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Philip Julian Klass (November 8 1919August 9 2005) was an American journalist and UFO researcher with a background in electrical engineering. Klass was born in Des Moines, Iowamarker and died in Merritt Island, Floridamarker.

Klass was known for his skepticism regarding UFOs. In the ufological and skeptical communities, Klass tends to inspire strongly polarized appraisals. Klass has been called the "Sherlock Holmes of UFOlogy". In a 1999 interview, fellow debunker Gary Posner wrote that despite some recent health problems, the 80 year-old "Klass's mind — and pen — remain razor sharp, to the delight of his grateful followers and to the constant vexation (or worse) of his legions of detractors." In contrast, ufologist Jerome Clark wrote in 2003 that Klass was "an obsessed crank who contributed little to the UFO debate except noise, strange rhetoric, pseudoscientific speculation, and character assassination."

Longtime ufologist James W. Moseley illustrates the ambivalence many UFO researchers feel about Klass. On the one hand, Moseley argues that Klass was sincere in his motives, and that his work ultimately benefited the field of Ufology. Moseley contends that, when pressed, most leading ufologists would admit that Klass knew the subject and the people involved, and was welcomed, or at least pleasantly tolerated at UFO meetings . However, Moseley also noted that he and Klass "have had and continue to have intense doctrinal and factual disagreements, and there are things about Phil's 'style', like his attack on [Dr. James E. McDonald], that I do not admire or agree with."


Klass graduated from Iowa State Universitymarker in 1941, with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. For ten years, he worked for General Electric as an engineer in aviation electronics. In 1952 he joined Aviation Week, which later became Aviation Week & Space Technology. He was a senior editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology for thirty-four years.

In 1973 Klass was named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, recognized for his technical writing. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Aviation/Space Writers Association, the National Press Club, and the National Aviation Club. Asteroid 7277 was named "Klass" after him.

Retiring in 1986 as senior avionics editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology, he continued to contribute to the magazine for several more years. His book, "Secret Sentries in Space" (1971), was one of the first books about spy satellite technology.

He is credited with coining the term "avionics," a blending of aviation and electronics.

UFO researcher and skeptic

Klass was a founding fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), and conducted a number of skeptic-centered reports on UFOs and UFO sightings. He published the bimonthly Skeptics UFO Newsletter for several years and wrote several books on the subject (see below).

Klass's involvement in the UFO field can be traced to his reading of journalist John G. Fuller's Incident at Exetermarker (1966), about a series of UFO sightings in and around Exeter, New Hampshiremarker. Noting that many of the Exeter UFO incidents took place close to high-power electric lines, Klass suspected that the UFO reports were best explained as a previously unknown type of plasma or ball lightning that might have been generated from the power lines or their transformers. He later argued that this explanation might not apply only to the Exter case, but to many other UFO reports. A plasma, thought Klass, could be consistent with many UFO reports of bright lights moving erratically; a highly-charged plasma might further explain the reported effects of UFOs on the electrical systems of airplanes and automobiles.

Klass initially applied this theory cautiously and selectively in a series of magazine articles. He and physicist James E. McDonald exchanged cordial letters on the subject, and McDonald agreed that some UFOs might be a type of ball lighting. However, in his first book Klass argued that plasmas could explain most or all UFOs, even cases of alleged alien abduction.

Klass's plasma hypothesis was not well received by those on either side of the UFO debate, who noted that Klass was using one unverified phenomenon—his hypothetical plasmas—for to explain another unverified phenomenon—UFOs. Criticism came from "pro"-UFO physicist McDonald, and from a more sceptical team of plasma experts assembled by the Condon Committee, who all rejected Klass's plasma theory as unscientific. Since that time, theories evoking similar phenomena with widely differing modes of generation have proposed by commentators such as Michael Persinger, Terrance Meaden, Albert Budden and Paul Devereux In 1999 the MoD Project Condign report proposed that "UAPs" comparable to the plasmas originally advocated by Klass (but as amended by Devereux and Randles) may represent a viable explanation for some UFO events. Therefore, while his original concept was discredited, it has been adapted by others and in this regard Klass can be regarded as a pioneer of this approach.

Klass and McDonald afterwards engaged in a bitter, months-long debate, leveling a variety of charges and accusations at one another. Eventually, Klass wrote to McDonald's superiors at the U.S. Navy (McDonald was formally retired from the Navy, but often worked with the Office of Naval Research), suggesting that McDonald's security clearance be revoked or reconsidered, and he also wrote to McDonald's supervisors at the University of Arizona to argue that McDonald's academic tenure should be questioned. Even some of Klass's most ardent supporters expressed disapproval of his actions in regards to McDonald.

In the late 1960s, Klass quietly abandoned his plasma theory, and afterwards argued that all UFO sightings could be explained as misidentification of normal phenomena (such as clouds, stars, comets or airplanes), and/or as hoaxes. Clark contends that Klass argued in favor of hoaxes more than almost any other UFO skeptic, but that Klass rarely had evidence in favor of his accusations; this position was echoed by Don Ecker who asserted that during a 1992 debate, Klass made unsubstantiated charges of "drug smuggling" against Australian pilot Frederick Valentichmarker, who disappeared in 1978 after claiming a strange UFO was flying near his airplane.

In the 1970s, Klass heaped praise on astronomer and UFO investigator Allan Hendry's The UFO Handbook, but Hendry objected strongly to Klass's modus operandi, which Hendry argued was based on suppressed and distorted evidence, unscientific reasoning, ad hominem attacks, smear campaigns, character assassination, scientific bait and switch tactics, and seemingly refusing to evaluate evidence that conflicted with his preconceptions. Nuclear physicist and UFO researcher Stanton Friedman also frequently jousted with Klass.

In contrast, author Michael Sokolove wrote in his article "The Debunkers": "Klass was the voice of cool reason, seeking to demonstrate that a temporary inability to fill in the whole story should not open the door to wild speculation. His real argument, like all debunkers', was not with the people who believed that they had witnessed or experienced some paranormal event but with those who made an industry of igniting their imaginations."

The $10,000 offer

In 1966, Klass made an offer that stood for the remaining thirty-nine years of his life. By 1974, the offer had changed slightly, to the following form:

  • Klass agrees to pay to the second party the sum of $10,000 within thirty days after any of the following occur :
(A) Any crashed spacecraft, or major piece of a spacecraft is found to be clearly of extraterrestrial origin by the United States National Academy of Sciencesmarker, or
(B) The National Academy of Sciences announces that it has examined other evidence which conclusively proves that Earth has been visited by extraterrestrial spacecraft in the 20th century, or
(C) A bona fide extraterrestrial visitor, born on a celestial body other than the Earth, appears live before the General Assembly of the United Nations or on a national television program.
  • The party accepting this offer pays Klass $100 per year, for a maximum of ten years, each year none of these things occur. Even after the ten year period, Klass's offer of $10,000 was available until his death.

Klass made this offer openly to anyone. The offer was specifically declined by Frank Edwards, John G. Fuller, Stanton T. Friedman, J. Allen Hynek, and James Harder, some of whom were the most vocal promoters of the extraterrestrial hypothesis . As of 1974, only one person had entered into the agreement with Klass. A man in Seattle, Washingtonmarker accepted the terms in 1969 and made two annual payments of $100. Then in 1971 he made a bogus claim for the prize. When it was pointed out that his claim didn't meet any of the conditions, the man let the agreement lapse. In his book UFOs Explained, Klass offered to refund the full purchase price to every reader of the book if any of the conditions of his "UFO challenge" were ever met .

However, in another challenge, Klass claimed lexicographic inconsistencies based on the use of Pica typeface in the the Cutler/Twining memo and offered $100 in a challenge to Stanton Friedman, for each legitimate example of the use of the same style and size Pica type as used in the memo. Friedman provided 14 examples and was paid $1,000 by Klass (reproduced on p. 262).

The UFO curse

Klass left this statement, originally published in Saucer Smear, October 10, 1983 .
To ufologists who publicly criticize me, ... or who even think unkind thoughts about me in private, I do hereby leave and bequeath:
No matter how long you live, you will never know any more about UFOs than you know today. You will never know any more about what UFOs really are, or where they come from. You will never know any more about what the U.S. Government really knows about UFOs than you know today. As you lie on your own death-bed you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse.



  • UFOs — Identified, 1968, Random House, ISBN 0-394-45003-5
  • Secret Sentries in Space, 1971, Random House, ISBN 0-394-46972-0 LCCN 77143994 (about spy satellites)
  • UFOs Explained, 1974, Random House, hardback ISBN 0-394-49215-3 Vintage Books paperback, ISBN 0-394-72106-3
  • UFOs: The Public Deceived, 1983, Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-322-6
  • UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game, 1989, Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-509-1
  • The Real Roswell Crashed-saucer Coverup, 1997, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-164-5
  • Bringing UFOs Down to Earth, 1997, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-148-3 (for ages 9–12)


  • Plasma Theory May Explain Many UFOs, Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 22, 1966.
  • A Field Guide to UFOs, Astronomy, September 1997, pg. 30-35.
  • N-Rays and UFOs: Are They Related;, Skeptical Inquirer, 2(1)57-61
  • NASA, the White House, and UFOs, Skeptical Inquirer, 2(2)72-81
  • UFOs, the CIA, and the New York Times, Skeptical Inquirer, 4(3)2-5
  • UFO Federation Falls on Hard Times, Skeptical Inquirer, 9(4)314-316
  • The "Top-Secret UFO Papers" NSA Won't Release, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 10, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • Crash of the Crashed Saucer Claim, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 10, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • A Hoax UFO Document, Skeptical Inquirer, l0(3) 238-239.
  • The Condon UFO Study, Skeptical Inquirer, l0(4) 328-341, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • FAA Data Sheds New Light on JAL Pilot's Report, Skeptical Inquirer, vol 11, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • The MJ-12 Crashed Saucer Documents, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 12, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • The MJ-12 Papers "Authenticated"?, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 13, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • New Evidence of MJ-12 Hoax, Skeptical Inquirer, 14(2)135-140, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • Additional Comments about the "Unusual Personal Experiences Survey", Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 17, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • Time Challenges John Mack's UFO Abduction Efforts, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 12, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • The GAO Roswell Report and Congressman Schiff, Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 18, reprinted in The UFO Invasion
  • That's Entertainment! TV's UFO Coverup, Skeptical Inquirer, vol 20, reprinted in The UFO Invasion


  1. Philip J. Klass UFO Debunker
  2. Gary Posner Interviews Philip J. Klass — published in Skeptic magazine, Vol. 7, No. 4, 1999 ([1])
  3. Jerome Clark's comments on Klass on the UFO UpDates mailing list ([2])
  4. eSkeptic Skeptic , Friday, August 26th, 2005]
  5. see Blum, Howard, Out There: The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials, Simon and Schuster, 1990
  6. some of these letters are reprinted in part in Ann Druffel's Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science; 2003, Wild Flower Press; ISBN 0-926524-58-5
  7. Clark Jerome (1998) "The UFO Book", Detroit: Visible Ink
  8. Clark 1998, p. 369
  9. Electric UFOs, Blanford 1998
  10. Earthlights Revelation, Blandford 1989
  11. Clark, 1998
  12. Druffel, 2003
  13. see Moseley and Pflock 2002, Clark 1998, Blum, 1990, and Druffel, 2003
  14. see Clark, 1981 and Clark, 1998
  15. Ecker, Don, "Editorial: Skeptics or Debunkers?" from UFO Magazine, October 7, 2000
  16. "Phil Klass vs. The 'UFO Promoters'" By Jerome Clark, 1981
  17. Jennings Program - Page 1/3
  18. Blum, 1990
  19. Michael Sokolove, "The Lives They Lived; The Debunker", The New York Times Magazine, December 25, 2005, page 58. Online at:
  20. Friedman, S. (2008). Flying Saucers and Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFOs. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books ISBN 978-1-60163-011-7
  21. Reprinted in The UFO Invasion, edited by Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-131-9.

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