Blenus Green, a retired B-1 pilot who now flies for American Airlines, sounded amazed and couldn't seem to help smiling as he described seeing a UFO last month over Arizona.
News coverage of the astonishing sight blew up this week, a few weeks after Phoenix New Times — following a TheDrive.com story — published an article and Federal Aviation Administration audio recordings on March 9.
On Wednesday, the first interview of the Abilene, Texas, pilot aired on his hometown TV station, KTAB/KRBC-TV, describing what he saw from his American Airlines cockpit. New Times also interviewed the vice president of Phoenix Air Group, whose Learjet pilot also saw the weird object.
As reported previously, the Learjet pilot reported to Albuquerque Center air traffic control on the afternoon of February 24 that he saw something bright and inexplicable fly over him, which would have put the object at about 40,000 feet.
After that, as Green told "Big Country" news reporter Pheban Kassahun in her exclusive interview, Albuquerque Center "asked us if we could just be on the lookout, see if we see anything."
Kassahun reported that Green has been flying for 20 years and displayed a photo of him in an Air Force uniform. On that day, American Airlines Flight 1095 was flying from San Diego to Dallas. Somewhere over the Sonoran Desert between Picacho and Mammoth, Green saw what the Learjet pilot had seen.
"So sure enough, I was looking out the windscreen to see if it was there, and yeah, I did. I saw it!" Green said in the interview. "It was very bright, but it wasn't so bright you couldn't look at it. You almost really wanted to look at it, to try to figure out what it was. It didn't look anything like an airplane."
In the FAA tape, an Albuquerque Center official asks Green to describe the object. He said it was flying several thousand feet above his Airbus and going "in the opposite direction."
Someone then asked the pilot if it was a "Google balloon."
"Doubtful," Green replied on the FAA tape.
"What was weird about it, (is) normally if you have an object, you know, and if the sun's shining this way, the reflection would be on this side," he told Kassahun, using his hands to help him describe the object. "But this was bright all the way around. It was so bright, you couldn't make it out, what shape it was."
Earlier this week, American Airlines spokeswoman Katie Cody said she could add no further details about the incident.
However, Bob Tracey, vice president of Phoenix Air Group, Inc., which is based in Atlanta, said on Thursday that after receiving a "full debriefing" from the pilot of the Learjet, he's left wondering, "what the hell was it?"
Phoenix Air uses Learjets for a variety of contract work, including as air ambulances for the military's Air Mobility Command. That's what the Learjet pilot and his co-pilot were doing on February 24. Tracey couldn't say if a patient was on board at the time, but assumed it had no passengers because it was on its way back to Georgia from California.
The pilot realizes the public is interested in his story, but he and the company are worried he'll be overwhelmed by the publicity.
"I'm not naming him," Tracey said. "He's going to get buried with phone calls."
The pilot is a 15-year veteran with Phoenix Air, and is a "seasoned captain" with more than 14,000 hours of flying time.
At about the same time that afternoon, the pilot and his co-pilot noticed something flying outside and above them.
"What's that — what the hell is that?" the pilot remembered both of them saying.
Like Green, they mostly noticed the intense bright light of the object. The Learjet pilot described it as "like you woke up in the morning and stared at a bright light," Tracey said.
The brightness didn't fill the whole windshield, though — it was definitely a spot of light, and seemed to come from a source that was flying west at high speed, toward the eastbound Learjet but high above it.
The pilots put their fingers on the window to estimate how high in the sky it was. They concluded it might have been flying at nearly 50,000 feet, or more than 10,000 feet above them.
Then it raced past them. The pilot, knowing that another airplane likely would be coming near the area soon, put in his call to Albuquerque Center to alert air traffic controllers.
The pilot was concerned that "someone's going to whack into this thing."
When the pilot got back from the trip, he gave a casual briefing of the incident to the company's flight operations.
"He didn't think much of it," Tracey said. The pilot has seen many balloons in sky, he said. Sometimes they're sent up by amateurs with expendable GoPros. Like a balloon, it wasn't tracked by radar, and the Learjet's Traffic Collision Avoidance System didn't sound any alarms.
Yet in his full debriefing, he described something that didn't sound at all like a balloon, Tracey acknowledged.
"He said that it passed him at maybe a similar speed that an airliner would," Tracey said. That would be roughly 500 mph each, for a combined speed of "well over Mach 1," or the speed of sound.
Balloons, of course, may travel at high speeds on a vertical line, but not very fast horizontally.
Tracey summed up the incident as a "mystery."
"Everybody's got a theory on it," he said.
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