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

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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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“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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