Michael Panicello didn’t initially set out to become the State Director of Connecticut’s Mutual UFO Network chapter. When he first joined the organization, abbreviated as “MUFON,” he was looking to satisfy a curiosity stoked by cable documentaries and a desire to dig deeper into the unexplained.

“I was looking into my own topics that I found interesting and I hit a wall and I needed to ask people who knew the field better where to look for this kind of information,” he recalls. “I remember seeing on some of these documentaries about people from MUFON and I found the chapter and I attended one of the meetings, and they were very nice. They’re very friendly. They helped me out.

He started as a Field Investigator to be the “tip of the spear” for local UFO sightings. 

“If something is going to crash in Connecticut, the Field Investigator would go and find out what it is,” he says.

What started as a casual hobby, however, quickly turned into a more serious pursuit.

When the former director left the position only six months after his first meeting, Panicello decided to step up and took over as the director in June 2013. The chapter was still very young at the time and only three members were left, himself included. It was an opportunity to pursue a passion and help make improvements.

Since then, the chapter has grown, added members, and meets regularly. Recently they’ve been stepping up their game, bringing new equipment and expertise into their search.

While the hunt for UFOs – and extra-terrestrial intelligence – might conjure images of tinfoil hats and X-Files reruns, for Panicello and his compatriots, it is a search for truth and an opportunity to correct some of the misperceptions about their work.

The Truth is Out There

MUFON was founded in 1969, as attitudes toward UFOs were changing. Starting in the late 1940s, government research into aerial phenomena was normal. The U.S. Air Force launched its own investigative unit called Project Blue Book in 1947. The group was tasked with researching reports of UFOs to determine their origin as a means of protecting national security during the first half of the Cold War. 

In two decades, more than 12,000 UFO sightings were reported to Project Blue Book. In a memo from the former Secretary of the Air Force in 1969, 701 of them remained unidentified and none had posed a threat to national security.

In 1969, researchers at the University of Colorado published an in-depth report called “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects” compiling information about UFO sightings and investigations from the previous two decades. As the study circulated in the media, the Air Force decided to shutter Project Blue Book,  and larger public interest and support of similar projects dwindled.

With shifting attitudes and shifting needs, a Midwest UFO researcher named Walt Andrus decided to break away from the larger Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (ARPO) to form his own smaller, less centralized group. That group was originally called the Midwest UFO Network, a grassroots effort that included UFO investigators in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri.

Over the decades, MUFON grew, branching out well past the borders of its original midwestern region into a hub and spoke model. Each state supports its own chapter whose president reports individual findings to the main office which is still based in Missouri.

The Connecticut chapter of MUFON serves as a small part of a much larger network. Each chapter works to advance research into UFOs and increase data collection, as well as provide outreach and education. Members can participate in a variety of ways but the most important is to follow in Panicello’s footsteps as a Field Investigator.

These investigators do pretty much what the name suggests, investigate possible UFO sightings to determine their cause. Panicello says often sightings turn out to be something easily explained, perhaps a plane, satellite, space debris, or even natural phenomena like ball lightning.

“They’ll contact the witness if they can get a hold of the witness,” he explains. “We’ll look at the public record, the flight tracking data, Air Traffic Control recordings, local media, other websites that report and monitor sightings. We might file FOI requests, if it warrants, to get additional information from the government. We might inquire with the local police station or emergency services.”

Panicello says that based on the data they’re able to collect, they determine whether the object can be identified or if it falls under the category of Unexplained Aerial Phenomenon (UAP), a more recent and more accepted term for UFO. 

More often than not, the objects Field Investigators chase down are easy to identify. Panicello says about 95% of reported sightings turn out to be manmade objects or naturally occurring phenomena. Of the 5% that remain unexplained, he’s not quick to jump to extra-terrestrial conclusions.

“Of that 5%, maybe a quarter of it is classified information,” he says. “MUFON only has public data, we can only get what’s in the public domain. And especially when you get into the states that have military research areas, a lot of the projects are classified but they test them.”

Panicello goes on to cite several military aircraft over the years that have sparked UFO sightings. And truly, they did qualify as Unidentified Flying Objects, but they were objects that could later be explained. Today, they could be drones.

“Maybe 2% is truly unknown, where it might be extra-terrestrial in origin or something that’s not of this world,” says Panicello, explaining that these are usually the type that move in unconventional patterns, zipping back and forth and shifting position faster than known aircraft. “When we have crafts and have those kinds of characteristics we would probably say, ‘yeah, it’s truly an unknown craft,’ but it’s really hard to say 100% that they are of extra-terrestrial origin.”

Scanning The Skies

Technology has come a long way since the last 1960s and these days, field investigators have an additional weapon in their arsenal: the Multiple Anomaly Detection and Automated Recording project – or MADAR III – is a new piece of technology being put to use in various locations across Connecticut.

Armando Landrian is the go-to guy for Connecticut’s MADAR system. He was the first person in Connecticut to purchase his own system for about $250. That first unit is still running at his house.

Two years later, he decided to buy a second one to set up as a field unit.

“It’s a good system,” he says. “It’s the only system out there right now for the early detection of UFOs, and it is a worldwide system.”

There are nearly 150 MADAR units positioned around the globe. Approximately 120 of them are currently functional. The purpose of MADAR is to provide verifiable data to detect and corroborate potential UFO sightings. Think of it like your local weatherman’s doppler, but for aerial phenomena instead of low-pressure systems.

“It’s basically designed to detect changes in the magnetic field,” explains Landrian. “It does that two ways. One, with a magnetometer, which is one of the sensors that is in there. It also has a built-in compass.”

Magnetic changes will affect the position of the compass which can be viewed and monitored on the central MADAR map. Small disturbances, which may register from things like consumer electronic devices, are ignored but larger ones are recorded.

One of the Connecticut MADAR III units set up as a field recorder. Credit: Armando Landrian

Each node – there are four nodes currently in Connecticut – is about the size of a deck of cards. The nodes compile data and send it back to MADAR’s central headquarters in Indiana where analysts determine whether there are events that require further investigation.

Sometimes, the data can inform state groups when a potential UFO sighting might have happened but other times it can confirm that a reported sighting did have unexplained characteristics, such as one event witnessed by Landrian and his wife in January 2021.

“My wife and I spotted a triangle here in Newington,” he says. “It was at tree top level, and it was making a weird turn. It looked like it was heading west at tree top level, then banked to the north in a kind of corkscrew maneuver and down. We were able to see it clearly and it was late night. It was a black triangle, with two white lights underneath, and a smaller light on the bottom, and it was somewhat back-lit by the lights in Hartford.”

Anecdotal or first-hand experiences aside, Landrian says the fact that the MADAR system is based on data is what drew him to the system in the first place. It doesn’t rely on fuzzy photographs or eyewitness reports but compiles data points that are sent back to a central system and compared to provide a clearer picture and build a more compelling case.

The other draw? It gives the power to monitor the skies to anyone with an interest, rather than leaving it in the hands of radar operators or professional pilots.

“It’s affordable, and the average person that is interested in ufology can just purchase one of these and be part of the team,” he explains.

Breaking from the Fringes

Though they share an interest in one day being the ones to confirm alien visitation, both Panicello and Landrian are sensitive to the way UFO hunters are perceived by the public at large. They’re hoping that by approaching the subject as scientifically as possible, they can help more people see ufology as a worthwhile pursuit of knowledge.

“I was pushing very hard to make sure that we do proper scientific investigations. That we don’t say everything is a UFO when we close a case, and if we do, we really have to have an explanation of why we’re saying that,” says Panicello. “I’m trying to show that there’s evidence behind it. We’re not just saying this is a UFO because we want to believe it is. We’re saying this is an unknown object for these reasons. This is our evidence.”

Both Panicello and Landrian credit recent efforts by the CIA and other parts of the U.S. government to declassify UFO sighting reports from across the country dating back decades — as well as declassified cockpit footage from Navy aircraft — with helping to turn the tide of public opinion. 

In a landmark report on UAPs in 2021, the Director of National Intelligence flipped the official script on these sightings, acknowledging that reports of mysterious flying objects in the night sky seem to be at least somewhat credible. What was lacking, said the report, was adequately detailed observation and reporting to truly understand their nature.

Following that report, Pew Research found that the majority of Americans (65%) say they believe in intelligent life somewhere in the universe and 51% believed that UFOs could be a sign of that intelligence. Most, however, do not believe that UFOs pose any threat to national security.

“It’s changing a little bit now that you see it a little more on the main news channels,” says Landrian. “They’re actually showing the videos from the planes. They’re starting to take it a little bit more seriously. They’re saying that this is the U.S. military. These are the best planes we have out there and that’s what they’re recording. You should not have any reason to doubt what they’re being told. The pilots are giving interviews and talking and I think that’s what you’re going to see for now.”

Panicello and Landrian share an optimism for the future of their work and invite other to join them in the effort to uncover the cause of unexplained aerial phenomenon.

“People are starting to open up,” says Panicello. “Hopefully, that continues.”

Inside Oddities: Hunting for UFOs in Connecticut

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An Emmy and AP award-winning journalist, Tricia has spent more than a decade working in digital and broadcast media. She has covered everything from government corruption to science and space to entertainment...

Join the Conversation


  1. UFO’s? Sure. Alien life visitng earth? Pretty unlikely, given the known laws of physics in our natural universe. Gentle reminder: there exists no evidence to support alien visitors. But I’m glad that Mr. Panicello has found community and purpose with MUFON. And it sounds like MUFON does some excellent work: “often sightings turn out to be something easily explained, perhaps a plane, satellite, space debris, or even natural phenomena like ball lightning.”

      1. I think it’s illogical NOT to believe that a possibility of other planets being inhabited by intelligent beings exists. After all, we’re here so why is it not likely that others are too?

    1. I for one have taken several videos and I know what they are. I believe my opinion I think people are very naïve to think that we are the only things here. I think people need to do a lot of studying before they say that there’s no scientific proof there’s actually quite a bit of proof out there Where scientist can’t say there’s nothing else out there. They can’t say that due to ancient times everybody has their opinion but I for one I’m very thankful that there’s people that support and believe in me. .
      Sadly, over the years and years people have been made fun of called crazy Called other names to the point of where they don’t even want to go out of their house because people are so cruel and for what what are people so afraid of it’s just like people who believe in God and people who don’t is there scientific proof out there that God exists?????
      And if everybody’s been paying attention, there’s a reason why the government come out finally, and have started admitting to all of these things, and will all be well aware of it soon enough for the reason
      But I realize there are people who don’t believe and that’s fine, but I think people are still in. It’s a taboo thing to talk about or admit, and when I was asked, if I wanted to be anonymous with one video in particular, that’s being investigated I am Fattic. Lee said absolutely not. I want my name out there. I want people to know, I’m not afraid I don’t care if people make fun of me, I don’t care of people call me crazy, not implying that you were saying that about him for any of the people that have actually gone through and seen these things and experienced them firsthand, but I truly am thankful that there are people like him out there in these groups just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen to these people and they need the support

  2. John, I read your comments regarding the work of John Panicello and appreciate your response. I a;so appreciate the fact that you took the time to read about his work and that of MUFON’s even though youmar3 not a believer that we are beig visited by entities of alien nature.
    I just want to make my comment, not to rebuke you for your beliefs, but to encourage you to continue to keep an open mind and
    continue to follow the possibility that what we do and what we believe just might be true. Like John Panicello, i too joined MUFON years ago just out of curiosity and to learn more of what was being done by researchers and investigators. I too had worked my way up to becoming the State Director for MUFON for New York State. I since have retired.
    I would like to encourage you to do some research of your own. Buy a UFO book, read what has been found and what evidence there actually is. Read about some of the people who have witnessed UFOs and those that have had experiences with them, that they wished never had happened, but did.
    These are credible people who have put themselves out in the open to be criticized or applauded for their bravery in speaking out.
    I will mention, not so much for a plug, but I have written two UFO books myself. One is about the bravery of police officers who have witnessed UFO while on or off duty and filed reports even in the face of criticism or being laughed at. it is titled ‘UFOs Above The Law’. My other book ‘Alien Abduction: The Control Factor’ which deals with the many ways that Aliens might use to control those being abducted.
    Again, that’s for at least having an open mind and not criticizing Panicello or rebuking him.

  3. We don’t have to be “believers” or “non believers” but we all need open minds. I keep getting a strong gut feeling that we will meet our space brethren this year when they reveal themselves to us in good faith. I pray the reception will be peaceful.

    1. )Justine, in 1981-2 I was driving my corvette with top removed in West Haven,CT
      I was late going on a date and came to a stop on Laural st. I looked up and noticed a large grey cigar shaped ship just sitting over two green water tanks. just as I was about to leave. two young boys were coming out of there house and I yelled. look up,what do you see? these kids started screaming and ran down hill. I never saw these kids again.
      the very next day I was driving my plumbing van down fairview Ave block from beach. there it was again,just sitting still, I then watched for a bit and saw no other cars around, when I came home I watches TV thought everyone had seen this
      no mention.
      several years later I was having a beer with my neighbor and for some reason I mentioned what I saw.
      my neighbor said, my sister saw the same craft heading too work. she still talked about it!
      now in the same week
      I had picked up my other friend at Bradley Airport and on the way back I mentioned with her, she lived the next street over from Laural street and she said , those two boys ran up to her house and was so excited.
      her son Rob still stays in touch with these guys and they still talk about it today.
      these cigar crafts were mentioned in the Conn. Post many times about sitings in Monroe CT. sitting over corn fields by police! they are real.

  4. I don’t know about that. What I seen. That ball of light that looks like if you had a laser pointer pointing at the wall. It looks like a cornered something in the woods by my house…. People have come forward their sightings to me after mine. Two nights later me and my daughters was missed another event in the same place fireball that seem to stop and hover in the sky then move forward over our heads… 3 months later 2:30 in the morning headed to work. Something made me stop at my car and look up. And that star shut on and off on and off. I put it out of my mind and got in my car and went to work…. There is something definitely up there. And as crazy as it sounds I believe it has a consciousness

  5. Mufon is great for a community support system for people to report blinking lights in the sky like alcoholics anonymous is a place of community. They have been taking reports since the 1960s and still have gotten no where in this field. With the emergence of the UFO Discovery and Investigation Center located at Yale in New Haven CT have taken the UFO Investigation to another level. Instead of wasting 60 years chasing lights they have a more scientific approach and are currently training professional UFO hunters all over the world in investigative science. For anyone interested in being a part of this Special UFO Operations Unit you can email them at ufodiscoveryandinvestigation@gmail.com and someone from their scheduling department will get back to you at their earliest convenience. With all the UFOsightings lately NOW is the time to get on board and make contact. Chief Executive Officer Luke Skywatcher

  6. UFO’s or UAP’s as the government likes to call them are as real as the cars you see driving down the streets. This is a quote from Mr. Helier, former Defense Minister of Canada. They are a part of our history and are even chronicled in the Bible. They are malevolent beings that go back to the Nephilim in Genesis 6 in the Bible. They are part of Satan’s agenda to augment the efforts of Christ here on earth. Medical experiments, abductions and implants are part of their tool kits. They are starting to become more visible and will continue to do so into the Tribulation times where all hell will break loose.

  7. I am truly a believer because I have been seeing them since I was in my twenties. I believe that if they were here to harm us they would’ve done it long before now! I also believe that the reason we’re seeing them more often is because everybody has a camera in their phone. This was not the case years ago, For years I have asked many people what their experiences were. I received some very interesting stories..

    I experienced alien walking up a driveway and when I yelled at my dogs to be quiet the aliens sparkled in the night. That happened twice within minutes and I went back to bed. I am convinced that I was told to go back to bed because I am a very curious person and I would not have experienced that. And then. Went to bed without investigating. I don’t know if they will ever let us know of their existence other than what we already do, I don’t think they’re Here to destroy us. But they definitely are real.

  8. The real UFO hunters in CT is the UFO Discovery and Investigation Center lead by Luke Skywatcher and his team. Didnt know MUFON even had a Connecticut chapter.

  9. First of all, hats off to MUFON, as they are ahead of the curve. Several times I have considered joining the group, or at least attending a local chapter meeting. Just like everything in life it takes timing and dedication to make progress in what some people like to call “fringe science”. I have been interested in the Paranormal, E.T., Bigfoot, Cryptid, and all the other unusual and mysterious stuff along that vein since I was a young child. Recently, I have had some experiences that even I still have trouble comprehending. Some of it is on videotape. Actually, I am currently in progress of writing a book about these encounters, but I do not have a title as of yet, and I think it disingenuous to add a cheap plug to these comments anyway. But here is the thing that I do not as of yet fully understand. Obviously, with shows like ancient Aliens, and the many books by authors who are routinely on that program, there is ample evidence to claim that those huge megalithic structures could not possibly have been created by human beings at that stage in our development, and that some other long-lost technology must be involved. What I do not understand, and that nobody ever seems to address, is this: If these entities can either travel across space and time, or create those massive stone structures, why do folks think it is impossible for them to remain hidden from our eyes, through cloaking or otherwise, even up to this very day. I suggest that not only do they visit, but that they have been here all along, hiding in plain sight. Our senses have limitations, anything that advanced would know this. Most people claim they speak telepathically, and that has been my experience also. I also wonder about the Reptilian question. They are not flying objects, but they are extremely advanced, how do they fit in with MUFON investigations? Thank you for your work–I for one–am grateful.

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