Even before pilot Kenneth Arnold saw strange craft skipping through the air like flying saucers in 1947, people were spotting strange objects zipping across the sky. No one is in a better position to see a UFO than a pilot, and when the fighter pilots of World War II started seeing mysterious lights zooming past them, a new phenomenon was born: Foo Fighters.
UFOs: Nazi Weapons?
It’s nighttime, and the pilot is flying near the border of Nazi Germany. Without warning, a luminous red ball zooms nearby, moving far too fast for him to identify—much less give chase.
So many World War II pilots saw strange zooming orbs high in the skies that for a while, they presumed they were dealing with a new Nazi weapon. They rarely varied in appearance: they were round and multicolored, often fiery red. Sightings became an almost-routine feature in mission reports; one early report reads:
Saw a brilliant red light at 2000 feet going E at 200 MPH in the vicinity of Erstein. Due to AI failure could not pick up contact but followed it by sight until it went out. Could not get close enough to identify object before it went out.
Intelligence investigations revealed that similar sightings were being made by German and Japanese pilots as well, so the Allies were relieved to learn that they didn’t have a new weapon to contend with. The Foo Fighters never seemed to act aggressively or threaten attack; they would appear, almost taunting pilots with their superior speed and maneuverability, then dart out of sight.
Loose Lips Sink Ships!—But Talk About Foo Fighters All You Want
Spies were everywhere in World War II, and soldiers everywhere were admonished to keep their mouths shut about missions and plans; there could be dire consequences. “Loose Lips Sink Ships!” read one common poster of the era.
It’s a surprise, then, that military censors apparently had no problem with newspaper reporters writing about Foo Fighters. Most of the articles reported the orbs as being transparent or silver, instead of the red or multicolored balls of light the pilots actually said they saw. Newspapers often claimed the Foo Fighters were a “new Nazi weapon” rather than the complete mystery that they really were.
The media did a lot to propagate the name “Foo Fighters“, which had originally been inspired by the popular comic Smokey Stover. In the comics, Smokey, a fireman, referred to fire as “foo” for no apparent reason, and fancied himself to be a “foo fighter”. Radar operator Donald Meiers, a Smokey Stover fan, is credited for first using the Foo Fighter name to refer to the UFOs—this is years before the terms “unidentified flying object” and even “flying saucer” were coined.
What Were Foo Fighters, Really?
Surprise: it’s an unsolved mystery. There’s a pattern with UFO sightings: they’re reported and recorded, and then denier-skeptics make up mundane explanations for the extraordinary experiences of witnesses. After that, the sightings are completely dismissed (“it was just a weather balloon, dude, everyone knows that”). In later years, UFO sightings would be explained away as swamp gas and maybe misidentifications of the planet Venus, but skeptics had other excuses to account for Foo Fighters.
Chief among the invented explanations: St. Elmo’s Fire, a weather phenomenon that mainly occurs during thunderstorms. The fact that most or all of the Foo Fighter sightings occurred when no thunderstorms were actually present did not deter the deniers.
Other denying skeptics tried to pawn off Foo Fighters as mere reflections from ice crystals, an “explanation” that has a multitude of problems: ice crystals don’t zoom off at 200 MPH, and there were many Foo Fighter sightings in the South Pacific war theater, where the likelihood of ice forming in the atmosphere is remote.
Worst of all for the denying skeptics: the Foo Fighters would sometimes be spotted on radar, and would be seen to be moving at near-impossible speeds. Ice crystals and weather phenomena do not, in fact, appear on radar screens.
So Wait, What About the Band?
The band The Foo Fighters does, of course, get its name from the phenomenon. “Around the time that I recorded the first FF tape,” founder Dave Grohl told an interviewer, “I was reading a lot of books on UFOs. Not only is it a fascinating subject, but there’s a treasure trove of band names in those UFO books!” he said.
“So, since I had recorded the first record by myself, playing all the instruments, but I wanted people to think that it was a group, I figured that ‘Foo Fighters’ might lead people to believe that it was more than just one guy. Silly, huh?”