Mass Sighting Line of Red & White Lights Likely Not Military Craft.

Special Report

Description: In the evening hours of December 9, 2017 several witnesses across several states saw lines of red and white lights. The list of states in the approximate order in which the lights appeared are as follows: Florida; South Carolina; Illinois; Missouri; Kansas; Colorado; Utah; Wyoming; Montana; Idaho; Washington; and California. Both the National UFO Reporting Center and Mutual UFO Network received several reports. UFOs Northwest also received several reports. Click here to view UFOs Northwest sightings.

The media and U.S. Air Force explained the mass sightings as due to a Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (JFEX) in which 37 C-17 Globemaster III and 21 C-130 Hercules airlifters took off for Nevada from a dozen bases around the U.S. The simulated mission was to get into enemy territory and drop U.S. paratroopers. The drops were made to the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). Additional aircraft including F-15 and F-16 fighter jets flew support missions against the mock opposing forces.

Analysis/Results

An analysis was conducted of these sightings specifically for the state of Montana. Twelve reports were received in Montana from 6 PM to 8:45 PM MDT. The list and times of Montana sightings including the noted direction of movement of the lights are in table below.

City Time Sighting Flight Direction Weather
Three Forks 8:05 PM 30 Blinking Red & White Lights East Clear
Dillon 8 PM Red & Silver Lights Big & Round East Then Northeast Clear
Dillon 8 PM Large Object Blinking Red Lights East Clear
Laurel 8:25 PM 20 Red Lights Semi Straight Line South-Southwest Clear
Laurel 8:45 PM Flashing Red Lights in Line East Then South Clear
Livingston 8:30 PM 12 Flashing Red Lights in Line East Clear
Anaconda 8:30 PM 15 Moving Red Blinking Lights Northeast Clear
Helena 8:23 PM Line 30 Flashing Red Lights Southeast Mostly Cloudy Visibility 3 MI
Billings 6:30 PM Flashing Lights No Noise South Clear
Billings 8:18 PM Line of Lights Blinking South Clear
Bozeman 8 PM Line 2 dozen Blinking Red Lights East Clear
Townsend 6 PM 10 Flashing Red Lights East Clear

The direction of movements varied, but most had an easterly component. Two reported a northeasterly movement and four noted a southerly component.

An inquiry was made to the 120th Airlift Wing (Montana Air National Guard) in Great Falls to see if they participated in the above exercise. The public information officer stated that the Guard had no flights on December 9, 2017. The Air Force and media reports stated that aircraft were launched from 12 bases around the country. Given that Montana did not participate could any of the lights be due to over flights from other bases? This is quite unlikely. (See radar results below.)

When we first learned of the extensive sightings a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was written to the FAA to obtain radar data for western and central Montana. If C-17 and/or C-130 aircraft were airborne over Montana, the radar data would show it. Also unknown (UFO) returns could also support the sightings. Unfortunately the FAA did not provide the extent of data that we requested.

Radar Results

The map below shows aircraft tracks and tracks of unknown objects in Montana for December 9, 2017 from 8 PM to 9 PM MST. The red arrows denote known aircraft and the gray arrows denote unknown (UFO) returns.

MAP OF RADAR AIRCRAFT & UNKNOWN RADAR RETURNS - DEC 9, 2017.

MAP OF RADAR AIRCRAFT & UNKNOWN RADAR RETURNS – DEC 9, 2017.

According to the media reports and the Air Force, the air-lift craft delivered paratroopers to the (NTTR) in Nevada. The above radar map shows no aircraft flying towards Nevada. Only one witness report in Montana noted that the lights were moving to the south. The radar map clearly shows commercial aircraft. Most aircraft were flying to the west and northwest and one was flying to the east-southeast. A few of these craft were losing altitude and likely landed at Montana airports. Most were likely en-route to Seattle, Portland or Canada from Midwest and eastern U.S. airports.

Also none of the aircraft had beacon codes used by military aircraft. The aircraft beacon sends a signal to the radar so the operator knows what aircraft it is (e.g. Delta Airlines Flight 22). The code is assigned when the pilot files a flight plan.

Radar also showed a large group of unknown returns moving slowly south-southeast at around 35 MPH. These returns were nearest Townsend and Three Forks. These were two of the witness locations noted in the above table. The Townsend sighting was 6 PM so it couldn’t have been the radar returns, but the Three Forks sighting was at 8:05 PM which was fits the time-frame of the returns. However, the movement of the returns does not fit the sighting observation at Three Forks. The above map shows the unknown returns (coded in gray).

Below is a zoomed map of the unknown returns. The map shows each individual radar return. The returns represent an erratic slow moving object. The general movement vector was to the South-Southeast, but the object moved back and forth several times. Also the object would appear on successive radar antenna scans, but then would appear at times on every 2nd or 3rd scan. The movement does not fit any of the sighting reports in the above table, but is indicative that something unusual was happening. Also the radar request that we received only covers a small percentage of the sighting area that we originally requested. Perhaps more unknown returns would have been found had the radar coverage been more extensive? Helena, MT was  48 miles to the Northwest of where the returns started at 8:01 PM MST. Bozeman, MT was 21 miles to the South-Southwest of when the returns vanished from the radar screen at 8:23 PM MST.

MAP OF ERRATIC MOVING UNKNOWN RETURNS.

MAP OF ERRATIC MOVING UNKNOWN RETURNS.

Concluding Remarks

On December 9, 2017 several witnesses in several states saw lines of red and white lights. Some witnesses reported blinking and others saw solid lights. Most reports in Montana involved blinking or flashing lights. This analysis was focused on Montana where 12 sightings were reported. Media outlets and the  U.S. Air Force stated  that the sightings were due to an airlift exercise involving transport of paratroopers to the NTTR using C-17 and C-130 aircraft. An inquiry to the 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls revealed that no military craft were in the air on Dec 9, 2017. Therefore no bases in Montana were involved in the above exercise.

We believe that it is unlikely that any of the sightings in Montana (and most the sightings in the rest of the U.S.) were due to conventional aircraft. Witnesses reported lights in a line which are not characteristic of regular aircraft. The lights also were moving quite slow. Radar in Montana showed that the aircraft were quite likely commercial jetliners going back and forth from Canada and the Pacific Northwest from airports in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. Radar did not show any aircraft moving towards Nevada. One group of compelling returns shows an unknown object moving slowly to the south-southeast. Radar data coverage was not sufficient to do a more refined analysis because the FAA did not provide the spatial extent that was requested.

One wonders if the military exercise was a cover for something else going on?  Also one week later (Dec 16, 2017) the New York Times revealed that the Pentagon had funded a study on UFO’s. Could this announcement be related to the above sightings?

Note to Commenters: If you are reporting a sighting, be sure to include the location (city, state, country), date and time of your sighting. Be detailed in your description. You may also use our UFO report page to report your Montana UFO sighting. Comments will be published if they are in "good taste" and not inflammatory.
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2 Responses to Mass Sighting Line of Red & White Lights Likely Not Military Craft.

  1. Martin Shough says:

    Hi William. Very interesting.
    Specifically in relation to the slow, erratic primary targets: I hesitate to suggest it, but might these have been intermittent echoes from a small group of targets such as large birds? I notice that the direction leads from the area of a large wildlife reserve, the Canyon Ferry management area near Townsend which is a major American White Pelican breeding colony:
    https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/canyon-ferry-wildlife-management-area
    A speed of 35 mph could easily fit pelicans, which would have benefitted from generally northwesterly tail winds above about 5-6000 ft:
    http://weather.uwyo.edu/upperair/sounding.html
    Alternatvely, small windborne objects with some buoyancy might have followed this track. Note that on both the noon and midnight radiosondes bracketing the event you find windspeeds around 35 mph coinciding with directions around 315 degrees, which is very close to the track shown on your map. This match occurs at roughly 11,000 ft at noon rising to about 20,000 ft at midnight. But on balance large birds like pelicans seem a more likely explanation (if there is one), and could be good radar reflectors.
    I’d be interested to hear what you make of this, given your local and meteorological knowledge.

    • admin says:

      Martin:

      Thanks much for sending your comments. You may be right that the unknowns are birds. I did check the winds aloft and also found found that at certain heights the track of the objects would be consistent with drifting with the wind with respect to speed and direction. My only hesitation to this explanation was that the closest long range radar was an ARSR-4 radar located at Kalispell, MT which is over 200 miles away from the initial track of the returns. I thought that at this range radar would likely not track objects as small as birds. I suppose that the radar could detect groups of birds and show a single return? At the very least I believe that my analysis in Montana dispels the media and Air Force’s explanation that the lights were due to a military exercise.

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