Tic Tac Oh! Are Strange Objects Sighted in U.S. Skies Extraterrestrial?

They’re unidentified objects that fly…just don’t call them UFO’s!
They’re not saying it’s aliens…but they’re not saying it’s not
Congress holding first hearing in more than 50 years on Tuesday

Part II of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During my recent visit to Roswell, NM, I toured a museum that posited the U.S. government covered up the crash of a spaceship with four aliens on a ranch outside the city 75 years ago. Although I came away far from convinced this actually happened, there was one thing I saw there that was seemed quite credible. (Part I: The Truth is Out There, Just Maybe Not in Roswell)

I wandered into the museum’s small theater, which was showing an Australian news report on what the Pentagon has labeled unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) — what back in the day were known as unidentified flying objects (UFOs). (Apparently the DoD decided a rebrand was needed to make them sound less crackpotty.)

Reports of these UAPs, which were nicknamed Tic Tacs due to their shape by a military pilot who saw one in 2004, are much more recent than the alleged Roswell incident. The witnesses are highly credible, there’s reliable videos of encounters with the objects, and a federal government has reversed decades of denials and begun to become more open on the subject.

Something is out there. Nobody is quite sure what. Nobody is publicly saying they’re alien. On the other hand, they’re not entirely ruling it out, either.

With Congress set to hold its first public hearing on UFOs UAPs in more than half a century on Tuesday morning, let’s look a closer a look at this subject.

HearingDate/TimeWatch Live
House Intelligence Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation SubcommitteeTuesday, May 17 at 9:00 a.m. EDTWebcast

Changing the Laws of Physics

Montgomery Scott, chief engineer of the starship USS Enterprise, once famously opined that you can’t change the laws of physics. But one day in 2004, U.S. Navy pilots encountered a mysterious object that appeared to do exactly that off the coast of California.

The New York Times was the first to report on the incident in a December 2017 story that focused on Navy Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight. (Story: 2 Navy Airmen and an Object That ‘Accelerated Like Nothing I’ve Ever Seen’)

Then, 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.

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.

Commander Fravor began a circular descent to get a closer look, but as he got nearer the object began ascending toward him. It was almost as if it were coming to meet him halfway, he said.

Commander Fravor abandoned his slow circular descent and headed straight for the object.

But then the object peeled away. “It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he said in the interview. He was, he said, “pretty weirded out.”

The USS Princeton, a Navy cruiser, directed the pilots to fly to a rendezvous point 60 miles away. The ship then told the pilots that the object had popped up on radar at that point in less than a minute.

New York magazine interviewed Chad Underwood, the Navy pilot who took a video during the 2004 encounter. (Story: Navy Pilot Who Filmed the ‘Tic Tac’ UFO Speaks: ‘It Wasn’t Behaving by the Normal Laws of Physics’)

In a military report made public by KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, another crew member with 17 years of experience on similar cruisers would later observe that the objects “exhibited ballistic-missile characteristics” as they zoomed from 60,000 feet to 50 feet above the Pacific Ocean, alarmingly without producing sonic booms. All told, radar operators with the Princeton spent about two weeks attempting to figure out what the objects were, a process that included having the ship’s radar system shut down and recalibrated to make sure that the mysterious radar returns were not not false positives, or “ghost tracks.”

Eventually, David Fravor, commanding officer of the Black Aces, made visual confirmation of one of the objects midair during a flight-training exercise. An hour later, Underwood made his infrared recording on a second flight. “That day,” Underwood recalls, “Dave Fravor was like, ‘Hey, dude. BOLO.’ Like, be on the lookout for just something weird. I can’t remember the exact terms that he used. I didn’t really think much about it at the time. But once I was able to acquire it on the radar and on the FLIR [forward-looking infrared camera], that’s kind of where things — I wouldn’t say ‘went sideways’ — but things were just different.”

The footage appears to depict what Fravor had identified as a 40-foot-long, white, oblong shape (hence “Tic Tac”), hovering somewhere between 15,000 and 24,000 feet in midair and exhibiting no notable exhaust from conventional propulsion sources, even as it makes a surprising dart leftward in the video’s final moments. Of the three UFO incidents captured by U.S. Navy airmen via infrared gun-camera pods, Underwood’s footage remains unique for its lack of cross talk between the pilots — a fact that has led to some speculation about its authenticity. But “there wasn’t anything on it that was protected,” Underwood’s retired former commanding officer Dave Fravor told Intelligencer. The missing audio, he says, “just didn’t make the copy that was taken from the storage drive.”

A former fighter pilot who served on the Nimitz in 2004, who spoke to Intelligencer on condition of anonymity, recalled an exhilarating group screening of the FLIR1 video inside the Nimitz’s Carrier Vehicle Intelligence Center (CVIC): “Debriefs were usually pro forma in the CVIC, but this one in particular was so odd,” the former pilot said. “There weren’t really a lot of skeptics in that room.” Years later, Fravor told ABC News that he didn’t know what the Tic Tac was, but that “it was really impressive, really fast, and I would like to fly it.” In the CVIC that day, the anonymous pilot told Intelligencer, “We all had that. We all wanted to fly it.”

Fravor, Underwood and Slaight are not the only pilots to see unidentified objects that behaved in ways that have defied the laws of physics. The news magazine 60 Minutes included additional details about the 2004 incident and the Pentagon’s investigation of UAPs.

Wired produced a report that analyzes the behavior of objects captured by military pilots. The speeds at which these objects travel, the lack of visible propulsion, their ability to go from the air into the ocean and back again…all these things have left experts baffled.

So, could this be a secret U.S. military project? A former government official with very high clearance told 60 Minutes that it is highly unlikely. Others in the videos doubt it, as well.

Could it be a Chinese or Russian vehicle? It’s possible. But, it would be a massive leap in technology to produce a vehicle that could behave in such a manner.

On orders from Congress, the Pentagon released a preliminary analysis on its investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena in June 2021. It was disappointing for anyone who was expecting a definitive answer. (Report: Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena — Unclassified)

In a limited number of incidents, UAP reportedly appeared to exhibit unusual flight characteristics. These observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis.

There are probably multiple types of UAP requiring different explanations based on the range of appearances and behaviors described in the available reporting. Our analysis of the data supports the construct that if and when individual UAP incidents are resolved they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, USG or U.S. industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems, and a catchall “other” bin.

UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security. Safety concerns primarily center on aviators contending with an increasingly cluttered air domain. UAP would also represent a national security challenge if they are foreign adversary collection platforms or provide evidence a potential adversary has developed either a breakthrough or disruptive technology.

In essence, these things could be anything. We don’t really know. They’re definitely a threat, at least to aviation. How much of a threat? We don’t know. As for what falls into the “Other” category…well, you get the picture.

Other: Although most of the UAP described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them. We would group such objects in this category pending scientific advances that allowed us to better understand them. The UAPTF intends to focus additional analysis on the small number of cases where a UAP appeared to display unusual flight characteristics or signature management.

The Pentagon also released a redacted version of the classified preliminary assessment earlier this year due to a request from John Greenewald, who runs The Black Vault website that is repository for documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Given the number of redactions, the document is not all that revealing. (Report: Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena — Classified)

The one word everyone avoids saying is alien; the word isn’t in the reports. There is a section on the “sociocultural stigmas” attached to even reporting that you’ve seen an UAP.

Narratives from aviators in the operational community and analysts from the military and IC describe disparagement associated with observing UAP, reporting it, or attempting to discuss it with colleagues. Although the effects of these stigmas have lessened as senior members of the scientific, policy, military, and intelligence communities engage on the topic seriously in public, reputational risk may keep many observers silent, complicating scientific pursuit of the topic.

Some people are willing to be candid privately, albeit without attribution. A highly-reliable source with knowledgeable about the investigations into UAPs told the author that objects like the ones recorded by the military pilots are believed to automated probes of alien origin. Analysts don’t believe they are of foreign origin. The objects have been tracked in the atmosphere and in Earth orbit, said the source, who insisted on anonymity.

A lot of people will be skeptical of such a claim. Retired computer programmer Mick West has been on a mission to prove that the latest UAP craze is little more than a “flap” based on flawed analysis that will soon fade away. Marik von Rennenkampff, a former analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, wrote about West’s skepticism in The Hill. (Story: The world’s most passionate UFO skeptic versus the government)

Based on what is publicly known about these phenomena, skeptics like West believe that merely speculating about otherworldly explanations – as two former presidents and high-level intelligence officials recently have – is unwarranted. Unsurprisingly, Mick is also dismissive of explosive reports that the U.S. government is actively considering an extraterrestrial hypothesis for the most puzzling phenomena….

In an e-mail exchange, I quizzed Mick about Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and former CIA director John Brennan’s recent speculation about extraterrestrial life.

In my message to Mick, I noted that it is highly unlikely that former presidents – who still receive the intelligence community’s most robust analyses – would muse so openly about aliens simply on a whim. Surely, they asked what the government makes of these phenomena before speculating about otherworldly life.

In his response, which Mick gave me permission to share for this column, West dismisses Obama, Clinton and Brennan’s comments as “low information cryptic statements from non-experts.” More importantly, Mick suspects that such extraordinary theorizing is based on flawed analysis.

The Congressional hearing on Tuesday may not provide much additional information about UAPs. It will be interesting to see if any of the legislators will directly ask the two witnesses whether the objects are of alien origin. If they don’t do so with the cameras on, they will have the opportunity to do so during a closed session that will follow the public hearing.