Air Force Pilot’s Bizarre Encounter With Capsule-Like Craft Off Florida Declassified

A U.S. Air Force pilot says they saw something they couldn’t readily identify that was the “size and shape” of an “Apollo spacecraft” during a sortie from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida last year, according to recently declassified documents. Three other unidentified objects were also tracked on radar during the incident, which Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz first publicly disclosed last summer.

Abbas Michael Dharamsey, an independent researcher, obtained the documents relating to the incident in question, which took place on January 26, 2023, over the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, via the Freedom of Information Act. John Greenewald, well known for his use of the FOIA to uncover new details on a wide variety of topics, posted what Dharamsey received on his website The Black Vault earlier today.

A satellite image of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Google Earth

Dharamsey obtained four intelligence reports on the incident that are all redacted almost entirely, as well as two pages from a visitor’s log of some kind that are also largely redacted. However, the release also included a hand drawing of what the pilot claims to have seen, as well as an unclassified summary of the incident.

The Air Force further told Dharamsey that a video from the incident also exists, but that this was being withheld for reasons of national security, according to John Greenewald’s post about the documents on The Black Vault.

The drawing, reproduced at the top of this story and below, shows a broadly pear-shaped object. Annotations on the drawing say that one end had a gun metal coloring, while the other end was gray. A center section is also marked as being “orange redish [sic; reddish].” A note at the bottom appears to say “blurry air” (which could indicate heat distortion or some other kind of disturbance), but “no smoke.”

USAF via FOIA/The Black Vault

This is all in line with the description provided in the unclassified summary. “UAP-1 [was] likened to an ‘Apollo spacecraft’ in size and shape, with an ‘orange-reddish’ illuminated rounded bottom and the top section [consisting of] ‘a three-dimensional cone shape’ comprising ‘gunmetal gray segmented panels,'” it says.

This all does present some extremely broad similarities to the Command and Service Modules used during the Apollo mission to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Command and Service Module used in the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. NASA

“UAP” in the unclassified summary stands for unidentified aerial phenomena, the U.S. government’s current preferred term for what have been called unidentified flying objects (UFO) in the past. “UAP-1” reflects the fact that there were three additional UAPs observed via radar during the incident.

“On 26 Jan 23, an [sic] USAF pilot gained radar lock on four separate UAP,” according to the unclassified summary. “Upon approach, the pilot was able to make visual contact and employ sensors to obtain a screen capture of the first of these objects. The remaining three were only detected by radar.”

“UAP-1 operated at an altitude of about 16,000 above ground level (AGL). The second and third UAPs
were noted at altitudes of 17,000 and 18,000,” the summary adds. “The fourth was lost from radar and no altitude was
noted. Moreover, no airspeeds were noted for any of the UAP in this report.”

“Of note, upon closing to within 4,000 feet of UAP-1, the radar malfunctioned and remained disabled for the remainder of the event,” it continues. “Post-mission investigation revealed that a circuit breaker had triggered, but
that maintenance technicians were unable to conclusively diagnose the fault.”

The full unclassified summary of the UAP incident that occurred over the Gulf of Mexico in January 2023. USAF via FOIA/The Black Vault

Many of these details are also roughly in light with what Matt Gaetz, a Republic Representative from Florida, first disclosed during a hearing in July 2023.

“They saw a sequence of four craft in a clear diamond formation for which there is a radar sequence that I and I alone have observed in the U.S. Congress. One of the pilots goes to check out that diamond formation and sees a large floating, what I can only describe as an orb. Again, like I said, not of any human capability that I am aware of,” Gaetz said at that time. “And when he approached he said that his radar went down. He said that his FLIR [forward-looking infrared] system malfunctioned and that he had to manually take this image from one of the lenses and it was not automated in collection as you would typically see in a test mission.”

The now-released unclassified summary of the incident makes no mention of the failure of any sensor on the aircraft beyond the radar. The summary also does not say what type of aircraft the pilot who saw the object was flying in at the time, though it has been said in the past that they were in an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Raptors have been based at Eglin, which is also a major Air Force test and evaluation hub, since Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base, also in Florida, in 2018.

The F-22 notably does not have a built-in forward-looking infrared system. The Air Force has been testing stealthy pods for the Raptor that contain an infrared search and track sensor system, which is different than a FLIR but could potentially provide basic imagery of the targets they spot under certain conditions. This system is not operational and was very unlikely to have been on this aircraft even if it was an F-22. You can read how IRSTs could help with detecting and tracking UAP here.

What these jets do have is what is called the AN/AAR-56 Passive Missile Approach Warning System (PMAWS) system, which includes an array of staring infrared sensors installed around the aircraft that can provide spherical incoming missile warning and other situational awareness benefits. This system could potentially also have the capability to capture imagery of a target of interest that is relatively close by. While it has been hinted at before, this capability has never been officially disclosed, which is unsurprising considering much of the F-22’s capabilities remain classified.

Once again, we still cannot confirm F-22s were involved at this time.

At the July 2023 hearing, Gaetz said he initially learned of the incident through a legally protected disclosure to his office. He, along with Tim Burchett and Anna Paulina Luna, Republican Representatives from Tennessee and Florida, subsequently traveled to Eglin to get more information.

“We asked to see any of the evidence that had been taken by [the] flight crew in this endeavor and to observe any radar signature … as well as to meet with the flight crew. We were not afforded access to all of the flight crew and, initially, we were not afforded access to [the] images and to [the] radar [data],” Gaetz said. “Thereafter, we had a bit of a discussion about how authorities flow in the United States of America and we did see the image and we did meet with one member of the flight crew who took the image.”

“The image was of something that I am not able to attach to any human capability either from the United States or from any of our adversaries and I am somewhat informed on the matter having served on the Armed Services Committee for seven years, having served on the committee that oversees DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and advanced technologies for several years,” he added.

Without seeing the imagery and other data that was collected during the January 2023 UAP incident over the Gulf of Mexico, it is difficult to independently assess what the pilot may have seen. An Apollo command and service module is just over 36 feet long and nearly 13 feet in diameter. So, if the comment about the UAP being of a similar size is at all accurate, it would have been a relatively large object.

Among what little is unredacted in the four intelligence reports released to Dharamsey are warnings that explicitly say “NOT FINALLY EVALUATED INTELLIGENCE.” The reports were all sent by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation’s (AFOSI) Detachment 104 at Eglin primarily to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). They also appear to have been forwarded to a litany of other intelligence and other offices across the U.S. military and the U.S. Intelligence Community. What subsequent assessments DIA or any of those other entities may have made is unknown.

An example of one of the “NOT FINALLY EVALUATED INTELLIGENCE” warnings on the reports about the January 2023 UAP incident. USAF via FOIA/The Black Vault
A portion fo the front matter from one of the heavily redacted intelligence reports indicating it was forwarded to a wide array of different U.S. military units and government organizations. USAF via FOIA/The Black Vault

There are interestingly no clear indications that any of these reports were sent to the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO). AARO was established in 2022 specifically to assist with the refining and centralizing of policies and procedures for tracking, reporting, and analyzing UAP incidents. The office is also supposed to serve as a central repository of UAP-related intelligence assessments and other data.

In the past two years or so, AARO has assessed dozens of UAP incidents to have actually involved identifiable objects, such as balloons or drones. Over the years, The War Zone has repeatedly highlighted how many such sightings are very likely to be evidence of platforms operated by adversaries or potential adversaries, such as China and Russia, which are being used for intelligence collection or other malign purposes.

Still, if nothing else, “we were told by Matt Gaetz that he attended a classified briefing in which two pilots encountered, what he could best describe as ‘an orb’, during a routine training mission off the Gulf of Mexico. With this FOIA request, we can confirm that the event took place,” Dharamsey told The Black Vault’s John Greenewald. “My next steps are to appeal the request for the video to verify what the object actually looks like, try and find any possible human origin for the craft, and to file more FOIAs with regards to any investigation of the event by AARO or any other government organization.”

Altogether, many questions remain about this UAP incident, but, as Dharamsey notes, there is now no debate that an Air Force pilot reported seeing something highly unusual off the coast of Florida last year.

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