Four years after UFO sightings, and just in time for documentary, Navy updates reporting guidelines for pilots

The Navy has updated its guidelines for pilots to report unidentified flying objects, the New York Times reported, following a series of mysterious sightings off the East Coast.

The sightings took place four to five years ago, and the article did not explain why the guidelines, originally issued in 2015, were updated earlier this year.

The Navy pilots will be part of a new History Channel series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation.” The N.Y. Times story, which was widely circulated this week, represented a publicity coup for the network.

The newspaper says pilots based on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt saw the objects — some of which they described as spinning like tops and reaching 30,000 feet — during the summer of 2014 through March 2015 in training exercises off the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida. In 2014, a F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot reported nearly colliding with one. Two pilots were quoted by name in the story. They said they began to see the objects after receiving upgraded radar systems.

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UFO sightings across the world
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UFO sightings across the world
A panel of scientists concluded June 29, 1998 that science has badly neglected the area of UFOs despite numerous reports and considerable public interest. "It may be valuable to carefully evaluate UFO reports to extract information about unusual phenomena currently unknown to science," the experts, headed by Stanford University physicist Peter Sturrock, wrote in a report released Monday. This photo depicts a possible UFO sighting as reported by the Journal of Scientific Exploration. REUTERS/HO
Nevada Governor Bob Miller (C), presides over the unveiling of a new road sign for Nevada State Highway 375 on April 18 in Rachel, about 150 miles north of Las Vegas. The highway has been the location for numerous UFO sightings, possibly related to the close proximity of the secret U.S. airbase often refered to as Dreamland or Area 51
A demonstrator warning of a government conspiracy to withhold secret files on sightings of aliens in Britain holds up a leaflet outside the House of Commons October 10. There are an estimated 100 Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) groups with radio tapes, radar tapes, and video footage alledgedly documenting aliens in the country
(Original Caption) UFO spotters looking out over the Forth Valley in central Scotland where unexplained sightings are said to be frequent in Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire. (Photo by Colin McPherson/Sygma via Getty Images)
Rachel, NV, On The Extraterrestrial Highway, Highway 375, Home Of Numerous UFO Sightings And Near Area 51. (Photo By: MyLoupe/UIG Via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Bonnybridge councillor, Billy Buchanan, is campaigning for the Scottish town to be linked with Roswell in New Mexico, the site of a UFO landing in 1947, following UFO sightings in the area. (Photo by Colin McPherson/Sygma via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) This shot of an unidentified flying object over the Lawrence County Farm show grounds, is similar to descriptions of a UFO sighted over Presque Isle Peninsula near Erie, Pa. The photographer was photographing the milk can when he claims the object appeared in his photo.
Rachel, Nevada, Near Area 51, Is Famous For UFO Sightings And Alien Watchers. (Photo By: MyLoupe/UIG Via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 5/16/1966-Hillsdale, MI- The civil defense director of Hillsdale County, MI, William Van Horn, issued a 24 page report May 16th challenging an Air Force conclusion that 'swamp gas' caused the Hillsdale UFO sightings in March 1966. Van Horn said conditions at the time were too windy for swamp gas to form and that a chemical diclosed an abnormally high amount of radiation and the element, Boron, in both the water and the soil. He also released this photo purporting show an UFO.
Astrophysicist Dr. H. Allen Hynek holds a photograph of a reported unidentified flying object. The Northwestern University professor was asked to investigate sightings by the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Hynek commented the 'flying saucer' looked more like a 'chicken feeder.'
(Original Caption) 3/21/66-Dexter,Michigan- With unidentified flying objects reportedly frequenting the southern Michigan area, curious citizens are turning out by the hundreds to scan the night sky. These area residents gathered late at the scene of a reported sighting by Dexter patrolman Robert Huniwell 3/20. The latest reported sighting was from Hinsdale Michigan, when an unidentified object was watched for several hours by Hinsdale County Civil Defense Director William Van Horn and 87 co-eds from Hinsdale College.
29th December 1953: An Unidentified Flying Object in the sky over Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. (Photo by Barney Wayne/Keystone/Getty Images)
3rd July 1954: A soldier pointing at an unidentified oblect in the sky over London, in a Picture Post photo-fiction story about a UFO invasion. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7188 - The Threat - pub. 1954 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 3/21/1966-Dexter, MI- On the back porch of his rented farm, Frank Mannor, 47, points out and scans the area where he sighted an unidentified object the night before. Mannor and his 19-year-old son ran into the swamp behind their house late 3/10, to watch a mysterious object hover just off the ground and then rocket off at their approach.
(L-R) Pilots E.J. Smith, Kenneth Arnold, and Ralph E. Stevens look at a photo of an unidentified flying object which they sighted while en route to Seattle, Washington.
(Original Caption) Dr. H. Allen Hynek, a Northwestern University astrophysicist, tells newsmen at a press conference here that the photograph he is holding is a time exposure of the crescent moon and the planet Venus. The photo, widely circulated in the news media, was supposedly taken by an Ann Arbor, Michigan, police officer. Dr. Hynek dismissed a Dexter, Michigan sighting of an unidentified flying object as luminous swamp gas.
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“People have seen strange stuff in military aircraft for decades,” Lt. Ryan Graves said. “We’re doing this very complex mission, to go from 30,000 feet, diving down. It would be a pretty big deal to have something up there.”

The N.Y. Times story includes grainy video captured by the plane’s camera. The Navy adjusted its reporting methods for what the military calls “unexplained aerial phenomena” following the Roosevelt incidents.

“There were a number of different reports,” said Navy spokesman Joseph Gradisher, adding that although some cases could be commercial drones, in regard to others, “We don’t know who’s doing this, we don’t have enough data to track this. So the intent of the message to the fleet is to provide updated guidance on reporting procedures for suspected intrusions into our airspace.”

A scene from the History Channel's "Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation." (Image: History Channel)

There have been other such reports over the years.

In 2017, the same reporters published a story about how former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had pushed for funding for the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which investigated unexplained aerial sightings. The program ran from 2007 to 2012.

“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” said Reid in a 2017 N.Y. Times interview. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”

That story coincided with the publication of a Pentagon video showing a 2004 incident in which two Navy pilots investigated an unidentified object off the coast of San Diego, Calif. Cmdr. David Fravor, one of the pilots involved, told the N.Y. Times that he has no idea what he saw but that “it had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s.”

The Air Force’s Project Blue Book, a classified program set up in 1952, counted over 12,000 UFO sightings over its 17-year existence, with hundreds still unexplained. A 2006 report of a disk hovering over O’Hare Airport in Chicago was dismissed by the Federal Aviation Administration as a weather anomaly. The 1947 crash of a high-altitude balloon in Roswell, N.M., inspired generations of conspiracy theories about flying saucers. The unmanned craft was part of a top-secret program to monitor Soviet weapons tests.

Experts say there are plenty of explanations for what the pilots are seeing that don’t necessarily mean extraterrestrials are cruising around earth, including atmospheric phenomena and classified military programs from the U.S. or other countries. Although President Trump has shown interest in expanding the military’s presence outside the atmosphere via a Space Force, supporters of the initiative say it is about protecting American satellites, not recreating “Star Wars”-type battles with enemy invaders.

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