Does intelligent life exist outside of Earth? If so, do those lifeforms visit our planet?
These are just two of the compelling questions the nonprofit Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) seeks to answer daily.
The 52-year-old organization boasts the largest civilian database of UFO sightings and deploys certified researchers to investigate new occurrences across more than 40 countries and all 50 states. And, luckily for us, the organization recently relocated from Irvine, California to Cincinnati — permanently.
Launched in Illinois in 1969, MUFON has three goals, which its more than 600 trained investigators and 4,000 members enact:
- Investigate UFO sightings and collect the data in the MUFON database for use by researchers worldwide
- Promote research on UFOs to discover the true nature of the phenomenon, with an eye toward scientific breakthroughs, and improving life on our planet
- Educate the public on the UFO phenomenon and its potential impact on society
MUFON has moved several times since its founding and historically has been located wherever its executive director is. The organization left Cincinnati in 2012 for California, but now its nine-member board of directors has declared that MUFON is returning to the Queen City for good, setting up headquarters near Lunken Airport. Current executive director David MacDonald is based in Cincinnati (MacDonald had previously served as director, hence MUFON’s former stint in the city) .
“Cincinnati is within a six-hour drive to 80% of the nation. It is also highly valued due to its many advantages to business,” MacDonald tells CityBeat. “Cincinnati is remarkably less expensive to live in as well as do business in than Southern California. One of Cincinnati’s largest corporate headquarters once said, ‘We have two problems to being in Cincinnati — one is to get people to move here, the second is getting them to leave.’”
But besides the logistics, MacDonald says making the move to Cincinnati permanent is valuable because the area has a special connection to UFOs.
“Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base) is 45 minutes away,” he says. “There are quite a few sightings in the Tri-State area, and it was the home of one of the most famous UFO pioneers in the world, Len Stringfield.”
(Stringfield, who died in 1994, was the director of the group Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects and published a monthly newsletter devoted to UFO information, sightings and investigation.)
The topic of UFO sightings has dominated headlines recently thanks to “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” a declassified report from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This report details 144 separate unidentified aerial phenomena (or UAP, the Feds’ equivalents to “UFO”) sightings reported by military pilots between 2004 and 2021. No concrete conclusions were drawn to verify that what these pilots saw was extraterrestrial, but one UAP was confidently explained to be a deflated balloon.
While the report largely summarizes a lot of “We don’t know” activity, it also is highly significant as a first step to normalizing public disclosure regarding UFO/UAP sightings.
“It was everything we expected, which was practically nothing,” MacDonald says. “It gave up very, very little, but that’s going to be probably the first of many small releases yet to come.”
When asked if it’s up to MUFON to act as a watchdog on the government, counteracting its historically tight-lipped approach to UFO disclosure, MacDonald says that MUFON’s role is simply to see that the public has access to such releases.
“We do not see ourselves as activists. Rather, we conduct the scientific investigation of the UFO phenomenon for the betterment and education of humanity,” he says.
The organization’s move to Cincinnati is a benefit to MacDonald, who also heads Flamingo Air, an FAA-approved air carrier operation and flight school — the largest aircraft dispatch certification school in the world, MacDonald says. Both MUFON and Flamingo Air’s headquarters are at Lunken Airport. Despite both jobs demanding vigilant observation of the skies, MacDonald says there isn’t much crossover.
“We have an avionics school, we have a drone training operation, we design and do strange projects for the government. And then, for release, we give airplane rides,” MacDonald says. “I need to have everything centralized and that’s the reason for the (MUFON) move.”
MUFON moving back to Cincinnati has reignited the region’s fascination with UFO sightings, but that does not mean everybody wants to talk about UFOs. CityBeat attempted several times to interview a rep from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base regarding MUFON but did not get a response.
“I am not surprised,” MacDonald exclaims. “We have no contact at Wright-Patterson. They will admit to nothing.”
CityBeat also approached the Cincinnati Astronomical Society (CAS) to discuss UFOs. The organization declined an interview but shared ideas via email.
“As CAS is a science-based organization, we don’t have any official comment on UFOs, as people tend to immediately associate that term with extraterrestrial visitors,” Bryan Simpson, president of the CAS, writes in an email. “And as there is very little to no scientific evidence for the existence of these types of UFOs, it’s not a topic we discuss as an organization. In the nine years I’ve been a member of CAS, and having participated in nearly all member and non-member related events in that time, the discussion of UFOs is virtually non-existent. Most of our members are interested in upcoming celestial events such as eclipses, conjunctions, oppositions, as well as practicing astrophotography. But not really any discussion of little green men.”
MacDonald isn’t fazed by this kind of skepticism. It’s a major component of his job.
“Of course there’s people that will have that reaction. Fifty-two years MUFON’s been around, and there has been a concerted effort to discredit, to humiliate, to make witnesses look like fools. I mean, there’s a long, long list,” MacDonald says. “And I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories, but there is an absolute directed effort to keep this stuff quiet. What they can’t keep quiet, they ridicule. It’s starting to change and then it reached the point where this stuff was leaked — that Tic Tac video, and the government didn’t like it one damn bit.”
“Our contacts tell us, they said, ‘Every day, naval commanders are calling the Pentagon, ‘We’re being buzzed! These things are all over the place’” MacDonald adds. “We see them every day, they’re close-range and they cover this stuff up.”
The Tic Tac videos MacDonald references show a Navy F-18 fighter jet’s view of unidentified aircraft now referred to as ‘Tic Tac’ (because they were shaped like the breath mint) off the East Coast. The New York Times broke the story in 2019, which led to the videos’ eventual declassification in April 2020. That the Pentagon verified its authenticity was a major step toward regularized disclosure of UFOs sightings.
“Now this stuff is leaking, now it’s coming out and, if you think about it, hell, we all grew up with Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and, in my case, Flash Gordon,” MacDonald says. “It’s old hat. Everybody accepts the possibility now.”
He says that it’s absurd to not accept the premise of other lifeforms in the universe, and maybe more people understand that.
“When I go around and give my talks, everybody would always ask, ‘When will we hit disclosure?’ And I would tell them it’s actually begun, little things here and there, little tidbits drop here and there,” MacDonald says. “But I didn’t think I would actually see real disclosure in my lifetime, and now I’m thinking, maybe, just maybe I will see it. Every day something new is leaking out, and that’s what keeps us going.”
MUFON has hosted a UFO symposium since the 1980s. The most recent MUFON International Symposium took place at the end of August in Las Vegas and featured speakers, panels and even sessions for those who have experienced UFO phenomenon. It also boasted “military and government witnesses,” including retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Kevin Day, who saw the Tic Tac incident.
It also publishes the MUFON UFO Journal, “one of the best and most reliable UFO publications in the world.”
At the same time, there will always be people who refuse to accept anything that goes against their beliefs.
“It’s a dilemma,” MacDonald says. “You’re just going to have people that are not going to accept it. And they’re like the same people that don’t want to get vaccinated.”
MUFON is “actively recruiting” more UFO hunters and has a spot on its website where the public can report UFO sightings.
But to be a field investigator takes more than mild curiosity. MacDonald says investigators are “the foundation of MUFON.” Ideal candidates are stable, dependable and objective with hours of volunteer time available and have “an above-average interest in the UFO phenomenon.”
Each candidate has to pass a background check, attend MUFON University training online and take an exam before becoming an official trainee. After that, the trainee must shadow a professional investigator before they’re allowed out in the field alone.
The end goal is to “collect accurate data for entry into the MUFON CMS (Case Management System), which will then be used in MUFON research,” says MacDonald.
The most recent 20 sighting reports from across the globe are viewable at mufon.com. Each includes the date of the event, the location, a description and sometimes video or photos.
For example, a report from Sept. 10 in Ontario, Canada, lists an “object changing color” from over 10,000 feet in the air and includes video.
There’s also this Sept. 4 report from a member of the public in Middletown, Ohio: “I see 15 stationary objects every single night that is clear. I have a home that has blue lights that go into the sky. I’m not sure if they are attracted to this. I also live 35 miles away from Wright Patterson Air Force Base. I don’t know who else to talk to. No one believes you.”
If multiple sightings or reported events happen near the same place at the same time, “the CMS also automatically alerts the MUFON investigative team...to indicate something big is going on and that information also goes to the rapid-response teams,” reads the MUFON website.
Thomas Wertman is the state director and chief investigator of MUFON’s Ohio chapter; there are MUFON chapters in all 50 states and more than 40 international countries, including France, Italy, Iran and Cuba. A member since 2008, Wertman says his investigative techniques have caused other MUFON members to wonder if he was a skeptic, almost as if he were trying his best to prove that UFO sightings can all be easily explained away with mundane causes.
“I believe in being honest and rely on data for my findings,” Wertman says. “I’m not a skeptic, but the reality is 80%-90% of UFO reports have an explanation. On examination they may be attributed to aircraft, satellites, natural celestial objects, lens flare, atmospheric anomalies, etc.”
Wertman says flight data contributes to his ability to debunk sightings.
“Say a photograph contains an unknown object. Flight data records provide time, date, aircraft type, airspeed, altitude, direction of travel and other pertinent information,” Wertman says. “I have the ability to export the aircraft movements to Google Earth to find out if the witness may actually have photographed an aircraft.”
His attitude and methodology is useful to MUFON’s mission because, as Wertman explains, one of the most important things the organization does is record data associated with sightings. Classifying a case as unknown when it has an explanation creates inaccurate data for future research.
“When you have gone through the case and scientifically proved it is not aircraft, celestial objects, this adds value to the research,” he says. “I don’t like basing an investigation’s findings off of feelings or what someone thinks they may have seen. I like to base it on research. Solid research will also help get more of the scientific community on board.”
Wertman explains that MUFON’s investigative techniques have evolved alongside rapidly developing technology. When he joined the organization more than a decade ago, MUFON was just starting to transition to online databasing. By centralizing data electronically, it becomes much easier for investigators like Wertman to compare reports on sightings, look for patterns or inconsistencies and accomplish more thorough research overall — including research on notable sightings in Cincinnati.
But, as Wertman explains, an area with a high number of reported sightings does not automatically qualify it as a UFO hot spot.
“In Ohio, most of the sightings occur in the higher population areas. Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, then to the suburbs of these communities,” he says. “One of the issues I have when I hear of certain areas around the country being a hot spot is what data are they using to determine that. Total cases in a region is not a good method.”
“About once a year we get eight or nine cases in a night that are attributed to night sky divers using pyrotechnics,” Wertman continues. “I would prefer to look at the investigated cases that are unknown; some of the areas around (that) individuals consider hot spots may not be based on research.”
Still, there’s one case from this year that Wertman says has caused intrigue. An alleged witness was driving their car around 6:30 p.m. March 24 when they saw two white lights travel toward the northeast over I-275. The area gets a lot of air traffic and the witness said the two white lights looked like landing lights, but they were 20 to 30 feet apart. In the report, the witness claims to have watched the lights for four or five minutes before they disappeared.
“Flight data indicated no air traffic in the region,” Wertman says.
MUFON trains its investigators to identify drones and other human-controlled flying objects, and the findings on this sighting did not conclusively indicate such items. As anyone with a passing interest in UFO sightings would confirm, it’s hard to absolutely verify most reports with full confidence, hence the abundance of skepticism.
Perhaps the visiting aliens simply aren’t interested in abducting us — not until we’re all vaccinated, at least.
To learn more about MUFON, its mission or to report a UFO sighting, visit mufon.com.
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