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Some Strange Pilot UFO Encounters from the 1970s

Of all of the types of UFO encounters out there, pilot reports have always been held up high as particularly believable. These are seasoned professionals with a good bead on what might be strange up in the sky, so when they report something anomalous, people tend to listen. Such pilot reports go back decades, and I have recently written of cases from the 1950s of note, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let us jump into the 1970s and look at even more utterly bizarre cases of mysterious pilot encounters with UFOs.

Our first case here comes to us from the year 1972, from a witness who claims that at the time he was part of a police helicopter crew with the police department at Pasadena, California. On October 15 of that year, he was flying on a routine night patrol as a Helicopter Observer, along with pilot Pat Spafford, and as they approached the foothills to the northeast of the city, he claims they saw the lights of what they at first took to be a military helicopter hovering low over a residential area, apparently turning its landing light on and off intermittently in a very weird manner. They decided to investigate, but as they approached, the other “helicopter” then flew off and began gaining altitude. They approached, and it was then that they could see that this was no helicopter. The witness says of what happened next in a report to MUFON:

Then about 300 meters past it, we saw what first appeared to be a large object looking like bunch of big balloons tied together. The object was going at our exact airspeed, which was about 60 mph. The object was round and appeared to be rotating. I saw no lights on it. Pat began yelling over the intercom that he was seeing a UFO. I immediately shut off our running lights so I could activate our “night star” search light. The running lights were shut off because there would be too many amps going through the system with all the lights on and pop a breaker. The military helicopter then appeared to lose altitude quickly as if it was going into auto rotation.


Shutting off the running lights to power up the searchlight was S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure). Pat questioned what I was doing, and when I told him I was going to “light it up”, he said, “No,” and turned the running lights back on. We had a short argument about doing this or not, but he got the final word because he was the pilot. We watched the object for a few minutes and it flew abeam us going west. We then noticed that there was some fog coming in the L. A. basin, which was a signal for us to fly back to Bracket Field in Pomona, where we hangered the helicopter so as not to get caught in the fog. As we approached the west end of the city near the Rose Bowl, this object gained speed and in just a few seconds accelerated towards the L. A. skyline and disappeared out of sight. The speed it went was faster than supersonic. We were both amazed at how fast it accelerated.

As soon as they landed, they went about making calls to various agencies in order to try to make sense of what they had seen. Los Angeles International Airport claimed that they had seen nothing unusual on their radar in the area, and there were found to have been no test flights of any kind at the time. A report was filed of the incident, but it seems that nothing ever came of it, and by the time the witness retired from the force in 1979 he says that it had been completely forgotten. What did this helicopter crew see out there and why wasn’t it investigated further? Who knows?

In February of the following year, we have a strange case from Richard Hall’s book Volume II, The UFO Evidence, A Thirty-Year Report, which occurred in the area of McAlester, Oklahoma, in the United States. In the very early morning hours of February 14, 1973, at approximately 2:30 a.m., a DC-8 cargo flight was on its way from St. Louis to Dallas, and it was as they passed over Oklahoma that strange things began to happen. The co-pilot saw the lights of what he had first thought to be another aircraft off to the right and somewhere below them, seemingly on the same course as they were, and going at the same speed, with a single amber-colored light upon it. At this point they still thought it was just another airplane, but then the object suddenly rose vertically straight into the sky to make a sharp turn and take up a position above them nearby. The crew could now see that it was a disc-shaped object with a transparent dome on top, the whole of it made of some highly reflective metallic material. It was now rather obvious to them that this was no normal aircraft, and the captain turned on their weather radar to see it appear as a solid object. Whatever the unidentified object was, it did not seem to like being on radar, as it immediately shot straight up and disappeared from view, after which it was visible again dropping down to take up a new position near the airplane about 300 feet below them. As the baffled crew looked down at the mysterious object, they claimed that they had seen through the dome “two or three shadowy entities moving around.” After this, the object shot in front of them, did an impossibly sharp bank, and sped off out of sight. What was this thing?

Also in 1973 we have another encounter from a helicopter crew, this time from the area of Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States. On October 18 of that year, at approximately 11:10 p.m., Army Reserve helicopter pilot Capt. Lawrence Coyne, of the 316th Medical Detachment stationed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, was flying in a Huey helicopter over the area of Mansfield on his way back to Cleveland from Columbus when he had a bizarre encounter with forces he could not comprehend. As he approached Mansfield, he claimed that he had spotted a red light in the sky, first spotted by his crew chief, Sgt. Robert Yanacsek. Coyne would say of what happened next:

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. 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.

Image by Steve Baxter

The object then sped off to the west and disappeared. It is unknown just what was going on here, or why the helicopter had been sort of lifted up, but what has gone on to be called the “Coyne Incident” has long been touted as one of the more intriguing pilot reports of all time. An interesting case comes to us from 1976, when there was a harrowing encounter between a fighter pilot and a UFO in the country of Iran. On September 19 of 1976, the Iranian Air Force began getting a deluge of calls from frightened citizens reporting a strange light in the skies in the vicinity of Tehran. At first it was thought that this was just a misidentification of the planet Venus, but when the Assistant Deputy Commander of Operations saw the object for himself there was a sense of urgency and alert.

In response to this mysterious object, an F-4 fighter jet was scrambled from Shahrokhi Air Force Base at 1:30 a.m. in order to investigate and intercept if need be. As the jet sped closer to the object, which was reported as very large and bright, it allegedly experienced numerous technical difficulties, to the point that the pilot began heading back and full function of his plane was restored. This plane came into base, but in the meantime, another F-4 was deployed, and was able to make radar contact with the object, deducing that it was about the same size as a 707 jet, but it was so bright it was hard to get a visual size estimate. The UFO then suddenly shot away at great speed, rapidly accelerating from the F-4 even though it was going an estimated Mach 1 at the time. The plane followed it for some time, experiencing some technical difficulties but able to see it clearly enough to describe it as roughly rectangular in shape, with strobing lights that alternated from red, blue, green, and orange. Then things would get even stranger still.

It was reported by the F-4 pilot that this object then dropped a smaller object, which headed directly at them at a rapid pace. Thinking that this was some sort of aggressive action or weapon of some sort, the pilot targeted the incoming object with a missile, but the weapon system then cut out and went offline, and all radio communications with base were lost. Unable to engage the missile, the pilot took evasive action, taking a deep dive but still followed by the object. This smaller UFO tailed the F-4 for some time before then allegedly returning to the larger object, the jet’s systems going back online as it did so. After this, the smaller UFO merged with the larger one, and the whole of it sped off out of sight. What was going on here? Was this some sort of weapon or warning from the UFO? It is impossible to say.

In 1978, there is the case reported by veteran Navy pilot Floyd P. Hallstrom of Oxnard, California, who at the time was flying in a Cessna 170A bound to San Diego from Oxnard, California. At the time he was following another plane piloted by a friend, Jim Victor. The plan at the time was for Victor to deliver the plane to San Diego, after which they would both fly back, but things were not destined to go according to plan. As the two approached Santa Monica in perfectly clear conditions, Hallstrom noticed something very odd. He would say in his report to MUFON:

At this time, I was looking for Jim straight ahead, when I spotted the UFO just on the edge of the haze area above LAX [Los Angeles International Airport] slightly to the east side. I thought it was Jim so I watched it for about a minute because he had just given me his position report, but it seemed to get larger and coming toward me so I naturally realized that it wasn’t Jim. I started looking to see what it was, but I could see no wings on this aircraft although at this time I could see windows which appeared to be passenger windows in the aircraft. As it drew nearer though, I was able to determine that there were no wings or horizontal empennage assembly to the aircraft as a conventional aircraft.


All of a sudden, I was able to make out the complete form of a saucer shape or round object… I could see the dome, also very vividly clear, including all the windows. I observed it to be of a very bright metal… it was more of a nickel or highly polished chrome or stainless-steel type of metal than aluminum, because it had more of a mellow glow than if it was of the type finish on a high finish aluminum. About 16 to 20 evenly spaced windows were visible around the circumference of the dome, located just above the base. The dome appeared to be a perfect hemisphere about 20 feet in diameter resting on the base which was about 30 feet in diameter.

Image by Steve Baxter

Hallstrom observed the object for around a minute before it disappeared from view behind his plane. Hallstrom, who had at that time 37 years of military flight experience under his belt, was adamant about what he had seen, and would later admit that the encounter had deeply affected him and given him nightmares for years. Another case from 1978 comes to us from the country of New Zealand, where on December 30 of that year a Captain Bill Startup was piloting an Argosy freight plane over the Cook Strait, accompanied by an Australian TV crew which hoped to capture video footage of a UFO that had been seen in the area at the time. They would apparently not be disappointed.

During the flight, the crew saw a strange light in the sky out over the ocean, which they found had radar confirmation from ground control in Wellington. It soon turned out that what was being seen were actually five bright lights in a line that seemed to be pulsating in some sort of pattern, and which passed under the aircraft to travel over the town of Kaikoura. The plane tried to turn around to get a better look at the objects, and in the meanwhile, they received a warning from air traffic control that told them the target was pacing them and increasing in size. Everyone in the plane was witnessing these lights by this time, but the TV crew was unable to get a good shot for footage. It was only when the plane’s navigational lights were turned off that footage was able to be taken with a handheld camera of a large bright light outside. The airplane then deviated from course towards Christchurch, and managed to land safely. After this, the plane headed off on its return flight and saw two more mysterious objects, with one of them appearing as “a spinning sphere with lateral lines around it.” Once again, the objects appeared on radar, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force even put Skyhawk jet fighters on standby ready to scramble.

When the film of the strange objects was released, it created quite a stir, but was immediately picked apart by skeptics, who suggested everything from experimental aircraft, to shrimp boats, to the planet Venus. In the end, the sighting has never been explained. Indeed, none of these have ever been fully explained, and they come to us with these impeccable witnesses who have no reason to lie and who know what sorts of strange things go on in the sky. Could they be wrong, even in those cases in which they have radar confirmation? How are we to explain such cases away? This is only a sampling of such reports from the era, and it is rather unfortunate that many others were either buried or simply never reported due to the pilots wanting to protect their reputations and jobs. Yet rest assured there are many others where these came from, and it all paints a picture of something very strange going on in the skies above our heads.


Special thanks to Steve Baxter for his artwork on this, including the cover image.