In 2004, two US Navy F/A-18 were engaged in a routine training mission about 100 miles west of San Diego. A very boring flight, perhaps only relieved by drawing large penises in the sky with contrails, was broken when their ground controller asked them what kind of ordnance they were carrying. Unsurprisingly, they were unarmed save a pair of CATM-9 on each aircraft. A CATM, Captive Air Training Missile, is a fake missile using the casing of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. They reported this to ground control which, nonetheless, vectored them to an intercept.
“Well, we’ve got a real-world vector for you,” the radio operator said, according to Commander Fravor. For two weeks, the operator said, the Princeton had been tracking mysterious aircraft. The objects appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, and then hurtled toward the sea, eventually stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Then they either dropped out of radar range or shot straight back up.
The two fighter planes headed toward the objects. The Princeton alerted them as they closed in, but when they arrived at “merge plot” with the object — naval aviation parlance for being so close that the Princeton could not tell which were the objects and which were the fighter jets — neither Commander [David] Fravor nor [Lieutenant] Commander [Jim] Slaight could see anything at first. There was nothing on their radars, either.
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 two fighter jets then conferred with the operations officer on the Princeton and were told to head to a rendezvous point 60 miles away, called the cap point, in aviation parlance.
They were en route and closing in when the Princeton radioed again. Radar had again picked up the strange aircraft.
“Sir, you won’t believe it,” the radio operator said, “but that thing is at your cap point.”
“We were at least 40 miles away, and in less than a minute this thing was already at our cap point,” Commander Fravor, who has since retired from the Navy, said in the interview.
By the time the two fighter jets arrived at the rendezvous point, the object had disappeared.
The fighter jets returned to the Nimitz, where everyone on the ship had learned of Commander Fravor’s encounter and was making fun of him.
Commander Fravor’s superiors did not investigate further and he went on with his career, deploying to the Persian Gulf to provide air support to ground troops during the Iraq war. But he does remember what he said that evening to a fellow pilot who asked him what he thought he had seen.
“I have no idea what I saw,” Commander Fravor replied to the pilot. “It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s.”
But, he added, “I want to fly one.”
Here are two DoD videos I’ve spliced together. The first, with audio, is an intercept by a pair of Navy fighters. No information is given on when or where. Stick with it to the end, you will be amazed. The second video is of the intercept described in this story. Likewise, amazing.