We’re counting five of the most mysterious UFO sightings in history outside of Roswell, from flying saucers over Washington to a WWII war in Los Angeles.

The most popular UFO event of all time is often assumed to be Roswell, but rumours of unidentified flying objects definitely did not start (or end) there. People have described seeing odd flying objects of light, clouds, and fire for thousands of years. But as our intellectual obsession in the 20th century increased with extra-terrestrial existence, so did the number of sightings of UFOs.

As Josh Gates and the Unknown Expedition: Quest for Extra-terrestrials crew embark on their discovery of Roswell and other UFO events by listening to experts, historians and eyewitnesses around the world, we can look back on some of the other most prominent UFO sightings recorded in history.

The Rendlesham Forest Incident

The Rendlesham Forest Incident

The  U.K’s most mysterious UFO sightings were recorded at the Royal Air Force military base on the east coast of England in late 1980, often referred to as “Britain’s Roswell.” The first sighting arose on Dec. 26 of that year, when two officers of the United States Air Force confirmed seeing lights dropping to Earth over nearby Rendlesham Forest at around 3 a.m. The servicemen entered the forest to investigate and saw a metallic object giving off lights and moving about, according to an official Air Force memo that later documented the incident.

Once local police arrived, they initially saw no other lights but a bright light in the nearby lighthouse, but subsequently saw marks near the location. Several days after that, further officers returned to the forest site and said that they saw three lights flashing for hours.  Sightings as bright stars and site signs as indentations made by animals have been contested by astronomers and scholars. Although the lieutenant who wrote the memo and a couple of witnesses maintained the report they gave in December 1980.

Battle of Los Angeles

Battle of Los Angeles

California is the leading state with the most confirmed UFO sightings, and Los Angeles is the largest number of observations between the years 2001-2015, according to a report released by the National UFO Monitoring Centre.

In February 1942, during World War II, an extraordinary military assault took place during one of the most incredible sightings in the Sunshine State. On the night of February 24, military units at the coast of California were ordered to train for Japanese attacks, just three months before the assault in Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of February 25, 120 miles west of Los Angeles an unidentified aircraft was detected and vanished on the radar. Air raid sirens were lifted from there, a citywide curfew was enforced, bright anti-aircraft searchlights pierced the night sky and a mass air raid was conducted for protection. In the local police forces, reporting was obtained of unexplained flight objects, international aeroplanes and even aircraft crash landings. During the citywide outage, the mass destruction resulted in the killing of at least 5 people and significant collateral damage from shrapnel.

The unidentified object was later determined not to have been from a fighter enemy.

The 1952 Washington, D.C. UFO Incident

The ufo sightings in Washington


It began with a rare and unpredictable aircraft on military radars, like many famous UFO stories. Air traffic controllers at Ronald Reagan National Airport observed activity on their radars from aircraft that were not supposed to arrive in the area on July 19, 1952, and, oddly, evidently, flew at unexpected speeds that could not be detected by radar screens.

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Eyewitness reports from local residents, flight crew members and military officials reported witnessing streaks of light zooming into the skies the next weekend and other strange incidents. The stories of UFO sightings that clashed with 911 calls, to ease national tension and slow down the reports. At that point, the Air Force held the biggest news conference since the Second World War to discuss the unusual phenomenon they traced to asteroids, meteors, and meteorological events, such as temperature inversion, allowing radar energy to be observed.

The Belgian UFO Wave

Belgian UFO sightings

In November 1989, the longest-lasting string of confirmed UFO sightings in Belgium began and ended the following April. Some 13,500 individuals appeared to see huge, triangular flying objects floating low in the sky. Some of the unidentifiable objects were investigated and pursued by military fighter pilots in the spring of 1990, but the objects flew out of range before the pilots could further observe anything. As a harmless mystery, it was written off and remains one of the greatest suspected UFO sightings in history.

The ‘Flying Saucers’

The 'Flying Saucers'

Descriptions of UFO sightings have apparently been associated with the phrase “flying saucer” forever. But the term was actually coined by the press after pilot Kenneth Arnold reported a sighting in 1947, the same year as the incident in Roswell.

Arnold found a bright light bouncing off the side of his plane while flying to Yakima, Wash., for a business trip. To his delight, he said that he saw nine aircraft flying at around 1,700 miles per hour in a ‘V’ formation towards Mount Rainier. He described the movement as “a saucer if you skip it over water,” which was misinterpreted by newspapers to mean that the items were shaped like saucers, so the word was coined. Multiple UFO sightings were recorded over the following weeks, followed by the largest occurrence in Roswell.