Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mystery Boeing Jet Flying Circles In Storms

Jet Flying Low Over Rural Town Mystifies Observers

LABELLE, FL. -- A mystery Boeing 737 or 757 jet has been seen flying around and through heavy rain and thunder storms the last week around the LaBelle Municipal Airport and over the city of LaBelle in the area of western Hendry and Glades counties.

A video of a unique Honeywell International, Inc. Boeing 757 spotted at Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale a week ago may be a clue to what was flying over LaBelle this week. (Note the pylon attachment to the front upper starboard fuselage at 45 seconds into the video. It's used to mount test engines on. There is none mounted now.)

Spotted by dozens of citizens during the last few stormy and thunder filled afternoons, the jet aircraft has been flying at a low altitude estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 feet over the city of LaBelle and Port LaBelle. It seemingly was trying to fly under and around the stormy clouds that have been popping up this week, flying through heavy rains and among frequent lightning bolts.

Graphic: Storms over LaBelle Florida, Thursday around  5 p.m. as mystery jet weaved through area at low altitude.

Normally, aircraft would not legally be flying seeemingly randomly near storm clouds or in the extreme weather as has been observed when this jet plane has been flying around the Hendry and Glades county area..

Speculation says the aircraft, apparently on a VFR flight, on visual flight rules might be a government operation studying storm behavior, lightning or winds at low levels, or in fact is the Honeywell 757 shown in the video above. An ordinary flight would not attempt risky storm flying like this say local pilots.

Update: If the mystery  aircraft is the Honeywell Boeing 757, it arrived in Fort Lauderdale at Hollywood International Airport on August 9 from Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary airport, after having flown from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport where it is based. Speculation: It has some sort of Air Force equipment aboard to test.

The flight out of Fort Lauderdale in the video above clearly shows a third engine is not mounted on the pylon where one normally is mounted for testing, indicating the plane is testing something else at low levels in thunderstorms, and not a test engine.

On August 10, according to FAA flight plan records it made a 19 minute IFR flight around afternoon storms and returned to Hollywood International.

On Monday, August 19 it made a 2 hour and 56 minute IFR flight flying among storms over western Palm Beach and Broward Counties between Fort Lauderdale and Pahokee at an altitude of 1,500 feet. The distance between the two cities is 60 miles.

Boeing 757-225 N757HW is normally flown as an engine test bed powered by a pair of Rolls Royce RB211-535E4B37 turbofans. It normally carries a smaller third jet engine on the right side of the forward fuselage. The construction number of N757HW is 22194. It first flew on February 4, 1983, delivered to Eastern Airlines as N504EA on February 28, 1983.

Jacob Kyser of Sarasota captured this photo of the mystery jet while traveling on the Tamiami Trail (US41) across the Everglades on August 17. Kyser, a pilot, said it was very unusual to see a jet flying that low,which he estimated at about 900 feet, around storm clouds. He said the plane appeared to be nose up as if in slow flight.

Update 2: Steve Brecken, Director, Global Media and Analyst Relations for Honeywell Aerospace said in a comment to the blog, "Honeywell's Boeing 757 test bed aircraft has been conducting wind shear testing in South Florida over the past week.

"The Everglades and Florida's predictable afternoon summer storms provide an optimum testing environment for our research and development aircraft. The information gathered during these low level flights will help improve aviation safety and benefit the flying public for years to come."

Boeing 737 Photo credit: Wikipedia
Boeing 757 Video credit: YouTube
Honeywell 757 info courtesy


  1. Anonymous8:03 AM

    I saw this jet at low altitude on Wed, Aug 21 around 4pm near Alva emerge westbound from a storm cell. Soon after it was eastbound, bizarrely plunging back into the same blackened, lightning-scratched thunderstorm. Thanks for clarifying that there was in fact some method to this apparent madness. Now, please uncover the details so we know why we are risking some jet crashing upon our heads. But on one level, you have to admire pilots and scientific staff like these. Hurricane hunters at high altitude are one thing, but jabbing a severe thunderstorm at low altitude seems riskier. I'd like to read more about this, with commentary by actual pilots.

  2. Anonymous10:02 AM

    With Lake Okeechobee at dangerous levels they are trying to break up the t-storms to limit additional rainfall into the lake.

    1. Anonymous1:01 PM

      Who is doing it?

    2. Anonymous7:56 PM

      Your High!!!

  3. Anonymous10:07 AM

    I have seen this, too, in Alva. Also two or three times it flew so low over my house in Fort Denaud that I ran outside to see if it was going to crash in the field. When I saw it in Alva the other day, I was driving on 78. I actually pulled over to watch it, and so did another driver. Can you find out more for us, please. This is very interesting/scary.

  4. I think this is the NASA weather observer jet. They announced on Google Plus that they are in the region.

  5. Anonymous7:09 PM

    Has anyone checked with the LaBelle Airport? If they have instrument approaches, this could be an FAA plane testing or certifying the approaches.

  6. Anonymous8:07 AM

    The Boeing 757 is owned and operated by Honeywell Aerospace. It is used as a test bed platform for new engines. If you have seen the actual photo posted on website you will notice what appears to be an open cargo door toward the front fuselage of the aircraft. This is actually a third (test engine) mounted to the aircraft. I believe Honeywell has been developing/testing a new engine for regional style jets (CRJ's and ERJ's). More than likely they were testing low altitude and weather related flights over the Hendry County area. It’s very rare to see this aircraft. To see more photos Google search Honeywell Aerospace 757.

  7. the Jet most likely belongs to Nasa, and is being used to study microburst windshear.

    1. The NASA news release indicated is about 11 years old. Although it's possible to be a microburst study plane, I vote now for the Honeywell 757 shown in the video and photo someone took as it flew over LaBelle, as I posted on Facebook.

  8. The Honeywell Aerospace 757 test plane (shown in the video above) seems to be the aircraft I saw and others as well, flying very low in lightning storms this week. Mystery solved? But what is Honeywell testing on this 757? And how did they get permission from air traffic control to be flying around at 1500 feet in thunderstorms?

  9. Anonymous9:51 AM

    If they are flying VFR they do not need to be in contact or file a flight plan with any controllers. I'm sure however that the controller for that area checked in with pilot as he was flying unsually low for that size aircraft. As I stated in my previous comment they are testing a new engine for CRJ's and ERJ's.

  10. Anonymous11:12 AM

    they have used Hendry County for a flight test space for decades, its low population and rural setting makes it perfect. If they were to crash one, the chances of human casualties are very low. During most of the 80's you could see Navy Fighter jets every weekend over the land fill area flying low enough to scare off the buzzards.

    1. Anonymous4:48 PM

      Really? You think that fighter jets would fly low to scare birds from feeding on garbage? I flew F-15E's for the USAF, we would fly low levels for training and if the bird hazard was high we would have to fly up at a higher altitude to prevent from hitting a bird or sucking one in the intake. You clearly don't know what you are talking about.

  11. Anonymous1:58 PM

    I think they use this plane to determine the a intensity of a storm

  12. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Honeywell manufactures avionics including Radar and Lightning detection equipment in addition to making jet engines. This test 757 could easily be used to test avionics in "real world" conditions, i.e. bad weather. This isn't anything unusual in the test business, we just haven't seen much of it in our area. Nothing to see here folks...everybody just move along.

  13. Anonymous9:19 AM

    It is perfectly legal to fly in and around thunderstorms, although not recommended. Also it is legal to fly at 1,500 even 900 feet depending on where they were. I realize it is highly unusual, but it is not illegal.

  14. It is only legal, but not prudent, to fly in storms clouds on an instrument flight plan under control of the air traffic control system to prevent running into other aircraft. This aircraft did not show an instrument flight plan from online sources, although they may very well be flying IFR, but it seems they were flying with visual flight rules which means they must stay a certain distance away from and above and below clouds and not ever fly into clouds because of the danger that there may be another aircraft in the cloud or descending or ascending from one.

  15. This is a Boeing 757 owned by Honeywell. The aircraft is normally based at KPHX Sky Harbor airport. Correct, the aircraft is normally used as a engine test bed. Although Honeywell also produces the EGPWS, Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning system. This aircraft is flying in the southeast to test the EGPWS Mode 7 Windshear detection.

  16. Anonymous4:51 PM

    The aircraft didn't have an engine for testing. It was in florida to test the weather radar system that is in development. It's funny to read how smart people think they are when it comes to aviation. The aircraft is based out of Phoenix at Sky Harbor and you can see it as much as you want if you drive on the north side of the airport (when it is in town). Normall they take off VFR and will pick up a IFR flight plan as needed.

  17. Honeywell's Boeing 757 test bed aircraft has been conducting wind shear testing in South Florida over the past week. The Everglades and Florida's predictable afternoon summer storms provide an optimum testing environment for our research and development aircraft. The information gathered during these low level flights will help improve aviation safety and benefit the flying public for years to come.

    Steve Brecken
    Director, Global Media and Analyst Relations Honeywell Aerospace

  18. OMG so many Micro soft arm chair pilots

  19. Anonymous9:23 PM

    There is a mystery 737 flying around Clawson, Mi. at night-very low. Its a drone controller because I have seen the lights on the drone at least a dozen times now in conjunction with this particular aircraft. Now as far as I am aware only the federal government (CIA) has the ability to fly drones over the U.S.