Saturday, January 26, 2008
Several dozen witnesses reported that they had seen unusual lights in the sky near Stephenville shortly after dusk Jan. 8. One sighting included a report that the lights were pursued by military jets. Military officials had repeatedly denied they had any flights in the area that night.
"In the interest of public awareness, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs realized an error was made regarding the reported training activity of military aircraft. Ten F-16s from the 457th Fighter Squadron were performing training operations from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday January 8, 2008, in the Brownwood Military Operating Area (MOA), which includes the airspace above Erath County."
Maj. Karl Lewis, a spokesman for the 301st Fighter Wing at the former Carswell Field, blamed the erroneous release on "an internal communications error."
That still left unanswered the question of what F-16s might have been doing that would look like a line of silent, glowing spheres. Maj. Lewis said he could not give any details.
"What we do down there falls under operational procedures that cannot be released because of operations security for our mission," he said.
One battle tactic used routinely by F-16s involves the ejection of flares that are intended to confuse heat-seeking missiles. The flares can be ejected several at a time, and could form a pattern of bright lights traveling across the sky.
But such activity would not match other aspects of the descriptions of the Stephenville lights. Witnesses generally described what they saw as silent, apparently changing speeds and passing over populated areas. That does not sound like a flare release, said Jay Miller, an aviation consultant and historian in Fort Worth.
For one thing, any jet that dumps flares would also be trying to get away as fast as possible.
"He's going to be in full afterburner," Mr. Miller said, and that's very loud. But the jets wouldn't be the only noise associated with flares.
"Flares don't burn silently. They actually burn quite loudly," he said.
Flares are also extremely hot and dangerous, and it's highly unlikely that any drill would involve their use over populated areas, Mr. Miller said.
Wednesday's news release refocused attention on the lights a few days after more than 500 people attended a meeting intended to gather witness statements. The weekend meeting was hosted by the Mutual UFO Network, which collected more than 200 reports, though many were not about the recent sightings.
The military's admission that it had jets up in the area actually strengthens the credibility of some of the reports, said Ken Cherry, Texas state director for the network. After all, some of the witnesses had said they had seen military aircraft along with the lights.
"We have witnesses who could clearly distinguish the difference between an F-16 and some extraordinary craft performing in a manner not typical of an aircraft," he said.
Steve Allen, a pilot, was one of three men who first went public with their sightings to the local newspaper. Wednesday's military news release answers none of his questions, he said.
The Brownwood Military Operating Area is not close enough to Stephenville to explain what he saw, Mr. Allen said. And pilots are supposed to perform training exercises at high altitude, he said. What he saw happened near the ground.
He said he and his friends first spotted a row of glowing spheres that silently changed formation before vanishing. A few minutes later, they saw two more glowing spheres, with military jets in hot pursuit.
"They were on the deck and with the pedal down," he said.
Mr. Allen said that he had no trouble hearing the roar from the jets when they appeared, but he had heard nothing from the glowing lights before that.
"A bunch of stuff is bubbling up," he said about Wednesday's news release. "They may have to tell us the truth."