Following the shooting down of three unidentified flying objects in North American airspace between February 10 and 12, a hobbyist club’s "missing in action" pico balloon may be to blame for one instance.
On February 4, a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. Another "high altitude object" was shot down off the coast of Alaska on February 10, with another being shot down over the Yukon in Canada on February 11, and yet another being shot down on February 12 over Lake Huron.
On February 14, the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB) declared one of their pico balloons "missing in action," according to a blog post.
Pico Balloon K9YO, the group said, was last located near Alaska’s Hagemeister Island on February 11 at 12:48 am UTC. The balloon had been in flight for 123 days and 18 hours, marking its sixth circumnavigation around the globe on January 31.
According to a NOAA Hysplit Trajectory map cited by the club, the balloon would have made its seventh trip around the globe on February 13, with the balloon flying over the central part of the Yukon on February 11, the day that an F-22 shot down an unidentified object.
According to Aviation Week, Pico ballooning "combines ham radio and high-altitude ballooning into a single, relatively affordable hobby."
On the club’s website, they state that they formed in June of 2021, with members ranging in age from 11 years old and up.
"Pico Ballooning is a part of Amateur Radio also known as Ham Radio or Hams. We’re licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowing us to communicate to other Hams throughout the World. Pico meaning small, we send a small transmitter, with GPS tracking and antenna on a balloon filled with Hydrogen, rising to 47,000 feet, and travelling with the speed of the Jetstream. As we travel, our GPS is able to locate our current location, and other information is gathered depending on what chips we have on our transmitter while using other programs to gather other inflight information," the group states.
"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," Ron Meadows, the founder of Scientific Balloon Solutions (SBS), told Aviation Week.
SBS is a Silicon Valley company that creates pico balloons for scientists, educators, and hobbyists.
"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," Aviation Week reported. These balloons are typically Mylar party balloons or foil balloons.
"I’m guessing probably they were pico balloons," Tom Medlin, co-host of the Amateur Radio Roundtable show, and retired FedEx engineer told Aviation Week.
Speaking on Wednesday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that a "leading explanation" in the US intelligence community is that the objects were "balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign."
Biden echoed this sentiment in a Thursday address.
"The intelligence community's current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions, studying weather, or conducting other scientific research," he said.
The ballooning community, Aviation Week reported, is worried that their balloon may be shot down next.
Medlin told the outlet that one of his balloons in projected by HYSPLIT trajectories to enter US airspace on February 17. While the balloon has circled the globe a number of times, it was last seen crossing over China before crossing the ocean.
"I hope," Medlin said, "that in the next few days when that happens we’re not real trigger-happy and start shooting down everything."
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