H e l i c o p t e r s 

There is little doubt that a significant number of UFO/UAP reports is attributable to helicopters.

Helicopters have been described as dark, rectangular, triangular, egg-shaped and cigar-shaped UFOs. When flying at night, a military helicopter with its lights inside the passenger/cargo section switched on, will show as an object with a horizontal row of illuminated windows. Some UFO witnesses claim they saw "humanoid figures" behind the portholes of a UFO, which is actually a fair description of a helicopter and its crew seen from close by.

Like airplanes, helicopters are equipped with navigation and anti-collision lights, but what causes the most confusion are the bright searchlights used by police and military helicopters during nocturnal missions. In a number of cases, the observers had the impression that these searchlight beams were cut off in mid-air (ufologists use the expression "solid light cases" for reports in which light emitted by UFOs behaves unnaturally). Light beams with cut-off ends may indeed seem strange, but that is not necessarily the case. Partial light beams can be explained by the presence of a layer of haze with clear air underneath. A searchlight shining through this layer will be visible as a bright cone or cylinder because the light of the beam will reflect off of the water drops on its path through the haze. The clear air underneath will not reflect any light, making it look as if the beam ends abruptly a few metres above the ground.

The precise location of the different navigation lights varies from helicopter to helicopter. Although their placement is mandated by international conventions and civil authorities, even identical models can have different lighting configurations dependent on the owner's interpretation of the prescribed regulations. Small red and green navigation lights should always be visible, respectively at port side (left) and starboard side (right), but for an observer on the ground these lights can be masked by the landing gear or by the other, much brighter lights. Most helicopters also carry a white-blue strobelight or a red rotating beacon light that is part of the aircraft's anti-collision system, but these too can be fitted at will underneath the hull, on top of the cockpit or at the tail end. As with airplanes, almost any configuration of lights is possible. Also, one should keep in mind that most people, when they are confronted with an asymmetrical group of lights (such as the lights of an airplane seen from a certain angle), are not capable of recalling the exact position of each light. Experiments at UFO conferences revealed that, when visitors were shown a slide with a configuration of coloured lights, and were then asked to draw what they has seen, the majority of the sketches turned out very different from the original image.

The flight manoeuvrability of helicopters can look quite spectacular at night and may add to the confusion as well. Unlike other aircraft, helicopters can hover in the same place for minutes, display sudden accelerations and execute sharp turns.

Helicopters flying close to the ground make a lot of noise, but there are several factors that can reduce the noise significantly. When evaluating reports of which it is suspected that a helicopter was involved, it is always important to check the weather conditions. The condition which most propagates sound is an overcast morning with no wind. Since wind can carry the sound away, it is useful to know from which direction the wind was blowing (helicopter pilots are sometimes trained in flight techniques to minimize noise by flying downwind as much as possible). Another meteorological factor that may explain why helicopters are not always heard, is the presence of an inversion layer close to the ground. Inversion occur when a layer of warm air, which acts like a shield, traps a layer of cold air beneath it. Helicopters flying above an inversion may appear silent, because the noise is bounced back upward by the inversion layer. A third reason why helicopters sometimes produce less sound than one would expect, is that military helicopters are often equipped with special mufflers to avoid detection during covert nocturnal operations (or simply to permit civilians to enjoy their night's sleep). In some UFO reports that could be attributed to helicopters, it was found that that the noise could have been masked by other sounds (such as the engine of the car the witnesses were in, or the proximity of a babbling brook). And finally there is also the state of shock a witness may find himself in when confronted with a new and - in his eyes - totally unexplainable phenomenon. Such an unexpected confrontation can bring about a form of dissociation by which the visual impact and concentration can be strong enough to override the workings of other senses (in 1983 prominent British UFO author Jenny RANDLES coined the expression "the Oz factor" to describe the sensation of "total silence" and of "being in an unreal world", that sometimes accompanies close sightings of unknown phenomena).

The absence of noise is often quoted by UFO witnesses as the foremost reason why they believe the object they saw could not have been a helicopter. Considering the above, it seems likely though that helicopters are responsible for a great deal of nocturnal "close encounters", including some of the key sightings reported during the Belgian UFO wave of 1989-1992.

Occasionally, helicopters can be mistaken for UFOs during daytime as well, especially when sunlight reflecting off large cockpit windows, creates the illusion of a strange contraption with a big dome of light on top and odd-looking dark structures behind or underneath. Still, these reports are rare, which is why, in this gallery, we focus mainly on night-shots of helicopters. Unfortunately such images are extremely hard to find. Because of this, we mostly had to resort to stills from movie scenes that feature helicopters.