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What is the legendary Black Triangle UFO?

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After a Pentagon whistleblower came forward with claims that the United States and other nations have secretly recovered craft of non-human origin, now seems like the time to dive back into longstanding rumors that the United States is operating a secret fleet of large, black triangle-shaped aircraft known among the conspiracy-minded as the TR-3B.

For months now, one commenter has consistently been asking me to dive into this topic, but to be completely honest with you, I may have been avoiding it for personal reasons. You see… of all the unusual aviation mysteries to cross my desk over the years, the TR-3B is one that I have a bit of a personal connection to. In fact, in a real way, this aircraft — whether real or imagined — could be the reason I got into journalism in the first place.

Because, long before I was an award-winning Defense journalist, before I was a Marine, or even a teenager… I saw something strange in the skies over Torrington, Connecticut. And if the rumors of this TR-3B are to be believed… well, then it may have been exactly what I saw.

And as a result, the reason I’m in this line of work today.

So, before we discuss what little Alex saw that late summer night and how it sent me careening toward a career in journalism, let’s dive into the legends of this unusual aircraft, and what evidence — if any — points toward it being real.

Related: Everything you need to know about the UAP whistleblower

The TR-3B is alleged to be a U.S. military aircraft powered by alien technology

Alleged photograph of the TR-3B (WikiMedia Commons)

The TR-3B, sometimes known as the Black Manta or Astra, is alleged to be a large, black triangular aircraft that’s been operated in extreme secrecy by the United States and around the world for decades. While secret, flying black triangles are certainly nothing new for Uncle Sam, the legends surrounding the TR-3B extend much further than cutting-edge low-observable designs and radar-absorbent coatings. According to the rumors, this highly classified special access program isn’t a stealth jet at all. Instead, it’s said to be an aircraft designed and built with reverse-engineered alien technology that’s powered by an anti-gravitational drive.

Now, I understand better than most just how crazy that sounds. After all, last year alone, the U.S. Air Force awarded nearly $5 billion in contracts for the continued development of next-generation adaptive cycle turbofan engines to power new stealth fighters in development… If the Air Force already had a batch of anti-gravity drives collecting dust in the hangars of Area 51, dropping billions on far-less capable jet engines would be an awfully expensive way of avoiding suspicion.

But — and as we know by now, there’s always a but — the TR-3B’s claimed capabilities may not be quite as far outside the realm of possibility as it may seem. And while exploring these possibilities may require us to suspend our disbelief for a few minutes, the seemingly otherworldly — but entirely real —evidence involved in this case is worth the exploration, even if drawing any formal conclusions may remain beyond our reach.

The truth is, the TR-3B may not exist at all, but a slew of programs, patents, technological breakthroughs, and claims made by insiders do all point to something strange being hidden behind the classified veil of America’s most secretive Special Access Programs.

Related: Can this Navy patent explain away many UAP sightings?

Black Triangle UFOs and the National Institute for Discovery Science

NIDS report render of the TR-3B or Black Triangle UFO

Reports of large, silent black triangles flying over populated areas in the United States and other nations span decades and are often discussed as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), known more colloquially as UFOs. Among the first organizations to seriously delve into these reports was the privately-funded National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDSci), an organization founded by hotel mogul and multimillionaire, Robert Bigelow.

The credibility of Bigelow and his frequent involvement in both official and unofficial investigations into UAP isn’t necessarily above reproach — over the years, he’s been accused of leveraging popular interest in UFOs to secure lucrative government contracts, or of being a government disinformation agent, and more. However, it’s worth noting that the National Institute for Discovery Science was seen as a fairly respectable investigative body during its existence from 1995 to 2004, with a number of credible news outlets reporting on and discussing the organization’s findings. And because few other organizations explored these topics with the same depth, NIDS reports serve as some of the few viable resources for exploring the topic.

In August of 2004, NIDS released its findings on Black Triangle sightings in a report that is no longer hosted online, but that can be accessed via the Internet Archive. According to the report, NIDS’ investigation began on January 5, 2000 — when a police officer called their hotline to report “a very large, silent, brightly lit object in western Illinois.” The effort that ensued reportedly identified five other police officers from different precincts, as well as more than a dozen other witnesses to corroborate the claim.

According to the witness testimonies, the unusual triangular object was seen flying in the direction of Scott Air Force Base (SAFB) in St. Clair County, Illinois. Scott AFB is the home of the U.S. Air Force air mobility command — which is worth noting as large formations of U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft participating in Joint Forcible Entry Exercises often result in a rash of UFO sightings and reports due to the unusual nature of having dozens of massive aircraft flying in formations across the U.S.

A formation of C-130 Hercules aircraft fire off chaff and flare countermeasures over the Nevada Test and Training Range (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

It’s worth noting that NIDS also outlined what they referred to as a “tentative correlation” between locations of Air Mobility Command installations and reported sightings of these Black Triangles. However, Air Force officials told NIDS investigators that there were no such exercises taking place that night, nor were any flights that might account for the reported sightings. A complete summary of witness statements and testimonials surrounding the event can be found cataloged here.

Reports of Black Triangle UFOs around the world date back as far as the 1950s, and in the 1980s and early 1990s, a rash of Black Triangle sightings over Belgium and the UK were investigated by a variety of organizations. In at least two instances over Belgium, F-16s were even scrambled to intercept unusual objects spotted on radar… but it would be until the late 1990s that Black Triangles would become a much more common sight over the U.S.

Related: The DoD’s UAP Report is out: Highlights and full document

Black Triangle sightings in the US saw a significant increase in 1997

According to the NIDS report, they received hundreds of calls about Black Triangles when they opened their reporting hotline in 1999, each one describing similar large, silent, and often slow-moving aircraft.

In order to assess the real frequency of Black Triangle sightings in the United States, NIDS contacted the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and Larry Hatch, who maintained one of the largest and most comprehensive databases of UFO sightings at the time. These organizations were particularly valuable to NIDS investigators because they didn’t open their hotline to easily collect reports until 1999, limiting their sample size in the years prior.

NIDS assembled more than 700 combined Black Triangle sightings into a single U.S. highway map, with U.S. Air Force installations also shown as blue, yellow, and green circles.

Triangular craft sightings are shown as red triangles, with circles denoting the location of U.S. Air Force installations (NIDS)

According to the NIDS report, all three databases saw a significant increase in black triangle UFO sightings starting in 1997. Further, the vast majority of sightings came from well-populated areas, which would be an unusual flight plan for a highly secretive government aircraft program. Indeed, NIDS points out how the dispersion of these sightings is not in any way similar to sightings of the F-117 Nighthawk or B-2 Spirit during their testing regimes, which were largely limited to Nevada and Southern California and seen over sparsely populated areas.

The frequency of Black Triangle reports by year, as collected by each database. (NIDS)

NIDS initially hypothesized that these black triangles were covert military aircraft, in keeping with the legend of the TR-3B, but the sheer volume of sightings over cities and near heavily trafficked interstates prompted NIDS to reconsider that idea, openly wondering if these objects may come from elsewhere.

Regardless of whether you believe in the TR-3B or Black Triangle UFOs, it seems evident that people were seeing something in the skies during this time. In the next installment, we’ll dive into the very real possibility that these sightings could have been secret U.S. Government aircraft programs.

Feature image courtesy of The X-Files, 20th Century Fox

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Alex Hollings

Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran.