In 2017, several news organizations revealed the existence of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), a U.S. government funded investigation into unidentified flying objects from 2007 to 2012. This secret $22 million program, however, was not the first of its kind. In fact official government UFO studies began in the 1940s with Project Sign providing some of the most credible videos of aerial phenomenon to date. The 2017 revelation that the U.S. government was actively researching UFOs reignited world interest in UFOs and aliens. Let’s revisit five of the most believable UFO sightings of the 21st century.

The Lights Above the New Jersey Turnpike (2001)

It takes a lot for motorists to stop alongside a highway to look towards the sky, but on July 14, 2001, drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike did just that. For around 15 minutes just after midnight, they marveled at the sight of strange orange and yellow lights in a V formation over the Arthur Kill Waterway between Staten Island, New York, and Carteret, New Jersey. Cataret Police Department’s Lt. Daniel Tarrant was one of the witnesses, as well as other metro area residents from the Throgs Neck Bridge on Long Island and Fort Lee, New Jersey near the George Washington Bridge. Air traffic controllers initially denied that any airplanes, military jets or space flights could have caused the mysterious lights, but a group known as the New York Strange Phenomena Investigators (NY-SPI) claimed to receive FAA radar data that corroborated the UFO sightings of that night.

An image taken from a video released by the Defense Department's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program of a 2004 encounter near San Diego between two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets and an unknown object. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense via The New York Times/Redux)
An image taken from a video released by the Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program of a 2004 encounter near San Diego between two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets and an unknown object. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense via The New York Times/Redux)

The USS Nimitz Encounter (2004)

On November 14, 2004, the USS Princeton noted an unknown craft on radar 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. For two weeks, the crew had been tracking objects which appeared at 80,000 feet and plummeted to hover right above the Pacific Ocean. When two FA-18F fighter jets from the USS Nimitz arrived in the area, they first saw what appeared to be churning boiling water in an oval shape underneath the surface. Then, in a few moments, a white Tic Tac-like object appeared above the water. It had no visible markings to indicate an engine, wings, or windows, and infrared monitors did not reveal any exhaust. Commander David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight of Strike Fighter Squadron 41 attempted to intercept the craft, but it accelerated away, reappearing on radar 60 miles away—it moved three times the speed of sound and twice the speed of the fighter jets. This encounter was one of the stories reported along with the news of AATIP.

O’Hare International Airport Saucer (2006)

Flight 446 was getting ready to fly to North Carolina from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, when a United Airlines employee on the tarmac noticed a dark grey metallic craft hovering over gate C17. That day, November 7, 2006, a total of twelve United employees, and a few witnesses outside the airport, spotted the saucer-shaped craft around 4:15 p.m. The witnesses say it hovered for about 5 minutes before shooting upward where it broke a hole in the clouds, enough that the pilots and mechanics could see the blue sky. The news report became the most read story on Chicago Tribune’s website to that date and made international news. However, because the UFO was not seen on radar, the FAA called it a “weather phenomenon” and declined to investigate.

The Stephenville Sightings (2008)

The small town of Stephenville, Texas 100 miles southwest of Dallas, is mostly known for its dairy farms, but in the evening of January 8, 2008, dozens of its residents viewed something unique in the sky. Citizens reported seeing white lights above Highway 67, first in a single horizontal arc and then in vertical parallel lines. Local pilot Steve Allen estimated that the strobe lights “spanned about a mile long and a half mile wide” traveling about 3,000 miles per hour. No sound was reported. Witnesses believed the event was reminiscent of the Phoenix Lights sightings of 1997. While the U.S. Air Force revealed weeks later that F-16s were flying in the Brownwood Military Operating Areas (just southwest of Stephenville), many townspeople didn’t buy that explanation, believeing that what they saw was too technologically advanced for current human abilities.

East Coast GO FAST Video (2015)

Leaked in 2017 along with the news of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, was a video that revealed an encounter between an F/A-18 Super Hornet and an unidentified flying vehicle. Seen along the East Coast on a Raytheon Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) Pod, the craft was similar to that spotted off San Diego in 2004: It was a fast-moving white oval about 45-feet-long without wings or exhaust plume. The pilots tracked the object at 25,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean as it flew away and simultaneously rotated on its axis. Whether the vehicle was a product of another country’s technology or alien airship remains a mystery.

For more, watch the season premiere of Ancient Aliens Friday, April 27 at 9/8c on HISTORY.