to say to all of us "witnesses" about that:

“You see, but you do not observe.” 
—Sherlock Holmes
blog, airline, avgeek, cap'n aux, cap'n, capn, captain, aux, aviation, UFO, phoenix lights

And that, My Dear Watson, is elementary.

blog, airline, avgeek, cap'n aux, cap'n, capn, captain, aux, aviation, UFO, phoenix lights

Just because it's so much fun, let's go "Back to the corny Future" and enjoy the opening sequence to our fabled TV series, UFO!:


Related Cap'n Aux Posts

  • Stranger Than Fiction!:
  • The Life Aquatic and the Battle for Air Supremacy:

  • Related Links

  • Occam's Razor-Wiki:'s_razor
  • Drake's Equation-Wiki:
  • Pilot Debunks Phoenix Lights:
  • The PHX Lights were flares. Deal with it:
  • Deal with it, redux—Popular Mechanics weighs in:
  • ..& one fun one: UFO! The TV Series:

  • To be fair, here's a few links from "the other side" of the argument:

  • link from UFO Case Book:
  • Vid: "I know what I saw":
  • PHX Lights a psych warfare experiment?:
  • UFO Chronicles:
  • —  —  —  —  —  —  —

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    1. When the whole thing first broke, some smart fellow went, in daytime, to the exact spot that one of the films was made and got a picture pointing in the same direction. He composited this image of south mountain on the supposed UFO film. Once that was done, you could see each light was falling, only to wink out just when it hit the edge of South Mountain.

      It was an nice piece of work, which, along with the rest of the proper debunking that was done, was mostly ignored.

      Just a few years after that, some more lights were seen, and the press started going on again about the stupid "UFO's" just as though it never been debunked.

      1. Crazy, isn't it, Wayne? amazing how people will ignore obvious facts as if it's some vast government cover-up! Those little green men from the Pleides must be LMAO at us!

        Thanks for your comment!

    2. You had me at "It's OUT!!!" I'm so happy for you!!!
      Excellent write up! Now... about the UFOs. I believe. I saw one. Okay... all those around me are usually IFOs... but there was one and I can confirm: It was unidentified!

      1. Very cool, Karlene! I hope to see one some day from the cockpit as well. But I'm usually too busy reading with the lights up bright, to see any playing around our ship in the middle of the night!

        Barnes and Noble STILL doesn't have October issue of Airways...grr, I'm chomping at the bit to see it, lol!

        Thanks for commenting, and looking forward to your "Blogging in Formation" entry next week!

    3. I read the book and loved it...couldn't put it down! I haven't seen the magazine yet, but I do love "Airways" and promise to pick up a copy before they're all gone.

      As always, wonderful post.

      1. Excellent, Brad! Glad you loved it! And glad you liked my post! Who doesn't like a little UFO tale, eh?!

        Hoping (trying not to grovel here) for possibly a review of 'The Last Bush Pilots' on your site at when you have time--since you loved it and all! ;-)

        Thanks for the comment!

    4. UFO story made me laugh (WTF...Over?), Thanks! FYI- Sagan claims he never actually said "billions and billions", however, his final book was humorously titled "B&B".
      Of course, the real question for Mr. Spock is, "Why, damn it? Why were there parachute flares aglow in the desert sky on that fateful night? And who or WHAT lit them.... ;-) --Mark

    5. Were the Phoenix Lights a real alien thing?
      End Of Summer

    6. Great article it was such an interesting and informative article.
      Star Shower Laser Lights


    Sorry, folks, due to more spamming, Word Verification is back on. If you have trouble posting, please email your comments to me and I will post it for you!