On a clear, sunny day in April 2014, two F/A-18s took off for an air combat training mission off the coast of Virginia. The jets, part of my Navy fighter squadron, climbed to an altitude of 12,000 and steered towards Warning Area W-72, an exclusive block of airspace ten miles east of Virginia Beach. All traffic into the training area goes through a single GPS point at a set altitude — almost like a doorway into a massive room where military jets can operate without running into other aircraft. Just at the moment the two jets crossed the threshold, one of the pilots saw a dark gray cube inside of a clear sphere — motionless against the wind, fixed directly at the entry point. The jets, only 100 feet apart, zipped past the object on either side. The pilots had come so dangerously close to something they couldn’t identify that they terminated the training mission immediately and returned to base.
“I almost hit one of those damn things!” the flight leader, still shaken by the incident, told us shortly after in the pilots’ ready room. We all knew exactly what he meant. “Those damn things” had been plaguing us for the previous eight months.
I joined the U.S. Navy in 2009 and underwent years of rigorous training as a pilot. Specifically, we are trained to be expert observers in identifying aircraft with our sensors and our own eyes. It’s our job to know what’s in our operating area. That’s why, in 2014, after upgrades were made to our radar system, our squadron made a startling discovery: There were unknown objects in our airspace.
To read more, click here.