Panic in the skies

In early February 2023, a media frenzy was caused by a spectacular video of a Chinese stratospheric balloon, shot down by an American jet fighter. In total, four objects flying in American airspace were neutralized. Three of which remain officially unidentified.


Published 2023-04-24 at 10:55

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A reminder of the facts

An imposing balloon (three buses in diameter) officially started its journey over the state of Montana. The date was 1 February 2023. After a week-long travel from Alaska to the coast of South Carolina, passing over sensitive areas such as the Malmström nuclear base, the object was finally neutralized on February 4 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile fired from an Air Force F-22. The video of this final assault soon set the web alight.

This event started a series of high-profile flyovers: off the coast of Alaska (10 February), over the Canadian territory of Yukon (11 February) and over Lake Huron in Michigan (12 February).

The object shot down off the northeast coast of Alaska was described by reports as cylindrical and silvery-grey, without being categorically identified as a balloon. The object shot down over the Yukon was described by Canadian authorities as a "small cylindrical object", which some believe to be a balloon with a metallic coating.

This surprising series of overflights was completed on 12 February. That object was also shot down by an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile at an altitude of 20,000 feet. F-16s from Madison, Wisconsin were deployed for the mission this time.

An audio recording of this moment shows that the pilots seemed quite puzzled as to the nature of the object. Their description was of an apparently octagonal shape with strings hanging down from the structure. As for the altitude and trajectory, they seemed to present a threat to air traffic, however not dangerous to the population on the ground, according to the official explanation by the Pentagon.

The difficulty of visually describing the structure lay in the fact that its speed was very slow compared to an F-16. The stall speed of the military aircraft being approximately 230 kmph (140 mph) the pilot could only approach the targeted object at a speed dwarfing that of any car going at maximum (legal) highway speed.

These events led the official authorities to organize a classified briefing for the American representatives and more particularly for the elected officials most involved in the subject. The meeting was held on February 14 with members of Congress, two days after the last shoot-down. The panel of experts included General Glen VanHerck, Head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Morgan Muir, Senior Intelligence Officer, Melissa Dalton, Deputy Secretary of Defense and Sean Kirkpatrick, Head of AARO.

This trend towards transparency with elected officials and by extension with the American people regarding the UAP phenomenon partially stem, on the one hand, from events related to the release of the New York Times article in December 2017, and on the other hand, from counter-intelligence officer Lue Elizondo’s resignation, just a few weeks prior to the release of the article, from his position as head of AATIP (a research program relating to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena named "Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program"). Said resignation was caused, according to him, by a blockage in the chain of command and a certain blindness from his superiors concerning air safety.

The issues of contention were that unknown craft had been popping up in American skies for decades, causing multiple "near misses", and that anyone who wanted to report these sightings would meet intense stigma.

Seal of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Seal of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Source : Wikipedia Commons

What was AARO’s role?

This structure, affiliated with both the DOD (Department of Defense) and the ODNI (Office of the Director of Intelligence), was created in July 2022 to investigate sightings of unidentified craft moving through the air, under the sea, or in space (hence the mention "All Domain" in the official acronym).

During this recent series of events, AARO should have been at the forefront of the media as well as the operations. However, its absence was noticed despite the fact that its director was present at the classified briefing on February 14.

Better still, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, at the instigation of President Biden, announced the creation of a new working group led by National Security Council’s Jake Sullivan. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, also a fervent defender of increased transparency on the UAP phenomenon, was upset by this apparently illogical decision, noting redundancy with AARO’s main mission. Was the Biden administration trying to bypass the newly-formed agency? That’s anybody’s guess at this point.

Picture of Florida Senator Marco Rubio
Senator of Florida Marco Rubio. Source : Wikimedia Commons

A viable situation?

Should a plane worth an estimated $300 million be dispatched to launch a nearly $400,000 missile every time an unusual object enters U.S. airspace?

What’s more, with radar filters now tuned to detect small, slow-moving objects, this type of encounter is likely to be repeated.

 The other three : what was shot down?

Information about the nature of the three objects that followed the identification and subsequent downing of the Chinese balloon came to light as the journalistic investigations progressed. An article in renowned magazine Aviation Week, proposes that the unknown object that flew over the Yukon could have been a "Pico" balloon, that is to say a small balloon of 90 cm in diameter with a light radio and some device allowing it to reach an altitude of 50,000 feet (about 15 km). The other two objects have been described as a kind of hobby balloon, costing between 12 and 180 dollars each.

However, both the FBI and the OSD have rejected the hypothesis of a Pico balloon despite the fact that a group of amateurs have come forward about the Yukon overflight. The individuals claimed to have lost one of their balloons during the shoot-down in that area. However, no such group reported any loss of the other two objects, leaving the mystery unresolved. The decision of the authorities not to go and look for the debris have fueled various hypotheses, even the most exotic ones.

Should an aerial mystery mean a mess on the ground, especially in the hushed corridors of the Pentagon and in the White House? And is there an actual will to clarify the subject for the general public?

Photo of  Gen Glen D. VanHerck.
General Glen D. VanHerck. Source : Wikimedia Commons

Smoke screen, or an indication of a real, imminent threat?

Following these events, U.S. Air Force General and head of NORAD Glen VanHerck, responding to a reporter's question, did not exclude that the three craft could have been of extraterrestrial origin.

Beyond this extreme statement, what could be the reasons for this sudden media attention, and for this drive to destroy what seems to be more or less evolved balloons? How to explain this sudden or simulated improvisation from prestigious NORAD and NORTHCOM with, supposedly, President Biden at the end of the decision chain?

What if the U.S. government has information that the general public does not? In the case of an imminent threat, whether terrestrial or exogenous, as in the 1952 Washington Carousel case (an event that had already caused some panic from the authorities), these apparent signs of hesitancy may reflect actual fear or, conversely, the knowledge of an exceptional situation that escapes the public as much as the elected officials, who are nevertheless demanding accountability.

Following the classified briefing, Louisiana Senator John Neely Kennedy displayed his incredulity to journalists: "if you are confused, you understand the situation perfectly".

Beyond these events, a more global phenomenon

If these recent events are the work of a foreign power or of amateurs, the origin of another, much more exogenous phenomenon, remains unknown. The multitude of testimonies mentioning devices displaying absolutely fascinating capacities, like during the Nimitz incidents in 2004, or further back in time during the “battle of Los Angeles” in 1942, or the overflight of the Malmström base in 1967, epitomizes a situation that nobody fully understands to this day.

Main picture: Photo by Pixabay

Sébastien Raoult

Sebastien works in a Software company, he has been a MUFON FRANCE investigator and an assistant editor at Ovnis, Science et Histoire magazine. He also helped write a book on UAP (UFOs, They Lied To Us by French author Nicolas Augusto). He is currently involved with TV shows Paranormal Investigations on French channel C8 and Enquêtes Mystérieuses on French channel RMC Story.