Former pilots recount UFO sightings as Congress pushes for transparency

A year after the first congressional hearing on UFOs in 50 years, a House subcommittee revisited some enduring questions around a topic that once would have been laughed off.

The hearing, held Wednesday by the House Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, explored a range of issues related to the baffling realm of unexplained things that humans have observed flying around — now more commonly called UAPs or “unidentified aerial phenomena.”

It’s worth noting here that unidentified is far from synonymous with extraterrestrial. While some claims may trend in that direction, these phenomena are just what they sound like: unidentifiable. Proposed explanations range from the mundane — airborne trash, rogue drones, sensor malfunctions, visual distortions — to the outlandish, like super secret advanced U.S. military technology, sophisticated tech from U.S. adversaries and, yes, alien spacecraft.

It’s also worth pointing out that each witness in Wednesday’s hearing have deep histories of service in the U.S. military and in at least one case had major reservations about coming forward with their stories at all.

The hearing featured three witnesses, two of whom have witnessed UAP activity firsthand. Retired Navy Commander David Fravor and former Navy fighter pilot Ryan Graves both under oath described their own in-flight encounters with unexplainable phenomena. Their stories were previously reported in The New York Times.

Graves said that he and his fellow service members observed “dark gray or black cubes inside of a clear sphere” while in-flight across an eight-year timespan. Graves also described a secondhand account of Boeing contractors observing a massive, red football field-sized unidentifiable object approaching Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2003.

“This object remained for about 45 seconds or so before darting off over the mountain, Graves said. “There was a similar event within 24 hours later in the evening.”

Fravor described his own prior encounter with a “Tic Tac” shaped flying object, which he and three other service members observed emerging above an otherwise calm sea and rapidly accelerating all the way up to 80,000 feet — beyond the limits of even military aircraft. A snippet of that incident was captured in a video officially released to the public by the Pentagon in 2020.

Fravor recounted his experience in depth in his opening statements:

“… We saw a small white Tic Tac shaped object with the longitudinal axis pointing N/S and moving very abruptly over the white water. There were no rotors, no rotor wash, or any visible flight control surfaces like wings. As we started a clockwise turn to observe the object, my WSO and I decided to go down to get closer…. We continued down for another 270 degrees when we made a nose low move to head to where the Tic Tac would be when we pulled nose onto the object. Our altitude at this point was approximately 15,000ft with the Tic Tac at about 12,000ft. As we pulled nose onto the object at approximately ½ of a mile with the object just left of our nose, it rapidly accelerated and disappeared right in front of our aircraft. Our wingman, roughly 8,000ft above us, also lost visual. We immediately turned to investigate the white water only to find that it was also gone.”

“I would like to say that the Tic Tac Object that we engaged in November 2004 was far superior to anything that we had at the time, have today, or are looking to develop in the next 10+ years,” Fravor said.

David Grusch, a former Air Force intelligence officer who previously worked at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, also testified during the hearing. Grusch says he personally has not observed UAP activity but that hasn’t stopped him from making some of the more eyebrow-raising whistleblower claims on the topic in recent months, drawing from his experience on a military UAP task force established in 2020. Among them, Grusch has previously alleged that the government operates a secret UAP recovery program and possesses fragments and even intact vehicles of “exotic origin.”

In response to a question during Wednesday’s hearing, Grusch went further, noting that “biologics” were recovered along with some of the UAPs and that the biological material was of non-human origin — a claim that is not currently corroborated by other sources or available supporting materials.

“My testimony is based on information I have been given by individuals with a longstanding track record of legitimacy and service to this country — many of whom also shared compelling evidence in the form of photography, official documentation and classified oral testimony,” Grusch said.

Claims of recovered mysterious aircraft and shocking in-flight observations will obviously make headlines, but all three witnesses took the hearing as an opportunity to push for more transparency and better reporting around UAPs. During the hearing, lawmakers’ interest was piqued by claims that the U.S. military is operating secret programs investigating UAPs and potentially developing advanced technology using misappropriated funds. Grusch raised the specter of a “multi-decade crash retrieval and reverse engineering program” operating with no oversight, but claimed that he was denied access to that program’s operations.

“If we in fact have programs that possess [advanced] technology, it needs to have oversight from those people that the citizens of this great country elected to office to represent what is best for the United States and in the best interest of its citizens,” Fravor said.

Graves in particular called for a standardized process that would allow commercial pilots to document their own UAP sightings, a step that would both reduce stigma and provide useful information for safety practices.

“As we convene here, UAP are in our airspace, but they are grossly underreported,” Graves said. “These sightings are not rare or isolated; they are routine. Military air crews and commercial pilots, trained observers whose lives depend on accurate identification, are frequently witnessing these phenomena.”

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