Beware Big Balloons



It started with a balloon. A rather large one, sent by the Chinese for ‘purposes unknown’, and rapidly removed from the skies as soon as it became safe to do so.

However, there has been a spate of further ‘unidentified objects’ wafting about the upper levels of the northern American atmosphere, and they are potentially something of a hazard.

The Balloon

This was spotted over the US, working its way northwards around February 3.

There isn’t much to say on this that hasn’t already been said – it was big, it came from China and it was almost definitely not one that had just accidentally drifted of course. Politics and conspiracies aside, this did not post much of a risk for civilian aviation because of the altitude it was operating at.

The (probably a) surveillance balloon operated from around 80,000 to 100,000′ – well above the levels which would impact commercial airliners.

Object Number 2

On February 10, an unidentified object was spotted overflying the northern coast of Alaska towards the North Pole region, at around 40,000′, moving at approximately 20-40mph.

It was deemed a “reasonable threat” to civilian aviation due to its size and altitude, despite being quite a bit smaller than the Chinese Balloon (very big, these sort of small car sized).

Reports suggest several aircraft were diverted, with one stopping at PANC/Anchorage and another to PAOM/Nome due to airspace closures.

Image from BBC: Getty

Object Number 3

Another object was spotted and shot down on February 11. This one was routing over Canada, approximately 100 miles from the US border, and at around 40,000′

The airspace over the Great Lakes region was closed while the object was taken down, but a Canadian TFR is still in force in the area.

The Notams and TFRs related to this are labelled ‘active air defense operation’.

Object spotting map

Object Number 4

The third of the smaller UFOs (yep, I said it, but just mean unidentified flying object) occurred on February 13, near to Lake Huron which shares a border with Canada.

There are unverified reports suggesting pilots reported interference from it with their “sensors”.

The FAA temporarily shut down a chunk of airspace over Northern Wisconsin and Northern Michigan to ‘support Department of Defense activities’.  Reopened now, but the a smaller TFR remains in place.

Risk for aviation

The objects are generally cruising at around 40,000′ – well within the altitude range commercial airliners operate at. They pose a hazard because of their size and speed.

However, they are ‘spotted’ easily and early, and both the US and Canada are maintaining a constant watch for further objects.

Crew operating in these areas should be aware of the ongoing possibility for further hazards. Report sightings to ATC.

If an object is identified, expect possible re-routes around the surrounding ‘Danger’ area whilst military traffic operates to deal with it.

It isn’t just the US..

Moldova closed the LUUU/Chisinau FIR on Feb 14, reportedly because of a “balloon shaped object”. And on Feb 10, they had concerns with a Russian missile reportedly crossing their airspace…


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