(Update: Pilot of the American Airlines flight talks to Texas TV station and New Times interviews VP of Phoenix Air Group, who debriefed the Learjet pilot after this incident.)
Pilots over southern Arizona last month reported a mystery object flying above their aircraft in a flight-control recording released by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Was anybody above us that passed us like 30 seconds ago?" a Phoenix Air Group pilot flying a Learjet at 37,000 feet asked an air traffic controller at about 3:30 p.m. on February 24.
(Click the video above for Twilight Zone-ish radio exchange.)
"Negative," said an official with the Federal Aviation Administration's Albuquerque Center.
"OK," the pilot responded a few seconds later. "Somethin' did."
A few minutes later, an American Airlines Airbus pilot reported seeing the same thing at roughly 40,000 feet over the Sonoran Desert between Picacho and Mammoth.
No one knew what it was.
Now, nobody's saying this is evidence of little green men, but the tape makes for a fun UFO story, clearly. And there's a possible serious side. Even in the likely event that the object has a mundane source, the incident may reveal a potential safety hazard because of its unexpected appearance in the sky.
TheDrive.Com's War Zone page was apparently the first to publish the recording today. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the authenticity of the digital file on Friday and emailed a copy to Phoenix New Times.
The FAA seemed to suggest that yes, this was sort of weird.
"Other than the brief conversation between two aircraft, the controller was unable to verify that any other aircraft was in the area," Lynn Lunsford, FAA mid-states public affairs manager, told New Times. "We have a close working relationship with a number of other agencies and safely handle military aircraft and civilian aircraft of all types in that area every day, including high-altitude weather balloons."
In other words, the FAA should have heard about a weather balloon or military flight, but didn't.
American Airlines didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the recording, after the Learjet pilot's report, another voice from the sky piped up, "UFO!"
A man laughed. "Yeah."
About three minutes later, officials revealed they were still thinking about the object. Out of the blue, Albuquerque Center alerts the crew of an American Airlines Airbus A321 flying from Dallas to San Diego to be on the lookout for ... something.
"American 1095, let me know if you see anything pass over you here in the next 15 miles," the control tower official said.
The pilot's voice reveals his surprise at the question: "Over us?"
The flight control official replied that a pilot in front of the jetliner reported seeing something "and we didn't have any targets," meaning it didn't show up on radar.
Forty-five seconds went by.
"Yeah, something just passed over us," the American Airlines pilot then reported. "Uh, like a — I don't know what it was, but it was at least two-three thousand feet above us. Yeah, it passed right over the top of us."
A moment later, Albuquerque Center asks the pilot to describe what he saw.
"Can you tell us if it was in motion, or just hovering?"
The pilot said he couldn't make it out, but the object had a "big reflection," was flying "several thousand feet above us" and going "in the opposite direction."
A few seconds later, someone asked the pilot, "was it a Google balloon?"
"Doubtful," he replied.
"UFO!" someone quipped.
The Arizona mystery comes a few weeks after the War Zone published other material, including audio tapes, of an object seen by pilots flying over Oregon in October.
New Times will attempt to update this article before the full invasion.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.