An Illinois-based hobbyist club is concerned that one of their small, globe-trotting balloons, which was recently declared “missing in action,” was shot down by U.S. Air Force last week.
Although the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade is not yet pointing fingers at the federal government, the group has reason to believe its “pico balloon” may have been one of the three mystery objects shot down by Air Force fighters last week after discovering and shooting down a Chinese spy balloon.
As Aviation Week detailed:
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.
Launching high-altitude circumnavigational pico balloons emerged as a hobby within the past decade, according to Aviation Week. These balloons are naturally buoyant at 43,000 feet and carry an 11-gram tracker plus HF and VHF/UHF antennas to update ham radio receivers worldwide with their position.
“At any given moment, several dozen such balloons are aloft, with some circling the globe several times before they malfunction or fail for other reasons,” Aviation Week reported. “The launch teams seldom recover their balloons.”
Scientific Balloon Solutions founder Ron Meadows said the FBI and the military gave him “the runaround” when he tried to inform them about the pico balloons, which can usually be purchased for $12-180.
“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,” Meadows said. “And they’re going to look not too intelligent to be shooting them down.”
Tom Medlin, a retired engineer and podcast host, is hopeful that the U.S. government does not shoot one of his balloons down as it is expected to enter U.S. airspace on Friday.
“I hope that in the next few days when that happens, we’re not real trigger-happy and start shooting down everything,” Medlin told Aviation Week.
On Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby informed reporters that all three downed objects “could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” but did not mention the possibility of pico balloons.
“We did assess that their altitudes were considerably lower than the Chinese high-altitude balloon and did pose a threat to civilian commercial air traffic,” Kirby said. “And while we have no specific reason to suspect that they were conducting surveillance of any kind, we couldn’t rule that out.”
Aviation Week noted that the FBI, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense did not respond to a request for comment about the possibility of pico balloons. However, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) told the outlet it has “no update for you from NORAD on these objects.”
These pico balloons are reportedly exempt from most Federal Aviation Administration regulations because they weigh less than six pounds.
Jordan Dixon-Hamilton is a reporter for Breitbart News. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.