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22 June 2013

Why studying unexplained aerial phenomena will improve aviation

The recent interview featuring investigative journalist Leslie Kean has led at least one member of the audience to express concerns that the interview may attract unwanted attention from individuals who may seek to hurt my professional reputation, or the reputation of, simply because my interview was in part about reports of UFOs and other unidentified aerial phenomena from pilots and high level military and government officials.

I thanked that person for his feedback, and assured him that those kinds of critics would likely have no effect on the work of My reasons were simple. My aviation work, both online and offline, has been focused on airline safety and security, with an emphasis on approaching issues from an analytical and engineering perspective. I sought out Leslie Kean because of the approach that she has taken, focusing on reliable witnesses and cases that were backed by official documentation.

I don't have an opinion as to what is behind reports of UFOs and unidentified aerial phenomena, but I do know that not everything is known about flying, particularly the subtleties of the behavior of the increasingly complex technologies used in aviation, or the behavior of the natural environment. I'm convinced that at least some of these eyewitness accounts are of natural phenomena that are either not well understood or completely novel.

The history of aviation is full of examples of phenomena that have the potential to affect safety, and where a thorough examination of the evidence may lead to changes.

Volcanic ash and upper atmospheric lightning are two examples that come to mind. Ash encounters can often have a rather massively negative effect on aircraft. It took several serious ash encounters and a general recognition of the potential for ash to cause havoc before the airline industry came up with a variety of approaches, including changes in operational procedures, that have had the effect of reducing the likelihood of a serious encounter.

Pilots reported observations of upper-atmospheric electrical activity decades before scientists began to gain a much better understanding of their occurrences starting in the 1990s. While these events have so far not directly affected aircraft, they may be a factor to consider in the future in the design and operation of aircraft.

In the interview with Leslie Kean, I discussed the 2006 O'Hare incident (where an unidentified craft was flying in close proximity to several passenger terminals) because of the security implications. In my view, any vehicle operating, or appearing to operate, in congested airspace around a major airport must be taken seriously. The fact that appeared to be a UFO should not matter to those responsible for controlling or securing the skies around airports.

More arguments for studying these events
As for any skeptics who may want to go on the attack, I think they would likely have a hard time putting up an effective argument with my point of view, which boils down to the following:

  • Scientists, engineers, and aviators don't know everything about the natural environment or about aviation,
  • No engineered system is perfect and can be improved,
  • No security system or protocol is perfect and can be improved,
  • Studying unusual events that are observed or experience in or near aircraft may enhance our knowledge of nature and technology, and reveal weaknesses in security systems or procedures, and
  • Applying insights gained from studying these reports of unusual phenomena can reduce aviation risks through enhancements in technology, changes in operational procedures, and changes in security protocols.

These are basic ideas that have shaped my work throughout my career, and I see no reason to abandon them now.

My goal is to encourage my audience to consider having an open mind to all reports of events that appear to be either highly unusual or extremely improbable. Either such reports represent real but misunderstood phenomena, or they represent serious misinterpretations of well understood phenomena by aviation professionals. Either way, ignoring or discouraging such reports won't get the industry closer to understanding what is happening and what steps, if any, need to be taken to improve how aviation professionals are trained, how aircraft are built and operated, and how the airspace system is managed and regulated.

Resources from Leslie Kean
Research studies and links to reporting organizations
Leslie Kean's site
Book - UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record

19 June 2013

Interview with author and investigative reporter Leslie Kean

Dr. Todd Curtis recently interviewed Leslie Kean, New York Times best selling author of the 2010 book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. They discussed polices and traditions in the US government and the aviation community that keeps flying professionals from being fully informed about potential safety and security threats.

Kean discussed how attitudes within the aviation community toward UFOs and unexplained aerial phenomena keep pilots and other aviation professionals from reporting events that may represent a legitimate threat to aviation safety and security. Dr. Curtis and Ms. Kean highlighted two widely reported encounters, the Phoenix Lights event of 1996 and the O'Hare incident in Chicago in 2006, where many competent observers reported an unidentified aerial vehicle in close proximity to large airports and major population centers, but where the sightings were not officially acknowledged by the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security, or the US military.

Both Curtis and Kean argued that reporting such events is necessary and important because some of these unexplained events or unidentified objects may represent rare or not well understood natural phenomena, unauthorized or illegal flights by conventional aircraft, or some kind of threat to the safety of aircrew or passengers. You can watch or listen to the interview below:

Interview with Leslie Kean
Listen to the interview (49:43)

The interview provided numerous suggestions for steps that crew members, other aviation professionals, or passengers can take to document any unexplained events. In addition, has provided links to a number of resources for reporting events, as well as links to a number of research reports on the subject of UFOs and unexplained aerial phenomena.

Resources from Leslie Kean
Research studies and links to reporting organizations
Leslie Kean's site
Book - UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record

06 June 2013

Review the webinar on how to become an on-air expert for radio or TV WebinarsThe live webinar on how to become an on-air expert for radio or television was broadcast on June 6th. In that webinar, Dr. Todd Curtis of, who has been a guest for dozens of radio and television shows over the past decade, explained how he became a sought after expert for media outlets like CNN, BBC, and Discovery Channel, and explained several of the basic steps you shold take if you aspire to get on the air.

Dr. Curtis featured in upcoming television program
You can see and hear some examples of Dr. Curtis being interviewed, at the YouTube channel. Also, in June 2013, Dr. Curtis will be featured in the four-part series Terror in the Skies, which will air Sunday evenings on the UK's Channel 4.

For viewers in the UK, the show will air American viewers will see a version of the series on the Smithsonian Channel but the date and time is still to be determined. Once this information, those on the mailing list will be informed.

03 June 2013

Webinar on how to become an on-air expert for radio or TV WebinarsOn Thursday June 6, will hosted a live webinar on how to successfully become an on-air expert for radio or television.

Television and radio broadcasters have a constant need to have on-air experts to comment on almost every possible area of expertise. However, being an expert is not enough to get the attention of the news media, but it is a necessary first step.

The webinar has ended, but you can see a video of the webinar below:

Note: You can see and hear other interviews featuring Dr. Curtis at the YouTube channel.