USS Nimitz UFO incident

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Fighters were approx. 100 mi from coast of San Diego when they were directed to intercept the UFO
Fighters were approx. 100 mi from coast of San Diego when they were directed to intercept the UFO.[1]
  100 mi from San Diego County coast
  100 mi from San Diego coast

The USS Nimitz UFO incident refers to a 2004 Radar-Visual encounter of an unidentified flying object by US fighter pilots of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group. In December 2017, infrared footage of the encounter was released to the public.[2][3]

A 2015 account of the incident on FighterSweep.com, interviews with one of the pilots, and subsequent news reports describe the sighting of an "unidentified flying object" by six Super Hornet fighter jets over the Pacific in November, 2004.[4]

According to The Washington Post, the video was released by former intelligence officer Luis Elizondo to shed light on a secretive Department of Defense operation to analyze reported UFO sightings, the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.[5][6][7]

Skeptics have called into question the veracity of the pilots' accounts, pointing out that the sighting could be explained by equipment malfunction or human error.

Encounter[edit]

USS Nimitz ahead of USS Princeton

Prior to the incident, early November 2004, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton, part of Carrier Strike Group 11, had been tracking mysterious aircraft intermittently for two weeks on an advanced AN/SPY-1B passive radar.[8][1]

Visual sighting[edit]

Two-seat Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet

When the same event occurred again around 12:30 EST on 14 November 2004, an operations officer aboard Princeton contacted two airborne US Navy jet fighters from USS Nimitz. The first fighter aircraft was piloted by Commander David Fravor, commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 41, assisted by his weapon systems officer (WSO) in the back seat. Lieutenant commander Jim Slaight was aboard the second jet which was serving in the role as a wingman. The officers were training aboard two FA-18F Super Hornets in a routine combat exercise.[8]

Princeton's radio operator directly instructed the pilots to change their course and investigate the unidentified radar spot observed by Princeton's own radar.[1] Princeton's radio operator further asked the pilots if they were carrying operational weapons; they replied that they were not.[1]

The weather conditions for that day showed excellent visibility with a blue sky, no cloud cover, and a calm sea. When the jet fighters arrived on site, the crew of four saw nothing in the air nor on their radar. Looking down at the sea, however, they noticed a turbulent oval area of churning water with foam and frothy waves "the size of a Boeing 737 airplane"[9] with a smoother area of lighter color at the center, as if the waves were breaking over something just under the surface.[9] A few seconds later, they noticed an unusual object hovering with erratic movements 50 feet above the boiling water. Both Fravor[10] and Slaight later described the object as a large bright white Tic Tac 30 to 46 feet (10 to 14 meters) long, with no windshield nor porthole, no wing nor empennage, and no visible engine nor exhaust plume.[11][12][13][14]

Fravor began a circular descent to approach the object.[9] As Fravor further descended, he reported that the object began ascending along a curved path, maintaining some distance from the F-18, mirroring its trajectory in opposite circles.[9][12] Fravor then made a more aggressive maneuver, plunging his fighter to aim below the object, but at this point the UFO accelerated and went out of sight in less than two seconds, leaving the pilots "pretty weirded out".[9][14]

Subsequently, the two fighter jets began a new course to the combat air patrol rendezvous point. "Within seconds" the Princeton radioed the jets that the radar spot had reappeared 60 miles away at the CAP point. According to Popular Mechanics, a physical object would have had to move greater than 2,400 miles an hour to cover the distance in the reported time. The jets went to investigate the new radar location, but "By the time the Super Hornets arrived [...] the object had already disappeared." Both F-18s then returned to Nimitz.[1] According to Commander Fravor "I have no idea what I saw. It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s. But I want to fly one".[8]

Infrared footage[edit]

A Thales Damocles FLIR Targeting Pod.

After the return of the first team to Nimitz, a second team took off at approximately 15:00 EST, this time equipped with an advanced infrared camera (FLIR pod). This camera recorded an evasive unidentified aerial system on video, publicly released by the Pentagon on 16 December 2017 alongside the revelation of the funding of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.[15][16][17]

This footage is known as the 2004 USS Nimitz FLIR1 video. It officially shed some light on a decade-old story that was largely unknown, except for a 2015 second-hand story on FighterSweep.com that, in spite of providing a lot of details, remained unconfirmed at that time.[4]

A second infrared footage, known as the GIMBAL video, has been released by the Pentagon alongside the 2004 FLIR1 footage. Although the media often present the two videos together to illustrate the 2004 USS Nimitz UFO incident, the GIMBAL video is unrelated, filmed at the East Coast of the United States at an unknown date.[9]

Skeptical analysis[edit]

Defense and security writer Kyle Mizokami suggested three possibilities that could explain the sightings. The first is equipment malfunction or misinterpretation; USS Princeton's radars and the Super Hornets' electro-optical sensors and radars could have all malfunctioned, or the crew could have misinterpreted a number of natural phenomena. The second is classified government technology: if the objects were aircraft operated by the US government, it would make sense that they were kept secret, as the object easily outmaneuvered multiple Super Hornets, a jet that was considered state-of-the-art in 2004. The third possibility is that the sightings were caused by objects of extraterrestrial origin.[1][16]

The New York Times included a disclaimer in its reporting of the incident: "Experts caution that earthly explanations often exist for such incidents, and that not knowing the explanation does not mean that the event has interstellar origins".[8]

Physicist Don Lincoln suggested that it was "very unlikely that what these pilots are reporting turns out to be an unfriendly superweapon or an alien craft," however he would like to see the reports investigated "under the premise that the best science is done when as many opinions are considered as possible, preferably in the open and subject to peer review." According to Lincoln, "unidentified doesn't mean flying saucer or a Russian superweapon. It merely means unidentified." [18][19]

Science journalist Dennis Overbye argued a "stubborn residue" of unexplained aerial phenomenon remain after review. Overbye highlighted that some of these accounts are obtained from respected observers such as military pilots. However, he cautioned, "as modern psychology and neuroscience have established, the senses are an unreliable portal to reality, whatever that is."[20]

According to Steve Cummings of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, the video images captured by a Raytheon-made Advanced Targeting Forward Look Infrared sensor (ATFLIR) are not definitive proof that the jet pilots were chasing an actual UFO. Cummings noted, "To really be sure, we would need the raw data. Visual displays alone are not the best evidence".[21]

According to Joe Nickell writing for the Skeptical Inquirer, there are differing versions of Fravor’s account, including a “truly curious document that tells Fravor’s story in the form of a military-style briefing” designed to create a "pseudo top-secret appearance". Nickell identifies the document as "a third-person account of an interview with Fravor, produced by a fringe-ideas group called To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science". Regarding the visual sightings reported by Fravor, Nickell questioned how he could see "what a forty-foot object was doing from forty miles away" and characterized the "confusion and incompleteness in the reports" of the training mission as a "comedy of errors". Nickell and astronomer and former Air Force pilot James E. McGaha speculated that reports of churning water could have been caused by a submerging submarine, sightings could have been of a reconnaissance drone, and that "one video image showing an object suddenly zooming off screen was likely caused by the plane’s banking while the camera was stopped at the end of its sweep".[22]

Joe Nickell further argues this was Fravor's first military assignment with the U.S. Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet, and as a result, the experience "obviously rattled him."[22] The Washington Post identified David Fravor as "the commanding officer of the VFA-41 Black Aces," at the time of the 2004 incident.[23] The Toledo Blade stated Fravor retired from military service in 2006, after a 24 year career, including 18 years as a Navy pilot and deployments in Iraq that began during Desert Storm. Fravor stated the identities of other Naval officers aboard the two fighter jets during his mission on November 14, 2004 had not been released publicly as they were still active in the military at the time of the Blade publication in 2018.[24]

Nickell and astronomer James E. McGaha state that the reported encounter "appears to have been a series of misunderstandings and misperceptions, with no evidence of "an extraterrestrial encounter".[22]

Stephen Pope, editor of Flying Magazine criticized the New York Times stories of the incident as "borderline-sensationalist" and says they provoked "a flurry of breathless reporting by media outlets around the world, most of which seem to have failed to notice that the Times’ original reporting has some major problems with it". Pope noted that the purported UFO videos were not released by the Pentagon, but by a former official who is now connected to "To the Stars Academy of the Arts and Sciences", a Las Vegas company that is seeking funding for UFO research.[25]

A NASA test of their X-43 Scramjet occurred at roughly the same time and place.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Kyle Mizokami (December 18, 2017). "That Time the U.S. Navy Had a Close Encounter With a UFO". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  2. ^ Warrick, Joby (December 16, 2017). "Head of Pentagon's secret 'UFO' office sought to make evidence public". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  3. ^ Mellon, Christopher (March 9, 2018). "The military keeps encountering UFOs. Why doesn't the Pentagon care? - We have no idea what's behind these weird incidents because we're not investigating". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "That Time the U.S. Navy Had a Close Encounter With a UFO". Popular Mechanics. December 18, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Cooper, Helene; Kean, Leslie; Blumenthal, Ralph (December 16, 2017). "2 Navy Airmen and an Object That 'Accelerated Like Nothing I've Ever Seen'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  6. ^ Cooper, Helene; Blumenthal, Ralph; Kean, Leslie (December 16, 2017). "Glowing Auras and 'Black Money': The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  7. ^ Bender, Bryan. "The Pentagon's Secret Search for UFOs". Politico. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d Cooper, Helene; Kean, Leslie; Blumenthal, Ralph (December 16, 2017). "2 Navy Airmen and an Object That 'Accelerated Like Nothing I've Ever Seen'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Martin Finucane (January 16, 2018). "This former Navy pilot, who once chased a UFO, says we should take them seriously". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  10. ^ "CNN Interview with pilot David Fravor and Luis Elizondo (December 18, 2017)" on YouTube. At 1m30s in this CNN news segment, an audio recording (apparently of Fravor) says "It looks like a 40-foot-long Tic Tac, with no wings."
  11. ^ "ABC about the USS Nimitz UFO Incident (December 18, 2017)" on YouTube
  12. ^ a b "CNN Interview with pilot David Fravor and Luis Elizondo (December 18, 2017)" on YouTube
  13. ^ "New CNN Interview with pilot David Fravor (December 19, 2017)" on YouTube
  14. ^ a b "Fox News interview with David Fravor about 'out of this world' encounter (December 20, 2017)" on YouTube
  15. ^ Cooper, Helene; Blumenthal, Ralph; Kean, Leslie (December 16, 2017). "Glowing Auras and 'Black Money': The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  16. ^ a b Joby Warrick (December 16, 2017). "Head of Pentagon's secret 'UFO' office sought to make evidence public". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  17. ^ Bryan Bender. "The Pentagon's Secret Search for UFOs". Politico. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  18. ^ Lincoln, Don. "Keep looking for UFOs". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  19. ^ "The Modern Search for U.F.O.s". .wnyc.org. WNYC. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  20. ^ Overbye, Dennis (December 29, 2017). "U.F.O.s: Is This All There Is?". The New York Times. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  21. ^ "Navy pilots used Raytheon tech to track a strange UFO". raytheon.com. Raytheon Company. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  22. ^ a b c Nickell, Joe. "Navy Pilot's 2004 UFO: A Comedy of Errors". Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2018. CSI. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  23. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (18 December 2017). "Former Navy pilot describes UFO encounter studied by secret Pentagon program". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  24. ^ Henry, Tom (31 March 2018). "Close encounters of the Toledo kind: Fravor pursued UFO in 2004". The Blade. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  25. ^ Pope, Stephen. "Five Reasons to Be Skeptical about that New York Times UFO Story". Flying Magazine. Bonnier Corporation. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  26. ^ "NASA - NASA's X-43A Scramjet Breaks Speed Record". www.nasa.gov. Retrieved 2018-09-26.

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