U.S. Navy pilots were baffled after seeing and reporting strange, unidentified flying objects over the East Coast almost daily during the summer of 2014 to March 2015.
Pilots partaking in training maneuvers from Virginia to Florida off the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt reported the sightings to their superiors, describing the objects as having no visible engine of infrared exhaust plumes, but that they were reaching 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds.
“These things would be out there all day,” Lt. Ryan Graves, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot who has been with the Navy for 10 years, and who reported his sightings to the Pentagon and Congress, told The New York Times. “Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”
After some pilots scratched the unexplainable flying objects up as highly classified military drone projects (after all, at first they were never able to actually see the objects, despite their radar system telling them something was there), things changed when a Super Hornet pilot had a near collision with one of them.
“I almost hit one of those things,” the unnamed pilot reportedly told Graves. The pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. The pilot described the object like a sphere encasing a cube. An aviation flight safety report was filed, Graves said, as the near miss angered the squadron.
“It turned from a potentially classified drone program to a safety issue,” Graves said. “It was going to be a matter of time before someone had a midair” collision.
Video of the objects showed them accelerating to hypersonic speed, making sudden stops and instantaneous turns — something beyond the physical limits of a human crew, the pilots said.
“Speed doesn’t kill you,” Graves said. “Stopping does. Or acceleration.”
But the pilots refused to speculate on what they think the objects were. “We have helicopters that can hover,” Graves said. “We have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface.” But “combine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.”
Lt. Danny Accoin, another Super Hornet pilot, said only that “we’re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.”
In a video from a plane's camera in early 2015, an object can reportedly be seen zooming over the ocean waves as pilots question what they are seeing. "Wow, what is that, man?" one exclaims. "Look at it fly!"
Experts emphasize that early explanations can generally be found for such bizarre incidents.
Leon Golub, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the possibility of an extraterrestrial cause "is so unlikely that it competes with many other low-probability but more mundane explanations," like possible "bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight."
While no one in the Defense Department is saying that the objects were extraterrestrial, the incidents got the attention of the Navy all the same; earlier this year, it sent out new classified guidance for how to report what the military calls unexplained aerial phenomena, or unidentified flying objects.
Joseph Gradisher, a Navy spokesman, told the Times that the updated guidelines were sent to the fleet in 2015 after the Roosevelt incidents.
“There were a number of different reports,” he said. Some cases could have been commercial drones, he said, but in other cases “we don’t know who’s doing this, we don’t have enough data to track this. So the intent of the message to the fleet is to provide updated guidance on reporting procedures for suspected intrusions into our airspace.”
The incidents reportedly tapered off after the Roosevelt left the coast of Florida and headed to the Persian Gulf as part of the American-led mission fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.0comments
Graves and Accoin, along with former American intelligence officials, appear in a six-part History Channel series, Unidentified: Inside America's U.F.O. Investigation, set to air beginning on Friday.
Photo credit: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / Staff / Getty