You will remember THE Chinese Spy Balloon. The big white one with the dangly bits. It was a remarkably capable balloon, as you would expect from a spy balloon.
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the balloon was able to linger in the winds over specific areas.
“We saw it do that. It loitered over certain sites. It went left, right. We saw it maneuver inside the jet stream. That’s how it was operating,” the official said, adding that the craft had propellers and rudders.
Writers in an Aviation Week article voiced what most people who had seen the photos were thinking.
[I]mages of the latest balloon [were] captured by photographers on the ground with telephoto zoom lenses…Such long-distance visual evidence contrasted with remarks by John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman. “It had propellers,” Kirby says. “It had a rudder, if you will, to allow it to change direction.” Civilian photos provided no signs of a rudder aboard the balloon, and it is not clear how such a control surface would help steer a spherical, slow-speed object. Kirby also may have been speaking metaphorically about a rudder.
A metaphorical rudder would certainly be a ground-breaker for balloon technology, but no more so than metaphorical propellors. The same article informs us that “a pattern has developed of Chinese spy flights by slow-moving high-altitude balloons, which had gone apparently undetected by U.S. surveillance systems.”
“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, and that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out,” [General Glen] VanHerck [head of North American Aerospace Defense Command] says.
You know, Glen, this domain awareness gap is not a good look, especially as Karine and the “intelligence community” were already on top of this.
[T]he intelligence community kept track of China’s spying balloon campaign in other parts of the world. Congress was briefed about the program in August, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre says.
“There has been a program that has been in effect,” Jean-Pierre adds. “We have kept Congress abreast on that. But I don’t have anything more to say or to share.”
Fair enough. It is a secret, after all. Especially from North American Aerospace Defense Command. But Glen’s boys, of whom he is incredibly proud, did splash the balloon. Sighs of relief all round. But it wasn’t over yet. On Friday the 10th, another object was spotted over Alaska.
“It was difficult for the pilots to glean a whole lot of information,” [John Kirby] said, adding, “There was a limit to how much they could divine”… Fighter aircraft first saw it late Thursday night, it was a small object, and they were flying at high speed…
This one was only the size of a small car, and was at mere 40,000 feet. A U.S. official described it as “cylindrical and silver-ish grey.” Cylindrical? Was there, somewhere along the chain of misinformation, a stenographer who did not know the difference between spherical and cylindrical? Divination’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Ask King Saul. In the event, to an anxious public’s great relief, it was shot down near Deadhorse, Alaska. I kid you not.
On the left, we see the location of this wonderfully-named, but unincorporated, township. On the right is an image from SondeHub, a site that tracks radiosonde launches and returns worldwide. The black circles are regular launch sites. Note the one right at the tippy-top of Alaska. That’s the airport at a place called Barrow. Launches occur every six hours, starting at midnight UTC.
Here’s a weather balloon being launched in Phoenix. Attached to he balloon is the radiosonde transmitter which measures and reports, at least, pressure, temperature and humidity. There’s usually a parachute inside the balloon. It ascends gradually to about 28km, expanding as pressure decreases, until the balloon bursts. By then it will be 5m or more in diameter, depending on the balloon. The sonde then comes to earth under the parachute. Somewhere in this ascent, say at around 40,000 feet, it will be, maybe, the size of a small car.
Having ensured the Warhol fame of Deadhorse, Alaska, did the U.S. administration take the providential hint? Was that ever a remote possibility?
#metoo said Justin, the Wonder Boy, the very next day, Saturday, and another “cylindrical” object bit the dust in the Yukon. US and Canadian citizens had barely had a chance to sleep off the tranquillisers when another UFO appeared over Lake Huron, as if mocking both countries. F-16s, a refuelling tanker, and a AWACS aircraft were despatched. The UFOs were unsportingly varying their approach, and the F-16 pilots had trouble working out what this one looked like.
Out of their identification struggles there finally popped an octagonal object. The second missile fired at “The Octagon” brought it down. I’m impressed that the AIM-9X Sidewinder was able to bring any of the latter three – let’s just call them balloons – down.
On Sunday, when the shooting had died down, Gen. Glen was press-ganged again. As the N.Y. Post reported ,
Asked whether he had ruled out an extraterrestrial origin for three floating objects shot down by warplanes in as many days, Gen. Glen VanHerck said: “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out…I haven’t ruled out anything”.
It was a click-bait bonanza. It was also a fine example of how a mendacious officialdom and an equally mendacious media need only the slightest provocation to set up a feedback loop of mutual incitement. However, there have been some glimmers of sanity. A former Secretary of Defense for President Trump, Mark Esper, said, “My hunch is that these are weather balloons or scientific experiments put aloft by another country, a company or some none profit.” The Pentagon issued a memo on the Yukon raider. The “cylindrical” object was a “small, metallic balloon” with tethered payload below. Metallic, as in those shiny helium-filled St Valentine’s hearts, one presumes.
Somewhat less reassuring was the report of “a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity” that the Chinese Spy Balloon “originally had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii but was blown off course by prevailing winds…” Can this be the same balloon that “loitered over certain sites…[that] went left, right. …[that] maneuver[ed] inside the jet stream”? None other. This was clearly a failure of the metaphorical rudder, or the metaphorical propellor, or both. Or maybe this breakthrough in surveillance technology, with its unparalleled advantages over passé satellites, can’t tell Guam from the Aleutians.
This US Administration is in charge of what is still the most powerful military in the world, is far and away the most expensive, and has a huge nuclear arsenal. Try not to dwell on that.