It was reported by the BBC today that a passenger jet on approach to Glasgow airport came terrifyingly close to slamming into what can only be described as a unidentified flying object.
The pilot saw an object “loom ahead” (which is wonderfully ominous phrasing) and pass underneath the plane at a distance of roughly 300 feet — which would be quite unnerving when travelling at several hundred miles per hour.
The pilot sounded a bit freaked out in his message to the tower: “Er, not quite sure what it was but it definitely, er, quite large.”
The pilot and copilot agreed the object was blue and silvery yellow, and an official report issued by the UK’s Airprox board describes the object as “unidentified.”
That doesn’t mean it was little green men in a spaceship, of course, but the investigators ruled out gliders, drones, weather balloons, Jerry Bruckheimer CGI and other possible culprits, largely because the strange object did not appear on radar.
It’s a puzzling incident that lends some credibility to the UFO researchers who claim flying saucers (or whatever they are) could pose real risks to passenger aviation. And it’s certainly not the first such case. Here are five of the more compelling and not-fully- understood near misses with UFOs through aviation history.
5. The Bomber-Following UFO
One of the earliest reports of a UFO engaging with an airplane happened during the Second World War when a Polish pilot flying a Vickers Wellington Bomber over the Netherlands reported an orange, glowing disc in hot pursuit.
Understandably nervous after a bombing mission, the tail-gunner opened fire on the object, which zoomed off at high speed. The incident launched the so-called “foo fighters” incidents, in which wartime pilots over Germany reported seeing flying mysterious objects piloted by the former drummer of Nirvana.
4. The Japan Air Lines Alaska UFO
In the autumn of 1986, a Japan Air Lines freighter jet was making a routine passage over Alaska en route to Tokyo when a crew member spotted two objects to the left of the plane, which quickly rose up alongside it as if escorting it. When the objects were at their closest, the pilot said their “thrusters” lit up the cabin of the aircraft.
Suddenly the two “escorts” peeled away and a much larger object, “twice the size of an aircraft carrier,” rose up near the plane. Known in UFO lore as the “mothership,” the larger object flew so close to the jet that the pilot requested a change of course to avoid colliding with it. The pilot was disciplined by Japan Air Lines for reporting the incident and didn’t fly again for years.
3. The Air France Paris UFO
On January 28, 1994, Air France Pilot Jean-Charles Duboc was flying an Airbus A320 from Paris to London when he spotted something puzzling near Paris: a polite waiter. Just kidding — he spotted a reddish-brown disc, roughly 800 feet in diameter, floating in the sky. The object was reported to air traffic control and determined to be roughly in the vicinity of the French Air Force headquarters. A top-secret Air Force vehicle, perhaps, or space aliens spying on the least-likely country to wage interstellar war?
“We observed it during a good minute, conscious that we were seeing something utterly anomalous,” the pilot has since said in an interview. “That was absolutely amazing.”
2. The Romania UFO Collision
Details on this one are particularly sketchy, but news reports emerged five years ago from the Romanian Defense Ministry that a fighter plane was struck by four UFOs as it took off from Bucharest. The MIG jet managed to land safely but suffered some expensive damage.
“They couldn’t be birds because there are no birds in Europe able to fly so high,” a military official told the media. “And they couldn’t be ice bodies because it was a clear sky — neither could they be pieces of another plane or a meteor.”
Here’s a video that may or may not depict the collision — it’s hard to tell given the language barrier and the wonky editing. There is one definite UFO in the clip, though: the reporter is an Unbelievably Foxy Object.
1. The Valentich Disappearance
This one’s pretty creepy. In October 1978, a 20-year-old pilot named Frederick Valentich was flying a Cessna over Australia when he informed air traffic control that he was being accompanied by an unusual object roughly 1,000 feet above him.
He grew increasingly unnerved by its erratic behaviour, and he couldn’t shake it: “The strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again,” reads a transcript of his communication with the tower. “It is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.” The transcript then shows 17 seconds of unidentified noise, before the transmission was lost altogether. No traces of Valentich or his aircraft were ever found. Cue Twilight Zone music.
Many possible explanations for the Valentich disappearance have been put forward, such as he faked his own death (or, more mundanely, committed suicide). A few witnesses came forward after his vanishing, however, and said they saw a weird green object trailing a Cessna in quick descent on the night of the incident.
The friendly skies might not be so friendly after all. Even so, a mid-air collision with a UFO may be preferable to, say, spending an entire red-eye flight sat next to a crying baby.