Stay in a UFO in Sweden

Walk through the deep forest of Harads, a town of approximately 600 residents not far from Sweden‘s border with Finland, and you’ll see it: a retro-looking UFO suspended in the trees and accessible via a retractable staircase. This is the UFO, one of five, stand-alone treehouse rooms that are part of the Treehotel.

Winner of Sweden’s 2011 Grand Tourism Prize, a distinction previously held by the Ice Hotel, among others, the Treehotel is the latest in Swedish accommodation innovation. Our friends at Huffington Post Green wrote about the Treehotel’s Mirrorcube and the Birds Nest, two outstanding examples of Treehotel’s modern-design-meets-nature concept, but I am particularly smitten with the UFO because it lives up to the dual childhood fantasies of overnighting in a treehouse AND pretending to blast off into outer space. Imagine checking in to your spaceship with a stash of vintage comic books and sci-fi novellas that you will, no doubt, want to read under the covers with a flashlight. The UFO is spread out over two stories, with room for four, making it ideal for a family stay or a nerdtastic mancation.

Rates for all Treehotel rooms run from 3990 to 4550 Swedish kronor (approximately $600-$700) per night for two people and include breakfast. Guests check in and out at the neighboring Britta’s Pensionat, which has a restaurant, bar, sauna, TV, and internet.

Photo © Treehotel

Unidentified Falling Object seen over Loch Ness

Scottish police are scratching their heads over a mysterious occurrence at Loch Ness this weekend, The Scotsman newspaper reports.

On Saturday night several eyewitnesses saw an object falling into or near the loch. Some describe it as a white light, others as a blue light. People said it was a balloon, or an ultralight, or a parachute. Some people said it didn’t fall at all, merely passed over the tree line.

In other words, nobody has the faintest idea what they saw.

So many people called emergency services, however, that it’s certain something strange was going on in the skies, and the police, the coastguard, a lifeboat crew, and the Royal Air Force went in search of it. Several hours of looking in the water and along the shore turned up nothing.

So what was it? Possibly a meteor. Meteors often cause UFO flaps. Large ones called “fireballs” or “bolides” can light up the sky and even change color as their various minerals get ionized from the heat of entering our atmosphere. Since they streak across the night sky so quickly, it’s hard to judge distance or location. This photo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, shows a bolide. It’s not a photo of whatever was over Loch Ness.

Sadly, there were no reported sightings of Nessie this weekend. Some people say the poor Loch Ness Monster may be extinct.

BBC presenter spots UFO near Stansted airport

A BBC sports presenter claims to have seen a UFO near Stansted Airport early this morning, the BBC reports.

Radio 5 presenter Mike Sewell says he was driving early this morning about 15 miles from Stansted Airport in Hertfordshire, England, when a bright light descended towards the road before banking to the left and then circling over a field. It was disc shaped with several lights flashing around the edge. During the interview, UFO expert Timothy Good said he “knew for a fact” that experimental spacecraft have been developed with the help of aliens, and that this might be one of them.

Sewell doesn’t mention taking any photographs with his mobile phone, and of course Good doesn’t give any hard evidence to back up his claim. So could this be a hoax? I doubt Sewell would stick his professional neck out by lying to reporters from his own news agency. Perhaps he hallucinated? Perhaps it was some strange electrical phenomenon?

The proximity to Stansted raises the possibility that it was indeed some sort of experimental aircraft, but we don’t have to go so far as Good does and spin tales about aliens. I met a reporter who once saw what he was convinced was a UFO flying over the New Mexico desert. He described it as a black triangle unlike any aircraft he had ever seen. He became a UFO believer until the first photos of the Stealth bomber were released, and then he knew what he had seen.

Have you ever had a strange encounter near an airport? Tell us what you saw in the comments section!

[Photo of “unusual atmospheric occurrence observed over Sri Lanka” courtesy UK Ministry of Defence. This is not the object Sewell claims to have seen.]

Cockpit Chronicles: Six surreal sights seen by pilots

I’ve said it before; the office view from the pointy-end of an airliner is something that can only be matched by an astronaut’s view.

But that’s not to say we don’t get to see a few celestial sights of our own. No, I’m not going to touch on the rumored UFO sightings by pilots, although I promise I’ll keep my camera ready, just in case. I’m talking about the stunning sights, both man-made and natural that we can witness if we take the time to look for them.

Here are examples of six ‘out of this world’ sights as seen from the cockpit:

1) Rocket plumes and Shuttle launches:

On March 5th, while coming back to Boston from Santo Domingo, we saw the rocket plume of the secretive X-37B project. Even though it launched from Orlando, which was at least 600 miles away, we knew right away what it was. The spiraling exhaust left circles in the sky.

We knew to look for this as a possibility as our flight was dispatched with extra fuel, in case we needed to be re-routed well away from the launch area which was noted at the bottom of our flight plan.

The first sign of the rocket appeared as a trail of exhaust that began to swing off into a contorted lasso. The new moon, less than 24 hours old, presented itself in just the right spot amongst the rocket blast. Of course I had to pull out the camera.

%Gallery-118861%Occasionally, a Shuttle launch can be spotted as well. Back in the 727 days, before carrying a camera everywhere I flew, I saw a Space Shuttle launch while flying from San Juan to Tampa.

Passengers can get lucky as well, as seen in this video that caught the ascent of the Space Shuttle Discovery:

2) Noctilucent Clouds

Another rare natural event, which some speculate is actually enhanced by rocket and shuttle exhaust plumes, are noctilucent clouds.

The conditions have to be just right in order to witness these clouds that live at 300,000 feet, (80 to 85 kilometers) an altitude which seems impossible, considering the lack of atmosphere, for a cloud to exist.

They’re most commonly seen during a two month period that straddles the summer solstice. Furthermore, most sightings occur between 50 and 70 degrees latitude; perfect if you live north of New York, Madrid or Beijing and south of Barrow, Alaska.

Finally, as if to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to catch sight of these clouds, they’re only visible for an hour or two before sunrise or for a while after sunset. The reflecting sun illuminates the clouds from below, lighting them up in the dark sky.

I flew across the Atlantic at night, during the perfect time to witness these clouds, for eight years before finally sighting them. Two weeks before snapping these pictures, I had seen a wisp of a cloud that I probably wouldn’t have given any thought to.

But a British Airways pilot explained the clouds to a few curious pilots over our air-to-air frequency that’s often used to share ride information or to collect an email address of a passing flight if an especially good photo is taken.

He spelled the cloud to a pilot, who asked again for the name. N-O-C-T-I-L-U-C-E-N-T.

I vowed to look that up when we landed.

Less than two weeks later, the captain and I dimmed the lights (a time-consuming task involving 30 knobs that will be the subject of a future Cockpit Chronicles video) so we could get a better look at what appeared to be the Northern Lights.

They were spectacular. But there was one thing that didn’t seem quite right. They weren’t moving at all. Typically the Aurora Borealis glow and change shapes every five seconds or so.

After a few minutes I mentioned noctilucent clouds to Mark, the captain. The clouds lit up the arctic sky, although it was two to three a.m. over this part of the Atlantic. The sun wouldn’t be up for a few hours.

Initially I was disappointed that I only had a wide angle lens with me, but it turned out to be just the right look. I think it ranks as my favorite shot ever.

3) Satellites

I have to confess. I never knew it was possible to see satellites with the naked eye when I was a new pilot flying in Alaska. “Look at that traffic.” I said to the captain.

But soon, it became obvious that this ‘traffic’ was missing the rotating beacon or nav-lights typical of an airplane. And it was traveling too fast for its size.

Space shuttle floating away from the International Space Station last week.Jerry Lodriguss at Astropix

After that, I made it a practice to look for satellites when the conversation in the cockpit died off. Again, after dimming the cockpit lights, it was possible to see north-south satellites while flying over the interior of Alaska. I’ve since seen them going in other directions while flying in the jet. Typically, however they’re best seen between one and three hours after sunset, or before sunrise. Just like the noctilucent clouds, the reflecting sun lights them up well.

It’s possible to track the largest of these kind of objects, the International Space Station, and it’s really worth marking down the times it will pass overhead your area for a look. Set your alarm and check it out yourself. Maybe you’ll catch smaller satellite as well while looking. There’s even a good iPhone or Android app that I’ve been using while away from the computer and you want to know when the next satellite, space station or shuttle will pass overhead.

4) Northern Lights

While not exclusively spotted from aircraft, there’s no better time to see the the Northern Lights than while you’re flying at night, away from the bright lights of a city with a clear view to the north. I’ve caught them as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska and as far south as Spokane, Washington (which were the brightest, surprisingly).

If you’re on a night flight across the Atlantic and you just happen to be sitting on the left side of the airplane while traveling east, be sure to open your window shade once or twice to see if you can see anything glowing off in the distance. Very rarely will a pilot announce anything about the Aurora Borealis on these flights, since we presume that most passengers would rather not be disturbed. (See poll below).

5) Meteors and comets

Meteors are probably just as easy to see from the ground, but when you’re in an airplane for hours at a time, with no buildings or lights to obscure your view, it’s far more likely that you’ll see more meteors than those stuck on the ground (a.k.a. groundlings). Usually just one pilot will see the meteor, saying something along the lines of, “Aww, you just missed a bright one there” to the other pilot. If the light show continues, someone might mention it on the air-to-air frequency. The airwaves were lit up years ago when the Hale-Bopp comet first appeared. And just as in the noctilucent example, someone on the air knew all about the comet and proceeded to tell us exactly what we were looking at.

6) Static discharges or St. Elmo’s Fire

Finally, I thought I’d round out our collection of surreal sights with a video taken on one of my flights of a static buildup, sometimes referred to as St. Elmo’s fire, that we occasionally see when flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms.

Wikipedia has a full explanation of what causes this.

With the advent of the new dimming window shades on the 787, passengers are apt to see more of this type of show in the future. All it takes is a slight glow coming through a dimmed window and passengers will hopefully want to investigate by brightening up their shade. Perhaps they’ll get to see what we so often take for granted.


Photos by Kent Wien, Jerry Lodriguss and Aresauburn.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Indonesian crop circles blamed on UFO’s – we still have more faith in hoaxers

The UFO enthusiast world is abuzz after a large crop circle appeared in a field in Sleman, Indonesia. According to several local residents, a tornado passed through the village, and by morning, the crop circle had appeared.

Even though these circles have been debunked as being a hoax, UFO spotters are convinced that they were created by extraterrestrials.

Thankfully, sane people at the Indonesian Space Agency refused to send a team to investigate, saying:

“We will not send investigators to the scene because we suspect the crop circle involves human intervention, not natural phenomena, nor scientific phenomena associated with outer space creatures commonly referred to as aliens”