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  • Writer's pictureDusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 48 - A UAP PR Campaign: Mainstreaming the UAP Conversation, with Lt. Ryan Graves

He's not asking you to believe in little green men. But he is insisting we take this national security threat seriously.

UFOs have traditionally been more of a pop culture phenomenon than an actual science.

But with the recent declassification of Navy gun camera footage that shows unexplained craft seeming to defy the laws of flight and physics, there's a growing movement among the aviation, military and science communities.

They insist it's vital to destigmatize the conversation around Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, or UAPs, which is the preferred nomenclature for the inexplicable occurrences.

Because the craft seem to do things that are impossible for our current level of aeronautical technology, and have interfered with the operation of other aircraft in-flight.

And if they aren't American, they pose a national security threat regardless of whether they're from China, Russia or... somewhere else.

So in this episode, we talk to former Navy Lt. Ryan Graves, the founder of Americans for Safe Aerospace and a former Navy F-18 pilot who has experienced encounters with UAP. He was also one of three experts called to testify at a Congressional hearing in July.

He'll share the things he saw that convinced him that UAP are a serious issue, what made him decide to come forward as the first military pilot to go public with his concerns, and why so many pilots experience UAP but choose not to report it.

Then, we'll discuss how his organization is leading a campaign to destigmatize the conversation, promote UAP reporting, and bring transparency to the issue.

Visit to give some feedback about the future of the Lead Balloon Podcast.


Dusty Weis

You know, it says a lot about the current state of the world, that the existence of UFOs was confirmed and discussed in an open hearing of the U.S. Congress this year. And somehow that may not even make the top five list of 2023 news stories.

Chuck Todd on Meet the Press

The committee heard testimony from three witnesses today. One was a former Navy commander. One was a former Navy pilot. Both of them claimed to have seen UAP, as well as a former intelligence officer.

Dusty Weis

Now, bear with me here and set aside the conspiracy theories. The X-Files and the tinfoil hat crowd for a second, because the facts of the matter are U.S. military pilots have seen and documented evidence of something in the skies that can't be explained by our current understanding of the world.

It's caused problems for airplanes in flight, and we don't know what it is or whether it poses a national security threat. In those terms, UFOs or for the rest of this conversation, we're actually going to call them by the more scientific term, UAPs or unexplained anomalous phenomena. And we're going to get into why that distinction is important in a little bit.

But in those terms, UAP pose some serious problems, and solving those problems will require a dramatic shift in government policy, public perception, and the way these conversations are framed. In short. What's needed is a UAP PR campaign, and former Navy Lieutenant Ryan Graves is one of the folks leading that charge.

Lt. Ryan Graves

From a national security perspective, just having unknowns in itself is a serious issue. It has nothing to do necessarily with us drawing a conclusion about their origin and thus attaching some type of threat narrative.

Dusty Weis

You may recognize Lieutenant Graves as one of the people who testified in that congressional hearing this summer. And through his work, he is driving a national campaign to destigmatize the reporting of UAPs, demystify the phenomena and de-escalate wildly unfounded speculation... in a field where the conversation has traditionally been driven by folks like this guy...

Giorgio Tsoukalos, History Channel Aliens Meme Guy

"What if what we have there is an extraterrestrial skull?"

Dusty Weis

I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about important tales from the world of PR, marketing and branding, told by the well-meaning communications professionals who live them.

Thank you for tuning in. Make sure to follow Lead Balloon in your favorite podcast app and I am currently conducting a listener survey to help me chart the future of the show. It would really help me out if you visited or click the link in the episode description and fill that out for me.

You know, I launched this show to explore the stories and topics on the bleeding edge of the strategic communication world, because it's on the edge where I think that we have the most room for learning and growth. And our guest today is certainly no exception to that. He's leading a strategic communication campaign and more about a topic that would have gotten you kicked out of most serious circles even just 30 years ago.

Former Navy Lieutenant Ryan Graves is an F-18 pilot with more than a decade of experience behind the stick of perhaps the greatest fighter jet in history. He served tours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve. He's also the first active duty pilot to come forward publicly about UAP sightings. He was one of three experts to testify in front of Congress in this summer's high profile UAP hearing, and he's currently dividing his time between several different ventures in that domain, including as a founder of Americans for Safe Aerospace, an organization for military and civilian pilots to advocate for support, research and public information about aviation-UAP encounters. So, Lieutenant Graves, thank you so much for bringing your expertise and joining us here on Lead Balloon.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Well, it's my pleasure being here, Dusty. Thanks for having me.

Dusty Weis

I gotta start, Lieutenant Graves by saying this is not a podcast about the paranormal. This is not an aviation show. This is a show about communicating strategically, about shaping public opinion and driving the discourse on important topics of global interest. And that's why I think that your story is so riveting, frankly, because you didn't set out to titillate or scare or amuse the American populace.

You're not trying to convince anyone to believe in little green men. In a very matter of fact way, you and your colleagues have identified a problem and want to get real about finding a solution for that problem. So what is the problem from your perspective and why should we be paying attention?

Lt. Ryan Graves

Really, the problem is pretty simple. There are things that are in our skies that because they are something that we just truly don't understand or whether our systems are just not capable of it. We don't know what they are. We can identify them as something that's physical. That's something that we have to worry about as a matter of aviation safety.

We also don't know where they're coming from. So they also represent a potential strategic threat. Is this an adversary? Is this something that our systems are showing as an example of degraded performance, or is this something that is in another category or something totally unknown? And all those different things are just options, potential conclusions that we could reach.

But where we are right now is potentially we are at a point where we know there are things that are unidentified. Our government, the Pentagon has admitted that. And right now, we're in a state of data collection.

Dusty Weis

Now, in a lot of ways, 2023 has been a banner year for UAP data collection and its profile in the American psyche, starting with the detection and eventual shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon that transversed the continent, along with three other high altitude objects in just a span of a couple of weeks early in the year. Media coverage and even the White House press secretary may have made light of it at the time.

Karine Jean-Pierre

There is no, again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns. And it was important for us to say that from here, because we've been hearing a lot about it.

Dusty Weis

But for the vast majority of Americans, the spy balloon was the first exposure they had in a long time to the idea that our territorial airspace is really, really big and it's impossible to control, let alone know everything about an airspace that big. Even with the most sophisticated modern technology. But the UAP that Graves and his colleagues discussed in front of Congress are different from those balloon-like objects.

These UAP are self-propelled, capable of accelerating or stopping in ways that defy our understanding of aviation or even physics. And that makes them not just a mystery, but also a national security threat.

Lt. Ryan Graves

One of the most important things that we do is tactical aviators is to identify friend from foe. So for us, being able to identify targets is key to our performance. When we zoom out, we look at the United States in general and the way we secure our airspace. Those systems are all designed in order to look forward, detect unknowns, and then characterize them as something that's known.

So we put a lot of infrastructure, a lot of care into figuring out who's who in the zoo, as we say. And so when we have a particular type of threat, a certain thing that we've characterized as real, as something we can identify with our systems and we have admitted very broadly and publicly now that this is something that we have not identified from a national security perspective, we need to identify these unknowns, because if we don't, then we're just broadcasting that there is a weakness that China or some other adversary could take advantage of.

And we've seen that even just this year with the flyover of the Chinese spy balloon. So from a national security perspective, just having unknowns unto itself is a serious issue. It has nothing to do necessarily with us drawing a conclusion about their origin and thus attaching some type of threat narrative with that conclusion.

Dusty Weis

One of the most common reactions to Ryan's message is, "Well, if this is such a threat, then why haven't we heard about it from more credible sources?" Navy pilots are a pretty even keeled bunch after all. But Lieutenant Graves is the first to come forward publicly about the repeated encounters he and his squad mates had with UAP during his time flying over the US Eastern seaboard about a decade ago.

And it's an experience he says is fairly common among Navy pilots.

Lt. Ryan Graves

When we're flying around in the F-18, our primary sensor for tactics and even navigating around and keeping ourselves clear of normal traffic is our radar system. In this case, the APG-79, which we had just upgraded to, we were using that to essentially be able to see all the way out in front of us. And that allows us to see quite a ways out and see pretty small objects.

And what we would see initially when we upgraded our radar were objects on our radar display that we weren't expecting to be in our area. So there's something in front of us at this location that is performing in a certain way. So we can see how fast it's moving. We can see the altitude, we can see which way it's essentially flying all this kinematic information.

Dusty Weis

And just to put this in a little further perspective here, we're not talking about something, like, right in front of you when I'm driving a truck down a highway. We're talking about something 30 miles, 60 miles out on the horizon.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Yeah, exactly. The radar can see quite a ways out. And without really assigning a number to it, it's well beyond what we would call the visual range. I'll say that loosely. And so these are out there. We're primarily interacting with this information on our radar displays. And so that's when we first noticed there was a problem. Eventually, as we flew near these objects with our radars locked on to them, our advanced targeting, forward looking infrared system or ATFLIR, which is essentially an electro optical system that has normal camera like qualities as well as being able to see in the infrared range.

And when we got close enough, we would actually be able to physically see an object on that camera system. What we were seeing, at least what I saw, was what looked like a single source of I.R. energy coming from that point.

Dusty Weis

So I.R. energy, putting that in layman's terms, it's a source of heat or rather a differentiation in the temperature from the rest of the environment.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Yeah, correct. Both are generally accurate and what you described in the latter explanation is how our sensor essentially works on the screen. It's not going to only show, it's going to show the background temperature as well as the objects that are relative hot or cold to that object. These objects were presenting either hot or cold, depending on the scenario.

My personal experience, I was often seeing them cold. Once we got on that FLIR system, that's when it really confirmed to us that that was a physical object, that that was something that we truly had to respect from a safety standpoint. So eventually we would try to see these with our own eyeballs. So we're continuing to fly in.

We picked it up with the radar. We picked it up with our FLIR system. Next, we're starting to get what we call a screaming tone in our ear. And what that is, is our short range missile that's on our wingtip with the sensor on it is now acquired in this target that we've locked on to. And it's providing a good lock and a good tone on that object.

So it's now a third sensor providing correlation to this target. And then we would come into this object with slow down and we'd be trying to look up at it as we approach it. Now, all this information I described for my radar, from my FLIR, from my weapon systems, this information is now being projected onto my visor. So as I look out into the world, it's saying, Hey, here's where we're locked up.

Here's where you should be seeing the object as I fly up. And yet, even with all our sensors telling us where to look, we couldn't see the objects.

Dusty Weis

In Navy parlance, when a plane flies in its same section of sky as another object on radar, they call that a merge. And while Ryan experienced repeated merges with these unknown sensor phenomena, he never saw anything with his own eyes.

Lt. Ryan Graves

I was only able to acquire it through the sensors. I would come up to the merges and I would not be able to see it much like I just described. And that was essentially the status quo for maybe the next several weeks. As this issue continued, we began to simply just stay away from the objects. We would go to a new sub training area in our working areas if one was in that area.

And eventually, about three weeks after, we had our first near-midair with one of these objects, it was an unexpected close pass. That's different than us going up to a merge purposefully in order to examine it. This was totally an unknown to the pilot at the time, and what happened was two aircraft from my squadron with four people total.

Essentially the two aircraft were flying side by side up to the working areas and they climb up, they fly out to this point over the ocean. And that point is like a stoplight, essentially, where all the traffic goes through there. And so you have departing traffic a thousand feet below, arriving traffic here. And then once you get past that point, you disperse into your area.

Well, right at that point was one of these objects that was completely stationary. That was one of the kinematic profiles that we would see, are these objects where they were completely stationary over the ground without due regard for the wind. So high winds, 50, 60, 70 knots. And you have this object stationary at, say, 12,000 feet. That was a scenario, although the aircrew at the time did not have a radar lock on this object.

They were unaware of it. And they proceeded through that point and directly at that point was one of these objects. It came within about 50 feet of the lead aircraft and it split the section, went between the two aircraft. The pilot in the lead aircraft was able to gain a visual sighting of the object. And this was the first time that we had been able to do so.

He described it as a dark gray or black cube inside of a clear sphere. He estimated diameter to be about 5 to 15 feet. That was the first time that we had that physical description of the object, although we had it on subsequent events and subsequent near-midairs later down the road.

Dusty Weis

This kept happening over a course of... How long were you guys operating in this theater?

Lt. Ryan Graves

We left the area in 2015. The entire squadron left on deployment, so that made it about a year and a half that we were experiencing this. When we left, there was no assumption or really anything other than jokes about UFOs or UAPs. You know, we went from assuming it was a radar glitch to assuming it was like a blue program that started operating in the wrong area.

Dusty Weis

So top secret American aircraft.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Yeah, something like that, perhaps, even though it didn't really make sense. That's what we assumed. As we were leaving, there was concern that maybe this was an adversary, that someone was potentially using this as an opportunity to learn about our aircraft and our tactics and our frequencies that we put out. And this was a method to do so.

But we left and we assumed the problem would continue to escalate. But pilots were continuing to have these issues and they continue to have these issues all the way up to my last report was about two months ago of pilots on the East Coast experiencing these objects. In fact, when I came back from that deployment, I went to Mississippi, where I became a flight instructor for the Navy back where I trained about three years, four years after I started that gig, I got a call from one of my former students who told me that, Hey, he's all grown up now.

He finished his training. He's gone through his training F-18. Now he's out in the fleet and he went out and he was seeing these same objects about eight years later. And so it's really been a generational problem for pilots.

Dusty Weis

And this is something that I mean, the military has acknowledged exists. It even comes up in flight briefings. "Hey, if you see one of these things, give it some space for the love of God. Don't engage it. Don't cause problems. Just give it its space." But you classified this originally as, what is this blue on blue? Is this blue on red, which is essentially parlance for... is this a friendly aircraft that we just don't know about?

Is this an enemy aircraft that we don't know about? Our mutual acquaintance, Dr. Michael Lembeck, with whom you co-chair an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Committee on UAP's. Dr. Lembeck likes to classify this as the blue, red, green problem being as there's a third option there, which we could jokingly call the greens or the little green men.

But having observed these phenomena up close, what about your experience convinces you and the majority of aviators who have experienced that, that this is not conventional human technology?

Lt. Ryan Graves

It's a great question. We typically define our limits of aviation technology by how fast we can go, how long we can stay airborne, how high we can go, how fast we can change direction, all those kind of kinematic things which are easily registered all on my radar system. And what we would see is that objects would be performing in ways that were not consistent with the type of aircraft that we have within our arsenal.

For example, we have helicopters to go stationary and vertically. We have fighter jets to go extremely fast and we have some surveillance aircraft that go very high. And they all have different strengths and weaknesses. And each one of these categories, we're seeing these objects is their ability to do all of those.

Dusty Weis

So they can hover completely stationary. And in spite of the fact that in the upper atmosphere, you're usually under some degree of hurricane force winds. You know, people experience that all the time when they're flying cross-country and a trip from California to New York is much faster than a trip the other way around because you have the jet stream at your back. For an aircraft to sit completely stationary in winds that are that powerful would be insanely difficult, almost impossible under conventional technology.

The other one being the rate at which these things accelerate, because I learned a lot about G-forces during my F-18 flight a year ago, Lieutenant Graves. And so I can tell you that just accelerating under seven G's is enough to put most people unconscious, let alone you have an object that starts at zero velocity and accelerates past the speed of sound in an instant, as some of your colleagues have described, that would turn most human beings into mush, let alone rip any aircraft or material to pieces.

And our bodies just can't take that sort of acceleration.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Absolutely. I mean, even at these accelerations we're talking about, even our computer chips, the materials would not be able to survive these types of accelerations, never mind the human body. This requires very specialized engineering. If we were to have technology like that, I'm of the opinion that we don't have the technology to be able to have those types of fast accelerations.

There's another interesting category, too, which is what pilots are seeing in the commercial sector with their eyeballs at very high altitudes. And this has been talked about a little more recently after the hearing. This other category consist of maneuvers that are contrary to what we would expect out of orbital mechanics that we're seeing at extremely high altitudes. And those are represented by being able to perform, holding patterns, what appears to be at, you know, in orbit altitudes. Satellites don't just kind of move around for the fun of it.

And so we're talking about something that is essentially performing like an aircraft out at plus 100,000, 150,000 feet. So that's a totally different class of potential characteristics that define why that's different than what we would expect to see in that low earth orbit regime that we're starting to see objects as well.

Dusty Weis

Now, beyond just defying the technology available to us at this time, essentially defying physics, which I think is probably a big part of the problem that you have when you're communicating to the general public about this. Do you get that a lot when you're talking about these flight characteristics and people's eyes just kind of glaze over? Because I would posit that the average member of the public, American or otherwise, does not have a very good grasp of physics or flight characteristics or the technology and forces that make these things possible.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Yeah. So, I mean, like you said, your podcast is about communication at its core, engaging on that front. You know, to answer your question, I don't engage on the level of detail on a regular basis I just did with you, because to your point, that's not what people necessarily care about. People are interested in the fact that pilots don't feel comfortable reporting this.

They hear that pilots that want to report it don't have a mechanism to and they feel uncomfortable that this could lead to gaps in our national security and our domain awareness. That I think really resonates with people. Because when you talk about that subject in that way, they're able to relate to it in a way that, you know, has an emotional connection with them versus just details they might not have any interest with.

Dusty Weis

Lieutenant Graves touches on the paradox here that vexes many science communicators. Most science is indistinguishable from magic to the vast majority of the population. So to the layman, it seems equally impossible for an airplane to stay up in the air as it is for a UAP to go straight from sea level to the same altitude as the space station in a matter of seconds. Science can tell you why an airplane flies, but the very brightest scientific minds on earth scratch their heads at the reports from these pilots and say, "That is indistinguishable from magic to me."

So coming up after the break.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Identifying with something that has been stigmatized as crazy or controversial or the realm of loonies, that's the stigma that stops pilots from sticking their neck up and saying, yes, this could be a safety issue. Yes, this could be a national security issue.

Dusty Weis

What made Ryan go public with his story in this atmosphere and how Americans for Safe Aerospace and other groups have worked to shift the conversation away from the realm of loonies and to a science-based approach of data collection and policy reform. That's coming up in a moment here on Lead Balloon.

This is Lead Balloon. And I'm Dusty Weis. There is something in our skies that contemporary science can't explain. Aviation experts who have seen the data say conclusively that these unexplained anomalous phenomena don't seem to move like any type of aircraft or spacecraft we're aware of. And they do things that should be impossible under our understanding of how physics works. And yet some U.S. Air Force pilots who have observed UAP would rather hide the tapes, then report it through the official chain of command, according to testimony given at a congressional hearing this summer. That is how strong this stigma is, according to former Navy pilot Lieutenant Ryan Graves.

And he would know. He was the first active duty pilot to go public with his UAP experience. Now, as the founder of Americans for Safe Aerospace, he's driving a publicity and influence campaign aimed at encouraging pilots to report their encounters to the government and urging the government to then make those data available so we can suss out what threat these UAP might pose to aviation and national security.

But first, they have to drive away that tinfoil hat stigma that has long been attached to the topic.

Lt. Ryan Graves

For commercial pilots. I think it's really comes down to the fact that they just don't want to stick their neck up. There has been historical incidents of pilots having professional repercussions for discussing these types of events and that, you know, those have been documented.

Dusty Weis

What sort of repercussions?

Lt. Ryan Graves

Well, there's there's an instance with a Japan Airline flight where there was an object that was detected for, I believe, 40 to 45 minutes around and in front of this airline, NORAD was actually activated to intercept and to respond to this event. And afterwards, the pilot, who was actually a Japanese pilot of that flight, lost his medical certificate for, I think, four or six years afterwards after reporting it to his chain of command.

He eventually got it back after that time period. But it was a direct result of that sighting and of his reporting of it. Your reputation, your flight hours, your physical and mental health define your ability to operate in that environment. And so identifying with something that has been stigmatized as crazy or controversial or the realm of loonies, that's a stigma that stops pilots from sticking their neck up and saying, yes, this could be a safety issue.

Yes, this could be a national security issue. We're seeing objects. We're trained. A lot of us are former military and almost all of them, I would venture a guess, are patriots. And they're seeing objects and they're afraid to report it. And that's, I think, a wasted opportunity to take advantage of some of our best observers.

Dusty Weis

Right. Now, you decided to go public in 2017, and this was after The New York Times published three videos taken from U.S. Navy gun cameras. What was it that pushed you over the edge?

Lt. Ryan Graves

Well, in 2017, I was sitting on the couch in Mississippi when I was that flight instructor, and I saw the New York Times article pop up and had crazy sense of deja vu. I realized that I was watching a tape that I had been there for. I knew the air crew. I knew the voices. I watched that tape be debriefed in the intel space.

Declassified Footage

There's a whole fleet of them, look at 'em! My gosh! They're going against the wind.

Lt. Ryan Graves

And I thought, holy smokes, this is now on the front of New York Times. Where did we go wrong? Like, where was the breakdown? Because when I left in 2015, you know, I had made the assumption that this would get escalated to the point of resolution within the systems of the Navy.

And yet here we are clearly with no resolution in sight. And so I called some of my colleagues that were on the East Coast, and asked if they were still having these issues, which they were. And then I talked to a bunch of the pilots in the ready room. The next day I got to work and said, Hey, do you guys remember those objects we were seeing?

And you know, they all immediately remembered it. So I said, Hey, this clearly is not getting resolved through the systems of the Navy. I feel like I need to do something in order to try to help resolve this or at least mitigate this issue for the pilots that are still flying over there.

And so I reached out and I said, hey, I can tell you more about what was on the video because I was there. When you hear him talk about a formation of objects, you talk about the situational awareness piece. Happy to share it with you. I won't tell you anything classified, of course, but I didn't know where that was going to go.

But I just thought maybe I could help in some small way. I didn't expect it to lead me to where I am today, but that's how it started.

Dusty Weis

You might remember The New York Times first broke the story in December of 2017 with three leaked Navy videos of UAP in action, including the one that Ryan recognized from his own squad. It took the Pentagon three years to officially declassify the videos in 2020 and confirm that they were authentic, but they did. During that time, however, there was no rush among Ryan's aviation peers to go public with their stories.

But behind the scenes, the tides were turning.

Lt. Ryan Graves

When I started speaking to the Senate Armed Service Committee in DC, in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, when I started talking to New York Times in the 2018 timeframe, I did reach out to pilots in my network to say, Hey, I'm doing this. I'm talking to New York Times right now. I'm talking to these people and here's what I told them.

And I need someone to stand up and validate what I said. So will you care to share your stories? And that's what they did. So they spoke to The New York Times off the record. They spoke to the Senate Armed Service Committee as well. And they went back to their active duty lives and continue to live so privately.

Dusty Weis

As the face of the movement for transparency and disclosure, Ryan has had to be especially conscious of how he's perceived, if his mission is going to be taken seriously. And as with so many topics that we address as strategic communicators, terminology and language are everything.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Most, if not all, of the stigma is associated with an assumption that people have when they engage the conversation. They have an assumption that there is a conclusion if you say it's a UFO or a UAP, a conclusion about where it is or what it is or where it's from. And so really it's about just avoiding that conversation about conclusions.

And people don't realize they're jumping to it. So it's a hidden assumption people have. They'll scoff when they hear the word UFO, when, of course, objectively, it's an unidentified flying object, whereas our culture and our society has molded us to immediately believe that anything unidentified is associated with aliens from another planet. And so these are all baked in assumptions about conclusions.

And so I just focus on the data without getting to conclusions and ensuring this conversation gets steered there.

Dusty Weis

Even the term unidentified flying object makes some assumptions because based on our current understanding of flight, to call these "flying objects" is completely erroneous. Flight involves forward propulsion of some kind. Flight involves lift generated by the movement of air over a wing. Based on the data, none of that applies here.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Theoretically, I mean, you're absolutely correct. If you were to, quote unquote take a flying object and put it into space, it could no longer fly. And I'm happy the term is adapted to the more domain-agnostic technology-agnostic effects-agnostic unidentified anomalous phenomenon, which is a mouthful, but it's important to not delineate this conversation any one domain because we just don't understand the scope of it.

Dusty Weis

So the understanding, the approach, the credibility of the people involved in this discussion, all of this has rapidly shifted over the last six or seven years here... right around the same time as you got involved. How and why has the public conversation changed over the last less than a decade here?

Lt. Ryan Graves

Yeah, that's a great question as well. And I'm sure there's probably, again, a lot of answers to why. You know, I've obviously played a small role where I've communicated about the experiences and I've served as kind of a linchpin of being able to bring communications together for different aviation professionals to talk about the serious safety issues and pragmatic concerns that they have about this.

And so I think I've been able to help build that conversation from that point. But more strategically, in a larger picture, I think the reality is that the tools that we're flying around with and that are available on the commercial markets are sufficient quality that it's very hard to just hide the fact that these things are there. You know, we came home, we upgraded our radars, and now we're seeing these things every day.

We're almost hitting these things. So how long can you stop the conversation from progressing when that's the reality that you're living in? So I think overall there was a larger shift as technology got better, the tools in the average person's hands got better. That the conversation will continue to expand to that degree. I'm sure there's a million other different reasons and players and motivations and stories associated with all of that.

I'm sure that we will learn about that over the next 50 years or so, perhaps.

Dusty Weis

Even just over the last year. I mean, a little less than a year ago, we saw almost nonstop news coverage of all of these high altitude objects, the Chinese spy balloons, the shoot downs. Would you say that helped or hurt the cause. Was it a distraction, or did it get us at least looking in the right direction?

Lt. Ryan Graves

Well, I think it was a very intertwined part of the story. I mean, just the weeks prior to that happening, there was a lot of talk in the UAP conversation about taking a look at our national assets and retuning them to be able to see slower moving objects. Why? Because we have been reporting and seeing slower moving objects on the Eastern seaboard for a number of time, as I told you.

One of the interesting kinematics that we saw were objects that were stationary, very low speed in high winds and things of that nature. And so the Department of Defense retuned their sensors and then they detected objects. And this isn't me speaking. The Department of Defense, in a press conference publicly stated they retuned their sensors to look for slower speed objects.

And so what happened was that we started seeing that there were adversary platforms that were in our airspace. Again, same thing we were claiming that could be a potential reason for investigating this on the eastern seaboard. And there were also other objects that were detected as well. And we haven't really got the full story on what those were.

But regardless, I think it made a very poignant point on why this is such a serious national security issue, why we can't ignore these sightings where we can't just say, that's a balloon or that's you know, that's not something we care about, or we can just let that be unknown. The consequences are pretty dire, it's a pretty high stakes game when we talk about the security of our borders and our airspace.

Dusty Weis

What about the media coverage, not just of the Chinese spy balloon, but also the media coverage that followed up the hearing in July that you were a part of? Has it helped or hurt the cause?

Lt. Ryan Graves

The media has been an interesting challenge in this conversation, although it has matured significantly over the past 5 to 8 years. I don't know how many times I've started an interview with The X-Files Theme playing on the intro, and we don't see that anymore. We see reporters going around asking every member of the Senate what they think of the UAP hearings.

There's conversations from AOC about government transparency and spending and lack of accountability. We have folks on the other side of the aisle that are talking about whether there are illegal contracts and whether there's... you know, really pragmatic concerns for our congresspeople to be looking into. These are where the conversation has shifted within at least in the halls of government.

I think the media will be catching up to with the hearings and with the way the conversations are developing in the halls of Congress. I think that that trend of improvement will continue.

Dusty Weis

Gradually, we've seen other pilots like Ryan begin to come forward with their stories. If you watch this summer's congressional hearing, you're familiar with Navy Commander David Fravor, a pilot like Ryan, whose team experienced its own UAP encounters while flying off the coast of Southern California in 2004.

CDR David Fravor

All four of us looked down and saw a white tic tac object with a longitudinal axis pointing north south and moving very abruptly over the water like a ping pong ball. There were no rotors, no rotor wash for any sign of visible control surfaces like wings. As we pulled nose onto the object within about a half mile of it, it rapidly accelerated in front of us and disappeared. Our wingman roughly 8,000 feet above us lost contact also. So as we started to turn back toward the east, the controller came on and said, "Sir, you're not going to believe this. But that thing is at your cat point." Roughly 60 miles away in less than a minute. You can calculate the speed.

Dusty Weis

His experience was also documented in one of the three videos declassified by the Pentagon. And one of the most telling statements that Fravor made during the July hearing was that he actually had no interest in being there.

CDR David Fravor

I was pestered by a friend and I asked why, and he said, "You're the one person that they can't discredit and you'll add credibility to the New York Times article." And so after about six times, I said, okay.

Dusty Weis

There is just nothing so credible as a witness to the unexplained who has to be guilted into sharing his story publicly. Institutions have begun to take the matter more seriously as well. NASA convened a work group, releasing its first inconclusive report earlier this fall, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the professional society for engineers who build airplanes and rockets with 30,000 members globally, has established an outreach committee with the stated objective of improving aerospace safety by enhancing scientific knowledge of and mitigating barriers to the study of UAP.

Ryan co-chairs that committee and says all these combined efforts are beginning to get results.

Lt. Ryan Graves

There's progress that's being made. One, there's the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, which has been established within the Pentagon, and they're intending to serve as a whole of government approach to this topic. With that, they are holding the hammer on expanding the reporting that the Navy has been doing to other service branches and ultimately, I believe, to the rest of the Department of Defense.

And so, again, we started with no reporting on this issue, with small trickle reporting through the Navy. Now with a dedicated program office that will be instituting service wide reporting on this issue. And so that just gives you a little perspective on how things have progressed on the military side of things, on the commercial side of things. Recently, we've had NASA get into the game.

They've announced at the conclusion of their report that they're standing up a UAP program office at NASA and assigning a UAP head of research. Their goal is to be able to better collect data on this and be able to evaluate and characterize what these objects are. With that, they also recommended the use of the Aviation Safety Reporting System, which is a NASA owned aviation safety reporting mechanism for commercial pilots to be able to report issues.

They're going to be modifying that system to be able to accommodate UAP reports so they can start collecting reports from pilots through that. And that was their recommendation. So we're seeing increased support for commercial pilots to be able to report this. What I'm hoping to see is there be a cultural change within the commercial airlines to allow this reporting to really foster and grow.

I believe I'm seeing the start of that with the communications I'm having within the airlines now. I'm hearing this information being communicated to their command centers. I hear this being communicated in a much more regular basis to ATC control. So we've seen tremendous progress on both the military and the commercial aviation safety front. Now, looking forward, we have what's, I believe, being called the 2023 Disclosure Act, which is about 60 pages of amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2024.

At its core, what this bill will do is serve as a mechanism to declassify information within the government that's related to UAP. It'll appoint of nine person committee that would be appointed by the president and congressionally confirmed, and it will also assign a presumption of disclosure to all UAP material within the government. And this board will make an assessment of each of those piece of material to determine whether they can or cannot be released for national security concerns.

And so as we look forward, we should expect that the information that is ending up at ARRO will eventually make its way, or at least a large majority of it, to the public through these release mechanisms, should they get signed into law this winter.

Dusty Weis

Americans for Safe Aerospace, the organization that you founded to advocate for destigmatization, transparency and more UAP reporting. That organization now has nationwide, what, 5000 members? Do I have my math right on that?

Lt. Ryan Graves

10,000 as of last count, believe it or not. Yeah.

Dusty Weis

You guys did well in the aftermath of the congressional hearings! My goodness. So now 10,000 members. Can you speak to the membership a little bit more?

Lt. Ryan Graves

We have a few categories of membership. So the 10,000 number is our general membership. And anyone can join that. They can go to They don't have to put in a zip code. But we encourage people to do it if they are from the United States, because that will enable us to share that information with their representatives in Congress when we go to communicate to them, to let them know that your constituents do actually care about this issue.

We also have an advisory board where we have thought leaders from academia, from industry, from the policy side and DC communications, and even all the way to the UAP issue. The UAP task force former director is one of our advisors as well.

And so we've built out what we think is a smart cross-section of expertise of folks that are out there, inside of industry, the professionals that haven't been engaging with this conversation for the most part in any real professional sense. But they are now kind of stepping up to the plate to be able to provide their professional expertise to this problem.

And then we have another cohort, which is our pilot leadership group, which is a collection of pilots that have stepped forward to put their name behind this conversation, to serve as advocates in this conversation as we move forward.

Dusty Weis

You know, Ryan, I've always considered myself a pretty curious person. I think that curiosity is an important part of storytelling, and I think that storytelling is an essential skill for strategic communicators. But I also think that curiosity is just one of those essential parts of what makes us human beings. And so I find it a little bit baffling and maybe even a little bit enraging that the government impulse as regards UAPs has always been, "Well, we need to classify this and keep it locked away from the public."

And frankly, the public's impulse has largely been, "I'm not really interested in all that stuff." Why is it, do you think, that this deeply mysterious issue is so far from a top priority, for the government bureaucracy and for society in general?

Lt. Ryan Graves

Well, we've got a lot of problems right now. And maybe that's one reason. And, you know, much like in aviation, you got to work on the closest alligator to the canoe. If this is something that's been around for a while and represents something that much larger than us, then, you know, we probably have more pressing small concerns that are relevant to us.

Perhaps not just, you know, I can't imagine that's the truth, but like, that's just one way of perhaps rationalizing it.

Dusty Weis

I think there's something to that. I think that as human beings, we don't like problems that make us seem small and insignificant in scale. And I think that most people see a problem like that and say, "I'm just not interested."

Lt. Ryan Graves

I'll just say, I've had this theory where a lot of times I'll engage with people or I hear the question, "why should I care?" or "why do I care?" And I think a lot of people dismiss that question as they assume it's like, why should I care about something as interesting as quote unquote, aliens or something that's an unknown such as that.

Where's your sense of exploration or curiosity? But I don't think that's really what they're saying. I don't think they're saying they just don't care on that topic. I think they're saying that because this would probably affect their worldview to such a large degree. They're saying, why is this so immediate to my concern that I have to destroy my entire worldview in order to be up to speed with you on this conversation right now?

Why can't I just continue to ignore this? I think that's really what they're asking.

Dusty Weis

Former Navy Lieutenant Ryan Graves, founder of Americans for Safe Aerospace and Merged Point Consulting, also the host of the Merged podcast. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Lead Balloon.

Lt. Ryan Graves

Thanks for having me, Dusty.

Dusty Weis

And just last week, the Pentagon's All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office or ARRO released its latest report. It's currently looking into more than 800 UAP reports it's received, some dating back decades, but nearly 300 from just the last year alone. Only about 100 are from civilian pilots, the rest from military personnel. And ARRO reports that most of these can be explained away as equipment inadequacy, an error in perception, balloons, drones, debris.

But about 5% of them are just plum inexplicable.

I'd be remiss here if I didn't also thank Dr. Michael Lembeck, who introduced me to Lieutenant Graves and serves as his co-chair on the AIAA, UAP Integration and Outreach Committee. Try saying that five times fast.

Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production services for businesses.

Our podcast studios are located it the heart of beautiful downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we work with brands all over North America. I was the writer and story editor for this episode. Emily Kaysinger, the dialogue editor.

And music for this episode by Ghost Beatz, the Europa Protoharmonic Symphony Orchestra and Saint Nullum.

So until the next time, folks. Thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

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