Pentagon UFO videos
The Pentagon UFO videos are selected visual recordings of cockpit instrumentation displays from United States Navy fighter jets based aboard aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2004, 2014 and 2015 with additional footage taken by other Navy personnel in 2019. The three grainy, black and white videos, widely characterized as officially documenting UFOs, were the subject of extensive coverage in the media in 2017. The Pentagon later addressed and officially released the first three videos in 2020, and confirmed the provenance of the leaked 2019 videos in two statements made in 2021.
Publicity surrounding the videos has prompted a number of explanations, including drones or unidentified terrestrial aircraft, anomalous or artefactual instrument readings, physical observational phenomena (e.g., parallax), human observational and interpretive error, and, as is typical in the context of such incidents, extraordinary speculations of alien spacecraft.
On November 14, 2004, fighter pilot Commander David Fravor of the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group investigated radar indications of a possible target off the coast of southern California. Fravor said the operator had told him that the USS Princeton (CG-59), part of the strike group, had been tracking unusual aircraft for two weeks prior to the incident. The aircraft would appear at 80,000 feet before descending rapidly toward the sea, and stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Fravor reported that he saw an object, white and oval, hovering above an ocean disturbance. He estimated that the object was about forty feet long. Fravor and another pilot, Alex Dietrich, said in an interview that a total of four people (two pilots and two weapons systems officers in the backseats of the two airplanes) witnessed the object for about 5 minutes. When Fravor spiraled down to get closer to the object, the object ascended, mirroring the trajectory of his airplane, until the object disappeared. A second wave of fighters, including pilot Lieutenant Commander Chad Underwood, took off from Nimitz to investigate. Unlike Fravor, Underwood's fighter was equipped with an advanced infrared camera (FLIR). Underwood recorded the FLIR video, and coined the description "Tic Tac" to describe the infrared image, but did not himself see any unusual object.
During 2014–2015, fighter pilots associated with the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group were operating off the East Coast when they recorded the GIMBAL and GOFAST videos while reporting instrument detections of unknown aerial objects which the pilots were unable to identify.
Release of videos
On December 16, 2017, The New York Times reported on the incidents and published three videos, termed “FLIR,” “GIMBAL,” and “GOFAST” purporting to show encounters by jets from Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt with unusually shaped, fast-moving aircraft. The reports became subject to "fevered speculation by UFO investigators". Those stories have been criticized by journalism professor Keith Kloor as "a curious narrative that appears to be driven by thinly-sourced and slanted reporting". According to Kloor, "Cursory attention has been given to the most likely, prosaic explanations. Instead, the coverage has, for the most part, taken a quizzical, mysterious frame that plays off the catchy 'UFO' tag in the headline."
The videos, featuring cockpit display data and infrared imagery along with audio of communications between the pursuing pilots, were initially provided to the press by Luis Elizondo, the former head of Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, the Department of Defense's investigation. Elizondo had resigned from the Pentagon in October 2017 to protest government secrecy and opposition to the investigation, stating in a resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis that the program was not being taken seriously. According to Wired magazine, a copy of one of the videos had been online in a UFO forum since at least 2007. In September 2019, a Pentagon spokeswoman confirmed that the released videos were made by naval aviators and that they are "part of a larger issue of an increased number of training range incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena in recent years". On April 27, 2020, the Pentagon formally released the three videos.
In February 2020, the United States Navy confirmed that, in response to inquiries, intelligence briefings presented by naval intelligence officials have been provided to members of Congress.
In April 2021, Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough confirmed that publicly-available footage of what appeared to be an unidentified triangular object in the sky had been taken by Navy personnel aboard USS Russell in 2019. Skeptic Mick West suggested the image was the result of an optical effect called a bokeh which can make out of focus light sources appear triangular or pyramidal due to the shape of the aperture of some lenses. The Pentagon also confirmed photos of objects described as "sphere", "acorn" and "metallic blimp".
The following month, Gough further confirmed a second video had been recorded by Navy personnel and is under review by the UAP Task Force. The video, recorded on July 15, 2019 aboard the USS Omaha, purportedly shows a spherical object flying over the ocean as seen through an infrared camera at night, moving rapidly across the screen before stopping and easing down into the water.
As of 2020, the aerial phenomena recorded from the Nimitz and Roosevelt events are characterized by the Department of Defense as "unidentified". Widespread media attention to these events has motivated theories and speculations from private individuals and groups about the underlying explanation(s), including those focused upon pseudoscientific topics such as ufology. Regarding the pseudoscientific explanations, writer Matthew Gault stated that these events "reflect the same pattern that's played out dozens of times before. Someone sees something strange in the sky ... and the public jumps to an illogical conclusion." Writing in The New York Times, author and astrophysicist Adam Frank stated that with respect to claims of "evidence of extraterrestrial technology that can defy the laws of physics," the pilot's reports and cockpit instrumentation videos "doesn't amount to much".
Mundane, skeptical explanations include instrument or software malfunction, anomaly or artifact, human observational illusion (e.g., parallax) or interpretive error, or common aircraft (e.g., a passenger airliner) or aerial device (e.g., weather balloon), with the science writer Mick West stating that one of the reported objects in these incidents is "most likely...a relatively slow-moving object like a bird or a balloon", and that "the jet filming it is moving fast, so this creates an illusion of speed against the ocean". West stated that the GIMBAL video can be explained as footage of a distant plane with the apparent rotation actually being the glare in the IR camera rotating.
Following the congressional intelligence briefings and in order to encourage pilots to flag disturbances that "have been occurring regularly since 2014", the US Navy announced it had updated the way pilots were to formally report unexplained aerial observations. Commenting on these updated guidelines, a spokesman for the deputy Chief of Naval Operations said, "The intent of the message to the fleet is to provide updated guidance on reporting procedures for suspected intrusions into our airspace." Regarding the new guidelines, the spokesman said that one possible explanation for the increase in reported intrusions could be the rise in availability of unmanned aerial systems such as quadrocopters.
Retired Admiral Gary Roughead, who commanded both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets before serving as Chief of Naval Operations from 2007 to 2011, said in 2020 that in his time, "most of the assessments were inconclusive" as to what these videos showed. In the context of a lecture on China's 21st century military strategy, Roughead commented that development of unmanned autonomous aircraft that had the capability to be used as submersible military assets was a priority of the US, as well as other nations such as China and Russia. Physicist Adam Frank speculated that it was possible the UFOs in the videos are "drones deployed by rivals like Russia and China to examine our defenses — luring our pilots into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus revealing our electronic intelligence capabilities".
In popular culture
- The videos were featured in Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation, a 2019 History Channel series executive produced by Tom DeLonge.
- On October 5, 2019, episode 1361 of The Joe Rogan Experience featured the videos and interviewed Fravor.
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- US Naval Air Systems Command FOIA Reading Room (containing FLIR.mp4, GOFAST.wmv, and Gimbal.wmv videos)