I used to be in the Navy, stationed on an Aegis-class guided-missile cruiser. One day at sea, I’m taking a break on the flight deck (which was just behind the rear Aegis radar array), and I noticed all these dead birds all over the flight deck. It didn’t take me too long to realize that these birds had flown in front of the radar and been microwaved to death.

This gave me an idea. I figured if it works on birds, it should work on popcorn. A microwave’s a microwave, right? So, the next time we pull into port, I go to get some microwave popcorn.

Unfortunately, my shopping trip coincided with Superbowl Sunday, so the microwave popcorn (and just about every other salty snack in the store) was gone. All they had left was Jiffy-Pop. I didn’t even know they still MADE Jiffy-Pop. Anyway, science waits for no man (or something like that), so I return to the ship and stash the popcorn in my shop.

During our next outing, I tie some string to the handle of the Jiffy-Pop pan, and sneak out onto the weather deck. just forward of my shop was a ladder that led to the deck overlooking the radaar array (but which is closed off during radar operations for safety reasons), so I climb up there and lower the Jiffy-Pop down in front of the array.

BOOM! the Jiffy-Pop explodes immediately, showering the flight deck with burned popcorn. I pull the burst pan up, wind up my string, and chuck the entire apparatus over the side before running back into my shop.

No sooner do I walk in the door, then the phone rings. It’s CICS (the “War Room”). The Officer In Charge wants me to go out on the weather deck and look behind us, and tell him if anything’s there. I do, there isn’t, and I tell him so. He hangs up, swearing.

Later that night, I get the story from a radioman friend of mine who was in CICS at the time. Turns out that the Jiffy-Pop pan had reflected the Radar waves. For those who aren’t familiar with radar operation, a radar array sweeps back and forth, radiating waves the whole time. The waves are then reflected back to the array by anything they hit (such as planes, another ship, etc). This reflection tell the radar how big something is, how far away it is, etc. The problem comes with the wavelengths involved. At too close a distance, and object can show up on the radar as being at a different distance than it really is. Or a different size.

My Jiffy-Pop pan appeared on the radar as a three-mile-wide contact, 100 yards off the stern, and was only on-screen for a couple of seconds before disappearing! The OIC was freaking out about it, and had called the Air Force.

So, in the end, my curiosity about the microwave properties of an Aegis radar caused a US Navy warship to file a false UFO report!

I didn’t tell anyone I was involved until long after I got out!