Summary: George Filer saw his first UFO in '62 while flying an Air Force tanker over England. He now edits an online UFO newsletter.
SURF CITY, N.J. - Around 4 p.m., George Filer 3d took his plastic deck chair, put it just under the shade of the gazebo, and began to scan the ocean sky.
"I'm looking for anything interesting in the sky, like a glint, a reflection off a shiny surface," said the retired Air Force major, sitting in his aviator glasses, sipping a Coke. He and his wife rent a house here for the summer, and every weekend afternoon he perches here.
He looked at the sky above Long Beach Island on this Sunday afternoon - deep blue, dotted with white clouds. A glint appeared far to the South, above the beach - an airplane pulling a Miller Lite banner.
Filer's granddaughter Nicole, 8, in bathing suit and Backstreet Boys T-shirt, walked past on her way to the ocean. He stopped her. "About a year ago you told me you saw a UFO," he said. "Were you just pulling my leg?"
"I saw a shooting star," she said, and skipped away.
George Filer, 65, saw his first UFO in 1962. He was flying a tanker plane for the Air Force, refueling fighters over England. The control tower sent his plane to investigate a UFO on the radar, near Stonehenge. His plane dove from 33,000 feet to 1,000 feet to find it.
"I picked it up on radar - like a ship, a huge aircraft carrier in the air," he recalled, still excited nearly 40 years later. "This was the biggest return [image] I'd ever seen on a radar screen." As his plane approached, the object vanished. "If you've ever seen the night launch at Cape Canaveral, it just kind of lit up and took off like that."
His second encounter came a few years ago, from the bedroom of his Medford Lakes home, which faces Briarwood Lake. "I woke at 4 a.m.," he said. "The bedroom was filled with light pouring in from out the window. I saw a UFO surfacing. It looked like a submarine coming out of the water, a blue ionization." His wife slept through it.
Filer spent 20 years in the Air Force, logging over 5,000 hours in the air. Most of his career he was an intelligence officer. He even briefed generals in Vietnam, where "a lot of times we'd get UFO reports over the DMZ [demilitarized zone]."
After the Air Force, he worked many jobs, including teaching high school students aerospace science at Cherry Hill West. He taught about UFOs, among other things: "The kids seemed to like it. The school didn't." When he retired in 1997, he devoted himself to finding UFOs.
"For me," he said, it's "like Copernicus, and proving that the Earth wasn't the center of the solar system. I believe UFOs exist. I believe we are visited by aliens. I want to change people's viewpoints. This may be [mankind's] most important endeavor."
His son, George 4th, 38, an estimator for a construction company, brought a tray of crackers with crab dip to the gazebo.
"When I was 16, I did see something unusual at summer camp," the son said, "so I kind of believe they're out there."
Like his mother and two sisters, the son can't quite relate to his father's zeal. "First couple of years, it was all he wanted to talk about," the son said. "I guess he's still obsessed about it, but now he brings other subjects to the table."
Like sports-talk radio. "A lot of them make less sense than UFO people," Filer said.
Since he retired, Filer has become East Coast director of the Mutual UFO Network, the nation's largest UFO organization. From his home office he edits a weekly Internet newsletter known as Filer's Files.
Two hundred to 400 e-mails pour in monthly of sightings. He compiles the best ones into Filer's Files (http://www.filers/ files.com) and e-mails the report to 3,000 UFO enthusiasts, as well as to Congress and the President. He isn't certain the President is reading his files, but he believes congressional staffers are.
In May, he spoke at the National Press Club in Washington along with 20 other UFO experts - a session that was barely mentioned in the media.
Which he can't understand. Popular culture has embraced the notion of UFOs. Just consider the movie Independence Day. Or E.T. "People say they're more likely to see a UFO than a Social Security check," he said.
Beside him on the gazebo railing was his Sony Handycam, with the 700X zoom - just in case he spotted an alien ship. He believes the right photograph or video of a UFO could bring up to $1 million.
Before he got into UFOs, he used to look for Spanish doubloons on the beach. "I feel I'm much more likely to find a UFO," he said.
This afternoon he saw beer planes. Seagulls. A styrofoam rocket shot into the air with a rubber strap by a little kid next door.
He watched until his family called him for dinner - burgers and dogs on the grill.