That was on 14 November 2004 after just taking over command of VFS-41 Black Aces, a squadron of US F18 Superhornet fighters. Not only had he just taken command of the squadron but he was preparing them for deployment downrange to support one of the many needless wars around the world.
It was the first time flying off the carrier in a while. They were integrating the Princeton Aegis Cruiser as well, a multi-billion dollar warship with the newest, most advanced radar system.
That SPY-1 radar system had been seeing contacts come down from space the previous two weeks while the ships were practicing maneuvers in W-291 off the Coast of San Diego. On the 14th of Nov, Fravor was leading the first training mission off the Nimitz Aircraft Carrier.
Kevin Day, a Top Gun radar controller, asked the Captain of the Princeton if they could have the fighters check out one of the weird contacts. The ship’s radar system checked out okay. So it wasn’t their radar system. Plus they were seeing the objects with binoculars at the same location. The Captain of the Princeton agreed.
Soon after Fravor’s two-ship of F-18s took off, the controller on the Princeton gave them a vector towards the nearest unknown contact.
“Target Bearing 270 for 60 miles,” the controller said.
CDR Fravor turned his plane to the west. His wingman, a mile behind him followed along.
The two fighters didn’t see anything on the radar during the 7 minutes it took to get to the location.
It was a crystal clear day with no white caps. The sea was a solid clear blue, almost the same colour as the sky. They reached the location 60 miles south of San Nicolas Island and 100 miles from the San Diego coast.
“Merge Plot!” The controller yelled on the radio.
Merge plot meant they were at the same location as the contact.
The 4 aviators, a pilot and weapons system operator in each jet, searched up and down for an aircraft.
Fravor noticed a small white patch on the otherwise flat blue sea.
“It looked like something was just under the water and the white water was breaking over it. It was in the shape of a cross, like an airplane just under the surface. The long side was oriented towards the east,” Fravor said in an interview with Joe Rogan.
Based on the shape Fravor initially thought it was a crashed airplane.
It was about the size of a 737.
Then a call came over the radio from his wingman’s jet.
“Skipper! Do you…?” the wingman’s backseater said.
At that moment Fravor saw a small white craft moving just above the breakwater. It was going back and forth, north-south and then east-west.
“Must be a helicopter,” Fravor thought.
But he was confused when he didn’t see the tell-tale rotor wash from the downforce of their rotors on the ocean surface.
Reenactment of the Famous TIC TAC Visual Engagement
Come to think of it there weren’t rotors, wings, or anything else for that matter. It didn’t move like a helicopter either. It seemed to just change direction without inertia. In fact, it looked just like a smooth Tic-Tac candy.
“I’m going down for a closer look,” Fravor said and started a descent from a circular orbit at 20,000 feet. As he passed 18,000 feet the object, which up until now was strictly pointed north-south, stopped and pointed east-west. It then started a climbing turn and mirrored Fravor’s fighter across the circle.
“Okay…this is getting interesting,” Fravor thought.
Imagine going around a very large spiral staircase. The tic-tac was climbing up and Fravor was descending down on the other side.
In just a few seconds, the tic-tac climbed up to Fravor’s altitude from a complete standstill. That is not possible for any known modern aircraft.
Modern fighters have to use kinetic energy to climb 2-3 miles vertically. The thrust of course makes it easier to climb that distance, but you still need kinetic energy.
Fravor flew across the circle from the tic-tac for another 30 seconds before he decided to try and rejoin for a closer look.
Fravor over-rotated his fighter to cut across the circle. This is a standard rejoin maneuver but also what fighters do to execute a guns attack.
As Fravor pulled the Tic Tac to his nose to complete the rejoin and fly alongside the Tic Tac, the object started to accelerate across our nose and then “poof…disappeared.”
“Okay…” Fravor said on the radio, “does anyone see the object?”
“It’s gone skipper,” his wingmen said.
They turned the jets to see what was under the breakwater but there was no breakwater. Just clear blue ocean.
“I’m kind of weirded out,” Fravor said to his backseater.
The two fighters were completely alone over the ocean.
With nothing else to investigate Fravor turned his two-ship back towards the CAP point near the ship, to continue the mission.
“You’re not gonna believe this Skipper,” the controller said, “but that thing is back at your CAP point!”
What? The CAP point was 60 miles away at that point. Did it fly there in 30? That’s not possible.
Fravor continued the planned mission and landed, never seeing the famous tic-tac again. But. after landing he told Chad Underwood what he saw. Chad took off and filmed the famous FLIR1 video we see online.
I’m a retired F16 pilot now happily living in Lagos with my family. To see my video recreation of this event check out my YouTube channel “Chris Lehto” or see the video embedded in this article
Support me on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/chrislehto for behind-the-scenes access and other benefits.