Reddit | UWphoto

10+ Wild Things Pilots Have Seen From The Cockpit

Pilots get a unique view of the world from the cockpit. At 35,000 feet every day, they get to see a side of life every day that most of us will seldom, if ever, get a glimpse of. So, what sorts of things do they see up there? Well, some powerful forces, as we would expect, as well as some wild and weird things that we definitely wouldn't expect.


Reddit | aryeh95

It's not uncommon for pilots to catch a good meteor shower show at altitude, but on occasion, they've gotten a bit closer than you'd think.

"Over the ocean, I looked out my captain’s window and saw this greenish looking object a couple miles off seemingly keeping pace with us," wrote one pilot on Reddit. "It like metallic green, like the unfinished metal you see on a plane before it is painted. It also had a contrail, but it looked weird, almost like it was on fire. It was small like a fighter jet, and outpacing us.

"Then before our eyes it started to break apart. I realized then that it must have been a decent sized meteor, with pieces breaking apart and flames shooting out the back."


Unsplash | Diya Pokharel

Plain old helium can take balloons on some pretty incredible journeys.

"I eventually got up to altitude, opened the vents up, and was enjoying the nice cold blast of fresh air," wrote a pilot on Reddit. "After about 10-15 minutes, I witnessed a large, swollen, disfigured clown's head fly past the right side of the airplane.

"After determining I was in fact not suffering from hypoxia, I turned around to see what the hell had flown past my airplane.

"My eyes had not deceived me. It was indeed a large, swollen, disfigured clown's head.

"Apparently, someone had let go of their helium-filled party balloon. The pressure differential between the inside of the balloon and the outside atmosphere at 10,000 feet caused it to stretch and distort into an unholy clown mutant from hell."


Unsplash | İpek Aydoğdu

No, really, one pilot says he saw a sheet of plywood up in the air.

"Soaring over the Mojave Desert, I saw a blink, blink, blink... in the near distance at about 3000 feet. I flew over to see what it was," he wrote. "It looked like a 4x8 sheet of plywood or paneling that was light on one side and dark on the other. It was flipping over and over in a thermal. Once I figured out it was solid, I didn't try to get close.

"I presume a really strong dust devil went through a construction site and something unlikely happened."


You knew this was coming, but it's true that many, many pilots have reported seeing other aircraft that they couldn't identify — which doesn't mean that they were aliens.

"I spent nearly ten years as a Navigator operating fighters, on one occasion we tracked an object that initially was about thirty miles out and rapidly accelerating, turning and jinking in a way that would have put G forces on its pilot that would have G-LOC'd them," wrote one person on Reddit.

"When it jinked away we would turn in to get the nose on him, it would jink away again in a very rapid manner. It reacted to our maneuvers. So it was under intelligent control and impressing my pilot with its direction changes and speed. When we lit the burners and went supersonic it ran away from us rapidly and within ten seconds I had lost radar contact. When you're at Mach 1.1 and the contact accelerates like you're standing still it gets your attention.

"Could have been little green men, could have been an experimental aircraft. Pretty impressive whatever it was."

Optical Illusions

Unsplash | Mathieu Perrier

All it takes is warm air and water vapor to play tricks on the eyes.

"I used to fly small airliners in the Grand Canyon," one pilot shared. "We would regularly see sundogs, false reflections, mirages of las vegas in the air, and double suns. The reflectivity of rising hot air and of rainy weather creates really crazy visual illusions at times."


Unsplash | asoggetti

Not the kind packing Hellfire missiles, thankfully, but many pilots have run afoul of commercial drones at unlikely altitudes.

"Was cruising along at 24,000 ft and spot something out of the corner of my eye," wrote one pilot. "Look up and there was something small and drone like to the left of our flight path. By the time I grabbed the controls to decide if I was going to kick off the auto pilot, we zoomed past it like it was stationary. It just passed our left wingtip. Both myself and FO were WTF? Neither of us were certain but we were pretty sure such a small drone couldn’t make it to that altitude with the thin atmosphere and -30c temperatures. Googled it later and they can go nowhere near that high."


Reddit | Come-along-pond

The massive weather systems that imperil us on the ground look mighty different from above the clouds. Since pilots already have to be part meteorologists, it has to be fascinating for them to get that view, as well as fostering a healthy respect for the forces at play.

Lightning Strikes

Reddit | UWphoto

When those storms spring up, it's not uncommon for planes to see lightning from an angle that might be too close for comfort. In fact, planes get hit by lightning all the time.

St. Elmo's Fire

Reddit | Reacher-Said-Nothing

"St. Elmo's Fire is pretty cool. When you fly through heavy precipitation or areas of high electrical charge (like a thunderstorm) at high speed, the airplane will build up an electrical charge which will discharge in cool (totally harmless) lightning bolts across the windscreen," wrote a pilot on Reddit. "If you get really lucky though it will cause the metal parts (like exposed metal on the windshield wipers) on the outside of the plane to glow blue with electrical discharge.

"The best I've seen it though was one night as we picked our way through a line of thunderstorms over the Dakotas. Pretty much whole plane was glowing, with a large blue jet of electric discharge coming off the nose. It looked like we were flying with a blue-ish landing light on in a rainstorm, only we didn't have our landing lights on."

Pink Lakes

As odd as it may sound, pink lakes exist, and from above, they're downright odd. Lake Hillier in Australia is a famous example, but it's far from the only one. Usually the cause is high salinity combined with certain types of algae and bacteria.


The weirdest thing about these incredible displays on the ground, like Peru's Nazca lines, is that they were largely constructed thousands of years before humans even started flying. For the most part, until pilots found them, there was no way to know geoglyphs even existed, which begs the question: who were they even for?

The other weird thing is that they weren't constructed by just one ancient civilization. They're visible around the world, from South America to Central Asia to Great Britain to the American West.

Rectangular Icebergs

NASA pilots caught a weirdly geometrical iceberg near Antarctica, which, like geoglyphs, is one of those things that nobody would have picked up on from ground level.

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