Eyes to the Big Sky: Montana’s UFOs

August 18, 2019, 9:38 PM. Hamilton, MT.

Russell Mills stretched out on an Adirondack chair on his back deck to enjoy the last of another perfect late summer Montana day. The air was a brisk but pleasant sixty-five degrees, and the first of the stars were twinkling hopefully in the vault of heaven above. As he gazed up at the stars, something to his right on the southern horizon caught his eye, and he turned to look. 

Blinking, not believing, he stood and squinted into the summer gloaming. His heart rate jumped, and gooseflesh rose on his forearms, sending a shiver down his spine. His jaw went slack, and his mind raced as he stared south, baffled by four massive black rectangular objects, each with red lights on them. 

He fumbled for his phone, knowing that nobody would ever believe this if he didn’t have photos to prove it. The flying rectangles seemed to move with leisurely indifference to the inhabitants below. He thought that if this were some secret military craft, they were doing a miserably poor job of keeping their secrets. The things were massive—easily as big as a pair of Greyhound buses welded together. 

summer gloaming

He held up his iPhone, snapping dozens of photos, disappointed by how different they looked from what he saw with his eyes. He decided to try and take a video. His heart was pounding now as he realized that the endless summer song of the crickets and other insects had vanished. Is this really happening? Am I dreaming? He glanced at the iPhone, dutifully recording twelve red blobs that could have been anything, then returned his gaze to the objects. 

After forty-five seconds of video, the strange objects began to fade, as if they were a special effect in a low-budget movie. As they did, Russel experienced an odd mixture of relief and disappointment. Within seconds, the rectangles had faded out completely and were gone. He came back to reality as he heard the crickets resume their songs, soon followed by the other night insects and critters. 

He shook his head and stared down at his phone, wondering what had just happened, feeling as if he had just passed through a seminal moment in his life, after which nothing would ever be the same. 

Perhaps it’s the nature of Big Sky country, or maybe it’s our dark, clear night skies that draw more pairs of eyes upward. Whatever the reason, the fact is that Montanans report more UFO sightings than 98% of the other states in the country. We’re second only to Washington State, just to the west. 

photos

There is no government database of UFO sightings, nor official statistics. The National UFO reporting center, or NUFORC, is a volunteer organization that has been collecting UFO reports continuously since 1974. Often at a loss for what else to do, law enforcement agencies will sometimes refer callers reporting UFOs to NUFORC, who will catalog and publish their report in a database. 

While the data may be of questionable merit since anyone can report anything they choose, a quick perusal makes it clear that most of the reports are from people who genuinely believe that they saw something unexplained in the sky. People often submit diagrams, drawings, and photographs with their descriptions. While the reports are varied, certain types of phenomena seem to come in waves, such as black triangular objects or cylindrical “flying saucers.” 

It’s from this database that Montana wins the curious title of second-most-reported UFO sightings in the country. According to the NUFORC, 77.47 out of every 100,000 Montanans have taken the time and effort to report a UFO sighting. The number of people who didn’t bother to report one would likely significantly increase that number. If you live in Montana, there’s a good chance that you’ve either seen something strange in the sky or that you’ve heard a story about one from someone you know. 

Malmstrom Air Force
Malmstrom Air Force in the 1960s
 

While nearly all UFO sightings are the result of some misidentified natural or man-made phenomena, there remains a stubborn minority that are infuriatingly resistant to scientific interrogation. Military investigations in the past have revealed as much, and that fact hasn’t seemed to change at all over time. It is an axiom in UFO lore that 5% of sightings cannot be explained by any known natural phenomenon. 

Montana is not new to UFO lore, and indeed has been central to the phenomenon since the modern UFO era began, right around the time that the United States exploded the first atomic bomb in the high desert in New Mexico. A glance through the blurry telescope of history reveals that Montana has been a UFO hotspot going back to at least 1950; as the world becomes more connected, the trend only seems to be increasing.

In 1950 in Great Falls, Nick Mariana made a 16-mm recording of two circular UFOs. Mariana and his film would go on to become a legendary case to believers and skeptics alike. Seventeen years later in 1967, at nearby Malmstrom Air Force Base, Robert Jamison, a retired USAF nuclear missile targeting officer, reported that UFO sightings were regular occurrences on the base. The sightings, he said, would frequently deactivate the air force’s Minuteman missiles, requiring manual intervention.

Just this year, the navy updated its guidelines to encourage pilots to more thoroughly report what they now call UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena). They have recently declassified Department of Defense footage from navy fighter jets tracking objects on their radars that are moving at speeds far in excess of any known human technology. The objects often perform maneuvers that would liquefy any biological life within the object. 

Also this year, and in conjunction with the DoD footage and seemingly at the encouragement of the navy, several fighter pilots have come forward to give public reports of UFOs they had encountered and tracked in the skies over the U.S. These events accompanied a peculiarly subdued announcement by the navy that it has been documenting and studying UFOs. Most branches of the U.S. military have long histories with UFOs that, while persistent, are most often blurry and distorted by an ocean of misinformation, confusion, and derision. 

Navy fighter jet
Navy fighter jet video of a mysterious object

While various branches of the military have launched several official inquiries and studies of the subject over many decades, they have never made any conclusive pronouncements on the topic. By nature, the military is secretive, and secrecy is always an accelerant for conspiracy theories. 

Regardless of what the U.S. military may or may not know about the subject, one thing is clear: UFOs love Montana, and Montanans sure see a lot of them. As an interesting historical footnote, it was next door in Washington State in 1947 where a pilot named Kenneth Arnold saw a string of nine shiny “flying saucers” from his small aircraft. His report caused a nationwide sensation and kicked off the modern era of UFO reports. 

Beginning last year, the private aerospace company SpaceX successfully deployed the first 122 satellites in a planned constellation of up to 12,000. This string of satellites is prominent and visible to the naked eye, which has resulted in an uptick on the NUFORC database, including several “sightings” from Montana. It’s reasonable to predict that the more objects we put into orbit around the planet, the more those objects will be misidentified as some unexplained phenomena. 

Due to our low population density, Montana has some of the darkest skies in the country. Our dark skies often produce spectacular views of the Milky Way and even the Northern Lights. The next time you’re outside at night admiring our profoundly dark skies, you might just see something that gives you goosebumps. If you do, make sure that you report it to the National UFO Reporting Center (nuforc.org or 206-722-3000). Perhaps with a bit of effort, Montana can rise to #1 in UFO sightings per capita!

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