An unidentified flying object (UFO) shot down last week over Alaska was most likely a benign hobby balloon that was reported “missing in action” on Feb. 15, by the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB).
The balloon which cost approximately $12 was shot down by a fighter jet with a $400,000 Sidewinder missile.
The NIBB said their balloon’s last known location was near the coast of southwest Alaska on Feb. 11. Also on the 11th, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that NORAD had shot down a UFO several hundred miles from the balloon’s last known location.
NIBBB modeling data indicates that the balloon was heading towards the Yukon territories just before they lost track of it, raising the likelihood that the object shot down was their balloon.
While the NIBBB has not been able to confirm that it was indeed their balloon that was shot down, evidence, tabled by Aviation Week however, suggests that it was.
The balloon used is known as a “pico balloon” which are widely used by hobbyists to relay location data or meteorological information and have the ability to remain aloft for an indefinite amount of time.
Prior to disappearing, this particular balloon circumnavigated the globe six times over a span of 123 days.
Weighing less than six pounds, the balloons are designed to carry only small payloads and are exempt from FAA airspace restrictions.
The founder of Scientific Balloon Solutions (SBS), Ron Meadows, told Aviation Week, “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,” adding that, “And they’re going to look not too intelligent to be shooting them down.”
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Biden administration responds
U.S. president Joe Biden admitted on Feb. 16 that the object shot down over the Yukon, as well as two other objects destroyed by F-22 fighter jets, are not believed to be surveillance devices unlike the Chinese balloon, which was reportedly the size of three school buses, which was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean after traversing the North American continent.
“We don’t yet know exactly what these objects were, but nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program, or they were surveillance vehicles from any other country,” Biden said, adding that, “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.”
The incidents have pushed balloon enthusiasts and hobbyists into the spotlight, who argue that their hobby poses no threat to national security.
Tom Medlin, operator of the Radio Roundtable podcast and a balloon enthusiast himself, told The Associated Press, “The spy balloon had to be shot down. That’s a national security threat, for sure. Then what happened is, I think, the government got a little anxious. Maybe the word is trigger-happy. I don’t know. When they shot them down, they didn’t know what they were. That’s a little concerning.”
Pilots are routinely trained on what type of objects they could encounter while flying, however the seasoned F-22 fighter jet pilots that shot down the three objects may have failed to identify run-of-the-mill weather balloons.
White House National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, said that they are unable to confirm that the object shot down over the Yukon Territories was in fact NIBBB’s balloon, adding that the debris may never be recovered.
“We all have to accept the possibility that we may not be able to recover it,” he said on Friday.
U.S. officials also revealed on Friday that they have suspended the search for debris of an object shot down over Lake Huron after finding nothing and that search efforts for the other two objects are “ongoing.”
Kirby says using a $400,000 missile to shoot down a common balloon was not necessarily an overreaction. When confronted he argued, “Given the situation we were in, the information available, the recommendation of our military commanders – it was exactly the right thing to do at exactly the right time.”