The Pentagon's latest solar experiments aboard the X-37B, as well as a mysterious object observed by pilots recently over New Mexico, are covered in this week's Intelligence Brief.

Space Planes and Mystery Missiles

(Credit: US Naval Research Laboratory)

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Intelligence Brief… a few of the items we’ll be covering this week include 1) the X-37B and the Pentagon’s new tests to beam electricity to Earth from space, and 2) an unidentified missile-like object observed by pilots over New Mexico, and similar incidents witnessed by pilots from over the years.

As is customary, before we dive in, a few of the topics we’re covering over on The Debrief this week include Tim McMillan’s survey on new defense technologies to be unveiled at IDEX-2021, as well as the UK’s reasons for launching a “high risk” scientific agency to explore areas of the unknown, which editor-in-chief MJ Banias breaks down for us.

And with that, let’s dive right into things…


The Pentagon’s Solar Experiment Sheds Light on Mysterious X-37B Space Drone

A group of scientists working with the Pentagon have confirmed operable tests with a small solar panel called a Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module, or PRAM, which is capable of beaming electricity to any location on the planet from space.

CNN reported that the small solar panel was launched into orbit just under a year ago, hitching a ride on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

Much about the X-37B and its mission objectives remains a secret. According to a United States Air Force, “The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.

The unmanned craft, which had been based on the X-37 design originally innovated by NASA, is designed to be capable of vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes. Long term experiments and other tests for various technologies are made possible by these long orbital periods, which have already broken spaceflight records since the X-37B’s most recent launch.

Once the Orbital Test Vehicle completes its mission, it is capable of autonomous re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, where it guides itself in a horizontal landing on a traditional runway similar to NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter, making it only the second vehicle since its NASA predecessor that can accomplish this. Such capabilities allow the X-37B not only to carry out experiments in near Earth orbit, but to return them for further study and evaluation thereafter. Additionally, its long orbital periods facilitate extended testing capabilities for such systems.

“The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold,” reads an Air Force fact sheet, also citing “reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

(Credit: USAF)

While existing statements provided by the USAF detailed thermal protection and insulation, propulsion, flight systems, navigation, and re-entry among the systems the X-37B was designed to test, the forthcoming information about its tests with the PRAM system offer further clarification about elements of the drone craft’s broader mission.

As CNN reported earlier this week, the small, 12 x 12 inch panel can produce roughly 10 watts of energy, according to co-developer Paul Jaffe, who mused that “Some visions have space solar matching or exceeding the largest power plants today — multiple gigawatts — so enough for a city.” Currently, the power yield demonstrated by the PRAM is enough to power a small computer or tablet device, and has not yet demonstrated the capability of beaming power back to Earth.


“Ghost Rocket?” Strange Object Seen Over New Mexico Wasn’t the First

Meanwhile, the X-37B is not the only mysterious thing that has been operating in our skies in recent days, according to the crew aboard an American Airlines jet passing over New Mexico over the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon at approximately 1:19 PM ST, pilots aboard AAL Flight 2292 were overheard asking air traffic controllers at Albuquerque Center whether they had “any targets up here?  We just had something go right over the top of us.”

“I hate to say this, but it looked like a long cylindrical object that almost looked like a cruise missile type of thing,” one of the pilots stated, “moving really fast right over the top of us.”

The transmission was overheard by veteran photojournalist Steve Douglass, an investigative journalist and technologies expert who has for years operated as a self-described “Stealth Chaser” in his spare time, searching for possible advanced classified aircraft. The story was covered by Tyler Rogoway at The Warzone, who wrote that he is currently awaiting further details about the incident from the FAA.

Over the years, a surprising number of incidents involving unidentified missile-like objects, primarily reported by pilots and aviation professionals, have surfaced. Arguably, one of the most striking incidents of this variety occurred in March, 1997 near Snow Hill, Maryland. The incident involved the flight crew of a DC-9 who, along with other traffic flying in the area at that time, observed a missile-like object ascending through the sky near them.

(Public Domain)

The Captain and First Officer aboard the DC-9 provided the primary report of the incident, which they described as “a rocket or missile climbing through our altitude off our left wing.” The crew aboard the aircraft said they watched this object for close to half a minute, which produced a light bluish exhaust trail as it passed them. The object was close enough that the plume it produced, according to the Captain, covered a third of the visible area out his window cockpit window.

“The object was moving extremely fast, was highly visible, and was sighted by other aircraft,” the officer’s report later detailed, which he initially filed with the nearby New York Air Route Traffic Control Center as he witnessed it. The Captain described the incident as “a very serious matter that needs immediate attention.”

The circumstances of this incident were similar to another case that occurred two years earlier in 1995. It involved flight crews aboard Lufthansa Flight 405 and British Airways Flight 226, who while passing over Long Island, New York, observed a usual brightly lit object producing a green tail or plume as it passed beside and slightly above their altitude. Transcripts of the dialogue between the various aircraft crews who observed it were later released, portions of which appear below:

LUFT: Uh, Boston, Lufthansa 405/Heavy.

FAA: Lufthansa 405, go ahead.

LUFT: Uh, we just passed traffic on the left wing, uh, about 2,000 to 3,000 feet above us. What traffic was it?

FAA: Is this Lufthansa 405? 

LUFT: Affirmative, Lufthansa 405. We had opposite traffic on the left wing. Can you confirm this? 

FAA: Lufthansa 405, negative. I show no traffic in your area within, uh, 20 or 30 miles.

LUFT: It should be now on our tail, about 10 miles… We passed it just one minute ago, and it was looking strange.

BRIT: Speed Bird 226 confirms that. It was just above us on our left-hand side about 3 minutes ago.

FAA: What altitude does it appear to be at, Lufthansa 405? 

LUFT: It was only 2 or 3 thousand feet above us. We are now passing (Flight) Level 260. That’s confirmed, or not? Lufthansa.

FAA: Lufthansa 405, roger.

BRIT: Speed Bird 226, we confirm that. We had something go past us about two, well… about one to two thousand feet above on the left hand side. Uh, looked like a green trail on it, and a very bright light on the front of it. We assumed it was an opposite traffic.

Although debate may continue as far as what these objects could be, and whether there is continuity between incidents like these in terms of their possible source, of greater importance is the clear risks they pose to aviation safety. Whatever their source, it would seem like unidentified objects of any kind—no less among them those resembling missiles—should be something taken seriously by the FAA and aviation professionals.

This concludes our current installment of The Intelligence Brief. Be sure to subscribe and get email updates from us here, or read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website. And as always, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] the

Meanwhile, here are the top stories we’re covering right now…