A radio transmission from an American Airlines from Cincinnati to Phoenix last weekend might have been ripped straight from the X-Files.
“Do you have any targets up here? We just had something go right over the top of us,” said the pilot at 1:19 p.m. CST on Sunday. “I hate to say this but it looked like a long cylindrical object that almost looked like a cruise missile type of thing moving really fast right over the top of us,” according to audio published on aviation blog Deep Black Horizon.
The blogger, Steve Douglass, intercepted the transmission accidentally as he was trying to pick up another aircraft with a radio scanner. “It was a pure coincidence,” he told The Arizona Republic.
Douglass used two flight tracking websites, Flightradar24 and Flight Aware, to determine that the exact position of the plane was “over the northeast corner of New Mexico west of Clayton, New Mexico” at an altitude of 37,000 feet.
Douglass’ blog post includes a link to download the audio MP3 file, which he named “UFO.”
Following a debrief with the flight crew, American Airlines confirmed that the radio transmission came from flight 2292.
Yesterday, the FAA released a short statement: “A pilot reported seeing an object over New Mexico shortly after noon local time on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. FAA air traffic controllers did not see any object in the area on their radarscopes.”
While authorities may never be able to explain what the missile-like object was, it’s not the first time a pilot has spotted unexplained flying phenomena. In fact, it happens fairly regularly.
A remarkably similar incident occurred over the Sonoran Desert three years ago. On February 24, 2018, within minutes of each other, two pilots flying different aircraft — a Phoenix Air Group Learjet and an American Airlines commercial flight — both reported passing a mysterious object, according to audio recordings released by the Federal Aviation Administration to the Phoenix New Times several weeks later.
“Was anybody above us that passed us like 30 seconds ago?” the Learjet pilot asked an air traffic controller. “Negative,” replied the tower.
In November 9, 2018, a British Airways pilot flying over Ireland reported seeing “a very bright light that disappeared at very high speed,” reported The Guardian. A Virgin Airlines pilot confirmed seeing it, too: “Multiple objects following the same sort of trajectory – very bright from where we were.”
Experts say there is usually a very logical explanation for UFO sightings, and the U.S. government has had a famously long history of being tight-lipped on the subject. In recent years, however, there’s been some notable movement on that front.
In 2017, the Pentagon acknowledged the existence of a $22-million Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program that had investigated reports of “unexplained aerial phenomena” from 2007 until it was shut down in 2012.
In April 2019 the U.S. Navy announced it was modifying how pilots reported UFO sightings in favor of a more data-driven approach, telling Politico that there had been “a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years.”
The next month, five Navy pilots told the New York Times that they had frequently seen unidentified flying objects that looked like white Tic Tacs or spinning tops off the Eastern seaboard from Virginia to Florida between 2014 and 2015. The objects, they said, reached hypersonic speeds and he