By M. Scott Morris
BELDEN – Anybody who regularly looks up to the sky is bound to see something strange sooner or later.
“If the sun reflects off an object, it’s going to look like a UFO,” said Timothy Soper, a 60-year-old Belden resident and certified field investigator for Mutual UFO Network.
Most times, unidentified flying objects become identified flying objects.
Soper was 9 or 10 years old when he saw something that he didn’t want to describe for publication. The thing – whatever it was – sparked an interest that stuck with him.
Soper joined MUFON three years ago, and became an investigator last year.
Among about a dozen cases, he’s dealt with one hoax from Saltillo, and he’s tried to convince a man that Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, is not, in fact, a UFO.
Soper has a phone app that provides the paths of airplanes, and another app does the same for satellites and the International Space Station.
“I’m not debunking,” Soper said. “I’m just eliminating things it could be. That’s where we start.”
To borrow a phrase, after eliminating the possible, only the impossible remains.
Soper’s pretty sure there’s something out there. It might be space aliens or visitors from the future. Right now, questions far outnumber answers.
“A majority of American’s couldn’t care less,” he said, “but there are some individuals who are curious and want to know what all these witnesses are seeing.”
Rich Hoffman is a believer. The 62-year-old Huntsville, Alabama, resident is MUFON’s state director for Alabama and Mississippi.
He joined MUFON when it started in 1969, and his interest goes back to grade school when he was late to class and assigned to do a report on UFOs. The topic didn’t impress him, and he got a D.
“Then I saw (newscaster) Walter Cronkite talk about a UFO case in New Mexico,” Hoffman said.
The report involved a police officer who said he saw an egg-shaped craft and two small beings next to it.
Hoffman grew up in Ohio, and his investigations led him to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton.
“Military personnel were having these sightings,” he said.
He learned about Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s investigation into UFOs. Before long, he was hooked on figuring out what people were seeing.
He also became something of an authority, and was 15 when asked to appear on the show Phil Donahue did in Dayton before moving to Chicago.
“Next thing you know, people around Dayton were calling me whenever something went bump in the night,” he said. “Every time there was a sighting, I was on the news that evening.”
Unlike Soper, Hoffman said he’s never seen direct evidence of UFOs that couldn’t be explained away.
He got close once. He saw something flash in a clear, Huntsville sky, and wondered if he was finally a witness.
He tracked reports of the object through Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and into Canada.
“All along it was reported as a UFO, but actually, it was a Google balloon,” he said, adding that the company was experimenting with ways to provide Internet access.
With no direct evidence, what does that leave?
“We still have no really definite proof, other than case files and circumstantial evidence,” Soper said.
He’s been learning investigation skills from Hoffman, as the pair have worked Mississippi cases together.
“The goal of MUFON is the scientific study of UFO phenomena,” Soper said.
Again, most cases can be explained away as sightings of Venus or Sirius. Some cases take longer to diagnosis as a drone, airplane or satellite.
But other reported sightings remain unknown. They all go into MUFON’s database, where experienced investigators compare and contrast cases, trying to turn unkowns into knowns.
“I’m not a scientist,” said Soper, a piano tuner by profession, “but a lot of MUFON members are scientists and highly educated.”
Hoffman works in information technology with a military contractor at the Redstone Arsenal. When he’s not on the job, he spends two to three hours a day focused on UFO research, and he’s seen enough circumstantial evidence to convince him his 50 years of searching have been worthwhile.
He investigated a case in a wheat field, where a 70-foot diameter circle was burned into the crop, but that’s not all.
“It baked the soil two feet below the surface,” Hoffman said. “Why do I need to see a UFO? There is nothing I can do that can recreate that effect.”
More to learn
When investigating a case, Soper contacts local police or the U.S. Forestry Service.
“Any time there’s a UFO sighting, it’s more than likely someone else saw it,” he said.
Soper’s been snickered at for his trouble. Hoffman has investigated more than 400 cases, and knows some people will never take what he’s learned seriously.
“Skepticism is part of it,” he said. “I approach this with a degree of skepticism myself.
Even so, Hoffman said he’s heard incredible stories from what he considered to be highly credible people, including military and police sources.
“To me, the proof has been there. I think that, but John Q. Public doesn’t,” he said. “That’s why we keep bringing people into the fold, like Mr. Soper, to be investigators to try and find out what these things are and how they do what they do. I’m dedicated to that.”
For Soper’s part, he wants to be there when the questions finally have answers.
“The reason I joined MUFON is I would really like to be the one who investigates the case that discovers what it is that MUFON has been looking for since 1969,” he said.