A group of remote controlled aircraft enthusiasts are planning a big UFO hoax to be launched sometime in early spring.
Originally planned for April 5, the plan, being called the Big UFO Project, calls for drone owners to strap LED lights to their drones and fly them at night in an attempt to get media outlets and the general public to think they’re UFOs. One organizer said the plan is to “pull off a worldwide prank that causes UFO sightings all over the world and causes an apocalypse-like idea in all the media.”
It’s being organized through one of the most popular RC aircraft forums in the world, FPV Lab, which has more than 18,000 members. But according to people who have knowledge of the plan, just a couple dozen have signed on to do it so far. Once news of the plan was leaked to a few conspiracy blogs, a thread organizing the project was made private, and specific details are being changed so that it’s still a surprise.
I’m telling you about this not to ruin their plan or to call them out for trying to confuse the media, but to say that people mistake drones for UFOs all the time. In October, a British drone flyer scammed at least three local newspapers into thinking his tricopter was a UFO. He zip tied a “light loop” of green LEDs to the bottom of his drone, flew it around, took pictures, and sent them to a local newspaper.
The next day, “at least two people reported seeing this bright disc in the skies,” according to one newspaper, which wondered if it was “alien or otherwise.” Similar things have happened in Oregon and California. The man behind the UK hoax is known online as MrGyro. In a blog post detailing the hoax, he wanted to prove that “newspapers will report on anything.”
And people are, for the most part, really bad at realizing that a drone is a drone and not, say, an alien spacecraft. One drone user group in the Pacific Northwest has actively partnered with a UFO expert in the area, who will call them to confirm where and when they were flying.
“Now, he can come and ask us what we were doing so he can tell people whether it was a drone or not,” a member of the group told me.
One company is even banking on the idea that UFO/drone sightings will become so common that he’s trying to sell training classes to first responders to allow them to better identify drones.
"We're putting together a training program for public safety officials to get them ready for those kinds of calls and for more serious calls about drones falling out of the sky and hitting cars in traffic," Tony Hallett, CEO of a Pennsylvania-based company called Unmanned Response, told me last year. "I can guarantee that every 911 center in this country will see an increase in calls for UFO reporting."
After a huge increase in the number of UFO sightings between 2011 and 2012, the number stabilized in 2013, according to the National UFO Reporting Center, which has tracked UFO sightings since the early 1970s. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of sightings reported to them jumped from 5,450 to 7,776. Last year, there were 7,553.
If the group of a couple dozen pranksters has any luck, they’ll be able to score a few more.