1994 Nellis Test Range UFO (Sightings / Hard Copy)


Apologies if this has been posted before. I searched with every possible term but couldn't find it.

Amateur astronomer Martin J Powell's website contains a detailed, thorough analysis of a seemingly-peculiar unidentified flying object tracked at the Nellis Test Range in 1994.

Part 1: Location

In February 1995 the American TV show 'Hard Copy' broadcast a videotape showing an unidentified object flying over a North American military test range. Further footage was shown the following December on the 'Sightings' TV show. The videotape had apparently been filmed by a high-tech Air Force surveillance camera at an undisclosed location within the Nellis Air Force Base Bombing and Gunnery Range Complex, Nevada (often referred to simply as the Nellis Test Range).

The videotape is said to have been smuggled out by contractor personnel who had operated tracking stations on the Nellis range. Copies of the videotape were sold to Paramount Studios (producers of 'Hard Copy' and 'Sightings') by a former Air Force employee who worked on the range, although apparently he had not witnessed the object himself.

Figure 1 The Nellis UFO, shown in two different views from the S-30 footage.

Two sections of videotape showing the UFO have come to light. The first section was filmed from a location known as S-30, according to the camera's data display. This shows the object initially as an indistinct 'blob' flying in front of a distant mountain range, before it turns and heads towards the camera location. The camera operator struggles to keep the object within shot as it approaches, and it soon becomes clear that it cannot be identified. It looks similar to a blimp, but with four light-coloured 'lobes' and a dark region at the front. As it nears, it turns to face the tracking station for several seconds, as if performing some kind of surveillance, before it turns away and departs. The footage is of special importance because the voices of the camera operators at the tracking station can be heard on the noisy soundtrack. Their bewilderment at the unexpected appearance of the UFO is clearly audible. "What the hell is it?" one of them exclaims; "Where's it come from?" asks another.

Figure 2 The tracking camera display as it appears in the S-30 footage. The S-13 display is similar, but with the additional letters 'CG' and 'LAU' at the lower part of the screen.

The second section of footage was filmed some 40 minutes later, from camera location S-13. This shows the UFO as a small dot on the horizon, moving away from the tracking camera. Although it has less visual impact, the soundtrack to this section is important because the controllers are heard to simulate a missile launch on the object. It remains visible, however, eventually disappearing into the realm of mystery and speculation that surrounds the Nellis Range.

Figure 3 (Top) Black Mountain, Nevada, as it appears from tracking station S-30, in the early part of the Nellis UFO footage (click on image to enlarge). This image is a montage of numerous screen shots taken over a period of about half a minute. (Bottom) The author's computer-generated profile of Black Mountain, as it would appear from a location 21.4 miles to the North-east of the summit. The radar domes have been omitted from the profile. The lower image was composed using USGS map data.

Radar domes on Black Mountain, Nevada. These are the same domes that appear at the start of the S-30 footage

Having taken place inside the range, the most likely explanation for the UFO would seem to be that it was a top secret 'black project' which for some reason was allowed to fly in full view of the surveillance cameras. However, according to one anonymous source in the 'Sightings' programme, the camera operators are not exposed to such tests of new technologies, the camera lenses being capped and the equipment turned off during such occasions.

Part 2: Appearance

Figure 2 In this and the Figures which follow, the original Nellis UFO image is shown on the left and the author's model on the right. Times are shown in UTC in each case.

The side lobes are seen to involve semicircular structures which line their perimeters, and the two projections are seen to originate from the trailing edges. The port projection looks to be deployed at a lower angle than that on the starboard side. The front and tail units are now much clearer and their relationship to the rest of the body can be discerned.

Figure 5 (Upper) As the UFO rotates, the starboard lobe projection can briefly be seen. (Lower) The frontal unit rotates to its fullest extent, so that the 'shield' is facing fully forward.

Although much has been said about the object's changing shape throughout the footage, the model, together with careful frame by frame analysis, suggests that this is partly a misperception. Abrupt changes in the camera exposure often give the misleading impression of a shape change. In addition, poor image contrast causes the depth perspective to be lost on many occasions, as the various features of the object appear to merge into one.

Part 3: Performance

Between 23:20:45 and 23:20:53 (UTC) it descends slightly, then it levels out and starts climbing (Figure 1). Its velocity appears fairly constant throughout this period, although this is difficult to determine because the object's relative approach angle to the camera is uncertain.

Figure 1  A montage of the Nellis UFO's movement in front of the distant mountain range during the early part of the S-30 footage. The UFO's position is shown at 2 second intervals.
Figure 1 A montage of the Nellis UFO's movement in front of the distant mountain range during the early part of the S-30 footage. The UFO's position is shown at 2 second intervals.

Two sections of the early footage give an indication of the object's manoeuvrability. Judging by the position of the dark 'frontal unit' and the discernible 'tail unit' (see Part 2) the object appears to move sideways on two occasions; from 23:20:56 to 23:21:18 and from 23:21:21 to 23:21:29. The second period is of greater importance because of the object's better clarity, and a montage of its movement is shown in Figure 2. The object initially travels front forward, but it rotates to starboard (right) of track at 23:21:20. It then rises (at least, relative to the line of sight) before moving sideways (to port) for five seconds after 23:21:23. This motion can clearly be seen against the dark layers of cloud. It then sways back to port and regains forward-facing flight. Evidently the object is capable of rotating (yawing) during forward flight, and of moving sideways; techniques it seems to use in order to adjust its flight path.

Figure 2 Montage showing the UFO's second period of sideways motion

Any attempts to estimate the object's size are complicated because of the uncertainty of its distance throughout most of the S-30 footage. However, for the purposes of this exercise it is reasonable to assume that the range data is accurate when the object is between 12795m and 11705m from the tracking station. Since this occurs before the camera zooms in, and the width of one degree in azimuth is known, the object's height can be estimated by triangulation, and is found to be 8.7m ± 2.5.


E = External Controller M = Male Controller F = Female Controller

"Its a helicopter!"
F: "Aaah!"
M: "That's why its so slow."
F: "Might be some kind of debris."
F: "It's not much more than a round dot, but it looks different to most dots."
E: "[unintelligible] ..two zero...one one zero level, okay...heading North at this time."
F: "Got any ideas what it is?"
M: "I got a helo?"
F: "You've got a helicopter?"
M: "Yeah - can't get a result on these things!"
E: "[unintelligible]... two five two ...[unintelligible]"
M: "I don't know what the hell that is - that's a helo, isn't it?"
M: "[chuckle] ... What is that? I don't know! ... I've no idea!"
E: "[unintelligible] ... flight level ... [unintelligible simultaneous talking]"
F: "Looks like one. Right up high now, goin' like .. straight up!"
M: "Its a balloon, ain't it? I don't know what the hell that is, man!"
F: "I think it's a helicopter."
M: "[unintelligible] ... forget it! ... data on him."
F: "Straight up, boy!"
M: "I'm outta here!"
F: "Oh, okay."
M: "What the hell is it? ... I'm gonna lose it in the sun, [unintelligible]"
F: "Call sign?"
M: "Err ... I don't even know what it is!"
M: "Must be at eleven thousand feet a minute." (?)
F: "It's weird-lookin'!"
E: "[unintelligible] .. non-FLIR!" (?)
E: "Non-FLIR!" (?)
F: "See him?" (?)
E: "[unintelligible] ... non-FLIR, non-FLIR!" (?)
F: "See him?" (?)


A decade or so ago there were high quality rips of the VHS available online. I regret not saving them. Unfortunately, all the copies I can find online today suffer heavily from generation loss. This is, as far as I'm aware, the highest quality public version:

However, it is interlaced. There is a slightly lower quality, but de-interlaced, version here:

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Anyone have ideas on this one? Maybe some kind of strangely shaped targeting balloon moving in extremely unusual wind conditions?

(Only problem is of course: aren't targeting balloons fairly common around the Nellis Test Range? Why wouldn't tracking station operators with all this equipment, in daytime, recognize one?)
The movement seems very consistent with a balloon, so that's my immediate #1 hypothesis. Helicopter would be #2.

The shape is odd, it looks more like a bunch of balloons than a single balloon.

Nellis air force range is large, but it does not seem implausible that a bunch of ballons might have drifted in from outside.
to me it looks like 3 balloons or 3 chutes and a light payload underneath.

the form is changing sometimes and what i believe could be a light payload is sometimes not under but horizontal to the balloons / chutes.

my money is actually on chutes because when the wingload is not high enough, they can easily be dragged around in the wind and change their formfactor.
he movement seems very consistent with a balloon, so that's my immediate #1 hypothesis. Helicopter would be #2.
I agree with that, but just to clarify, the erratic movement (the really quick jolts) are just the camera moving to it right? It seems a lot of people think the erratic movement is made by the object.
(reposting my post from another website).

The white-hot and black-cold parts of the the IR return is not something that can be just merely traced over. Much of the IR signature can blend in with the sky and be pretty much invisible in the IR camera, so an IR image is in no way representative of what objects actually look like in the visible spectrum.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9WlCpMnlZM

From 3:37 until the end of the video, you can see the black dot get larger and larger as it gets closer to the camera, and bank away at the end of the video (6:00+).

Keep that in mind.

From 5:50 until the end of the video (more apparent from 6:00 on), you can clearly see the hot jet exhaust plume of two jet turboprops (low-bypass turbofans generate significantly larger plumes; so I can easily identify this as twin turboprops with the white-hot twin nacelles of the aircraft). This is clearly shown at 6:00 on as the object banks away.

The white hot hot signature blobs is either an IR jammer, or just a reflection off the hot sun radiating from the object, as both will have the same effect at longer distances.

The only aircraft that fits this description that I can think of is the odd-looking OV-10 Bronco (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Rockwell_OV-10_Bronco) with the AN/ALQ-144 IR jammer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/ALQ-144). This aircraft has one of the best low-speed flight characteristics of any military fixed-wing aircraft; yet can be quite a performer in the low-to-mid subsonic flight regimes (can go slow, then go relatively fast at a moments notice - Excellent characteristics for an observation and light-attack aircraft).

That cold dark spot? It has a large airconditioned crew cabin relative to its size (for a aircrew of 2). That black dark cold spot is its large bulbous cockpit nice and cool inside. Also, the undercarraige of the aircraft away from the jammer and/or the hot desert sun beating on the topside of the aircraft.

However, active squadrons of the OV-10 has been disbanded right around Desert Storm (~1991). This video takes place in 1995. I do know they continued to use these in test squadrons, and have been reactivated from time to time to assist in special operations to this day.

In the clearer video:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yD5eTCaBAcg

From 2:55 and on, you can REALLY see the twin engine nacelles and their exhaust plume of the turboprops.
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Te shape is certainly suggestive of a radar reflector, but you'd think they'd notice and video whatever it is dangling under were that the case.
ANd he match is only very approximate to any design I can find in a quick google search.

The shape is also very reminiscent of a "UFO Rotor Kite," but those kites fly through the Magnus Effect, which means they only fly when spinning rapidly, which this object is not doing. But as a point of reference, here is what one looks like. The size/shape of the lobes can vary quite a bit, as can the size f the kite. But spinning is the sine qua non of this design, so rule it out.
I'd like to revisit this one because it doesn't seem to have been solved and has been reposted on reddit recently. Here is stabilized footage that was produced following the release of the UFO video. My first thoughts were that this was a group of balloons, as users have previously suggested.


Chip Peterson (aerospace engineer) is the source of the stabilized video. He appears in this TV segment and shows the stabilized footage as well as a 3D representation of the object flight path throughout the course of the video.

Source: https://youtu.be/T7mEAuzHBXg?t=349

Chip goes on to say that the abrupt movement at the beginning of the simulation could not be the result of wind. He also says that the object remains at a constant distance from the camera as if it were observing the camera itself. Does this mean that it can't be a group of balloons? Is it possible that Chip Peterson produced a faulty 3D simulation?