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Bob Davis: Aliens vs. fifth-graders

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In the mid-1970s, a pair of fifth-grade boys were inspired by a Weekly Reader article on UFOs. The gist of the brief item was how easy it was to demonstrate that all the supposed photos of alien visitors had been faked.

The pair were inspired. Inspired to prove the article wrong, that is.

They figured they could fake up UFO photos in a single afternoon after school was out. And that’s what they set out to do.

One boy borrowed his parents’ Polaroid instant camera. He then convinced his mother to fund this little experiment by paying for some black-and-white film. (The boys instinctively knew color would expose their trickery, while black-and-white would appear more sinister.)

Using just a few household items — a paper grocery bag, the plastic top to a garbage can, fishing line, a little brother’s GI Joe figure, aluminum foil — the boys created a photo gallery of an alien invasion. While a few were over the top — a GI Joe wrapped in aluminum foil, for instance — the images of the flying saucers in the distant sky and one flying over the roof of a house seemed pretty dang real, at least to the boys’ classmates who viewed the images the next day at school.

This episode had been long-forgotten until an article in last week’s New York Times described a $22 million-a-year program known in the Defense Department as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.

According to the article, “For years, the program investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times.”

That military program was officially closed in 2012, but reporting in The Times suggests that the work may still be ongoing.

One encounter — complete with video evidence captured by a U.S. military aircraft — happened on Nov. 14, 2004. U.S. Navy pilot David Fravor was flying over the Pacific Ocean when he and others in his squadron encountered “something not from the Earth.”

Fravor, who has since retired from the Navy, explained what he saw to ABC News last week:

“We look down, we see a white disturbance in the water, like something's under the surface, and the waves are breaking over, but we see next to it, and it’s flying around, and it’s this little white Tic Tac, and it’s moving around — left, right, forward, back, just random. …

“When it started to near us, as we started to descend towards it coming up, it was flying in the elongated way, so it’s [like] a Tic Tac, with the roundish end going in the forward direction ... I don't know what it is. I don’t know what I saw. I just know it was really impressive, really fast, and I would like to fly it.”

Also last week, the former head of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program told CNN that he had found evidence of aliens visiting earth.

“My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone,” Luis Elizondo said on CNN.

Two takeaways: The video of the UFO captured by a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet seems well beyond the capabilities of the most precocious of fifth-graders. Secondly, it says something about the chaos we currently find ourselves in that news of unexplained aircraft isn’t a bigger deal.

Bob Davis is editor and publisher of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter: EditorBobDavis