Extraterrestrials are extremely unlikely, so maybe we need a replacement term for Unidentified Flying Objects.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a story that detailed how several US Navy pilots saw Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) off the East Coast from summer 2014 to March 2015. The pilots reported to their superiors that these objects had “no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds.”
To be clear, UFO is a technical term that describes anything in the air that can’t be identified. There are usually logical explanations that have nothing to do with extraterrestrials, and no one at the Defense Department is suggesting alien involvement. So, there’s no need to raise planetary defenses or rush to establish a Space Force right now.
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However, the objects are certainly unusual. Pilots have recounted how these objects could pull off seemingly impossible feats like diving down to sea level, making sudden stops, and then suddenly accelerating to supersonic speeds. One pilot reportedly had a near collision with one of them. Some of the incidents were recorded, showing an object zooming of the ocean waves.
Speaking with the Times, F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot Lt. Ryan Graves said, “These things would be out there all day. 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.”
Graves has been with the Navy for over a decade and reported the incidents to the Pentagon and Congress. He and other pilots told the Times that they saw these objects firsthand during training maneuvers from Virginia to Florida off the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. However, they make no assertions as to what they might be.
A likely explanation is equipment glitches, since the objects first started appearing after the Super Hornets’ 1980s-era radar systems were upgraded to more advanced ones. Other fighter pilots who saw the objects dismissed them as false radar tracks.
A different pilot named Lieutenant Accoin said he interacted with the objects twice, first by flying 1,000 feet below it. Days later he was able to lock his training missile and infrared camera on it, but could not spot it with his own eyes in either case.
"There were a number of different reports," a Navy spokesman said to the Times, suggesting that commercial drones might be a possible cause for some 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.”
Whatever the cause, the sightings tapered off in 2015 after the Roosevelt left the coast of Florida and headed toward the Persian Gulf.
When asked by the Times to speculate about what the objects might have been, Lieutenant Accoin responded, “we’re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.”
Both Graves and Accoin are featured on the History Channel mini-series, Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation.