Commercial Drones PilotsThe Strangest Encounters With Unidentified Aircraft We’ve Found In The FAA’s Huge Database

July 19, 2021by helo-10
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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:



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