Black helicopters is a term which became popular in the United States militia movement and associated political groups in the 1990s as a symbol and warning sign of an alleged conspiratorial military takeover of the United States, though it has also been associated with men in black and similar conspiracies. Rumors circulated that, for instance, the United Nations patrolled the US with unmarked black helicopters, or that federal agents used black helicopters to enforce wildlife laws. The concept springs from the basic truth that many government agencies and corporations do use helicopters, and that some of these helicopters are dark-colored or black. For instance, dark-colored military helicopters were deployed in the standoff at Ruby Ridge.
Stories of black helicopters first appeared in the 1970s, and were linked to reports of cattle mutilation. It is possible that the idea originated in Hal Lindsey's book The Late, Great Planet Earth, published in 1970 and popular among conspiracy theorists. Lindsey theorized that the locust-like creatures referenced in the Book of Revelation were actually helicopters, which John had never seen and thus did not know how to describe. The issue was first popularized in the early 1990s by Mark Koernke, also known as "Mark from Michigan", in appearances on Tom Valentine's radio show and in public speeches which were widely circulated on videocassette, and shortly thereafter by Linda Thompson in her film America Under Siege. In Alex Jones' film Police State 2000 unmarked black helicopters are shown flying low in surprise urban warfare training missions with Delta Force operators and foreign troops.
Jim Keith wrote two books on the subject: Black Helicopters Over America: Strikeforce for the New World Order (1995), and Black Helicopters II : The End Game Strategy (1998).
Media attention to black helicopters increased in February 1995, when first-term Republican northern Idaho Representative Helen Chenoweth charged that armed federal agents were landing black helicopters on Idaho ranchers' property to enforce the Endangered Species Act. "I have never seen them," Chenoweth said in an interview in The New York Times. "But enough people in my district have become concerned that I can't just ignore it. We do have some proof." Chenoweth made the charges at a press conference without ever consulting with the Department of the Interior.
The black helicopters theory resonates well with the belief held by some in the militia movement that troops from the United Nations might invade the United States. The John Birch Society published an article in The New American detailing how the existence of the covert aircraft was mostly the product of possible visual errors and a tendency towards overboard caution.
Possible explanations 
The following explanations have been provided by various organizations and experts, including government agencies, regarding the alleged black helicopters:
- At least some sightings of black helicopters are very likely to have been helicopters on exercises and/or missions. Some of them are flown by units of the Army National Guard and are actually black (not dark olive or chocolate brown) when seen in ordinary light. U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates a dozen black-and-gold UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The American military does in fact operate helicopters painted in black or dark colors, particularly the Pave Low which was optimized for long-range stealthy insertion and extraction of personnel, including combat search and rescue.
- U.S. Army and National Guard helicopters painted olive drab will appear to be black in the reddish light of dawn or dusk, or under other low light conditions during the day when their shadow side is viewed against the sky with the naked eye. The Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment use helicopters primarily painted black.
- In the early 1970s, the CIA operated a black Hughes 500P helicopter in Vietnam, in order to place phone taps. Test flights began at Culver City, California, in 1971. It was noted for its low noise emission, and given the nickname "The Quiet One." After the mission assigned to it had been completed, the helicopter was returned to California and had most of the special features stripped out by mechanics. It was transferred to the ownership of the Pacific Corporation of Washington, D.C.
- The U.S. Army regularly conducts both exercises and operational missions in American airspace. Some of these exercises have taken place in densely populated cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Most operational missions are tasked in narcotics interdiction in the American Southwest and out of Florida and Puerto Rico. By extensive use of IR, Radar, GPS and night vision devices, as well as other classified means, they are able to fly in zero visibility conditions with no running lights. At this high intensity level of operation, training is necessarily almost as dangerous to pilots, other air traffic, and the public as actual combat. Frequent practice is necessary to retain proficiency. Frequent practice results in frequent sightings by concerned members of the public.
- Many defense contractors and helicopter manufacturers also conduct public flight testing of aircraft and components or fly aircraft in public view to test ranges or other corporate airfields for training or demonstrations. Occasionally, some of these aircraft will be made for military clients and are painted in black or dark colors.
- In the UK, police helicopters are required by the CAA to be marked in a standard 'high conspicuosity' paint scheme, to make them more visible and avoid the possibility of air proximity hazards with other low flying aircraft. This paint scheme, also used by UK military training helicopters, requires them to be black on the sides and underneath, and yellow on top. When seen from the ground, these helicopters are black but this is to make them more visible against the sky as a safety feature (and yellow against the ground when seen from above).
- Many US law enforcement agencies use black helicopters for surveillance, transportation, and patrol. Some of the agencies that use them are U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Pejorative use 
The term has also been used to ridicule other conspiracy theories or conspiracy theorists. For instance, a Slate article on basketball refereeing, said: "In the wake of this scandal, every game will be in question, and not only by fans disposed to seeing black helicopters outside the arena." Vice President Joe Biden had recourse to the term in a speech attacking the National Rifle Association during the 2013 White House campaign for background checks on all gun purchasers, saying, "The black helicopter crowd is really upset. It's kind of scary, man." 14
In popular culture 
In the 1978 conspiracy thriller Capricorn One, black helicopters pursue the escaped astronauts who will expose the faked Mars landing. The helicopters often act as if they are living beings rather than vehicles, often turning to face each other as if they were talking.
In the 1987 TVS children's drama series, Knights of God, the titular knights, a totalitarian religious order, have taken over the United Kingdom and patrol the skies in black helicopters with their emblem marked on the side.
In the 1998 video game Half-Life, several black helicopters transport the soldiers tasked with eliminating the aliens entering through the dimensional rift at the Black Mesa research facility.
In the 2000 video game Deus Ex, a black helicopter is the player's primary form of transportation for much of the game.
On the 1997 pilot episode of the American television series South Park, a local farmer asks about "black Army CIA helicopters" (as the episode's plot includes a UFO encounter) to which police officer Barbrady replies "That was a pigeon" after three fly past behind him.
In the 1997 movie Conspiracy Theory, starring Mel Gibson as a New York City cabdriver, out of whose many conspiracy theories one turns out to be true and he's chased by an obscure US Intelligence Agency; after one of his purchases of The Catcher in the Rye, they pursue him using black helicopters.
The 1983 movie Blue Thunder is a classical example of use of a black helicopter created specially for surveillance and spying on citizens. Aircraft has special abilities such as silent flight mode, see-through-the-wall cameras, overhearing equipment.
Canadian singer Matthew Good has a song called "Black Helicopter" on his 2007 album Hospital Music. The song contains the lines "Fall on me, black helicopter/You're all I see." In the CD of X-Files-inspired music, Songs in the Key of X, the band Soul Coughing has a song called "Unmarked Helicopters" which includes the lyrics "Here comes the super copter / Here comes the noise it makes / ... / It goes black black black black and blacker.../ Unmarked helicopters / Hovering / ... / They said it was a weather balloon."
In The Simpsons Movie, the fugitive Simpson family are chased by black helicopters belonging to the EPA.
In the 2008 game Mirror's Edge, the private security company Pirandello Kruger makes use of black helicopters armed with dual FN Minimis to hunt down Faith Connors.
They appear unmarked frequently in the television series The X-Files.
They are mentioned in Rooster Teeth 's short, "Secret Door". Matt, known for being a conspiracy theorist says: "Black Helicopters. Google it."
In Simcity 3000, one of the projects assigned to the Defense Contractor building is "red helicopters", a parody of black helicopters.
See also 
- A culture of conspiracy: apocalyptic visions in contemporary America
- Hal Lindsey, The Father of Apocalyptic Christian Zionism
- Priorities - May/June 1996 - Sierra Magazine - Sierra Club
- The Paranoid and the Paramilitary
- Hastert Leads Congressional Delegation On Border Tour - Jamd at www.viewimages.com
- "Blackhawks Circle Low Through Chicago Skies as Secret Service Releases Security Details". Fox News Releases. WFLD. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
- If the Ref Did It, Here's How It Happened, Slate, July 23, 2007
Media related to black helicopters at Wikimedia Commons