By: David Bloomberg Re: It Must Be Real! From _Skeptical Briefs_, December 1995; originall

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By: David Bloomberg Re: It Must Be Real! From _Skeptical Briefs_, December 1995; originally published in _Phactum_, the newsletter for the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking. It Must Be Real -- A Pilot Saw It! by Don Wright As an airline pilot, I'm one of a relatively small number of professional sky watchers. I can tell a lenticular cloud from a cumulonimbus cloud at a hundred miles, and I can rattle off the definition of an isobar from memory. But I've been fooled a couple of times by common-place airborne events in my 30-year career. Prior to a takeoff several years ago in Concord, California, three of us (young, bright-eyed airline pilots with about 12,000 flying hours among us) spotted what could only be described as a classic UFO. It was silvery and silent, about the size of a Boeing 707 at jet altitude and maneuvering like no aircraft on this earth. Accerlating to well beyond Mach 1, it suddenly stopped, backed up, and flew off at an odd angle--impossible aerodynamically and certainly tough on any occupants. "That's got to be a UFO," we all agreed, watching it gyrate toward the western horizon beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. We'd probably be confirmed UFO believers to this day had we turned round and sprinted for the _Enquirer_ hot line, but unfortunately for our careers as talk show guests we stayed to watch the high-flying machine. Just as our UFO was about to disappear beyond a line of trees, it unaccountable appeared a hundred feet away on out side of the trees. Instantly the illusion deconstructed into a milkweek seed drifting in the wind. Three airline pilots hoodwinked by a piece of fluff floating in the air. A few years later, flying over Eastern Canada on my way to London, I was admiring a spectacular display of aurora borealis when my copilot suddenly pointed out something neither of us had ever seen before. Out to our left, something big and fully engulfed in fire was climbing at an amazing rate and rapidly overtaking us. We called Gander Center and told the controller we had visual contact with an aircraft at nin o'clock, about the size of a 747, less than a mile away and completely ablaze. The controller said he had nothing on radar, but told us there were reports coming in from aircraft in other sectors to the west. We watched this thing for perhaps 45 seconds during which time it climbed to well about 60,000 feet. Before signing off with Gander Center we learned that several aircraft, some as far away as 600 miles to the west, had all reported the same phenomenon. Returning from London two days later, Gander informed us we had been looking at a meteor entering the atmosphere somewhere over Manitoba. The apparent "climb" we saw was probably an artifact of our viewing angle of the fireball's angle of entry. So much for professional pilots' ability to discern range when size is unknown. A milkweed seed at a hundred feet resembles a jet liner at six miles. It doesn't matter who is doing the looking--airline pilot or housewife--if you don't know the range you can't estimate the size.


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