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Report: A $400K Missile Might Have Taken Down a $12 Hobby Balloon Over Yukon Territory

Report: A $400K Missile Might Have Taken Down a $12 Hobby Balloon Over Yukon Territory

“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.”

President Joe Biden revealed the last three objects shot down by the military were not spy balloons.

He admitted: “The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three ones were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”

Well, one of those $400,000 missiles might have taken down a $12 hobby balloon from a club in Illinois. From Aviation Week:

The club—the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB)—is not pointing fingers yet.

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.

It seems the three objects match the types of balloons. The government is not answering the club, either:

“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.

“I’m guessing probably they were pico balloons,” said Tom Medlin, a retired FedEx engineer and co-host of the Amateur Radio Roundtable show. Medlin has three pico balloons in flight in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Man. Our government is competent, you guys. Great job!


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When I was a kid, my friend Dave and I would get those very light bags they put over clothing from the local dry cleaning establishments (who later looked at us crosswise….). We would seal the holes in the tops with a hot iron. Then we would go down in his basement and run a hose from his mother’s basement stove out the window to the driveway. We would fill the bags and attach notes to them and release them. IMAGINE: possible acts of war at age 12!

    gonzotx in reply to exfed. | February 17, 2023 at 9:00 am

    Cool idea

    Idonttweet in reply to exfed. | February 17, 2023 at 9:51 am

    My recollection is that amateur radio weather balloons using APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) radios, which are usually inexpensive transmitters connected to GPS receivers suspended under weather balloons and retrieved with small parachutes are launched after notification to and registration with the FAA. The radios transmit a low power but fairly constant GPS position which can be received by anyone with the proper equipment. A small, inexpensive radio connected to a laptop will typically do the job with freely available software. The activity is neither illegal nor a threat to national security.

    scooterjay in reply to exfed. | February 17, 2023 at 10:40 pm

    I tried with propane and found out it is heavier than air.

How far up there can your head be and you can still breathe? This is what you get when you hire but intersectionality ladder rather than merit.

arent the military planes that still use old fashioned bullets ? A10 perhaps?

    The Gentle Grizzly in reply to Joe-dallas. | February 17, 2023 at 8:42 am

    Why fire cheap bullets when a missile is so much more exciting?

    Olinser in reply to Joe-dallas. | February 17, 2023 at 1:43 pm

    The F22 has a gatling gun.

    They used missiles because they know goddamn well that they’re shooting down hobby crap to try and make the decrepit drolling moron ‘look tough’, and they want to make sure they are completely destroyed so they can ‘fail to find’ any wreckage and can claim it was ‘unidentified’, even when they knew goddamn well exactly what it was.

    All they’re doing is make him look even more pathetic.

      henrybowman in reply to Olinser. | February 17, 2023 at 2:40 pm

      Our entire federal government is now officially a season of I Love Lucy.
      At least the part that isn’t five years worth of X-Files.

The Gentle Grizzly | February 17, 2023 at 8:38 am

I bet the fighter pilots will NOT be telling stories about this to their grandchildren!

    I disagree. This is bound to be the funniest story they have. I 28 and had just got rate for the F-22 the best plane we had at the time. Somehow, the dumbest people on earth had gotten together to put a senile old fool in as president, anyway the Chinese had embarrassed the old idiot by sending a balloon over the country and they had been to scared to shoot it down for a week. They took some polls and didn’t like what they saw. So 8 days later the sent me up to shoot down another balloon. I put a $400,000 missile through a $12 balloon launched by the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade. It was great I got to live fire a missile which we almost never got to do. The brass and the politicians are so stupid.

Hope this is a great inoculation against temptation to join in future “Big man in uniform tells me to be hysterical” moments.

Didn’t the first missile miss? Then the price tag is $800,000

    James Nault in reply to paul1. | February 17, 2023 at 9:27 am

    That’s what I heard 🙂

    Otto Kringelein in reply to paul1. | February 17, 2023 at 9:48 am

    How in the hell do you “miss” a balloon. One that is traveling on a predictable course. One that isn’t taking maneuvers to avoid being shot down. One that is just floating along, minding its own business and is totally unaware of the national crisis its causing.

    That really says something about our current military. And it ain’t good.

      The Gentle Grizzly in reply to Otto Kringelein. | February 17, 2023 at 9:52 am

      How? Chinese electronics in the missiles.

      Frankly it is amazing that they could hit it at all with a missile designed to hit high speed targets with completely different flight characteristics.

      A ballon will not have much if any heat signature, and any radar returns will be completely different from a normal missile target.

      I’m frankly surprised they got a hit.
      We have guns on fighter planes for a reason, if our front-line fighters find it difficult to shoot down a slow moving balloon (because of minimum flight speed numbers) they should have handed off the mission to a National Guard unit flying the older slower jets. I don’t think an A-10 or an armed drone has the ceiling capacity to close on a high-altitude ballon.

      Even if the target is actually a Chinese $10,000 spy ballon instead of a (say) $20 stray civilian ballon it’s not economical to spend missions at 40x the cost of the target..

        alaskabob in reply to BobM. | February 17, 2023 at 3:01 pm

        The sidewinder sees a broader spectrum of IR. When testing the YF-12A as an interceptor, guns would have been better. As the Blackbirds kin, at higher speeds the plane was almost as fast as the missile… while with guns it’s additive.

        As with flack… now the China can flood the air with balloons.

Sneaking up on unmanned, unpowered balloons with a stealth fighter and shooting it down with a million dollars worth of missiles. Where are the parades and medal award ceremonies for this glorious victory??

Missiles are an poor weapon for shooting down balloons. High powered lasers are much more appropriate for such a target.

Colonel Travis | February 17, 2023 at 9:15 am

We shoot down science fair projects, let criminals roam the streets, erase our borders, shove drag queen crotches into the faces of 7-year-olds, suspend the nation for 2 weeks years over a GD cold.

Shut up. It will get better. You’re gonna get cricket meat for 30 cents a pound soon and ChatGPT will be your new doctor.

Notice whose balloons they are afraid to shoot down until it doesn’t matter anymore, and whose balloons they are not afraid to shoot.

All it takes is a little prick to pop a balloon. Perhaps Mayor Pete should be given the assignment.

This is the mistake George H. W. Bush didn’t make.

Interesting. Yesterday I went looking for that video clip using DuckDuckGo, using “George Bush Camel in butt” and readily found the YouTube link, although the top story is a Snopes article. Today, the video was missing, so I had to add the words “2 million dollar” to get to the video.

I wonder what happened?

They did not use Sidewinder missiles, Sidewinders are heatseakers. Balloons produce no heat.

Further, no radar missile would have locked onto the material of the balloon. At best it would have locked onto the payload, which would defeat the purpose of the exercise.

This is another click-bait meme that went out of control and began to feed on itself.

A-cute optics. That said, balloons are aborted in darkness…. so, why NOW?

    henrybowman in reply to n.n. | February 17, 2023 at 8:40 pm

    Some are saying that the balloons are a deliberate distraction from the classified papers scandal.
    Today, Twitterers are claiming that both are a planned distraction for the Epstein papers dump expected presently.

I have visions of millions of helium balloons, each with an LED that blinks FJB in morse code.

Here is the most recent positions reported for K9YO-15 which is the balloon in question.

The pathetic part is that, unless the onboard radio failed, the balloon was broadcasting a US government-issued call sign using common ham radio protocols and the military couldn’t figure out what it was.

It would really piss me off if I launched a balloon with > $100 APRS transmitter and more $ worth of sensors/microcontrollers to measure things like temp/pressure/humidity/altitude and report it back in the name of science/education. The rationale behind this action following the China Balloon is questionable. A political stunt to try and prove that our senile, incompetent and corrupt POTUS is something he is not.