The sighting of a very big, fast-looking aircraft reminds me of something that my roommate and I saw back circa 2002 on approach to Kelly Air Force
Base in San Antonio Texas around 4 a.m. It was witnessing this aircraft that sparked my interest in unacknowledged airframes. For context, we were
both in our senior year at Texas State University in San Marcos, which is about 50 miles northeast of Kelly and about 40 miles northeast of Randolph
AFB. We were accustomed to seeing and hearing C-5s, KC-10s, B-1Bs, C-130s, T-38s, and occasional F-16s and 15s on approach (we had a good sense of the
sounds and sizes of different aircraft, even at night). The C-5s and B-1s on approach to Kelly would descend over San Marcos at around 20,000 feet –
lower than cruising airliner traffic and above the local traffic. C-5s are based at Kelly and are particularly common. The growl of their turbofans
was unmistakable and we could recognize their lighting patterns at night.
Anyways, like many college kids, we stayed up late. I remember this vividly: we were cleaning the kitchen at around 4 a.m. and were not drunk/high. My
roommate and I would get into these weird cleaning frenzies and just tear the place up. While talking and cleaning, we heard what I can only describe
as a hissing/whooshing sound like air moving through a pipe (not a jet sound). We actually thought it was our neighbors upstairs using a rental steam
cleaner on their carpet and were laughing about them being up cleaning at the same ridiculous hour. This gives you some idea of the sound, as we
mistook it for a steam cleaner. We did not associate this sound as coming from an aircraft or even being a form of propulsion. However, the sound got
“bigger” if you will, and transitioned into a very low-pitched rumbling – not unlike the sound an F-22 makes or a beefier B-1B.
Both being into aviation (he had taken flying lessons) we ran outside to see what the heck this was. Just past 12 o’clock, nearly directly overhead
and on the very same flight path the C-5s took was a very large, diamond-shaped lighting pattern (elongated towards the front). The front light was
white, the wingtip lights normal red/green, and the tail light was a duller amber/yellow color. None of the lights strobed or were blinking. Even
though it was night, the plane looked and sounded huge. We only had the aforementioned aircraft for comparison, and I would estimate this bird to be
close in size to the C-5s (maybe a bit smaller) and bigger than a B-1B – maybe 180-200 feet long if I had to guess. My impression was that it was a
Concord SST, B-70, or jumbo SR-71. It was definitely an airliner-sized platform. Assuming it was as high as the other traffic we were used to seeing,
I’m guessing its speed was about 250-350 knots (not traveling very fast for making such a deep rumble).
We lived on a hill facing south and watched the plane continue to descend southeast towards San Antonio and Kelly AFB. We stood mesmerized and watched
it for about 5 minutes (I’m guessing 20-30 miles downrange). The sound became a very low rumble as it flew away from us. Knowing we were seeing
something special by the sound, we paid attention. It didn’t appear to be on autopilot as it was doing very gentle, lazy s-turns (seemed like it was
being hand flown). Eventualy we lost sight of it. And that was it!
We did a lot of research about this online (of course it was 2003). I always assumed it was what people call the brilliant buzzard. There were some
news stories we encountered (long gone I think) about people calling the police somewhere back east reporting a plane making a “loud whooshing
sound.” A poster on one ATS thread talked about some secret near-space bomber called an XB-176 (interestingly, if you search for this nothing comes
up), he guarded while in Nevada in the late 80s. Somewhere later in the forum, someone talks about a large, house-shaking aircraft that flew over
their house near Edwards (I think) and described a lighting pattern similar to what we saw. This thread intrigues me about the OP's sighting, as
unlike the famous north sea "Aurora/F-121" refueling sighting, if you believe that's what it was, this plane was the same size or bigger than the
I’ve wondered about the weird hissing/whooshing sound. I suspect its either some sort of fluidic thrust vectoring, pressurized oxygen/fuel source
being offloaded before landing to lighten the thing, some sort of ramjet/scramjet/combined cycle engine in a low-speed phase (almost like air is being
pumped into it), or something aerodynamic such as swing wing moving, flaps deploying, etc. Why Kelly AFB? We assumed it was to “hide” for some
unplanned repairs or conduct a secret show-and-tell as Kelly AFB has enormous hangers for the C-5s.
I would sure love to know what we saw some day – quite an unforgettable machine from the sound and big from the lights. Maybe it was what the poster
saw refueling? I can’t imagine the US operating too many airliner-sized, classified aircraft. Where would they keep them? After college, I served in
the military, and though I saw a few strange aircraft at night over my base, nothing like this. I'd love to see this plane again someday.
on 10-6-2018 by TheHans because: updates.