What, exactly, did the Navy encounter 15 years ago off the Southern California coast, when fighter pilots spotted a UFO? These men were there, too—and it's time they tell their side of the story.
Source: Popular Mechanics
The five men share an easy rapport with each other, playfully ribbing one another while also communicating a deep sense of mutual respect. It’s clear they all share the bond of having once served in the armed forces. Yet for Gary Voorhis, Jason Turner, P.J. Hughes, Ryan Weigelt, and Kevin Day—assembled together in a private group chat by Popular Mechanics—something much bigger ties them together beyond simply serving in the U.S. Navy.
These men also share a connection of being witnesses to one of the most compelling UFO cases in modern history: the Nimitz UFO Encounters, an event that the Navy recently confirmed indeed involved “unidentified aerial phenomena.”
Largely overshadowed by a grainy black-and-white video, and a former Topgun fighter pilot eyewitness, these veterans offer new and intriguing details on what occurred with the Navy’s Strike Carrier Group-11 as it sailed roughly 100 miles off the Southern California coast in 2004—details that a former career intelligence agent who investigated the Nimitz Encounter while at the Pentagon can neither confirm, deny, or even discuss with Popular Mechanics.
Ultimately, these five men—the “other” Nimitz witnesses—could be key to understanding an event that a leading aviation defense expert says “likely wasn’t ours.”
So whose was it?
Stationed on the USS Princeton, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, as the Nimitz carrier group went underway in early November 2004 for a routine training exercise, this would be the last time former Petty Officer 3rd Class Gary Voorhis would set sail aboard a Navy vessel.
Having already done almost six years in the Navy, including two combat tours, Voorhis was ready to transition to life outside the world of passionless grey metal hulls and vast leavening seas.
“The group was going to be deploying in a few months and there was a bunch of new systems, like the Spy-1 Bravo radar,” Voorhis tells Popular Mechanics. “It was really about getting all the kinks out.”
While chatting with some of the Princeton’s radar techs, Voorhis says he heard they were getting “ghost tracks” and “clutter” on the radars. For Voorhis, the Princeton’s only system technician for the state-of-the-art Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) and AEGIS Combat System, news of these systems possibly malfunctioning was especially concerning.
Fearing the ship’s brand new AN/SPY-1B passive radar system was malfunctioning, Voorhis says the air control systems were taken down and recalibrated in an effort to clear out—what’s assumed to be false radar returns.
“Once we finished all the recalibration and brought it back up, the tracks were actually sharper and clearer,” Voorhis says. “Sometimes they’d be at an altitude of 80,000 or 60,000 feet. Other times they’d be around 30,000 feet, going like 100 knots. Their radar cross sections didn’t match any known aircraft; they were 100 percent red. No squawk, no IFF (Identification Friend or Foe).”
Sitting in the Princeton’s Combat Information Center (CIC), Operations Specialist Senior Chief Kevin Day was tasked with the critical role of protecting the airspace around the strike group. “My job was to man the radars and ID everything that flew in the skies,” Day said in the documentary film The Nimitz Encounters.
On or around November 10, 2004, roughly 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, Day began noticing strange radar tracks near the area of San Clemente Island. “The reason why I say they’re weird [is] because they were appearing in groups of five to 10 at a time and they were pretty closely spaced to each other. And there were 28,000 feet going a hundred knots tracking south,” Day said in the documentary.
In another YouTube clip, Ryan Weigelt, the former Leading Petty Officer and power plant specialist for the SH-60B “Seahawk” helicopter, recalled the tone aboard the missile cruise at the time.
“Senior Chief Day, his name, was being called over the comms, no bullshit, every two minutes.” Weigelt said. “I recall hearing something, like a big, real-world scenario was going on, but I just didn’t really understand.”
While Day and the Princeton’s air traffic controllers continued to monitor the strange radar returns, Voorhis says he began to take the opportunity to use the ship’s advanced tracking systems to catch a glimpse of whatever these objects were.
“When they’d show up on radar,” Voorhis says, “I’d get the relative bearing and then run up to the bridge and look through a pair of heavily magnified binoculars in the direction the returns were coming from.” Describing what he saw during the daytime, Voorhis says the objects were too far off to make out any distinguishing features, however, he could clearly see something moving erratically in the distance.
“I couldn’t make out details, but they’d just be hovering there, then all of a sudden, in an instant, they’d dart off to another direction and stop again,” Voorhis says. “At night, they’d give off a kind of a phosphorus glow and were a little easier to see than in the day.”
By November 14, the strange returns had been continuously showing up for close to a week. With an air defense exercise scheduled for that morning, Day convinced his commanding officer to let him direct aircraft to attempt an intercept of these anomalous radar returns. Day’s decision led the VFA-41 Squadron Commander David Fravor to encounter what an “unofficial executive summary” later described as “an elongated egg or a ‘Tic Tac’ shape with a discernible midline horizontal axis” of approximately 46 feet in length.
With the intercept too far away for even high-powered binoculars, Voorhis, Day, and the rest of the Princeton could only listen to the live communications chatter, as the unidentified craft effortless evaded the two fighter jets by demonstrating “an advanced acceleration, aerodynamic, and propulsion capability.” Outmaneuvered by an object that’s colloquially become known for its shape as the “Tic Tac,” Fravor and his wingman returned to the USS Nimitz.
In a subsequent flight by another F/A-18, thanks to a state-of-the-art ATFLIR targeting pod, Lt. Chad Underwood would successfully capture video of the “Anomalous Aerial Vehicle,” or “AAV.”
For 13 years, the incredible story of the U.S. Navy being harassed and outperformed by UFOs went largely unknown by the greater public. However, in December 2017, after To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science—a verbosely named UFO think tank founded by former Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge—and the New York Times published a 1:16 clip of the ATFLIR video, the world suddenly became very familiar with the “Nimitz encounters.”
What hasn’t been discussed, however, is what the Nimitz’s enlisted witnesses say happened after the now famous intercept with the “Tic Tac.” Their testimony raises many more questions, debate, and even some controversy.
Like many of the other sailors aboard the USS Princeton, former Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Turner knew something was up, but didn’t exactly know what had been going on inside the CIC. It was only during a chance encounter while delivering supplies to the ship’s Signal Exploitation Space that Turner found himself being another unwitting witness to the Nimitz’s UFO event.
A video playing on one of the console monitors immediately caught Turner’s eye. In it, the “Tic Tac” performed a number of seemingly impossible maneuvers, not seen in the brief clip released in 2017. Turner described what he saw in the Nimitz Encounters documentary:
“This thing was going berserk, like making turns. It’s incredible the amount of g forces that it would put on a human. It made a maneuver, like they were chasing it straight on, it was going with them, then this thing stopped turning, just gone. In an instant. The video you see now, that’s just a small snippet in the beginning of the whole video. But this thing, it was so much more than what you see in this video.”
Even now, Turner still appears visibly disturbed by whatever it is he saw that day. “I asked a good friend of mine who worked in that area, is this the training we’re going through?” he tells Popular Mechanics.
“No,” the friend replied. “This is real life.”
Equally by chance, during the time of the now-famous intercept, after being called to have a conversation with another detachment, Ryan Weigelt found himself inside the Princeton’s CIC. According to Weigelt, a video of an F/A-18 trying its best to catch the elusive “Tic Tac” was playing on the monitors. Like Turner, Weigelt says what he saw was a lot longer than the brief clip released in 2017.
“I was in there for quite a while and it was on the screen the whole time. I could not tell you how long, but it was playing when I went into combat and it was playing when I left,” Weigelt said in a YouTube interview.
Voorhis tells Popular Mechanics that he, too, saw a much longer and clearer version of the ATFLIR video through the ship’s Top Secret LAN network. “I definitely saw video that was roughly 8 to 10 minutes long and a lot more clear,” Voorhis says.
Did what he saw resemble any type of conventional aircraft?
“Umm, no!” he says with a laugh. “In the video I saw, you got a good sense of how the pilot was having a difficult time trying to keep up with this thing. It kept making tight, right angle turns.”
The most shocking claim these Navy veterans make is in what they say happened with all the data tapes for the various systems that recorded these UFO events.
Miles away from Voorhis, Day, Turner, and Weigelt, on the deck of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, Petty Officer Patrick “PJ” Hughes was unaware of the unidentified objects the Carrier group had been dealing with for the past several days. Instead, as an aviation technician, one of Hughes’ jobs was to secure the hard drive data recorders from the airborne early-warning aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye.
“We call them bricks, but they contain the software to run the airplane and they also record or can record a lot of the data that the air crew sees during the flight,” said Hughes in a YouTube interview.
On November 14, as Hughes performed this routine task, he was unaware that the E-2 hard drives he was securing away in a classified safe had just come from the Hawkeye that Day first tried to use to intercept the mysterious UFOs.
Shortly after securing the data bricks, Hughes said he was visited by his commanding officer and two unknown individuals. “They were not on the ship earlier, and I didn’t see them come on. I’m not sure how they got there,” said Hughes of the two men.
According to Hughes, his commanding officer told him to turn over the recently secured harddrives. “We put them in the bags, he took them, then he and the two anonymous officers left,” Hughes said.
Inside the Princeton, Voorhis had a similar encounter. “These two guys show up on a helicopter, which wasn’t uncommon, but shortly after they arrived, maybe 20 minutes, I was told by my chain of command to turn over all the data recordings for the AEGIS system,” says Voorhis.
In addition to turning over his data tapes, Voorhis says he was told by this chain of command he needed to reload the recorders for the ship’s advanced Combat Engagement Center (CEC) because it had also been wiped clean, along with the optical drives with all the radio communications. “They even told me to erase everything that’s in the shop—even the blank tapes.” Voorhis says the only other time he can recall having to turn over his tapes like this was after an aircraft crash during one of his combat deployments.
Up on the Princeton’s flight deck, Weigel says the two men initially arrived on the Princeton via helicopter, wearing generic flight suits. According to Weigelt, the men boarded one of his detachment’s SH-60B helicopters and flew off for a time before returning with “a bunch of bags.” Weigelt says the two men retired to the “Admiral’s Quarters”on the Princeton and a guard was staged outside of the door.
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Source: Popular Mechanics