Here is a list of some of the best UFO pranks and hoaxes ever perpetrated:
A Note on the difference between a prank and a hoax:
Here are descriptions of some of the best hoaxes and pranks ever reported:
The airship crash
One of the earliest hoaxes is one that still has people believing the event was real. This was the crash of a supposed airship into a windmill tower in Aurora Texas on April 4, 1897. This was part of the airship sighting wave that began in 1896 (see below). A dead "Martian" was supposedly found.
But there was no follow-up story in the newspaper, which was unusual at that time. It wasn't a front page story. The article was on an interior page of the paper. It also was not the first airship sighting story on the page. It was one of six stories.
Aurora was in financial trouble: The railroad had bypassed the town, and the cotton crop had failed. This story might have been an attempt to bring tourists (and their money) to the town.
The stolen calf
Twelve days later, a man named Alexander Hamilton told people in Le Roy Kansas that an airship came down, roped one of his calves, lifted it into the sky, and flew away with it. He found the carcass in his field the next day. But he later told a newspaper he lied about it to win a liar's club prize.
Slag and a dead dog
The next case is the Maury Island case, in Tacoma Washington on June 21, 1947. This was three days before Kenneth Arnold made the first widely reported UFO sighting, but it was reported only after the witnesses read the Arnold case. Four or five doughnut shaped objects were seen. One made strange noises, then tilted and spilled material onto their boat that killed their dog.
The witnesses said that a man dressed in black visited them the next day. This is the first of the "men in black" claims.
An investigation showed the material was foundry slag common in the area. The case had a tragic wrinkle: The B-25 Mitchell carrying the Air Force investigators and the samples crashed shortly after leaving Tacoma. The witnesses have alternately admitted the case was a hoax and insisted it was genuine. The plane crash was due to mechanical failure.
Now we come to the "contactee" cases, appearing in or near 1952. These are the fabrications of George Adamski, Daniel Fry, Howard Menger, and several others. They produced stories of meeting people from other planets (usually Venus or Mars) multiple times. Faked photographs, usually of chicken brooders and aluminum cigar tubes, are printed in their books about their space adventures. They made money selling their books and copies of their photos.
The photos are obvious fakes. Many of them have multiple lights sources, as though there were multiple suns in the sky (or the photos were taken under multiple photoflood lights). They also reported landing on planets in our solar system without needing spacesuits (proof their stories are false). Adamski later said he got into the flying saucer business because the government stopped him from making and selling bootleg liquor.
Another class of contactee appeared a few years later: the political contactees. In addition to their usual contact story (including breathing the air on other planets), they were told to tell the earthly governments to change their ways, or face retribution from "the greater powers from outer space." These included:
Are all aliens liberals?
Or are liberals more likely to use fake UFO sightings to advance their cause? The concepts they believe in (such as government being able to create wealth out of nothing) are almost as dubious as space aliens.
Photos do lie...
The next case is a photo taken aboard the SS Ramsey at sea off the California coast in December 1957 by a US Navy radioman named Fogl. The object in the photo was made from the bases and other parts that came with plastic model airplane kits, as admitted later by the photographer. Until he admitted that he faked the photo, many considered it to be one of the best UFO photos ever taken. And, of course, some now claim that he was forced to say he faked the photos.
...and lie and lie and lie...
One of the most prolific crafters of fake photographs was Paul Villa. Most of the objects he has taken photos of as UFOs are parts of motor vehicles, including side mirrors, truck air filter covers, torque converters, and motorcycle turn signals. Most of the photos were taken over a period of at least ten years, at locations given as Albuquerque, Las Lunes, or other locations in New Mexico. None of the photos tested have passed the Ground Saucer Watch computer image analysis tests.
...and lie, lie, lie, lie, lie!
Billy Meyer and Eduard Meyer were also prolific in their creation of fake UFO photos, mostly in the mid 1970s. Many of the objects are recognizable, such as parts from a Coleman™ lantern, parts from streetlights, and other recognizable pieces of machinery. The stories were wild too. Since when does a UFO stick around for the photographer to have time to set up a tripod?
The alibi lie
On October 15, 1973, in the middle of a nationwide UFO flap, a Gulfport Mississippi cab driver reported that a UFO landed on top of his cab. But the real reason he made the report was a false alibi for falling asleep in his cab.
The series of sightings in Gulf Breeze Florida (see below) prompted others to create UFO photos. One photographer made photos of a model of an F-111 fighter and part of a lamp fixture "dogfighting" over a clearing. The key to the fakery in these photos is that, while the models were always in the same place relative to each other, the photographer moved all around them.
This UFO rocks
Someone submitted photos of the large UFO-shaped power-lift rock band stage used in a Super Bowl performance as a real UFO, complete with the changing lighting patterns on it.
Lighter than air
On November 18, 1896 in Sacramento California was the first of a year-long series of sighting of "airships" across the United States. This was during the time of the great science fiction novels: Across the Zodiac, Two Planets, Off on a Comet, From the Earth to the Moon, The Time Machine, and Percival Lowell's Mars (this last one intended to be speculation about conditions on the planet).
Robur the Conqueror was an 1896 Jules Verne novel where a man conquered the world with his dirigible airship. The airship sightings began shortly after the release of this novel.
People saw moving lights in the sky, and thought of either a new flying machine, or (for the first time) of people from outer space. The science fiction books probably influenced these thoughts. Most such sightings were previously reported as astronomical phenomena.
What were the moving lights in the sky? Most of them were a folk toy - the fire balloon. At the time, these were the type I balloons that were made since the mid 1800s. But note that "sky lanterns" have been used in some Asian countries since the 14th century. So this is nothing new.
The more people reported airships, the more people launched fire balloons to fool them. Note that some of the airship sightings did have other explanations (such as meteors).
(Note that The War of the Worlds was written in 1898, too late to influence this series of sightings.)
A UFO crash was reported to author Frank Scully to have happened on March 25, 1948 in Aztec New Mexico by a mysterious "Doctor Gee.". He wrote a book about it. But there were problems with the story: Real people were identified wrong, and Scully never saw any of the actual parts or bodies from the crash.
It finally transpired that the men who contacted Scully were really creating a stunt to promote the release of the movie, The Flying Saucer. They were also trying to sell an oil prospecting device based on "alien technology."
Amazingly, some people believe this case was real.
On April 8, 1950, a crashed object was found in Horseheads New York. It was a flying saucer about 3 feet across made of balsa wood and silkspan (the material the surfaces of flying model planes are made of). Around it was found a small area of burned vegetation.
This could be an attempt to stage a fake UFO landing (which didn't fool anyone). Or it might be the result of a teenager trying to make a flying model of a flying saucer. If so, the saucer might have behaved similarly to one made in Bloomington Indiana in 1965. It flew for a few seconds. Then it tipped over, hit the ground, and rolled on its rim in a straight line until it was out of sight. The hot model airplane engine might have started the fire. And the modeler might not have known where it ended up.
A strange case occurred in Eagle River Wisconsin on April 18, 1961. A farmer named Joe Simonton reported that a UFO landed on his property. There were three occupants. One handed him a container, and he filled it with water and gave it back. Then they gave him four little pancakes.
Tests indicate that the pancakes were ordinary buckwheat pancakes. Psychological tests indicate that Simonton believed what happened. It later developed that Simonton was the victim of a post-hypnotic suggestion.
The rockets' red glare
This case was a case of good intentions turned to fright. On Independence Day in 1964, people in Clearwater Florida saw five bright red lights hovering over the Gulf of Mexico, with another light moving among them. Many people called police and reported UFOs.
The UFOs were parachute flares dropped by a man in an airplane (the moving light), intended to be part of the July 4 festivities. The problem was that the man didn't tell anyone what he was going to do, so the authorities were baffled.
The blast crater
Also in 1964 was the UFO landing site found by some kids on October 9, in Glassboro New Jersey. A man had told them he had seen a red glowing object land just over the hill. They ran there, and found a blackened crater with three circular landing pad prints around it. Tree branches were broken over the landing site. They showed their father, who called police. Others started reporting UFOs in the area, including a woman who claimed she had seen the red object drop into the woods.
Examination showed the blackening was caused by gunpowder, and that the roots were cut off, not burned off, showing the crater had been dug. Then a student tried to sell the story of how he faked the site to a newspaper. Instead of making the money for college tuition he had intended, he was fined for "issuing a false alarm," which was later reduced to just the court costs.
The Martian code
On March 2, 1965, a man in a wooded area west of Brooksville Florida reported a landed flying saucer with a "robot" carrying a box that occasionally emitted bright flashes. After the object had left, he found two sheets of thin paper with symbols on them. He later found strange tracks of shoe soles that looked like the number 8. The witness also reported other encounters on the 31st, and in November 1965 and December 1966.
The Air Force found the symbols on one sheet to be a simple substitution cipher in English. The author of this page has confirmed this, and has also deciphered the second sheet. Both are rather lame letters, one to a friend about the code, and the other a letter from Mars. Also note that the placement of the symbols matches the format of a letter written in the standard western format, with the greeting, body, and signature in the proper places.
This case was also later found to have been induced by a post hypnotic suggestion received from hypnosis performed by amateurs at a party. See the Eagle River, Wisconsin case above.
The shoe tracks were left by someone unknown (and unrelated to the case) wearing wide-sole athletic shoes that were available then. The witness found the tracks on two different occasions where he reported sightings, but the tracks were from two different styles of these shoes.
A haunted lake
The residents and police of Wanaque New Jersey saw many UFOs over Wanaque Reservoir for well over a year during 1966 and 1967. Police also discovered a melted spot on the reservoir in subzero weather. The UFOs were reported to change shape, and one report was made of the UFO "pulling the trees together" as it went over a hill.
Apparently someone unknown had been launching fire balloons for this entire period for the purpose of causing UFO sightings. This period was the period when thousands nationwide were launching fire balloons. This was probably caused by the publication of plans for making fire balloons for weather experiments in science-fair project magazines.
The "trees being pulled together" was an optical illusion caused by the witness thinking the UFO was larger, higher, and farther away, and misinterpreting the light from the fire balloon (at its actual location) shining on the trees "in the wrong place" as a movement of the trees.
The melted place in the reservoir ice was caused by a water treatment plant's discharge pipe. It had nothing to do with the UFOs. This is now known to have happened every year the pipe was in use, but it was first noticed by officials during the sighting investigation.
Fooled you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and ...
Other cases of fire balloons or flare balloons causing waves of UFO reports in 1966-1967 include:
Kids found other uses for the fire balloons in those science-fair project magazines (see above). They found they could cause UFO sightings with them.
Mars calling Earth! Come in! ...... I can't! My radio's broken!
On September 4, 1967, a fiberglass disc was found in Cleavedon England. It was filled with parts from British radios. Various brand names were printed on the parts. Did someone think the earthly origin of those parts would not be noticed? Or did this device originally have some other purpose (such as a balloon instrument package)?
It came out of the sky and fell into the sea
This prank that got out of hand occurred at Shag Harbor Nova Scotia on October 4, 1967. Several people saw a silent row of several yellow or white lights fly across the bay and then crash into the sea. A single white light remained on the water. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called, because people thought a plane had crashed.
But there were no reports of missing flights. Search parties went out in two boats, but the light went out before they reached the site. They found nothing but a foamy scum on the water. Divers hunted for wreckage for a week, then abruptly left, saying they found nothing.
The original object had many characteristics of a fire balloon. Fire balloons were seen over the southern end of Nova Scotia several times that week. The scum might be melted candle wax from the fire balloon. Nobody came forward to admit the prank because the government spent huge sums of money searching for a crashed plane, and would demand reimbursement.
The case was later confounded by UFOlogists, who added into the mystery the search for a Soviet submarine in the area that same week and lights a boat captain saw from a location over 100 miles away from Shag Harbor.
Do purple UFO occupants need green cards?
Several times in 1970, a purple light was seen near Warminster England. A large wave of UFOs was then seen in the area. The wave then moved to an area surrounding Stonehenge, about 10 miles away near Amesbury. The wave lasted 5 years.
Some researchers revealed that they had used a purple spotlight mounted on top of a car driven around at the top of a hill. They then showed people some fake UFO photos and asked their opinions. Their purpose was to find out what the public reaction to these stimuli would be. But, although they did not continue their experiment past 1971, the wave continued until 1975.
You can't escape them
In April 1971, an escaped convict was hiding in a wooded area in Virginia. He was frightened by glowing yellow orbs floating around the treetops over his head. They had the characteristics of fire balloons.
On April 4, 1971, a burned spot was found in a field in Maynard Iowa after someone said they saw a UFO landing there. After the spot was publicized, people reported more UFOs in the area. Then researchers admitted that the burned spot was a psychology experiment, to find out what people would do after hearing about a UFO landing site.
But I like chicken rings
On November 2, 1971, a Delphos Kansas kid reported a UFO landed and left a glowing ring on the ground. He called his family, who saw the UFO in the distance, and the glowing ring. They took photos of the ring.
When the authorities got there, the white ring was on the ground, but it was no longer glowing. The ring was still there many years later. Tests show the ring is strongly hydrophobic and is organic in nature, with a high level of zinc compounds. The UFO was reported to behave like a fire balloon.
A neighbor says that a galvanized iron chicken feeder used to stand where the ring is, and that the ring is where chicken droppings accumulated for years. The zinc would have come from the galvanizing coating. Other objects in the photos are brighter than the glow of the ring, indicating that the light came from a camera flash, not a glow. The family turned the case in to the National Enquirer UFO contest, and won the 1971 prize (a possible motive for faking the case?).
Hoops to jump through
Over several weeks in September 1973, various people in Greenwood Delaware reported seeing a disc with orange lights around the rim. Then someone found some volunteer firemen with a generator and a 7-foot hoop with orange light bulbs on it, scaring up UFO reports.
Get 'em! Get 'em!
A UFO was reported over Baton Rouge Louisiana in September 1973, in the middle of a large number of UFO sightings nationwide. A police helicopter was dispatched to try to identify it. The helicopter could not get near the object before it disappeared. It had characteristics of fire balloons.
Get 'em again!
On October 20, 1973, a UFO was seen by hundreds of people in a football stadium in Baton Rouge Louisiana. Again a police helicopter was dispatched, and again, it could not get near the UFO before it disappeared. Later, someone admitted launching the fire balloon that was the UFO.
Like the UFO says
October 1973; Fort Worth TX: A woman reported a UFO. When asked how she knew it was a UFO, she responded, "It had the letters 'U' 'F' 'O' right on the side!" Edmund Scientific sold model hot-air balloon kits that looked like flying saucers. They had the letters 'U' 'F' 'O' on them, just as the woman reported. Case closed!
That suits me
In Falkville Alabama on October 17, 1973, Policeman Jeff Greenhaw saw and photographed a space man in a silver suit. It was identified as a firefighting suit. Someone was playing a prank.
Curses! Foiled again, and again, and ...
In October 1973 in Hartford city Indiana people saw little men in silvery suits. This also happened in several other cities around the nation, including Jonesboro Arkansas and Xenia Ohio. They were kids wrapped in aluminum foil. It was the latest Halloween costume craze, caused by the UFO sighting wave and the Greenhaw sighting (see above).
Ghostly glowing UFOs that were tracked on RADAR were seen in November 1973 in Elmira New York. One was later found on the ground. They were luminous balloons filled with helium and with strips of aluminum foil attached. The foil made the balloons appear on RADAR.
* batteries included
On Veteran's Day in 1974, residents in Carbondale Pennsylvania reported a glowing light in a neighborhood pond. It was said to have dropped out of the sky. After several attempts to catch it in a net, a scuba diver went down into the pond. He came up carrying a `12-inch-long flashlight.
Running in circles
Beginning in the late 1970s, but not well known until the late 1980s, crop circles started appearing in southern England. After they became well known, the crop circles started becoming intricate displays, often depicting mathematical concepts (e.g. the Mandelbrot set) or artistic patterns. They also spread to all areas of the world.
In 1991, pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley admitted that they made most of the crop circles found in southern England before 1989 using simple tools. Since then, many artist groups have been making crop circles. There have even been crop circle art contests. These contests proved that humans can easily make all of the intricate crop circle designs found.
The crop circle shown on the Led Zeppelin Boxed Set was created for the purpose of making the album cover. The projections from four of the circles hold the initials of the band members at their ends.
Many crop circles are no longer circles. Some contain logos of various companies (e.g. Firefox). And a crop circle appeared on April Fool's Day 2012 containing a Quick Response (QR) code for a cell phone to read. It loads a candy bar ad.
Get 'em yet again!
On February 2, 1993, people reported a UFO over Jefferson County, Kentucky. Police dispatched a helicopter to investigate. The helicopter crew reported the following effects: The object looked like a huge ball of fire that was larger than the helicopter. It made "ramming attacks" at the helicopter as they tried to get close enough to identify it, and it changed brightness erratically.
But people on the ground reported the event differently: The object and the helicopter appeared only as lights. The object was smaller than the helicopter, which repeatedly went past the object. The helicopter didn't seem to be able to find the UFO. The object changed brightness erratically.
This appeared in the newspaper the next day, causing a man to come forward, saying that he had launched the object the previous night. It was yet another fire balloon. He had launched it to observe wind direction at various altitudes, and had no idea that his balloon would cause so much trouble.
An unintentional prank.
UFO merit badge
Shortly after the famous RADAR UFOs over Washington DC, a scoutmaster reported being burned by a UFO. Near Palm Beach Florida on August 19, 1952, the scoutmaster was driving some boy scouts home after a meeting. He said he saw some lights in the sky that looked like a plane going down. He pulled off and parked, and told the scouts to stay in the car, and that if he was not back in 15 minutes, to go to a nearby house for help. Then he walked into the swamp in the direction he had seen the lights.
He reported that he walked into a clearing, felt heat, and suddenly realized he couldn't see the stars. Then he shined his light upward, and saw a disk hovering over his head. Then a red ball came out of the object and rendered him unconscious.
Meanwhile the scouts said they saw several colored lights shooting up and down above the trees. After the 15 minutes passed, they walked to the farmhouse and called the sheriff. Two deputies came. When the scoutmaster stumbled out of the palmettos, he had singed places on his arms, and his cap was burned.
The investigation developed several clues. The cap was not on anyone's head when it was burned. The singes on the scoutmaster's arms were only hair, which could have been done with a match. He had been talking about flying saucers before the encounter. And his story kept growing, with a monster added into his narrative after a month.
What at first appeared to be a confirmation of the scoutmaster's story was found in soil samples the Air Force collected from the clearing. The roots of the swamp grass were charred. They originally concluded that some kind of microwave heating might have been responsible, if the UFO had caused it.
This charring has now been shown to have a prosaic explanation that had nothing to do with the sighting. A swamp fire some time earlier burned off the leaves. The roots were charred on the outsides near the surface of the swamp, but unharmed, because they were full of water and submerged in wet ground. Later the leaves grew back, leaving the plants the Air Force found.
Does he get the UFO demerit badge?
Poor little guy
In Decatur Georgia on July 7, 1953, a driver claimed to have hit an alien running across the road. He produced the body as proof, as well as showing a burned circle on the highway where the UFO was. It was a green hairless primate with no tail.
But the county coroner came to a different conclusion. The body was that of a Rhesus monkey that had been killed by a blow to the head. Afterward, it was shaved and its tail was chopped off. Then it was dyed green. The driver admitted the whole thing was the result of a bet that he could get his name and picture printed in the newspaper. He won the bet, but was convicted of obstructing a highway.
The man's name was Ed Watters, not to be confused with Ed Walters of the Gulf Breeze Florida sightings (see below). The Ed Walters of the Gulf Breeze case was 7 years old when this happened.
Shot himself down
On July 18, 1967, in Wilmington California, a security guard reported that he shot at a UFO, and offered bullets with flattened tips as evidence. But police found the steel drum he had been shooting at for target practice (not authorized by his employer).
The UFO king lost his crown
Another prolific UFO photo hoaxer and UFO prankster was building contractor Ed Walters of Gulf Breeze Florida. He made dozens of UFO photos with a Polaroid camera. Many of the objects were shaped like crowns. Among the subjects of these photos were:
Most of the photos had the properties of double exposures. But most of them were taken with Polaroid cameras that can not be made to expose the film more than once (because they start the development process immediately. But a glass or plastic sheet can be placed in front of the camera lens to combine two images on the film in the same manner as a double exposure can do. The glass or plastic would have had to be curved to distort the model that was found into the images on the film. But that distortion would also make the model seem farther away.
In addition, there were sightings of UFOs by others in the area, though none of those matched the objects in the Walters photos. These objects were probably prank fire balloons. At least one of those balloons had a "Signal Flare" firework in it, to make it give off brilliant flashes of light. We don't know if Ed Walters had anything to do with the fire balloons, but it's likely he did. Someone else also took fake photos at Gulf Breeze (see "Little dogfight" above).
Not very often covered are the consequences of some of these hoaxes and pranks. Officials are usually not amused, and charge the hoaxers and pranksters with various crimes, including:
July 2, 1952 Tremonton Utah - Seagulls in thermal air currents
July 16, 1952, Salem Massachusetts - Reflection of barracks lights in a window
March 14, 1954, Puddingstone Dam California - Man in a rowboat on the lake beyond a jetty
May 15, 1955, New York New York - Waving pennant frozen by the camera
October 12, 1961, Indianapolis Indiana - Night advertising plane with an electric sign
April 24, 1964, Socorro New Mexico - An early sport hot air balloon (only 2 years old at the time)
June 8, 1964, Lawrenceville Illinois - Night advertising plane with an electric sign
July 1965, Hillsdale County Michigan - Lens flare caused by aiming camera near the sun
October 21, 1965, St. George Minnesota - Took photo of UFO, but printed the wrong negative (flash failure & night light)
February 16, 1967, Syracuse New York - Forgot why photo was taken (smoke bomb carried by parachutist)
March 3, 1967 Picacho Peak New Mexico - An unnoticed suction cup on the car window
March 22, 1967, Mooresville North Carolina - Forgot why photo was taken (lights playing on ice rink)