An Illinois-based amateur balloonist club has announced that one of the small balloons it released is “missing in action” and feared shot down by the US Air Force. It last reported its location in Alaska on Saturday and the USAF claims to have shot down an unidentified object in the same region at around the same time.
The group, the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB), announced as much in a blog post, saying that the 32-inch-wide “Pico Balloon” had been airborne for more than four months and circled the globe seven times and then went down over Alaska. The group did not blame the USAF in the post.
ABC 7, reporting on the matter, said:
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deferred questions to the National Security Council for identification of the objects and had no additional information, according to a spokeswoman for US Northern Command and NORAD.
The possibility that this recreational balloon could be one of the three unidentified objects shot down by the US military was first reported on Thursday by Aviation Week.
Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden delivered his first public remarks on the topic and acknowledged that “the intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions.”
Similarly, Aviation Week, in its report on the matter, said:
But the circumstantial evidence is at least intriguing. The club’s silver-coated, party-style, “pico balloon” reported its last position on Feb. 10 at 38,910 ft. off the west coast of Alaska, and a popular forecasting tool—the HYSPLIT model provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—projected the cylindrically shaped object would be floating high over the central part of the Yukon Territory on Feb. 11. 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 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.
“I tried contacting our military and the FBI—and just got the runaround—to try to enlighten them on what a lot of these things probably are. And they’re going to look not too intelligent to be shooting them down,” says Ron Meadows, the founder of Scientific Balloon Solutions (SBS), a Silicon Valley company that makes purpose-built pico balloons for hobbyists, educators and scientists.
The descriptions of all three unidentified objects shot down Feb. 10-12 match the shapes, altitudes and payloads of the small pico balloons, which can usually be purchased for $12-180 each, depending on the type.
It’s great that Biden is taking national security and defending our air space more seriously now. But, before he starts having the Air Force use half a million dollar missiles to shoot down $12 balloons, perhaps the Air Force should use its billions of dollars in surveillance equipment to figure out which balloons are Chinese spy balloons and which ones are just hobbyist balloons.
By: Will Tanner. Follow me on Twitter @Will_Tanner_1
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