Yesterday, plane spotters in the greater Los Angeles area caught glimpses of three mysterious Bell 407 helicopters painted overall in what looks to be a dark gray color, but with no easily identifiable markings. Covered in antennas that one might expect to see on examples in use by military or law enforcement units, but unlike any we at The War Zone are familiar with, the sightings immediately caught our attention. While we don’t know for sure who is operating them or for what purpose, these helicopters appear to have a very unusual history and there are solid indications that they could be associated with a very secretive U.S. military aviation unit.
Chris Shaw of Shaw’s Aviation Photography was among the first to spot the trio as they arrived at Bob Hope Airport, also known as Hollywood Burbank Airport or KBUR, which is situated just north of Los Angeles, on Jan. 12, 2021. Later that day, plane spotter Scott Lowe caught a glimpse of two of the helicopters leaving that airport.
From what we can these helicopters each have an “egg-beater” or “O Wing” type UHF satellite communications (SATCOM) antenna on their tail booms. This installation is similar, if not identical to the one that the U.S. Army used on its now-retired OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters, from which the commercial Model 407 was derived.
They also have a pair of prominent blade-type antennas located ventrally under the fuselage, which are generally associated with high-frequency radios and other communications systems. Various other smaller antennas are also visible under the rear fuselage. The helicopters notably 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. They are also equipped with high skids, which are commonly found on versions of the Jet Ranger family of helicopters that are tasked with utility work, law enforcement applications, and military missions.