Pilots around the world have reported unidentified objects in the sky – one recent case took place about 20 miles west of Heathrow Airport in London. What are these pilots seeing?
2013 UFO Sighting
On July 13th 2013, an airline pilot reported a sighting and ‘near miss’ with what he said was a UFO, near Heathrow Airport, London. According to The Telegraph, he saw a ‘metallic’ bright silver ‘cigar/rugby ball-like’ object, which came within a few feet of his A320 Airbus; he actually thought it was going to hit his plane.
Was it Really a UFO?
Immediately after the incident, the pilot checked the aircraft’s instruments and reported the sighting to air traffic control, but there was no sign of the UFO. An investigation by the UK Airprox Board, which looks into near misses in British airspace, ruled out weather balloons and other aircraft in the area. The report found that it was ‘not possible to trace the object or determine the likely cause of the sighting.’ Thus. the pilot’s UFO report simply became another one of a number of unexplained sightings of this type.
Other UFO Sightings
Reported sightings of UFOs are relatively common. Indeed, in October 2011, there were 87 UFOs supposedly seen around Kansas City alone. Pilots are thought to be accurate observers; a number of them report seeing UFOs too. In December 2012, pilots of three passenger planes all saw two UFOs above Britain’s East Grinstead-based scientology centre when they landed at Gatwick, south of London. And, perhaps most convincingly, a study by Richard Haynes PhD in 1992 found 56 cases of electromagnetic effects taking place on board an aircraft when some phenomenon was sighted – but not before or after the sighting. So were these really UFOs? What else could they have been?
What are UFOs?
UFO stands for ‘Unidentified Flying Object’ – so anything that is unidentified and flying in the air is, by definition, a UFO. Does that mean it’s an alien space craft? Probably not.
Donald Menzel, a noted ‘debunker’ of the 1950s and 1960s, compiled a list of objects which have been the primary causes of UFO reports in the past. His extensive list, which he actually described as ‘minimal and highly abbreviated,’ divided UFOs into nine main categories: material objects, immaterial objects, astronomical, physiological, psychological, combinations and special effects, photographic, radar, and hoaxes. Many of these are only likely to be seen from the ground rather than by a pilot (eg lighthouses, fireworks, insects), but many could well be seen from high altitude.
It looks as though most UFO sightings can be easily explained. Indeed, in December 2009 the MOD in Britain closed their ‘UFO hotline’, stating that while they had no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life, no reported UFO had posed a threat to the UK in over 50 years. In other words, if there are aliens out there, they haven’t been enough of a threat to worry the MOD.
Although there are explanations for most UFO sightings, a significant minority of these sightings are inexplicable. So are they really aliens? Who knows?
As a pilot, I’ve occasionally seen some strange phenomena in the sky when flying – a rainbow which formed a complete circle around me, a flashing light which turned out to be another aircraft heading straight towards me (scary, that one!) and various weird cloud formations. I’ve also – when on the ground of course – flown a flying saucer shaped kite which could easily have been mistaken for a UFO, since it is hard for the human eye to distinguish between a small object close by (ie my kite) and a larger one further away, such as a UFO.
Real UFOs: Flying Club Chat
However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real UFO. Indeed, if anyone at the flying club told me they had, I’d suspect that it was one of those things which Donald Menzel mentioned, unless I obtained some really, really convincing proof to the contrary. Our eyes can play tricks, and although pilots are reputed to be careful observers – and usually are – they are only human. Pilots’ eyes can deceive them too.