The Hack and the Quack

The "Phoenix Lights" made Frances Emma Barwood the darling of the global space-alien lobby. And it'stransformed computer geek Jim Dilettoso into a star in the UFO firmament.

Barwood says she passed on Stanley's name to Dilettoso's Village Labs, who didn't call the young man until New Times first reported his story in June.

Although hundreds of Valley residents saw the vee formation, the media have paid much more attention to a separate event that occurred later that night.

At 10 p.m., up to nine bright lights were seen to appear, hover for several minutes, and then disappear southwest of Phoenix in the direction of the Sierra Estrella. Video cameras at points across the Valley caught the string of hovering lights. All nine were visible from some locations, others saw fewer.

Mike Krzyston, from the yard of his Moon Valley home, captured all nine on video. "I hit pay dirt, finally!" he exclaimed as the lights appeared. "This is a major sighting!" said another videographer as he taped five of the lights.

In June, however, KPNX-TV Channel 12 reporter Blair Meeks filmed a drop of flares by military planes over the Air Force gunnery ranges southwest of Phoenix. The hovering lights looked remarkably like the 10 p.m. lights of March 13, and Meeks suggested it as a possible solution to that night's second event.

Within days, Tucson Weekly broke the news that the Maryland Air National Guard, in Arizona for winter training, had a squad of A-10 fighters over the gunnery range that night, and they had dropped flares. An Arizona National Guard public information officer, Captain Eileen Bienz, had determined that the flares had been dropped at 10 p.m. over the North Tac range 30 miles southwest of Phoenix, at an unusually high altitude: 15,000 feet. (Captain Drew Sullins, spokesman for the Maryland Air National Guard, says that the A-10s, which have squarish wings, never went north of Phoenix, so they could not have been responsible for the formation of planes seen at 8:30 p.m.)

Local UFO investigator Dick Motzer and others have shown that the initial appearance of the 10 p.m. lights, the number of lights seen from different elevations in the Valley, and the timing of the lights' disappearances all correspond well with flares dropped at high altitude beyond the Sierra Estrella.

But questions remain.
If Stanley saw that the 8:30 lights were airplanes, whose were they? And why did Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where the Maryland Air National Guard's A-10s returned that night, initially say it had no planes in the air at that time?

Krzyston and others who taped the 10 p.m. event insist that the 10 p.m. lights hovered in front of, not behind, the Estrella, where the gunnery ranges lie.

Most publicized objections to the 10 p.m. flares hypothesis have come from Jim Dilettoso, who claims that sophisticated tests performed at Village Labs show that the lights filmed by Krzyston and others could not have been flares--whatever caused the 10 p.m. event, Dilettoso claims, was like no source of manmade light.

Local and national media alike have found his statements irresistible.
While careful to tell the mainstream press that he makes no claims about extraterrestrials, that his research simply eliminates the possibility of flares, Dilettoso is perhaps feeling more bold as an increasing number of reporters seeks his opinions.

With all of the seriousness he could muster, he recently told Hard Copy: "These could be the most important events in 50 years."

Dilettoso is needlessly conservative. If the lights of March 13 were of otherworldly origin, it would be one of the most significant events in human history.

That's been the holy grail of a movement spawned decades ago that shows no sign of abating. But research into UFOs has changed considerably, much to the chagrin of investigators who still insist on a scientific approach to unexplained sightings.

Interest in "flying saucers" exploded in post-World War II America, prompting the Air Force to hire an astronomy professor, J. Allen Hynek, and others to investigate. For more than 20 years, Hynek and the rest of the Air Force's Project Blue Book examined UFO sightings, the vast majority of which were easily explained as natural phenomena.

The military ended Hynek's contract and Project Blue Book in 1969, and four years later Hynek, by then head of Northwestern University's astronomy department, created the Center for UFO Studies. The center examined UFO claims scientifically and tabulated its results. In its initial studies, the center found, for example, that 28 percent of sightings were simply bright stars or planets (in 49 of those cases, witnesses estimated that the celestial objects were between 200 feet and 125 miles away).

Of 1,307 cases which the center examined in the early 1970s, only 20 seemed unexplainable. The center stopped short of claiming that those 20 were caused by alien spacecraft.

UFO investigator Philip J. Klass, in an article about Hynek, points out that few present researchers apply the same kinds of rigorous study to the subject. For today's "investigators," the slightest mystery is obvious proof of an extraterrestrial presence.

Hynek died in 1986 in Scottsdale. By then, the field he helped pioneer was changing radically.

Jim Marrs is a good example. Author of the best-selling Alien Agenda, Marrs is touted as both an expert on UFOs and the John F. Kennedy assassination (and, incredibly, connects the two in Alien Agenda, suggesting that Kennedy was killed for his knowledge of U.S.-space alien contacts). Oliver Stone mined Marrs' 1990 book Crossfire for his conspiracy-minded film JFK.

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