UFO Report From a Pilot Who Doesn’t Believe in Them

There is only one subject more boring and pointless to me than my wife’s Instagram cat feed: UFOs. Pilots, civilian and military, have, for three generations now, done the world a huge disservice by speculating about the nature of what they saw rather than just describing what they saw. Unfortunately people award pilots with a credibility they do not deserve about these sorts of things. I am expecting no credibility from you all. For the record, I will go so far as to say I am as close to certain that Earth-visiting extra-terrestrials do not exist as I am that a big boat saved all living things from a global flood 6000 years ago. Nothing I have seen or read or heard changes either view.

A month ago, at around 0500z, we were heading eastbound on the Atlantic OTS at FL350. On “fingers” (123.45) we heard one side of a conversation where one pilot was describing a light phenomenon that she has now observed on nearly every night crossing. (The other flight she was talking to was out of our VHF range.) She described a triangle of bright lights about 10 degrees above her horizon with one light moving relative to the other two. I looked at my FO and, I am embarrassed to say, rolled my eyes. At that very moment we both observed a single very bright light due east; about 10x brighter than Venus and very high. The “very high” part is a guess. I only know that it was 5 degrees above the horizon and “seemed” very far away. As the first light flickered a second light became visible, flickering also but not quite as bright. Other stars and planets were also visible of course, but none that were in the same plane on our horizon were anywhere near so bright nor so prone to brilliant flickering. Then a third light became visible, forming a triangle as the other pilot had just described. In terms of spacing relative to each other, I’d say they were roughly like Orion’s Belt, but triangular. At this point the first, and still brightest of the three began moving in a slow corkscrew relative to the others. I looked at the FO and asked if he was seeing it and he confirmed what I’ve described. The circles of that first star where radiused (word?) about like, again, two adjacent stars from Orion’s Belt. Each full circle of the corkscrew took about 10 seconds. After 10 minutes, the second two lights faded slowly away. But the first stayed visible, though not as bright, for a good while longer and didn’t really change it’s elevation above the horizon.

I flew several more crossings but didn’t see any of the lights again until last night. During the intervening time, initially anyway, talking about these lights was all the rage both in the flight deck and on fingers. But after another week or two, people stopped talking. The lights didn’t stop. Pilots just stopped discussing them. The consensus was that they are StarLink. What we saw last night wasn’t quite as mesmerizing. Just two lights this time. Initially, neither moved so, other than their unusual brightness, it was impossible to say that they weren’t celestial. Then one moved very rapidly right to left (south to north) relative to the other. After making about a 30 degree arc, it faded to black. The second light was visible for 10 more minutes.

Why don’t I think this is StarLink? I’ve seen star link many times. They move in a constant straight line (as satellites are wont to do) and are visible because the sun has recently set to the west making good conditions for the reflected light to reach us. The lights I’ve described occurred at between 5 and 6z and between 50 - 40W. (Roughly between the Canadian Maritimes and Greenland.) The sun would be well below the horizon to the east and nothing in the upper atmosphere or low Earth orbit would be illuminated by it. Plus, while all that is true, the angle between the sun, the lights and us to the west would make reflected light very unlikely to reach us.

Another theory, and a very good one, is airplanes. But certainly not airliners. The organized track system is just that, organized. Every track is spaced laterally but the heading changes are perpendicular. Planes can fly randomly off-track but their courses still follow a set pattern. Planes flying away, even with modern LED lighting, are very difficult to spot beyond about 15 miles. Planes flying toward you are easier to see out to about 40 miles. Landing and recog lights can increase that to about 80 miles in good conditions. But even then, the lights are much dimmer and have shape. And, if they are bright, they are moving toward the viewer and will intersect in about 5 minutes (relative velocity of up to 1000 knots). What we saw was a very different thing altogether.

I don’t have video evidence. I tried tonight after the first light zoomed north from the second, but the remaining light was too dim and boring. Without the other light to show relative movement, it’s just a very flickering star.


Interesting. Would you say so high/far that their relative motion seemed unusual?

You know, like their ability to move relative to one another seemed odd for what you took as their distance from you?


Very. ANY relative motion in that bit of sky is odd. But these lights were very far away). I say that for two reasons 1) a plane higher on the horizon will very quickly fly past at a higher altitude and 2) That plane will either fly past or won’t be visible in the first place (because it is flying away. So let’s say it’s a plane at 20 miles that somehow never gets closer. Then I’d say that the relative vectors would be in the hundreds of knots. The “cork-screw” would be several miles in diameter. But these objects seemed to be more in the 100-200 mile range and extremely high. Whatever they are, they are not reflecting light. They are emitting very bright light, talking Klieg lights, afterburner or the most powerful LEDs I’ve ever seen. They are trying to be spotted.


Huh, fascinating. I’ve never seen anything that odd. You thinking maneuvering spacecraft/aircraft, or just, “defies Newton’s laws” kind of thing?

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I think, and now I am speculating as I promised not to do, maneuvering planes/drones at FL600+ that are curiously well-illuminated. Anything in LEO or above would burn massive amounts of fuel to maneuver like that.


Is there anything he can’t do? :wink:


The flickering could be explained by atmospheric distortion as you describe the lights as being only about 5° above the horizon. The relative motion….I have no idea.


Could the illumination actually be reflection of the sun, similarly to how satellites such as the starlink constellations are?

Between new LEO satellites, mis-directed Chinese weather balloons and whatever weird stuff the boys in Skunk Works are playing with at whatever time, I’m not surprised there are occasional UFO/UAP sightings.

I am surprised by the recent increase in volume.


Starlink flashes are now regularly being reported by pilots - could it be that?

The majority of my training and adult working life has been to piece together, sometimes disparate, snippets of information and come to the most likely conclusion. In other words Intelligence - in the .gov and .mil sense, not necessarily how ‘smart’ I am… but I do like to think I have an analytical mind and am a credible witness.

On the subject of extraterrestrial life, I am convinced that there is life elsewhere in the universe (heck, I don’t think it is long until we find conclusive evidence of life elswhere in this solar system). I also believe that the chance of intelligent/sapient/sentient ET’s existing is almost certain… Are they ‘visiting’ us? on that subject I am torn. Most likely not, but if they are they have an understanding of physics that is well beyond our own and must be capable of manipulating space time.

Which is why I am torn, because there are too many reports of flying objects from credible witnesses that seemingly defy the laws of physics as we know them. I too have seen something that I can’t explain but am happy to relate NB: I am not saying that this is an “alien spacecraft”, just something that the wife and I saw and have NFI what it could be:

Cut and paste of what I sent soon after the event to a friend who is convinced that any report of a UAP (or whatever you want to call them) is either a hoax or easily explained by natural phenomena.

In December 2019 at about 8-30pm to 9-00pm, we are unsure of the exact date but Orion was almost due East and about 30 degrees above the visible horizon, which is a ridge at approximately 10km distance and at a slightly higher elevation than the house (approx 500m). It was a still, clear, cloudless night with no moon:

I observed a brilliant reddish white flash, also to the East in the vicinity of Orion but at about 45 degrees above the visible horizon. It faded within a second and was like a meteor flare, but with no tail.

At this time, my wife called my attention to a large, steady, bright white light to the North East and approximately 30 degrees above the visible horizon. It was about the same brightness and apparent size as Venus, which had already set in the West and was moving fast in what appeared to be a Southerly direction. The object seemed to be some distance away, but as there were no reference points other than the horizon and stars, we are unable to estimate the size, distance or speed accurately. However, due to its apparent ‘size’, brightness and speed, if it was a ‘conventional’ aircraft it should have been close enough that we would have also been able to see the other navigation lights and hear it. Or, if it was further away then I think it would have had to have been supersonic.

There was a second, identical looking flash, about 20-30 seconds later. It came from the same vicinity as the first and immediately the object, still moving South and now almost East of us, decelerated rapidly and slowed noticeably.

There was a third flash, again with about a 20-30 second delay from the same area of sky and the light accelerated extremely rapidly, performed what looked like a vertical zigzag manoeuvre and disappeared from view within a matter of seconds.

Total time from the first flash to the object disappearing would have been no more than two minutes.

We remained outside for another 10 minutes at least but saw no further unusual activity.

Below is the gist of the conversation at the time and a pictorial representation:

Wife. What’s that?

Me. That flash, looked a bit like a meteor.

W. No. That! (pointed out the object).

Me. He’s motoring!

Watched for about 20-30 seconds

W. Shouldn’t we be able to hear it?

Me. Yeah, and I can’t see any other nav lights.

W. Me either, it’s just a big bright light.

Second flash.

Me. There’s another one.

W. It just slowed down.

Me. This is getting a bit freaky.

W. Agrees.

Third flash

W. I saw that one.

Me. Yeah… Holy ■■■■ did you see that?

W. Uh, huh. It zig-zagged and disappeared.

Almost in unison. WTF was that?


Vey cool! And very similar to our experience I think.

First post. We were comparing the lights to celestial objects that were at the same elevation relative to the horizon. The flickering in itself is not so important to me as is the relative brilliance of the lights.

First post. At that hour and at our position, I think the sun was well hidden by the Earth to anything in LEO. Higher objects, even geosynchronous objects, would reflect the sun to us. But that really confounds the relative motions. The velocities and accelerations would have been off the charts.

First post. True, when I first saw Starlink it freaked me out a bit. We were eastbound out of Lihue approaching California with the sun’s twilight still visible behind. The conditions were perfect. Fortunately I was with an FO who’d heard of it (guess I had been hiding under a rock). I’ve since seen Starlink a bunch of times. Always the same. Sun JUST below the horizon and 3 to 6 objects visible traveling in a perfect straight line. At exactly the point where your eye would expect the Earth’s shadow to block the sun, the lead object dims from view and is often replaced by a new object at the rear of the string.

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Huh. Meteorites bouncing off the atmosphere?
I’ve seen them appear to do weird things (albeit more like coming in a visually odd angles, not changing directions). Is it possible for an object to both skip off the atmosphere and also burn brightly due to atmospheric friction?

Why the “huh”? Speaking of meteors, we saw a cool one westbound over Isle of Man last week. It exploded into a shower of fragments. Anyway, meteors in my experience don’t stay fixed for several minutes before darting off 90 degrees. Also, the right to left motion was “fast” but nowhere near meteor-fast. As to what is possible. I just don’t know. Looking out the window at the night sky is no different than observing from the ground. Most of us witness only the tiniest fraction of the little events that happen around us every second. My “possible” is based on high school physics and my very limited observations. That’s why I am reaching out. So, can I be certain that these things aren’t slow burning objects. No. In fact the world would become a much more fascinating place if I learned that this really happens.


I meant that as in a “Hmmm…” as in stumped and considering :thinking: Not as in ‘Huh?’
Inflection tone and context doesn’t always come across well on an Internet forum, unfortunately. :slightly_smiling_face:

That is very true. My only straw to grasp at is that perception of motion is relative, and depends on the relationship/angle of the viewer to the object. I have no idea, certainly not trying to sell the meteorite idea, just something that popped into my insomniac brain while attempting to go to sleep a few time zones too early. :joy:

It’s certainly an interesting topic. I know several folks including .mil pilots that have seen strange things (beyond the normal unusual, like Saint Elmo’s fire or the northern lights too far south). I have no doubt that these appearances are real (some on fairly good video, even); equally I have no idea what they really are.


I am acutely aware of how your mind can play tricks on you as well. I remember one time at twilight that what I thought was a group of fast moving lights was in fact fast moving cloud… I had initially ‘seen’ the lights (stars beginning to emerge) moving and the clouds stationary, not the other way around.

At the furthest end of this, extreme sleep deprivation causing hallucinations is also something I have first hand experience of. I am sure that is not a factor in this case and anyway, is a longer story for another time.


Haha, very true. Especially if you’re at FL450, not the pilot wearing the mask, sitting there late at night for four plus hours trying to stay awake after a long day. I’ve had an eye floater catch my attention at least once thinking it was rapidly closing traffic.

But generally that’s not something shared by not only the other pilot, but other pilots in other airplanes!


It is true. We are tired. Because I am usually teaching I am especially exhausted and admittedly susceptible to imagining phenomena where none exist. But when these things are shared simultaneously by crewmembers sitting a few feet apart and over the radio hundreds of miles apart, it becomes a collective hallucination. I’ve been doing this a long time. If we pilots are playing off each other in imagining something that isn’t, that would be very new. And also very interesting :grin:

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There are a variety of analytical techniques (most can be looked up online), but my personal favourite for analysing an event after the fact is ‘competing hypotheses’. Or as I like to call it, the Sherlock Holmes method.

Essentially, any hypothesis that explains what happened is valid until ‘evidence’ comes to light that refutes it and the hypothesis that has the most supporting evidence is true (on a sliding scale from maybe to almost certain).

So, we have just ruled out ‘mind playing tricks’ and ‘hallucination’. :wink:


There was the night I seriously thought I was about to be in a close encounter situation on a residential street at work. When I have some time I’ll out that in so there I was thread as it was purely mental.

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Interesting observations, @smokinhole!
One thing about relative motion, observed from a cockpit, that has had me fooled, is reflection in angled and curved cockpit windows…
A small fraction of a degree of viewing angle will change the apparent motion of a lightsource.
I have reacted to moving lightsources many times, only to go Oh… when I realize it was just me, moving my head and viewpoint.
Don’t know if that could’ve been a factor here though. It’s harder to explain moving lights if the stars in the background are staying put…