Are we alone in the universe? That is a question human beings have been asking for longer than recorded history itself. While UFO sightings and other extra-terrestrial events have been reported for centuries, our alleged interactions with creatures not of this world really exploded after the end of World War II. Fast forward more than half a century, and we’re now seeing UFOs smashing into the mainstream once again. In 2022, it’s gotten to the point where the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security have both spoken before Congress on the subject. More recently, the Pentagon has created the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, headed by Dr. Sean M. Kirkpatrick, the former Chief Scientist at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center, to look into UFOs and other anomalies. While no one has explicitly made mention of encounters with extraterrestrials, they have, on the other hand, failed to adequately explain several incidents involving unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP).

Are aliens the cause for strange occurrences in the skies around our nation? Possibly. But I have another suggestion — one that many will find to be more grounded in reality. Remember that flood of UFO sightings from the late 1940s and early 1950s I mentioned? That’s our starting point. Towards the end of WWII, Nazi Germany began flying jet fighters to try and turn the tide of war. Shortly thereafter, the United States began work on our own jet aircraft. These were sleek, silvery planes with small swept wings, flying at incredible speeds. To even the finest flying ace of the last war, the performance of a P-80 Shooting Star or F-86 Sabre would look otherworldly to an unfamiliar Mustang or Corsair pilot. Even more so for the untrained civilian eye on the ground. 

An FVR-90 drone in flight. (Screenshot via L3Harris)
An FVR-90 drone in flight. (Screenshot via L3Harris)

Imagine living near places that would become the test ranges near Edwards, Nellis, and elsewhere. The Jet Age was new and unpredictable, and experimentation was the name of the game for the Department of Defense. In addition to our legacy fighters, we also produced unique aircraft like the SR-71, B-2, and other strange airframes. These shiny, supersonic cigars, and gigantic flying bats are wonders that most people couldn’t begin to dream up.

Why do I mention these things? I think we are living in a 21st-century version of those days. Our government is openly searching for the first Sixth Generation fighter jet. One of the design goals with these new planes is to have them completely unmanned. Those familiar with the F-22 Raptor know that despite its incredible maneuverability, the jet is held back in some ways by the aircrew. You can only move so aggressively before pilots lose consciousness or suffer injury. Not only that, but the life support systems and cockpit take up a substantial amount of space and weight on an airframe. Remove the human element, and suddenly you can make moves never before thought possible. Additionally, when you no longer need to accommodate onboard aircrew you can either reduce the size of your plane or use that extra room for weapons, fuel, sensors, and more.

UNSPECIFIED, UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 07:  Contract workers load a Hellfire missile onto a U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016. The U.S. military and coalition forces use the base, located in an undisclosed location, to launch drone airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, as well as to distribute cargo and transport troops supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. The Predators at the base are operated and maintained by the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, currently attached to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Contract workers load a Hellfire missile onto a U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

There’s another factor that I believe is leading to an increase in UFO sightings as well. Unmanned aircraft are once again the culprit. Instead of fighter-size craft, we’re looking at something a little smaller. Drone swarms are a newer technology that the US government is looking at. To date we’ve seen drone swarms do everything from put on fantastic light shows to overwhelm air defenses. Much like emerging technology in manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles are poorly understood by the masses. Picture yourself sitting outside one night, when suddenly dozens, if not hundreds of small, fast-moving objects fill the sky. Moving with perfect cohesion, and inhuman mobility, your first reaction may be that these objects are not of this world.

We’re on the cusp of new generations of technology. From unmanned fighters to drone swarms, aircraft are getting smaller, faster, and more maneuverable. Things are strange, and the government isn’t in the business of revealing all of our secrets to every John and Jane who inquire after funny lights in the sky. Whether officials aren’t cleared for the information, are part of an organized program of misinformation, or that we’re truly not alone, don’t expect a straight answer anytime soon. Maybe we’re about to see some incredible Air Power. Maybe Mulder and Sculler were right. Either way, I Want To Believe. 


Daniel Reedy served more than eight years in the Air Force in an integrated Guard/active duty unit as an intelligence analyst. He has also been featured in Air Force Times, Recoil, and other publications.