In the coming years, all kinds of new spacecraft will be roaming the skies. Many of these are unfamiliar to us and will be reported as UFOs. Strange sightings will no longer be attributed to ball lightning, they’ll be dismissed as UAVs, which are robot craft designed to look for criminal and terrorist activity. This means reports of “real” UFOs will be ignored more than ever.

Leonard David writes in that Tom Ridge, who runs Homeland Security, wants to use UAVs to monitor U.S. borders “very seriously” and plans to work with the Department of Defense to build robot planes that can do the job.

“I would definitely say that as time goes on it is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize UFOs as unidentified, given the large number of UAV projects that are in development,” says Colm Kelleher, of the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS).

NASA says there are 50 U.S. companies, academic institutions, and government groups working to develop over 150 UAV designs?and those are just the unclassified models. Many UAVs are classified, since they’re used by intelligence and the military.

In 1999, NIDS set up a hotline for UFO sightings and has received around 5,000 phone calls and emails. They investigated them, weeding out rocket launches, satellite re-entries, and meteors, and were left with 1,100 reports to follow up. “Among these were approximately 300 sightings of large black triangles, but also multiple reports of sightings of small objects, some in daylight,” says Kelleher. NIDS now needs to determine how many of these may actually be UAVs.

Mark Rodeghier, of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, says, “We certainly suspect that there were, and are, such reports. Of course, UAVs, as far as we know, are not flown all over the country, but only in certain places, such as near military bases, on the borders, and now possibly in some urban areas after 9/11. So there are vast areas of the country, I would think, where UAV misperceptions are unlikely.” However, he adds that, “UAVs often have odd designs that don’t resemble airplanes and are sometimes closer to the popular conception of a UFO’s shape.”

Many UFO sightings occur at night, and UAVs don’t have lights, so that’s when it will be easiest to tell them apart. “So most UAV sightings should occur during the day,” Rodeghier says. “Also, UAVs probably would not always land in populated areas. So people who see something close to the ground are probably not seeing a UAV. Lastly, if people could be told roughly where UAVs fly in the continental United States?and where they don’t?this should help.” But since so many UAVs are classified, this isn’t likely to happen.

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