The "Phoenix Lights" Are No Mystery

Categories: News
ToastyKen via Flickr
Street light, or alien spaceship?

On March 13 of every year, local news outlets run the annual story of the "mystery" surrounding the lights that appeared over Phoenix in 1997.

People seem to forget, or simply ignore, that there's no real mystery about it.

See also:
-The Hack and the Quack

The non-mystery was explained at length in a 1998 New Times story by Tony Ortega. What follows is the Cliffs Notes explanation:

There were two events that night: a "vee pattern" of lights that flew across the state north-to-south, which crossed Phoenix around 8:30 p.m., and a second set of nine lights that seemed to hover over Phoenix, before apparently disappearing.

As for the first event, a man in Scottsdale looking through a large Dobsonian telescope identified the lights as being attached to planes.

From Ortega's story:
It was plain to see, [Mitch] Stanley says. Under magnification, Stanley could clearly see that each light split into pairs, one each on the tips of squarish wings. Even under the telescope's power, the planes appeared small, indicating that they were flying high. Stanley says he followed the planes for about a minute, then turned his telescope to more interesting objects.

"They were planes. There's no way I could have mistaken that," he says.
The more widely seen, and talked-about lights were the ones hovering around 10 p.m. From Ortega:
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.
The "disappearance" was actually the lights dropping behind the Sierra Estrella mountain range. Channel 12 filmed a similar dropping of flares by military planes, which Ortega reported as looking "remarkably like the 10 p.m. lights of March 13."

An ASU astronomy professor, a physicist, and other scientists have reviewed the evidence, and found the explanation perfectly plausible. In fact, you can still find that physicist's complete report online.

As for the "vee," which wasn't talked about or disputed as much as the hovering lights, it never was disclosed who was flying those planes. According to Ortega's report, Luke Air Force radar operators said there was nothing unusual on the radar, and "a formation of five planes--traveling at high altitude above Sky Harbor's and outside of Luke's restricted air spaces--would not have been considered unusual."

Nobody bothered to request the radar information from the Federal Aviation Administration within two weeks, when such records were routinely deleted, so it'll never be known exactly where those planes came from.

However, the claim by UFO hunters was that this was some miles-long UFO (obviously alien) didn't pan out. Some people thought all the lights were part of one craft, but an analysis of the videotape made it clear that they were moving together in a formation, but they were independent of one another.

"Mystery?" Not quite.

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.
Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.

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Nikolidanburski, you hit on THE key point: THERE WAS NO SOUND.  ZERO.  Moreover, the massive display above Phoenix suddenly disappeared.  Those two combinations cannot be explained by this guy, and that's telling.

I'm FAR from one of those UFO zealots, but Lights Above Phoenix is compelling, to be sure.


If it was a formation of planes then why was there no sound? Also why don't they recreate it in the very same place at night with planes and then we'll see whos really shooting the shit! Plus in this documentary they experiment with flares and it fails to produce the effects of the phoenix lights:


I was stationed at Luke at the time as an F-16 IP and was flying that night. We all got quite the laugh at these UFO nut jobs.


@zztopp16 I have your nut job. I know what i saw and it was not plane,balloon, or flare. Naive? hardley!


@zztopp16 AYE, AYE Captian, nobody was flying that night until two were scrambled after Prescott airport reported a low flying unidentified flying object crossed it flight path from North to south and Luke went into lock down-- I have your nut job. I know what i saw and it was not plane,balloon, or flare. Naive? hardley! OH wait, in this galaxy we are the cream of the crop, nothing exsist outside of our atmosphere. When you put faith into man, your setting up your own failure.


So the real question must be why they where doing something so simple as shooting flares and Lie about it for no good reason. Also y would such a well decided and planed out aviation operation be over a well populated American city. Anyone that flies knows there is a risk anytime u sit in the cockpit. So y risk deaths of unaware civilians and sightings of top secret flight plans. I'm glad there are more qualified individuals making decisions then the know it all experts that want there opinions to be heard. By the way there are retired commanders and astronauts that risk there reputations telling the truth about there interactions with alien lifeforms demanded top secret. Also there are mathematical equations used by NASA that other life in our galaxy is mathematically undeniable let alone the mathematical inevitability for life much more advance in the universe as a whole. The real answer is the truth would scare the shit out of everyone and feelings of hopelessness and insignificance would destroy all the time and money America has spend brain washing u into believing the nation's economy, security,religion, and freedom which in reality is all fabricated to make money and a sense of unity when none really exists. If this fell apart it would never matter if there are aliens or not because we cant handle taking care of ourselves let alone a cosmic unity with other alien civilizations.

ExpertShot topcommenter

One of the first things I said when I heard about such things as UFO investigators was why would an alien life form come millions of miles from somewhere in an advanced craft only to make sure they followed the aviation laws of the US and displayed their lights properly.  It's stupid to believe that.  Hide and seek indeed.  These mooks that believe all this crap are either delusional or con artists.  I


And all this time I thought it was a Pearce Family Fart Lighting Festival.

eric.nelson745 topcommenter

The A-10 is not a fighter. It's an attack aircraft, sort of a light bomber (hence the A in its nomenclature). When boots on the ground need a close-in strike, they call in an A-10. The A-10 is most famous as a tank killer. It is also an ugly plane. Ugly but deadly.


@jonnyquest So do the troops on the ground. The heavily-armored Warthog, like Timex watches back in the 50s, "takes a licking but keeps on ticking." It can dispose of tanks and infantry with equal efficiency. Warthog drivers catch a lot of crap from fighter pilots who fly planes that can do mach 2 and pull high-g turns, but they are indispensable on the battlefield. They can deliver ordnance right on top of the bad guys and survive above the battlefield. Periodically the fighter jock lobby in the Air Force tries to get rid of it, but there is no substitute for it. It is one butt-ugly, bad-ass airplane.

jonnyquest topcommenter

Actually, I like the A10. It reminds me of WW2 warplanes. BTW if you like planes and flying see "The Wind Rises". Beautiful animation, great love story, and a love of aircraft as the focus.

jonnyquest topcommenter

I bet the mother warthog thinks it's beautiful.

Ken Jacobsen
Ken Jacobsen

Wait a minute, you're a news organization and this is AMERICA! You're supposed to go with the scary scenario no matter how insubstantiated. Remember "weapons of mass destruction"?

valleynative topcommenter

The planes traveling in formation, appearing to be a larger ship, are exactly the sort of hoax that time-travelers will love to have played on us. 

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@valleynative  ... because after traveling MILLIONS of Light Years by warping space-time and finally encountering a habitable planet with some semi-intelligent life on it, there's nothing better than a decades long game of hide and seek with the natives.

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