In 2004, Navy Pilot Chad Underwood was on a flight-training exercise near the California coast when he spotted and filmed an unidentified flying object with an infrared gun-camera pod. The video of the 12-metre-long oblong mass travelling about 222 km per hour—now known as the “Tic Tac”—was released in a 2017 New York Times report about the Pentagon’s UFO research program, reigniting public fascination with mysteries in the skies.
On Wednesday, New York magazine published the first interview with Underwood, who spotted the strange object after his then-commanding officer Dave Fravor told him he had seen something on his earlier flight, and after the USS Princeton had captured something on its radar.
“So, we go out to where our designated training area is,” Underwood described the incident to New York magazine. “We’re not necessarily looking for something, but the Princeton had a specific object that they wanted us to hunt, for lack of a better word. And all of a sudden, I got this blip on my radar.”
Underwood said he didn’t see the “Tic Tac”—a nickname he said he coined—with his own eyes, as he was focused on recording it. “I was more concerned with tracking it, making sure that the videotape was on so that I could bring something back to the ship, so that the intel folks could dissect whatever it is that I captured,” he said.
But when he caught the Tic Tac on the thermal imaging camera, he was baffled “The thing that stood out to me the most was how erratic it was behaving. And what I mean by ‘erratic’ is that its changes in altitude, airspeed, and aspect were just unlike things that I’ve ever encountered before flying against other air targets,” Underwood said.
“It was just behaving in ways that aren’t physically normal,” he continued. “Because, aircraft, whether they’re manned or unmanned, still have to obey the laws of physics. They have to have some source of lift, some source of propulsion. The Tic Tac was not doing that. It was going from like 50,000 feet (15 kilometres) to, you know, a hundred feet (30 metres) in like seconds, which is not possible.”
Its movement wasn’t the only thing that stood out to Underwood. He observed that the object wasn’t “emitting a heat plume,” and didn’t show any typical signs of propulsion or exhaust.
When the pilot landed, a friend from another squadron poked fun at him, and jokingly asked if he had also seen something weird in the sky, Underwood recalled. “And I was like, ‘Actually, MFer, because I know you want to make fun of me, I got it here on video.”