Solar powered drones may muddy the waters of UFOs, but the US Department of Defense is now tasked with letting the public in on their investigations (screenshot via US DOD).

Drones, UFOs, Chinese Spy Balloons, & More: What Else Is Up There?

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In a case of near-perfect timing, Nat Geo TV will begin unspooling a new series, UFOs: Investigating the Unknown, on Monday, February 13. This comes on the heels of three suspicious-looking objects flying over US and Canadian air space, intentions unknown but definitely suspicious enough to be brought down by US fighter jets in all three cases. The skies certainly are getting crowded, and new solar powered drone technology could add to the confusion.

UFOs: How Much Do We Know?

CleanTechnica had a chance to speak with investigative journalist Leslie Kean last month, just a few days before the now-infamous Chinese spy balloon drifted across the US and set everyone talking about UFOs. Kean is the author of UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, published in 2010.

In 2017 Kean cemented her reputation in the field of UFO investigations when she broke the story of the Pentagon’s $22 million UFO program in The New York Times along with reporters Helene Cooper and Ralph Blumenthal. It appeared under the title, Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program.

“…the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift,” Kean and her colleagues reported.

The Pentagon UFO program also studied videos, including a 2004 recording of a “whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego.”

Funding for the program apparently began in 2007 and was terminated in 2012, though Kean and her colleagues reported that officials at the Pentagon continued to look into anomalous sightings described by Navy pilots and other service members.

Following is our conversation with Kean, edited for clarity and flow.

CleanTechnica: How has the state of knowledge about UFOs changed between 2017 and 2023?

Kean: There’s a lot of knowledge or data that is classified. There is no way a member of the public has any idea what they [the US Department of Defense] know and what they don’t know.

All the briefings have been classified, but there is always a trend towards more and more data collection because the technology is getting more sophisticated.

Also, now that the Navy has asked its pilots to file reports, they are getting more eyewitness accounts.

ODNI [the Office of the Director of Naval Intelligence] has released some reports to the public as required by Congress, but the feeling is they have a lot more data now and they are actively looking for more data.

It also depends what you mean by knowledge. Data collection is one thing, but what [UFOs] are and why they are here is another level of knowledge.

Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

Somewhere along the road, the Pentagon adopted UAP — Unidentified Aerial Phenomena — as its preferred name for things in the air that defy explanation, in an attempt to focus attention on documentation rather than getting into the weeds of belief or disbelief. However, “believing in” UFOs continues to persist as a frame of reference.

CleanTechnica: How do you address expressions of disbelief in UFOs?

Kean: Especially since 2017, it isn’t a question of disbelief. Our government has stated that these are real physical objects. Unidentified Aerial Phenomena is a much broader term that encapsulates things that might not be flying.

There is a confusion about what a UFO actually means. People think it means aliens are coming from other planets, so it’s fair enough to say you’re not going to believe in that. If they understand what we’re really talking about, then they need to know there are government documents showing these things actually exist.

CleanTechnica: In terms of data and confirmed reporting, are there parallels with the denial of climate science?

Kean: There is a kind of denialism that is similar to climate change…the reasoning might be different than the climate change deniers, but with UFOs it’s a challenge to your perception of what reality is and who we are. Some people are just not going to go there.

The difference is that the UFO issue is completely bipartisan, at least within government. It has a national security element.

It also has a more transcendent element that attracted me in the first place. It’s a planetary existential issue that transcends politics and transcends a personal stake that someone might have in something.

One of the hardest groups to win over in terms of open-mindedness is the scientific community. They want to protect their worldview of how the world works, how physics works…Some people feel that what’s observed about UFOs is challenging our basic ideas about physics.

What Goes Up…

The familiar quadcopter drones of today are capable of maneuvers outside of the bounds of conventional aircraft, though not outside of the bounds of conventional physics. Still, with new drones coming on the market practically by the minute, it’s like that UAP reports will become more frequent than ever before.

Of course, there was no mistake about the Chinese Spy balloon. That was a balloon. It sported an array of solar panels that was probably not big enough to provide for propulsion, though it could power intelligence-gathering equipment.

As of February 11, the owner of the next three UFOs to hit US airspace had yet to be identified.

Speaking of drones and the Peoples’ Republic of China, the PRC reports that Aviation Industry Corp of China is developing a solar powered drone capable of near-space, long duration operations, with near space defined as between 20 and 100 kilometers — higher than aviation flight patterns, but lower than satellites.

Drone swarm light shows are another new trend that could muddy the UFO waters. If you can think of any others, drop us a note in the comment thread.

More Data On More UFOs

As for the data on UFO sightings, in 2021 the US Department of Defense finally delivered a report to Congress. Last July, the also announce that the existing Airborne Object Identification and Management Group in ODNI was expanded and renamed as the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office.

That action expanded the investigations into marine environments and elsewhere in accord with the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

“The mission of the AARO will be to synchronize efforts across the Department of Defense, and with other U.S. federal departments and agencies, to detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in, on or near military installations, operating areas, training areas, special use airspace and other areas of interest, and, as necessary, to mitigate any associated threats to safety of operations and national security. This includes anomalous, unidentified space, airborne, submerged and transmedium objects,” the DOD explained.

On January 12,  AARO issued its first anomalous objects report, though some news organizations continued to reference the more familiar term of UFO.

“The Pentagon’s new office for investigating potential UFO sightings received hundreds of new reports in 2022, and while it can explain more than half of those events, a sizable chunk remains a mystery,” NPR observed, adding that the office is still studying 171 instances that “appear to have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities, and require further analysis.”

Want to know more about what the Defense Department knows? Check out a snippet of UFOs: Investigating the Unknown on YouTube, or watch the whole series.

Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post:  @tinamcasey

Image: Screenshot, 2022 UFO report via US Department of Defense.


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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