The story behind the contrail penis that appeared over Washington state a couple of years ago — shocking, delighting and dismaying viewers on the ground — has finally come to light.
That’s according to a new report on Monday in the Navy Times, which said it obtained a copy of the military’s investigation into the incident that happened over Okanogan County, Washington, on Nov. 16, 2017, near a spot where pilots from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island train.
The investigative report didn’t say if the Navy pilot and crew member involved were disciplined, the Times reports. Cockpit video caught the pilot and his electronic warfare officer partner hatching their plan to create the phallic image in the skies.
“You should totally try to draw a penis,” the pilot’s partner said, the Times reports.
“My initial reaction was no, bad,” the pilot wrote after the incident, according to the Times. “But for some reason still unknown to me, I eventually decided to do it.”
“I could definitely draw one, that would be easy,” the pilot said, according to the publication. “I could basically draw a figure eight and turn around and come back. I’m gonna go down, grab some speed and hopefully get out of the contrail layer so they’re not connected to each other.”
And the pilot followed through, as the pair commented on the “lopsided” testicles and size of their creation, according to the Times.
Local news outlets quickly picked up the story after viewers on the ground looked up and saw the unusual contrails, as McClatchy reported at the time.
Ramone Duran was doing errands in the area when he caught a glimpse of the penis starting to take shape above, The Spokesman-Review reported.
“After it made the circles at the bottom, I knew what it was and started laughing,” Duran said, adding that the rendering was complete within five minutes, according to the newspaper. “It was pretty funny to see that. You don’t expect to see something like that.”
But not everyone was laughing.
A mother sent a photo of the crude drawing to KREM “saying she was upset she might have to explain to her young children what the drawings were,” the TV station reported.
Navy officials didn’t see the humor either, according to the station, saying in a statement that the “Navy holds its aircrew to the highest standards and we find this absolutely unacceptable.”
One Navy official went even further at the time, Gizmodo reports.
“Sophomoric and immature antics of a sexual nature have no place in Naval aviation today,” Naval Air Forces Pacific Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said in a statement, per Gizmodo. “This event clearly stands in stark contrast to the way our aviators and Sailors are performing with utmost professionalism, discipline and excellence from our carrier flight decks and expeditionary airfields around the world today.”
Officials said Shoemaker disciplined the lieutenants himself, according to Gizmodo.
Still, the rendering drew laughs and jokes around the country on social media. It even made international news, getting covered by the BBC and the British newspaper The Guardian, which ran the online headline: “Penis in the sky: US navy pilots grounded over ‘obscene’ stunt”
The jet involved in the incident is used in electronic warfare and can fly at twice the speed of sound, according to the BBC, which reported that Naval Air Station Whidbey Island spokesman Thomas Mills said the drawing had “zero training value and the aircrew is being held accountable.”
The Times reports that the pair eventually had second thoughts.
“Soon after, I realized the extent of our actions,” the pilot wrote, according to the publication. “I remarked that we needed to take steps to try to obfuscate it … I flew one pass over it essentially trying to scribble it out with my contrails. That pass was ineffective.”
But Navy pilots aren’t the only U.S. service members with artistic flair.
The Marines launched an investigation in 2018 after Twitter users spotted a military flight path over Southern California that looked suspiciously like a penis as well, NBC reported last year.
The Navy was quick to weigh in — and absolve itself — after that incident, writing in a tweet that “the aircraft in question is not a U.S. Navy aircraft.”