CODEX Entry 7113: USS Nimitz incident 2004
Incident occurred 9:30 PST on November 14th, 2004, off the coast of Southern California in clear weather conditions.
– Lieutenant Colonel Kurth (commanding officer of squadron VMFA-232)
– Commander David Fravor (commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 41)
– Lieutenant Commander Jim Slaight as WSO
– Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Day
– Petty Officer Patrick Hughes
In the first week of November 2004, the USS Princeton, started recording intermittent radar tracks on the AN/SPY-1B passive scanning phased array radar. These tracks included elevation changes of 25,000m in less than a second. Thinking the new radar was malfunctioning, they did multiple restarts and recalibrations of the system. But the tracks simply became clearer. Navy Chief Petty Officer Kevin Day, stationed on the USS Princeton, noticed groups of five to ten traces travelling south in a fixed formation at 8,500m, in the vicinity of the Catalina and San Clemente islands, at 190 km/h. The tracks appeared for a further four days, with occasional binocular sightings.
At 9:30 PST, on the 14th November 2004, the USS Princeton contacted three aircraft of the USS Nimitz that were preparing for training manoeuvres in the area. These were one F/A-18 Hornet and two U.S. Navy Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. They instructed the pilots to investigate the unidentified radar spot. An E-2C Hawkeye aircraft was also contacted, but the signals were too faint to obtain a precise target track.
The pilot of the first aircraft, on approaching the intercept location, noticed a round section of turbulent water about 50-100 meters in diameter. But the aircraft returned to the USS Nimitz without picking up any unknown radar contact. The Navy pilots then reached the intercept location without any contact on their new APG-73 radars. They looked down at the sea and also noticed the turbulent oval area of churning water, as if the waves were breaking over something just under the surface. A few seconds later, they noticed an unusual object hovering with erratic movements at a height of 15 m above the churning water.
Fravor and Slaight described the object as a large bright white Tic Tac, 10m to 15m long, with no windshield, no porthole, no wings, no stabilizer, no vertical fin, no visible engine, and no exhaust plume.
Fravor began a circular descent to approach the object. The object began ascending, mirroring his trajectory. Fravor then made a steeper dive, but at this point the object accelerated and disappeared in less than two seconds. Pilots estimated the speed, from a stationary start, of approximately 80,000km/h. The two fighter jets began a new course to the combat air patrol (CAP) rendezvous point. Within seconds, Princeton radioed the jets that a radar target had appeared 100 km away at the predetermined rendezvous point. Modelling of the data points of the three pilots viewpoints, the object leaving the ATFLIR frame, and tracks on the AN/SPY-1B, “yield a maximum velocity of 168,812 kph at the midway point and an acceleration of 12,250 g-forces¹.”
After the return of the first team to the USS Nimitz, a second crew took off, equipped with an advanced infrared camera (FLIR pod). This camera recorded what appeared to be a moving object. The footage was officially released by the Pentagon more than 13 years later, on 16 December 2017.
According to multiple Princeton sailors, once the incident was over, a Blackhawk helicopter landed on the ship and took all the information regarding the encounters. They state that all data logs of the incident were erased from the ship including the recorders for the ship’s advanced cooperative engagement capability system and the optical drives with all the radio communications. Petty Officer Patrick Hughes was on the deck of the Nimitz at the time, storing the E-2 Hawkeye data recorders in classified safes. He recalls that his commanding officer and two unknown officers, whom he had not seen before, asked him to hand over all the recorders taken from the flight.
After the incidents became public, classified congressional hearings were conducted with the goal of understanding and identifying the potential threat to the safety and security of aviators. The contents of those briefings are classified, An unclassified and redacted summary of the event released by the US military state that the AAV “was no known aircraft or air vehicle currently in the inventory of the United States or any foreign nation” and that it displayed “advanced low observable characteristics” that rendered “U.S. radar based engagement capabilities ineffective.” The AAV also displayed “advanced aerodynamic performance” and greater velocities “than any known aerial vehicle” with no detectable means of producing lift or visible control surfaces. The vehicle was also capable of operating underwater undetected by the Navy’s most advanced sensors. Raytheon has confirmed those videos have been captured by one of their ATFLIR targeting pods mounted on the fighter jets.
Fravor retired from military service in 2006, after a 24-year career, including 18 years as a Navy pilot and deployments in Iraq that began during Operation Desert Storm. Fravor stated the identities of other Naval officers aboard the two fighter jets during his mission on 14 November 2004 had not been released publicly as they were still active in the military.
¹ Powell R, Reali P, Thompson T, Beall M, Kimzey D, Cates L, Hoffman R, A Forensic Analysis of Navy Carrier Strike Group Eleven’s Encounter with an Anomalous Aerial Vehicle