|Occurred : 7/23/2003 14:30 (Entered as : 07/23/1903 14:30)
Reported: 3/28/2004 8:19:35 PM 20:19
Location: Austin/Rochester (between), MN
|Dark grey oval seen from an aircraft
On July 27th, 2003 I was flying my Cessna P-210 from the Denver area enroute to Oshkosh, WI to attend the annual Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture convention, a week-long gathering of aircraft builders and aviation enthusiasts from around the country and the world. I have been a private pilot for nearly 40 years and have flown over most of the western half of the United States.
My 16 year old son was my sole passenger in the right front seat. We had stopped in Mankato, MN to refuel and have a snack. Departing Mankato airport approximately 2:15 pm on a heading of 100 degrees, we climbed through a layer of widely scattered cumulus clouds with bases at about 3,500 feet and tops between 4,500 and 5,000 feet.
We leveled off at 7,500 feet with good visibility and the scattered clouds below us. About twenty minutes into the flight we were passing through the area north of Austin, MN and south of Rochester, heading toward La Crosse, WI. Suddenly the my son blurted out "What the hell is that?' as he looked out the window to his right toward the south.
I said "Where?" and he pointed off to the south and somewhat below our altitude. I spotted an object slightly higher than the level of the cloud bases and 3 to 4 miles off our right wing. Because of our speed at 170 knots (~195mph) and the intervening scattered clouds I only had a glimpse of 5 seconds or so after I spotted it before it began to be hidden by the passing clouds.
My first impression was I was looking at the back end of a blimp or a WWII barrage balloon. The object was a medium dark grey, oval shaped but a vertical oval. There were no vertical or horizontal stabilizing fins on it, however it did have two areas on the lower sides of the oval that were slightly bulbous and colored bright orange. There was no apparent movement, however with our speed it could have been moving slowly and not obvious to us.
It was very puzzling since the area is very rural farming country and we were not near any cities or towns. I thought at first it was a blimp, however a blimp would probably not be traveling within the clouds at nearly 4,000 feet since there was plenty of clear air below. My next thought was that the object might be an Aerostat balloon the Customs Service uses along the Mexican border to spot incoming drug running aircraft, but this is not near the border and I believe those are typically tethered 10,000 feet above the ground. The only other thought was a large balloon to provide a high antenna for a radio or TV signal, but here again it was out in the middle of nowhere and was not marked on the flight chart. Since we were trying to get to Oshkosh by 3:30 pm to in order to land prior a flight of over 100 incoming Beech Bonanzas, I did not deviate to investigate.
I am very familiar with almost all aircraft and have seen the Goodyear blimp and other advertising blimps many times both from the ground and in the air and this did not appear to be one of those. On every flight I have to watch for other aircraft and am used to spotting and identifying them as traffic, yet to this day I have no idea what it was my son and I saw.