Much of the recent media coverage of the Pentagon’s UFO investigation has focused on showing the three now-famous ‘leaked’ videos, generally known by the titles ‘GOFAST’, ‘GIMBAL’, and ‘FLIR’. What has often been overlooked, however, is the human element: while the three grainy pieces of footage show little to excite the imagination, and could ostensibly be doctored or misinterpreted, the FLIR video is accompanied by testimony from military pilots who viewed an unidentified flying object with their own eyes – now known colloquially as the ‘Tic-Tac UFO’, on account of its shape and colour – and were at a loss to explain it (and remain that way 16 years later).
Since the NYT story that broke the story about the ‘Nimitz encounter’, the human face of the Tic-Tac UFO story has been Commander David Fravor (and even before that – as we noted at the time, his story had earlier been posted on a blog by a friend). Along with major media, Fravor has given extended interviews with Joe Rogan and Lex Fridman. But in May 2021 Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich, his ‘wingman’ during the training sortee, also came forward for a feature on 60 Minutes about the encounter.
The testimony of both Fravor and Dietrich, in my opinion, makes this case so much more compelling. They are both highly-trained individuals, with very grounded, rational thought processes – without a hint of hype or fraud about them – who still can’t figure out what they witnessed on November 14, 2004.
Given this could be one of the best UFO cases recorded, it’s important that we have as fine-grained and clear a picture of what happened that day as possible. David Fravor has recounted his experience on a number of occasions (eg. with Joe Rogan and Lex Fridman), and there is an ‘Executive Summary‘ (PDF) document that runs through the details of the encounter, but with Dietrich coming forward the opportunity has arisen to compare their accounts – especially as they had different roles during the encounter, with Fravor engaging the UFO, while Dietrich flew ‘high cover’ – to try and enhance what we know, what we don’t know, and what explanations that might leave us with.
Since the 60 Minutes feature, Alex Dietrich has been on Twitter answering questions about the encounter. And one of those asking questions has been Mick West, an online skeptic who has become well-known for his suggested debunkings/explanations for UFO videos and photos. West is somewhat of a hated nemesis for many of the people on ‘UFO Twitter’, but personally I think he’s a valuable voice. Certainly, sometimes he’s blinded by his own biases – just as the jewel that UFO true believers seek for is ‘disclosure’ and the certainty of alien visitation, West’s jewel is a rational explanation for everything, sometimes to the detriment of common sense. But he’s out there asking questions that I myself am thinking when analysing cases, and which aren’t being asked by the true believers, to try and look for explanations (or alternatively, to rule out other possibilities).
So it was great to see Alex Dietrich meet up for a video chat with Mick West to discuss and clarify some of the finer details of the encounter (a rather spontaneous chat that occurred after some long Twitter back and forths):
One of the original Twitter questions that triggered the discussion was West’s query about the time involved in the experience: Dietrich had noted that she had ‘eyes on’ the object for about 8 to 10 seconds, but Fravor had previously said the encounter lasted up to 5 minutes – a rather large discrepancy between the pilots’ accounts. While the video chat didn’t end up resolving that issue – it might need Dietrich and Fravor both sitting down together with West – it did offer a very detailed look at how the Tic-Tac UFO encounter played out.
One of the reasons for this is that West and Dietrich begin the discussion by running through a document that has been circulating online that is alleged to be the official ‘Event summary’ that was written after the pilots debriefed post-flight:
Dietrich begins by noting that she “cannot validate the accuracy or that it’s official”, but does say that “many of the terms and details…seem to be correct.” She then goes on to provide a ‘translation’ of the military parlance it is written in, and along with it a run-down of how she remembers thing happening.
After take-off from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz for a training run, Fravor (‘Fast Eagle 110’) and Dietrich (‘Fast Eagle 100’) were redirected by the USS Princeton and an E-2 Hawkeye airborne controller (‘Banger’) to a “real world intercept” – an object that had been detected moving at around 100 knots at 25,000 feet. However, upon arriving at the ‘merge point’ (where the object was expected to be), the pilots could not see anything.
At this point, they noticed something below them on the surface of the ocean: “there was churning, and there was something there, but it was very hard to tell”, Dietrich remembers. “Was it sinking, was it coming up, was it a reef with water breaking over it?” She ponders whether it was related to what they saw next, but “it was that churning water that directed all of eyes into that same spot, and how I at least picked up the visual of the Tic-Tac.”
While the ‘Event summary’ says the pilots saw steam/smoke churning around the object, Dietrich says that she does not remember seeing that. And she also clarifies that while it says that the object in the water was described as “resembling a downed airliner”, she did not see any wings…just a fuselage-shaped object about the size of an airliner (note: Fravor has said he saw a cross-shaped disturbance). Indeed, she says “my heart sank and I thought we were on the scene of a search and rescue for something that went down.”
At this point in the encounter, the ‘Event summary’ notes that Fravor began to descend from 24,000 feet to get a better view of what was happening in the water, but at some point suddenly noticed the ‘Tic-Tac’ object – “an airborne contact which appeared to be capsule shaped (wingless, mobile, white, oblong pill-shaped, 25-30 feet in length, no visible markings and no glass)” – 5 nautical miles to the west of the water disturbance. Dietrich, for her part, notes at this point that this was not where she saw the Tic-Tac; instead, she only noticed the object as it flew over the water disturbance that she had her eyes focused on. “Because the Tic-Tac was so fast and so relatively small to this large ocean that we were looking at, if it hadn’t of been for broiling water I don’t know that I would have been able to pick up the visual.” West also notes that even Fravor’s recent recalling of the first visual has been like Dietrich’s: the Tic-Tac being right over the water disturbance, not passing over it after first seeing it miles away (furthermore, Fravor has described the Tic-Tac’s movement as oscillating over the top of the water disturbance, not passing over it from a distance at speed). So it’s difficult to reconcile this part of the ‘Event summary’ with the current testimony of the pilots.
The ‘Event summary’ says that as the Tic-Tac passed under Fravor’s plane it was estimated to be at about 4000 feet, while Fravor had descended to 16,000 feet. At this point the Tic-Tac “began climbing and turned inside [Fravor’s] turn radius”, a move which Fravor could not keep up with. After passing within 4-5000 feet of the Tic-Tac (Dietrich: “That’s pretty close…it sounds far, but in the air that’s pretty close”), both he and Dietrich lost visual contact with the object when it was at around 14,000 feet heading due east, and it entered some haze (previous descriptions have said it virtually disappeared at any unprecedented speed).
For her part, Dietrich says of this account: “Am I going to testify that’s the exact altitude and bearing? I can’t at this point, it’s been over 16 years, and that’s why I’d refer to the written notes that were taken immediately following….but it sounds generally accurate of the way he turned and it turned and it did speed up, and how quickly we lost visual.”
Not in the summary, but expanded on by Dietrich, was that after they lost visual they asked the controllers if they could see it on their radar, and were told that “you’re not going to be believe this, it’s at your ‘CAP’ (‘Combat Air Patrol’) point” – a starting place of sorts for their training run, which was some ways distant. “Either it was supersonic and able to get there super-fast, or it dropped off and something else popped up at the CAP point with the same signature.”
The discussion continues from this point for another half an hour with West asking for further details and thoughts from Dietrich on aspects of her experience, as well as trying to address some of the inconsistencies previously noted in the stories (such as the time difference mentioned above) and putting forward some of his possible explanations. It’s well worth checking out in full to gain a better understanding of this enigmatic encounter.
It would be great to have Fravor and Dietrich brought together to try and map out the entire encounter – surely someone can create a video/CG reconstruction to really illustrate it – as well as attempt to resolve the differences in some of the details in their accounts.