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Guide to viewing aerial phenomena

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posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 03:25 PM

UFO/Aircraft spotting tips and tricks.

So many photos, so many do you sort out the wheat from the chaff? How do you know if what you are looking at really is the mothership, or something more explainable?

Lets take a look and see what we can come up with, and start with stuff we know about.


The sky is full of them - literally. They come in all shapes and sizes. I realise that sounds obvious at first, but there are some things up there that just look plane (excuse the pun) weird. Depending on the angle of viewing and viewing conditions even the most innocuous of craft can appear to be unusual. Heres some examples from google image - I've linked to pages of images rather than single ones to give a wider view of angles.

B2 Bomber
Rutan Vari-eze
Beechcraft Starship
Eurofighter Typhoon




Predator Predator
Global Hawk Global Hawk
Various other UAV's

In some pictures, the craft above look like ordinary identifiable planes, but in others, particulary where they are partially observed, or at an angle, its very easy to mistake the shape as something unusual. Military planes such as the Typhoon, Vulcan and B2 coming towards a viewer have very unusual viewing aspects, and can appear to be very slim. when seen from the front or side, and diamond shaped during a banked turn.

Daytime Observation

If you are looking into the sky, you need to be familiar with Contrast because if you aren't, then your eyes are literally going to be playing tricks on you. Most military aircraft are painted in order to minimise viewing from the ground, using low visibility camouflage that is grey in colour. Many civilian airliners have white painted or bare metal fuselages, which again makes certain aspects of them hard to spot from a distance. When viewing civil airliners flying at 30,000ft (5 and a half miles up) the main body of the plane will be in sunlight but the underside of the wings will be in shadow, and as the wings are slender in aspect the shadow is sometimes enough to make them lost against the background - they literally blend in. This gives the impression of a missile or tube/cigar shape, when actually what you are seeing is a normal plane. This is a common cause of people believing they have seen a UFO. The same can be said for helicopters, particularly teardrop shaped ones such as the Gazelle above, where the rotors can be very hard to see.

Height and visual referencing is another gauging factor in aircraft observation. Simply put looking at an aircraft unaided in a clear sky it is not possible to gauge the height of any object accurately above approximately 500ft, as your visual cortex has nothing to gauge the distance off. If you knew what plane you were looking at, what the wingspan was, what the apparent wingspan is and your approximate angle of viewing, and had a decent scientific calculator and the knowledge of trigonometry to calculate it, you might be able to hazard a decent guess, but thats all you could manage. Likewise, if what you saw was passing through visible cloud, and you could get a meteorological reading of what level the cloudbase was at, you'd have an idea, but it still would not be precise.

Viewing angle is another factor. Its is not possible to judge height from a ground based object unless what you are looking at is literally next to it. You need to understand Perspective and Aerial Perspective to grasp this concept properly, and combine it with distance and Angle of View You may see something that appears to be literally just skimming the top of a building, but could be 10 miles further behind it and much higher.

Speed must also be taken into account. If you can time movement accurately against two well known landmarks, then speed=distance/time. Problems occur however when the thing you are viewing is heading straight towards or straight away from you, as it will appear to hover in one spot.

Sound is another factor. Firstly, theres the Doppler Effect, which means that as an object approaches you it compresses the sound infront of it, appearing quieter than it actually is until it passes your point of reference. This can lead to objects coming head on appearing to be silent, or objects passing in the distance being muffled by local ambient sounds and wind noise. After doppler, you need to take into account the engines being used and the type of aircraft.

The Gazelle helicopter mentioned above has a special type of tail rotor called a fenestron. This minimises noise and aids aerodynamics. Most modern military helicopters use turbine engines which produce a whistle or whine, and this can often get lost in background noise. Modern helicopters have noise reducing rotors that do not produce the traditional "slap" noise traditionally associated with helicopters.

Civilian airliners also have much quieter engines these days due to noise emission constraints.


Night is particularly frustrating, because you have all of the considerations of the above, and then some, because you can't actually see the outline shape of an aircraft. ALL aircraft flying civilian or military are required to display navigation lights Aircraft Lights and Beacons UNLESS they are in active combat in which case they may get exemption, or are deep "black" projects (The F-117 and B2 were tested overland without running lights, for obvious "stealth" purposes) that does not prevent deep black projects from being seen by such things as engine exhaust port glow though.

Other things are more prevalent at night. You will see stars, and satellites overhead reflecting natural sunlight are much more prominent (just because its dark on the ground, when our particular side of the planet is in shadow, it does not mean its dark at satellites orbital points, they are above the curvature of the earth. There are many satellite trackers out there on the internet Real time satellite tracking is one such example.

Stars and planets twinkle . That can give an appearance of colour change. They also move across the sky relative to the earths rotation

ANY time

Optical Illusions need to be taken into consideration. Your eyes CAN AND DO play tricks on you. Clouds moving across the sky can make a static object such as a star, or even the moon, appear to be moving. Combine that with twinking, and the effects mention above to do with perspective and suddenly what may appear to be sensational is actually quite explainable.


So, you've seen something unusual, and you want to record it. Heres a few things to note.

Write down the date, time and location of the observation as soon as possible. Its easy to get muddled up after the fact.

Note down the weather Atmospheric Phenomenon can play a BIG part in UFO sightings.

KEEP THE CAMERA AS STILL AS POSSIBLE A moving camera is no good to anyone, as it distorts any movement - or lack of movement - of the object.

Try and get a visual reference point in shot - This can be hard to do, but is worth the effort as it puts your sighting into context with a known point. Getting two known points is even better, and may aide in actually placing your sighting in a particular point of the sky

DO NOT ZOOM IN AND OUT Zooming distorts the image. Digital cameras are susceptible to blurs, colour distortions and pixellation when zooming in and out. If you must zoom onto an object, do it slowly, and keep the zoomed object in few for a good few seconds before you zoom back out.

Try and get other witnesses who will corroborate the sighting - Goes without saying - multiple witnesses to an event give it much more strength. Even better if the object is viewed from two different locations. Most people these days have cell phones - use them!

DO not film from behind glass - Glass distorts, and reflects internal and some external light sources. Hoaxers love glass for that very reason.

Use the most expensive camera you can find - Quality of image comes with expense. Sad, but true.

I'm sure I've missed a few things here, but I hope I've covered a lot of major bases. Please feel free to add/comment. I hope this post is useful

[edit on 4/7/10 by neformore]

[edit on 29/8/10 by neformore]

posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 03:30 PM
reply to post by neformore

Great comprehensive list there mate

Might be an idea to have this stickied so people can refer to it before posting images that can easily be explained.

posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 03:42 PM
Also, make sure you steer clear of the sun when using binoculars...I had to learn the hard way.

posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 03:52 PM
S&F Great post and great information many thanks.

posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 03:52 PM
What a great guide - flagged aswell. I will spread this text all over the internets!

posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 04:48 PM
I'll add to this wonderfully presented post by saying that for those that can afford it and are wanting to observe in a night time scenario, that having the assistance of Infrared has proven to be very useful for picking up objects that our eyes may miss. For those where money is no object, a generation 3 or greater monocular (which allows for camera lens connection) or a pair of goggles are extremely useful. There is also some companies that use a CCD IR that have a camera output, to be directly connected to a camcorder for recording (very useful). Some very early models of Sony Hi-8 had a consumer IR that allowed for shooting in the daytime (useful at times). They can be found on eBay for generally under 400.00 (US Dollars),

And in regards to satellite tracking, NASA has a program (for free usage) called J-Pass that allows for specific objects to be tracked, or you can (under options) choose to have all objects shown. You simply type in your zipcode and it pulls up a 'undockable' window with all the trajectories and information about the passing of those objects in your area. And choosing the tab-feature "list" will give a graphical culmination of all the satellites within a 12 hour period (again, very useful).

For those with camcorders... (especially those using them at night), get into the habit of two things. If you don't have a tripod, find a solid area like a wall, a boulder, a car, a tree and rest your body against to prevent shake. Anytime you are zooming in towards a subject/target, the 'shake factor' is magnified 10 fold. The 2nd thing you need to get into the habit of doing is switching off the 'auto-focus'. Cameras do a decent focusing job on people, objects far away.. not so much.. You'll need to practice on following some targets (like a commercial airline flying overhead) to get use to manually focusing. But once you do, the benefits far outweigh the small learning curve. And you'll end up with a 'capture' that is visible and not as fuzzy..

Great post Nef with a lot of good information.. thanks for posting it!


[edit on 7/3/2010 by JohnnyAnonymous]

posted on Jul, 3 2010 @ 04:52 PM
reply to post by neformore

Ah, the good old Vulcan Bomber! I remember being a little kid back in Scotland and seeing this baby fly at the Leuchars Air Show during the 80's.

It was the noisiest damn plane i've ever heard in my life. Made me burst into tears it was so noisy!! You could feel vibrations right through the ground you walked on and up into your stomach!!


posted on Jul, 4 2010 @ 04:27 AM
Vulcan bombers aside (see the avaiation forum Grant!) I figured I'd add some more to the thread and mention


Clouds come in many shapes and forms. They don't just make rain/snow, and they can form some intruiging and interesting patterns.

Again, I'm not going to link to specific images - I'll link to general google image results.

What Wiki has to say about clouds

Heres some examples of truly strange looking clouds...

Lenticular Clouds

Irridescent Clouds

Roll Clouds

Mammatus Clouds (yes, they're real!)

Associated with clouds, are Crepuscular Rays - Wiki defines them as follows

Crepuscular rays (pronounced /krɪˈpʌskjələr/), in atmospheric optics, are rays of sunlight that appear to radiate from a single point in the sky. These rays, which stream through gaps in clouds or between other objects, are columns of sunlit air separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. The name comes from their frequent occurrences during crepuscular hours (those around dawn and dusk), when the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious.

These, coupled with a mixture of clouds and atmospheric conditions, can give the apperance of an object shining a light down to the ground

Crepusular Rays on Google

As you can see, the natural things that happen in the sky can be particularly strange in their own right - which is why it is important, when observing sky objects, to be aware of the fact that what you are seeing may not be the mothership from Close Encounters.

But heres hoping one day someone does manage to get a photo of it!

I'll add more to this thread as time allows. Comments/questions would be much appreciated.

Edit to add this link from Ziggystar60 - Cloud Appreciation Society - great site with some brilliant photos.

[edit on 4/7/10 by neformore]

[edit on 4/7/10 by neformore]

posted on Jul, 4 2010 @ 06:37 AM
reply to post by neformore


Thanks.....that's great info!

It's very late here now, so I will look at all that in detail tomorrow.

Kind regards
Maybe...maybe not

posted on Jul, 16 2010 @ 05:23 PM
reply to post by neformore

this is an outstanding thread, and neformore offers us a detailed list and links to aircraft that can be misinterpretted by people as something not ours.

great thread subject neformore, and thanks for sharing with us ATSers.


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