Summary: Overview and analysis of the Phoenix Lights incident from About.com and Loy Lawhon.
Thursday, March 13, 1997
The first reported sighting was by a former police officer who reported that he and his family had witnessed some unusual lights moving very rapidly across the night sky near Paulden, about 30 miles north of Prescott. He described what they saw as a very strange cluster of distinctly red-orange lights, which consisted of 4-5 red lights "in the lead," followed by a single light which appeared to be "standing back from the others." The lights in the lead gave the impression of being in a "V" formation, somewhat like a wedge or boomerang in shape.
Callers from Prescott and Prescott Valley, approximately 50 miles north of Phoenix, reported that at approximately 8:17 p.m., they witnessed 4 or 5 very bright white lights pass overhead. They reported that what they saw seemed to be a triangular-shaped object with a complex grouping of lights along its sides. One witness was standing outside with his wife and sons in Prescott Valley when they noticed a cluster of lights to in the west-northwest. The lights formed a triangle, but all of them appeared to be red except for a light at the "nose" of the object, which was white. They observed for several minutes as the lights passed directly over their heads, banked to the right, and then disappeared to the southeast. All of the observers described the lights as gliding soundlessly through the night sky. There was absolutely no sound at all coming from them.
The report came from Dewey, AZ, about ten miles south of Prescott. Six people driving north on Highway 69 towards Prescott witnessed a large cluster of lights in the form of a "V" shape in the sky. They pulled off the road into a grocery store parking lot and got out of their car in order to get a better look at the lights. By then, the lights were directly above them, where they appeared to hover for several minutes. The caller, an experienced flyer, reported that the object defined by the lights was so large that, if he clenched his fist and held it at arm’s length, he could not cover the size of the object with his fist. He estimated the completely silent object to be not over 1,000 feet above the ground and moving at a very slow pace, considerably slower than an aircraft would fly.
The next reports were from Chino Valley, Tempe, Glendale, and Phoenix. Generally, the sightings seemed to move southward from Paulden to Prescott to Phoenix and finally towards Casa Grande and then Tucson.
A report from Chandler, Arizona states that a man and his wife saw the formation of lights at 8:30 p.m.
In Tucson a man watched the formation of lights from 8:45 to after 9:00 p.m. He reported that the lights came from the northwest, flew overhead for 5-10 minutes, and then disappeared to the south as they moved off over the mountains.
One of the later reports was from Kingman, AZ, where a young man, enroute to Los Angeles, called from a phone booth to report having seen a large cluster of lights moving slowly in the northern sky. Note that Kingman is back towards the north, in the direction of Las Vegas.
The next day, March 14, The Air Force disavowed any knowledge of the sightings, even refusing to admit receiving and phone reports of the sightings at Luke AFB (near Phoenix) on March 13. This in spite of a rumor that an operator at Luke had told a caller that she was being flooded with UFO calls that night and in spite of individuals' phone bills, which prove that they called the base that night.
The National UFO Reporting Center reportedly received a telephone call on March 14 from a person who identified himself as an airman stationed at Luke Air Force Base. The caller said two F-15c fighters were scrambled from Luke, and that one of the aircraft had "intercepted" a gigantic object over the intersection of Indian School Road and 7th Avenue. It was also reported by this individual that the onboard radar of the intercepting fighter had suddenly gone to a condition of "white noise," and that the lights on the anomalous object simultaneously had suddenly dimmed in unison and disappeared from the pilot’s sight.
Top Secret Aircraft?
The government says flares...
When later investigations by the Arizona National Guard found that the visiting Maryland Air National Guard was running an exercise called Operation Snowbird along the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range to the southwest of Tucson on the evening of March 13, the Air Force suddenly found its voice. The Arizona Air National Guard learned that the Maryland force flew eight A-10s and dropped left-over high-intensity flares on the way back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base at Tucson. A Davis-Monthan flight schedule showed that a squadron of Operation Snowbird planes left at 8:15 p.m. on March 13 and returned at 10:30 p.m. A spokesman for Luke Air Force Base confirmed that the Maryland planes were authorized to use the Goldwater range from 9:30 to 10:00 that night.
An Air Force spokesman said:
It's standard to use flares with the A-10 because it operates very low and very slow over a battlefield, which makes it very susceptible to heat-seeking missiles," he says. "They use them as a decoy for surface to air missiles and they will do that during training. Basically, any missiles that are fired will track after the flares and not the aircraft.... I was speaking with some of our experts here and they said the kind of flares that they use are attached to a parachute and when they are jettisoned from 6,000 feet, you can see them from about 150 miles away.
After their flare exercises at Goldwater, the planes began to fly back toward Tucson but suddenly realized that they had extra flares. According to the story, base rules prohibit planes with flares from landing and so as they were leaving the range the planes jettisoned their flares.
The media jumped on this explanation and declared that the Phoenix UFO mystery had been explained.
What's wrong with this picture?
At 8:17 p.m., as the Operation Snowbird A-10's were just taking off from Davis-Monthan, witnesses in Prescott were seeing the lights come in from the Northwest, fly overhead, and then disappear to the southwest. By 8:30, when the A-10's would just be getting to the Goldwater range near Gila Bend and about sixty miles to the southwest, witnesses in Phoenix were seeing the lights come from the north, pass over Phoenix, and go to the southwest. At 8:45, the lights were being seen from Tucson, again first in the north, although the flare operation wasn't scheduled to begin until 9:30. If the flare operation took place at the correct time, from 9:30 to 10:00, then that is well after the reports from Phoenix and from north of Phoenix. Finally, between 10:00 and 10:30, the A-10's disposed of their excess flares and, at 10:30, they returned to Davis-Monthan AFB. No matter how many videos are run on TV that show flares dropping out of sight behind mountains one-by-one, they can't be what the earlier witnesses saw from 8:15 to 8:45. These witnesses included architects, physicians, law enforcement officers, educators, attorneys, airline pilots, scientists, real estate brokers, and other seemingly reliable witnesses.
So what did they see?
Well, there's no evidence that it was an extraterrestrial craft. But let's look at the map and just speculate a little bit. Suppose some sort of stealth aircraft took off from Groom Lake/Area 51 and flew over Lake Mead and then east into Arizona towards the Grand Canyon. It then turned south and flew over Paulden, Prescott, Phoenix, Chandler, Casa Grande, and down to Tucson before turning back northwest and returning to the Groom Lake base, passing over Kingman on the way, where it was spotted by a traveler.
Was it one craft or several?
Well, some witnesses seemed to see structure between the lights, and some did not, saying they saw stars between the lights. Maybe both were correct. The new daytime stealth technology based on electrochromatic panels could explain this. When the panels were operating, viewers would see stars, since these chameleon-like panels project what is above an aircraft onto the underside of it. When the panels were turned off, a viewer might see structure. The final question would then be: Why the lights? If this was some sort of test of a secret aircraft from Area 51, why fly it near populated areas with lights on it?