A collection of observations of mysterious gray Bell 407 helicopters and others like them.
A Study, Part One
In Part One here, we’ll take look at this mysterious trio and then collect some observations of similarly configured Bell 407 aircraft.
In Part Two, we’ll aim to take a closer look at some of the registered owners of these aircraft and try to piece together a few of the common threads that seem to connect them.
A Mysterious Trio Over LA
Trevithick’s article was motivated by a series of photographs taken on January 11th 2021 by Chris Shaw of Shaw’s Aviation Photography showing the mysterious trio as they were landing at the Hollywood Burbank Airport (KBUR) in the LA area.
Took much better photos of 2 of the mysterious military Bell 407s moments ago (121143 & 121141). I have a hunch they may belong to FCD, but don't really know as they have barely visible serial numbers and no unit markings. Very unusual! https://t.co/Mq9V8Vz9P8 pic.twitter.com/yYk6WupgNs— Scott Lowe (@tropicostation) January 13, 2021
Trevithick followed up with a second article that highlighted the mysterious trio’s recent flight paths over the LA area and included a video by Scott Lowe showing them landing on building rooftops in downtown LA. The article also included another video sent in by a reader showing the same trio leaving Laka Havasu Airport (KHII) on January 11th, presumably coming over from the east coast on their way to LA where they were spotted later that day.
Additionally, Trevithick’s articles describe how the mysterious trio may be US military in origin, with the working assumption suggesting that they are connected to the US Army’s Aviation Technology Office (ATO), previously known as the Flight Concepts Division (FCD). This assumption is further based on observations that one or more of the mysterious trio have been seen on flight tracks in the general area of multiple military installations, including Fort Bragg, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Felker Army Airfield at Ft. Eustis, Virginia.
An Unusual Configuration
There are a handful of features that stand out when looking at these particular Bell 407 aircraft. For one, they don’t appear to have any visible registration markings and only barely visible serial-number markings on their tail. This lack of civilian registration markings would typically suggest a military-operated aircraft of some kind. Also, their dark grey glossy paint scheme doesn’t appear to be all too common with civilian models of the Bell 407.
Additional configuration elements that may point to a military origin were noted by Trevithick in his second article, including:
- “an ‘egg-beater’ or ‘O Wing’ type UHF satellite communications (SATCOM) antenna on their tail booms”
- “a pair of prominent blade-type antennas located ventrally under the fuselage, which are generally associated with high-frequency radios and other communications systems”
- “do not appear to have any kind of sensor turret of the types that typically hold electro-optical or infrared cameras underneath the nose or elsewhere beneath the fuselage”
In an ARC Forums thread discussing this same mysterious trio of helicopters, a forum member posted a copy of Scott Lowe’s photograph and included annotated labels of the aircraft’s antenna load-out.
The particular look of the Bell 407’s in this mysterious trio seems to be somewhat unique. But there are some relatively more well-known militarized versions of the Bell 407 out there. These militarized 407 variants include Bell’s ARH-70 Arapaho, 407AH and 407; Northstar Aviations' 407MRH; and even the US Army’s own IA-407.
As noted in Trevithick’s first article and by others, there is a possible connection between the mysterious trio and the US Army’s IA-407, a program that delivered armed 407’s to the Iraqi army from 2010 through 2013. During that time, the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal developed and then delivered three trainer T-407’s and twenty-seven armed IA-407’s to Iraq. Some data sources seem to show a block of five Bell 407’s that were delivered (or intended to be delivered) under this program as having US serial numbers that match the tail numbers of the mysterious trio.
|S/N||Iraqi ID||US Serial #||CA Reg.||CA Re-Reg.||US Reg.|
It’s also suggested in some of these data sources that this block of 407’s was originally registered in Canada in 2013, re-registered and then exported to the US in early 2014. A few months later, the N-numbers associated with those five 407’s were de-registered with the FAA. However, besides the similarities with the US serial numbers and observed tail numbers, it’s not clear what if any connection this block of Iraqi 407’s might have with our mysterious trio.
Mysterious Trio and More
But there have been other observations of this mysterious trio outside of LA, plus some other Bell 407’s that appear to be significantly similar.
For example, an image of a Bell 407 with a tail number of “12-1144” was taken in April 2017 at Boise Airport (KBOI).
Although it doesn’t have a tail-mounted eggbeater SATCOM antenna, this Bell 407 appears to match closely with that of the mysterious trio based on the paint scheme and the dual ventrally-mounted, white blade antennas. The obvious correlation between tail numbers is also quite interesting, since its serial number of “12-1144” seems to fit within the tail number range of the block of five IA-407’s that we noted above.
Next we have images from January 2020 that show one of the mysterous trio, 12-1141, apparently making a landing at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana in Virginia, only 50 miles southeast of Felker Army Airfield. It appears to be in an identical configuration to when it was observed over LA.
The presence of 12-1141 at a US Navy installation would seem to lend further weight to some of the assumptions noted by Trevithick and others that the mysterious trio is somehow military in origin.
Update, Feb 9 2021: The mysterious trio were also spotted at Kickapoo Downtown Airport (KCWC) in Texas, apparently on their way back east from LA.
Last, and perhaps most interestingly, a Bell 407 with the tail number “19-1264” was seen departing Clarksville Regional Airport (KCKV) in Tennessee sometime around January 28th of this year, only a few weeks after the mysterious trio was seen in the LA area.
Similar to the mysterious trio, this aircraft’s tail number seems to be a US military serial number indicating that the aircraft was possibly delivered in 2019. If this were true, it would unlikely have been a part of the IA-407 program that ended in 2013.
Update, Feb 9 2021: A 407 with the tail number “19-1268” was spotted in the Newport News area sometime in July 2020. Note the eggbeater SATCOM antenna on the tail boom, similar to the mysterious trio.
Assuming for now that the mysterious trio and other Bell 407’s with similar tail numbers are military aircraft, we’ll now turn our attention to a collection of privately registered Bell 407 aircraft, all of which seem to bear similarities with the mysterious trio.
TVPX Aircraft Solutions
Included in Trevithick’s second article was a photograph provided by aviation photographer Owen O’Rourke. The image, taken at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (KCLT) in February 2016, is of a Bell 407 registered as N407HP to a “TVPX Aircraft Solutions Inc, Trustee”.
N407HP is visual similar to the mysterious trio, including a dark paint scheme and dual white blade antennas. A Bell 407 aircraft registered as N407HP, presumably the same one in the image above, was tracked flying between multiple airports along the east coast in mid-September 2020, flying between airports KTIX, KFIN, KHXD and then on to KRWI.
Also, according to a listing of 713 aircraft registered to a “TVPX Aircraft Solutions Inc, Trustee”, TVPX appears to be the registered owner of at least sixteen Bell 407 aircraft, including N407HP. But one other Bell 407 on the list also stands out: N464A.
Like N407HP, N464A is currently registered to TVPX according to FAA records. And like N407HP, it looks very familiar.
This photo was posted to Facebook in December 2017 by an Ontario-based company, Euroglass Mobile Shrink Wrap Service, who provided the following caption:
1 1/2 days training a great bunch of guys on how to shrink wrap helicopters @ Helex helicopter in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This appears to be in reference to HELEX LLC, a company based in Titusville, Florida and a subsidiary of PHI Inc. Interestingly, PHI Inc is also the parent company of Helicopter Leasing, Inc, a company that was the former registered owner of both N407HP and N464A, prior to the apparent transfer of ownership of both aircraft to TVPX in May 2019, a few months after PHI Inc filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Next up, we have a company named Glacier Helo Leasing Inc. According to open records, Glacier was founded in early June 2006 and is registered out of what appears to be a small law office in Billings, Montana. There’s not a lot else to say about Glacier Helo Leasing.
But FAA records indicate that at least two Bell 407 aircraft are currently registered to Glacier Helo Leasing: N509GL and N687GL. According to open source records, both aircraft were originally registered to Glacier Helo Leasing in May 2007. Note the common two-letter suffix in the registration codes, where “GL” is likely an abbreviation for “Glacier”.
A few months after both aircraft were registered to TVPX, N509GL was photographed at Suffolk Executive Airport (KSFQ), Virginia in September 2007.
The Bell 407 registered here as N509GL clearly doesn’t look the mysterious trio or the other similarly configured Bell 407’s that we’ve looked at so far. The paint scheme, in particular the striping, is more reminiscent of at least two Bell 407’s that have been known to be allegedly operated by the FBI, aircraft previously registered as N407TP and N415AT.
Although the striping looks similar, FBI helicopters seem to typically operate with “bat-wing” SATCOM antennas and do not appear to have the dual, ventrally-mounted white blade antennas that seem to be ubiquitous among the mysterious trio and our other helicopters of note, an antenna configuration that is seemingly quite rare among other more common Bell 407 configurations.
Only two months after N509GL by itself was spotted at KSFQ, both N509GL and N687GL were photographed together there in November 2007, now with both aircraft sporting “bat-wing” SATCOM antennas.
In this configuration, specifically with the “bat-wing” SATCOM antennas, these Glacier Bell 407’s look even more reminiscent of our suspected FBI-operated Bell 407 examples mentioned above.
However, at some point both N509GL and N687GL appear to have underwent significant exterior changes. They were photographed together again in March 2018, at Myrtle Beach Airport (KMYR) in South Carolina, sporting what should by now be a more familiar look.
By 2018, both N509GL and N687GL looked very similar in configuration to the mysterious trio. Additionally, the tandem landing of the two Glacier helos shown in the image above is reminiscent of the video showing the mysterious trio performing a coordinated take-off at KHII in January 2021.
Next up, we have Grizzly Helo Leasing. According to open records, Grizzly Helo Leasing Inc was incorporated in late June 2006 out of Helena, Montana and involuntarily dissolved thirteen years in December 2019.
Through a variety of records found online, it appears that Grizzly Helo Leasing operated at least four Bell 407 aircraft with the following N-numbers: N16GZ, N19GZ, N135GZ and N136GZ. Similar to the pattern with the Glacier helo registrations, the registration suffix “GZ” here is likely an abbreviation for “Grizzly”.
Four Bell 407 aircraft with these registration codes were spotted operating across the east and west coasts of the United States starting in at least 2008. We’ll note some similar operating similarities between these aircraft and the mysterious trio as we go along.
To start, it appears that the two aircraft registered as N16GZ and N19GZ held previous registration codes of N80048 and N80044, respectively. These registration codes were changed in November 2013 when they were registered (or possibly re-registered) to Grizzly Helo Leasing.
Similar to the mysterious trio, the Grizzly helos appear to have a history of operating as a group. In May 2008, a user “Gerard” posted to the NYVAviation Forum some observations from Republic Airport (KFRG) in New York :
Took a run by FRG today and saw two dark colored 407s tied down in the front of Hangar 5 by Atlantic Aviation. Checked the N #s (N135GZ and N80048) and saw they were owned by Grizzly Helo Leasing of Helena, Montana. Long way from home. Actually just saw on Flightaware that 135GZ came in last night (11:41) to EWR from Atlantic City. Ferry flights?
A few months later in July 2008, one of these aircraft, N135GZ, was spotted at Moore County Airport (KSOP) in North Carolina.
We see here a slightly different exterior paint scheme (a darker green with a red stripe), although the antenna configuration looks familiar yet again.
Almost exactly a year after his other post, user “Gerard” followed up with another observation from KFRG in May 2009:
And parked by the Atlantic side of Hangar 5 were three Bell 407s. One was in the livery colors of Petroleum Helicopters (N719PH) and the other two were maroon (N62774) and what looked to be black (couldnt read the N#). Arriving at Atlantic the three 407s were joined by a fourth…The new 407 was N80044 who was from Grizzly Helo Leasing in Montana and I saw the N # of the other dark 407 and that was also a Grizzly ship, N135GZ. I’ve seen both these ships here before.
Fast forward five years later to March 2013, when N80048 was spotted at the Danville Regional Airport (KDAN) in Virginia.
Once again, the features of N80048 here look quite familiar, although it’s unclear if the top-mounted antenna is a “bat-wing” SATCOM antenna or not.
Later that same year, both N80044 and N80048 would change registrations to N19GZ and N16GZ, respectively. N80048, now registered as N16GZ, was then photographed at Lubbock International Airport (KLBB) in Texas sometime between 2015 and 2016. Assuming the change in registration was for the same airframe, N16GZ looked to have dropped the top-mounted antenna and possibly received a lighter exterior paint, again quite similar to the mysterious trio.
Starting no later than 2014, these Grizzlies also began to make regular appearances in the skies over downtown LA and at the Hollywood Burbank Airport (KBUR), the same airport that the mysterious trio was observed operating from in January 2021.
On February 11th 2014, N19GZ was photographed at KBUR in the early dusk hours.
It was not alone however, as N19GZ appears to have been a part of a group of Bell 407 helicopters which, according to the photographer’s caption:
Started off with 3 and ended up with 5
Of these five Bell 407 helicopters, they all look to be of a darker paint theme and at least three of which (in the background) look to have the dual white blade antennas that we’ve come to expect. Along with N19GZ, it’s fair to assume that the group shown above included other Grizzly-registered helicopters.
Almost exactly a year later, an LA-focused helicopter tracking Twitter account posted a message appearing to complain about helicopter activity over downtown Los Angeles that was somehow attributed to Grizzy Helo Leasing.
Later that same year, at least two of the Grizzly-registered Bell 407’s, N19GZ and N136GZ, would make another appearance together at KBUR on December 5th, 2015.
The following day, N19GZ was spotted on flight tracks flying over the Los Angeles area.
According to the spotter, N19GZ appeared to be flying in coordination with two other aircraft: N950LA, a Eurocopter AS350 B2 registered to the County of Los Angeles; and N514NY, a Cessna 182T registered to NBR Aviation, a suspected FBI front company.
This interesting mix of company not withstanding, the flight activity of these Grizzly helicopters in and around KBUR, and in particular near Los Angeles, is quite reminiscent of the reported January 2021 activity by the mysterious trio.
Finally, roughly a week and a half after flight activity in LA, N19GZ was seen departing Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (KDVT) on December 18th 2015, presumably heading back east.
And finally, on March 4th 2016, three of these Grizzly-registered Bell 407’s (N16GZ, N19GZ and N136GZ) apparently underwent a change of registration and ownership to yet another helicopter leasing company: Blue Hen Helo Leasing.
Blue Hen Helo
According to open records, Blue Hen Helo Leasing Company was incorporated in mid-July 2006 and is based out of Dover, Delaware.
In March 2016, Blue Hen Helo Leasing filed changes of registration for four Bell 407 aircraft, three of which were previously registered to Grizzly Helo Leasing as we’ve noted. A fourth Bell 407, registered as N346A at the time, was transferred from a different company. The new registrations for this fleet of four Bell 407’s is shown below.
|Previous Reg.||New Reg.|
Again, note the now common observation that a “BH” prefix here is likely an abbreviation for the name “Blue Hen”.
On May 2018, a photo of N166BH was taken at Shannon Airport (KEZFW) in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
While the dark background paint scheme and dual white blade antennas look familiar by now, most notable here is clearly the blue accent stripes which have not been observed on other Bell 407’s in this study.
In January 2019, a YouTube account posted a video of a dark color Bell 407, apparently N159BH, flying somewhere over North Carolina.
A few months later in March 2019, Blue Hen Helo Leasing appears to have filed a registration code reservation for N245BH, although no aircraft appears to be registered with that code at this time. In May 2019, Blue Hen Helo also added another aircraft to their fleet when they filed to change the registration of a Bell 407 from N47MX to N247BH.
And perhapes most interestingly, a year later on May 25th 2020, the same YouTube account from above posted another video titled “2 Bell 407 passing by from my house”, again somewhere in North Carolina. Most notable in this video is the lead aircraft which seems similar in form to the mysterious trio, including what faintly appears to be a tail-mounted “egg-beater” SATCOM antenna.
It’s unclear which specific Bell 407’s were operating in the area at this time, and if either of the Bell 407’s shown in this video were registered to Blue Hen Helo Leasing. But their presence in the same location as N159BH only a year prior may be somewhat notable.
And finally, we have an image of another Bell 407 registered to Blue Hen Helo, N212BH, taken in January 2021 at Clarksville Regional Airport (KCKV) in Tennessee, only a few miles south of the US Army’s Fort Campbell.
The objective here in Part 1 was to collect a series of observations that attempted to show other Bell 407 aircraft that appear to be similar, in both configuration and possibly operational area, to the mysterious trio originally observed over the LA area in January 2021.
Two Bell 407’s were identified with similar military tail number patterns: 12-1144 and 19-1264. Additionally, the company TVPX Aircraft Solutions was shown to be the registered owner of two other similar Bell 407’s, N407HP and N464A. We’ve also shown that three leasing companies (Grizzly Helo, Glacier Helo and Blue Hen Helo) have registered similar Bell 407 aircraft going back from at least 2007 until present day.
In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at the papertrail of these leasing companies and attempt to draw a common connection between three of them in particular: Glacier Helo, Grizzly Helo and Blue Hen Helo.
Below we’ve summarized the set of Bell 407’s that are (or were) operating under each of the helo leasing companies explored above. Accuracy of the registration codes or manufacturer serial numbers below is not guaranteed and is only provided for reference as needed.
Unknown, Possibly Former US Army IA-407’s
|S/N||Iraq ID||US ID|
TVPX Aircraft Solutions
Glacier Helo Leasing
Grizzly Helo Leasing
|53043||N16GZ||Registered as N212BH, 2016|
|53047||N19GZ||Registered as N166BH, 2016|
|53067||N136GZ||Registered as N271BH, 2016|
Blue Hen Helo Leasing
|S/N||Blue Hen Reg.||Status|