Drone sighting by general aviation pilot


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Hello all,

I’m a bit of an intruder here I think.  Please excuse me but I can’t find the help I’m looking for anywhere on the web.  I’m a general aviation pilot and have given a small handful of drone sightings to ATC in the past but in the last 30 days I’ve had two very close encounters that I can’t explain.  The objects that I saw were what I assumed to be drones at first but the second sighting really confused me and made me question what I had seen in the first encounter.

I really don’t want to bore you with my experiences but I would like to know if anyone can help give closure to my sightings as being drones.  I can’t see any drones on the market that meet the visual description that I had in my flights.  I can’t tell you if they were moving or hovering in place because of my high speed but I can tell you that there was no left to right movement.  My initial assumption was that they were in motion opposite direction to me but that’s now clear to me impossible to prove.  
 

Both sightings were at illegal altitudes to my knowledge.  I was 5000 MSL on the first encounter and at a 15,000 on the second.  In both cases these objects were well within 50 feet of my plane.  In both cases my mind told me I was seeing birds and I prepared to avoid them but in both cases I realized just as quick that their motions were not bird-like and I just watched in fascination and curiosity as they got closer to me.

The first at 5000 looked like two drones shaped like cubes maybe 5 to 9 inches cubed.  They looked like they were flying in staggered formation and they passed just above my plane and slightly to the right.  I didn’t see any arms extending from the main body for propellers, just two cubes flying above my plane.  I didn’t think much about the shapes except that it wasn’t anything I’ve seen. I was more fascinated that there were two.  I was on an extended final to land so I quickly reported it and continued to my landing.  

The second sighting this Monday really got me thinking and made me recall the first one in more detail.  Remember that I was cruising at 15000 so when I saw what I first thought was a bird all I could think in that brief moment in time was “What the heck is that bird doing up here?!”  But as in the first case it was soon apparent that I was looking at another drone and this time I was going to get a real good look.  This one was again well within what I would call 50’ and it was below and off to the left side.   It was really easy to see because we were above a layer of clouds but this all happened in such a short time so I’m missing lots of details.  However, this thing was two spheres that looked connected.  They were no smaller than softballs and no bigger than a cantaloupe.  They were pretty glossy or shiny.  In relation to their apparent direction of movement they were “attached” offset, not side-by-side or on top of each other.  This made no sense to me. I can’t understand how this thing could be flying at all.  Again, I didn’t see any arms branching off of the balls.  Just two balls that looked to be connected and floating through the air.  It wasn’t two balloons either.  They were perfect spheres.    
 

I have been looking for drones that fit the descriptions of these sightings to no avail.  I’m reaching out to the professionals here that clearly have more experience and hoping that someone can tell me that there are in fact drones that could be shaped as cubes or spheres.  I know I didn’t have enough time to properly give accurate descriptions but I did get clear enough sight to be quite positive that these drones didn’t have the classic 4+ arms with props on each.  I don’t know how they could be flying. 
 

I feel somewhat embarrassed about this because it sounds like I’m one of those UFO people but I’m not.  I don’t believe in that but I also can’t explain this either so I’m hoping one of you can enlighten me.  It just doesn’t make sense to me. 
 

thanks

Sol

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Thanks for your reply Av8Chuck.  I was hoping that they were mylars too but after some reading I can’t find anyone who thinks that they would find equilibrium in density at such a low altitude.  Therefore I would expect helium to continue to rise beyond 150000.  These were holding altitude pretty well.  I also think they looked to spherical to be typical balloons but I know that doesn’t hold a lot of weight being I had such a brief time to observe.  

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There are tons of variables that could account for what you saw.  Over time a Mylar balloon will hold altitude in your living room, so if people are telling you that 15000 feet is low and they wouldn’t stay at that altitude, probably don’t know what their talking about.  
 

Unless you had pictures of the objects, something more than a vague description, you will probably never know what it was.  And since you don’t know what they were, why don’t you call it what it was instead of jumping to the conclusion that it was a drone, an unidentified flying object. 
 

what kind of plane where you flying at 15,000 feet?  

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You're right Av8Chuck.  They were technically an UFOs but that just has such a negative connotation (to me anyway).  I feel silly just talking about it, but I also can't shake it for some reason.  Balloons are my logical conclusion as well, but they just looked to perfectly spherical.  And don't forget the first set of drones either.  They were shaped like cubes; no visible arms that would house roaters.  I was just hoping that the drone community might know about drones that don't have any visible arms with rotors because this is something if feel very confident in both incidents that was missing.  Single rotor drones are typically RC helicopters to my limited knowledge.  Anyway, I've already gone shoulders-down knowing that I will in fact probably never know.  I hope I can get the camera rolling next time (if there is one) and get some good shots.

To answer your question, I fly a Mooney M20M Bravo (N24KW).

Thanks for taking the time.

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I do record, but my camera is pointing straight out of my windshield and I usually only record takeoffs and landings for analysis.   Every time I try to record something like a big boy such as a 737 flying near me, I’m either just too slow or the angle of the lens is just too wide to capture the “craziness” of how close it looks.  I probably need to start with investing in better recording equipment :).   I can’t imagine how hard it would be to capture something as small as a drone.  
 

What I really want is footage that I assume those that passed over me recorded.   As much as I don’t like seeing drones while flying, I also would love to have pics or vid of my boy in flight.  

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  • 1 month later...

a friend of mine, actually my ex boyfriend flies for American Airlines and has told me about such sightings, he said since you have drones and rc helicopters I know those were not drones, they were definitely something else, and ATC in the Chicago area would not take his reports seriously. 

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