March 22, 2018

Scientific theory calls it highly improbable, if not impossible, but there it was.

It was good to see the $22 million for the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program buried in the recently enacted $600 billion annual Defense Department budget. Over the years, we have seen news reports of several anomalies in our air space defying explanation, but denial and disinformation have been the standard government response for decades. It’s encouraging to see signs that these anomalies should be a legitimate subject of inquiry by the organization responsible for the nation’s security.

There is no question that anomalies abound. Here, for example, is a December 2017 article in the New York Times reporting the funding which describes a Navy F/A-18 encounter with something neither the pilot nor air traffic control could identify.

   Source: Department of Defense

And a similar one in the Washington Post. While both these stories are brief, raising more questions than providing answers, I heard a far more detailed one many years ago while fishing on the Shenandoah River.

These fishing trips for some reason always begin well before sunrise, even though I've had just as much luck catching smallmouth bass on the Shenandoah at two in the afternoon as at seven in the morning.  But in strict accordance with the time-honored tradition, I had left our house in suburban Washington, D.C. well before sunrise and headed west on Route 50 towards the Blue Ridge.  My canoe was on top of my Jeep, and along the way my fishing buddy joined me, following in his car.

There are several ways to paddle down the South Fork of the Shenandoah.  A long trip starts at an outfitters below Bentonville, a slow spot in the road upstream from Front Royal.  Leaving your car with them, they take you and your canoe 12 miles further upstream enabling a float down what may be the most beautiful stretch of the Shenandoah.  The steep slopes of the Massanutten Range soar over the river on the left while the Blue Ridge frames the meandering waterway several miles to the right.  For sheer spectacular scenery, the ideal time for this trip is in early October when the leaves are turning, surrounding the river with billowing curtains of yellow.

The scenery isn't as dramatic on the short trip, but it begins closer to Washington, and, if the water level is normal, it takes no more than six hours.  A two-car shuttle is used on the short trip, putting in where Route 50 crosses the Shenandoah and taking out at either Locke’s Landing or further downstream where the river flows under the Route 7 bridge.

We chose Route 7 that day, parked his car, and then drove in mine 15 miles back towards the Route 50 bridge along a twisting gravel road.  It was still early in the morning, and we were making quiet conversation trying to keep each other awake when I started asking him about his Air Force experiences.  We both had good stories, but he, being an officer, had ones on a different level.  

The story he chose that morning was literally, not metaphorically, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My brain had been in a daze as we crunched along the gravel road, the now world was sharp edged and clear. What he was saying caused my senses to function at full capacity to give me the ability to see behind trunks of trees and deep into dark shadows.  

His story was along the front lines of the Cold War, five miles above the Arctic ice cap where B-52's carrying nuclear weapons cruised back and forth with their deadly loads.  While in the Air Force, I had seen photographs and movies of American F-4's flying wing tip to wing tip with Soviet long-range bombers in this same area. I had often wondered what deadly ballets had been danced by these contestants who, if they were to stumble, could trigger a third world war.  Now I was being told a story about these flights by someone who never stretches the truth and had spent years flying polar orbits.

Source: Alamy

Reaching the Route 50 bridge, we untied the canoe and carried it to the riverbank where I noticed that the other canoes being launched weren't carrying any fishing gear—just shotguns, ammo, and coolers full of beer. It was a duck hunting weekend on the Shenandoah, and I had forgotten all about it.  Staring at each other a little uncomfortably, we decided that we had come this far, we might as well keep on going.

The river splits into two channels directly below the bridge, and we took the three-mile course to the right around Burwell Island, the longest on the Shenandoah.  In grade school you might have sung a song about the river whose opening verse contains "You mighty river."  There is evidence that it may have been large at some point, and if the song was accurate when written, the Shenandoah today is a shadow of its former self.

As we paddled down the narrow right channel of what today is really a creek, our splashing flushed all winged creatures perched on the island into the sky, giving the hunters floating down the main channel a clear shot at the startled prey.  Shotguns boomed and birdshot splattered the leaves above us, sounding as if Mosby's men were on the march again.  Fortunately, things quieted down a few miles below the island, and he resumed his story.

During the mid-Sixties, he was a navigator in B-52's that regularly flew long orbits over the polar ice pack, loitering within a few hours of potential targets in Russia. On one mission, his bomber was flying an orbit between the ballistic missile early warning site at Tule, Greenland and the North Pole.  His plane was cruising above 20,000 feet on a remarkably clear day permitting the pilots to see hundreds of miles across the Arctic expanse.  Features on the ground like mountain ridges, glaciers, pack ice and icebergs were easily distinguishable in a vista completely free of haze, pollutants and obscuring clouds of any kind.

B-52 flights staged by the Strategic Air Command in the Sixties were long ones, typically lasting 24 hours, but if the relief plane was delayed, the crew could be in the air as long as 36 hours.  For that reason, air-to-air refueling in these distant reaches could become a life or death matter.  There were no landing sites in Canada or Alaska that could service a 52, and few bases anywhere could accommodate the plane's huge wing span.  True, airplanes did touch down at Harmon Airfield at Tule, but only its runway was plowed, leaving a bomber's low hanging wings no alternative but to be dragged into the snowbanks alongside the landing strip.  Should a B-52 abort and land at Tule, a massive effort was required to extract it.

Refueling, therefore, was a critical event, and life aboard orbiting nuclear bombers revolved around the rendezvous with the tankers.  Spotting them in this vast, empty space was always a dramatic moment because the crew knew that relief was on its way and the plane could begin gulping the enormous amount of fuel needed to keep the plane aloft, a process that typically took nearly an hour of precision flying to complete.

The massive plane carried a crew of seven.  Farthest forward in the cockpit were the pilot, co-pilot, and a relief pilot.  Seated well behind them and facing backwards were the electronic warfare officer (called the EW) and the operator of the radar-guided tail guns.  The EW and gunner had no windows nearby and could only see out of the plane by squirming around in their seats and looking forward.  Because their work stations were located so far aft and the cockpit had less than five feet of headroom, their field of view outside the plane was limited.

The remaining two crew members were the navigator and the bombardier located in a small windowless space beneath the cockpit reached by ladder.  Despite the size of the plane, space was so limited that the only place where a crew member could stand up straight was in the ladder well that connected the two decks.

On this day, my friend (who I'll simply call the navigator) was guiding the plane while the bombardier was stretched out on the floor asleep.  Over the interphone the pilot told the navigator to wake the bombardier and prepare for refueling because they were about a half-hour away from their scheduled rendezvous with the KC-135 tankers.

Because the refueling process is dangerous, the Air Force requires the crew to be strapped into their seats, on oxygen and alert, monitoring all the procedures connected with refueling.

The first task in the operation is, as you’d expect, to locate the tankers, and the navigator began his sweep of the skies in search of them.  The normal range for radar then was 50 to 100 miles, but the B-52's equipment could be expanded to 400 miles to search for airborne targets.  He clicked to the expanded mode and began searching down the tankers' scheduled approach path which was from Alaska over the Northwest Territories.

The bomber's radar couldn't skin paint a tanker at that distance (bounce the radar's directed energy off an aircraft), so both the 52 and the tanker would be sending each other a radar beacon code that their respective radars could detect.  This electronic code was being sent on a specified preset frequency and would appear as a series of blips on a radar screen like a bar code used by supermarket scanners.  The beacon code would appear on the radar long before the two planes were close enough for voice communication, but once the two had closed enough to make radio contact, they would verify one another's identity by one plane asking the other to "squawk standby," that is, to turn off the beacon code.  As soon as blips disappeared from the screen, the plane requesting the other to squawk standby would say, "Copy your ident, go back to operate," and the code would reappear.  The other plane would follow the same procedure, and once the identity of both was established, the two planes would voice range themselves into the air refueling initial point.  They would then fly in a distant formation to the air refueling control point, the spot at which the ground controllers would clear one of the tankers to fly close enough to the B-52 to connect the refueling equipment.

Because of its sophisticated detection systems, a B-52 normally had little difficulty picking up a tanker 400 miles away since there was virtually no air traffic in this remote corner of the world.  It was airspace restricted to military planes which meant the tanker was likely to be the only other plane within a radius of hundreds of miles.

The navigator began searching west for a beacon code, the direction from which the KC-135 should have been coming, but instead of the bars of a beacon code, the screen showed a solid blip nearly 400 miles away and closing.  It wasn't a faint blip that was growing stronger as the distance between the two aircraft diminished.  It started out as a distinct green spot and maintained the same level of intensity the closer it came.

The navigator felt it was a radar return because it wasn't transmitting on a preset signal, but he had no way of knowing whether he was skin painting something or whether the aircraft was transmitting a signal of its own that was being picked up by his radar.  From his cramped station beneath the pilot, the navigator told the pilot that he had picked up an unusual radar return that was not sending a beacon.

"Tune it and see if it is just an echo or a shadow return."

Sometimes the radar might receive a false return from a mountain peak, a cloud containing a large amount of moisture, or northern lights, but true returns can be separated from false ones by tuning the radar to detect shadows.  The navigator ran through his bag of tricks but concluded that it was in fact a radar return.

Next, long range radio contact was attempted.  Nothing.  The navigator switched his plane's radio beacon to squawk standby hoping the tanker might mimic his actions.  Still the same steady return.  The navigator timed the return being displayed on his screen and calculated that the closing aircraft was flying at typical tanker speeds.  The B-52 was headed north at the time, and the blip was closing from the direction that would be expected of the tankers, and both aircraft were flying to the pre-established air refueling initial point.  Everyone in the B-52 assumed that it must be the tankers, and the pilot called ground control at Tule to verify.

"Tule, have you got radio contact with our tanker?"


"Tule, we have a return out here at 200 miles."

"Must be your tanker."

"Tule, are you painting a return out here?"


"Do you have a beacon code?"

"No, but we are painting an object at your nine o'clock position at 200 miles."

The Navigator continued tracking the blip as it moved towards him at the expected time and speed of the tankers, coming alongside his plane 15 miles to the left.  The blip then settled into a parallel course.

The pilot had been trying to make voice contact with it for several minutes now, but there had been no response.  Suddenly, he started talking very excitedly and dropped off the interphone by yanking off his oxygen mask.  All that the other crew members could hear was the hum of the aircraft engines and hissing of the cabin pressurization system that was drowning out the sound of the pilots shouting to one another.  This seemed unusual because Air Force procedures at a time like this insist that everyone be on oxygen.

After a few minutes, the two seemed to come to an agreement. The pilot put his mask back on, and said, "I'm going to ask each crew member to come up to the pilot's compartment for an observation.  Bring a pencil and paper."

The first one he called forward was the EW.  After about ten minutes he called the gunner.  Next the bombardier left the navigator and climbed the ladder into the upper compartment.  All this time, the navigator was maintaining the B-52's preset course towards the refueling control point with the blip 15 miles to the left of the plane flying a parallel track and identical speed.

When the bombardier climbed back down the ladder to return to his seat, his expression was no longer one of idle curiosity.  He was in a state of shock, his eyes wide as he looked at the navigator desperately searching for an answer to some fundamental question.

"What is it?"

"The pilot doesn’t want me to tell you.  He wants you to go up and take your pencil and paper and take an observation.  I'm not to discuss it with you."

By this time the navigator thought that things had really gotten strange.  Usually there was a constant stream of chatter through the interphone, particularly at a time like this thousands of miles from the nearest B-52 base when the life sustaining jet fuel was about to be brought aboard. But now no one was talking.

"What does he want me to do?"

"He wants you to see what you're seeing on the radar."

Climbing the ladder, the navigator looked up at the faces of the EW and the gunner who were staring at him with the same expression that he had just seen on the bombardier.  Reaching the upper deck, he bent over in the confined area and duck walked forward towards the windows of the cockpit. Finding a spot to kneel, he looked out the left-hand side of the aircraft at what should have been a KC-135 tanker.  It wasn't.

He would remember its shape as streamlined, very tailored in the crystal clear arctic air.  It was 60 to 100 feet long and had an oblong shape that was something between a pencil and a football, its height at the middle being about 20 feet.  The navigator remembers the skin of the object being a grayish aluminum, but the other crew members would later record it as being brighter, almost like a pie pan.  There were no distinguishing physical features on the saucer, no tail, no wings, no windows, no opening or port of any kind.  He could see nothing that would indicate an exhaust that would be expected from a jet powered plane.  Its most unusual characteristic were rotating lights that marched from one end to the other like a message board at Times Square.  Difficult to describe, the lights were red and greenish, but not distinct.  They were more like a motion going around the craft.    When the Navigator turned to the pilot, he heard, "Don't tell me what you see. Write it down."

The pilot gave him five minutes to do so, and then said, "Go back down to your seat and strap in."

As soon as the Navigator had done so, the pilot called Tule and asked, "Do you have an object at our nine o'clock position approximately 15 miles out?"

"Yes, I do. Is that your tanker?"

"We can't describe what it is, but it is nothing that we have ever seen before, and it is flying with us."

Tule then tried several other radio frequencies, many of which the bomber did not have the capability of using, but came back to say that he had been unsuccessful.

At that time the electronic warfare system carried by a B-52 contained receiving sensors and powered jammer transmitters that gave it the capability to detect the presence of threat radars, determine the appropriate jamming technique, and then automatically program the jammers against a variety of hostile targets.  As odd as it may sound, no one aboard the bomber felt the object constituted a threat.

The EW had turned on his jamming signals, but couldn't get a positive identification that the signals were being sent as they should have been.  Under normal circumstances he would have been able to verify the power output at specified frequencies which would have told him that the equipment was functioning properly.  But he could see neither an output nor an input signal, and he couldn't tell whether the signals were being blocked or jammed.  All that he knew was that his equipment wasn't working as it should and that he couldn't tune it. However, every other instrument on the plane was functioning normally.

Radio contact having failed, the pilot decided to try to get a closer look at the saucer.  He banked the plane to point its nose at it, but the UFO changed its course to continue paralleling the bomber.  It was if the two were tethered with a steel rod.

"I can't intercept it," the pilot told Tule.

Next the pilot went to full power, but he couldn't close on it.  When he turned away and resumed his normal heading, the saucer delayed momentarily, but then came right back to the parallel heading.

"All right, I'm going to do everything I can to intercept it," he radioed Tule.

The pilot nosed the plane down to accelerate, pushing the power full forward.  The UFO dove with him.  After he picked up as much speed as he could, he pulled up the nose and again pointed it straight at the saucer.  

Almost immediately, the navigator saw the blip on the radar screen streak away like a bullet fired from a gun, going in roughly the same direction from which it had originally approached the bomber.

"Oh, my God," cried the Tule controller.  "It's absolutely disappearing."

The pilot who had been watching the object, not the radar, responded, "It just vanished.  Just immediately."

The Navigator saw the saucer wasn't climbing, but traveling across the horizon at an extremely high rate of speed.  He did some quick calculations and determined that it was moving at 20,000 miles an hour through the friction of the earth's atmosphere, a speed which would have melted any man-made object.  By way of comparison, the horizontal speeds of the experimental high-speed X-15 were rumored to be 7,000 mph, and escape velocity from gravitational pull for a shuttle going into outer space is 24,000 mph.  Nothing the navigator knew of has been able to withstand speeds of 20,000 mph for sustained periods of time at altitudes so close to the earth's surface.  

As the object was disappearing, Tule called other ground stations in the vicinity of its track, but none had seen anything unusual.

Now everyone aboard the B-52 was talking freely again and comparing notes, and they found that their descriptions were roughly consistent.  The EW checked his electronic warfare system with ground radar and found that it was working perfectly once more. The pilot reported to Tule what they had seen, and the tower responded that it would put through a phone patch to SAC headquarters so that their observation could be communicated directly. While the patch was being connected, the tankers materialized from the same direction towards which the UFO had just disappeared. They were late, and the crews were very concerned that the B-52 might be in trouble. The tankers were surprised, therefore, to hear a voice over the radio that didn't chew them out but quietly asked them if they had seen anything unusual.

"What's the problem?  No, we haven't seen a thing."

Because of its mission, the B-52 carried far more sophisticated detection systems than a KC-135.  The pilot left the tanker crews puzzling over his inquiry and simply asked that the refueling process begin immediately.

Source: Kurt Clark

An hour later when the empty tankers were heading back towards Alaska, the phone patch was completed to SAC headquarters, and the pilot described what they had observed. SAC just acknowledged it, gave no indication of alarm, and directed the bomber to continue in orbit as scheduled.  

After the mission was completed and they had landed at their home base in the northern United States, the crew was debriefed by Air Force Intelligence. They too gave no indication they did not believe the reports being given them. The radar film from the B-52 was reviewed with the data that Tule had recorded, and all the reported speeds matched up. Intelligence took all their notes and radar film, and that was the end of it.  

During the flight home the crew had speculated as to what might be in store for them.  Would they be invited to the Pentagon to brief the senior staff?  Would they be considered loonies and shunted off to some obscure post or asked quietly to resign their commissions?  After Intelligence had finished questioning them, the Air Force never again asked them for any additional information—ever.  There was no standing in the well of the briefing room at SAC headquarters in front of tiered rows of fascinated listeners as they worked through the foils.  There was no special flight to Andrews and a helicopter ride to the Pentagon for in-depth interviews by a secret team of scientific researchers engaged in strategic thinking about extraterrestrial incursions.  There were no trips to Cape Canaveral for a roundtable discussion with the astronauts.

In fact, no one even told them to keep the encounter secret.  Yet none of the crew members wanted to talk about their experience to anyone but those closest to them for fear that they might be branded mental cases, a fear, as they soon found, that was far from groundless.  When the Navigator told his parents of the encounter, they refused to believe him. Most people really didn't want to hear about something so distant from the norm, particularly from someone they would prefer thinking of as sane.  After all, the conventional wisdom that binds all persons of reason, sound intellect and good education is that the notion of humans stumbling across life forms from another planet is, well, silly. We are instructed to believe that only people with marginal intelligence and those who enjoy reading supermarket tabloids take such drivel seriously.  

One of our family friends when I was growing up had been someone who held high positions in NASA for more than two decades.  He would dismiss my questions about the possibility of beings from other planets visiting ours on the basis that because nothing can move faster than the speed of light, the time involved in traveling from one star system to another is so great that the chance of a spacecraft from another galaxy coming near earth was too remote for anyone to be concerned.  What if there were a way to move faster than light, I would ask?  That’s neither theoretically or actually possible, he would say.

Still, to say that homo sapiens are the most advanced life forms in the nearby universe, a species prepared to annihilate our entire planet in a few short hours, had always been a depressing notion.  And now sitting in front of me in the bow seat, paddling down a river that may have been flowing for tens of thousands of years before the first homo sapiens walked along its shores was someone who may have glimpsed beyond the space-time continuum in which we closet ourselves.  

We floated with the current, flicking our tackle into the shallows and occasionally reeling in a smallmouth. We passed over v-shaped fishing weirs built with stone hundreds if not thousands of years ago by native Americans and perhaps early settlers. The current would force fish into the point of the weir where they could be speared or trapped. The first documentation of these manmade structures in Virginia dates from the 1580's, and evidence of spears created thousands of years ago has been found along the river bottom. It seemed incongruous to be discussing the appearance of something highly sophisticated from another dimension as we worked our way past a Stone Age device in use perhaps as late as the previous century.

Sliding past Locke's Landing and moving towards the Route 7 bridge, I quizzed him on the spaceship, speculating as to what might have been aboard it. His response was to accuse me of paradigm paralysis. I was assuming it was a spacecraft of some kind. Why didn't I consider that it might be a life form or a combination of the two?  Drones are ubiquitous today but not then, and neither of us mentioned that possibility.  

When I queried him about his mental state following the encounter, he said that for weeks afterwards going outside alone on a dark night on the isolated SAC base spooked him. The clear and unmistakable proof that we earthlings are not alone in the universe had humbled him like nothing else had.  

By early afternoon, we reached the Route 7 bridge and temporarily tied the canoe to the roof of his car. On the way back to my Jeep, I told him that I wanted to put his story in writing if he would be comfortable with that. He said he would. My sense was that this event was a life altering experience for him, and he wanted a 20th century version of a cave painting to document it. I told him that there was too much detail in what I had heard for me to put together a first draft without interviewing him and typing up a transcript. Further, we would need to go back and forth a few times until he was comfortable with my characterization of it. He was agreeable to that as well. 

Once that process was completed, however, he had second thoughts about its release. He was still active in his profession and concerned about his identity being revealed. As a result, the story sat in my computer files for the past 25 years or so.

In reading the story recently to a few close friends, one question they had is how could the object be seen as precisely as described when it was 15 miles away? It's a good question and one I should have asked the Navigator. I do know that having flown over Canada on my way to Elmendorf AFB in Alaska sitting in the cockpit of a C-141 several times, I saw firsthand the remarkable visibility that can be had in those northern reaches on a clear day. Looking out the cockpit window at the Canadian Rockies, objects on the ground dozens of miles away can be picked out with ease in the pollution-free air.

I'm also assuming that a sophisticated set of binoculars with a reticle enabling measurement of heights would be a standard item on a B-52. Note how the pilot suddenly yanked off his facemask. Had he turned from flying the plane to pick up binoculars? When the object came into focus, was he shocked by the sight? Or was there some other piece of equipment on board that enabled the crew to conduct their observations and gauge height?

During my first interview of the Navigator a few weeks later, I asked him what aspect of the experience affected him more than any other. He said he was deeply troubled that an intelligent force had come into the earth's environment from a world we knew nothing about, made itself seen for a time and then vanished. What was the potential reach of its power? The EW systems weren't disabled by anything that either the sophisticated instruments of the B-52 or Tule radar could detect. The blip had approached the B-52 along the same course and at the same altitude and speed expected of the tankers. And the tankers had been late. Why had they been late? Why had the saucer arrived at the same time that the tankers were scheduled to arrive? Was that coincidental? We like to think that we are free agents making rational decisions without any undue outside influence. But have we so blinded ourselves to the universe we occupy and the forces it contains that we only see the artifices we have erected?  

Since I heard this story in the 1990s, much more information has emerged regarding unidentified aerial phenomena. One example is the road to Damascus conversion of former Arizona Governor Fife Symington. One evening in March of 1997, several hundred people in that state saw a silent craft the size of multiple football fields gliding overhead. Local authorities were overwhelmed by citizens demanding answers. This event is what has become known as “Phoenix Lights” and is documented in the film, Out of the Blue. Symington was part of the effort at the time to debunk the anomaly, but years afterwards he decided to clarify the record, providing this video interview in which he says that he too saw the craft, something that he did not reveal at the time of the incident.

Symington also wrote a chapter on his experience in Leslie Kean’s book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record.  Kean is an investigate journalist whose work is published in several newspapers including a seminal piece on the subject in the Boston Globe which was picked up by the New York Times wire service.  Her book describes dozens of anomalies and includes chapters written by scientists, pilots, and government officials from around the world regarding their experiences and observations. Their consensus view is that while 95 percent of these anomalies can be explained away, five percent cannot be attributed to military exercises, weather phenomena, or other causes originating on our planet.

Kean’s dissertation on unidentified aerial phenomena covers a variety of subjects including the broad range of approaches by various governments, the U.S. being the most aggressive in conducting disinformation campaigns and inhibiting disclosure. One reason, particularly during the Cold War, may be that many of these anomalies occur around nuclear facilities.  In 1967 at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, for example, Keane cites reports of nearly twenty nuclear missiles suddenly shutting down when UFOs were close by. Who knows, earthlings may not be the only ones concerned with nuclear proliferation.

One chapter in Kean’s book is authored by the former head of the French National Center for Space Studies, Jean-Jacque Velasco, in which he postulates “that there is a connection between strategic nuclear power, the atomic bomb, and the presence of unidentified artificial objects in the sky.” He and many others point out the fact that these sightings began roughly at the same time various militaries on Earth started developing nuclear weapons.

That’s why the funding of the DOD program is refreshing. Maybe we could become more like the physician who was serving in the Japanese court when Commodore Perry anchored his fleet of four ships in Tokyo Bay in 1853 and blustered his way ashore, breaking centuries of Japanese isolation and negotiating a trading agreement. The physician reflected in his diary that Perry's visit was good medicine for the entire Japanese nation because it was recognized, for the first time, how formidable a foreign power might be. From evidence documented in reports such as one issued by the French military authored by COMETA, a group of senior military officials and scientists, phenomena from other worlds may have already blustered into our solar system and our response thus far has been to deny it. Perhaps that’s changing. It would be good if it did.

Addendum June 9, 2019

On May 26, 2019, the New York Times published a story, “’Wow, What Is that?’ Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects,” that became the most read of all NYT stories for at least a week. In a sign that attitudes are changing, five Navy pilots agreed to be interviewed on the record about the inexplicable phenomena they have witnessed over the past few years, saying “the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds.” The article also describes how the Navy has issued new guidance regarding the reporting of such incidents. One said, for example, that “[t]he pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. It looked to the pilot, Lieutenant Graves said, like a sphere encasing a tube.”

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