As the UFO mystery deepens, scientists must engage with the data

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As the UFO mystery deepens, scientists must engage with the data


Unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) – government-speak for UFOs – are in the spotlight. But amid White House-level attention, breathless coverage of “aliens” and a rare focus on U.S. air defenses, new revelations are only deepening the UAP mystery.

Moreover, with six former presidential candidates, an ex-vice presidential nominee and the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence demanding that the U.S. government fully fund a “science plan” to study UAP that “exceed the known state of the art in science and technology,” scientists must engage with the genuinely perplexing data available to them.

In 2014 and 2015, for example, at least 50 to 60 naval aviators training in tightly controlled airspace off the U.S. East Coast observed unknown objects exhibiting extraordinary flight characteristics. Critically, aircrews observed the mysterious craft visually or via sensors on a daily basis. Pentagon officials ruled out secret U.S. technology, leading some analysts to surmise that the mysterious objects were foreign surveillance platforms. But recent reporting appears to undercut this theory.

According to the Wall Street Journal, intelligence officials monitored three brief Trump-era incursions by suspected Chinese surveillance balloons. If analysts managed to track such fleeting incidents in real time, it strains credulity that a foreign power mounted a complex surveillance operation involving hundreds, if not thousands, of balloons (or drones) on a daily basis, for years, without detection.

Moreover, it appears that the diplomatic and media spectacle sparked by China’s massive surveillance balloon is due to a colossal screw-up. Intelligence analysts who tracked the airship’s launch now believe that atypical weather patterns blew it off its intended course. (Guam and Hawaii were the actual targets.) Beijing, it seems, never meant to send its spy balloon over the continental United States.

To be sure, future reporting may establish that a foreign power mounted a brazen, logistically complex surveillance operation that spurred daily, years-long “UAP” encounters off the U.S. East Coast. But with intelligence officials monitoring three brief incursions during the Trump administration in real time, along with revelations that China likely never intended to spark a geopolitical crisis, this theory now appears increasingly implausible.

Importantly, U.S. officials are unimpressed by the technology recovered from China’s surveillance balloon. In stark contrast, the flight characteristics of the mysterious objects observed daily by naval aviators suggest highly advanced (and distinctly un-balloon-like) technology.

Aircrews encountered objects capable of remaining stationary in high winds or flying at considerable speeds for extreme durations. Intriguingly, the mysterious craft were frequently invisible to the naked eye. While radar and various infrared heat sensors indicated the presence of real, physical objects, aviators who investigated the strange contacts – often with the assistance of advanced helmet displays – rarely saw them visually.

In one documented instance approximately 100 miles off the coast of North Carolina, four naval aviators flew up to an object tracked by both radar and heat sensors. Despite clear indications that a real object was present, the two aircrews saw nothing visually from a distance of only 200 feet.

In another noteworthy 2014 incident, two objects with heat and radar signatures hovered at altitudes of 12,000 and 15,000 feet. As aviators watched one of the strange craft hovering stationary in strong winds aloft, two other objects – both with heat signatures – flew by “at a high speed.” Such flight characteristics are genuinely perplexing, and hardly attributable to balloons.

Ditto for the “GoFast” UAP video, which naval aviators recorded off the coast of Florida in early 2015. Two independent geometrical models of the encounter show that, even if a key on-screen figure ballyhooed by UFO skeptics is accurate, the object has intrinsic speed. In other words, the craft moved significantly faster than the winds aloft.

Since the object in the “GoFast” video is small, with no wings or obvious means of propulsion, its intrinsic speed suggests highly advanced technology.

Perhaps most importantly, meticulous three-dimensional reconstructions of the now-famous “Gimbal” UAP video confirm that the object demonstrated truly remarkable flight characteristics. With a “stable” radar lock, aviators have “high confidence” that the craft was within 10 miles of the jet that recorded the video. (The aircrew ultimately “flew right up to” the mysterious object.)

At that distance, the object’s geometrically reconstructed flight path shows that it slowed from a speed of several hundred miles per hour to a stop in mid-air before abruptly reversing direction in a vertical U-turn. While such an unorthodox maneuver would take a fighter jet nearly a mile to complete, the “Gimbal” UAP executed it in a fraction of that distance with no wings or discernible means of propulsion — an astoundingly perplexing feat, especially at high altitude.

Make no mistake: Such seemingly physics- and aerodynamics-bending properties demand serious, sober scientific scrutiny.

Of note, the theory favored by UFO “debunkers” – that the “Gimbal” object’s apparent rotation is a product of the camera’s movement – suffers from a significant flaw. After speaking with active-duty naval aviators, as well as a senior engineer intimately familiar with the optical system, and reviewing public patent documents, I see no evidence that such systems rotate in the odd stepped manner observed at the end of the video.

On the contrary, all available data suggest that the camera system moved in a smooth, continuous rotation during the “Gimbal” encounter. Perhaps most intriguingly, the object’s rotation matches its flight path, dealing a significant blow to the camera artifact theory.

At the same time, applying basic math to video of the single most documented UAP incident on record convincingly rules out prosaic explanations (such as a distant jet) for the “Tic Tac”-shaped object observed by five naval aviators. Moreover, infrared footage of the craft, in conjunction with a simple, garage-style experiment accounting for the position of the sun, makes a robust case that the mysterious object flew at high altitude without wings, control surfaces or discernible means of propulsion.

When will scientists reject the government-fueled stigma that long hindered sober, objective study of UAP and grapple with the perplexing (and compelling) data in front of them?

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.


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unidentified aerial objects

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Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

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