Don’t say “UFO”

For this month’s cover story, we decided to walk readers through the possible explanations for the unidentified aerial phenomena, to use the U.S. Navy’s preferred term, spotted by F/A-18 pilots, their radars and cameras and also off-board sensors.

My inspiration for suggesting this storytelling approach came from entirely unrelated works of journalism, such as “The Body in Room 348” in the April 2013 issue of Vanity Fair and “What really happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane” in the July issue of the Atlantic.

As our reporting got underway, it quickly became clear that there would be a key distinction from those sorts of articles. By the end of “Room 348,” we learn that the explanation for this mysterious death was hidden in the evidence all along. Likewise, the absence of a question mark on the headline of the Atlantic story is no accident. The author lays out the evidence related to the disappearance of flight MH370, and the reader follows the clues to what seems like the only logical conclusion.

We can’t steer you to an explanation for these Navy sightings or even point to a most likely answer. We let the facts tell the story, and the facts point to an ongoing mystery.

We do think we managed to dig into the science and technology related to the accounts in a thought-provoking way. Tone was important, because as entertaining as this topic is, it’s also serious. Americans count on the U.S. Navy, among other agencies, to divine the capabilities of potential adversaries and be ready to win against them. The Navy seems as mystified as anyone by these fast, highly agile phenomena that sparked words of amazement from its pilots.

My hope is that one day someone will find one of these craft, if indeed these strange blurs are aircraft. I can picture the object hauled ashore at a boat ramp, in front of spectators and their smartphones. Or, if someone in the U.S. or abroad is keeping a secret, perhaps the reasons for that secret will fade and the time will become right to reveal the explanation for these phenomena. When that happens, I plan to look back on this article in search of signs that we were at least getting warm.

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Military Aircraft

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

Don’t say “UFO”