Dude, NORAD shot down my science project!
USAF may have downed hobby club's balloon
It has been an unprecedented week at NORAD, scrambling fighter jets and shooting down four objects floating over North America, including a Chinese balloon and three that remain unidentified. The continental defence command regularly dispatches U.S. and Canadian jets to confront Russian bombers approaching North America, but NORAD has never given the order to attack before.
White House officials were careful not to speculate about the source or nature of the three non-Chinese objects, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised alarms when he declared there was “a pattern” in the objects' appearances, and many hawkish politicians and commentators used the incidents to demand more military spending, declaring the balloon incident "a game changer."
But the potential threat of these mysterious objects is coming under scrutiny, and a group of hobbyists in Illinois are wondering what happened to their science project.
Did the U.S. Air Force fire a heat-seeking missile to blow up their balloon science project?
Aviation Week reports a small, globe-trotting balloon declared “missing in action” by an Illinois-based hobbyist club on Feb. 15 has emerged as a candidate to explain one of the three mystery objects shot down by four heat-seeking missiles launched by U.S. Air Force fighters since Feb. 10.
The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB) lost contact with its silver-coated, party-style, “pico balloon” on Feb. 10 and its last reported position was 38,910 ft. off the west coast of Alaska, and heading toward Yukon.
That is the same day a Lockheed Martin F-22 shot down an unidentified object of a similar description and altitude in the same general area.
There has been particular interest in one of our pico balloons, one that transmits call sign K9YO. As noted on our “Locate and Track” page and blog, the last transmission from that balloon received and reported to the WSPR system was on February 11, 2023, and indicated that balloon was near Hagemeister Island, off the southwest corner of Alaska. Since we have not found a transmission from that balloon since that time, we have declared it “Missing In Action”, as we have with previous flights. At that time, K9YO had circumnavigated the globe 6 times and was nearing the completion of a 7th lap. Unfortunately, that’s where the factual information on its location ends.
A statement from the NIBBB on current events
FEBRUARY 17, 2023 / KD9TPM
NORAD changed its radar systems recently to allow it to detect flying objects that are smaller and slower than airplanes. This might include pico-ballons. “There are suspicions among other prominent members of the small, pico-ballooning enthusiasts’ community, which combines ham radio and high-altitude ballooning into a single, relatively affordable hobby,” says Aviation Week.
President Joe Biden used a nationally-televised address to try to put the issue to rest. He said that the United States has no indication that the three objects shot down in North American air space are tied to China’s spy balloon program and are likely from private entities.
Even the feared Chinese spying balloon is becoming less likely a threat. The Chinese balloon that was shot down after crossing the continental United States originally had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii but was blown off course by prevailing winds, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said on Wednesday. In fact, the U.S. had tracked the balloon from the moment is was launched in China, according to Reuters.