Name That Strange Plane!
June 1, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I just saw a very odd aircraft -- a twin-engine passenger jet with an odd protrusion from the top front, taking off from Phoenix Sky Harbor. Any idea what it might be?

I was walking along a sidewalk near the ASU campus, and the aircraft was climbing eastbound from Sky Harbor, so I didn't get a great or long look at it. The aircraft, for the most part, looked like a passenger jet in the neighborhood of an A320, 757, etc; too big for a 737 -- two engines under the wing, low tail, etc. The plane's paint was white with a blue stripe down the cabin tube. At about the midpoint between the nose and the wing root, something oddly-shaped was attached to the top of the cabin tube. The protrusion looked, to me, like an engine pod from a Soviet era Eraknoplan (ground effect vehicle), only not as wide -- there would've been one engine per side, not four. I'm pretty sure it wasn't an engine pod, I just include that shape for visual reference.

I am certain the mystery bird was not an E-3 Sentry AWACS (definitely not 707 platform, definitely not a rotating radome, definitely forward of the wings) or an E-767 (same concerns re: radome shape and position) and I'm fairly certain it wasn't a 737 AEW (protrusion definitely forward of the wings, and why would that be operating in the US?).

Any ideas what I might've seen? The paint scheme makes me think "NASA research aircraft" but I haven't been able to find anything by googling around.
posted by Alterscape to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The forums at might offer quick and knowledgeable answers if no one else here can. (Minor pedantry: the "cabin tube" is called a fuselage.)
posted by Burhanistan at 9:11 AM on June 1, 2012

NASA has a 757-200 they use for aerodynamics research, could it have been that with an instrumentation pod similar to the the Ikhana's instrument pod?
posted by straw at 9:15 AM on June 1, 2012

Maybe an engine test like this?
posted by kickingtheground at 9:16 AM on June 1, 2012

You could go through the list of departures for PHX on FlightAware for the time you think you saw the plane in question. You can then see who was operating the plane, and maybe even get a registration number so you could get some pictures of it.
posted by zsazsa at 9:24 AM on June 1, 2012

Looks like kickingtheground has it. N757HW is operated by Honeywell out of Sky Harbor. Funny, its departure from PHX isn't listed on FlightAware. Instead, it shows it taking off from Pinal Airpark. Looks like the records for that plane aren't very comprehensive.
posted by zsazsa at 9:33 AM on June 1, 2012

As a licensed pilot, this is where I get to have egg dripping down my face. You're right, Burhanistan.

I am almost certain that I saw exactly what kickingtheground linked to, since the Ikhana's instrument pod is mounted on a wing station, not the fuselage.

My phone says I called my father (also a pilot) at 8:42 AM to say "Do you have any idea WTF I just saw?" However, the only departures immediately before 8:42 AM are mundane -- mostly SWA 737s. I think zsazsa and kickingtheground have it. I guess the human memory is totally falible -- I could've sworn it was a blue stripe, but everything else about it fits N757HW -- this is exactly the view I had.
posted by Alterscape at 9:39 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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