Jets chase UFOs -- what's new?

Published Friday, Feb. 15, 2008 at 4:03 p.m.

After tendering initial denials, the Air Force admitted it dispatched F-16s — 10 of them — into the Texas skies near Stephenville on the early evening of Jan. 8. The exercise was described as a routine training mission that had nothing to do with the fact that a gigantic UFO was in the area, that dozens saw it, and that the thing appeared to be headed toward restricted airspace around President Bush’s Crawford ranch.

But military pilots do chase UFOs. It’s a secret, but it’s not. Like airborne missiles and unidentified submarines, UFOs are itemized suspects in flight manuals, and filing procedures are detailed under Communications Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings.

As California researcher John Greenewald discovered years ago, those CIRVIS reports are forwarded to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, with this Catch-22 attached by Peterson Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Northern Command: “NORAD is a binational command established by Volume 33, United States Treaties (UST) page 1277 subject to control of both Canadian and U.S. Government agencies as defined in the Act and consequently is not subject to US FOIA.”

You get the picture.

But there was a time, half a century ago, before the curtain came down for good, when its official investigations were still marginally in the public domain, that the USAF acknowledged the seriousness of what it was up against.

The UFO wave that crested above the nation’s capitol in July 1952 is largely forgotten, but last year, a book called “Shoot Them Down” took another look at what may well have happened when the Pentagon directed its pilots to open fire.

Tedious, meandering, weighted with superfluous details, and enthusiastically speculative, Frank Feschino’s self-published “Shoot Them Down” hasn’t made it out of the UFO subculture. But maybe it should. After 17 years of combing through accident reports and newspaper archives and traveling countless miles to interview eyewitnesses, Feschino has assembled a portrait of a response system in disarray during the early days of the phenomenon.

“Just look at the numbers,” says the professional artist from his home in Port Orange. “We lost a hell of a lot of planes and pilots on ‘routine missions.’ ”

Next time: The numbers.

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