2015 GO FAST FOOTAGE

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

GO FAST is an authentic DoD video that captures the high-speed flight of an unidentified aircraft at low altitude by a F/A-18 Super Hornet ATFLIR forward-looking infrared system.  While TTSA was the first to obtain a copy, it should be available to any member of the press or public via the Freedom of Information Act.

Background

This video, GO FAST, was captured by a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet using the Raytheon AN/ASQ- 228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) Pod.  This sensor has two imaging modes – mid-wave infrared and visual.  It has high resolution and can locate and designate targets at distances exceeding 40 nm.  The video imagery represents the image displayed in the cockpit to the pilot and Weapon Systems Operators (WSO).  Major features of the display are shown in Figure 1.

The date, location, and other information has been removed by the originating authority as part of the release approval process.

GO FAST was selected for release, like GIMBAL and FLIR1, after review by multiple government organizations.  The object in this video remains unidentified. 

Analyzing the Video

As the video starts, the sensor is in infrared “black-hot” mode – black elements in the display are warmer than the dark, or lighter color, areas.  It is at zoom factor 1.0.  The F/A-18 Super Hornet is at 25,000 feet altitude, 259 knots (~300 mph, Mach 0.61), and in level flight.  The sensor is aimed 22 degrees below the horizon and 36 degrees to the left of the F/A-18’s direction.  The ATFLIR tracking trap box is a square in the center of the screen.  The ocean surface is clearly visible in the background. 

 Figure 1 - The ATFLIR display reveals significant information regarding flight conditions and characteristics of the imagery

Figure 1 - The ATFLIR display reveals significant information regarding flight conditions and characteristics of the imagery

The unidentified vehicle appears as a white oval shape moving at high speed from top right to lower left of the screen flying very low over the water.   Initially, the sensor is unable to capture the object.  The Weapon Systems Operator (WSO) steers the sensor ahead of the object to attempt another capture.  On the third attempt, the sensor tracking capture is successful.   The sensor is now in “autotrack” mode, where the sensor uses contrast and other parameters to lock-on to a target, automatically keeping it centered in the sensors viewing frame.  This mode can track objects that possess speeds and accelerations within defined limits, which are set by expected target maneuver limits.  Autotrack was developed because manual target track with an optical sensor is very difficult.  The automatic modes in the ATFLIR system, specifically “autotrack”, reduces operator workload to facilitate target assessment and engagement.  The operator expresses excitement at having successfully captured the object and the sensor is tracking it.

At the right of the screen, the rangefinder denotes that the object is at 4.4 nautical miles (5.1 statute miles) slant range.  The F/A-18 begins a left turn to keep the object within the field of view of the ATFLIR sensor.

At 0:22, the WSO is asked, “Did you box a moving target?” and responds, “No, it’s in autotrack.”  The question reveals surprise at the possibility of manually capturing the object.  This is indicative of the difficulty in manually tracking the object with the ATFLIR sensor.

Observations

It is important to note:

  • There are no obvious wings or tails on the object.  Even IR imagery of a cruise missile, would have visible wings at this range.
  • There is no exhaust plume from the object.   An exhaust plume is clearly visible on conventional aircraft in the mid-wave infrared frequency used by the ATFLIR.  Shown below is a mid-wave infrared image of a F-16 in flight.  The sensor is in “white-hot” mode. Note that the length of the exhaust plume is nearly the length of the aircraft.  The video from which this still was extracted makes it clear that the F-16 is subsonic, which means the throttle is at a low setting which creates relatively low exhaust temperatures and volume of exhaust gases.  In a higher power setting, the exhaust plume would be much larger and brighter.
 Figure 2 - Infrared imagery of known aircraft shows features and characteristics clearly different than the object in the GO FAST video

Figure 2 - Infrared imagery of known aircraft shows features and characteristics clearly different than the object in the GO FAST video

The release of this video was featured in a Washington Post article. Click here to read.