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The term foo fighter was used by Allied aircraft pilots in World War II to describe various UFOs or mysterious aerial phenomena seen in the skies over both the European and Pacific Theater of Operations.

Though "foo fighter" initially described a type of UFO reported and named by the U.S. 415th Night Fighter Squadron, the term was also commonly used to mean any UFO sighting from that period.

Formally reported from November 1944 onwards, witnesses often assumed that the foo fighters were secret weapons employed by the enemy, but they remained unidentified post-war and were reported by both Allied and Axis forces. Michael D. Swords writes,


The nonsense word "foo" emerged in popular culture during the early 1930s, it was first used by cartoonist Bill Holman who peppered his Smokey StoverSee for instance;

Holman, "Smokey Stover - A Dead Ringer", Daily News, 21 November 1938, retrieved 6 Feb 2009 or,

Holman, "Smokey Stover - Movie Idle", Daily News, 23 November 1938, retrieved 6 Feb 2009 fireman cartoon strips with "foo" signs and puns. Holman claimed to have found the word on the bottom of a Chinese figurine. It was part of service culture by World War II and is thought to have led to the backronym FUBAR. By 1944, the term "foo fighter" was used by radar operators to describe a spurious or dubious trace.

The term Foo was borrowed from Bill Holman's comic strip Smokey Stover by a Radar Operator in the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, Donald J. Meiers, who it is agreed by most 415th members gave the Foo Fighters their name. Don was from Chicago and was an avid reader of Bill Holman's strip which was run daily in the Chicago Tribune. In a mission debriefing on the evening of the 27th of November, 1944, Fritz Ringwald, the unit's S-2 Intelligence Officer, stated that Don Meiers and Ed Schleuter had sighted a red ball of fire that appeared to chase them through a variety of high speed maneuvers. Fritz said that Don was extremely agitated and had a copy of the comic strip tucked in his back pocket. He pulled it out and slammed it down on Fritz's desk and said, "... it was another one of those fuckin' foo fighters!" and stormed out of the debriefing room.

According to Fritz Ringwald, that because of the lack of a better name, it stuck. And this was originally what the men of the 415th started calling these incidents-- "Fuckin' Foo Fighters". In December of 1944, a press correspondent from the Associated Press Corps in Paris, Bob Wilson, was sent to the 415th at their base outside of Dijon France to investigate this story. It was at this time that the term was cleaned up to just Foo Fighters. The unit commander, Capt. Harold Augsperger, also decided to shorten the term to Foo Fighters in the unit's Historical Data.


The first sightings occurred in November 1944, when pilots flying over Germany by night reported seeing fast-moving round glowing objects following their aircraft. The objects were variously described as fiery, and glowing red, white, or orange. Some pilots described them as resembling Christmas tree lights and reported that they seemed to toy with the aircraft, making wild turns before simply vanishing. Pilots and aircrew reported that the objects flew formation with their aircraft and behaved as if under intelligent control, but never displayed hostile behavior. However, they could not be outmaneuvered or shot down. The phenomenon was so widespread that the lights earned a name - in the European Theater of Operations they were often called "kraut fireballs" but for the most part called "foo-fighters". The military took the sightings seriously, suspecting that the mysterious sightings might be secret German weapons, but further investigation revealed that German and Japanese pilots had reported similar sightings.

In its 15 January 1945 edition TIME magazine carried a story entitled "Foo-Fighter", in which it reported that the "balls of fire" had been following USAAF night fighters for over a month, and that the pilots had named it the "foo-fighter". According to TIME, descriptions of the phenomena varied, but the pilots agreed that the mysterious lights followed their aircraft closely at high speed. Some scientists at the time rationalized the sightings as an illusion probably caused by afterimages of dazzle caused by flak bursts, while others suggested St. Elmo's Fire as an explanation.

The "balls of fire" phenomenon reported from the Pacific Theater of Operations differed somewhat from the foo fighters reported from Europe; the "ball of fire" resembled a large burning sphere which "just hung in the sky", though it was reported to sometimes follow aircraft. On one occasion, the gunner of a B-29 aircraft managed to hit one with gunfire, causing it to break up into several large pieces which fell on buildings below and set them on fire. As with the European foo fighters, no aircraft was reported as having been attacked by a "ball of fire"

The postwar Robertson Panel cited foo fighter reports, noting that their behavior did not appear to be threatening, and mentioned possible explanations, ie that they were electrostatic phenomena similar to St. Elmo's fire, electromagnetic phenomena, or simply reflections of light from ice crystals. The Panel's report suggested that "If the term "flying saucers" had been popular in 1943-1945, these objects would have been so labeled."


Foo fighters were reported on many occasions from around the world; a few examples are noted below.

  • Sighting from September 1941 in the Indian Oceanmarker was similar to some later Foo Fighter reports. From the deck of the S.S. Pułaski (a Polishmarker merchant vessel transporting British troops), two sailors reported a "strange globe glowing with greenish light, about half the size of the full moon as it appears to us." They alerted a British officer, who watched the object's movements with them for over an hour.

  • In mid-1942, a Royal Australian Air Force plane patrolling off the Tasman Peninsula was approached by "a singular airfoil of glistening bronze color", about 150 feet in length and 50 feet in diameter, with what seemed like a dome on top. It paced the plane for a few minutes, then turned away "at a hell of a pace", turned again and dived into the ocean.

  • Several UK Ministry of Defence documents, declassified in the 1990s, relate sightings of unusual aircraft by RAF crews in 1942. One, dated December 3, 1942, related that the crew refused to be shaken in their story despite ridicule. During a raid on Turinmarker the night of November 28/29, they twice spotted an object an estimated 200-300 feet in length, 1/5 to 1/6 that in diameter, and traveling at an estimated 500 miles an hour. It had four equally spaced red lights along its length. The pilot, Captain Lever, said he saw a similar object about three months before north of Amsterdammarker.

  • On the night of 26/27 May, 1943, during a raid on Essen, Germanymarker, the crew of an RAF bomber reported a large cylindrical object similar to the one reported earlier near Turin. There were a number of "portholes" evenly spaced along its length. It was much larger than their aircraft with an "incredible" speed estimated to be in "thousands of mph".

  • Charles R. Bastien of the Eighth Air Force reported one of the first encounters with foo fighters over the Belgium/Holland area; he described them as "two fog lights flying at high rates of speed that could change direction rapidly". During debriefing, his intelligence officer told him that two RAF night fighters had reported the same thing, and it was later reported in British newspapers.

  • Ufologist Leonard H. Stringfield related a near-fatal encounter he had at the end of the war when he was a USAF intelligence officer. On August 28, 1945, as they approached Iwo Jimamarker in a Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando, they encountered three teardrop-shaped objects, brilliantly white, closing and on a parallel course. Their magnetic navigation-instrument needles went wild and their left engine suddenly failed. Losing altitude, crew and passengers were told to prepare for a ditch. Then the objects departed and the engine restarted.

  • Career U.S. Air Force pilot Duane Adams often related that he had witnessed two occurrences of a bright light which paced his aircraft for about half an hour and then rapidly ascended into the sky. Both incidents occurred at night, both over the South Pacific, and both were witnessed by the entire aircraft crew. The first sighting occurred shortly after the end of World War II while Adams piloted a B-25 bomber. The second sighting occurred in the early 1960s when Adams was piloting a KC-135 tanker.

Explanations and theories

  • Some suggest that some sightings of foo fighters may have been night-sightings of the German Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket-plane. However, the Me 163 was completely unsuitable for night operations since it carried only a few minutes of fuel, was totally insufficient to make contact with an enemy at night, carried no airborne interception radar, and lacked all night-flying equipment which would have been vital to make its characteristic engine-out glider-style deadstick landing at night.

  • Author Renato Vesco revived the wartime theory that the foo fighters were a new Nazi secret weapon in his non-fiction work 'Intercept UFO', reprinted in a revised English edition as 'Man-Made UFOs: 50 Years Of Suppression' in 1994. Vesco alleges that the foo fighters were in fact a form of ground-launched automatically-guided jet-propelled flak mine called the Feurball (Fireball). The device, operated by special SSmarker units, apparently resembled a tortoise shell in shape, and flew by means of gas jets that spun like a Catherine wheel around the fuselage. Minitaure klystron tubes inside the device, in combination with the gas jets, created the foo fighters' characteristic glowing spheroid appearance. A crude form of collision avoidance radar ensured the craft would not crash into another airborne object, and an onboard sensor mechanism would even instruct the machine to depart swiftly if it was fired upon. The purpose of the Feurball, according to Vesco, was two-fold. The appearance of this weird device inside a bomber stream would (and indeed did) have a distracting and disruptive effect on the bomber pilots; and Vesco alleges that the devices were also intended to have an offensive capability. Electrostatic discharges from the klystron tubes would, he states, interfere with the ignition systems of the bombers' engines, causing the planes to crash. Although there is no hard evidence to support the reality of the Feurball drone, this theory has been taken up by other aviation/ufology authors, and has even been cited as the most likely explanation for the phenomena in at least one recent television documentary on Nazi secret weapons.

  • A type of electrical discharge from airplanes' wings (see St. Elmo's Fire) has been suggested as an explanation, since it has been known to appear at the wingtips of aircraft.

  • It has been pointed out that some of the descriptions of foo fighters closely resemble those of ball lightning.

  • During April of 1945, the US Navy began to experiment on visual illusions as experienced by night time aviators. This work began the US Navy's Bureau of Medicine (BUMED) project X-148-AV-4-3. This project pioneered the study of Aviators Vertigo and was initiated because a wide variety of anomalous events were being reported by night time aviators. Dr. Edgar Vinacke, who was the premier flight psychologist on this project, summarized the need for a cohesive and systemic outline of the epidemiology of Aviator's Vertigo as,
"Pilots do not have sufficient information about phenomena of disorientation, and, as a corollary, are given considerable disorganized, incomplete, and inaccurate information.
They are largely dependent upon their own experience, which must supplement and interpret the traditions about 'vertigo' which are passed on to them.
When a concept thus grows out of anecdotes cemented together with practical necessity, it is bound to acquire elements of mystery.
So far as 'vertigo' is concerned, no one really knows more than a small part of the facts, but a great deal of the peril.
Since aviators are not skilled observers of human behavior, they usually have only the vaguest understanding of their own feelings.
Like other naive persons, therefore, they have simply adopted a term to cover a multitude of otherwise inexplicable events."
The foo fighters were a direct outgrowth of this naive observation of what was later defined as Aviator's Vertigo. This defines the illusory experiences which are everpresent in non-instrumental night flying and defines the objective and subjective experiences of an aviator. This is the classic dialectic argument between naïve realism (foo fighters) and scientific realism  (Aviator's Vertigo.)

In popular culture

  • In the 1956 movie Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, one of the main characters refers to floating balls of light (later found to be alien observers), as "foo lights"

  • The 2002 Mini-series Taken featured numerous balls of light in the first episode as Capt. Russel Keys flies a B-17 bomber above France during the Second World War.

  • In the anime Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Kana Iriya pilots the Black Manta, a fighter based on technology reverse-engineered from a crashed UFO and is capable of sudden and erratic maneuvers. Kunihiro Suizenji calls it a Foo Fighter because of its maneuverability.

  • In the Universe at War: Earth Assault video game, the Hierarchy, an alien race invading Earth in order to completely stripmine it, utilizes flying vehicles called Saucers (which look like actual flying saucers) that employ foo fighters to either damage enemy forces or repair Hierarchy mechanical units. These foo fighters appear as large glowing yellow orbs in damage mode and blue in repair mode.

  • In the Area 51 series of novels, Foo Fighters are described as small alien craft used as flying battering rams under the control of a larger alien computer (despite the fact that historically, no ill effects were ever reported from encounters with "actual" foo fighters).

  • The American rock band Foo Fighters, who were formed in 1995 by lead singer Dave Grohl after his previous band Nirvana disbanded.

See also



  • Jerome Clark, The Ufo Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial, Visible Ink, 1998, ISBN 1-57859-029-9
  • Timothy Good, Need to Know: UFOs, the Military, and Intelligence, Pegasus Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-933648-38-5

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