A Commercial Pilot’s Perspective on UAP

Christiaan van Heijst is a 20 year veteran of commercial aviation, who has seen several unidentifiable anomalous objects in the sky. Christiaan shares his stories and urges other pilots to keep sharing their own sightings.
Mar 9, 2023

I'm Christiaan van Heijst, a Dutch airline pilot with over 9,500 hours of flying experience. Currently, I’m the captain of a commercial Boeing 747-400. Over the last twenty years I have flown all over the world in various operations and aircraft types. From flying turboprops for African airlines and military operations in Afghanistan, to flying the Boeing 737 and 747 across the world for the last twelve years.


Christiaan van Heijst. Image courtesy Christiaan van Heijst.

I also have a lifelong passion for photography. This means that unlike most pilots, I always have my camera on hand in the cockpit. I'm acutely attuned to everything happening beyond my cockpit windows. I feel fortunate to be in a position to document and observe the world from above.

Years ago, I noticed unusual things in the sky that I have never been able to explain. But I never had an interest in UFO/UAPs and I did not associate my own experiences with the topic. It was only after watching interviews with US Navy pilots Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Ryan Graves that I started to learn about the subject. I soon realized that my own sightings were similar to what they described.

One sighting took place in September 2005, while flying over Greece. My captain and I saw a light appear in the clear night sky. It looked similar to what a bright planet looks like among the stars. But this light was no planet. It made a stuttering motion, moving slightly, disappearing, and re-appearing four times. Then it shot off due East with an incredible and instant speed. There was no acceleration, it just zipped off and was gone from sight. It was impossible to judge the altitude and size of the light, but it was very high.

Later, I learned that we were flying near the nuclear US Carrier Group with the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the US Navy pilots aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have had frequent and reportedly similar UAP sightings.

My other anomalous sighting was while flying over Spain in 2010. The captain and I noticed a large dark object at a much higher altitude. We were at about 41,000ft and the object hovered southwest of us at around a roughly estimated 100 - 200,000ft. That is well above where commercial traffic is usually seen. Although difficult to estimate the size, based on the significant distance between us and the object, we believe it must have been huge. It had no visible form of propulsion. We observed it for about one hour until we descended through the clouds over Southern Spain. The captain and I communicated with civilian and military air traffic control beneath us. They confirmed that there was no traffic or any type of weather-balloons ahead of us for at least a thousand miles. We also had no indications of air traffic on our navigation display, where we normally see airborne craft carrying a transponder within a radius of 80 Nautical miles. I was able to take a photo of the dark object, shown below.


Image of object observed by Christiaan and his captain over Spain in 2010. They observed the object for over an hour. Image courtesy Christiaan van Heijst.

This original raw file is now being analyzed by IPACO, a French organization specializing in analyzing UAP sightings and media. I welcome any other serious professionals who would like to help analyse the image.

My observations, like the ones seen by the US Navy pilots, remain unexplained. This does not mean that the objects were 'extraterrestrial' or 'alien.' It simply means there are anomalous things observed in the sky that remain unidentified. UAP are a worldwide phenomena that have been observed by military and commercial pilots for decades. From the foo-fighters observed over Europe and the Pacific during World War Two, to the sightings by Werner Utter, chief pilot of Lufthansa in the 1970s, and Alexander Raab, chief pilot of Austrian Airlines in the 1960s. Both those pilots observed anomalous objects next to their airplanes over Germany, the Middle-East and Labrador.


Fokker 50 turboprop-powered airliner cockpit. The line and arrow were added to simulate the path of the fast moving light Christiaan and his captain saw over Greece in September 2005. Image courtesy Christiaan van Heijst.

Yet many commercial pilots are afraid of publicly discussing unidentified objects they have seen. After my recent interview with Ryan Graves, I received messages from other pilots telling me about their sightings. For many of them, it was the first time they felt comfortable sharing their experience. In my twenty years of flying, roughly 30-50% of my colleagues have seen an unusual object or strange-moving light during flight that they couldn’t explain. Some have told me remarkable stories. I'm not talking about satellites, rocket launches or space-debris burning up in the atmosphere - things we understand and recognize. I’m talking about objects with unknown patterns of flight and physics.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the many sightings that have never been reported. The UAP issue is real and it has been ridiculed for too long. We need to better document sightings so that we can analyze them and sort the identifiable from the unidentifiable.

As pilots, we are lucky to have a unique vantage point to observe the skies around us. I encourage all my aviation colleagues to keep sharing their sightings. It is the best way we can bring meaningful attention and awareness to this urgent issue.

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