Debbie Ziegelmeyer saw her first UFO when she was walking out of a supermarket in Arnold, Missouri with her husband and young children in 1979.
"We were coming out of Kmart and we saw two silver metallic discs overhead," she told The Telegraph. "They were one on top of the other. It was 2.30pm in a bright blue sky. It was all over the local TV news.
"Then they claimed it was weather balloons escaped out of Texas. I don’t believe that. It was so windy that day it was hard to hold the shopping cart, and those things were stationary in the air."
The experience led Ms Ziegelmeyer to become a civilian UFO investigator. She now heads the Missouri chapter of the Mutual UFO Network [MUFON]. The organisation has 600 field investigators in all 50 US states and has examined hundreds of thousands of sightings, compiling the largest UFO database in the world.
MUFON and the rest of America’s extensive Ufology community is currently waiting with bated breath for the release of a potentially explosive Pentagon report later this month.
Amid a sea change in its approach, the US military is set to publish what it knows – and to admit what it doesn’t know – about UFOs, which it now calls UAPs [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena].
Joe Biden’s Director of National intelligence, Avril Haines, will deliver a dossier compiled by the Pentagon’s UAP Task Force to the US Senate intelligence committee by June 25. It is then expected to be made public.
It could contain military research on at least 100 key unexplained sightings, including new videos and pictures.
Many UFO enthusiasts see it as an "I told you so" moment in a long, and often ridiculed, quest.
As Ms Ziegelmeyer put it: “It’s very exciting. It means I’m not so crazy any more.
"I think the Pentagon’s opening a Pandora’s box. It’s going to spill, and it’s going to spill big."
Leaks so far suggest the task force has found no evidence of alien origins but has not ruled it out either.
The latest senior figure to pour fuel on the fire was Bill Nelson, the new head of Nasa, who told CNN : "We don’t know if it’s extraterrestrial. We don’t know if it’s an enemy."
Such sentiments have given added impetus to the 33 per cent of Americans who, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, believe alien spacecraft have visited Earth.
However, UFO enthusiasts have been disappointed by government reports before. In 1968, the Condon Report concluded UFO sightings contained nothing of interest and that "further extensive study probably cannot be justified."
The Condon Report was compiled after looking at files from Project Blue Book, a 17-year long US Air Force programme which collected over 12,000 sightings. MUFON was set up the following year in response to Project Blue Book being shut down.
"I hope they [the Pentagon] come clean with this report," David McDonald, 74, MUFON’s executive director and a veteran civilian pilot, told The Telegraph from MUFON headquarters in Cincinnati. "I always thought there would be disclosure [about UFOs] but I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime."
But he added: "I would caution against any true bombshells. I expect they’ll fall back a bit on ‘can neither confirm nor deny’."
MUFON investigators work by trying to debunk reported sightings. The most common sightings are silver metallic objects in the sky, and balls of light. They find over 90 per cent are explainable, with common causes including aircraft, Venus, the International Space Station and satellites. But about seven per cent remain unexplained.
In Washington state, Peter Davenport runs the National UFO Reporting Center out of an abandoned nuclear missile silo. Thousands of people from across the United States call its 24-hour hotline, reporting sightings like "pulsating orbs" or "circular lights in V formation".
Alien enthusiasts besieged Area 51 in 2019 on the hunt for information about sightings
Credit: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Mr Davenport, who has a degree from Stanford, an MBA, and another degree in biochemistry, ran for Congress in 1992. Speaking to The Telegraph from his bunker deep underground he suggested the report could end up effectively being a cover up.
"We all hope the government comes clean with their citizens," he said. "But I’m sceptical. I’m not exactly convinced that the Department of Defence is going to come clean."
He added: "If they [the military] haven’t figured out that aliens are now visiting the planet they better take off their uniforms and find another line of work.
“Absolutely they’re aware. Clearly they don’t want to release what they’ve done the last 70 years. Why they are not sharing the information I don’t know."
The American public’s interest in UFOs was reignited four years ago when it was revealed that the Pentagon had been running a secret investigation into sightings called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program [AATIP]. Its director, Luis Elizondo, went public and published videos of several encounters US Navy pilots had with UFOs.
Speaking ahead of the report Mr Elizondo dismissed suggestions that UFOs were advanced Chinese or Russian aircraft or drones. He pointed out that China keeps stealing US technology, so was unlikely to be far ahead of America.
The Pentagon has released video clips that appear to show UFOs
Mr Elizondo told the Washington Post: "I can certainly tell you, from my experience, that we’re pretty confident that it’s not Russian or Chinese technology.
"Is it from here, or is it from out there? We don’t really know. We must keep all options open. This could be something from under the oceans. This could be something from, yes, from outer space. We really don’t know."
He added: "We’re just now getting to the point as a government, as a society, that we are accepting the reality that this is real, whatever it is. This is a global issue."
Another person eagerly awaiting the report is retired senator Harry Reid, who was the Democrat leader in the US Senate between 2005 and 2017. Mr Reid, who was one of the most high-profile politicians in the country for over a decade, secured $22 million in clandestine funding to pay for AATIP.
"What we have learned is that you don’t have to be some kind of oddball to be interested in what’s going on," Mr Reid told NPR. "People are curious, as they should be… These vehicles have been witnessed by scientists, astrophysicists. It’s something that the American people need to know more about, and the federal government better help." He said the investigations must be "ongoing" after the report.
Others have been lining up to debunk the whole process. Robert Sheaffer, a leading sceptical UFO investigator, told Scientific American: "There are no aliens here on Earth, and so the government cannot ‘disclose’ what it does not have.
"The Pentagon has already suffered enough embarrassment."
Back in Missouri Ms Ziegelmeyer, who has investigated over 1,000 UFO sightings, said she would continue whatever the report said. She has a team of five and operates out of a "war room" covered in maps. Her team triangulates sightings and tries to anticipate future ones, organising "sky watches".
She also heads MUFON’s dive team which can be dispatched anywhere in the US to investigate underwater sightings such as submerged flashing lights. Catalina Island off California is one hotspot. Currently the dive team has several investigations going on.
Like Mr Elizondo she was sceptical of the theory that China or Russia has made a leap forward in aviation or drone technology.
She said: "How do you explain sightings decades ago? This was going on long before somebody tried to blame China for anything. Columbus had a UFO sighting in 1492."
Margie Kay, 64, another veteran UFO investigator, said the fact the report was being compiled at all was "vindication" for the 1,200 UFO witnesses she had spoken to, including herself. She said: "Its confirmation that things I’ve seen, that I’ve witnessed personally, are actually real, that its not a figment of my imagination.
"Those of us that have been doing this for years know something is going on. But in the past there’s been no disclosure from the government, there’s been denial."
She expected "probably no conclusions" from the report, but that it would provide details of new sightings and locations to go and investigate. “You can bet we’re going to be all over that,” she said.