One Of The Balloons The U.S. Shot Down Belonged To… A Hobby Club And Cost Less Than $180?

China has been floating surveillance balloons for a decade, and has used them over at least 40 countries. The U.S. has had its own balloons, too. All of a sudden we started noticing China’s. And we started to shoot things down.

People also started calling them UFOs. Barack Obama thinks UFOs are real, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says something is out there and we don’t know what, and the late former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the government has been hiding details of UFOs for years. Former CIA Director John Brennan thinks there may be life on other planets too.

All of a sudden flying objects in the sky became focal, we started worrying about the Chinese and First Contact, and it looks like at least one of the objects was a missing balloon that looks like it belongs to a hobbyist club in Illinois?

The excellent Steve Trimble notes,

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.

…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.

The club published details of its K9YO balloon’s disappearance. The Pentagon memo’s description appears to match this one.

Pico balloons are generally exempt from U.S. airspace restrictions based on their light weight. They are not permitted to transmit when over the U.K., North Korea, or Yemen.

This is only one of the objects, and the government hasn’t confirmed it, but it’s increasingly looking like the little green men will have to wait. I still wonder, though, why they’d come here of all places? I’m sympathetic more to the view that it could be humans from the future traveling back in time (hence their interest in the earth) rather than advanced beings from another civilization. But they weren’t likely time traveling in pico balloons.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So what is worse to let the original balloon drift all the way over the US or get so paranoid you shoot down perfectly innocent and harmless ballon’s or drones? Frankly neither are s an acceptable way for the US to act

  2. The laws of physics makes it highly unlikely that anyone is going to be traveling back in time. (For one thing, that means that an atom has to be in two places at once. For another, the equations on how relativity works indicates you’ll need imaginary numbers for speeds faster than light.) But it’s fun to read such stories.

    Anyway, if you go to and put K9YO in the search box you will see the gentleman whose callsign was used. This is not exactly top secret spy stuff, though obviously the word didn’t get to those who were told to “do something.”

  3. Hahaha…

    1 Hobby Balloon = ~$180.

    1 Sidewinder missle = ~$2,000,000.

    Our tax dollars at work !! What a joke.

  4. They had to shoot it down. If they didn’t Fox News would be wall to wall coverage tracking the mysterious threat from the sky, while Biden sits dozing in the White House
    Biden got a lot of critisim for not shooting down the China balloon earlier. In his mind $2m to shoot it down is a cheap price, especially since its from the well funded military budget. Probably saved them running a training exercise for similar cost.

  5. From the reports of Air Force pilots,
    real UFOs are too fast to shoot down


    Why is Steve Trimble “excellent?”

    Citation needed…..

  6. Tom,
    the first object WAS a confirmed object from China and the US has the pieces. Biden did not shoot that object down until it had traversed the N. American continent.

    The next 3 objects WERE shot down and were likely of no security risk.

    Biden (or the military that advised him) got it completely backwards about what needed to be shot down.

    And even a small balloon flying at 40,000 ft can ruin and shut down a jet engine. Why they should be exempt from regulations is hard to understand – and I suspect that some new rules will be coming around them, esp. since the US military missed the true spy balloon and is now finding all kinds of other stuff that is floating around because they can’t tell the difference without sending fighter jets up to look

  7. The balloon and the UFO shitshow are all but a distraction from what Seymour Hersh has recently reported … don’t fall for it!

  8. So interesting that if I have a drone, it has an ID that has to be registered. AND I have to call the airport whenever I fly it, and supposedly the FAA/airport can shut it down any time they want. Why don’t we have tracking or some mandatory registration or beacon for weather balloons?

  9. Everything related to the balloons and shoot-downs last week was a manipulation of the citizenry. Was one of the balloons belonging to a hobby club? I guess if it takes a full week for them to admit it, then one of those “hobbyists” needs to serve some jail time. And they need to be sentenced VERY PUBLICLY. One of these shoot-downs occurred near my house and it wasn’t a joke. A hobbyist should NEVER be able to interfere with a nation’s military procedures/expenditures.

  10. And how many bazillions of taxpayer dollars were used to shoot it down (with high tech fighter planes)???? Sheesh…fear is the most incredible motivator and manipulator! 🙁

  11. Just to be clear, calling something a UFO doesn’t mean it’s full of little green men. It just means it’s an object, it’s flying, and nobody can positively identify it.

    But also, I thought there already were regulations on flying balloons that are substantial in size and can fly that high? Way back when I was in high school, our science class released a weather balloon, and we had to get permission, notify the airports, and be able to approximate its trajectory and expected time aloft.

  12. So a bi-partisan increase in Defense Budget and increase in Debt Ceiling that is either unpaid for or offset with “reforming” Social Security. Freedom and Democracy at work !!!!

  13. @James — “1 Sidewinder missle = ~$2,000,000.”

    The price of AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles used is around $400,000, still excessively expensive to be fired against “unidentified objects” (hobby balloons) that were small enough to be shot down using aerial cannons mounted on fighter jets (just shred the top of the small balloon)! The first spy balloon from China had a different situation that actually required the use of an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile to bring down.

  14. I stand corrected.

    My information was from my readings many years ago when in the 1960s the Sidewinder missile was used in Vietnam. Obviously, costs have since come down as the missile has been improved over time.

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