Is the U.S. Government Secretly Harboring UFOs?

We explore that question and more in this week’s Future of FLYING newsletter.

Future of Flying UFOs UAPs

Retired Major David Grusch and former Navy pilot Ryan Graves prepare to deliver opening remarks to the House Oversight subcommittee. [Courtesy: C-SPAN]

Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter, our weekly look at the biggest stories in emerging aviation technology. From low-altitude drones to high-flying rockets at the edge of the atmosphere, we’ll take you on a tour of the modern flying world to help you make sense of it all.

—Jack Daleo, Modern FLYING staff writer

Now for this week’s top story:

Is the U.S. Government Secretly Harboring UFOs?

(Courtesy: C-SPAN)

What happened? In what was probably the most exciting congressional hearing ever, retired U.S. Air Force major  and former intelligence officer David Grusch told Congress that the Pentagon has been covering up a “multidecade” UFO retrieval and reverse engineering program, misusing congressional funds to do it. Grusch even alleged the government is hiding “nonhuman” spacecraft and biologics.

Grusch’s claims: Grusch said that while serving as an intelligence officer, he was told about the secret program but denied access. At the time, he reported to the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO)—a Department of Defense program that studies unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs)—and served on two Pentagon UAP task forces.

He testified that he interviewed more than 40 witnesses, including some with direct knowledge of the project’s activities. Among other things, he said that the government is experimenting on “nonhuman” UFOs and claimed to know the location of these spacecraft. The Pentagon fiercely denied the allegations.

Searching for answers: Last week’s hearing riled up both political parties, with each calling for transparency from the DOD. Two former fighter pilots who testified alongside Grusch said the government’s system for UAP reporting is inadequate and raised concerns of intimidation and silencing of witnesses.

The DOD has a few programs dedicated to studying UAPs, including the AARO and a UAP Task Force. NASA also has a program to study the phenomenon. Most UFOs have been explained as balloons, drones, optical illusions, or other mundane causes. But a significant amount of them remain unexplained, flying and maneuvering unlike any known technology.

Quick quote: “I urge us to put aside stigma and address the security and safety issue this topic represents. If [UAPs] are foreign drones, it is an urgent national security problem. If it is something else, it is an issue for science. In either case, unidentified objects are a concern for flight safety. The American people deserve to know what is happening in our skies. It is long overdue,” said ex-Navy pilot Ryan Graves.

My take: 2001: A Space Odyssey screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Personally, Grusch’s testimony has made me more of a believer. Either it’s one of the biggest hoaxes of all time, or the government really does know more than it’s letting on.

But whether the mysterious objects come from Earth or beyond, pilots should be somewhat concerned. The FAA told FLYING it does not have its own dedicated UAP reporting system, instead deferring reports to the DOD. It has not made any plans to create one. And if Graves’ claim that 95 percent of UAP sightings go unreported is accurate, that’s part of the problem.

The public does not yet know what these unexplained UAP sightings are, and it may never. But we do know there are hundreds of unknown objects permeating U.S. skies, and that’s a concern for airspace safety.

In Other News…

FAA Investigation into SpaceX Starship Stalls

(Courtesy: SpaceX)

What happened? SpaceX didn’t do its homework. The FAA told FLYING the company has yet to submit a final mishap investigation report in the wake of April’s inaugural Starship launch, which concluded with the most powerful rocket ever built exploding into flames. Without it, the company won’t be able to schedule the next Starship test flight.

Behind schedule: SpaceX and Elon Musk have been teasing a second Starship launch for months, sharing updates on testing and improvements to the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, launchpad. But it won’t happen until the FAA completes its investigation into the explosion, and that will require SpaceX to lay out the steps it will take to avoid the same outcome.

At the same time, the FAA is contending with a lawsuit from five environmental groups that allege the agency did not sufficiently plan for the ecological impact of the launch. If it loses, SpaceX and the FAA would need to deliver an environmental impact assessment (EIS)—which could take more than a year—before the next flight is approved.

Archer Extends Air Force Contract for eVTOL Testing

(Courtesy: Archer Aviation)

What happened? Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) manufacturer Archer Aviation secured what looks like one of the largest Air Force contracts for an eVTOL company. The firm will supply the Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program with up to six Midnight air taxis in a deal worth up to $142 million.

The new helicopter: Agility Prime, a program within the AFWERX innovation division focused exclusively on vertical lift technology, plans to deploy Midnight for tasks like personnel transport, logistics support, rescue operations—applications often carried out by a helicopter. But the eVTOL could offer a quieter, safer alternative.

Midnight is likely to see military action before its commercial launch, slated for 2025. Archer will hope its relationship with the Air Force helps it iron out the final kinks in its design before moving to type certification testing with the FAA.

And a Few More Headlines:

  • China is curbing exports of certain drones—including consumer-grade models—amid reports of Chinese technology falling into Russian hands.
  • The Biden administration announced that Space Command headquarters will remain in Colorado, thwarting a Donald Trump-era directive that would have moved it to Alabama.
  • The U.K.’s Royal Mail launched the country’s first drone delivery service with the potential to become permanent in the Orkney Islands off the Scottish coast.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development is delivering nine drones donated by Skydio to Ukraine to document war crimes.
  • Gogo Business Aviation delayed the launch of its nationwide inflight 5G network for the second time in 12 months, pushing back service to mid-2024.

Spotlight on…


[Courtesy: Aska]

If Aska sounds familiar, it may be because I featured the company in a top story a few weeks back. But the startup, which received FAA special airworthiness certification just days after competitor Alef Aeronautics, may have just leapfrogged its rival.

This week, Aska completed the first test flight of the A5, its car, eVTOL, fixed-wing glider amalgamation, while Alef has yet to announce that milestone. As far as flying cars go, I’m pretty bullish on Aska’s design: While Alef’s Model A will take off directly from the road, the A5 is designed to take off vertically from a helipad or vertiport, so little additional infrastructure is required.

But the vehicle also has short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities from the runway, allowing it to take off and fly like an airplane. That versatility should open up plenty of launch sites and help Aska comply with airspace regulations. So, while the A5 isn’t the prettiest to look at (see photo above) it’s packed with functionality and could be one of the first flying cars on the market.

When exactly that market will form, however, is another story.

On the Horizon…

There’s only one notable regulatory update this week, and it comes from across the Pacific.

Several Chinese agencies on Monday announced the implementation of new export controls for certain drones. Taking effect in September, the restrictions are expected to last two years and cover both military and civilian models. The measure comes amid reports of Chinese drones ending up in the Russian military, with some civilian models even being converted for military use.

Specifically, the controls will cover drones that can fly beyond the view of the operator or for longer than 40 minutes, carry more than 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds), or throw objects using attachments. Other restrictions relate to onboard equipment like sensors and cameras, engines, communications gear, and even anti-drone systems.

To export their products, drone manufacturers will require approval from the Chinese government and will be responsible for proving their drones won’t be used to support “mass destruction, terrorist activities, or military purposes.” Civilian drones not included in the controls will not be allowed to be shipped out for military purposes.

Mark Your Calendars

Each week, I’ll be running through a list of upcoming industry events. The FAA Drone Symposium and Advanced Air Mobility Summit wrapped up Thursday in Baltimore, but here are a few conferences to keep an eye on:

Tweet of the Week

Want to see your tweet here next week? Have comments or feedback? Share your thoughts on Twitter and tag me (@jack_daleo)! Or check out FLYING’s media accounts:

I want to hear your questions, comments, concerns, and criticisms about everything in the modern flying space, whether they’re about a new drone you just bought or the future of space exploration. Reach out to or tweet me @jack_daleo with your thoughts.

Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter