(PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT BELOW)
Gentlemen, welcome to hop 15 of Super Mystery Bros. The clock is ticking, and as of now, we are keeping score.
KYLE: The United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, aka “Top Gun”, was established in 1969 during the Vietnam war in response to the surprisingly dismal performance of its fighter aircraft in the skies over Vietnam. Military bureaucrats at that time believed that dogfighting, or traditional air-to-air combat, was a thing of the past, now that brand new technology, mainly air-to-air missiles, had come into service and were highly successful during optimal testing conditions. However, these new weapons proved highly unreliable in actual combat, in the humid air of Vietnam and the heat of fast-paced aerial warfare.
Early models of the AIM-9 Sidewinder Air-to-Air missile had a 56% failure-to-launch rate, and even if successfully launched, missed 28% of their targets. The AIM-7 Sparrow had an even worse track record, but the higher-ups in the command believed the era of dogfighting to be a thing of the past, and therefor, opted to remove the cannon from the F-4 Phantom to lighten its load, believing air-to-air gunfighting to be obsolete. However, this left many pilots as sitting ducks during actual combat, having no guns to fall back on once all their air-to-air missiles were expended, and likely, most of them having been duds in the first place.
NATE: In the early years of the Vietnam war, US air-to-air victories barely exceeded a 2:1 kill/death ratio, despite having superior training, aircraft, and technology. The pilots of North Vietnam were proving to be a formidable adversary who chose not to play by conventional rules – adopting opportunistic, hit-and-run tactics against bomber formations, and engaging in air-to-air combat only when confident that they had the upper hand. US F-86 Sabre pilots had boasted a 10:1 kill/death ratio during the Korean War, but the US was now losing their edge against this new enemy.
The United States Air Force took the position that improving missile technology was the answer to the problem, but the Navy took the opposite approach: reject modernity and return to tradition.
The solution, as the Navy saw it, was to establish an elite school, where some of the best pilots in the Navy were to instruct students on the lost art of aerial combat. No lecture was to be given to its students without first being passed by a board of other instructors, under intense questioning and scrutiny, to ensure that the tactics and information being taught were completely sound. The pilots and RIOs (Radar Intercept Officers) studied not only their own doctrines, equipment, and technology, but also their enemy’s.
KYLE: The school was finally established at the then Naval Air Station Miramar, in San Diego, where Navy fighter pilots would attend a rigorous course on aerial combat prior to their deployment to the Vietnam war. Initially geared toward the F-4 Phantom, its instructors would fly a plethora of lighter, smaller, and more maneuverable aircraft such as the A-4 Skyhawk and F-5 Tiger II, to simulate the MiG-17’s and MiG-21’s, respectively, which were flown by the North Vietnamese Air Force at the time. Once graduated, the pilots were then expected to go on to teach their fellow pilots their newly gained skills and knowledge.
Fun Fact: In the original Top Gun movie, the instructors flew A4 Skyhawks against Maverick and the other students during training, but the actual “enemy MiG’s” seen in the movie were F-5 Tiger II’s.
Although it took a while after Top Gun was first founded, the results were astounding. By 1972, the Navy’s Air-to-Air victory ratio over the skies of Vietnam had climbed to 8.7:1, and by 1973, formal US operations in Vietnam had finally ceased.
Contrary to popular belief, the Top Gun School is no longer located in San Diego. Once the Miramar Naval Air Station was transferred over to the Marine Corps in 1996, the school was then moved to Fallon, Nevada, where it remains to this day. However, just off the coast of this incredible city is where the first of a slew of shocking incidents occurred on November 14, 2004, witnessed by an Elite F/A-18 Pilot and Top Gun graduate, Commander David Fravor.
NATE: The following is a now famous article which first broke the story from the New York Times in December 2017.
Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight were on a routine training mission 100 miles out into the Pacific when the radio in each of their F/A-18F Super Hornets crackled: An operations officer aboard the U.S.S. Princeton, a Navy cruiser, wanted to know if they were carrying weapons.
“Two CATM-9s,” Commander Fravor replied, referring to dummy missiles that could not be fired. He had not been expecting any hostile exchanges off the coast of San Diego that November afternoon in 2004.
Commander Fravor, in a recent interview with The New York Times, recalled what happened next. Some of it is captured in a video made public by officials with a Pentagon program that investigated U.F.O.s.
“Well, we’ve got a real-world vector for you,” the radio operator said, according to Commander Fravor. For two weeks, the operator said, the Princeton had been tracking mysterious aircraft. The objects appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, and then hurtled toward the sea, eventually stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Then they either dropped out of radar range or shot straight back up.
The radio operator instructed Commander Fravor and Commander Slaight, who has given a similar account, to investigate.
The two fighter planes headed toward the objects. The Princeton alerted them as they closed in, but when they arrived at “merge plot” with the object — naval aviation parlance for being so close that the Princeton could not tell which were the objects and which were the fighter jets — neither Commander Fravor nor Commander Slaight could see anything at first. There was nothing on their radars, either.
Then, Commander Fravor looked down to the sea. It was calm that day, but the waves were breaking over something that was just below the surface. Whatever it was, it was big enough to cause the sea to churn.
Hovering 50 feet above the churn was an aircraft of some kind — whitish — that was around 40 feet long and oval in shape. The craft was jumping around erratically, staying over the wave disturbance but not moving in any specific direction, Commander Fravor said. The disturbance looked like frothy waves and foam, as if the water were boiling.
Commander Fravor began a circular descent to get a closer look, but as he got nearer the object began ascending toward him. It was almost as if it were coming to meet him halfway, he said.
Commander Fravor abandoned his slow circular descent and headed straight for the object.
But then the object peeled away. “It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he said in the interview. He was, he said, “pretty weirded out.”
The two fighter jets then conferred with the operations officer on the Princeton and were told to head to a rendezvous point 60 miles away, called the cap point, in aviation parlance.
They were en route and closing in when the Princeton radioed again. Radar had again picked up the strange aircraft.
“Sir, you won’t believe it,” the radio operator said, “but that thing is at your cap point.”
“We were at least 40 miles away, and in less than a minute this thing was already at our cap point,” Commander Fravor, who has since retired from the Navy, said in the interview.
By the time the two fighter jets arrived at the rendezvous point, the object had disappeared.
The fighter jets returned to the Nimitz, where everyone on the ship had learned of Commander Fravor’s encounter and was making fun of him.
Commander Fravor’s superiors did not investigate further and he went on with his career, deploying to the Persian Gulf to provide air support to ground troops during the Iraq war. But he does remember what he said that evening to a fellow pilot who asked him what he thought he had seen.
“I have no idea what I saw,” Commander Fravor replied to the pilot. “It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s.”
But, he added, “I want to fly one.” (end of article).
KYLE: To go into more detail about the incident, Cmdr Fravor was piloting an F/A-18F Super Hornet, which is a two seat variant of the fighter, with his WSO (pronounced Wizzo, Weapons Systems Operator) in the back seat, accompanied by another F/A-18F, also the two-seat variant with a WSO in the back, as they launched from their aircraft carrier on route to a combat exercise out over the pacific ocean. Upon being instructed to pursue an unknown radar contact by the USS Princeton and merging into visual range of the object, none of the 4 aircrew could see anything out of the ordinary – until Commander Fravor, while flying at 20,000 feet, looked down and to the right, toward the surface of the ocean, and what he saw took his breath away.
On a clear, cloudless afternoon with peaceful seas and no whitecaps, he noticed something peculiar on the surface of the ocean. He noticed an area of white water, indicative of an object just below the surface. According to Fravor, it was about 40 feet long, whitish in color, and shaped almost like something between a cross and a tic-tac, which rose just above the water. According to Fravor, it was moving erratically, like a ping pong ball bouncing inside of a glass that was being shaken, moving forward, back, left, and right, around the whitewater disturbance that the aircrew had spotted, as if inside of some sort of field of distortion.
NATE: At first glance, Fravor immediately thought it might be a helicopter – but this made no sense, as they were out too far from the ship and any land for that to make sense. There was also no rotor wash on the surface of the ocean, nor did he see any rotors at all.
Fravor decided to go in for a closer look, while the other aircraft remained circling up high, to get separate viewpoints on the object. However, shortly after Fravor began his descent, only having descended a couple thousand feet below his wingman, the object rapidly ascended above the surface of the water, and began to mirror his aircraft’s movement. As he continued his descent, the object began to ascend. Since the object was mirroring his aircraft’s movement effortlessly as they flew around in a circle, Commander Fravor decided to cut across the circle to intercept its flight path. As it crossed the nose of his aircraft about a half a mile away, it began to accelerate, and then in less than a second, it vanished into the distance.
KYLE: Fravor, his WSO, nor the aircrew in the other F/A-18F knew where the object went. Upon investigating the spot where the object was originally spotted, the white water was gone, and the object was no longer anywhere to be seen.
Shortly after the object vanished, the USS Princeton radioed back into the flight crew, telling them that they’re not going to believe it, but that object was now spotted on radar back at their CAP point, the original point where the aircrew were going to hold, about 40 miles off the ship.
In less than 45 seconds, the object had traveled 60 miles. The radar didn’t track it as it flew over to that point – it simply just appeared there within 1 sweep of the radar. No conventional aircraft (that the public is aware of at least) can travel at that speed. Conservatively, this means that it would’ve had to have been traveling at an average speed of AT LEAST 5,000 mph, which is Mach 6.5.
To put this into perspective, the current record holder for world’s fastest jet is the SR-71 Blackbird, with a top speed of Mach 3.3, or about 2,200 MPH.
NATE: Despite flying back to where the object was now detected, the pilots and their backseaters were never able to track it either visually or on their instruments. They ended up returning to their ship safely.
Contrary to popular belief, neither Commander Fravor, nor his wingman or backseater were the ones who took the now famous Tic Tac video footage. Commander Fravor was simply the one who encountered it first, and upon returning to his ship, told the following airmen who were about to take off from the carrier about the incident, who then became determined to find it again. The WSO on one of the 2nd pair of F/A-18F’s that were launched was the one who was able to lock onto the thing and take the now famous video footage.
(The video gets talked about here)
KYLE: Upon the WSO trying to get a radar lock on the object, it began to jam the radar, which technically, is an act of war. The WSO then decides to try and get a passive lock on the object using his targeting pod instead, which is the footage from the now famous incident.
He switches between all the different types of video modes, from Infrared to Black and White video. Based on the infrared video, the object is warmer than the ocean below it, but if this were a type of conventional aircraft, there should be an exhaust plume visible shooting out the back of it, which propels it through the air. However, no exhaust plumes can be seen on the object, which should’ve been clearly visible if there were any.
Although it was being tracked passively through the targeting pod, the onboard radar was not able to give any clear ranging information due to the mysterious aircraft jamming the radar.
NATE: Toward the end of the video, the object simply takes off at an incredibly high rate of speed off to the left of the screen and vanishes.
As it turns out, the radar operators on the ship had been seeing these things on their radar, but nobody informed the pilots about them prior to the incident.
A bit about Fravor: Did you know his callsign was “Sex”? Like “sex favor”?
KYLE: Fravor – He spent 24 years total in the military, first serving as an enlisted Marine for a couple of years, before then being sent to the naval academy to study to become a Naval Officer, then flying 18 years for the navy. He started by flying A-6’s, then F-18 Hornets, then F/A-18 Superhornets. He would go on to graduate from Top Gun, and even protected Los Angeles during 9/11. He achieved every qualification you can get in the F-18. At the time of the incident, he was the commanding officer of VFA-41 The Black Aces.
David Fravor, while on the Joe Rogan Podcast (Episode #1361), he told the story of a Navy Helicopter pilot that he knew. While flying a CH-53 near Puerto Rico on a mission to recover BQM aerial target drones and submarine telemetry torpedo rounds in the ocean, which are like dummy torpedoes fired by submarines on training missions, which record data and then inflate and come up to the surface and float to be later retrieved.
NATE: “The helo drops a swimmer in the water, he hooks the whole thing up and they fly back,” Fravor said. “The first time they were out and they were going to pick up a BQM, he’s sitting in the front—in the CH-53 you can see down by your feet—and as he’s looking down, they’re 50 feet (15 metres) above the water, he sees this kind of dark mass coming up from the depths.”
“He’s looking at this thing going, ‘What the hell is that?’ And then it just goes back down underwater. Once they pull the kid and the BQM out of the water, this object descends back into the depths.”
Just a few months later, the same helicopter pilot saw it happen again.
“He’s out picking up a torpedo, they hook the diver up on the winch, and as they’re lowering him down, he sees this big mass. He goes, ‘It’s not a submarine’. He’s seen submarines before. Once you’ve seen a submarine you can’t confuse it with something else. This big object, kind of circular, is coming up from the depths and he starts screaming through the intercom system to tell them to pull the diver up, and the diver’s only a few feet from the water.
“They reverse the winch and the diver’s thinking, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And all of a sudden he said the torpedo just got sucked down underwater, and the object just descended back down into the depths. They never recovered it.”
KYLE: Lt. Ryan Graves, another F/A-18 Pilot with the Navy, of the VFA-11 “Red Rippers” squadron out of Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, also broke his silence when he came forward about what he and his squadron were seeing over the waters off the coast of Virginia Beach on the East Coast.
According to him, in 2014, his squadron’s F-18’s had their radars upgraded from the APG 73 to the APG 79, which was a vast improvement over the older model. However, after the radars were upgraded, the squadron began noticing peculiar blips on their radars out over the exercise area located more than 10 miles off the coast.
“These things would be out there all day, keeping an aircraft in the air requires a significant amount of energy. With the speeds we observed, 12 hours in the air is 11 hours longer than we’d expect.” Lt. Graves said.
NATE: According to Graves, these objects would have erratic flight patterns, and the ability to remain stationary even under high wind conditions, suggesting that these were NOT balloons.
The matter eventually escalated until two F-18 Hornets nearly collided with one of the objects as it hovered motionless at the exact geographic point and altitude of the entrance to their exercise area – which was described as a “dark grey or black cube inside of a clear or translucent sphere, with the apex of the cube touching the inside of the sphere” . The object passed directly between the two aircraft, which were flying in formation 100 feet apart, narrowly avoiding tragedy.
The near miss incident angered the squadron, and convinced them that their initial theories that these were part of some secret government drone program – were false, as government officials would certainly know better than to operate them in the same area where navy pilots were training in.
KYLE: Lt. Danny Accoin, another F-18 pilot in the same squadron, claimed to have interacted with these objects on two occasions.
On one occasion, he began to merge with an object that he saw on radar, and as he passed 1,000 feet below where it should have been, believing that his helmet camera would be able to pick it up. However, he could not see it visually, despite his radar being able to detect it.
On the 2nd occasion, he got a missile lock on one of the objects with his dummy training missile, and his infrared camera picked it up as well. “I knew I had it, I knew it was not a false hit, but I could not pick it up visually.” Accoin said.
Ultimately, two more videos would be recorded over the waters of the East Coast – now known as the “Gimbal Video” and the “Go Fast” video.
In the Gimbal Video, during an air-to-air training exercise, where Navy pilots would go head-to-head with each other in simulated combat, the WSO in one aircraft noticed a fleet of blips on his radar, initially believing it was part of the training exercise, as new unknown aircraft were joining the exercise.
However, as the pilot of the F-18 flew over to one of the objects, the WSO was able to capture the video footage on his FLIR camera, which you can hear his reaction to in the following clip. Let’s roll clip 2.
(Roll Gimble Footage Audio)
(The video gets talked about here)
NATE: What you don’t see in the video is the SA (Situational Awareness) page that the pilot and WSO have access to, which provides a top-down view of the environment in relation to the plane – and they could see 4-6 more of these objects flying in a wedge formation.
In 2015, another video was taken off the East Coast of Florida. This time, another F-18 WSO was able to track an object moving at a high rate of speed below their aircraft. Much like the previous two videos, he’s able to get a passive lock using his FLIR targeting pod, and the following is the audio from that incident.
(Roll Go Fast Video)
(The video gets talked about here)
Listen to the episode for the full discussion