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    This former Navy pilot, who once chased a UFO, says we should take them seriously

    David Fravor, commander of a Navy squadron aboard the USS Nimitz, had an encounter with a UFO that is hard to explain.
    M. Scott Brauer/The New York Times
    David Fravor, commander of a Navy squadron aboard the USS Nimitz, had an encounter with a UFO that is hard to explain.

    David Fravor is a recognizable type. Affable, neatly dressed, with a men’s regular haircut and semi-rimless glasses, he’s a retired military man who works as a consultant in the Boston area. He could be standing in front of you in a Starbucks line and you wouldn’t notice him at all.

    But the story he has to tell is literally out of this world.

    Thirteen years ago, the Windham, N.H., resident was a veteran US Navy pilot at the controls of an F/A-18-F fighter jet flying off San Diego when he sighted an unidentified flying object and tried to intercept it.

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    “I want to join on it. I want to see how close I can get to it,” Fravor, 53, said, describing his thinking as he began the pursuit.

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    Then the object, which looked like a 4o-foot-long Tic Tac candy, “goes whoosh, and it’s gone.” he said. It accelerated rapidly and disappeared like no aircraft he had ever seen in his career.

    Fravor has been in the news recently after the New York Times broke the story that the Pentagon had a secret program that investigated reports of UFOs. The Defense Department says it closed down the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program in 2012 after five years, but the program’s backers say it remains in existence, investigating UFO reports from service members while carrying out other duties.

    The story of Fravor’s close encounter accompanied the expose, illustrating the kinds of UFO stories that are hard to explain away.

    “I know what I saw,” said Fravor.

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    The incident occurred on Nov. 14, 2004. It was about 140 miles southwest of San Diego, Fravor said. The commander of a squadron of more than 300 service members aboard the carrier USS Nimitz, he was flying a brand-new plane with a weapons systems officer in the back seat. Another fighter from his squadron, with pilot and weapons system officer aboard, was flying with him. It was a perfect Southern California day.

    The sea was calm, without whitecaps. No clouds marred the sky.

    A radio operator from the cruiser USS Princeton directed them to an area where the Princeton had been tracking mysterious objects for two weeks. The objects had been dropping straight down from above 80,000 feet and stopping at 20,000 feet. “They’d hang out for hours, and then when they were done, they would go straight back up,” Fravor said.

    When the two fighters got to the assigned location, they spotted a disturbance under the water, Fravor said. To him, it looked like something the size of a Boeing 737 airplane was underneath, causing waves to break over it.

    “Then we see this bright white object” above the disturbance, moving erratically, back and forth, left and right, bouncing around like a ping pong ball, he said.

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    Fravor’s jet and the other jet were circling the spot. The other jet was high, Fravor’s jet lower. Trying to get a closer look at the Tic Tac, he began an easy, circular descent toward it.

    The object “starts mirroring me,” beginning its own circular ascent from the ocean, he said.

    “It’s at about the 2 o’clock and it’s coming up, and I’m at about the 8 o’clock position coming down,” he said, using the cap of a pen to illustrate the maneuvers during an interview at a suburban restaurant.

    At that point, he said, he decided to cut across and head directly toward the mysterious object. He turned, dove, then pulled up his plane’s nose — and it zoomed away.

    Fravor then looked for the underwater object, and saw that it, too, had disappeared.

    The fighters conferred with the Princeton and were told to head to a rendezvous point 60 miles away. They headed toward it when the Princeton told them that radar had picked up the object again — already at the rendezvous point.

    When the two jets got there, the object had disappeared. Why it decided to go there of all places is a mystery, Fravor said.

    Nearing the end of a 24-year career in the Navy and Marines, Fravor had plenty of experience encountering other aircraft in the sky, but this one was different, he said. It was bright white, cylindrical, with rounded ends. It had no wings, no windows, no exhaust plume.

    And then there was that speed. “It was impressive. It was fast. It was maneuverable, and I’d really like to fly it,” Fravor said he told the executive officer on the Nimitz afterwards.

    He came within nearly a half-mile of it, he estimated. He and his back-seater as well as the men in the other plane saw it with their own eyes for 3 to 5 minutes, he said.

    “What’s unique about [our encounter] is we physically interacted and chased it,” he said. “We literally engaged it.”

    Later, back at the carrier, he told his back-seater, “Dude, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty weirded out.”

    More fighters were launched and, while they didn’t see it with the naked eye, one crew saw it on their radar and video screens, he said. A copy of the video has been released by the Defense Department. (A second video released by the government shows a different encounter on the East Coast, Fravor said.)

    In addition to the Princeton tracking the objects, Fravor said, the Nimitz and an E-2 surveillance plane in the area could also see the objects on their radars.

    Was there an intelligence controlling the object?

    “Oh, yeah,” Fravor said. “It reacted to us.”

    Fravor has no idea what the object was or what it was doing. He says he jokes with people that the object was the one that messed up — by being seen and chased when it wasn’t supposed to be.

    He got plenty of ribbing back aboard the carrier. But he said he was surprised at the lack of curiosity the Defense Department showed about the encounter, which happened in an area well-known as a Navy training ground.

    “I figured someone would come out,” he said. After all, they’d been tracking the objects for two weeks and surely a debriefing would be in order. But no one ever did.

    Fravor said if a foreign submarine had surfaced behind a carrier in the area, dire alarms would have been raised and questions would have been asked about how it had penetrated the Navy’s defense.

    “And yet now you have many of these objects, like a dozen of them, that are just, at will, just showing up, doing whatever they want, and going away and you can do nothing about it. And no one asks any questions,” he said.

    Over the years, it became just a funny story that he would tell friends — until he was contacted several months ago by Luis Elizondo, the man who once headed the Pentagon program, who asked him to tell his story to the Times.

    Now he’s glad the issue is making headlines. And he supports the work of the To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, a new group that Elizondo has joined that aims to raise money for UFO research.

    “I think the story needs to be told. We need to stop making jokes and start paying attention to it,” Fravor said.

    “This is not a US problem. This is a global issue,” he said. “Why aren’t we investigating these things? . . . If it’s like ‘E.T.’, then it’s all good. If it’s like ‘War of the Worlds’ or ‘Independence Day,’ then not so much.”

    He said it appears our existing technology is “way, way behind” and that if we could understand the Tic Tac’s technology it could benefit the world, leading, for example, to new sources of energy.

    The $22 million reportedly spent on the five-year Pentagon program was like a “rounding error” in the Defense Department’s massive budget, he said. With better funding, he believes a breakthrough could happen.

    “With the right money and the right focus, you can figure this out,” he said. “I think there’s enough brilliant, open minds.”

    Fravor describes himself as an average guy — “total middle class from Toledo, Ohio” — who’s somehow managed to have some amazing experiences. (Among other things, he appeared in the PBS documentary series “Carrier” and has flown his jet over the Super Bowl.)

    He said his recent appearances in the news have inspired some jests from friends, which he expected. But so far the overall reaction has been positive.

    Fravor, who is married and has two grown children, said his neighbors in New Hampshire haven’t said much about it.

    One, though, stopped by with a present: a box of Tic Tacs.

    Does he think he will ever see a UFO again?

    “Never say never. But there’s, what, 7½ billion people in the world? — and I chased it,” he said.

    Here’s the video taken by one of the pilots in Fravor’s squadron aboard the Nimitz.

    This video of a different encounter between fighter jets and UFOs was also released by the Defense Department.

    Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.