A Pilot Comments on UFOs

May 12, 2014

James McGaha and I have another investigative article in Skeptical Inquirer—indeed another SI cover story. Titled “Mount Rainier: ‘Saucer’ Magnet” (May/June 2014), it presents the solutions to two important UFO cases occurring at or near Rainier: Kenneth Arnold’s “flying saucers” of 1947 and a lesser-known cold case of 1896 (during the great “airship fever”). We also discuss how a mountain like Rainier helps to form saucer-shaped, lenticular clouds—sometimes seeming almost as active as a bubble machine.

Our article got us a complimentary and interesting letter from Delta Air Lines Captain Paul Corbin, together with the accompanying photo.

He writes: “This picture was taken in January 2014 from my cockpit—another example of lenticular/mountain cap cloud formation over Mt. Rainier. . . . As a 34-year professional aviator (USAF/Northwest/Delta Air Lines), I’ve seen many lenticular cloud formations (a good thing to avoid as they are usually associated with nasty turbulence) as well as a number of other sights that are puzzling to some.”

Capt. Corbin continues: “In my experience, the number one object in the night sky most often confused with another aircraft is Venus, particularly when low on the horizon. When we are up at altitude, say 35,000 feet, and Venus is rising, we see it through even more layers of atmosphere than an observer on the ground. It flashes red and green due to its refracted light and looks just like the position lights and red beacon of another airliner. I hear pilots all the time asking ATC [air traffic control] to identify the aircraft they ‘see’ that isn’t there.”

A longtime CSI member and SI subscriber, Capt. Corbin often educates his fellow pilots and friends “regarding unidentified objects in the sky.” As he says, “This usually opens up the discussion to all things requiring skepticism,” and for that he thanks CSI, adding, “Keep up the good work.”

Thank you, Captain Corbin, for your dedication to us and our scientific mission, as well as for your service to our country and to the safety of the flying public for decades.