It’s a UFO, it’s a band, it’s an… inside joke? Many UFO enthusiasts will recognize the term “Foo Fighters” as the name used by Allied aircraft pilots to refer to a mysterious group of lights seen in the sky during the middle of World War II. However, the name also carries interesting stories regarding the its origin and pop culture legacy.
The first incident leading to what we now know as Foo Fighters occurred when the pilots were flying overnight missions and began seeing numerous lights chasing their aircraft. While the number and color of lights reported changed, every time they were seen the same characteristics were recorded: high rates of speed, quick, darting movements, and an ability to leave the military’s top pilots in the dust.
Strangely enough, these mysterious lights were untraceable on radar, both for ground control and the planes themselves. Additionally, when pilots would work to turn toward the lights to get a better look, they would quickly disappear, leaving more questions than answers.
According to the pilots, these fleeting lights were nicknamed “Foo Fighters” as a nod to comic character and fireman Smokey Stover’s catch-phrase, “Where there’s foo, there’s fire.” At the time, “flying saucer” was not a term that was widely recognized, which left witnesses to coin a more creative term for these mysterious lights. Although it started as an inside joke, the name appeared in a Time magazine story headline in 1945, causing attention to grow.
Rumors about what the lights could be flew around, with many believing they were tracer fire, ice crystal reflections, or technologically advanced weapons made by German forces. However, as usual, the government had a lackluster explanation for the phenomenon. According to officials, the lights were simply “electrostatic or electromagnetic phenomena.” The nuances of the statement were never defined further.
Famous in pop culture, the lights, though never fully explained, went on spur curiosity in new generations of UFO researchers and, of course, to inspire the name of the American rock band Foo Fighters, founded by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. The mysterious lights deemed Foo Fighters continue to be a recognizable term in history due to the ongoing interest in UFO phenomena and will likely continue to inspire new generations for years to come.