Balloonery, Close Encounters, or Weather Phenomena?


On January 19, 2023, a weirdly shaped, large, orange-colored lenticular cloud appeared over Bursa, Turkey. The usual suspects erupted on cue, including the clamoring of the international news media that never met a Not-A-UFO story it didn’t like. Much ooo-ing and ah-ing occurred about the King of Cuckoo Clouds.

king of cuckoo cloudsKing of The Cuckoo Clouds over Bursa, Turkey

Vivid vids, and fab, almost flower-petaled-looking photos bloomed everywhere of the towering, unidentified sky thing. Then the experts science-plained it away as merely an oddly-shaped, brightly colored cloud: Go back to your hovels and binge-watch your streams. No, there weren’t any UFOs, and it sure as hell weren’t ETs arriving in a spiraling, gigantic drag queen plume worthy of Professor Dumbledore’s handiwork at Hogwarts.

Less than a month after the Bursa brouhaha, a series of objects that were either “balloons” or unidentified flying objects appeared over North America between February 3-5, sparking another round of debate and speculation. There were three incidents in the space of a few days (and right after we 86-ed the infamous Chinese spy balloon on February 4)! It was another field day for talking heads, military pilots, and reporters from the mighty New York Times to the lowly tabloids like The Daily Star. Even Governor Tim Walz, who presides over my state in Minnesota, flew his balloon shoot-down freak flag, noting publicly in a Tweet that the squad who brought down the object over Lake Huron were North Star State homeboys.

One story recapped that news in an almost breathless, cheerleader-like fashion: “A Duluth-based aircrew was responsible for shooting down an unidentified flying object over Lake Huron yesterday. While defense officials are being hilariously tight-lipped over what’s behind the spate of aggressive anti-UFO actions, the Minnesota airmen’s courageous efforts send a strong message to any would-be invaders — whether from a galaxy far, far away, or just across the border in Wisconsin — that the Gopher State’s airspace will not be violated.”

Mediaite screengrab of the three balloon-whack locations

Mediaite went so far in its reporting as to run the following headline about the balloon incidents: NORAD Commander Doesn’t Rule Out Aliens in Spate of Unidentified Objects, New York Times Alters Story About It. Then re-quoting Air Force General Glen VanHerck in the Times: “Asked during a news conference on Sunday whether he had ruled out extraterrestrial origins, Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the commander of the Air Force’s Northern Command, said, ‘I haven’t ruled out anything at this point.'” UFOtwitter and its Musky first cousins went DEFCON batshit.

I might be mistaken, but the last time I looked, bona fide shoot-downs of extraterrestrial spacecraft would likely be classified at such a high level, it would take a Jacob’s Ladder to learn of this feat. However, if we are in a truly semi-hazy disclosure period, and somebody somewhere in charge of UFO/UAP information dissemination has finally gotten truth-telling religion on topic, maybe they would allow a half-truth that objects were, in fact, blasted out of the sky while obscuring the other half-truth of what they were, or who owned them. So basically, this would amount to a type of conditioning – show some but don’t tell all.

Since the balloonery began, as a self-taught observer of these events and an alleged experiencer of high strangeness, I remained mostly quiet as I collected stories and opinions while this strange saga unfolded. But the one shot down over Alaska reportedly was gray and oblong. That checked the box for a genuine UFO as described in the reliable literature that’s out there.

But of all the clippings I saved, and broadcast media I ogled, reporting from the bottom-of-the-barrel journalism of The Daily Star ultimately got my attention. Its headline read: Baffled pilots who shot down mystery object over Alaska say it ‘interfered with sensors’.

This account – the only of its kind that I’ve come across – triggered memories of the report in Leslie Kean’s 2010 book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record: (which I quoted in my book, The Space Pen Club).

“In 1976, an Iranian Air Force General named Parviz Jafari in an F-4 jet chased what appeared to be a solid-state aerial vehicle ‘comparable to that of a 707 tanker,’ Kean writes, ‘with flashing red, green, orange and blue lights.’

This account was a celebrated case in the UFO ghetto that even members of the Aviary, often given to scientific debunking, allowed. The now-retired Iranian general even had the airship on his radar and was about to fire on it when his weapons system jammed.” [bold added for this column]

In retrospect, since the news cycle has spun forward hundreds of times since the alleged latex objects were soundly whacked by our obscenely expensive military fighter jets and recovery efforts have allegedly been (conveniently) abandoned, a lot of these incidents strike me as just “fetishizing ‘the phenomenon,'” as everybody seems to be calling it these days.

But where is the deeper and more widespread reporting on stories like this? TWO Air Force vets have testified to Pentagon’s UFO office about seeing mysterious objects TURN OFF ten nuclear warheads and blast test missiles out of the sky at U.S. bases.

This headline appeared recently in The Daily Mail, which is not exactly a journalistic beacon. But I bring it up in this case because former airman Bob Salas is a stand-up guy. If he tells your kids’ school paper that UAP/UFOs shut down nuclear warheads and even made a kill shot on test missiles – as he has been for as long as anyone would listen to him – then I believe he is telling the truth. And I think you should too.

A similar tale of UFOs browsing and bashing other U.S. nuclear sites, like the one in Minot, North Dakota, on October 28, 1968, has been online for years now. I also include this incident in my book. Tom Tulein, who, in full disclosure, is a friend of mine, conducted an exhaustive research effort on the UFO events at Minot Air Force Base on October 28, 1968. His article, A Narrative of UFO Events at Minot Air Force Base / October 28, 1968, is a must-read.

While “the media” has finally gone “woke” on UFOs/UAP, it has a long way to go in helping to establish the truth, whatever shape it may take—seeing that Representative Tim Burkhart of Tennessee has recently been telling Newsweek that not only is there a sorry-ass government cover-up of the UFO issue, “we have also been reverse engineering ET craft” even though we don’t know how it works. This development is encouraging even if the outspoken congressman doesn’t have the paperwork to prove his points.

Have we come a long way, baby? Maybe we have, especially if one considers that a century-plus ago, a prestigious journal like Scientific American was in denial for years about “man’s” ability to fly. Terry Hansen reported that in his must-read book, The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up:

“For five years [early in the 20th century], the ed­itors of Scientific American refused to acknowl­edge the aviation achievements of the Wright brothers because the magazine had been told by trusted authorities that manned, heavier-than-air flight was a scientific impossibility. To Scientific American, the claim of powered flight was simply a ridiculous hoax. As proof, the mag­azine’s editors cited the lack of press coverage of the Wright Brothers’ activities. It was a classic case of the blind leading the blind.”

Hansen, like Salas, knew his stuff, and he was in the game until a sudden heart attack death in 2014. In November 1994, he curated an important UFO Symposium with some big hitters, from academia to Ufology. Hansen’s pioneering event was held at the – wait for it – Science Museum of Minnesota, about as mainstream an institution as you can find. I was there, and at the time, it seemed epic. But like most things, the news cycle, UFO lore and disinformation, daily challenges, and life’s little victories, the event eventually blew into the ethers like a runaway mylar balloon, untethered from its human.


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Martin Keller
Martin Keller is a former pop culture journalist, published author and un-produced screenplay writer, whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Leaders, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Final Frontier, Billboard, Utne Reader, Right On! the Star Tribune, the Mpls-St. Paul Business Journal, City Pages and many others, with appearances on “Today,” Coast To Coast AM, “48 Hours,” PBS, Public Radio and more. Keller also has written Hijinx & Hearsay: Scenester Stories from Minnesota’s Pop Life and contributed to The Minnesota Series. For the past 25 years, he has worked as an award-winning public relations pro, including an adventurous stint for The Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CSETI). The Space Pen Club ( is based, in part, on that period.


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