Gearhead News

July 19, 2021
The Strangest Encounters With Unidentified Aircraft We've Found In The FAA's Huge Database

The War Zone has begun to analyze some of the thousands of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone and unidentified aircraft incident reports collected in our new mapping tool. Several of these reports describe incidents that have been featured in our previous stories, including one that showcased nearly two dozen unusual incidents involving military aircraft or training ranges. However, many of them have provided leads on new and highly unusual incidents, ranging from puzzling high altitude encounters to craft described as cylinders and even discs.

As might be expected, the degree of severity of the incidents in the data set varies dramatically. Many of the reports describe common but nonetheless concerning safety hazards posed by errant recreational drones flown at low altitudes. Buried within the reports are also much more concerning incidents involving aircraft operating near sensitive facilities, such as nuclear installations and military bases, or at highly peculiar, and illegal, altitudes. The reports also vary considerably in terms of the type of aircraft described. Beyond the expected menagerie of commercial and recreational drones, a number of unusual vehicles are mentioned, including some balloon-drone hybrids, and a small smattering of references to what pilots described as UFOs.

UAVGEOGRAPHY.COM
We have created an interactive mapping tool that features nearly 10,000 drone and unidentified aircraft encounter incident reports that make up the FAA’s database that spans seven years. You can check it all out here. 

While many of the stranger reports will understandably draw attention, it is important to recall that simple commercial drones constitute a growing aviation safety issue. While we are working to conduct a more thorough analysis, it bears mentioning that the FAA dataset has 556 references to “NMACs” or near mid-air collisions. For example, in 2019 one of the reports cited an orange drone passing within three feet of the wing of an aircraft flying at 2,800 feet near Boston, Massachusetts. This brief video from Aviation International News depicts research findings on the potential hazard posed by drones striking aircraft:

The Data Set

The FAA does not provide many details about exactly how it collects and filters its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Sightings Report. However, the incidents largely focus on unauthorized or dangerous UAS activity. Given how broad the UAS designation has become, the reports also encompass a number of unidentified aircraft in addition to objects explicitly identified as drones and balloons.

The report summaries available in this data are typically brief. However, 72 percent of report summaries reference additional documents generated by the FAA’s Mandatory Occurrence Report (MOR) process. According to FAA regulations, a MOR must be generated whenever a pilot reports “unauthorized UAS activity or authorized UAS activity that is conducted in an unsafe or hazardous manner.” An example of a MOR report can be seen below. 

Example of a Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Mandatory Occurrence Report

Federal Aviation Administration

The reports help provide structured information about the incident, including whether the observed UAS or unidentified aircraft flew as part of a swarm formation, and the general shape and type of the aircraft.

Table of Vehicle Description Keywords

Adam Kehoe
Data derived from FAA UAS Sightings Report

The full data available in MOR reports are not included in the public data set. The War Zone has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Organization for copies of all MOR reports pertaining to these incidents. In the interim, we have filed individual requests on particular incidents of interest.

Highlighting Interesting Cases

It will take some time and the assistance of the public using our report mapping tool to fully identify all of the interesting cases, but below we will highlight some of the incidents we have found and examined so far. We have grouped some of the cases into thematic clusters. Many of the report summaries are written in highly dense, heavily formatted text that reveal fascinating details when read carefully.

Nuclear Reactor Cases

The War Zone has reported extensively on drone incidents involving strategic infrastructure, particularly domestic nuclear reactors. The most notable incident to date involved a half dozen drones “orbiting” the nation’s most powerful nuclear reactor facility in Palo Verde, Arizona. Indeed, three incident reports appear to describe those events:

November 2017: Tonopah, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: TONOPAH, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/1934P/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED PALO VERDE POWER PLANT SECURITY REPORTED 2 LARGE UAS FLYING OVER THE POWER PLANT. MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZAB_x000D_ Number: ZAB-M-2017/11/11-0006_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Nov 12, 2017 – 0234Z_x000D_ A/C: _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: Security reported unauthorized UAS activity in the vicinity of their nuclear power plant. At 0234z, they saw two rotorcraft UAS fly directly overhead the plant, split up, and then fly off in different directions. Maricopa County Sheriff was contacted. DEN notified.

September 2019: Wintersburg, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: WINTERSBURG, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/2050M/PALO VERDE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT SECURITY ADVISED 5-6 UAS WITH RED AND WHITE FLASHING LIGHTS WERE ORBITING THE POWER PLANT AND WATER RESERVOIR AREAS AT APPROXIMATELY 200 FEET. UAS POSSIBLY HAVE SPOTLIGHTS ATTACHED. THE UAS’S WERE OVER THE PLANT FOR OVER AN HOUR. MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED _x000D_

October 2019: Tonopah, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: TONOPAH, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/2130M/PHOENIX TRACON ADVISED 6 UAS ORBITING THE PALO VERDE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. LEO WAS NOT NOTIFIED. NO ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PROVIDED

The report summaries detail several other incidents involving nuclear reactors. Incidents were recorded in Minnesota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Arkansas. As is reflective of the cases overall, they range in seriousness. As in a 2016 case in Minnesota, a drone merely flew in the general vicinity of the plant. In an incident reminiscent of the Palo Verde events, a reactor in Clinton, IL observed several drones operating over sensitive areas of the facility. Intriguingly, red and white lights, unusual for drones, were observed in different geographic settings, including Arizona, Illinois and Ohio. 

The full case summaries can be found below:

March 2016: Minneapolis, Minnesota

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: MINNEAPOLIS, MN/UAS INCIDENT/2114C/MINNEAPOLIS ARTCC ADVISED A SECURITY GUARD AT A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT REPORTED A UAS IN THE “OWNERS AREA” OF THE MONTICELLO NUCLEAR PLANT. THE UAS WAS NOT IN THE “PROTECTED AREA.” THE WRIGHT CO SHERIFF NOTIFIED.   PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: MINNEAPOLIS, MN/UAS INCIDENT/06 – 2045C/SECURITY SHIFT MANAGER AT THE MONTICELLO NUCLEAR POWER PLANT REPORTED SEEING A UAS WITH RED AND GREEN LIGHTS THAT WENT THROUGH THE OWNER’S CONTROLLED AIRSPACE (NOT THE PROTECTED AIRSPACE) AT APPX. 250 – 300 FEET, NORTHWEST TO SOUTHEAST IN A STRAIGHT LINE. NO EVASIVE ACTION WAS TAKEN. WRIGHT COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED.  MOR Alert for ZMP Number: ZMP-M-2016/03/06-0001 Type:  Date/Time: Mar 7, 2016 – 0245Z A/C: UAS (UAS)  Summary: Security shift manager at the Monticello Nuclear power plant reported a UAS that went through the owner controlled airspace (not the protected airspace) approx. 250-300 AGL. Northwest to Southeast in a straight line. Red and green lights. Wright county Sheriff notified and DEN notified.

April 2018: Glen Rose, Texas

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: GLEN ROSE, TX/UAS INCIDENT/0550C/PLANT SECURITY PERSONNEL ADVISED A CONCERNED CITIZEN REPORTED A UAS MANEUVERING OVER COMANCHE PEAK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, VCNTY OF GLEN ROSE. ACFT OPERATIONS NOT IMPACTED. SOMERVELL COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPT NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_

August 2018: Peach Bottom Township, Pennsylvania

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: PEACH BOTTOM TOWNSHIP, PA/UAS INCIDENT/1409E/POTOMAC TRACON ADVISED AN EMPLOYEE OF THE PEACH BOTTOM NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CALLED TO REPORT A UAS OPERATING CLOSE TO THE FACILITY AT 1339E. UAS WAS WHITE, FIXED WING, WINGSPAN OF 4 FEET, AND TRAVELING FROM THE WEST, THEN NORTH, THEN BACK TO THE WEST AT 75 FEET AGL. PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE NOTIFIED.

August 2018: Clinton, Illinois

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CLINTON, IL/UAS INCIDENT/0410C/CLINTON POWER STATION REPORTED MULTIPLE UAS IN THE VCNTY OF THE POWER STATION. UAS SPOTTED ABOVE THE ROTARY STORAGE AREA AND INTAKE AREA ON THE LAKE. IL STATE POLICE NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZAU_x000D_ Number: ZAU-M-2018/08/31-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Aug 31, 2018 – 0927Z_x000D_ A/C: NONE_x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: ILLINOIS STATE POLICE REPORT THAT THEY RECEIVED REPORTS FROM CLINTON POWER STATION NUCLEAR POWER PLANT IN CLINTON, ILLINOIS.UNITS ARE EN ROUTE TO THE SCENE. ROCC NOTIFIED. DEN NOTIFIED. POLICE REPORTED 3 DRONES, 1 OVER THE COOLING LAKE WITH RED AND WHITE LIGHTS, 1 OVER TOWER # 5, AND THE 3RD DRONE NO LONGER INSIGHT.

November 2018: New Orleans, Louisiana

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: NEW ORLEANS, LA/UAS INCIDENT/2045C/NEW ORLEANS TRACON ADVISED REPORTS OF 2 UAS’S OVER POWER PLANTS AT UNKN ALTITUDE 20 W NEW ORLEANS, LA. NO DESCRIPTION OF UAS REPORTED. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. ST CHARLES PARISH SHERIFF NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for MSY_x000D_ Number: MSY-M-2018/11/27-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Nov 28, 2018 – 0245Z_x000D_ A/C: _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: ST. CHARLES PARISH SHERIFF CALLED AND ASKED IF THERE WAS ANYTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT TWO DRONES FLYING OVER DOW CHEMICAL PLANTS AND ENTERGY NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS. THEY WERE TRYING TO LOCATE THE OPERATORS. DEN AND ROC NOTIFIED.

February 2019: San Luis Obispo, California

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA/UAS INCIDENT/2315P/LOS ANGELES ARTCC ADVISED A SECURITY GUARD AT THE DIABLO CANYON NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, SAN LUIS OBISPO, REPORTED A POSSIBLE LOW FLYING ACFT OR UAS PASS OVER THE PLANT. CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_

September 2019: Brownville, Nebraska

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: BROWNVILLE, NE/UAS INCIDENT/1000C/OMAHA TRACON ADVISED COOPER NUCLEAR STATION ENTERING INTO HEIGHTENED STATE OF SECURITY DUE TO DRONE ACTIVITY IN THE VICINITY OF THE FACILITY. LOCAL LEO NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_  _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for R90_x000D_  Number: R90-M-2019/09/28-0001_x000D_  Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_  Date/Time: Sep 28, 2019 – 1500Z_x000D_  A/C: UNKWN (UAS)_x000D_ _x000D_  _x000D_ Summary: RECEIVED A CALL FROM THE COOPER NUCLEAR FACILITY STATING THEY WERE GOING INTO A HIGHER STATE OF SECURITY DUE TO UAS ACTIVITY IN THE VICINITY OF THE FACILITY. DEN NOTIFIED. NEMAHA DISPATCHER WAS NOTIFIED

July 2019: Toledo, Ohio

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: TOLEDO, OH/UAS INCIDENT/2131E/TOLEDO APCH ADVISED SECURITY AT DAVIS-BESSE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT (25 E TOLEDO) REPORTED A UAS WITH RED AND WHITE LIGHTS FLYING NORTHEAST TO SOUTHWEST BELOW 500 FEET BY THE COOLING TOWERS. UAS PROCEEDED INBTO THE MARSH AREA. NO ACFT INVOLVED. LEOS NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for TOL_x000D_ Number: TOL-M-2019/07/23-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jul 24, 2019 – 0131Z_x000D_ A/C: NA (NA)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: SECURITY OFFICER CALLED TO REPORT UAS FLEW OVER COOLING TOWER UNDER 500 FT AGL. 1 RED 1 WHITE LIGHT 2131L TIME. FLEW NW-SE TOWARDS THE MARSH THEN SHORELINE. DID NOT HOVER OR DROP ANYTHING. SECURITY OFFICER CONTACTED AND MADE A REPORT WITH OTTAWA COUNTY SHERRIFS DEPARTMENT CONTACTED NEEDED. UAS TYPE UNKNOWN.

February 2020: Russellville, Arkansas

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: RUSSELLVILLE, AR/UAS INCIDENT/LATE REPORT 2-20 2307C/ARKANSAS NUCLEAR ONE REPORTED A UAS BRIEFLY STOPPED OVER THE FACILITY THEN PROCEED TO THE NORTHWEST AWAY FROM THE AREA. UAS DESCRIBED AS A 3 FOOT WHITE 4-ROTOR UAS WITH RED, GREEN AND WHITE FLASHING LIGHTS. POPE COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED. FACILITY SECURITY ENTERED HEIGHTENED SECURITY AWARENESS.

It should also be noted that the integrity of nuclear reactor airspace has been an international issue of some concern, particularly among environmentalists. In 2018, Greenpeace activists flew a Superman shaped drone into the side of a nuclear facility in Bugey, France. The stunt was designed to highlight the vulnerability of reactors to outside attacks. 

Military Incidents

As reported previously, a large number of incidents involving military aircraft, airspace or facilities are represented in the dataset. A chronological list can be found below. Additional details are available in our previous reporting on these incidents. Many of these involved highly unusual altitudes for drones, often in excess of 10,000 feet. FAA regulations permit UAS to fly only as high as 400 feet in most situations.

February 8, 2016: Goldsboro, North Carolina

1200E/USAF, F15, GSB – GSB, REPORTED A UNKN TYPE UAS FROM 13,000 FEET- FL230 WHILE OPERATING IN WARNING AREA W177A.

March 29, 2016: Virginia Beach, Virginia

256,2016-03-29 15:15:00,”PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: VIRGINIA BEACH, VA/UAS INCIDENT/1515E/USN, F18, OBSERVED A UAS OPERATING BETWEEN 12,000 FEET – FL200 HEADING E IN WARNING AREA W72. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED.  “,Virginia Beach,Virginia.

April 19, 2016: Virginia Beach, Virginia

92,2016-04-19 17:49:00,VIRGINIA BEACH,Virginia,”PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: VIRGINIA BEACH, VA/UAS INCIDENT/1724E/OCEANA NAVAL AIR STATION ADVISED USN RA F18, OBSERVED 4 UAS’S (1 RED & 3 BLACK) HOVERING AT 11,000 FEET 92 ESE OF OCEANA NAVAL AIR STATION, VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEOS NOT NOTIFIED. “

September 10, 2017: Camp Springs, Maryland

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CAMP SPRINGS, MD/UAS INCIDENT/1233E/POTOMAC TRACON ADVISED F16 OBSERVED TWO SILVER-METALLIC UAS WHILE W BOUND AT 4,000 FEET 2 NW ADW. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOTIFIED. UAS MOR Alert for ADW Number: ADW-M-2017/09/10-0001 Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity Date/Time: Sep 10, 2017 – 1706Z A/C: (F16) Summary: F16 REPORTED DURING A TFR (AOB 15,000 FEET) 2 DRONE AT 4000 MOVING WEST. THEY WERE CYLINDRICAL IN SHAPE. THE INFORMATION WAS THEN PUT ON THE ATIS. PCT, NCR AND ROC ADVISED. PG COUNTY POLICE CALLED (1804Z) AND REPORTED THAT THEY WENT OUT AND LOOKED AND FOUND NOTHING. NO FURTHER ISSUES. 

December 18, 2017: Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: KILL DEVIL HILLS, NC/UAS INCIDENT/1214E/FACSFAC VACAPES ADVISED F18 REPORTED A SILVER UAS TRAVELING E BOUND AT 70 KTS 1,000 FEET BELOW ACFT WHILE MANEUVERING AT 17,000 FEET 50 E KILL DEVIL HILLS, NC. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEOS NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_

A separate incident was also reported:

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: KILL DEVIL HILLS, NC/UAS INCIDENT/1240E/FACSFAC VACAPES ADVISED E2 REPORTED AN UNKN UAS FLYING E BOUND AT 16,400 FEET VIA RADAR WHILE N BOUND AT FL210 64 ESE KILL DEVIL HILLS. F18 VERIFIED TRACK AND REPORTED 8 OTHER POSSIBLE UAS OPERATING IN THE SAME VCNTY. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEOS NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_

February 16, 2018: Mayport, Florida

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: MAYPORT, FL/UAS INCIDENT/1710E/JACKSONVILLE TRACON ADVISED F18 REPORTED A UAS WHILE W BOUND AT 10,000 FEET OVER OCEAN 20 E MAYPORT. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. UAS LOCATION RELATIVE TO ACFT NOT PROVIDED. DUVAL COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for JAX_x000D_ Number: JAX-M-2018/02/16-0003_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Feb 16, 2018 – 2010Z_x000D_ A/C: (F18)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: F18 REPORTED A UAS AT 10,000 FEET 20 MILES EAST OF NRB. COULD NOT GIVE JAX ANY MORE INFORMATION. DUVAL COUNTY SHERRIFF, DEN AND THE NAVY ADVISED. 

March 20, 2018: Louisville, Georgia

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: LOUISVILLE, GA/UAS INCIDENT/1120E/ATLANTA ARTCC ADVISED F35 REPORTED NMAC WITH 2 SMALL UAS AT 16,000 FEET, FL200 AND FL220 WHILE MANEUVERING IN THE BULLDOG MOA VCNTY OF LOUISVILLE. PILOT REPORTED UAS AND ACFT MERGED ON ACFT RADAR DISPLAY. ACFT TERMINATED OPERATIONS IN THE MOA TO AVOID FURTHER CONFLICT. EVASIVE ACTION NOT REPORTED. UNKN IF LEO WAS NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_

April 30, 2018: Snow Hill, Maryland

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: SNOW HILL, MD/UAS INCIDENT/1245E/VIRGINIA CAPES ATCT ADVISED F18 REPORTED A SHINY ROUND BLACK UAS 500 FEET ABOVE ACFT WHILE CLIMBING FROM 16,500 FEET 16 SSE SNOW HILL. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO WAS NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_

May 9, 2018: Windsor, Connecticut

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: WINDSOR LOCKS, CT/UAS INCIDENT/1037E/BRADLEY TRACON ADVISED F15 REPORTED A UAS AT 9,000 FEET 15 ESE OF BDL. EVASIVE ACTION NOT REPORTED. LEO NOTIFICATION NOT REPORTED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for Y90_x000D_ Number: Y90-M-2018/05/09-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: May 9, 2018 – 1437Z_x000D_ A/C: (2/F15)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: 2/F15 REPORTED A (UAV) AT ABOUT 15 MILES E-SE OF BDL WHEN HE WAS DESCENDING FOR AT 090 (UAV0) ABOVE HIM. NO ADDITIONAL INFORMATION WAS SOLICITED DUE TO TRAFFIC VOLUME. DESPRIPTION NOT AVAILABLE.

October 3, 2018: Currituck, North Carolina

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CURRITUCK, NC/UAS INCIDENT/1856E/WASHINGTON ARTCC ADVISED, 2/F18 REPORTED A BALLOON SHAPED UAS WITH A CAMERA WHILE S BOUND AT 13,500 FEET 5 N CURRITUCK. THE FLIGHT SPLIT FORMATION TO AVOID UAS. CURRITUCK COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZDC_x000D_ Number: ZDC-M-2018/10/03-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Oct 3, 2018 – 2138Z_x000D_ A/C: (2/F18)_x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: FLIGHT HAD TO TAKE EVASIVE ACTION TO MISS THE DRONE. INCIDENT REPORTED TO MILITARY AC.

July 3, 2019: Augusta, Georgia

_x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZTL_x000D_ Number: ZTL-M-2019/07/03-0004_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jul 3, 2019 – 1148Z_x000D_ A/C:  (4/F16)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: 4/F16 was operating in the Bulldog MOA/R3004A,B,C,E (SFC-FL270) when they flew over a object that appeared to be a drone. They only characterized it as being black in color. The flight didn’t have to take evasive action in an effort to avoid. LAT/LONG 330N/8224W

January 13, 2020: Glendale, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: GLENDALE, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/LATE REPORT – 1/13 0815M/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED USAF C F35, REPORTED A UAS QUADCOPTER 15 FEET AHEAD OF THE COCKPIT WHILE SW BOUND AT 8,000 FEET 37 SW GILA BEND VORTAC, AZ. EVASIVE ACTION WAS TAKEN. LEO NOTIFICATION NOT REPORTED. NO ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PROVIDED.

February 10, 2020: Cape Charles, Virginia

CORRECTION (REPORTING FACILITY) INFO FROM FAA OPS: CAPE CHARLES, VA/UAS INCIDENT/0854E/FACSFAC VACAPES ADVISED F22, LFI – LFI, REPORTED A DARK STATIONARY UAS WHILE NW BOUND AT FL210 29 NE CAPE CHARLES VORTAC. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. CITY OF NORFOLK FIRE AND RESCUE SAFETY NOTIFIED AND VIRGINIA BEACH FIRE AND RESCUE NOTIFIED.

April 17, 2020: Cherry Point, North Carolina

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CHERRY POINT, NC/UAS INCIDENT/1020E/F15, GSB – GSB, OBSERVED A UAS WHILE MANEUVERING BETWEEN FL240-270 WHILE IN WARING AREA W-122 72 SE MCAS CHERRY POINT. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. LEOS NOT NOTIFIED DUE TO LOCATION OF UAS. NO FURTHER INFORMATION PROVIDED.

May 14, 2020: Phoenix, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: PHOENIX, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/1334M/PHOENIX TRACON ADVISED  F16, REPORTED A BLACK UAS BELOW FROM THE 12 O’CLOCK POSITION WHILE W BOUND AT 16,000 FEET 30 E PHX. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. PHOENIX ARPT PD NOTIFIED.

June 17, 2020: Albuquerque, New Mexico

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: ALBUQUERQUE, NM/UAS INCIDENT/1616M/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED F35, OBSERVED UAS VIA ELECTRONIC SENSOR AT FL315 WHILE NBOUND IN RESTRICTED AREA 2304/2305 18 S GILA BEND VORTAC . NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOT REPORTED.

August 11, 2020: China Lake, California

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CHINA LAKE, CA/UAS INCIDENT/1236P/JOSHUA CONTROL FACILITY ADVISED F16, REPORTED A UAS FROM THE 2 O’CLOCK POSITION WHILE E BOUND AT 14,000 FEET 48 NE NID. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. LAW ENFORCEMENT NOTIFICATION NOT REPORTED.

October 2, 2020: Virginia Beach, Virginia

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: VIRGINIA BEACH, VA/UAS INCIDENT/1350E/OCEANA NAS APCH ADVISED F18, REPORTED UAS WHILE SE BOUND AT 11,000 FEET 10 E OCEANA NAVAL AIR STATION. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. LEO NOTIFICATION NOT REPORTED.

October 27, 2020: Gila Bend, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: GILA BEND, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/1302M/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED F35, REPORTED A UAS WHILE N BOUND AT FL200 50 S GILA BEND. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. PIMA COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED.

November 20, 2020: Glendale, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: GLENDALE, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/1315M/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED F16, REPORTED A BLACK UAS WHILE N BOUND AT 17,500 FEET WHILE OPERATING WITHIN THE GLADDEN MILITARY OPERATING AREA. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOTIFICATION NOT REPORTED. NO OTHER INFORMATION GIVEN.

December 14, 2020: Glendale, Arizona

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: GLENDALE, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/1604M/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED F35, LUF – LUF, REPORTED 4 SMALL UAS WHILE BETWEEN 16,800-19,500 FEET 10 NW GLENDALE. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOT NOTIFIED DUE TO LATE REPORTING.

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: GLENDALE, AZ/UAS INCIDENT/1655M/ALBUQUERQUE ARTCC ADVISED F35, REPORTED A UAS WHILE AT 15,700 FEET 13 SE GLENDALE. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOT NOTIFIED DUE TO LATE REPORTING.

Small Town Drown Swarm

A number of odd incidents have also occurred in fairly rural locations. For example, in Whitney, Nebraska, a town of 77 people as of the 2010 Census, the FAA recorded an incident involving 10 large UAS flying at a high rate of speed with red, green and white lights above the legal limit of 400 feet:

January 2020: Whitney, Nebraska

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: WHITNEY, NE/UAS INCIDENT/LATE REPORT 12/4-2030M/E-ROC ADVISED DAWES COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT REPORTED 10 LARGE UAS APPROXIMATELY 3 MILES SOUTH OF WHITNEY, NE TRAVELING SW BOUND ABOVE 400 FEET. UAS HAD RED, GREEN, AND WHITE LIGHTS TRAVELING AT A HIGH RATE OF SPEED. NO IMPACT TO OPERATIONS REPORTED. DEPUTY SHERIFF REPORTED INCIDENT, CONTACT INFO.

Hybrid Balloon/Drones

In general, balloons are found fairly frequently in the data, with at least 177 mentions throughout the case reports. In many of these cases, pilots were unsure if the object they saw was a balloon or a drone. In a smaller number of cases, pilots described seeing hybrid aircraft that seem to combine the two.   

October 2017: Branson, Missouri

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: BRANSON, MO/UAS INCIDENT/1910C/HAWKER BEECHCRAFT BE58 REPORTED A UAS AT 4,500 FT 10 NE BRANSON. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for SGF_x000D_ Number: SGF-M-2017/10/01-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Oct 1, 2017 – 2310Z_x000D_ A/C: (BE58)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: PILOT REPORTED SEEING A DRONE AS HE CLIMBED OUT OF 045 LEAVING FWB. DID NOT HAVE A GOOD LOOK AT THE DRONE BUT THINKS A BALLOON MAY HAVE BEEN ATTACHED TO IT.

December 2018: Los Angeles, California

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: LOS ANGELES, CA/UAS INCIDENT/1223P/LOS ANGELES ATCT ADVISED B712, OBSERVED A BLACK UAS CARRYING A BALLOON OFF HIS LEFT SIDE WHILE ON A 5 MILE FINAL RUNWAY 24R. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LAPD ARPT PD NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for LAX_x000D_ Number: LAX-M-2018/12/03-0005_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Dec 3, 2018 – 2023Z_x000D_ A/C: (B712)_x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: B712 REPORTED A BLACK DRONE ON A 5 MILE FINAL FOR RUNWAY 24R, LEFT SIDE, CARRYING A BALLOON.

May 2019: Chicago, Illinois

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CHICAGO, IL/UAS INCIDENT/1029C/C-ROC ADVISED REPORTED A QUADCOPTER/POSSIBLY BALLOON, FROM THE 12 O’CLOCK POSITION 200 FEET AWAY 10 ENE MDW NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LAW ENFORCEMENT NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for C90_x000D_ Number: C90-M-2019/05/18-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: May 18, 2019 – 1529Z_x000D_ A/C:  (CRJ7)  Summary: THE PILOT DID REPORT THAT THEY THINK A BALLOON MAY OF BEEN ATTACHED TO THE DRONE. FBI/DEN

July 2019: Provo, Utah

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: PROVO, UT/UAS INCIDENT/1426M/  SLC REPORTED A SMALL ORANGE UAS 1,000 FEET BELOW ACFT OFF LEFT SIDE WHILE AT FL200 VCNTY PROVO. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. NO FURTHER INFORMATION PROVIDED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZLC_x000D_ Number: ZLC-M-2019/07/01-0005_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jul 1, 2019 – 2026Z_x000D_ A/C:  (CRJ2/L)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: At 2026Z on R04 at FL200 reported what appeared to be a small drone unknown rotors about 1000 feet below them and 200 yards of their left side. Pilot stated it was an orange metallic color with the sun reflecting off it. No evasive action was taken by the pilot. On R05 at 2033Z the pilot of stated it could have been a Mylar balloon but it was flying like it was going somewhere and not floating aimlessly. Plotting the coordinates of when it reported the sighting shows the aircraft was in an unpopulated area of Utah at the from the Evanston WY airport. ACN.

Intriguingly, balloon/drone hybrids have been explored in the past as a way to exploit the persistence of balloons with the maneuverability and station keeping of drones. An example can be seen below in this 2017 video from Mashable:

UFOs

Six of the case summaries reference the term “UFO.” In several instances, the term appears to be used by a pilot momentarily searching for words. For example, in this 2017 incident in San Antonio, Texas a pilot first refers to a “UFO” and later calls the object a small drone:

October 2017: San Antonio, Texas

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: SAN ANTONIO, TX/UAS INCIDENT/1330C/A321 PILOT REPORTED A SMALL UAS 6 NW SAT AT 3,000 FEET. NO OTHER DESCRIPTION GIVEN. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for SAT_x000D_ Number: SAT-M-2017/10/23-0003_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Oct 23, 2017 – 1830Z_x000D_ A/C: (A321)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: A321 FIRST REPORTED A UFO, THEN CALLED IT A POSSIBLE SMALL DRONE 1 MILE N OF ALAMO (FAF FOR RWY 13R). NO OTHER INFORMATION WAS GIVEN BY THE PILOT. NO OTHER REPORTS WERE GATHERED.

The War Zone has received video of the radar screen and audio from the event. In the brief clip below, the pilot describes seeing the object and initially thinking it was a bird. As is somewhat typical in many of these incidents, he was unable to describe much about the drone. In the audio released to us, there appear to be no references to UFOs.

Another incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma involves a highly ambiguous sighting of a flashing light, with a pilot again apparently searching for words:

January 2018: Tulsa, Oklahoma

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: TULSA, OK/UAS INCIDENT/1745C/TULSA APCH ADVISED E75L OBSERVED A UAS WITH RED AND BLUE FLASHING LIGHTS KEEPING PACE OFF RIGHT SIDE AT 1,600 FEET BETWEEN 5 MILE TO 3 MILE FINAL FOR RUNWAY 18L. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. TULSA ARPT PD NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for TUL_x000D_ Number: TUL-M-2018/01/26-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jan 26, 2018 – 2345Z_x000D_ A/C: (E75L)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: E75L REPORTED RED AND BLUE FLASHING LIGHTS OFF HIS RIGHT SIDE BETWEEN 3-5 MILE FINAL AT 1600 FEET. E75L REPORTED THE UAS/ACFT WAS MATCHING HIS SPEED. THE PILOT NEVER ADVISED THAT IT WAS A UAS. HE SAID ALL HE COULD SEE WERE BLUE AND RED FLASHING LIGHTS. HE TOLD LOCAL THAT HE MIGHT CALL IT A UFO. WE HAD A REPORT 1/25/18 FROM A BE35 OF SEEING SIMILIAR LIGHTS. WE THOUGHT HE SAW ANOTHER AIRCRAFT ON FINAL. THE BE35 PILOT ADVISED THAT THE OBJECT WAS CLOSE TO HIM BUT IT WAS AFTER DARK AND HE COULDN’T SEE A SIZE COLOR ETC. ONLY THE LIGHTS. I WAS WORKING OSCIC FOR THAT SHIFT AS WELL. THE PILOT DIDN’T GIVE ANY INFORMATION OTHER THAN THE LIGHTS SO WE DIDN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO REPORT.

The War Zone has also received video and audio from this incident. In this clip, the pilot relates the sighting and inquires if it might have been a helicopter. The air traffic controller states that they have no indication of a helicopter in the area. After a short interval, another pilot offers that the sighting may have been a local news helicopter.

One curious report from Louisiana involved a much larger unknown object:

January 2018: Shreveport, Louisiana

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: SHREVEPORT, LA/MISCELLANEOUS/1800C/SHREVEPORT ATCT REPORTED AN UNKN OBJECT AS BIG AS A HELO WITH RED, GREEN AND YELLOW LIGHTS HOVERING AT 2,000 FEET THEN 4,000 FEET 1 SW SHREVEPORT. SHREVEPORT PD NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for SHV_x000D_ Number: SHV-M-2018/01/03-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jan 4, 2018 – 0445Z_x000D_ A/C: _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: POSSIBLE UFO/UAS FIRST OBSERVED 1-2 MILES SW OF SHV AROUND 015-020 FT. GREEN, RED, AND AMBER LIGHTS WERE OBSERVED. OBJECT MOVED TO THE SOUTH OF SHV AND INCREASED ALTITUDE. IT NOW APPEARS TO BE AROUND 040 FT DUE SOUTH ABOUT 5 MILES. TRIED HAVING AN A/C VERIFY WHAT WE OBSERVED, BUT HE WAS UNABLE, TYPE IS UNKNOWN.

Here a relatively large object (“as big as a helo”) was seen hovering at relatively high altitudes for an UAS. A second aircraft was unable to verify the observation, and the type remains unknown. The War Zone obtained the FAA’s Mandatory Occurrence Report about this incident. The report does not offer many details beyond the UAS Sightings report description:

FAA Report Regarding Shreveport, Louisiana UFO Incident

Marc Cecotti
Page One

FAA Report Regarding Shreveport, Louisiana UFO Incident

Marc Cecotti
Page Two

The report highlights that the aircraft type was unknown. Several of the MOR reports we have remarked that the person filling the form had to select a known type like rotorcraft or fixed wing, even when the type is unknown. 

 Another large object was observed near Robbinsville, New Jersy at 11,300 feet:

July 2019: Robbinsville, New Jersey

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: ROBBINSVILLE, NJ/UAS INCIDENT/LATE REPORT – 1405E/WASHINGTON ARTCC WAS ADVISED BY NEW YORK TRACON THAT END  AVL – LGA, OBSERVED A LARGE UAS OR “UFO” AT 11,300 FEET 10 SW ROBBINSVILLE. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. NO UAS DESCRIPTION OR DIRECTION OF FLIGHT GIVEN. LEOS NOT NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZDC_x000D_ Number: ZDC-M-2019/07/13-0010_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jul 13, 2019 – 1805Z_x000D_ A/C: (CRJ6)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: N90 Empire sector made a land line call to ZDC Woodstown sector that, “(CRJ6) reports some kind of drone or large UFO at eleven thousand three hundred.”

The remaining incidents are highly ambiguous, but nonetheless intriguing:

March 2019: Punta Gorda, Florida

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: PUNTA GORDA, FL/UAS INCIDENT/2045E/PUNTA GORDA ATCT ADVISED A320 OBSERVED A POSSIBLE UAS WITH ORANGE LIGHTS AT 500 FEET WHILE NE BOUND ON FINAL RUNWAY 4 PGD. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOTIFICATION NOT REPORTED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for PGD_x000D_ Number: PGD-M-2019/03/30-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Mar 31, 2019 – 0052Z_x000D_ A/C:  (A320)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary:  A320 REPORTED WHILE TAXIING INBOUND TO THE RAMP, THEY HAD SEEN WHAT APPEARED TO BE A UFO ON THEIR RIGHT SIDE AT 500 FT ON FINAL TO RW 4.

July 2019: Lubbock, Texas

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: LUBBOCK, TX/UAS INCIDENT/2240C/LUBBOCK ATCT ADVISED ,  OBSERVED A BEACH BALL SIZE UAS WITH GREEN LIGHTS WHILE HEADING ENE BOUND AT 10,000 FEET 10 SW OF LUBBOCK ARPT. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOTIFICATION WAS NOT REPORTED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for LBB_x000D_ Number: LBB-M-2019/07/14-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jul 15, 2019 – 0340Z_x000D_ A/C: (CRJ9)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: PILOT WAS UNABLE TO DETERMINE IF THE OBJECT WAS A UAS AND REFERRED TO THE OBJECT AS AN UFO.

“Saucers” and “Discs”

Aside from explicit references to “UFOs” the data set also contains a number of references to “saucer” and otherwise disc-shaped objects.

August 2015: Charleston, West Virginia

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CHARLESTON, WV/UAS INICDENT/2000E/CHARLESTON ATCT ADVISED HEALTHNET HN5, HELICOPTER, REPORTED TWO UAS’S, SAUCER-LIKE, AT 1,700 FEET, 5 S CHARLESTON. UAS CAME WITHIN 100 YARDS, NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOT NOTIFIED. PILOT TO FILE NMAC.   MOR Alert for CRW Type: Public inquiry or concern (including all pilot reported NMACs) Date/Time: Aug 27, 2015 – 2358Z A/C: HN5 (HELO)  Summary: WORKING HEALTHNET 5 SOUTHEAST BOUND. CLIMBING OUT OF 1700, 5 MILES SOUTH OF CRW JUST INSIDE THE SURFACE AREA CLASS CHARLIE HEALTHNET 5 REPORTED PASSING TWO DRONES SAME ALTITUDE OPPOSITE DIRECTION AND DESCRIBED IT AS A NEAR MID-AIR. CHARLESTON PD NOTIFIED. DEN NOTIFIED.

January 2016: Portland, Oregon

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: PORTLAND, OR/UAS INCIDENT/1521P/SOUTHWEST 1848, B737, REPORTED SEEING A GOLD SAUCER SHAPED UAS 100 FEET BELOW ACFT LEFT WING AT 5,100 FEET VCNTY PORTLAND, OR. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. PORT OF PORTLAND WAS NOTIFIED.  MOR Alert for P80 Type: Other Date/Time: Jan 22, 2016 – 2308Z A/C: SWA1848 (B737)  Summary: SWA1848 REPORTED A GOLD SAUCER SHAPED DRONE FLY 100 FT UNDER HIS RIGHT WING AT 5200 FT. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN.

December 2016: San Diego, California

UAS MOR Alert for SCT Number: SCT-M-2016/12/29-0005 Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity Date/Time: Dec 30, 2016 – 0010Z A/C: (C172)  _x000D_ Summary: C172 was flying near CRQ towards MYF and reported that a black disc was approximately 100ft from him. He did not have to alter his course at anytime.

September 2017: New Orleans, Louisiana

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: NEW ORLEANS, LA/UAS INCIDENT/1120C/NEW ORLEANS APPROACH ADVISED BRITISH AEROSPACE JS31 REPORTED A SILVER DISC SHAPED UAS 2 NE NEW ORLEANS AT 1,500 FEET. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. KENNER PD NOTIFIED.  UAS MOR Alert for MSY Number: MSY-M-2017/09/16-0001 Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity Date/Time: Sep 16, 2017 – 1620Z A/C: (PC12) Summary: PC12 LANDING RUNWAY 29 REPORTED A SILVER DISC DRONE OPERATING APPROXIMATELY 2 MILES NORTH OF A/C POSITION. PILOT STATED THE DRONE WAS CLIMBING AND DESCENDING. 

October 2017: Charlotte, North Carolina

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CHARLOTTE, NC/UAS INCIDENT/1415E/CHARLOTTE TRACON ADVISED HAWKER BEECHCRAFT BE55 WHILE AT 4,000 FEET OBSERVED AN ORANGE AND WHITE SAUCER SHAPED UAS 100-200 FEET OFF RIGHT SIDE WHILE SW BOUND 9 NE CHARLOTTE. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. CONCORD PD NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for CLT_x000D_ Number: CLT-M-2017/10/15-0009_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Oct 15, 2017 – 1801Z_x000D_ A/C: (BE55)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: BE55 REPORTED A NMAC WITH A UAS OVER ATELL AT 4000. UAS WAS OFF THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE AIRCRAFT AT THE SAME ALTITUDE AND WAS EITHER STATIONARY OR OPPOSITE DIRECTION. NO EVASIVE MANUEVERS WERE MADE.

March 2019: Chicago, Illinois

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CHICAGO, IL/UAS INCIDENT/1642C/C-ROC ADVISED B763, REPORTED TWO SAUCER SHAPED BLACK OR GRAY UAS 100 FEET FROM THE AIRCRAFT WHILE WESTBOUND AT 2,900 FEET 11 E ORD. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. FBI NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for C90_x000D_ Number: C90-M-2019/03/23-0004_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Mar 23, 2019 – 2142Z_x000D_ A/C: (B763)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: 2 DRONES REPORTED BY PILOT. TYPE/KIND OF DRONE NOT SPECIFIED.

June 2019: Anchorage, Alaska

UAS MOR Alert for MRI_x000D_ Number: MRI-M-2019/06/11-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jun 12, 2019 – 0115Z_x000D_ A/C: (C172R)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: ON CLIMB OUT FROM C172 REPORTED THAT OFF HIS LEFT, AS HE WAS ABOUT TO TURN BASE HE SAW A DRONE ABOUT 011. DESCRIBED AS A DISK, BLACK AND VERY SHINEY. HAD WHAT LOOKED LIKE A CYLINDER HANGING FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE DISK. ONLY 1 AIRCRAFT REPORTED SEEING IT.

September 2019: Roanoke, Virginia

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: ROANOKE, VA/UAS INCIDENT/1746E/ROA TRACON ADVISEDDIAMOND DA40 WHILE SOUTHBOUND AT 3,700 FEET REPORTED A BLACK DISC SHAPED UAS HEADING NORTHBOUND PASS A FEW FEET OFF THE RIGHT WING AT SAME ALTITUDE 4 S WOODRUM VOR. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN AS PILOT DID NOT HAVE TIME TO REACT TO UAS. ROANOKE CITY DISPATCH NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ROA_x000D_  Number: ROA-M-2019/09/16-0003_x000D_  Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_  Date/Time: Sep 16, 2019 – 2146Z_x000D_  A/C: (DA40)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: A DA40 WAS HEADING SOUTH FROM KROA. ABOUT 4NM SOUTH OF THE FIELD AT 037 FEET MSL A BLACK COLORED DRONE THAT APPEARED TO BE DISC SHAPED PASSED A FEW FEET OFF THE RIGHT WING. THE PILOT DID NOT HAVE TIME TO REACT AS THE DRONE APPEARED TO HEAD NORTH JUST MISSING THEM. DA40C RETURNED TO KROA AND LANDED SAFELY WITHOUT FURTHUR INCIDENT AND CALLED ROA TRACON AT 2225Z TO GIVE DETAILS. ROA CITY POLICE, DEN, ROC, AND AIR TRAFFIC MANAGER ALL NOTIFIED._x000D_ 

May 2020: New York, New York

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: NEW YORK, NY/UAS INCIDENT/1427E/JFK ATCT ADVISED A321, SANTIAGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (MDST) – JFK, REPORTED A YELLOW DISC SHAPED UAS OFF THE RIGHT SIDE WHILE SW BOUND AT 1,700 FEET 7 MILE FINAL RUNWAY 22L. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. NY PORT AUTHORITY NOTIFIED.

Cylinders

The data set contains a number of references to unusual cylindrical objects.

March 2017: Houston, Texas

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: HOUSTON, TX/UAS INCIDENT/1605C/A319, REPORTED SEEING A TWO LARGE, WHITE, CYLINDER SHAPED UAS’ 500 FEET BELOW ACFT ALTITUDE OF 6,000 FEET 7 NNW IAH. FBI WAS NOTIFIED. _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for I90_x000D_ Number: I90-M-2017/03/19-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Mar 19, 2017 – 2105Z_x000D_ A/C: (A319)_x000D_  _x000D_ Summary: A319 reported sighting a white two cylinder drone fly below them. Size unknown. DEN notified.

March 2017: Dallas, Texas

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: DALLAS, TX/UAS INCIDENT/0905C/CIRRUS SR22, REPORTED SEEING A WHITE, 2 FOOT IN DIAMETER CYLINDRICAL UAS 75 FEET ABOVE ACFT ALTITUDE OF 3,700 FEET 8 SE COLLIN COUNTY REGIONAL ARPT, DALLAS. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. DFW ARPT DPS WAS NOTIFIED. _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for D10_x000D_ Number: D10-M-2017/03/31-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Mar 31, 2017 – 1405Z_x000D_ A/C: (SR22)_x000D_  _x000D_ Summary: SR22 was being vectored to HQZ and was descending out of 037 when he reported a drone right over the aircraft by about 75 to 100 ft. Drone was cylinder shaped. _x000D_  “

July 2017: Ontario, California

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: ONTARIO, CA/UAS INCIDENT/1120P/CIRRUS SR22, REPORTED A CYLINDER SHAPED UAS, MOVING FAST. ACFT MANEUVERED AWAY FROM THE UAS BUT DID NOT DECLARE NMAC. NO OTHER INFORMATION PROVIDED. UNKN IF LEO NOTIFIED.  UAS MOR Alert for SCT Number: SCT-M-2017/07/14-0005 Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity Date/Time: Jul 14, 2017 – 1820Z A/C: (SR22) Summary: Did not refer to traffic as a NMAC but said he maneuver away from the UAS which was a vertical cylinder shape and moving fast.

September 2017: Camp Springs, Maryland

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: CAMP SPRINGS, MD/UAS INCIDENT/1233E/POTOMAC TRACON ADVISED F16 OBSERVED TWO SILVER-METALLIC UAS WHILE W BOUND AT 4,000 FEET 2 NW ADW. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LEO NOTIFIED.   UAS MOR Alert for ADW Number: ADW-M-2017/09/10-0001 Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity Date/Time: Sep 10, 2017 – 1706Z A/C: (F16) Summary: F16 REPORTED DURING A TFR (AOB 15,000 FEET) 2 DRONE AT 4000 MOVING WEST. THEY WERE CYLINDRICAL IN SHAPE. THE INFORMATION WAS THEN PUT ON THE ATIS. PCT, NCR AND ROC ADVISED. PG COUNTY POLICE CALLED (1804Z) AND REPORTED THAT THEY WENT OUT AND LOOKED AND FOUND NOTHONG. NO FUTHER ISSUES.

We recently received the Mandatory Occurrence Report involving this incident. The description is largely the same, but adds that the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron (commonly known as “Thunderbirds”) originally spotted the drones:

Mandatory Occurrence Report regarding September 2017 incident Camp Springs, Maryland

Federal Aviation Administration

January 2018: Corpus Christi, Texas

UAS MOR Alert for CRP_x000D_ Number: CRP-M-2018/01/12-0002_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jan 12, 2018 – 2200Z_x000D_ A/C: (050)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: THE PILOT OF THE AIRCRAFT DID NOT REPORT THE INCIDENT IN THE AIR, HOWEVER, CALLED ON THE PHONE AT APPROXIMATELY 2250Z ON AND ADVISED WHILE THEY WERE WORKING IN AREA 3 NEAR WALDRON SPOTTED A DRONE. PILOT STATED THE DRONE WENT ALL DOWN THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE AIRCRAFT AND WAS ONLY A LITTLE UNDERNEATH THE AIRCRAFT GOING THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION HEADING TOWARDS THE GULF. PILOT DID NOT STATE HOW CLOSE THE DRONE WAS TO THE AIRCRAFT OTHER THAN A “”LITTLE BELOW””. THE DRONE WAS REPORTED AS BLACK, CYLINDER SHAPED WITH A RED LIGHT IN THE CENTER AND AIRCRAFT WAS GOING APPX 125KTS. NO LAW ENFORCEMENT WAS NOTIFIED DUE TO LATE NOTIFICATION.

May 2018: Akron, Ohio

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: AKRON, OH/UAS INCIDENT/1324E/AKRON ATCT ADVISED EXPERIMENTAL SLSA REPORTED A GOLD CYLINDER SHAPED UAS WITH A POINTED NOSE AT SAME ACFT ALTITUDE OF 3,000 FEET 9 SE AKRON. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. STARK COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED._x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for CAK_x000D_ Number: CAK-M-2018/05/23-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: May 23, 2018 – 1745Z_x000D_ A/C: (C601)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: A Golden pointed cylinder was reported by C601 flying at a high rate of speed opposite direction. He said he did not have to maneuver to miss it, approximate altitude was 030-032 of the object. DEN and Stark county Sherriff notified.

October 2018: Akron, Ohio

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: AKRON, OH/UAS INCIDENT/1703E/AKRON-CANTON ATCT ADVISED, CESSNA C82T  REPORTED A SILVER UAS AT SAME ALTITUDE FROM THE 11 O’CLOCK POSITION WHILE NE BOUND AT 5,000 FEET 10 S AKRON-CANTON RGNL ARPT. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. SUMMIT COUNTY SHERIFF OFFICE NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for CAK_x000D_ Number: CAK-M-2018/10/01-0003_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Oct 1, 2018 – 2103Z_x000D_ A/C: (C82T)_x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: C82T WAS 10-12 MILES SOUTHWEST OF CAK, NORTH EAST BOUND TO YNG, 050. PILOT REPORTED A SHINY GOLD/SILVER CYLINDRICAL OBJECT THAT PASSED BY THE LEFT OF THE AIRCRAFT, SAME ALTITUDE, TRAVELING SOUTH WEST BOUND. PILOT REPORTED THE OBJECT DID NOT APPEAR TO BE AIRCRAFT SHAPED OR HAVE ROTORS. THE OBJECT WAS LESS THAN ½ MILE FROM THE AIRCRAFT HOWEVER NO EVASIVE MANEUVERS WERE NECESSARY. 

June 2019: Anchorage, Alaska

UAS MOR Alert for MRI_x000D_ Number: MRI-M-2019/06/11-0001_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Jun 12, 2019 – 0115Z_x000D_ A/C: (C172R)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: ON CLIMB OUT FROM C172 REPORTED THAT OFF HIS LEFT, AS HE WAS ABOUT TO TURN BASE HE SAW A DRONE ABOUT 011. DESCRIBED AS A DISK, BLACK AND VERY SHINEY. HAD WHAT LOOKED LIKE A CYLINDER HANGING FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE DISK. ONLY 1 AIRCRAFT REPORTED SEEING IT.

Note that this unusual case is also cited above with the incidents referencing cylindrical objects.

August 2019: Jasper, Georgia

PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: JASPER, GA/UAS INCIDENT/1655E/ CIRRUS S22T, REPORTED A SILVER UAS AT 10,700 FEET 17 NE JASPER. NO EVASIVE ACTION REPORTED. PICKENS COUNTY SHERIFF NOTIFIED. _x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ UAS MOR Alert for ZTL_x000D_ Number: ZTL-M-2019/08/18-0003_x000D_ Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity_x000D_ Date/Time: Aug 18, 2019 – 2055Z_x000D_ A/C: (S22T)_x000D_ _x000D_ _x000D_ Summary: S22T reported a UAS approximately 17 NM NE of the JZP airport at around 10,700 feet. The aircraft initially saw the UAS off their right side at approximately 1 NM and circle right to verify that it was a UAS. The pilot stated that the UAS was about 3 ft in diameter and consisted of 2 pieces. The top was cylindrical and the color was silver and very reflective. The Pickens County, GA Sheriffs Department was notified. The Sheriffs Department had already received one report of UAS activity in that vicinity.

Next Steps

The reports above are a small sample of some of the interesting incidents in the FAA’s UAS Sightings data. We continue to search through them and develop new leads, and invite the public to help us find more. We are particularly interested in identifying high altitude cases that tend to be less typical of drone hobbyists. Some of the incidents we have identified have been in excess of eighty times the legal limit of 400 feet.

A key challenge in evaluating this data is the sheer diversity of incidents it describes. The majority of incidents in the data set clearly describe known types of drones and balloons. Among the stranger cases, it is important to recall that the observation is often made of relatively small objects at great distances, at high rates of speed. Further, it is important to appreciate that UAS can have diverse physical shapes. The incident involving Greenpeace intentionally crashing a Superman-shaped drone into a nuclear reactor shows that UAS can be used to send a message, and that they can have unusual or even whimsical shapes. That said, many of the cases are legitimately puzzling, and should not be dismissed without further investigation. This is all the more true when those cases take place near critical infrastructure or sensitive national security facilities.

Going forward, we will provide updates on any details we uncover on these incidents. We also plan to continue to develop our computational approach to the drone problem by extracting more information about the size, shape and color of the objects in order to identify potential patterns.

Contact the authors: Adam@thewarzone.com and Marc@thewarzone.com

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