It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… not an alien spaceship

By Phil Plait | March 16, 2005 4:05 pm

So for about the past ten years, I’ve been saying that the vast majority of things reported as UFOs are more mundane objects, like birds, airplanes, satellites, Venus, what-have-you.

I have seen for myself countless times that people simply are not familiar with the sky, and so they routinely misinterpret what they see. Most people, for example, don’t know that you can even see man-made satellites in the sky (not only can you see them, you can even predict when and where you’ll see them).

So this article from Dubbo, Australia comes as no surprise to me. A woman reported a UFO to the police:

Suzanne Fuller had called police on Sunday night to report seeing the object “about 50 miles away” in sky’s [sic] south-east.

Shaky video footage of the object was later viewed by police who made an official report to Air Services Australia (ASA), and sent them a copy of the tape.

“It looked like a bird, but much larger… with a flat top and a deeper shape at the bottom,” was how Mrs Fuller described what she had seen in the sky “for five hours”.

So what was it?

Last Sunday night, for five hours, [Paul Cremin] was flying a ‘delta coyne’ [sic; that should be Delta-Conyne] kite 140 metres in the air – directly in the part of the sky that Suzanne Fuller and her family reported seeing a UFO.

The UFO in questionThe UFO in question. Beware of probing.

I’ve seen mylar balloons and kites that really do move around in the sky exactly the same way people describe a lot of “UFOs”. I was myself once (almost) fooled by a flock of ducks…

Anyway, when you hear someone describe an object that danced and weaved, or glowed brightly, or hovered then suddenly moved off, don’t jump to conclusions. There might be a string attached.

By the way, I’ve been to Dubbo. I was there in November 2004, during a whirlwind tour of Australia. We stopped in Dubbo, where I ate a meat pie, had a pretty good fruit smoothie, and drove through an epic locust invasion. Those were definitely identified flying objects, but it was still pretty weird. Even for Australia.


Comments (21)

  1. yeah, well, that’s Australia for you. I bet you don’t get any wacky UFO stories in the USA eh?

  2. spacewriter

    Welcome to the wacky world of blogs, BA! I’ve been writing mine for a couple of years now and it’s nothing if not mind-freeing to get those thoughts down every day!

    If you really want something to shoot down, try this one: a lady here in the Boston area who thinks the Virgin Mary has appeared on the side of her dirty cooking pan. There’s not a link on our local news yet, but the 6 p.m. news spent two minutes on this dingbat’s claims.

    And they wonder why we get cynical young!


    You Know Who

  3. Scott

    Do you think the test flight of planes like the Stealth Fighter explained alot of the UFO sightings out west?

  4. Jon

    Very nice to hear that people still look for rational explanations for these things. However, I was puzzled by one strange sighting the other night. The Ozarks Amateur Astronomers Club was having our annual Messier Marathon and around 2am, one of our members noticed a light flashing around every minute or two. It appeared to be around 2nd or 3rd magnitude and was located in Leo. It stayed very still. No apparent motion was made out during that period. I attempted to find it in a telescope, but was only able to get it in my finderscope. I’m still not sure what it was, but at least I’m not running around calling the police and putting on tin foil hats.

  5. Andromeda321

    Wait, what now? There was an epic locust invasion in Australia last fall? Whyever was I not informed?
    Anyway great blog BA, I’ll be sure to stop by often. :-)

  6. W.F. Tomba

    As I was walking home tonight I saw a huge, ghostly-pale, boomerang-shaped light hovering above the church across the street from me. It appeared to be “melting” and changing shape. Spooky, huh? Luckily, I had been out a few minutes earlier and had seen the moon in that spot before the sky clouded over. The mysterious light was scattered moonlight leaking through a crack in the clouds. I could easily imagine someone mistaking it for an alien spacecraft, though!

  7. James (Doodler)

    I think some of the ‘black triangle’ sightings were later attributed to the F-117A and B-2, though most were probably more mundane than that.

    Whenever I hear about sightings in that area, I figure the Skunk Works crew is working on something and leave it at that. Some people just need to get beyond the childish idea that “black” projects are in some way insidious.

    If they think some of these planes have oddball and unusual shapes not typically attributed to normal aircraft, I have only to direct them to Scaled Composite’s work. I’m sure Tacit Blue, the precursor to the F-117A, probably caused a few sightings, and that thing would look like a flying brick from some angles. Bernoulli allows for a lot of creative solutions to heavier than air craft and I’ll bet there are a few test bed craft in some Air Force hangar out there that will never see the light of day, which equal or exceed the asthetic oddness in Rutan’s aircraft.

  8. Gryfin210

    I was watching one of those UFO documentaries(don’t remember which network it was on, it might have been the history channel), and they were interviewing some family that had all seen and videotaped a UFO. The “craft” looked like a flat glowing line that kept jumping back and forth across the field of view. The family said that they thought it could sense them and and was responding to their motions. The footage had me stumped for a while, until I realized that what I was looking at was the reflection on taught horizontal nylon fishing line(or maybe a spider’s thread) that was only a few feet away from the camcorder! No wonder they thought it was responding to them, if you shifted just a fraction of a millimeter, the reflection would move!

  9. Michelle Rochon

    I remember some evening… September 15th 2004! I felt like going outside suddenly and gaze up at the stars. So I thought, “Why not”? The sky is there, always waiting to be looked at, always wanting attention, when the clouds aren’t in the way! So I put on my coat and went out. I let my eyes adapt to the darkness a bit, and then I looked up. That’s when I saw IT.

    Yes, IT, 3 moving dots of light. I think it was crossing Cygnus… Slowly, slowly… I was pretty startled! I saw a lot of satellites, but never a flock of satellites before! I went inside, grabbed my binoculars, and went back outside! I gazed at them through the binoculars, didn’t see much more, of course… But after a while…
    …They vanished…
    Was I seeing things? What was this strange thing I saw? Aliens cruising by our planet in a galactic tour? Probably!!…not. No, I had the brilliant idea to ask on the Bad Astronomy forums. Figured that I wasn’t the only one that saw such a group before. The thread even still exists on the boards! (Thread name: “I think I need new glasses” in ‘General Astronomy’)

  10. Doug McElroy

    I vividly recall a TV show, like on Discovery maybe, where they were
    talking about Crop Circles. They were talking to people who MADE them.
    One of them said that one night, when they were making some Crop Circles
    they noticed some people about looking for UFOs. The fellow coyly said,
    “We felt they shouldn’t be disappointed.” They sent up a teathered weather
    balloon with a flashing strobe light. Sure enough, several UFO reports came
    out the next day, some of them saying the object moved hundreds of miles
    an hour! And made impossible right-angle turns! Oooooooooooh

  11. kiless of JREF.

    Pish! Thankfully not all Aussies are that way… you never did finish off your tale for me about your travels in Australia. I think you told me as far as Parkes? :( Maybe next TAM. :)

  12. Robert

    I came home late one night and as I got out of my car I saw a flashing light moving in a way that seemed impossible. Instant direction changes, tight turns etc. The object appeared to me to be several thousand feet up. As I watched it and considered going in and getting my video camera, I thought to myself “I can’t believe I am actually seeing this” After about a minute I noticed that there was a slight swooshing sound whenever this thing would move. I started walking towards it and through some trees until I came to a park. In the park were a couple of very drunk men flying a black kite with a flashing LED attached to it.

  13. Zamboni Schwartz

    The kite in question is not called a delta-coyne, but a Delta-Conyne. (notice spelling). And so for kites with flashing lights attached, just go to They have a very good selection of “Fly by night” LED lights for your kite as well as flashing multicolored lightweight strobes. Attaching htese to maneuverable 3 or 4 line kites is especially fun. Freak out the neighborhood, or use to educate. Or just have fun with a cool light-up flying toy ūüėČ

    As for the formation sattelites, they are referred to as “Project WhiteCloud Triads”. I remember first reading about them around 99 in Astronomy magazine. I just wish heavens above would add them to their sattelite tracking website.

  14. Thanks Zamboni. The incorrect name was in the original article I quoted, so I added a “sic” there.

  15. Stefanf

    Another thing that bothers me is how people seem to think that the word “UFO” means “alien spacecraft”. Argh, no it doesn’t! If you *knew* it was an alien spacecraft, it wouldn’t be an UNIDENTIFIED flying object, now would it?
    Perhaps the craze would diminish a bit if instead of UFOs we’d call them WHQFOWIIBWSINUs (suggested pronunciation: whak-fo-weeb-wi-si-nu): We Haven’t Quite Figured Out What It Is, But We’re Sure It’s Nothing Unusual.

  16. Zeb Rice

    I once saw a WHQFOWIIBWSINU!

    I think it was an experimental type of airplane.

  17. Apestench

    As a physics teacher, I often have students asking me whether I believe in UFOs. I tell them yes, there are some things seen flying that haven’t been identified, yet. Then they ask me about Roswell. Here is what I find interesting. They ask “Why doesn’t the government just release the information they have about the Roswell crash?” They seem surprised when I tell them that in 1998 the government DID release the information because the statute of limitations had run out under the Freedom of Information Act. The information said it was a top secret (at the time) Air Force project. One student then told me he still didn’t believe it because the government was just telling us what they want us to hear. I asked him, “If I took you to Area 51, Hangar 18 and showed you the wreckage, would you believe then?” He said “No, the government is just showing you what they want you to see.” I asked “What could I show you to prove to you that it was not a flying saucer?” He said “Nothing, because I know that’s what it was.”
    The problem is not that people can’t believe the government. It’s that they WON’T believe the government.
    Another thought, It’s funny how farmers seem to know more about what alien spaceships look like than Air Force people know about what their planes look like. This thought occurs when an Air Force person says that a UFO was a plane but the farmer insists it was a spacecraft.

  18. I wonder how a farmer would feel about an Air Force pilot trying to tell him the difference between a bull and a cow. Everyone loves conspiracy theories. They are as American as yelling at the umpire at a baseball game. It makes great sport and great entertainment. It only becomes dangerous when certain crackpots take it so seriously they get on Art Bell and get everybody all worked up over something that should be taken with a grain of salt at the most.

  19. Ken Gayley

    Didn’t Feynman once say something about it being much easier to
    believe in the well-known irrationality of terrestrial intelligence than
    the unknown rationality of extraterrestrial intellience?

  20. Actor Dan Aykroyd is the spokesman for a video production claiming that the government has been hiding evidence that benevolent intelligent extraterrestrials have been observing our progress:…6&q=nasa+video

    A believing woo has introduced a thread promoting the film on the message board at You may enjoy taking part in the discussion:…/ShowPost.aspx

  21. corey

    I was just reading the comment on march 17 05 Gryfin210 , I did not see the documentry that he is refering to but I would imagine that if the couple were filming the sighting they would have got the camera to film the unexplained that they where seeing, so the cobweb on the camera is not a plausible explanation,


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