What are the 'UFOs' shot down over North America?

US and Canadian officials have given little information on the three objects detected and destroyed since Friday

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The internet is abuzz with rumours of alien UFOs after three mystery objects were shot down over US and Canadian airspace in a week — and a US air force general refused to rule out “extraterrestrial” incursions.

While the US military has hinted that the targets were all most likely surveillance balloons — and have pointed the finger of blame at a Chinese “spy balloon” programme — speculation that they might be UFOs is rooted in a US Air Force sighting of mysterious, extremely fast-moving objects flying over the ocean in 2004.

So what exactly is going on?

Spy in the sky

In the most simple terms, a UFO is not necessarily an alien spaceship, but merely an object in the sky that has not been identified — hence the term Unidentified Flying Object. The US military sometimes uses the term Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena.

The US says it is working to assess how large China’s spy balloon programme is, noting that balloons have been used over US airspace several times in recent years, flying as high as 100 kilometres above the earth, making them hard to detect with conventional radar.

We've come to understand that during the Trump administration, there were multiple instances where the surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and American territory
Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Adviser

The US military dubs these alleged surveillance aircraft “high altitude balloons”, or HABs, and recently briefed members of Congress on the topic, saying they had been closely observed by U2 spy planes.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the government had “come to understand that during the Trump administration, there were multiple instances where the surveillance balloons traversed American airspace and American territory”.

Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed the balloons were trying to obtain information on the launch sites of US intercontinental ballistic missiles — America’s nuclear deterrence.

The description given of the object shot down over Canada on Saturday — cylindrical and “about the size of a car” — suggest that a range of inflatable aircraft are being used.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who asked the US Air Force to shoot it down, said the object violated his country's airspace and posed a threat to aviation.

The downing of the three objects followed the detection of a balloon off the US east coast on February 4 that was 60 metres in diameter and fitted with an array of electronic surveillance equipment.

Could the objects be alien spacecraft?

In November 2004, two F-18 jets were scrambled from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to investigate a swarm of unidentified objects off California.

The pilots were shocked by the speed and manoeuvrability of these objects, described as Tic Tac-shaped, one of which appeared to drop from 60,000 feet to sea level in a fraction of a second before flying off out of sight “like a bullet”.

Footage of the incident was declassified in 2020, creating a buzz in the global community of UFO watchers, many of whom believe alien spaceships have been sent to Earth on many occasions.

A US investigation into the sighting concluded that the objects would have needed to fly at around 450,000 kilometres per hour to escape from the pilot’s view in one second, leading to speculation that the F-18’s infrared optical systems had malfunctioned.

The government said that if the objects had indeed moved that quickly, they would have resembled meteorites or fireballs because of friction with the air, something that was not observed at the time. A later report dismissed the idea that the objects were alien spacecraft.

What are the UFOs being shot down over North America?

FILE - The Pentagon is seen from Air Force One as it flies over Washington, March 2, 2022.  U. S.  officials say an “unidentified object” has been shot down Sunday for the third time in as many days, this time over Lake Huron, after earlier downings in Alaska and Canada.  (AP Photo / Patrick Semansky, File)

An off the record remark by a US defence official that there is “no evidence” the latest sightings were alien ships has not deterred internet conspiracy theorists.

One Twitter user suggested the sightings could be a prelude to a “false flag” alien invasion staged by the US government to allow President Joe Biden to impose martial law, drawing a sceptical reaction from US political commentator Ron Filipkowski.

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of the Republican party fuelled speculation by simply tweeting: “A third Unidentified Flying Object has been shot down”.

She later blamed the “weakness” of the Biden administration for allowing US airspace to be violated, suggesting she did not actually believe the objects were from outer space.

Updated: February 13, 2023, 9:23 PM