Among the many, many UFO encounters out there, some tend to be more compelling than others. Among these are those that come from highly respected and seasoned professionals, chief among them pilots. These are experienced observers of the skies who have been up there in the clouds and know what they should expect to see, but sometimes something materializes for which their training and experience have not prepared them for. There have been many reports of airplane pilot reports of UFOs, but there is also a subspecies of such cases, and those are the reports given by helicopter pilots. Here we will look at a selection of cases of helicopter UFO encounters in which the UFO was not only seen, but also actually pursued.
In November of 1973, Army Reserve helicopter pilot Capt. Lawrence Coyne, of the 316th Medical Detachment stationed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, in the U.S. state of Ohio, was flying in the sky with four others over Mansfield on their way back from Columbus to their base in Cleveland at approximately 11:00 p.m., when they had an experience that would change their lives forever. As they flew towards their destination, a mysterious red light appeared on the eastern horizon, and was first spotted by Coyne’s crew chief, Sgt. Robert Yanacsek. The unidentified object seemed to be headed right at them, forcing him to take evasive action, and Coyne would say of what happened to the Mansfield News Journal:
The light was traveling in excess of 600 knots. It came from the horizon to our aircraft in about 10 seconds. We were on a collision course. At 1,700 feet I braced myself for the impact with the other craft. It was coming from our right side. I was scared. There had been so little time to respond. The thing was terrifically fast. We looked up and saw it stopped right over us. It had a big, gray metallic-looking hull about 60 feet long. It was shaped like an airfoil or a streamlined fat cigar. There was a red light on the front. The leading edge glowed red a short distance back from the nose. There was a center dome. A green light at the rear reflected on the hull. I had made no attempt to pull up. All controls were set for a 20-degree dive. Yet we had climbed from 1,700 to 3,500 feet with no power in a couple of seconds with no g-forces or other noticeable strains.
We went into a maneuver, a controlled free fall. We dropped about 2,000 feet. It took just a couple of seconds. I remember looking up through the ceiling and I saw a white light moving over top of us. I followed it to the left horizon where it disappeared. Red navigational lights aren’t located in the front of an aircraft. That’s what was moving toward us. I don’t know what it was. I had to file an official report in detail to the Army on this thing.
The bizarre sighting would be documented on the ground as well, and is considered to be a very reliable case. Moving ahead in years, in June of 2008, a strange series of events played out in the skies above a defense base near Cardiff, Wales. According to news reports, a three-member police team was on routine maneuvers near St Athan RAF base when they spotted a low-flying object described as “flying saucer-shaped and circled by flashing lights.” The anomalous object allegedly began to speed towards them, and fearing an imminent collision, the pilot took evasive maneuvers, managing to tilt out of the way as the craft streaked past. The helicopter then apparently gave chase. Whatever the object was, it was reported as being under intelligent control, dipping, rising, speeding up and slowing down, as if toying with the helicopter in hot pursuit of it. The crew reportedly chased it as far as the English Channel, but had to abort the effort when low fuel forced them to return to base. The story hit several news publications at the time, including The Telegraph and The Sun, but considering the latter is a tabloid there was some skepticism to the report. However, South Wales Police would later confirm the incident, saying in a statement:
We can confirm the Air Support Unit sighted an unusual aircraft. This was reported to the relevant authorities for their investigation.
From 2014, we have an incident involving a Chilean Navy helicopter on a routine daytime patrol mission flying north along the Chilean coast, west of Santiago. The navy captain and technician aboard the chopper sighted what they described as a “flat, elongated structure, white with a semi-oval shape on the horizontal axis” from a range of about 40 miles, and closed in on it as they unsuccessfully tried to make radio contact with the unidentified object. The object was visible hovering in the clouds for a full nine minutes, although it always kept its distance from the approaching chopper. The object was reported to the ground, but it remained invisible to radar. During the nine minutes the object was visible, the helicopter took video footage with a commercial grade WESCAM MX-15 HD Forward Looking Infra-Red camera, which was declassified and released in 2017 to much debate and speculation by the public. It has been widely considered to be of very high quality, and the Chilean government has confirmed that it is indeed authentic. Expert analysis has failed to find any definitive explanation, and General Ricardo Bermudez, director of the Chilean government agency CEFAA, which investigates UFO sightings, has said:
I was very impressed by these witnesses. They were highly trained professionals with many years’ experience, and they were absolutely certain that they could not explain what they saw. We do not know what it was, but we do not know what it was not.
In 2016, there is the case of a window cleaner by the name of Darren Cooper, who was at his home in Southampton when he spotted in the sky a strange object that looked like a “dark ring,” which hovered silently in the air and looked like no kind of aircraft he had ever seen. It was so anomalous and weird that he decided to run to grab his camcorder to get footage of the odd sight. He would say of the object:
It’s most certainly not a balloon because the wind would have made it act like a balloon and gave it more of a wobble or speed it up or made it move erratically but there were no movements like that at all. I thought it could have been a drone because there are so many of them about now but this thing continued to glide off into the distance. Before jumping to conclusions I ran back inside to grab my camcorder.
He would film the object briefly before it moved off into the distance. The situation would get stranger when just a few minutes later a mysterious, black unmarked helicopter appeared then allegedly began to give chase. Cooper would record footage of this as well, and says of the bizarre scene that transpired after he began filming the object in the sky:
It (the UFO) was a little higher in the sky when I first noticed the object but it seemed to change course and turn slightly around the houses while descending before eventually disappearing into the distance. Seconds later after I had gone back inside the house to take a closer look at the footage, I suddenly heard a helicopter overhead. So I grabbed the camcorder again and ran back outside to film the helicopter on the identical path of the UFO filmed just minutes beforehand. The chopper was on the same path as the object in the sky. The helicopter was turning as if looking for something.
The helicopter was reported as being black and without any identifying markings, and it appeared to chase the object off into the distance and disappear from view. What was going on here? Even more recently is an incident from February of 2021, this time involving helicopters from both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Tucson Police Department (TPD) in Arizona. According to the site, The War Zone, who got their hands on the TPD’s official Case Summary Report, it started when an unidentified object entered sensitive airspace west of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. TPD and CBP helicopters were immediately scrambled and sent to engage, after which the object flew into controlled airspace between the base and Tucson International Airport. It was described as having a single green light on its underbody, and as doing highly erratic maneuvers “in a manner to hamper the TPD crew’s ability to track it visually” as the helicopters doggedly pursued it. The object would rapidly go from an altitude of 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet and enter restricted military airspace during the chase, and it also demonstrated remarkable maneuverability, able to fly circles around the helicopters. The helicopters would go after the mysterious object for over an hour, before running low on fuel and losing it in the clouds at 12,000 feet. The official explanation would be that this was a “highly modified drone” and that its operator must have had a clear visual of the helicopters, but if it was a drone then it was able to operate at extreme range from any ground operator and behave like nothing they have ever seen before. The TDP pilot would say of it:
It was very sophisticated/specialized and able to perform like no other UAS (drone). It was obvious that the controller had clear sight of both the helicopters tracking it by the way it would orbit us and abruptly fly behind us and attempt to avoid our visual contact. Although we could not determine its exact size or characteristics we primarily tracked it by a single green non-blinking light illuminating from the craft. It is unknown what the intentions of the sophisticated UAS were during its time near the Air Force Base, or how far away its origination/destination spot was. It was quite clear though that this was not like any other UAS that we have experienced.
If this was a drone, then it would have to have been very advanced indeed, and beyond the capabilities of what is currently available. Not only was it able to deftly maneuver and operate at long range and high altitudes, but it was also much larger than any commercially available drones. How was it able to travel so far if it was being operated by a pilot on the ground, and how would its batteries be able to outlast the fuel of the helicopters following it? Was this really a drone, or was it perhaps something stranger? The War Zone would conclude its report by saying:
Despite these details coming to light in the case of the mysterious “highly modified drone” seen above Tucson, it remains unclear what exact type of configuration could allow for the flight characteristics described in this newly-obtained police report. It certainly seems as if its pilot was highly experienced given the fact that the drone was able to run circles around the helicopters at high altitudes and speeds. The drone must have also possessed the ability to supply its pilot with superior situational awareness in order to pull off such feats. The fact that the drone appeared to maintain a high-quality command and control link suggest some fairly sophisticated hardware above what is commonly found on consumer quadcopter or hexcopter configurations, even higher-end models. It’s also unlikely that this craft ran on battery power. Whatever it was, the flight characteristics the mysterious craft displayed above Tucson on the evening of February 9 are truly eyebrow-raising and only increase the bizarre and currently unexplained nature of the incident.
These are just some of many strange UFO encounters involving helicopters and their pilots. These reports, like those of airline and military pilots, tend to carry some significant amount of weight considering the pedigree of the witnesses. After all, these are seasoned pilots who have been in the air and know what to expect up there, additionally facing possible ridicule and even dismissal for telling their stories. What would they have to gain from lying? There is also the fact that witnesses on the ground have often corroborated these reports, so we are left with quite a mysterious series of events. What was witnessed in cases such as these? Were these just misidentified aircraft, drones, atmospheric phenomena, or something else altogether? It remains unanswered, and these helicopter encounters only serve to add to the growing list of pilot encounters with the unexplained.