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fifth moon
Interview I

          In May 2019, The New York Times published a front-page article describing U.S. Navy fighter pilots’ ongoing encounters with drone-like UFOs in airspace off the eastern seaboard. Lt. Ryan Graves was quoted, “These things would be out there all day. Keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.”

          UFOs have concerned the military ever since the modern era of sightings began, with Allied pilots reporting being tailed by “foo fighters” through Europe’s skies during the last years of World War II. In the nineteen-sixties, the Air Force acted aggressively to delegitimize UFO reports, cherry-picking scientists who would belittle the data to be mouthpieces, and attacking the credibility of one of their own retired officers (Major Donald E. Keyhoe) when he became a leader of the National Investigative Committee on Aerial Phenomena. 

          Maybe the Air Force denied the reports because it wasn’t going to admit potential military vulnerability to a technology it did not understand in front of the entire world – including the Soviet Union. But the pattern of UFO sightings around military locations, frequently at Air Force bases with nuclear weapons onsite, is well established – by the researcher Robert Hastings (in UFOs and Nukes) and in oral histories and declassified documents that anyone can access online. (For a glimpse of this pattern, see the Timeline of UFO Events Since 1938 that begins this issue; for some of the primary and secondary sources, see our Bibliography). 

          Today, attitudes in government have changed. Congress is holding hearings on what are now being referred to as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs, and NASA and the Pentagon have founded new internal offices to study the subject. And this is owing in large part to the efforts of three veterans – Lieutenant Graves, as well as another pilot, Commander David Fravor, and former Counterintelligence Agent and Pentagon employee Luis Elizondo – who have become public figures in order to speak out about the reality of encounters with unknown tech. 

          Lt. Graves grew up in Massachusetts and attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he studied mechanical-aerospace engineering. After college, he enlisted in the Navy and fought in Afghanistan, before returning stateside to take part in flight-training exercises off of the East Coast. It was during these years, late 2013 into 2015, that he and his crewmates found themselves sharing airspace with “unmanned aerial systems.Since retiring from the military, Lt. Graves has been lobbying Congress and building relationships with legislators, to address safety issues related to the presence of UAPs in the sky; leading efforts to analyze radar and video data on sightings; and hosting the UFO-themed podcast, Merged. He spoke with me about his experiences and their lasting impact upon him. His manner is reserved, and his speech is quiet and rapid.–MS

          Max Scheinin: Can you bring me up to the point in your military career where you first encountered unusual objects while flying?

          Ryan Graves: I spent about three-and-a-half years in the Navy aviation-training pipeline, where I flew a number of aircraft, ultimately ending up in the F/A-18 Super Hornet – the aircraft that you primarily see flying off of U.S. aircraft carriers. 

          So I got to that point, I was flying for VFA-11, and after my training I went out to the U.S.S. Enterprise, and I immediately conducted operations in the Afghanistan area.

          And upon returning, we began upgrading some of the systems in our jet, and one of those systems we upgraded was our radar. And when we did that, we were noticing more objects on our radar, on our displays, than say on just that morning’s flight with one of the aircraft that hadn’t been upgraded. We weren’t crying UFOs at this point, but it was unusual, and we thought perhaps some software glitches were causing this. That had been an issue with the older radars, although it shouldn’t have been an issue with these ones.

          But eventually we started correlating those what-we-thought-were-false track files with other sensors in our jet, namely the ATFLIR, which is an electro-optical camera system; it sees essentially normal vision, as well as infrared energy. And we were seeing these things, we were seeing IR energy come from the spot where the radar was dropping us off, since all the sensors were linked.

          So at that point, we had to make the assumption that these objects were physical, they could impact our aircraft – and that’s when we first started realizing this was a potential safety issue. And that was the status quo. We got to that point, and we had confirmed them on a couple of sensors, and we were essentially going off and trying to visually gain tally of them at this point, so we could try to figure out what their origin was, so we could hopefully identify them and say, “Hey, you can’t be flying your drone or whatever-it-is here in our working space, because it’s extremely busy airspace.”


          MS: And is the impression you have that they were just up there for who knows how long, and you simply became aware of an ongoing situation when the radar was upgraded?

          RG: That’s one way to interpret it. The other way to interpret it would be that these objects arrived as soon as our new radar systems came online, which I imagine is not the case. So what you’re implying is probably the most likely scenario – that we saw these objects because we upgraded our systems, and they were there at some point prior to that upgrade.


          MS: When you got the radar tracks, were you able to discern anything about the shapes of the objects from the radar tracks, or just that they’re there?

          RG: We were not able to discern anything about their shapes from the radar. We were able to identify that they were the anomalous objects, I’ll just call them at this point, due to some of the behaviors they would exhibit. Some of those behaviors were complete stationary positioning in the working areas, which is very difficult – there’s always winds, it’s like being in the ocean, nothing is perfectly stationary up there. 

          The primary way, however – y’know, there’s a lot of kinematic things we could talk about – but the primary way to identify them on the radar was the target aspect indicator, which is – if I have a circle on my radar display, there’s a line coming out the top of it, and that says where the aircraft is traveling. Typically, it’s very smooth, but this thing, it was – it was un-smooth, it was jerky. It was still somewhat accurate in the cone of the general direction, but it was very jerky. And so you couldn’t necessarily tell what the shape was or anything like that, but that was one way to identify that it was one of those objects.

          And that was the status quo. We could actually try to fly up to them, having them on our sensors in order to visually ID them, but we were unable to see them – at least at this point. I tried to do it, we would slow down and fly up to them as close as we could, within our safety limits, and try to visually ID them, which is something we’re very comfortable with and accustomed to doing. But there was nothing there – although they would still be on our sensors and our sensors would be telling us where to look, all the way up to the merge. And then when we’d turn back around, they’d still be there.

          And so that’s where we were at for a while, until two aircraft from my squadron were going out to do their daily operations, and right at the entrance to the working area, they flew around one of these objects. So there’s two aircraft about 150 feet apart – the object was there and it went right between the aircraft, closer to the lead aircraft. He [the pilot] visually IDed it as a dark gray or a black cube inside of a clear sphere. My understanding is they did not have it on the radar.

          They canceled their flight after that – returned home. That was the first time we had had a true safety issue with one of these things coming within our safety bubble, if you will. So we were obligated at that point to file a hazard report with the Navy Aviation Safety Center. 

          And that was the beginning of us logging it and talking about it more broadly – although broadly is still a very loose term. We started filing safety reports, talked about it more. But it was status quo, and after we had that near-midair, we essentially said, “Okay, well, we’re just going to have to file these away as a safety hazard.You know, we’re not there to investigate these things, so it was like, alright – if these things are in a working area, we’ll go to a different working area, and if there’s no working areas, we’ll cancel our flight; maybe work around it best we can if the objects seem stationary or if our flights aren’t really dynamic. But it just became another safety consideration that we would brief and then report if or when it became something that crossed any of our safety thresholds.


          MS: Do you have an interpretation as to why sometimes you couldn’t visually ID the objects and sometimes they could be seen?


          RG: I don’t. As pilots, we had to make the assumption that what we were seeing on those two centers represented something physical at this point, whether we were able to visually gain tally or not. But what that means in actuality, I just don’t know.

          It could mean they’re cloaking – people like to go there. It could mean they don’t all represent physical objects, right? – that’s obviously part of your consideration, that there’s some trickery going on. But we just don’t have enough information at this point to say why we weren’t able to see them.

          And we were a lot of times, as well. So over time, people were seeing them more and more, the more and more we looked. So if it was trickery, I don’t think it was infallible. 


          MS: Did you yourself lay your own eyes on one of the objects?

          RG: I tried. I was in the group that we would – I had on my radar and I had on my FLIR, my helmet’s showing me where to look, and I would come by and merge with them – and they weren’t there. I don’t know, it was very strange. And that was the case for a lot of people. That was the status quo. 

          I started speaking about this in 2017 – it was when the New York Times article came out and I saw the “Gimbal” video [ed.: see Timeline here and here] and I went, “Whoa, I was there when that video was recorded, I was with my buddies.” And that’s when I realized this issue was bigger than what we had perhaps thought it was when we were dealing with it off the eastern seaboard, and that it wasn’t going to be resolved through the normal mechanisms, clearly. This was even a bigger cry for help than we were putting up with our hazard reports and things of that nature.

          So I started calling some of my buddies back on the east coast. I was in Mississippi at this point, as an instructor. I was just, “Hey, are these things still out there? Are you guys still seeing them?” 

          And they were like, “Oh yeah, the cube things, yeah, they’re still there!” They’re dealing with them on a daily basis still now, and this is 2017, years after I left.

          And then I went to the riding room the next day, in Mississippi, again, where we were instructing. And there were people from all different squadrons – east coast, west coast, and all of them have like seven years of flying experience at this point for the Navy: pretty experienced guys. 

          And so I was, “Hey, you guys remember those things we used to see off the eastern seaboard, all those radar tracks we were always almost hitting?” 

          And seven or eight people from the east coast were, “Oh yeah, the cubes we were always seeing out there!”

          So it wasn’t just me, a lot of people were seeing it – it was a known issue, we had a Notice to Airmen, which are [documents] put out on government websites, that were telling people to be cautious seeing these objects. So sadly I never got to see one, but it was pretty consistent the way they were being reported, at least at the time.


          MS: Is the impression that you have that all or nearly all of the objects that were in this airspace were the kind that you’ve described – the sphere with the cube inside of it?

          RG: The majority of them were, although after researching it a bit more after I got out, looking into some of the reports that have been filed, there were reports of other shapes as well. But what I say now is that at the time, when I was talking to my buddies as we were flying, the cube in the sphere was the only thing that I ever reported.

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Interview I: The Whistleblower

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