A F/A-18F of VFA-11 during a COMPTUEX exercises around the time of the UFO sightings, January 2015.
Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3nd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski
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UFOS—our U.S. Navy pilots just keep seeing them! There was one instance in 2004, first written about in 2017, which made news briefly and then dropped off everyone’s collective radar, and now a New York Times report says that there was another interception in 2014-2015. Here’s what we know about the mystery aircraft.

Over the course of two articles, one published in 2017 and the other just a few days ago, the NYT describes encounters between a carrier strike group centered around USS Nimitz in 2004 and aircrew from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the 2014/2015 timeframe. The encounters with the utterly unidentified flying objects left highly trained and skilled sailors manning radars and flying some of the world’s most sophisticated fighter jets as at a loss as anyone else in describing what they had seen.

Over the past two years, the articles have built up a picture of the UFOs sighted in the encounters. Lets assume, for a minute, that we are talking about real aircraft. Here’s what we can deduce from what’s public.

The UFO Descriptions Vary


Lt. Ryan Graves, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot, says the objects he saw in 2014-15 that looked like a “sphere encasing a cube.” Commander David Fravor, in his 2004 sighting, said that the object he observed was “around 40 feet long and oval in shape.”

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These could be the same craft viewed from different perspectives.

In addition to the aerial craft, Fravor reportedly saw a third, larger craft:

Commander Fravor looked down to the sea. It was calm that day, but the waves were breaking over something that was just below the surface. Whatever it was, it was big enough to cause the sea to churn.

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In other reports Fravor says the object was the “size of a Boeing 737,”a commercial jetliner 100 feet long with a 93-foot-long wingspan”

Hovering 50 feet above the churn was an aircraft of some kind — whitish — that was around 40 feet long and oval in shape. The craft was jumping around erratically, staying over the wave disturbance but not moving in any specific direction, Commander Fravor said. The disturbance looked like frothy waves and foam, as if the water were boiling.

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The smaller UFO rose up to meet Fravor, and the Navy pilot diverted his attention to the ascending craft—possibly what the object intended. Fravor does not report seeing the larger underwater object again.

Whoever Is Controlling These Things Just Might Have Access to Navy Communications. And Speaks English.

One last detail, a “tell” on the part of the UFOs, is in Fravor’s story. Fravor reports that an operations officer on the USS Princeton directed him to fly to a Combat Air Patrol, or cap, point 60 miles away. Within moments, the Princeton reported to Fravor that the UFOs were at his cap point. What are the odds that the craft would pick the cap point, of all places, as a destination?

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But on the other hand, why would the objects want to be around a U.S. Navy fighter jet?

The Objects Do Not Use Conventional Forms Of Propulsion

The flying UFO in 2004 would appear at 80,000 feet, suddenly drop to 20,000 feet and hover, and repeatedly shoot straight up and down over and over again, according to Fravor. Fravor also reported the craft was “jumping around erratically.”

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Technologies known to the public do not currently enable such maneuvers.

The craft sighted in 2014-2015 also reportedly performed aerial acrobatics that known aircraft are unable to perform—and that would turn a human pilot into a red goo due to the tremendous g-forces involved. The craft moved at “hypersonic” speeds—hypersonic defined as being at speeds of Mach 5 (3,836 miles an hour) or greater. Graves in particular says the objects were observed flying energy-intensive maneuvers for 12 hours a day when they should have only been able to fly for an hour.

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They Are Difficult But Not Impossible To Detect

In his 2004 encounter, Cdr Fravor was unable to pick up the objects on the radar of his F/A-18 Super Hornet. Lieutenant Graves, on the other hand, was able to pick up the objects on the radar of his Super Hornet. What accounts for the discrepancy? Fravor’s early production Super Hornet was equipped with an older radar, the AN/APG-73. The AN/APG-73 is an X-band, multi-mode radar used by Super Hornet pilots in air-to-air and air-to-ground roles.

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Ten years later, Graves and the pilots of Strike Fighter Squadron 11 (VFA-11) reported a different experience:

The pilots began noticing the objects after their 1980s-era radar was upgraded to a more advanced system. As one fighter jet after another got the new radar, pilots began picking up the objects, but ignoring what they thought were false radar tracks.

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The radar upgrade in question was the installation of the new APG-79 active electronically scanned array radar to replace Fravor’s AN/APG-73 in older Super Hornets, a fleet-wide upgrade that began in the early 2010s. Both radar systems operate in the X-band, but the APG-79 has increased sensitivity and greater processing power than the older radar.

The craft were also noted by sea-based radars. It was the USS Princeton, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, that first alerted Fravor to the presence of the UFOs in 2004. Designed to detect, track, and intercept aerial threats at long range, Princeton is equipped with the SPY-1 radar system. The SPY-1 operates in the E/F bands and, having access to greater amounts of electrical power, can generally detect objects at longer ranges than aircraft radars.

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The odd thing about the radar sightings is that they happened at all. If these craft did belong to some arm of the U.S. government and had a military purpose one would assume that they would be stealthy. Perhaps they were stealthy to some extent but recent advances in radar technology have caught up with them.

The objects are detectable in infrared, though they don’t particularly stand out. Lieutenant Danny Accoin, another VFA-11 pilot who had encounters during the 2014-2015 timeframe, reports that the heat seeker on a training missile and the infrared camera on his aircraft picked up the UFO. In a third incident published by the UFO investigative group To The Stars...Academy of Arts and Science, craft sighted by Navy jets were visible to the Super Hornet’s Raytheon AN/ASQ-228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod.

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In the 2014-2015 incidents Graves reports that the aircraft did not have any exhaust plumes detected on infrared sensors, which is definitely unlike anything we currently know. All conventional aircraft using internal combustion engines produce copious amounts of heat that not only warm certain parts of the aircraft—such as the exhaust nozzles but also the air trailing the aircraft. Stealth aircraft, like the B-2 Spirit bomber, often have ways of minimizing the heat signature from the engines, but not eliminating it entirely.

The UFOs did nothing of the sort, meaning they either use an alternate means of propulsion that does not generate heat, or it uses extensive means to cool their exhaust before it exits the rear of the plane.

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Finally, the objects can be difficult to pick up by the naked eye. Fravor seems to have had no problem seeing them in 2004, but Lt. Accoin reported that his helmet camera, likely part of the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, was unable to see the craft. We don’t know if Fravor had JHMCS, a helmet designed to make targeting adversaries easier, but if he did not, perhaps there was something about the system that prevented—for one reason or another—detection.

Both Sightings Took Place Near the Continental United States

LCdr Graves notes that the craft were sighted by pilots while the USS Theodore Roosevelt was operating off the eastern seaboard of the U.S., but tapered off once the ship left on an operational patrol. In Fravor’s case, the UFOs were sighted over the Pacific Ocean, approximately 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. As far as we know, these are the only locations Navy pilots have sighted the strange craft, and together those two sets of sightings make an America sandwich.

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USS Princeton.
Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Keypher Strombeck (DVIDS)

Whoever Controls the UFOs Has Several of Them

During the video embedded in the New York Times article, two Super Hornet aircrew—implying the video was taken by a two seat F/A-18F Super Hornet—says “there’s a whole fleet of them,” and encourages his co-pilot to “look at the ASA.” That seems to be a reference to the APG-79 radar’s “search while track” feature, which the Navy says, “significantly improves track quality of multiple targets with little or no degradation of the search capability of the radar.” How many of the objects were flying at the time is unknown.

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But We Still Can’t Definitively Say Who They Belong To

Thanks to the United States Navy, we know a few things about these craft. But here is where we run into the brick wall facing all UFO investigations: without knowing who is piloting the craft, why they are piloting the craft, and what their intentions are, we have no idea what any of this means. Are they aliens? Are they an arm of the U.S. government? We can only speculate and wait for new sightings that could introduce more information.

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Like blind men studying the different parts of an elephant reporting three different animals based on what they feel, a lack of information could lead us to a completely wrong conclusion. Whoever is in control of these objects is in control of the experience, and we won’t learn anything new until they choose to reveal it. Is this party—whoever it is—sophisticated enough to build such super-craft and yet incompetent enough to bumble their way through Navy training exercises filled with trained observers and some of the most sophisticated sensors in the world?

Something says this isn’t the last we’ll hear of these mysterious craft.