Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Professional Pilots' Rumour Network - Compare and contrast

Whilst conducting internet research for another post I plan to publish, I came across some (now quite old) posts on the following forum - Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRUNE) - a site that hosts anonymous online chatter between current and former civil/commercial aviation pilots and other aviation personnel.

A number of these posts can be said to be typical of the ridicule that anyone interested in the UFO/UAP subject attracts from those claiming to represent the 'voice of reason' in the aviation community. One classic example is this post where the mere utterance of the dreaded acronym 'UFO' leads to very toxic responses. I personally find the level of arrogance displayed and cavalier attitude demonstrated on this forum, towards the subject and those merely discussing it, to be of some concern - but not unexpected.

That's because, if one was to conduct an opinion poll in the UK today on whether regular air travellers would feel safe sitting in a plane known to be piloted by someone who claimed to have seen a UFO (despite the initials standing for Unidentified Flying Object - the 'alien' stigma attached to these letters remains), then I imagine at the very least 50 per cent of those polled would say 'no'. Coupled with the point that all pilots and civil aviation personnel generally would know their career would quickly be over if they publicly insisted on having seen a UFO (whether it had an earthly explanation or not), it's not really surprising to see why this general attitude persists to this day.

What's really interesting however, is this very rare post which demonstrates that there are pilots out there who have had some strange experiences and - quite boldly in my view - are prepared to discuss this to a limited extent on the very same forum.

Another poster in this chain does, however, offer a very valid word of caution which I have quoted below:

"...Of all the witnesses, two west country policeman are perhaps the most memorable: they had become quite famous after spending most of an evening chasing a mystery object that hovered in front of their patrol car, darting from side to side and sometimes approaching very close as they hurtled along at 90mph. I remember them being distinctly disenchanted when shown astronomical tables that placed Venus right in front of them on the straight bits of road.  

These fine officers, and most other witnesses had fallen foul of two properties of the human eye: 

Firstly, it's extreme sensitivity - the ability to easily see a 3W torch bulb suspended on a hill top 6 mi away for instance. Unfortunately, the eye is not calibrated, and a pin point source has an apparent brightness linked to the surrounding environment. That is how Venus can be described by witnesses as 'dazzling' and so on.

Secondly, once denied normal visual cues in low light situations, the eye can begin rapid involuntary movements. This makes distant light sources (eg stars, planets, satellites and aircraft) appear to 'dart' about the sky.

Just note how many UFO stories involve 'dazzling' objects that 'dart' about!
I am not suggesting that all sightings can be explained in this way. But very many can. And there are important lessons for professional observers like Pilots and Policemen. The eye can certainly deceive and the more 'expert' the witness, the more extreme the mis-interpretation of visual cues can become. That's just because we all share the same physiology and no amount of training can change that, whatever any given individual might think.

I never really gave up on the UFO idea. The astonishing and continuing discovery of hundreds of extra-solar planets in the last few years gives the whole subject new momentum. But 'investigating' the anecdotes of witnesses is a hard road that rapidly becomes impassible if any kind of objective test is applied to the data. The subject was IMHO best discussed many years ago by Prof RV Jones, the man who 'discovered' the V2 rocket. His account is here"

[the link referred to at the end of this quote seems to have changed so interested parties will need to search for "Prof RV Jones"] 

These last comments give me pause for thought about my own recent sighting described in my previous post - in that it is possible that what I saw could also have been an exceptionally bright daytime celestial object - but I guess I'll never know for sure.

Should by any remote chance, any of those pilots have read this post (the latter and earnest ones only please - captain-flashheart-and-his-laugh-I-nearly-did crew of online abusers need not apply!), I would very much be interested in hearing their full accounts - anonymously of course.

Please email: Jonathan Niven at

As far as I'm aware, it's a shame that non-U.S. aviation personnel probably can't contact NARCAP to record their accounts.

The role and function of NARCAP can be found on its website and is self-explanatory. But this site is U.S. in origin and (tellingly) there is no such equivalent body or site in the UK for example, which means BUFORA would be the next best place for such reports in this country. 

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