Close Encounters with Phil Klass

by Bob Ladendorf

In June 1969, a number of airplane pilots in the St. Louis area reported seeing a squadron of strange, fast-moving unidentified craft. One pilot reported a near collision, others that the craft moved at angles, apparently avoiding collisions with the aircraft and thus showing signs of intelligent control.

The mystery was solved when Peoria Journal Star photographer Alan Harkrader shot a photo of the streaking "craft" some 200 miles away in Peoria, Illinois. The "craft" were later identified as chunks of meteors splitting apart — some 100,000 feet high in the sky.

The point to this occurrence, Philip J. Klass, co-founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and a UFO expert, told the audience at a Gateway Skeptics meeting in St. Louis is that the pilots have to know the object and its size before guessing the distance to it.

Klass, the editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology, spoke to several dozen members of the St. Louis skeptics group and members of the public on May 17 at the St. Louis County Library following interviews he conducted with aerospace officials at McDonnell Douglas.

"There has been no credible evidence ever," Klass said at one point, "for even one extraterrestrial visitor."

The elder statesman of UFO skeptics, Klass has written books on the subject — UFOs: The Public Deceived and UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game.

Klass illustrated his talk with slides and detailed explanations of apparent UFO hoaxes, such as the Gulf Breeze, Florida sightings several years ago that included double exposures in a Polaroid camera and a model UFO subsequently discovered, as well as honest misperceptions, such as the St. Louis incident and one in Tucson, Arizona, by an astronomer who mistook a Titan missile launch 500 miles away for a nearby UFO with a halo.

As he ended his talk, he commented that "in spending 30 years investigating [UFOs], I haven’t found one." He then added, "If anyone offered any evidence of a single extraterrestrial visit, I will refund the full purchase price of my books" to all who had bought them over the years.

Following his talk, he took questions from the attentive audience, including a few that were hostile to his conclusions. Questioned about the number of cases he actually investigated, Klass said, "I try to pick the tough cases," adding that he has intensely investigated more than 50 of them.

Klass later added criticism of TV coverage — and promotion of — the UFO subject. He said that on a Larry King Show, there were four UFO proponents and only one skeptic, and that he and Carl Sagan has been interviewed on tape, not live, so they could not respond to UFO claims by the proponents.

Many in the audience stayed around to talk with Klass. REALL Chairman David Bloomberg and I had attended the talk following an invitation from Steve Best of the Gateway Skeptics. We both admired Klass’s spunk and long commitment to investigations of UFOs as he donned his aerospace cap and headed out the door with Gateway Skeptic members.

How did he get into these investigations? Earlier, Klass told the group that he had been bitten by the debunking bug in the 1970s, and the UFO subject was a prime area for investigating. "I had no idea that it would take up so much of my time," he said. "If I had known what it would take," he added, "I would not have gotten so involved."

The skeptic community certainly owes Phil Klass a debt of gratitude for his diligent work over all these years and not being able to foresee the future.

Sources - UFOs

  • "Kidnapped by U.F.O's?" PBS Nova video, 1996
  • Klass, Philip J. UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. Prometheus Books (PB).
  • Klass, Philip J. UFOs: The Public Deceived. PB.
  • Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House.


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