On January 5, 2009, we set out into the woods on the border of Morris Plains and Hanover, NJ, carrying one helium tank, five balloons, five flares, fishing line, duct tape, and a video camera. After filling up one 3-foot balloon with helium, we tied about five feet of fishing line to the balloon, secured the line with tape, then tied and taped the flare to the other end of the line. Once all five balloons were ready for takeoff (with our fingers on the verge of frost bite), we struck the 15-minute flares and released them into the sky in increments of fifteen seconds apart from each other. We filmed the “UFOs” as they floated away, and then walked the half-mile stretch out of the woods to our car. The hoax was underway.There's some good video in the link showing exactly how they did it. It's amazing how easy it is to fake something like this. The conspiracy nuts and the media eat it up every single time too. I wish I could have fun shenanigans like this too.
The media coverage the incident received over the next few days was extensive. Both local and national news stations were covering the UFO over New Jersey. The local paper had a field day with it, quoting a doctor who said the mysterious lights traveled against the wind, and quoting another man who said the object “didn’t appear to be manmade.” The most sought after witnesses were the Hurley family. Paul Hurley, a pilot, along with his family, made appearances on just about every major news station, describing the strange lights that they saw in the sky. The “Morristown UFO” became the talk of the town.
(Tip of the tinfoil hat to Bad Astronomy)