I was driving south on I-77, near Rock Hill, South Carolina. We had beautiful, clear skies, and I was enjoying the sight of three or four commercial airliners with impressive contrails, all in different positions in the sky flying southerly courses. It was an interesting sight because they were the only aircraft in the sky, yet given their positions and their vectors (implied by their contrails), I guessed they must be flying toward the same airport. Perhaps Tampa, or maybe Orlando. This spectacular view kept me casually watching the sky.
At this point, another object became visible, seeming to instantly appear, as an incredibly brilliant point of light in the sky. The object appeared about 30-degrees above the horizon and just east of my southerly course. Initially, I thought I was witnessing a star nova, so I paid attention with some excitement, expecting it to disappear just as quickly. However, after only a few seconds the object dimmed/dulled, and took a southwest vector. My next thought was that it must be a military aircraft, and perhaps I noticed it only because it caught the sun angle well-enough to create such extreme reflectance. I reasoned that it must have been flying toward or away from me at first, preventing me from perceiving any change of its lateral position in the sky. There was nothing unbelievable about its change in direction; the object simply started tracking southwest on an ascending vector. I was surprised to see a fighter jet there, and I speculated it must be doing maneuvers. So again, I kept my eye on it.
Its difficult to explain how I lost visual. The objects change in vector, as well as its dimming/changing solar reflectance, were consistent with a fighter jet having high reflectance and then low reflectance as it proceeded through a maneuver. However, even with ultra clear skies, the object seemed to just ..escape. The entire observation might have been 10 whole seconds, with perhaps three seconds spent in the escape vector.
A handful of details remain inconsistent with the possibility that I witnessed fighter aircraft. 1) I cant imagine how an aircraft could have presented such a reflective surface toward the sun while flying directly toward or away from me (recall at first I believed it was a fixed position in the sky). If enough of the aircrafts body was tilted in a way to have created the sort of reflectance I observed, it would had to have been banking, which would have meant considerable lateral movement, and certainly enough not to mistake it as an object in a fixed position. 2) There were no other military aircraft in the vicinity doing drills, nor did I see others later, which I might have reasoned were the same aircraft. 3) I could not hear anything consistent with a jet aircraft. Admittedly, though, I was in the car, and with the windows up, I might not have heard such an aircraft to begin with.
Ultimately the most intriguing detail was the manner in which the object went out of view. For a military aircraft at such an altitude, I believe I could have watched it for several more seconds before it was no longer visible to me. But this object seemed to just escape, as if it left the envelope of the atmosphere at a fantastic speed. Perhaps not by flying straight up, but by flying away from me at an insane rate of travel, yet along a vector similar enough to my own, so that it did not seem to move very much laterally.
Trying to understand how it could have been a military fighter aircraft, I Googled for video of F-16s at a great distance. The one I found, below, does show movement in the sky similar to what I observed; however, the remarkable reflectance at a seemingly stationary position, the lack of other aircraft doing maneuvers, and the ultra-rapid disappearance after just a few seconds are extraordinarily difficult to explain.
[Link moved to FI section/cms/tg]
Hopefully someone else saw this curious object and will add some comments to help validate or disqualify my observation.