PITTSBURGH — While the Kecksburg UFO sighting has become a quaint part of local lore, more recent reports of unexplained aerial phenomena are getting serious attention from Congress, the U.S. military and longtime UFO watchers.
"It's not going away," said retired journalist Bob Gatty. "Whether you believe or don't believe in this stuff, the fact remains there is a lot happening for some reason."
Gatty, who originally reported on the Kecksburg incident for the Tribune-Review in 1965, recently noted on his blog NotFakeNews.biz that the Navy has issued new guidelines to fighter pilots regarding UFO sightings, and members of Congress are seeking more frequent briefings on the subject.
"Congress apparently is taking this stuff — at least the Navy reports — seriously," said Gatty, 76, a former Sykesville, Jefferson County, resident who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Meanwhile, longtime local UFO researcher Stan Gordon said there has been a "surge" in sightings of unexplained phenomena in western Pennsylvania — whether extraterrestrial or not.
"We keep getting reports of very strange things that people see around here," said Gordon, 69, of Greensburg. "We've had a surge of UFO and Bigfoot activity in the area in the last couple of weeks. Many of these sightings are very detailed reports."
While sightings usually spike in the spring and summer, when people are outside more, reports in 2018 and 2019 have been more consistently year-round, he said. Sightings are mostly of unexplained things in the sky or of earthbound cryptids — animals such as Bigfoot, whose existence is unsubstantiated.
Gordon has spent the past 54 years investigating the Kecksburg incident, when on Dec. 9, 1965, people across six states and Canada reported seeing a fireball streak across the sky before crashing into a wooded area in Mt. Pleasant Township.
Though other sightings don't get the attention of Kecksburg, Gordon says they still persist — and they get documented on his website StanGordon.info. He first set up a hotline to report sightings in Pennsylvania in 1969.
"In all the years I've done this, I've never seen (a UFO or Bigfoot) myself, but I've interviewed thousands of witnesses," he said. "Every year . we're getting very detailed reports from credible people that you cannot easily dismiss."
Upon investigation, many "sightings" end up having either natural or man-made causes — a bear or a large, shaggy dog or a hunter wearing camouflage, he said. Most end up on the growing repository of unexplained phenomena, with no conclusive explanation.
Gordon's website documents mostly Pennsylvania sightings — the most recent one in June near the Youngstown side of Chestnut Ridge. The National UFO Reporting Center in Harrington, Wash., documents sightings from across the United States, Canada, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The center's website, NUFORC.org, ranks Pennsylvania seventh in total UFO sightings (3,937 reported, dating to 1947) and notes that sightings so far this year (84) nearly equal the total number for 2018. Among the most recent was an anonymous report from Greensburg.
The report was of unidentifiable lights moving slowly, perfectly spaced apart, and of a red/orange round object or cylinder moving east and west, according to NUFORC. The sighting around 10 p.m. July 5 lasted six minutes.
Other recent sightings in the region reported to NUFORC include:
. July 4 — An orange-red sphere spotted around 10 p.m. in both Erie and Cecil, Washington County.
. June 28 — A person reported seeing a shiny silver disc or saucer overhead in Mt. Lebanon at 8:35 p.m. After about 15 minutes, it disappeared.
. June 23 — An Elizabeth resident reported seeing five amber-colored, circular shapes move in all directions in the sky and then form an arrowhead shape before disappearing after about 4 minutes.
Peter Davenport, NUFORC director, has been collecting such data for 25 years.
"All you need is one good report to tell you what's going on," he said, noting that credible reports in the United States date to at least the 1940s and '50s.
In 2004, Davenport presented a paper to the Mutual UFO Network on the use of "passive radar" for detecting UFOs in the near-earth environment. "If that signal were to strike an anomalous target . it would be reflected back down to ground level. We can use that for detecting anomalous targets," he said.
Davenport said his proposal reached the Central Intelligence Agency and garnered a complimentary response from a CIA agent. He also has met with FBI agents, who "were obviously very interested in some of the data" on the NUFORC website.
Notwithstanding the wealth of credible reports, Davenport said solving the mystery of UFOs will require "a government that still serves the people. The government has known about the UFO phenomenon for a long time."
Unverified sightings from civilians are one thing, but sightings by Navy fighter pilots have reached the highest echelons of the U.S. government, according to To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science, or TTSA, a public benefit corporation that seeks to advance public understanding and government research of unexplained aerial phenomena.
Former Pentagon intelligence official Christopher Mellon, an adviser to TTSA, wrote in the Washington Post in 2018 that the existence of UFOs is no longer in question. What is lacking is a commitment from the Defense Department to investigate the growing body of evidence from the military, he said.
"There is no Pentagon process for synthesizing all the observations the military is making," wrote Mellon, a member of Western Pennsylvania's prominent Mellon family and a former Ligonier resident. "It is time to set aside taboos regarding 'UFOs' and instead listen to our pilots and radar operators."
He could not be reached for comment.
Mellon noted that one declassified video from 2015 showed two F-18 fighter pilots using an infrared sensor to engage an object that was flying at a low altitude at a high rate of speed off the East Coast but with no discernible means of propulsion.
In the video, posted on the TTSA website, the pilots react with excitement when they finally "lock on" to the object:
"Whoa! Got it!"
(Laughter) "Woo hoo!"
"What the (expletive) is that thing?!"
"Did you box a moving target?"
"No, it's in autotrack."
"Oh my gosh, dude."
"Wow! What is that, man?"
"Look at that flying!"
© 2021 Associated Press