‘Mysterious’ lights envelop helicopters in Afghanistan

Coming soon to a video game near you. (Photo by Sgt. Mike MacLeod/U.S. Army)

Coming soon to a video game near you. (Photo by Sgt. Mike MacLeod/U.S. Army)

War is never pretty. And most pictures from Afghanistan, home to perhaps the longest war in U.S. history, can’t be described as “cool.”

But one war photographer’s pictures depicting “mysterious dancing lights” that sometimes envelop helicopter blades in that hostile land are certainly interesting.

An NPR article has more of the photos by journalist Michael Yon.

Yon, in his blog, asked multiple pilots what they called the lights and, surprisingly, got no answer.

He’s taken to calling it the Kopp-Etchells Effect in honor of American and British soldiers killed in 2009 that he never met.

American Benjamin Kopp died after a gun battle and buried in Arlington Cemetery. His heart still beats inside of Judy Meikle, a 57-year-old woman from Illinois.

Yon attended the battlefield funeral of British soldier Joseph Etchells, who wanted to be cremated and his ashes used in fireworks exploded over a park he visited as a child in Manchester.

Helicopter pilots say the lights are simply sparks created when the metal blades of a helicopter strike airborne dust, which may contain suspended metals or minerals.

Mystery solved? Perhaps. But beauty lingers, even in Afghanistan.

* See more photos

15 comments Add your comment

C. M. Thornton, III

July 31st, 2013
11:24 am

You seriously got no answer? It’s static electricity. Ive seen it many times.


July 31st, 2013
11:33 am

It’s static! It’s pretty cool to see in person when the helicopter’s come in at night.


July 31st, 2013
11:33 am

well mr t the third you must be a rocket scientist good observation


July 31st, 2013
11:47 am

Oh lord Jesus it’s a fire “aint nobody got time fa that”!!!!!!!!!!!


July 31st, 2013
1:48 pm

Welcome to the party, AJC. This was all over the news a couple days ago. Helicopter blades are composite material bonded with a leading edge of metal. This keeps the composite blade from eroding. The metal is made to ablate off in harsh conditions rather than the blade, itself. The sparks are created when the metal hits the dirt and dust in the air. A great analogy is seeing a chain dragging behind a car at night or a junker dragging its exhaust pipe.

Thomas S

July 31st, 2013
2:35 pm

It’s static electricity.


July 31st, 2013
2:44 pm

Singinchicken has give the best answer……. He is correct.

Tea Bag Bob

July 31st, 2013
3:17 pm

It’s Obama and the do nothing Liberals who are responsible for it!

Charlie Sheen

July 31st, 2013
3:29 pm

My vote goes to Stimpy!!

Rock Road

July 31st, 2013
4:51 pm

So much exotic weed in Afghanistan the troops may never leave!!!!!


July 31st, 2013
5:18 pm

Silly discussion trail, folks… it is NOT static. It is the effect of sparks from the rotor blades hitting metals in the dust kicked up


July 31st, 2013
5:20 pm

Right on Singinchicken

Mike Lacey

August 1st, 2013
2:52 am

If its simply dust / particles being abladed, why is it concentrated at he end of the rotor blade?

J Long

August 1st, 2013
8:29 am

Pretty sure that is St Elmo’s Fire – e.g. static electricity. Anyone who is mildly educated should know that. My grandfather told me about it on his bomber in WWII.

George Mathis

August 1st, 2013
9:24 am

The sparks would be concentrated at the end of the blades because the ends of the blades are moving fastest. Right?