I have been working on a new book and so I have been reviewing some interesting older cases. One of those is the Coyne case in which the flight crew of an Army Reserve UH-1H helicopter spotted a UFO which might have caused a radio outage and then a sudden, mysterious climb when Captain Lawrence Coyne had entered a descent to avoid a collision.
Briefly, they were returning to their home station in Cleveland, Ohio, when Sergeant John Healy, seated in the left rear spotted an object or a red light off the left side of the aircraft. He thought it was brighter than the red navigation lights on an aircraft and he could see none of the other aircraft lights required by the FAA. This light disappeared behind the helicopter and Healy thought nothing more about it.
A few moments later, Specialist Five (E-5) Robert Yanacsek, seated in the right rear, saw a red light on the eastern horizon. He, at first, thought it was a red warning light on a radio tower, but the light wasn’t blinking and it seemed to be pacing the aircraft. Finally it seemed to turn so that it was coming toward the helicopter and when it did, he mentioned it to the pilot. Coyne glanced out the right window and also believed the light was coming at them.
Coyne took the controls of the aircraft and believing the object might be on a collision course, pushed down the collective (or technically, the collective pitch, that is a lever on the left side of the seat of the pilot or co-pilot) which changes the pitch of the rotor blades so that the aircraft will gain or lose altitude. He eventually pushed it all the way down to the stop. Believing that he was not descending fast enough, he pushed the cyclic (think of the yoke on an airplane) forward so that he would be descending faster.
At this point Coyne looked up and said the object was covering the front of the windshield. Coyne said that there was a red light at the front of the object, a green light that seemed to reflect off the rear of the object, and a green light, like a searchlight coming from the rear.
The object hovered there for what seemed like a long time and then took off toward the northwest. They could see the light at the rear of the aircraft was bright white. Coyne looked at the altimeter and realized they were at 3500 feet. Coyne said the collective was still full down and he couldn’t explain the ascent. Coyne then pulled up on the collective (which, of course, the opposite of what he should have done to stop an ascent but then the collective was full down so he couldn’t have pushed it any lower anyway) and at 3800 feet, they felt a bump and the climb ceased.
Philip Klass, when he heard about the case decided to take a look at it. He was on a television show with Healy, and he recorded another show that aired the next night that featured Coyne. Klass, in his book UFO’s Explained, wrote, “As I studied the transcript of my tape recording [of Coyne on the Dick Cavett Show] my attention began to focus on the possibility that the UFO might have been a bright meteor-fireball.”
He then spends a great deal of time reporting on his search for a record of a meteor at the time and place in question but failed. True, not every meteor is reported, but this one would have been spectacular enough that someone else should have seen it. No one did and no reports were filed. But that’s okay, because Klass is hung up on the meteor explanation and cited examples of many people being fooled by fireballs, miscalculating the distance to them, their altitude, their shape and the length of time they are visible, and some other UFO cases that were explained by fireballs which is all irrelevant here.
Klass mentions nothing of Healy’s sighting of the red object that was seen out the left side of the aircraft and that slide to the rear. If it was the same object, then clearly it wasn’t a meteor and Klass’ explanation fails at that point.
He mentions that the cockpit was bathed in green light as the object passed overhead and reports that there are two Plexiglas panels set above the pilots’ heads and these are tinted green. We called them, cleverly, the greenhouses, but they are directly over the pilots and are not part of the windshield. Klass seems to have confused these green tinted areas for something on the windshield much as cars used to have a green tint at the top of the windshield. The crew was not looking through the greenhouses and the light was not coming through them. Besides, the crew described other colored lights on the object which they were watching through the windshield.
Klass admits that the climb is the “real puzzler.” He discussed it with Dave Brown, an “experienced pilot with some hours in a helicopter [which tells me nothing and I wonder if those hours are as a pilot and if there are very many of them]. Brown suggested that perhaps the pilot or co-pilot might unconsciously have pulled back on the collective and or cyclic-pitch control(s) as he leaned back in his seat to view the luminous object overhead.”
Well, the co-pilot, Lieutenant Arrigo Jezzi would never have done that. How do I know? Because Coyne, Jezzi and I had all gone through the same flight training, though not at the same time. Had Jezzi felt the aircraft was in danger and he needed to take over the controls, he would have put his hands on them and said, “I’ve got it.”
Coyne would have relinquished control taking his hands off and said, “You’ve got it.”
This was done so that the pilots wouldn’t be fighting each other for control. In similar circumstances, meaning one of us in the cockpit saw something the other didn’t that might endanger the aircraft, this is what we did, and that includes combat assaults under fire, which can easily be as stressful as seeing a UFO. We followed the ritual even at times like that, so, we know that Jezzi didn’t take over control.
Could leaning back in the seat, trying to see the UFO above have caused Coyne to pull up on the collective (as opposed to have pulled back as Klass suggests)? Not really given the way the controls are configured. Could he have pulled back on the cyclic in such a circumstance? Maybe, but there would have been other consequences to that action, including a slowing of the airspeed and a change in the orientation of the cockpit. Or, in other words, that would have been noticed. Besides, given the circumstances, it is more likely that Coyne would have pushed the cyclic forward as he attempted to see the object, which would have increased the rate of descent.
Klass, continues his speculation about all of this, based on the information he has collected, some of which he fails to report, and he concludes, “…we should all be grateful for the instinctive, if unconscious, reactions of pilot Coyne or co-pilot Jezzi in pulling their helicopter out of its steep descent barely four hundred feet about the ground.”
So Klass has solved the case by creating a meteor where none was reported, ignoring the flight of the light when it doesn’t conform to his ideas, misunderstanding the configuration of the cockpit controls that doesn’t fit his belief and his failure to understand the flight procedures of Army helicopter pilots. His analysis is badly flawed and his speculations are not driven by facts.
Oh, and he does mention the report from someone on the ground who might have seen the UFO, but he never found him and for our purposes as well as those of Klass that witness does not exist. There are two other witnesses who saw the UFO from the ground and they have provided statements about what they saw corroborating, after a fashion, the sighting by Coyne and his crew.
In the end, this is a case that screams to be labeled as “unidentified” because there is no a valid explanation for it. Klass was simply wrong in his analysis and his speculations should be ignored because of his manipulation of the evidence and his lack of understanding of the flight characteristics of the helicopter. There is no easy solution here and sometimes that is about all that can be said about a case.
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