What on Earth (or Beyond) Is Going on in U.S. Skies?

Whistleblowers accuse the government of a secret, ‘multidecade’ program that recovers and reverse engineers UFOs—among other bombastic claims.

UFO UAP congressional hearing

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

Congressional hearings aren’t known for being firecrackers. But on Wednesday, three whistleblowers testified before the House Oversight subcommittee that the government knows more about unidentified aerial phenomena—or UAPs, the government’s preferred term for UFOs—than it’s letting on.

Retired Major David Grusch, who served 14 years as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force and National Geospacial Intelligence Agency, told Congress that government officials are concealing a “multidecade” program dedicated to recovering and reverse engineering UFOs. Among other bombastic claims, Grusch alleged the government is in possession of aircraft and “biologics” of “nonhuman” origin. Cue the X-Files theme.

“Welcome to the most exciting subcommittee in Congress this week,” said Representative Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.), echoing the sentiments of many on the House floor.

Grusch’s Claims

Grusch, who went public with his account in June, said under oath that in 2019 he was asked by the head of a government task force investigating UAPs to identify highly classified programs relating to its mission.

At the time, Grusch was deployed to the National Reconnaissance Office and reported to the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), a Department of Defense program established last summer to expand the government’s UAP research. He was also a member of two Pentagon groups researching UAPs, including the DOD’s UAP Task Force, until 2021.

Grusch claims to have interviewed 40 witnesses over four years, describing the evidence seen by him and his wife as “very disturbing.”

“I was informed in the course of my official duties of a multidecade UAP crash retrieval and reverse engineering program to which I was denied access,” he said during his testimony.

The former intelligence officer claims he spoke to officials with direct knowledge of aircraft with “nonhuman” origins, adding that nonhuman “biologics” were found along with the recovered craft. He even purported to know the “exact locations” of UFOs in the government’s possession and said it has been aware of nonhuman activity since the 1930s.

Grusch further alleged the military misappropriated funds to shield the covert program from Congressional oversight. He added that “multiple colleagues” were injured by UAP activity and people within the U.S. government, and that he himself was the victim of retaliatory tactics.

The whistleblower would not share more detailed information and said he could not comment on certain subjects—such as whether the government has made contact with aliens—due to ongoing investigations. He did say, however, that he could expand on his testimony in a different setting, such as a sensitive compartmented information facility the government uses to review highly classified material.

The DOD vehemently denied all of Grusch’s allegations, stating the agency has not discovered “any verifiable information to substantiate claims that any programs regarding the possession or reverse engineering of extraterrestrial materials have existed in the past or exist currently.”

Grusch’s testimony appeared to spur bipartisan interest in greater transparency on UAPs. Both sides of the aisle asked him about the alleged cover-up and echoed his argument that the UAP reporting process is not sufficient.

"UAPs, whatever they may be, may pose a serious threat to our military or civilian aircraft. And that must be understood." said Representative Robert Garcia of California, the top Democrat on the House Oversight subcommittee.

Grusch and the Congress members did not explicitly claim that the alleged spacecraft harbored aliens or “little green men.” But the former intelligence officer’s testimony raised eyebrows, particularly regarding national security.

Retired Navy Pilots Raise Further Concerns

The panel also heard from retired Commander David Fravor and former Navy pilot Ryan Graves, each of whom claims to have encountered UAP.

Fravor’s sighting, the now-famous "Tic Tac" video, took place in 2004 off the coast of California. He and another pilot spotted a smooth, oval object—similar to a Tic Tac breath mint—hovering over the water, but the aircraft then ascended rapidly to around 12,000 feet before accelerating into the distance. The object was detected on another pilot’s radar less than a minute later. But it had traveled 60 miles away.

Fravor claimed the government did not follow up on the incident for years—and that it didn’t accomplish much when it did.

“The technology that we faced was far superior than anything that we had,” Fravor said Wednesday. “I'm not a UFO fanatic. But what we saw with four sets of eyes—we have nothing close to it. It was incredible technology.”

Graves described his 2014 sightings as “dark gray or black cubes…inside of a clear sphere, where the apex or tips of the cubes were touching the inside of that sphere.” At the time, he was an F-18 pilot stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He claimed a fellow pilot told him about an incident in which a similar object flew within 50 feet of two fighter jets.

The former pilot said there was no way to report his encounter and further claimed the incidents are “not rare or isolated.”

Both Fravor’s and Graves’ videos were released in 2020 as part of the Pentagon UFO videos, a selection of military recordings of UAP.

Grosch, Fravor, and Graves all testified that current UAP reporting systems are inadequate to investigate sightings and that a stigma exists among pilots and officials who make reports or demand transparency. 

Graves was particularly vocal, arguing that sightings are “grossly underreported,” estimating that 95 percent of them are not recorded. In his view, the stigma around UAP “silences” witnesses who fear “professional repercussions.”

In June, Graves co-founded Americans for Safe Aerospace, the first pilot-led advocacy group dedicated to UAP. The organization pushes for more robust reporting mechanisms and greater government transparency, serving as a hub for pilot whistleblowers.

“I urge us to put aside stigma and address the security and safety issue this topic represents,” Graves said. “If UAP 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.”

So, What Are They?

Whether the UFOs the government has observed are from this planet or not, they figure to pose at least a hindrance to military, commercial, and general aviation pilots.

The DOD and other federal agencies have come up with natural explanations for the bulk of sightings: balloons, drones, airborne trash, and optical illusions, to name a few. Officials have even speculated that enemy aircraft engage in electronic warfare techniques such as radar spoofing, causing pilots to believe the objects are moving at impossible speeds or trajectories.

Some have suggested UAPs are foreign intelligence-gathering technology that lure U.S. aircraft into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus exposing their capabilities. 

Department of Defense officials in November told The New York Times that the majority of alleged UAP sightings point to foreign surveillance campaigns and could even be Air Force exercises. They said there was no evidence the craft are of extraterrestrial origin.

Still, many sightings remain unexplained. According to the Pentagon UFO Report, several have demonstrated capabilities such as extraordinary speed, the ability to submerge in water, unusual maneuverability, and flight without any evident propulsion system.

The government has stated that these anomalies could represent major advances in foreign technology, though some remain skeptical. Regardless, the objects present a potential safety threat for pilots and a national security issue for the U.S., particularly if only 5 percent of sightings are being reported as Graves alleged.

How Is the U.S. Addressing UAP Encounters?

The U.S. government has launched many programs to investigate UFO reports in the past century.

Perhaps the most famous is Project Blue Book, a classified task force active between 1954 and 1969, when it was terminated. The group collected, analyzed, and filed thousands of reports. But in the decades since, the public has largely been kept in the dark on UAP activity—until recently.

In 2020, the DOD established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), whose job was to standardize collection and reporting of UAP. In 2021, the UAPTF confirmed the authenticity of two leaked videos of UFO encounters—one appeared to show “pyramid-shaped objects” hovering over a Navy destroyer, and the other depicted a spherical object that flew over the ocean, stopped, and descended into the water.

In June of that year, the task force would release the highly publicized Pentagon UFO Report, which found that it was unable to identify 143 of 144 objects spotted between 2004 and 2021. Eighteen of those aircraft were capable of unusual flight patterns or characteristics that could represent “breakthrough” technology. 

The UAPTF said no evidence pointed to alien origins. But NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, among others, suggested the objects may not originate from Earth.

Last summer, the DOD established the AARO to investigate these sightings further. Since its founding, it has opened hundreds of investigations, about half of which have been resolved with mundane explanations, such as balloons. The rest, however, remain unexplained. The bulk of the reports come from military personnel, making them more credible than the average person on the street.

While it’s clear from these efforts that the government takes UAPs seriously, its investigations have borne little fruit and have not done much to prepare pilots for encounters. And if the AARO’s reporting mechanism is as flawed as the whistleblowers claim, the FAA’s isn’t much better. 

That’s because the agency does not have its own reporting system, instead deferring to the DOD.

“The FAA documents UAP sightings whenever a pilot reports one to an air traffic control facility,” the agency said in a statement shared with FLYING. “If the pilot report can be corroborated with supporting information such as radar data, it is shared with the UAPTP. Multiple government agencies have individual programs or processes to study and document UAP[s], however, the agencies also work collaboratively on the topic.”

The agency did not address FLYING’s inquiry regarding the establishment of new reporting procedures or guidelines for pilots.

But it did add that it is a part of NASA’s UAP independent study team, established in October. Over the subsequent nine months, the group of 16 researchers examined 800 unclassified incidents as of May and is expected to issue its preliminary report this month. The team held its first and only public meeting in May, sharing video of an unidentified spherical object.

So far, federal investigations have yielded nearly as many questions as answers. However, a bipartisan group of senators this month introduced an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would require executive branch agencies to hand over UAP records to an independent review board.

Combined with the added pressure resulting from Wednesday’s hearing, it’s possible lawmakers’ efforts could force the Pentagon’s hand, opening the floodgates of UAP archives.

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.

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