Sleepless nights and farfetched fantasies don't fit the cool, even-tempered personality of Raymond R. Michaels, from Sarasota, FL. Now a 37-year-old cargo handling specialist for a major airline, Ray Michaels - lanky and prematurely bald - lives in Atlanta, GA where he has a wife and two daughters. He owns part interest in a second hand Cessna 150.
To look at Ray Michaels, you'd never know he'd won a Silver Star for valor as an enlisted air crew member in Vietnam in 1964 - flying an unfamiliar aircraft home after its pilot and copilot were severely wounded by Viet Cong gunfire.
You'd never know, either, that Michaels battled a UFO 10 years later in 1974.
"At first I didn't like to talk about it," Ray admits. "It scared me worse than anything I saw in the combat zone.
"In Nam, the enemy was flesh and blood -- a known factor. But this unidentified flying object represented the unknown. Something you can't measure or predict or calculate. Something very spooky." Ray's wife Daniela agrees.
So does neighbor George Jason, who was with Ray Michaels when it happened.
On March 2, 1974, Ray decided to keep a long-standing promise to his neighbor -- to give him a ride in a private plane. The two men met after work at Hyde Field, near Atlanta, where Ray filed a flight plan and showed Jason how a pilot makes a walk-around check before jumping into his plane. It was an hour before sundown when the pair taxied up the runway in the Cessna 150.
"I think I'll take you over to the east." Ray Michaels said. "No mountains over there, so the air should be smooth as glass."
"Don't worry," said Jason, taking his first ride in a light plane. "I'm not afraid. Not a bit."
While Ray checked his instruments and began his take off roll, strange things were happening 40 miles east, in Douglasville, GA.
It began when 11-year-old Danny Marsteller, making evening deliveries on his paper route, spotted an odd, bright-colored flying object hovering over the town's paper mill. While the youngster ran to knock on the nearest door, a couple of dozen people in the town spotted a blob of gold floating smoothly about a mile overhead. Dick Schaffner, an off-duty security guard at the paper mill, leaped into his car and began speeding toward the gilt-colored UFO, toting his 35mm camera...
Ray Michaels gave his Cessna full power, relaxed as the plane's engine took hold with satisfying force, and lifted the craft off the runway, climbing eastward. His passenger looked down with interest at tiny automobiles passing beneath. "It feels comfortable," he ventured.
"Not like an airliner, is it?
"No," Jason answered. "You really see a lot from one of these planes."
He didn't know how much.
To the east, another of the South's many UFO incidents was unfolding with stunning swiftness. Douglasville Sheriff Anthony Del Greco snapped orders to his assistant to answer a deluge of incoming calls, then ran for his police cruiser determined to find out about "that spaceship or whatever it is." Danny Marsteller led an elderly couple to their front door to point out the dazzling gold disc, moving toward the river at town's edge. Dick Schaffner floored the accelerator of his car, peered up at the gently-floating UFO, and told himself it couldn't possibly be a plane, a bird, or a helicopter.
Ray Michael's Cessna came within eyesight of the UFO. While his passenger was still enjoying the bird's eye view of the ground, Ray eased back on the power, leveled the Cessna at 5,000 feet, trimmed the plane for smooth flying -- and stared straight ahead at something that shook him with sudden terror.
"There's a thing up ahead!...."
Crossing in front of Ray's plane at about 300 miles per hour -- three times his own speed - the object appeared to be about 40 feet in diameter and shaped like a pie plate, with bashed in indentation in the center.
In the deepening shadows, the UFO gave off a brilliant gold-colored glare that was almost painful to the eye. As Ray Michaels watched, the object shuddered momentarily -- then made a 90 degree turn!
"Is that some kind of signal light?" George Jason asked.
Up to now, Ray Michael's only worry had been to convince his friend that flying was safe. Now he forgot this. The fear was breaking over Ray in waves. He knew that gold-colored object wasn't any signal light -- or anything else made by Man.
"Listen, George, I can't explain now, but hold on tight. I'm going to have to go into some abrupt maneuvers."
He was anticipating what happened next. The UFO made another 90-degree turn-an impossible maneuver for any man-made aircraft - and came straight at him! Ray was already throwing his wheel forward, pushing his Cessna into a sudden dive that slammed both men back into their seats.
This mid air encounter between UFO and Cessna was witnessed by many people on the ground in Douglasville, including many who later talked to reporters. Schaffner saw it from a distance. Sheriff Del Greco pulled off the road to watch what looked like two objects -- "spaceship" and airplane -- coming together in mid air.
The collision didn't occur.
Ray threw the Cessna into a sharp right bank, the blinding gold light filling his entire field of vision. The UFO fell behind for a moment and Ray -- suddenly dripping sweat, rigid with fear -- struggled with his controls to get away from it.
"I'm sick!" Jason cried. "My God! That's some kind of a flying saucer or something, isn't it?"
"I think so, and I think it's trying to ram us!"
As many eyewitnesses testified, the UFO zigged and zagged in abrupt, sudden maneuvers. This seemed proof enough that the craft was controlled by intelligent beings. Each time Ray Michaels turned, the UFO turned behind him. When he dived, it dived. When Ray tried to veer away from the onrushing mass of blinding light, it stalked him...
Here, as happens so often in the South, was what should have been a "good" UFO encounter -- the kind which yields information for scientists asking what UFOs really are. It had all the ingredients; reliable witnesses, a "close encounter," a trained observer in the air. But again, as happens painfully and too frequently, the people on the scene were too rattled to pause and study the intruder. Ray Michaels admits that as the distance between him and the UFO increased he thought "only about getting out of there."
The end of his struggle coincided with nightfall.
As darkness replaced dusk, the UFO lagged farther behind the wildly-maneuvering Cessna and Ray began to believe he was getting away unharmed. Dick Schaffner was still trying to take pictures. He never got close enough and again the proof -- the documentation so desperately needed by researchers -- never materialized.
After more than 20 minutes of twisting and turning, panicked and sweat drenched in the night air, his passenger terrified beside him, Ray Michaels saw the UFO fading in the distance. He returned to Hyde Field and made a nervous bouncing landing. The two men spilled from their plane shaking with fear and excitement, talking to each other in urgent gasps:
"Weird thing almost collided with us..."
"Flying saucer. Got to be a flying saucer."
"Almost killed us. George, you realize that?"
"Yeah. But what was it"
"Since that day," Michaels says quietly, "I've met other pilots around the South who've seen UFOs. Their experiences aren't very dramatic -- usually it's just spotting a strange light from a distance -- but it convinces me that there is a threat from unidentified objects and that we need to learn more about them."
Michaels says the incident had a shattering impact on his life. For months afterwards, he woke up in a cold sweat thinking of the massive gold light stalking him. For a long while, he talked with Daniels about dropping his flying hobby, or about moving away from Atlanta.
With the passage of time, Ray now feels he's conquered his anxiety. The UFO experience no longer disturbs him. But he feels that something needs to be done to find an explanation for this and other UFO sightings which have become so frequent throughout the South.