An airline pilot was flying over the Arizona desert when he saw something strange.
The pilot, who was reportedly operating a Learjet late last month for Phoenix Air, had spotted an unfamiliar object pass overhead, so he radioed the regional air traffic control center in Albuquerque.
“Was anybody, uh, above us that passed us like 30 seconds ago?” the pilot said, according to a radio broadcast released this month by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Negative,” an air traffic controller said.
“Okay,” the pilot said. “Something did.”
“A UFO!” someone quickly responded.
“Yeah,” the pilot replied with a chuckle.
It’s still not clear what the pilot saw, although another pilot would soon report the same thing.
Although there has been no confirmation — or even serious suggestions — that the recent incident was related to an unidentified flying object (at least, not the kind portrayed in Hollywood), the U.S. government has investigated sightings over the years.
For the first time last year, the Pentagon confirmed that it had run an operation, known as the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, to investigate reported UFO sightings.
In December, The Post’s Joby Warrick reported:
Current and former Pentagon officials confirm that the Pentagon program has been in existence since 2007 and was formed for the purpose of collecting and analyzing a wide range of “anomalous aerospace threats” ranging from advanced aircraft fielded by traditional U.S. adversaries to commercial drones to possible alien encounters. It is a rare instance of ongoing government investigations into a UFO phenomenon that was the subject of multiple official inquiries in the 1950s and 1960s.
Funding for the program ended in 2012, according to Warrick.
Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the FAA, said in a statement Wednesday to The Washington Post that the air traffic controller was “unable to verify that any other aircraft was in the area.”
But he alluded to several possibilities.
“We have a close working relationship with a number of other agencies and safely handle military aircraft and civilian aircraft of all types in that area every day, including high-altitude weather balloons,” Lunsford said in the statement.
The midair mystery in southern Arizona occurred on the afternoon of Feb. 24 at about 40,000 feet above the Sonoran Desert, according to TheDrive.Com’s War Zone.
Not long after the pilot reported his observations, the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center alerted an American Airlines flight that was flying over the area en route to San Diego.
“American 1095, uh, let me know if, uh, you see anything pass over you here in the next, uh, 15 miles,” an air traffic controller said, according to the audio recording, which was obtained by The Post.
“Let you know if anything passes over us?” the pilot responded.
“American 1095, affirmative,” the controller said. “We had an aircraft in front of you … that reported something pass over him and, uh, we didn’t have any targets. So just, uh, let me know if you see anything pass over you.”
“Alright,” the pilot agreed.
Then someone, who sounded like the first pilot, chimed in again.
“I don’t know what it was,” he said. “It wasn’t an airplane, but it passed us going the opposite direction.”
Moments later, the American Airlines pilot returned to the radio to report what the other had seen.
“It’s American 1095. Yeah, something just passed over us. Uh, I don’t know what it was, but at least two-three thousand feet above us. Yeah, it passed right over the top of us.”
“Okay, American 1095. Thank you,” the controller responded.
He later asked the American Airlines pilot: “Can you tell if it was, uh, in motion or just, uh, hovering?”
The pilot said he could not “make it out — whether it was a balloon or whatnot,” but he noted that the object appeared to have a “big reflection” as it passed them overhead. He said it was traveling “several thousand feet above us, going the opposite direction.”
“Was it a Google balloon?” someone asked.
“Doubtful,” the pilot replied.
Then, someone on the radio reiterated an earlier theory: “UFO.”
American Airlines referred questions to the FAA, and Phoenix Air did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated.