AATIP, Tic-Tacs and more - A reality check

It's been a while since my last post on these topics, that is, the so called "Pentagon UFO Program", and the few UFO cases that have been associated with it. There are two primary reasons for that. Firstly, I have been too busy with other things. Secondly, what should I write about? What has really changed?

This post is a review and update of the primary events and my thoughts so far. It's really about the history (and History) repeating itself, with the help of people who can't handle the truth, or worse, couldn't care less about it.

Whatchamacallit

As you can see from the title, I'm having some difficulty inventing a common name for the set of events I'm covering here. I think the fundamental issue is that, in reality, those events have little in common. But the media, and one entertainment company in particular, are eager to present them as if they have. And so, similarly to some other UFO waves, we even have a new term, tic-tac, in use to describe all sorts of events that have little resemblance to the one that originated the term.

I think this "wave" is best described as the UFO publicity wave of 2017-2019. Especially when we compare the amount of visibility UFOs have received in the media with the amount of actual new UFO cases of any significance or quality.

The Nimitz encounter, which is by far the most interesting part of the story, happened way back in November 2004. The associated video and navy event log were leaked at ATS back in February 2007. Paco Chierici published his version of the story in March 2015, which was based on personal conversations with Dave Fravor and what is now commonly known as the "Executive report" or "unofficial official report" of the events. It also mentioned Fravor and (Douglas) Kurth by name. So pretty much all of it was already out there, but it was just another UFO story that few knew or cared about. It was the (mainstream) media that changed it all.

And for the reasons detailed below, I don't think this wave will fly much further than the present year, at least as far as rational discussion is concerned.

TTSA - a "new" entertainment company is born

As a sort of prelused to the NYT "bombshell" story, TTSA held its announcement event on October 11, 2017. It was mostly covered in entertainment/music media, due to being headed by Tom DeLonge, and of course on UFO sites.

Many of those outlets described it as DeLonge's effort to crowdsource a spaceship. This is how DeLonge himself described it in a Facebook message on that day:
Hello, my name is Tom DeLonge from the Blink-182. I have brought together an elite team from CIA, DOD and the FMR Director of Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin’s SkunkWorks. We are aiming to build this ElectroMagnetic Vehicle to Travel instantaneously through Space, Air and Water by engineering the fabric of Space-Time. Our company is called To The Stars... and you can INVEST in our plan to revolutionize the world with technology that can change life as we know it. We Launch Today Www.ToTheStarsAcademy.com
I'm guessing the important bit was capitalized. In the meanwhile, official SEC filings described it in more realistic terms as an entertainment company, largely based on DeLonge's earlier entertainment businesses and funded by loans from a hot dog stand/management company, or something, with guaranteed minimum royalty payments to DeLonge, and so on.

They ended up netting a little over the million dollar offering minimum (maximum being 50 millions), with impressive costs:
The Company raised approximately $1,370,000 under this Offering, which ended September 28, 2018, receiving proceeds net of offering costs of approximately $1,172,000 during the 2018 year. Offering costs incurred by the Company were approximately $199,000 and $244,000 during the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2017, respectively.
So at least someone made good money from all of that. Since their Offering Circular made it quite clear that their valuation was insane and the so called "investors" have little more than snowball's chance in hell of seeing their money again, and that they won't be able to actually build any spaceships with that level of investment, it probably wasn't a scam, at least in legal sense. Although their investment counter, which I tracked here at the time, certainly seemed to have misled their "investors". It showed more than an extra million related to what they eventually gained, much of which appeared during the Joe Rogan podcast, where DeLonge proved to be extremely gullible when it comes to UFO stories and clueless when it comes to science. Rogan himself described him a bit less politely.

It seems they are now preparing another "investment" round with a maximum target of 30 million. Even that wouldn't cover their stock-based compensations for themselves:
As a result of the foregoing factors, the company’s net loss from operations was $10,660,495 in 2018 compared to a net loss of $30,665,436 for the 2017 year. These amounts include non-cash stock-based compensation expense recorded by the company during 2018 and 2017. Excluding the impact of non-cash stock-based compensation expense, the company’s net loss from operations was $1,495,078 in 2018 compared to $1,129,637 for the 2017 year.
That TTSA announcement event featured a number of grand statements by former government/military/intelligence types, the kind who have tended to be featured as conspirators in UFO lore, but suddenly became more like targets of worship. The part that had some practical significance was Chris Mellon telling a badly distorted version of the Nimitz incident, while emphasizing that:
This story may sound like a sci fi movie but it is a true story and far from being the only one of its kind. I’ve met with one of the pilots and confirmed the account as have other members of the To the Stars Academy team. But the real beauty of this story is that you don’t have to take my word for it or even that of the Navy officer who described these events in an article you can find on the web by searching on Nimitz UFOs 2004 there I was. Better yet the US government itself can verify the events involving the USS Nimitz on November 14th 2004. So the key to revealing whether or not there are advanced vehicles with capabilities far beyond anything made in America is now in the hands of the press and the public.
There is nothing to prove here. These are just facts that need to be properly evaluated. Without the facts, neither Congress nor our democracy can function effectively.
As he said, the beauty is that we don't have to take his words for it, and clearly shouldn't, as his words do not accurately reflect the way the pilots themselves and other sources have have described it. For example, in his version, the object was heading directly towards the battlegroup, the pilots who had the visual encounter took gun camera footage of it, and more F-18s were dispatched with similar results. Such claims, which have been rejected by Fravor who actually saw it, may have contributed to similar claims made by others since then.

And bear in mind, one of those TTSA members Mellon was referring to supposedly included the leader of the "Pentagon UFO program", so he should have known better.

All in all, it was pretty clear from day one that the TTSA wasn't really interested about facts or serious research. It was mostly about entertainment, some of which turned out to be non-intentional, such as the image of party balloon Mellon used as illustration of his Nimitz story. Or their, let's be honest here again, delusional plans of building spaceships based on the ideas of a fringe physicist.

As a sidenote, at one point, Mellon's website also leaked the personal details of all those pilots. Should we expect something more from a supposed national security expert, and from a company that presumably expects other possible witnesses and "investors" to trust them?

2017-12-16 -The NYT story

While the earlier events gained relatively little interest, all of that changed when the story hit the New York Times, and other outlets soon after. The story behind that began from Leslie Kean, who Joe Nickell described as a credulous flying-saucer promoter. She originally wrote about the launch of TTSA and "sensitive aerospace threat identification program" in Huffington Post, but it gained little attention before she pitched that story to her longtime friend and NYT contributor Ralph Blumenthal, which led to the original NYT story, and several follow-ups. Several other outlets published similar stories, but as I noted before, the tone of NYT articles was markedly different, and read more like adverts for TTSA, and lately for another rehash of what little material they have in the form of a History Channel UFO entertainment series. That's not surprising given the apparent close relations between Kean and the TTSA members, especially Chris Mellon, as both are board members of the UFODATA project.

Such connections between a few key people have clearly made all the difference, at least as far as publicity goes. Another key player on the media front has been George Knapp, who has also published articles linking UFOs to various pseudo-scientific and nonsensical topics, such as remote viewing, psychics and Skinwalker ranch. I covered here earlier how TTSA member and pseudoscientist Hal Puthoff also brought such topics together in one pseudoscientific conference. If you are worried about the ridicule UFOs have been dealt with before, just think how ridiculous it would look like if they would turn out to be planes, birds and balloons, after they had already been linked to everything from demons to psychic powers. And that's basically what's already happening, but we'll get back to that soon.

The UFO (or not) program (or not) that Elizondo led (or didn't)

Regardless of the grand claims by the TTSA, a few low quality video clips haven't really brought us any closer of having an answer to the hugely significant question of whether we are alone or not. Since there has been little progress or new data in that front, much of the discussion has concentrated on attempts to figure out what the so called Pentagon UFO program/AAWSAP/AATIP really was.

There are still a lot of open questions about it, but it clearly wasn't another Project Blue Book, not in scale, not in significance. It also seems evident that its origins, and especially the politics and financial side, were questionable, to say the least. The picture that has emerged is far from an official serious scientific study, but rather of a network of UFO/paranormal enthusiasts and friends helping friends and arranging financing for their interests. Now that the Pentagon has repeatedly denied Elizondo ever led the program, if there even was a program at that stage, and we know he became associated with it only after the primary funding had been cut, it also seems clear he was nowhere as important player as he and the TTSA have led us to believe.

The man at the very center and origins of it, James T. Lacatski, appears to be impossible to reach, and according to Elizondo, his "predecessor's career was ruined" because "UAP has even been associated with demons", and their research was seen as a threat to religious beliefs. My understanding is that Lacatski played a significant role in such associations by originally making connections to the Skinwalker ranch. So sounds like some demons of his own making came back to haunt him.

In any case, if that was THE government UFO program, they apparently don't know much, or know how to properly analyze the little they had. Furthermore, according to Chris Mellon, who supposedly had "deep and wide-ranging access to compartmented programs", it's unlikely any government agency is concealing UFO information and he "never detected the faintest hint of government interest or involvement in UFOs" during the time he had such access. That's pretty bad news for those who have put their hopes in seeing some world-shattering disclosure, if there's little to disclose.

The story seems to be similar with the navy, who apparently didn't even try to keep a major UFO incident secret. The higher ups just weren't that interested. Since the evidence from that incident is lacking, it can be hard to accept that's all there is.

Predictably, we have already seen various stories featuring more secret programs, and better and longer footage, and additional UFOs and intercepts during the Nimitz encounter, and so on. That's the way these stories tend to develop. When the best is not enough, invent something better.

Three of the most unusual usual videos

Now we get to the stuff that actually matters, evidence of UFOs. When it comes to tangible evidence connected to AATIP and TTSA, we are left with what the Washington Post called "three of the most unusual videos" that Elizondo arranged to be released. Problem is, the one that's connected to the most significant event is just a small boring blob without audio, so it's not too surprising media mixed those up and tended to show the Gimbal clip while talking about the Nimitz incident.

Each of those clips were supposed to show some features that would defy conventional explanations, but none of them have survived closer scrutiny. And that's the important part that applies to them all. None of them contain the supposed extreme features they were supposed to have. It doesn't really make a difference whether we can positively identify whether they are birds, balloons, bugs or planes, or what kind or species specifically. The world is full of blurry videos that are unidentified in that sense. The only reason those were supposed to be evidence of something extraordinary is because they weren't supposed to be just unidentified, but unexplainable, and that's not what they are. The mystery and need for extraordinary explanations are gone, and hence they can't really function as evidence of anything like that.

Another highly significant aspect is to consider who they managed to fool. We have heard how these videos were supposedly taken with the best equipment by highly trained observers and so on. Similarly we have been led to believe they have been analyzed by competent people at the Pentagon and elsewhere. At the same time, some of those same observers and experts have belittled the so called "Internet experts", who have come to different conclusions. Luckily, in most cases we don't need to settle for one word against the other, as simple math and the data itself proves quite conclusively who has been fooled and who's not. We'll start with the clip that fell apart conclusively and literally on the same day it was published, by several independent "Internet experts".

Go "Fast"

The "Go Fast" footage shows a tiny blob flying more or less in straight line, and that's basically it. So why is that a UFO video in the first place? According to the TTSA, it shows:
  • "The high-speed flight of an unidentified aircraft at low altitude"
  • "The unidentified vehicle appears as a white oval shape moving at high speed from top right to lower left of the screen flying very low over the water."
  • "There are no obvious wings or tails on the object. Even IR imagery of a cruise missile, would have visible wings at this range"
  • "There is no exhaust plume from the object. An exhaust plume is clearly visible on conventional aircraft in the mid-wave infrared frequency used by the ATFLIR."
Then they go on to compare that tiny blob to a large IR image that shows an aircraft in detail, as if that makes sense. If that would be scaled down to similarly tiny blob, the supposed exhaust plume would become invisible, like other small features, especially against a moving background and added compression artifacts etc. They did similar claims about the Nimitz clip, as if something like exhaust plumes would be possible to see from that tiny very low quality blob. But in this case that doesn't really matter, since there's little reason to suspect that target had an engine.

Parallax

With that part out of the equation, the only supposed "extraordinary features" are it flying fast and low. Neither claim is true, but even if they were, is that really all it takes for something to be considered among the best evidence of aliens or such? Seriously, if that video is among the most unusual, the rest sound like pretty usual.

Even if you are stationary, and seeing something with your own eyes, velocities and sizes are difficult to estimate, especially as the distance increases. It becomes a whole lot more difficult when you are moving too, and so is the background, as the apparent movement of the target is some combination of your own movement and that of the target.

Depending on the background, available reference points, familiarity of the target, and so on, it can be very difficult to estimate size, velocity and distance at the same time. And when you misestimate one, there's a mathematical relationship that makes it likely you will similarly misestimate the rest as well. A small target at a close distance and slow speed can look very much the same as one that has double the size, distance and speed. If something is seen visually, in 3D, you may be able to tell the difference in some cases by changing your viewpoint by moving yourself or your head. But if all you have is a video, where the scene has been flattened to two dimensions, even that option is gone.

So, out of the three videos, how many of them had a target that was seen visually as well? None. How many had some background with proper reference points that would have helped estimation? None. In fact, they were all filmed above the ocean, and even the visual encounter of the Nimitz incident, which happened hours before the FLIR footage was taken, and probably wasn't the same target at all, happened over a calm sea with little to no reference points.

Estimation errors of the above kind, the so called parallax effect, are very common in supposed UFO cases, and they seem to have contributed to all three cases discussed here as well. It should be among the first things to consider on all UFO cases. The difficulty is of course proving that such errors happened, as that's the whole point of the effect, things look the same visually. For the same reason, it doesn't really matter how the TTSA is trying to highlight the observational skills of the pilots:
The pilots aboard the Super Hornet are not only highly capable fighter pilots, but they are trained observers skilled at scrutinizing their observations and targets in order to ascertain “friend or foe.” They are specifically trained to look for discreet changes in shape, size position, flight attitude (angles), and speed in order to determine the nature of the threat. They are able to discern nuanced details that few people would normally recognize.
Especially when there's research indicating both commercial and military pilots make relatively poor witnesses. And when it comes to these three videos, what we see there is more or less all that the pilots saw too. Sure, their image quality was likely somewhat higher, but still limited to the 640x480 VGA resolution of the ATFLIR pod, and they were making their initial estimates, whose effects we can hear in the audio, in real-time, while flying.

Math doesn't lie

While a blurry video is just that, even if taken with multi-million dollar equipment, the real benefit of such equipment are the presumably pretty accurate measurements given on the display. Thanks to them, we actually know how far the target was, and can calculate other relevant and dependent information based on that and the rest of the data on the display.

When it comes to the Go Fast footage, it's really, really easy to calculate the target didn't fly low over the water, as TTSA has claimed, and that changes everything, as after that there's every reason to suspect it wasn't as fast either, and more involved calculations show it was slow enough to be a bird (my first choice) or a balloon, hence no engines or exhaust plumes needed.

The display actually makes it so easy to see it wasn't flying low that it hardly needs calculation at all. You only need to look at the display explainer on the TTSA Go Fast page, and take the range finder, altitude and vertical angle values from any point of the actual video during the time they were displayed (don't take instrument values from the explainer, as TTSA faked them too). For example, close to the start, the plane was flying at 25,000 feet, and the rangefinder showed the distance to the target was 4.4 nautical miles, and the vertical angle to the target was 26 degrees. 4.4 nautical miles is around 26700 feet, so close to the same as the altitude. If you are at 25,000 feet, and looking downward in a 26 degree angle, a viewing distance of 26,700 obviously takes you nowhere close to the water.

Claiming it does is basically the same as saying that if you are standing at a height of 2.5 feet, and you have a 2.7 feet stick, you can hit the ground while holding the stick at a shallow angle of 26 degrees. It so obviously doesn't work. Here's my earlier illustration of how that target, which was most likely a bird or alternatively a balloon, was actually flying high at an altitude of more than 13000 feet:
But here's the real issue: If that is so obvious and easy to prove, and all that data is available right there and explained by TTSA themselves, how is it possible that the pilots, and AATIP and Elizondo, and the entire TTSA team, and whoever experts they have supposedly contacted, didn't notice that? Oh, and you can apparently also add that new History Channel show and their experts to that list as well, as it's now repeating the same false claims. And so far there's no indication they would do anything to admit or correct that. It seems none of them actually analyzed the footage to any extent. And since this video is one of only three, it certainly doesn't seem like they had too much data for not being able to spend a couple of hours on it before this all.

But such a blunder is of course more understandable, at least as far as the AATIP is concerned, if the AATIP hardly existed at that point. And that seems more or less consistent with the statements Pentagon spokespersons and others have given about it. It seems likely it was little more than an informal network of UFO enthusiasts, who got overly excited about any material they could get hold of.

Gimbal

One down, two to go. Although it's questionable if the Gimbal should even be regarded as a separate incident, as the footage seems to have been taken by the same crew less than 10 minutes apart, although a recent NYT article claims they were actually taken a few weeks apart. That article states the Gimbal footage was taken on January 20, 2015 off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, and attributes the videos to VFA-11 Red Rippers aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt during training exercises. Thus confirming my earlier analysis about the time, place and participants.

If it was the same crew, there's a pretty obvious question of how likely it is that the same crew that was already fooled by something ordinary would have seen an actual out of this world UFO so soon after? And even if they weren't the same crew, but possibly another one from the same squadron a few week later during the same training, if one was fooled, doesn't it make it more likely the other one was too?

So what supposedly made that video extraordinary? The TTSA description begins by emphasizing how:
This footage, and all official USG footage you will see on TTS Academy’s Community of Interest (COI), comes with essential chain-of-custody documentation validating that it is received in its original and unaltered form and is authentic. The US Department of Defense uses this process in order to meticulously ensure that information and material retain their integrity without revealing sources and methods. This documentation is what sets this footage apart from anything else that has previously made its way to the public domain, by establishing its authenticity and thereby giving it enormous historical significance.
And yet, after all this time, they still haven't provided any such documentation, and none of the videos they have published are actually originals, but versions they altered by adding their own advertisement and recompressing them, thus introducing more loss of quality. Question is, if they actually cared about the stuff in their marketing talk, why haven't they provided anything closer to the originals (such versions seem to be available here instead)?

Here are their key claims about the supposedly extraordinary features:
• Low observability in both electro-optical and electromagnetic spectrums.
• No distinguishable flight surfaces.
• Lack of obvious propulsion system.
• Never-before-seen flight capabilities.
• Possible energy or resonance field of unknown nature.

The filename “GIMBAL” seems to be traceable to the unusual maneuvering of the UAP.
And the implications according to them:
With the chain-of-custody documentation, GIMBAL can officially be designated as credible, authentic “evidence” of a UAP. Evidence of a flying vehicle with a shape normally associated with something out of science fiction. Currently there are no other known technologies that we can compare to what is being observed in both performance and design, which means there’s a craft that demonstrates flight characteristics unlike anything we know, understand, or can duplicate. Because we cannot duplicate these flight characteristics, we can conclude that the object is employing technologies that are more advanced than our own.

GIMBAL is just one of several official videos obtained by TTS Academy that can be interpreted as credible proof that the physics of advanced flight exists. We are also in the process of collecting additional data from both military and civilian personnel and sensors. The question now changes from “Can it be done?” to “How is it done?”
And here's the detailed analysis from Metabunk, which pretty conclusively shows none of that is true, with examples from videos of known aircraft that replicate similar effects. And as detailed there too, similarly to Go "Fast", the parallax effect fooled the pilots again. What the video really shows is most probably just another plane, the most obvious option being another participant of the same training.

But once again, it's not terribly important whether we can identify that exact plane. The important part is once again that all the supposed mystery is provably gone, there's no reason to assume extraordinary explanations. Even more significantly, what Mick West and others have demonstrated not only shows such effects are easily explainable in this case, such explanations also apply to other similar cases. And where else have we for example seen a blob that doesn't look like a plane on the video, but now demonstrably can be one anyway? Yep, in the Nimitz clip.

And once again, the same groups that were fooled by the Go Fast footage were fooled by the features seen on this one too. And you can add David Fravor to that list as well. He also clearly didn't realize such apparent features can have the kind of prosaic explanations that have now been demonstrated.

While the TTSA explained the filename, Gimbal, as possibly referring to the "unusual maneuvering of the UAP", it would better apply to the gimbal mechanism of the camera, which explains why that target appeared to be rotating. Which could indicate whoever named it was already aware of a significant part of that explanation. Which would raise even more questions about how little Elizondo and others new about the material they have now showcased.

The Nimitz incident

While the Nimitz incident has been commonly described as a single incident, confirmed both visually and by multiple sensors, that's not really true. Some things were seen on radar, some visually, some with the ATFLIR, but none appears to be seen be even two of them at the same time, or even described to behave similarly (apart from the misinterpretation what the FLIR footage shows).

The incident is really best described in three parts:
  1. Anomalous radar returns
  2. Visual encounter by Fravor and 3 others
  3. FLIR footage
There's no evidence those were related.

The radar returns were deemed to be false targets by the radar computer itself, and reportedly described as weather phenomena by radar experts at the time. Since there's also no available radar data, there's little to be explained. It also doesn't help that the radar operators and some others from those ships who have publicly told their versions of the story seem to have invented stuff out of thin air. Fravor has called bs on such claims a couple of times. Apparently, as Robert Sheaffer reported on the latter link, that inconvenient situation has led to some censorship as well:
Reporter George Knapp and documentary filmmaker Jeremy Corbell were also on the panel. Fravor sharply criticized the accounts of certain other people who were involved and have been speaking about the incident. He seemed to be singling out the account of the radar operator, Kevin Day, as being non-factual. He dismissed claims of Air Force personnel coming on board the Nimitz and confiscating evidence as being untrue. Fravor also referred to Dave Beaty’s “Nimitz UFO Encounters” documentary as a “cartoon.” This prompted Knapp to say to Fravor, “I guess you’re being diplomatic, but some of the stories and claims that have been made by people, who may have been on those ships, are just bullshit.” When people began commenting about these remarkable disagreements, Corbell pulled the video off YouTube.
Update: That original video seems to be available here.

Nimitz FLIR video

As for the FLIR footage, it was taken hours after the visual encounter, and as mentioned in the "Executive report", one of the pilots who took that video:
was clear in that he couldn't confirm that it was the same object as described by the FASTEAGLE flight. He never had visual, only seeing the object via the FLIR.
It seems the reason Fravor and others were so confident it was the same object was confirmation bias. It looked like a blob, and seemingly accelerated fast, like what they said to have seen. But as was already demonstrated with the Gimbal footage, having a small blob in the video doesn't mean the distant target was actually shaped like that. And as my earlier analysis showed, the supposed fast acceleration is best explained as camera artifact, and that target also wasn't hovering in place as has been described. And so once again, all the key claims by the TTSA have fallen apart.

Considering the similarities, the most probable explanation for the Nimitz video is also a distant plane, just like for the Gimbal video. And similarly the obvious first option would be another participant of the same training.

It also seems like an interesting coincidence that Fravor has described the CAP points being some 40 nautical miles apart, in north-south direction, like in this map I made earlier:


The initial radar tracks to the FLIR target indicated a similar distance of 30-40 nautical miles. Fravor's flight played the role of blue air and went to the norther CAP closer to Nimitz, and according to the navy event log, the next FAST EAGLE flight played the role of blue air as well, and to my understanding, went to the same CAP. Which means that while they were flying there, they would have been looking towards south, towards the other CAP, to where the red air was going or possibly already was. If that's the case, there's a good chance the UFO was an F/A-18E single-seater from VFA-14 "Tophatters" (callsign CAMELOT). Especially since there doesn't seem to be much civilian air traffic at that location, and presumably even less during such trainings.

The visual Nimitz encounter

So how about the one remaining actually interesting part of the story then? Even if we discard the likely unrelated radar returns and some later plane on FLIR, the visual encounter itself seems hard to explain, especially since it happened in the presence of multiple witnesses and in broad daylight.

But let's not forget that it wouldn't be the first time mundane things have been misidentified even under such conditions, and we also know Fravor was too overconfident with his claims about those videos. Paco Chierici also described him as "Smart and sharp witted, with a typical fighter pilot’s overestimation of his skills." So let's just keep those typical estimation errors in mind, and assume Fravor is just as likely to make them as the rest of us, and so many pilots before and after him, instead of believing every detail happened just as described.

In fact, we can go a bit further and safely conclude that every detail didn't happen as described, as available descriptions by the other pilots and various documents contradict on several occasions. It's particularly noteworthy that when it comes to the supposed extraordinary capabilities, there's few if any that were reported similarly by multiple witnesses.

The parts that definitely seem to be supported by multiple witnesses, and hence look likely to be more accurate, include that disturbance in water and the object being white and mostly featureless tic-tac/capsule shape. Although we should keep in mind they saw that with naked eyes only, several miles away, so at least smaller details would have been hard to see.

Disturbance in water

The most obvious explanation for that disturbance would be a submarine, USS Louisville to be exact. According to the Executive report:
There was a live fire exercise conducted by the USS Louisville during the period of and in the vicinity of the AAV sightings; however, the weapon in use did not match the flight profile or visible characteristics of the AAV. Additionally any live fire would have been coordinated throughout the CSG and all air trafic would have been well aware of the launch and operation of the weapon system. Aircraft would not have been vectored for the intercept of a US Weapon in-flight.
That vague and in some ways even self-contradictory statement has to be the most annoying part of that report. It just screams for further details. How close is that "vicinity"? Weren't they then vectored within that "vicinity"? If it wasn't close, why do they even bother to mention it had a different flight profile? What kind of weapon?

If that report and investigation aimed to find some explanation, it definitely should have paid more attention to that sub. Especially since the pilots, such as "Source" in the TTSA Pilot report initially though it may have been "an unannounced, classified missile test by a U.S. Navy submarine" and even after it all, back in the ship, reportedly "believed  it was a flight safety issue at a minimum, especially if they were deliberately vectored to a testing location of a blue-force weapon system." So if someone says that couldn't be an explanation, here we have a pilot who was there, saw it, and though so, even after the encounter.

If that report wasn't written with the aim of public release, what prevented it from stating what kind of weapon it was? If it was, say, a Tomahawk missile, which everyone knows they had, why couldn't they just say it? Is that indicative of something less conventional, or just excessive secrecy or poor investigation?

That brings us to some deeper issues with that report. It appears to have been written at the time the program was still led by Lacatski. If it had been an official UFO program at the time, and this clearly was a significant UFO event, if not the most significant they had, why only an informal report with parts copied from Wikipedia and so on? And why is the general tone like one written by a believer for other believers, with some hints of having avoided saying things that could raise doubts? I think that's another indication that the program never was a UFO program as such, even if it was allowed to officially touch some such topics due to that threat aspect. When it went any further, it may have been only through some informal network of like-minded people, all along.

White tic-tac shape

If we consider the shape alone, and forget how it reportedly flew, what's the first thing that pops into your mind? Doesn't it sound like a balloon, or a blimp or aerostat due to being oblong in horizontal direction? Such as something that's shaped like this (source) with barely visible tail fins against that background:

Those also tend to be white with surfaces resembling given descriptions. And since they are light, subject to winds, and can be either powered or tethered, their motion could look rather erratic or ping-pong like, as reported. And they can of course "hover" or "hold like a Harrier".

Here's a recent example of some distant "tic-tacs" from distance (compare that to scale model illustrations by Mick West):
Those targets in the video turned out to be DARPA test balloons, after they had been widely reported as UFOs and the National Weather Service had stated they didn't know what they were.

Balloons alone are also "stealthy" against the radar, which is why they (at least in civilian use) are commonly required to carry some sort of radar reflector. Such combination (possibly launched from a submarine) has also been proposed as an explanation for the "sphere encasing a cube" type of UFO that was mentioned in a recent NYT article, as well as for the reported radar detections in the Nimitz incident.

A CRS Report for Congress, dated some 4 months before the incident, states that contemporary interest is growing in using airships (such as blimps and aerostats) for numerous missions, and lists the then current uses, which include for example 25-feet long vehicle launched REAP aerostats (which are not quite tic tac shaped, as they have large tail structures). But it doesn't mention anything in use by submarines. A Naval Research Advisory Committee presentation dated about a year after recommends developing new aerostat/airship capabilities for navy uses (including for surveillance, electronic warface, communications relays), but also states there are no currently active LTA (lighter than air) navy programs.

But then again, the world of nuclear submarines is shrouded in secrecy. Here's one example from UK's Royal Navy on how balloons and subs can make strange looking combinations:
Our next adventure involved towing a large, hydrogen-filled barrage balloon with a radar reflector attached. This enabled scientists from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment to track us with an experimental, long-range sonar fitted in the frigate HMS Verulam. Our range whilst underwater was measured by radar reflections from the balloon. The balloon was attached to an Oropesa float, a torpedo-like body that 'flew' horizontally in the water like an aquatic kite. It was used in minesweeping for spreading towed cables. This was bizarre. Imagine a submarine on the surface being pursued by a torpedo with an airship hovering overhead. Then imagine the submarine dived. The viewer would see only an airship being towed by a small torpedo.
We were then refused permission to bring our balloon into Faslane on explosive safety grounds but could not simply release it as it would have risen to high altitude, been a further hazard to aircraft and its radar reflector could have been picked up on the Fylingdales Early Warning System and be classed either as an Unidentified Flying Object or an incoming Soviet ballistic missile.

But surely the reported maneuvers and extreme performance excludes something so simple and slow? Or does it?

Parallax again

Let's get back to the aforementioned estimates and equations between distance, velocity and size. Fravor has described how the tic tac was about the size of a fighter jet, some 46 feet, and how it mirrored his movements when they were circling each other, and then took off extremely fast when he tried to cut through the middle of that circle.

But when we look at the statements by the other pilots, and other documents, the descriptions differ. According to the Navy event log:
CAPSULE (ALT 4K FT AT COURSE 300) PASSED UNDER FAST EAGLE 110 (ALT 16KFT). FAST EAGLE 110 BEGAN TURN TO ACQUIRE CAPSULE. WHILE 110 WAS DESCENDING AND TURNING, CAPSULE BEGAN CLIMBING AND TURNED INSIDE OF FAST EAGLE’S TURN RADIUS. PILOT ESTIMATED THAT CAPSULE ACHIEVED 600-700 KTS. FAST EAGLE 110 COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH THE RATE OF TURN AND THE GAIN OF ALTITUDE BY THE CAPSULE. 110 LOST VISUAL ID OF CAPSULE IN HAZE. LAST VISUAL CONTACT HAD CAPSULE AT 14KFT HEADING DUE EAST.
Fravor stated in the Fighter Pilot podcast that his WSO did the debrief, so that log might be (at least partially) based on his comments.

Source of the TTSA Pilot Report opined the object was 30-40 feet in length and traveled at 300 to 500 knots in a straight line. She didn't describe Fravor having circled it, or it having mirrored Fravor, but instead it tumbling into non-sensical angles (whatever that means) and Fravor conducting some evasive moves.

The Executive report also notes Fravor's WSO's report differed from Fravor, as he reported the object traveling level at approximately 500-1000 feet at approximately 500 knots.

Such differences in those descriptions hint at the pilots interpreting parallax effects differently, even within the same plane, which wouldn't be surprising given the event reportedly happened over a calm and hence mostly featureless ocean, with few if any reference points.

They had the aforementioned difficult task of needing to estimate size, velocity and distance of an unknown and unfamiliar object at the same time, without the help of instruments since they couldn't lock on it. And it seems their estimates differed. Of those, size is of particular interest here, especially since estimates differ close to a factor of two.

It would be understandable that Fravor estimated it to be similar in size to a fighter jet, even if it wasn't, as that was a familiar size and one he just expected to encounter during the canceled exercise. But what would it mean if it was actually only about half of that, as estimated in that event log? Would he had similarly estimated the distance to be twice too long, according to that aforementioned relationship between distance and size? It would mean that, when they were circling, the object wasn't actually mirroring them, but was only half-way there, which would put it to the center of that circle. Maybe it was actually just rising higher, or even stationary.

And when he tried to cut the circle, and the tic tac supposedly took off in an instant, maybe it just happened to be closer than he thought, and he simply passed by it at great speed, and lost it from sight (or it burst or deflated). Those estimated straight line speeds of 500 knots or so could have similarly resulted from interpreting it to low and fast, like with Go Fast, when in reality it was much closer and high up.

Similar arguments could also apply to other possibilities, such as (possibly classified) weapons or drones, which could have contributed more to the movements by their own power. But a balloon of some sort would explain that shape and level of stealth more easily.

Could it be something so simple? Maybe. The point is that currently available information and factoring in common estimation errors and discrepancies between the sources seems to leave enough room for something like that. And when we consider probabilities, and how it seems unlikely there is some classified craft that was able to do everything just as described, observational errors combined with something more mundane is much more probable than actual aliens, especially since we have plenty of confirmed earlier examples of the former, none of the latter.

What this story needs badly is additional information, and it seems that can only come from the four people who had the visual encounter, or from someone who knows what that sub was doing.

Conclusions

So where does that leave us? None of the videos show anything that would defy conventional explanations, and the claims TTSA has made about them hold no water. The most glaring example of obviously false information is the altitude claim regarding the Go Fast footage, and so far there's no indication either the TTSA or the team behind the new Unidentified History Channel series, which repeats the same claims without any sort of critical examination, are going to admit that. I know that at least former TTSA advisor Garry Nolan has admitted that error, but that hasn't led to any changes on their site and he has also already resigned.

If those videos are evidence of anything, they are evidence of how easily pilots, UFO investigators, and so called experts are misled. There's of course nothing new in that.

There's a strong correlation between the lifetime of a UFO case and availability of information. Thanks to the rarely available combination of video footage and distance information, the Go Fast footage lost all of its mystery on the very day it was released, whereas on the other end of the spectrum the still unexplained visual part of the Nimitz encounter has no footage and some possibly decisive information is unavailable due to the secrecy surrounding radar systems and submarine operations. As well as for the reluctance of some of the participants to be interviewed, and the lack of properly conducted interviews that would concentrate on gathering detailed data, instead of aiming to reinforce certain beliefs.

It also doesn't help that the UFO community in general just wants to believe, instead of honestly trying to find the truth. People tend to ignore the ever so revealing discrepancies in witness testimonies and documents, while emphasizing and exaggerating the less credible mysterious aspects, or simply inventing new details out of thin air. Which is why these cases can usually only be solved by looking at the original sources, as the retellings are more than likely to just mislead.

If and when the remaining Nimitz encounter is explained, it's pretty much certain it will be done by a skeptic/debunker, as they are basically the only people who even try to do that. "Just believing" has never advanced our understanding about anything, quite to the contrary, especially since it so commonly means refusal to accept negative results and hostility towards such progress. An unsolved mystery may be a good story, but a solved one is one more step towards the truth, whatever it may be. I'll choose the latter over the former any time.

Nick Pope has said:
You know the skeptics have to be right every single day. The believers only need to be right once. And this is the ultimate game changer.
Which is a good example how believers like him are fooling themselves. If we ever find irrefutable proof of aliens, we all win. At least, if it's more like E.T. and less like Independence Day. But in the meanwhile, skeptics are the only ones who score all the time, since they are the ones who even play this game correctly. And their success is also a win for us all, even if it leads to new disappointments, since we actually learn something, and can get rid on false information and beliefs. That's progress.

Comments

  1. I'm glad you're paying reality-based attention to this media blitz, I'm focused on space/missile events sparking UFO panics worldwide. rt me know if I can help pu out on your own investigations, nd vice versa. We're the 'thin red line' of rationality on this internet tsunami.

    https://rocketspotting.blogspot.com/2019/01/introduction.html

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    Replies
    1. Nice to see you here Jim!

      I really like your work, and especially the various case studies of pilot misperceptions.

      Do you happen to have a theory or at least some kind of best guess favorite of what the visually observed Nimitz tic tac was?

      I think that encounter is what ultimately keeps this media blitz alive, and having an explanation for it could provide a badly needed reality check for many. It's one of those game-changing events, which could be equally game-changing if explained by something mundane.

      Pilot misperceptions are clearly once again part of the explanation, as proven by the differences between the various sources. But the available data doesn't enable pinpointing the exact errors, let alone proving them.

      If USS Louisville is the key to this mystery, as I believe, there would be submariners who already know what it was, and possibly some relevant documents as well. But since most submarine related stuff is classified, I don't really know how to proceed with that line of inquiry. I know the names of a bunch of people who were on that sub at the time, but I haven't tried to contact any of them, at least not yet. Since I know submarine logs are classified, and likely to remain so indefinitely, I have been trying to figure out some other parties which could have more accessible relevant documents.

      Any ideas and collaborations on research would be welcome.

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    2. Jim Oberg: "We're the 'thin red line' of rationality on this internet tsunami. "

      The White Knight Syndrome also dubbed "Rescue Fantasy" was best described by Sigmund Freud as "... the urge they (men or maybe some women I would add) show to rescue the women (or men) they love...". I think this is also true with self-proclaimed skeptics/debunkers but the main difference is that they don't love the persons they want to save. One thing is to refute wrong claims (which I respect and do as well), another one is to come up with speculations you want others to believe as more than probable when in fact, there are just speculations. We often hear "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", first of all and I am being rational, any claim require undisputable evidence for a start even if it does not look (perception) extraordinary. If you think the USN misidentified something, prove it or just explain that it is an hypothesis but if an hypothesis cannot be tested (validated or refuted), it's just an opinion and that's what most if not all skeptics/debunkers did so far with these incidents, they expressed an opinion. Opinions don't save anyone...reason why it's a fantasy...

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