Retired Navy Cmdr. David Fravor was commander of an F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz on Nov. 14, 2004, when he piloted one of two Super Hornets that came across a Tic Tac-shaped aircraft. At the time, the Nimitz was about 100 miles southwest of San Diego.

The crew of the two Super Hornets was told that unidentified objects had been observed for over two weeks, during which they had rapidly descended from 80,000 feet to 20,000 feet, loitered for several hours, and then returned to extremely high altitudes, Fravor told a House Oversight subcommittee on Wednesday.

“For those who don’t realize, above 80,000 feet is space,” Fravor said during Wednesday’s hearing on “Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena,” or UAP, a recently coined term for unidentified objects in the air and underwater.

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The Super Hornets’ pilots and weapon systems officers all saw a Tic Tac object moving abruptly above the ocean without any visible wings or propulsion system, Fravor said. As his plane got closer to the object, it quickly accelerated and disappeared. An air controller quickly told Fravor that the object had been detected 60 miles away less than a minute after the Super Hornets had lost contact with it.

“The Tic Tac object we engaged in 2004 was far superior to anything that we had on time; have today; or are looking to develop in the next 10 years,” Fravor said. “If we, in fact, have programs that possess this technology, it needs to have oversight from those people that the citizens of this great country elected in office to represent what is best for the United States and best for the citizens.”

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich
Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich flew one of two F/A-18F Super Hornets that encountered an unidentified aircraft in the shape of a Tic Tac on Nov. 14, 2004. (Photo courtesy of Alex Dietrich)

Assuming the Tic Tac was a physical object and not some sort of projection, no human pilot could survive the G-forces caused by how quickly it moved and maneuvered, retired Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich, who piloted the other Super Hornet involved in the incident, told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

With the known technology that the United States and its adversaries possess, an aircraft can either be as fast as a jet or as maneuverable as a helicopter – Dietrich said after the hearing.

“You can’t go supersonic and turn on a dime,” said Dietrich, who currently teaches engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “The flight control surfaces, the propulsion required, they’re incompatible in our current configurations, in our current technology, with the fuel we have, with the materials that we have. And so, what we saw that day was something that was hovering like a helicopter and then intravenously accelerating, turning on a dime, not requiring the full turning radius that we require in our strike fighters or advanced jets. That’s why it was so confusing to us in the moment and seemed to defy what we know and expect to be laws of physics and limitations of capabilities.”

In recent years, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other lawmakers have expressed concerns that the reported UAP sightings could indicate that U.S. adversaries such as China or Russia have made breakthroughs in technology that surpass anything the U.S. military might have.

The U.S. military’s interest in UAP dates back decades. From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated sightings of unidentified aircraft under Project Blue Book, but the service eventually abandoned the effort after the University of Colorado found that none of the sightings posed a risk to national security or showed evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

More recently, the Defense Department established the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group in November 2021, which was eventually renamed the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, in July 2022.

So far, AARO has not found any evidence that UAPs could be extraterrestrial craft visiting Earth, said Defense Department spokeswoman Sue Gough.

UAP seen in May, 2022, through night vision equipment and an SLR camera. The DoD states that “the UAP in this image were subsequently reclassified as unmanned aerial systems.” (US Navy photo)

“To date, AARO has not discovered any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse-engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently,” Gough said.

Gough also said that AARO has established a safe and secure process for people to report UAP sightings, and the organization welcomes the opportunity to speak with any current or former government employee or contractor who has relevant information.

In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report that found UAP reported sightings had increased from 144 in 2021 to 510 as of Aug. 30, 2022. The increase was due in part to “reduced stigma” of officially documenting such sightings.

But many military and commercial pilots who encounter UAPs are still afraid to come forward, because they are afraid of professional repercussions, former Navy Lt. Ryan Graves said during Wednesday’s hearing. 

As a result, UAP sightings continue to be “grossly underreported” – especially by commercial pilots – even though such encounters are a common occurrence, Graves told lawmakers. 

“I urge us to put aside stigma and address the security and safety issue this topic represents,” Graves said. “If UAP are foreign drones, it is an urgent national security problem. If it is something else, it is an issue for science. In either case, unidentified objects are a concern for flight safety. The American people deserve to know what is happening in our skies. It is long overdue.”

Graves told lawmakers that while he was an F/A-18F Super Hornet pilot in 2014, at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, UAP sightings became so common that pilots discussed the risk these aircraft posed during their pre-flight briefs.

During one training mission a UAP flew between two Super Hornets, coming within 50 feet of one of the planes, he said. Although his squadron filed a safety report, there was no official acknowledgement of the incident.

After leaving the Navy, Graves founded Americans for Safe Aerospace, a nonprofit group that supports military and commercial pilots that have encountered UAPs. He noted that most of the witnesses who have sought help from the group are commercial pilots, many of whom have military experience.

On Thursday, Graves told Task & Purpose that some of the UAP sightings that witnesses have shared with Americans for Safe Aerospace could be evidence of spy aircraft or advanced technology belonging to a U.S. adversary. However, the majority of sightings defy conventional explanations, he said.

Graves said he believes the Defense Department should publicly release the data it has collected on UAPs so that the Federal Aviation Administration can update its procedures for detecting and reporting UAPs.

“We want to be able to stand up a centralized location to be able to take all this disparate data and bring it into a single place, funnel it as needed, and then be able to promulgate the results of that analysis for action across not only the military but also the commercial sector,” Graves said. “AARO is doing that now, but it’s very much a one-way street, and they are not pushing any of their recommendations out to the commercial market.” 

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