May 10, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Sinister Skies: A History of the Black Helicopter Mystery

Since the mid-1960s, countless people, all around the globe, have had encounters with what have become infamously known in conspiracy circles as “black helicopters.” Typically, as the name suggests, these craft are completely black in color and lack any markings that might, otherwise, provide an explanation as to who, exactly, is flying them and why. Black helicopters are most often seen: (a) in areas where UFO activity is prevalent, (b) where so-called cattle-mutilation events have occurred, and (c) in close proximity – sometimes in perilously close proximity – to the homes of people who have become known as alien abductees. Oddly, the craft are very often described as flying in almost complete silence. Hardly surprisingly, this collective data has led many conspiracy theorists and UFO investigators to conclude that the black helicopters originate with clandestine, government-run groups that keep a careful and concerned watch on the UFO phenomenon, as well as its interactions with us, the Human Race.

On October 11, 1966, for example, a notable UFO encounter occurred at the Wanaque Reservoir, New Jersey. It involved a group of police officers who all had a very close encounter with a classic, saucer-shaped UFO which hovered over the reservoir for a brief period, thus allowing the astonished officers to see the craft up close and personal, before it vanished in the vicinity of nearby woods. Within minutes, half a dozen unmarked helicopters – presumed by the officers to have been military in origin – were seen flying in the direction where the UFO disappeared.  In mid-January 1974, the British media was tipped off by government insiders that there was deep concern on the part of officialdom that someone – someone unknown and maybe of hostile intent – was flying unmarked helicopters around the skies of the United Kingdom, and in the dead of night, no less. All across the north of England the curious craft were seen, as is evidenced by the following, official statement put out by Cheshire Police when the story reached the media: 

(Nick Redfern) A very low-level black helicopter over my own home

“We don’t know of any reason why the helicopter should make these trips at night. Obviously we are anxious to find out. Apart from anything else, the helicopter crosses one of the main flight paths to Manchester Airport. There is an obvious danger to the aircraft going into the airport. We are very interested to know what is happening. We hope to be able to trace the pilot and put some suggestions to him. It would appear the pilot is in breach of civil aviation laws. A special license is needed to fly a helicopter at night.” Police from Derbyshire, England acknowledged they had received such reports, too: “All sorts of things spring to mind but we have pretty much ruled out that it is anything to do with illegal immigrants, and nothing appears to have been stolen in the areas where the aircraft has been sighted.” As the encounters with the black and unmarked helicopters continued, an elite arm of the British Police Force known as Special Branch - whose work primarily revolves around combating terrorism within the U.K. - got involved in the investigation. This is made clear via a now-declassified Special Branch file on the affair titled Alleged Unauthorized Helicopter Flights in Derbyshire and Cheshire.

The Special Branch files record that: “The machine was observed on a number of occasions over a period of two weeks to be apparently practicing landings in the vicinity of the sites of quarries and explosive stores in the Derbyshire countryside. Special Branch Constable [Deleted] has made numerous enquiries to discover the ownership and reasons for the flights from various sources but has yet to establish any positive facts. “He has contacted an experienced Royal Air Force helicopter pilot with night flying experience who explained that night flying in the Derbyshire areas would be extremely dangerous due to the nature of the terrain and to the number of overhead pylons in the area.” Two months after the British press first got wind of what was afoot, the sightings were still going on, something that led the British Ministry of Defense, Special Branch, and a whole variety of regional police forces to pool their thoughts and recommendations at Horseferry House, London, on March 21. Rather oddly – some might say suspiciously – when a decision was taken to increase the investigation, possibly using Royal Air Force aircraft to pursue the helicopters, the curious wave came to a sudden end. 

Six months after the events in England ceased, a black helicopter surfaced in the United States. It was late on the evening September 26, 1974 when the Richley family of Lynchburg, Ohio saw a strange object high in the sky above their home. That it was stationary and appeared to be circular in shape prompted Walter Richley to hit the UFO with the beam of a large searchlight that was affixed to his truck. The UFO responded by doing likewise: the truck was bathed with an eerie, red glow. Not surprisingly, the Richley’s raced for their home and locked the doors. Things were not quite over, however.  A little more than twenty-four hours later, Walter’s son, Dan, was reading in bed when he heard the unmistakable sound of rotor-blades – seemingly almost outside the window. He flung open the curtains. Sure enough, a large helicopter was in view. Not only that, it was sitting on the ground, just a short distance from the family home. Dan quickly roused his father, who later told UFO researcher Leonard Stringfield: “I think I put my light beam on something that was a military secret. That ‘copter came here to warn me. I’m not about to press it; I’d rather forget it.”

(Nick Redfern) Another black helicopter (without any identifying markings, I should stress) over my place in 2017

One particular FBI document makes a distinct connection between the mutilations and mysterious, black helicopters. Dated February 2, 1979, it notes: “For the past seven or eight years mysterious cattle mutilations have been occurring throughout the United State of New Mexico. Officer Gabe Valdez, New Mexico State Police, has been handling investigations of these mutilations within New Mexico. Information furnished to this office by Officer Valdez indicates that the animals are being shot with some type of paralyzing drug and the blood is being drawn from the animal after an injection of an anti-coagulant.  

“It appears that in some instances the cattle’s legs have been broken and helicopters without any identifying numbers have reportedly been seen in the vicinity of the mutilations. Officer Valdez theorizes that clamps are being placed on the cow’s legs and they are being lifted by helicopter to some remote area where the mutilations are taking place and then the animal is returned to its original pasture. “Officer Valdez is very adamant in his opinion that these mutilations are the work of the US Government and that it is some clandestine operation either by the CIA or the Department of Energy and in all probability is connected with some type of research into biological warfare.” Tom Adams, a researcher who spent many years investigating the mutilation problem, said: “The helicopters are of military origin. The government of the United States possesses a very substantial amount of knowledge about the mutilators, their means, motives and rationale. The government may be attempting to persuade mutilation investigators and the populace as a whole that perhaps the military might be behind the mutilations, a diversion away from the real truth.” One of the most famous of all alien abductees is Betty Andreasson, whose encounters with large-eyed, diminutive extraterrestrials have been chronicled in a number of books, most notably The Andreasson Affair. For years, Andreasson and her family have been plagued by unwanted visits from black helicopters. Lawrence Fawcett and Barry Greenwood, who, in the early 1980s, spent a great deal of time addressing the many and varied intricacies of the Andreasson case, said of Betty and her husband, Bob Luca:

(Nick Redfern) Once again, a sinister you-know-what right over me

“They reported that their home was over flown numerous times by black, unmarked helicopters of the Huey UH-1H type and that these helicopters would fly over their homes at altitudes as low as 100 feet. The Luca’s described these helicopters as being black in color, with no identifiable marking on them. They noticed that the windows were tinted black also, so that no one could see inside. During many of the over flights, Bob was able to take close to 200 photos of the helicopters.” Angered and frustrated as to what was going on – and, more importantly, why – Luca fired off a communication to the U.S. Army’s Office of the Adjutant General. Luca demanded answers. All he got was a brief, and hardly satisfying, reply: “It is difficult to determine what particular aircraft is involved or the owning unit.” 

Debbie Jordan, whose alien encounters are detailed in her book, Abducted!, said of her very own run-ins with the black helicopters: “These could be seen almost daily around our houses. They are so obvious about their flights it’s almost comical. On occasions too numerous to even remember, they have hovered around my house, above my house, and above me for several minutes at a time, not trying to hide themselves or the fact that they are watching us. “Even when I am outside and obviously watching back, it doesn’t seem to bother them. They just sit there in midair, about sixty to ninety feet above the ground, whirling and watching. They are completely without identification and are always low enough so that I could easily see the pilot, if the windshield were clear glass. But the windshield is smoky black, with a finish that makes it impossible to see who’s inside.” The late Jim Keith – a conspiracy theorist who died under controversial circumstances in 1999 – was an acknowledged expert on black helicopters and someone who penned two books on the subject. He recalled one incident that demonstrated sightings of black helicopters were occurring well into the 1990s: “On May 23, 1994, at the Big Meadows on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, a citizen came upon a blocked-off road leading into the Shenandoah National Park. He observed a black chopper coming in for a landing a short distance away, and took photos of the craft. When he asked a park ranger what the black choppers were doing there, the ranger said, ‘They help us with search and rescue.” When the man pointed out to the ranger that the helicopter was equipped with a grenade launcher and added that this hardly seemed to gel with the “search and rescue” comment, the ranger suddenly became noticeably hostile.

As to who, precisely, is overseeing all of these classified operations, perhaps the most likely scenario is that which was offered to a long-time UFO investigator named Tommy Blann. In the early 1980s Blann had the opportunity to speak with a confidential, U.S. military source that was willing to share at least a limited amount of solid data on the black helicopter phenomenon.  Blann said that his informant told him of “underground installations, as well as isolated areas of military reservations [that] have squadrons of unmarked helicopters, which have sophisticated instrumentation on board, that are dispatched to areas of UFO activity to monitor these craft or airlift them out of the area if one has malfunctioned.” 

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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