New FAA Incident Reports Detail Strange Commercial Aviation Encounters with Unidentified Phenomena, Including Equipment Failure on Private Flight
Reports recorded by the Federal Aviation Administration's Joint Air Traffic Operations Command highlight flight safety issues that some UAP encounters pose to commercial and military aviators.
Amid a growing controversy and a flurry of questions from lawmakers, news reporters, and the public, concerning the shootdowns of three unidentified objects over North America last week, a document released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) raises even more questions about anomalous objects traversing American airspace. These unidentified objects pose an ongoing threat to commercial air safety in the United States, but the FAA has not adjusted its UAP reporting policy in decades. However, in 2019 the Navy began implementing new reporting procedures for its service members to report aerial encounters they cannot explain.
A document obtained by The UAP Register (UAPR) through the Freedom of Information Act reveals dozens of pilot reports, several of which quite stunning, of unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) spanning nearly five years as summarized by the FAA’s Joint Air Traffic Operations Command (JATOC). The UAPR is currently attempting to gather more information on several of the incidents contained in the JATOC document.
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While many of the reports appear to have prosaic explanations, ranging from recently publicized sightings of Starlink satellites and drones to brazen individuals operating jet packs a few thousand feet in the air, others reveal clearly bizarre encounters reported by pilots across the U.S. One disturbing UAP encounter documented by the JATOC in April of last year even appears to have involved the apparent disruption of a private luxury jet’s autopilot function while the plane was en route to its destination.
The JATOC, which was established in 2018, “helps the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from, significant incidents in the national airspace system,” according to a statement released by an FAA spokesperson. “The JATOC is comprised of a multi-unit team of experts from the ATO. During an incident, the JATOC gathers details and provides a single source of integrated information and reliable communications to leadership to make critical, informed, and responsible decisions. The JATOC also provides national airspace situational awareness throughout the aviation community."
In the early morning hours of April 22, 2022, FlexJet 1359 was flying from Boston, Massachusetts to Huntsville, Alabama at an altitude of 45,000 feet. According to the JATOC entry, the pilot notified the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZDC) of a “string of lights” 10,000 feet above and directly overhead. The aircraft subsequently experienced a “double Attitude Reference System failure and a double Autopilot System failure” as it passed beneath the series of lights. At that point “the unidentified aircraft’s lights turned off and the flight crew could still observe something there,” the JATOC notes. The entire encounter lasted no longer than five minutes.
Crews on three nearby commercial airline flights also reported seeing the string of lights. The crews then “held a discussion about what they saw on GUARD frequency,” the entry concludes. The “Guard” frequency is reserved by the FAA for civil aviation emergencies.
Another incident that highlights the hazard UAP can pose to aviation safety occurred on September 21, 2022 — this time involving Frontier Flight 2117 en route from Detroit, Michigan to Las Vegas, Nevada. Flying at an altitude of 36,000 feet, the following was noted by the FAA:
“Aircraft reported an unidentified aerial phenomenon off the 12 o’clock while westbound … The unknown phenomenon was a light traveling northbound at approximately [34,000 feet altitude], the UFO then proceeded to turn its light off and continue northbound. [The pilot] had to stop their descent because the UFO was in the altitude [the plane] was trying to descend through.”
The document outlines not only commercial aviator encounters with anomalous phenomena, but an unexplained Naval aviator encounter too — yet another example in a line of publicized encounters military aviators have had with these phenomena.
On March 9, 2022, an EA-18G Growler based at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island in Washington state was flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet, when the following allegedly occurred:
“Aircraft reported an unidentified phenomenon off the 10-o’clock coming towards them…the unknown phenomenon was reported as bright lights, with no other traffic in the vicinity. Aircraft requested to climb to avoid, however once clearance issued the lights dived into the clouds and [were] no longer observed by pilot.”
Two weeks after this incident occurred, the co-pilot filed a report with the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) containing more detail on the encounter:
“My pilot and I had just finished training in the Boardman Target Complex MOA in Northern Oregon (near the Dalles). At 7pm Local time, we departed the airspace to the Northwest at 20,000' MSL, headed for NAS Whidbey Island. At approximately 7:05pm, my pilot asked me what the bright light at 10 o'clock was. I looked out and saw a large white glowing orb at what looked to be maybe 5-7 miles. As we studied it, it started moving on what looked like a collision course with us, and at co-altitude. It got about twice as bright during this time. We then asked ATC for a climb to 24k because we were worried it would collide with us. We received permission to climb and described the position to ATC as we were looking at it, but ATC said they had nothing visible at all on radar. After ATC said that, the craft seemed to drop quickly below the undercast cloud layer at 18k below us. We did not see it again after that.”
Concerns from military aviators of collisions with UAP are not new. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Preliminary Report: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, of the 144 cases initially cited by the military and intelligence communities, 11 of those encounters were characterized as ‘near misses.’
The JATOC noted another bizarre report on September 27, 2022:
“ZDB [Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center] reported multiple reports of UFO activity in and around the Toledo and Detroit areas at varying altitudes of 29,000 feet, 60,000 feet and 100,000 feet maneuvering aggressively in multiple directions.”
“The JATOC does not conduct investigations into UAP incidents nor does it open or close UAP cases,” an official familiar with FAA reporting procedures regarding anomalous phenomena told the UAPR. They added that if a pilot report can be corroborated with other credible data, the report is then referred to the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which was stood up by Congressional mandate in July of last year to study reports of UAP coming from the defense, intelligence, and civilian sectors.
The UAPR repeatedly contacted a DOD spokesperson this week to confirm whether or not the AARO investigated any of the anomalous incidents included in the FAA document, but did not receive a response.
In reality, however, many commercial pilots likely do not report anomalous sightings due to the ongoing stigma within the commercial aviation industry.
During a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing this week pertaining to the FAA’s NOTAM system outage that occurred in January, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) had an exchange with Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen about commercial pilot reporting of UAP.
Sen. Fischer: “I would like to know if there is any process in place where civilian pilots [who] detect an unknown object in flight, do they report the incident to FAA? Do you have any connection with [the Defense Department] on it? What are the protocols?”
Nolen: “Thank you, Senator Fischer, for the question. I’ll just relate from my own time when I was an airline captain. There have been times when you’re flying around and you see a balloon, typically, as a pilot, you would report that to Air Traffic Control … there are processes in place to report. And then, as I mentioned earlier, we have an embedded team with NORAD. We have strong connections with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, TSA, etc. So there is this whole-of-government approach to protecting the homeland and protecting our skies.”
Sen. Fischer: “And as far as you know those protocols are followed?
Nolen: “The protocols for reporting? It depends on — I’m going to say that may be spotty. I take that just from my own personal experience. You know, will everybody report that they saw a balloon? The answer to that is probably no.”
Nolen, by essentially avoiding Sen. Fischer’s question, exemplifies the UAP stigma that seems to permeate the FAA and commercial aviation sector.
The National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP) for over two decades has collected reports from aviators of unexplained sightings. It notes in an advisory on its website addressed to the aviation community:
“There is a bias against reporting UAP observations inside the aviation community that contributes to the overall failure to acknowledge and to mitigate UAP and aviation-safety factors. Many pilots and air controllers consider the subject to be hazardous to their image and careers and often do not report their experiences until after they have retired.”
Noting that the FAA for decades has instructed pilots, Air Traffic Control personnel, and other aviation industry professionals to report UAP sightings to civilian UFO organizations instead of the FAA, NARCAP asserts that this longstanding policy “contributes to a bias against reporting and a failure to collect data and mitigate risk.”
Ted Roe, Executive Director of NARCAP, also faults commercial airline companies for perpetuating a culture of silence on the UAP issue.
“Some airlines are quite unsupportive of pilots even expressing an interest in UAP reporting,” Roe told the UAPR. “Pilots are dealing with bias, stigma, and gaslighting to the present day.”
Ryan Graves, a former F-18 fighter pilot and current chair of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Integration & Outreach Committee (AIAA-UAPIOC), sees an urgent need for the FAA to change its current policy.
“FAA UAP reporting procedures are [currently] on a voluntary basis and recommend aircrew send their reports to one of several non-government related organizations that are poorly funded and staffed,” Graves told the UAPR. “It's time to update these antiquated procedures to enable aircrew to report their sightings as they would any other safety issue.”
The AIAA-UAPIOC, which strives to strengthen and leverage the scientific study of UAP in order to improve flight safety, is currently developing “recommendations to incorporate UAP reporting through existing aircrew-trusted reporting mechanisms,” added Graves.
By modernizing its UAP reporting requirements, the FAA would signal to aviators that the nation’s agency tasked with overseeing flight safety for millions of people takes the issue of unexplained phenomena in the nation’s skies seriously. Since the Navy has updated its policies, there has been a marked increase in data collection on anomalous encounters. Whether the FAA and commercial airline companies adjust their own policies, however, remains to be seen.
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