Science & Tech

The UFOs Might Be Aliens — or Something Else We Can’t Explain

Image from the Pentagon’s “Gimbal” video. (ABC News/Screengrab via YouTube)
The possibility should not be so quickly dismissed.

After reading Andrew Follett’s article explaining why you shouldn’t worry about all of the UFOs in the news because videos of them “all have obvious potential terrestrial explanations,” let’s just say I had a few questions. I’ve lost track of the number of people who sent it to me on social media, and Follett and I wound up getting into a brief Twitter discussion of the subject. Why me? Well, for better or worse, I’ve become “the UFO guy” at the network where I normally publish my articles, and I’ll confess to having been somewhat obsessed with the subject over the years.

I have closely followed the ongoing Pentagon UFO stories (or UAP, unidentified aerial phenomena, as we’re supposed to call them today) ever since the New York Times dropped its bombshell article revealing the existence of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) in December 2017. I’ve written extensively on the subject and try to keep my finger on the pulse of this saga. So I welcome the opportunity to respond to some of Follett’s observations.

Allow me to say up-front that I am not here to claim in any way that the bizarre craft being observed in our skies (and oceans and low-earth orbit) by military personnel — along with civilian aviators, elected officials, law-enforcement officers, and drunkards standing in cow fields — are “dem aliens.” (That’s the loving term humorously used by those in the ufology community.) There is, to my knowledge, no evidence that’s been made available to the public that would definitively prove or even persuasively suggest the existence of any type of extraterrestrial intelligence here on our planet. Whether any governmental or military entities around the world are in possession of such evidence remains an open question.

Having established those caveats, however, I will also say that anyone rather definitively making the claim that the unknown craft are almost certainly not some sort of technosignature of a nonhuman intelligence is offering an equally faulty approach. Follett bases his assessment on the three brief, grainy videos from the USS Nimitz and USS Roosevelt encounters from 2004 and 2014 to 2015, respectively. The provenance of these videos has been confirmed by the Pentagon, and they have been subjected to endless scrutiny since then.

He first describes the actions of the objects observed in the videos, noting that none of the three demonstrate the incredible performance capabilities attributed to them so often. Luis Elizondo, the aforementioned head of AATIP, refers to those capabilities as the Five Observables, including ludicrous speed, non-ballistic maneuvering, and the ability to defy gravity, among others. Follett then goes on to “explain away” the three sightings as a Canadian goose, a misidentified passenger jet, and (perhaps most amazingly) a meteor breaking up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere.

In the spirit of friendly debate, I will agree (as I did during our Twitter discussion) that the brief video clips confirmed by the Pentagon are, absent any other supporting evidence, lacking in depictions of objects engaging in any of the Five Observables. None of the three appear to be traveling at hypersonic speeds or performing wild maneuvers, though the object in the Gimbal video appears to come close to defying gravity while having no wings, rotors, other flight surfaces, exhaust ports, or other visible means of propulsion.

This, however, reveals the main sticking point in my objections to Follett’s premise. I learned through our social-media discussion that the video portion of the three clips in question represented the entirety of his argument. There is far more data to be had, starting with the audio tracks from those videos and the technical details discussed by the pilots. Further, if you listen to the interviews with not only the pilots but the supporting crews in the carrier-battle groups, they collected radar-tracking data on many of these objects. The “tic tac” from the Nimitz encounter, as it was termed by the pilots and most in the ufology community, was first detected on radar at an altitude of as much as 80,000 feet. It then dropped to 20,000 feet until the two F-18s approached, at which point it dropped from there down to the surface of the water (or perhaps under the surface) in less than a second. (That’s asking a lot of a goose or a 737.) Such a rapid acceleration and deceleration should turn any living thing inside to jelly and rip the craft to pieces. Further, the testimony of the pilots involved, while not the same as video or electronic surveillance, is highly instructive and provided by trained observers of the highest order.

As to the alternative explanations offered, I will simply say that we have some very serious, full-time debunkers in ufology circles, with Mick West being one of the more famous ones. These are the same alternate theories they regularly offer; Follett drew from some of West’s material in his argument. Without getting too carried away, I will simply state that I always find these vastly simplified explanations insulting, particularly to our men and women in uniform who have come forward with these reports. On top of the other data available, such debunking theories ask that we accept the assumption that some of our best Top Gun pilots were unable to identify a commercial aircraft, a balloon, or a confused seabird.

Go and watch the interview that Lieutenant Commander Alex Dietrich, one of the pilots who chased down the object in the Nimitz encounter, did with Anderson Cooper. Listen to her description of the tic tac and how the event unfolded. Then come back and tell me that she’s either lying or too incompetent to know a bird when she saw one. Additionally, we are expected to believe that not only the crews of two F/A-18F Super Hornets but the officers and technicians of an entire carrier battle group and the multiple radar systems they employed were unable to figure out that they were looking at a distant 737 that was potentially wandering too close to restricted airspace? Or a bird? Come on.

Those videos are only the tip of the iceberg. There is a mountain of information out there if you want to read more deeply than the headlines you’re suddenly seeing in outlets that have rarely, if ever, touched this subject — or if you want to read more in-depth material than the recent segment from 60 Minutes. There are strange things being seen in our skies. At least 90 percent can be explained by mundane phenomena, but a significant number can’t, and we’ve had a lot of people working on the problem. And that’s where the real mystery lies, with answers potentially awaiting us that could trigger a dramatic shift in humanity’s view of our universe and even ourselves. Or, if nothing else, we’ll find out that the Russians have massively leapfrogged us in technology. Either way, wouldn’t you like to know?

Jazz Shaw, a U.S. Navy veteran and researcher of the strange and unusual, is the weekend editor for


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