UFOs are all the rage. There’s been an explosion of serious media interest, including a “60 Minutes” piece featuring interviews with military pilots. National leaders are also adopting a sober new attitude to the subject, with interest from former president Barack Obama (who admitted “we don’t know exactly what they are”), Senator Marco Rubio, and a number of former members of Congress.
All this attention is expected to peak in June when the Department of Defense is set to release a report on their investigations.
On the Beyond Politics show, we set out to have a serious, open-minded, and thoughtful conversation about the subject with an expert guest – Mick West – whose work explaining UFO sightings has been covered in numerous outlets. Mick also provided a detailed analysis of the videos that the Navy has already released, and you can watch that breakdown below and judge for yourself.
Watch the conversation and see the videos here:
This conversation has been edited.
Paul Hodes: It seems like you’re open-minded but respectfully skeptical on UFOs.
Mick West: Yes. A lot of the people who believe in the UFO phenomenon as something extraordinary, perhaps even extra-terrestrial, are people who have had some kind of experience themselves. So for them, it’s a deeply personal thing. You can’t just hand wave that away. You’ve actually got to look at the evidence and try to figure out what’s going on. You need to respect them.
Matt Robison: Is there a fundamental misunderstanding here? When we agree that there are objects in the sky that are not readily explainable, it doesn’t mean the same thing as saying “there are alien spacecraft .”
Mick West: Yes, when you see something in the sky and you can’t identify it, that’s really not what most people think of as a UFO. When people are talking about UFO’s they’re more concerned with things that could not possibly have a conventional explanation.
Matt Robison: Let’s look at the videos from the military. The three most prominent are called FLIR, GIMBAL, and GOFAST. Let’s start with FLIR. There’s what looks like a craft and it appears to be hovering. What’s your interpretation of that?
Mick West: It’s important to understand that we’re looking at infrared footage, which means we’re seeing a heat source. That’s why we see what looks like a big glare. That indicates to me that we’re probably looking at the back side of a craft: like a plane, an F-18, or similar.
It’s also very far away, because on the video we see the camera setting. It looks like it’s hovering. But then if you look above the object itself on the video, you will see some numbers, and one of the numbers is the heading of the camera relative to the plane. So the object is actually moving, not hovering.
So I don’t think the video is demonstrating anything amazing. I mean, it could be something amazing, but what we see on the video isn’t actually amazing.
Paul Hodes: In GIMBAL, which is definitely the weirdest looking one, there’s an object that looks like it’s kind of flying saucer shaped. On the audio the pilot notes that it’s rotating, and there’s this weird, glowing aura around it. What’s going on?
Mick West: Again, we’re looking at an infrared video and something that’s very far away. I think what we’re looking at is the glare from the engines. This video is color inverted. So, what we’re seeing is not a bright light, or a glowing aura, but a black shape in the middle of the object. This visual effect is something you can try yourself. You can take a flashlight and just simply shine it at your iPhone or something like that. When seen through a glass like the shape of the lens, and if that lens is rotated like the camera rotates here, you get what looks like a little rotating flying saucer. That’s what happens with these cameras. They’re advanced targeting forward looking infrared cameras made by Raytheon. They follow the targets with a series of internal mirrors that point the camera field of view at a particular object and rotates. So that explanation lines up with what we see in the video.
Matt Robison: The last video is called GOFAST. And what I see is this odd bullet shaped object that appears to be speeding over the surface of the ocean. So how do you explain this one?
Mick West: Well, it certainly looks like it’s going fast. The video is infrared again. If this thing was hot, it would appear as black. But the little thing that we see in this video appears as white. That means that it’s actually a cold object. Which means it’s not something like a jet.
Next, we can look at the numbers that we have on the screen. The altitude of the plane is 25,000 feet above sea level. The object is about 4.4 nautical miles away. With the angle down from the plane, using very simple high school math, we know that the plane is actually not right over the surface of the ocean, but at about 14,000 feet.
With the camera locked on the object it looks like the ocean is whizzing by because of what’s known as the parallax effect. That’s the same effect you get when you’re walking along on a moonlit night and you see the moon seeming to follow you.
So you’ve got something cold. And something moving slowly at wind speed. The obvious answer is that it’s probably a weather balloon.
Paul Hodes: I’m impressed by your logical approach, and your answers sound totally reasonable. Do you think that there is no possibility that UFOs are alien spacecraft?
Mick West: Whenever I examine a case, I try not to take any possibility off the list. I actually make a list of possibilities and then try to rank it into the order I think is the most likely. When I look at these videos, it could be some kind of advanced technology, something from the US or from another country. Or it could be aliens. But those are things that I would put much further down the list.
For more on analyzing UFO videos and sightings, including former Congressman Hodes’ own encounter, check out the whole show on video or podcast, and please subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google, Anchor, Breaker, Pocket, RadioPublic, or Stitcher
Matt Robison is a writer and political analyst who focuses on trends in demographics, psychology, policy, and economics that are shaping American politics. He spent a decade working on Capitol Hill as a Legislative Director and Chief of Staff to three Members of Congress, and also worked as a senior advisor, campaign manager, or consultant on several Congressional races, with a focus in New Hampshire. In 2012, he ran a come-from-behind race that national political analysts called the biggest surprise win of the election. He went on to work as Policy Director in the New Hampshire state senate, successfully helping to coordinate the legislative effort to pass Medicaid expansion. He has also done extensive private sector work on energy regulatory policy. Matt holds a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Swarthmore College and a Master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He lives with his wife and three children in Amherst, Massachusetts.