Patterico's Pontifications


Hopefully Final Word on the Missile? Airplane off the Coast of Southern California

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 4:40 pm

I just now saw this comment from DRJ, which is probably the most useful comment I have seen on that weird missile/airplane thing:

Last December, the Russians launched a submarine missile that left a translucent blue contrail, although the Russian missile ended up spiraling out of control. There are photos here if you want to compare them to what you saw. These photos seem most like what you describe.

Indeed, the pictures DRJ links are by far the most similar thing to what I saw the other night. Take a look at this picture:

This is remarkably similar to what I saw. The translucent blue was a darker shade, and its shape was more even. The end of the contrail at the horizon was bright orange and not white. But otherwise, this is remarkably similar to what I saw: an attention-getting blue color on the upper left, that connected to a more conventional-looking contrail to the right at the horizon.

I’m still willing to believe it may have been a plane, but the fact that the pictures I saw so closely resemble a known missile launch gives me pause.

I will say that I don’t accept the theory propounded by Corky Boyd that this was U.S. Airways Flight 808. Here’s Corky:

I notice several have indicated the source of the contrail was traveling northwest. This probably is an illusion. Patrick Frey (Patterico) has posted his obsevation of the contrail from his vantage point on the Palos Verdes Peninsula looking south over Catalina and San Clemente Islands. He said the trail looked like it was headed for Long Beach, headed east.

Yeah, sort of — except that really, I think it was headed in the opposite direction . . . coming from Long Beach and headed out over the Pacific. Take, for example, the photo above. Doesn’t it suggest to you that whatever put out that contrail was headed away from the photographer?

Thanks to DRJ for those excellent pictures.

28 Responses to “Hopefully Final Word on the Missile? Airplane off the Coast of Southern California”

  1. I will say that I don’t accept the theory propounded by Corky Boyd that this was U.S. Airways Flight 808. Here’s Corky:

    The US military said part of their analysis was based on the velocity it was travelling at. That should be an important determinant on whether it was a solid fuel rocket or not, no?

    Christoph (8ec277)

  2. I’m not saying they’re right by the way. I’m just saying I’m hearing a lot of talk about colors and type of smoke and how close the trail is to whatever’s making it, etc., but not much about speed. If someone who believes it’s a rocket can make the case using the speed it’s travelling at, that would be helpful.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  3. Those waters include a significant commercial sea lane and much recreational boating. So where are the observations of the SLBM breaking surface? That’s why I am going with Flight 808 myself.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  4. You can assume direction either way by shifting your brain to accept different trajectories.

    Either way, I don’t really care much more than about the beauty of the colors

    SteveG (cc5dc9)

  5. I would normally assume the source of the contrail was heading toward the photographer because the more distant portion is broken up and dispersed while the closer section seems straighter. This would imply to me that the more distant portion has had more time for the wind to move it. Perhaps a high altitude trail would not be broken up this way. I don’t really know but going just by the picture my response to your question would be no, it doesn’t.

    Machinist (74634b)

  6. Machinist !!!

    JD (c8c1d2)

  7. oh

    and light to dark… west is light dark is east in this photo offers a giant clue on trajectory

    SteveG (cc5dc9)

  8. The Japanese recently conducted a successful Patriot missile test. I wonder if we are doing the same? The explanations seem implausible and the nonchalance from government agencies is bizarre.

    Rachelle (c0f1ca)

  9. “The Japanese recently conducted a successful Patriot missile test. I wonder if we are doing the same?”

    Why conduct tests of it in a well travelled air corridor without giving a warning first?

    Christoph (8ec277)

  10. Perhaps a high altitude trail would not be broken up this way.

    Seems to me a missile will leave a wavy contrail, since it passes through various layers of air that may be moving in different directions as its altitude increases. A plane however, traveling at say, FL350, leaves a contrail that remains remarkably straight, even as it spreads out.

    Blacque Jacques Shellacque (609d83)

  11. Cool air layers also distort visual images. Ever notice how the round disk of the setting sun seems to morph into a symmetrical stair step shape as it descends below the horizon, especially in the Fall?

    It’s not the sun that’s changing shape, it’s the fading light that’s being influenced as it passes through different temperature layers.

    Then, there’s the Green Snap. That’s a different but related matter.

    ropelight (7b5835)

  12. I think just about any explanation has points for it, and we will not know for sure unless we see the declassified documents 25 years from now.

    1. Whether it looks like a plane or not, that would be the most common and reasonable explanation for a contrail. In medicine when we encounter something odd, the general rule of thumb is to realize that “common things occur in a strange way” more often than “strange things occur in the common way”. While obviously not always true, it is a good reminder not to jump to weird conclusions when something doesn’t seem “usual”. So, the most obvious cannot be easily taken off of the list even if there is much to suggest it is not a plane.
    – Some type of experimental USAF thing would fall into this category. (You can always say it was from an experimental something we haven’t seen in public before, and on occasion it would be correct).

    2. I, with many others, initially thought that any kind of US missile test this close to LA would be a crazy idea. So much for ignorance. More knowledgable folk told us that along with the AFB on the mainland there are all kinds of Navy missile defense research, etc., etc. facilities in a cluster off shore. So I guess a US missile launch isn’t as wild as first thought.

    3. Could it be a foreign missile launch from a sub? The main argument against this says that there would be all kinds of military activity in the area. Well, I don’t know. What is it we consider defendable international waters? Wiki says 12 nm or 14 miles. What would we do if a Chinese submarine shot a missile out into the ocean from 35 miles out? They haven’t violated our space or attacked us, and we are not already engaged in a war. We’re not going to attack it for being bold. Do we react en masse and risk turning it into a confrontation? If we knew the sub was there maybe we were just watching it for the reasons given. If we didn’t know it was there maybe a muted response was given as we didn’t want to look surprised, and besides, what were we going to do, other than try to figure outhow to detect the thing? I think I’ve read where aircraft often push the limits of what they can get away with as a way of gather info on response capabilities, etc.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  13. Airplane trails are relatively slow and lazy compared to missile tracks. The difference would be readily apparent to experienced first-hand observers.

    ropelight (7b5835)

  14. MD in Philly, there are facilities for missile testing in the area ( Pacific Missile Test Range facilities: Vandenberg AFB is farther north, Point Mugu NAS is closer ) but the Navy does not launch SLBM’s at that particular location.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  15. Dennis Miller cleared this whole matter up the other day when he revealed the true source of the mysterious trail; Charlie Sheen had gotten a hold of some pharmaceutical grade blow…


    My Regards,

    Bob Reed (5f2db5)

  16. ropelight, SPQR,

    My musings were meant to take all opinions into account and give them some context. Many think there is no way it was a plane. Others think it was a missile, but not a SLBM. Others think it had to be ours.

    I’m thinking it was a Chinese sub doing one heck of a job of sabre-rattling, but I can easily be pursuaded otherwise. And if it was a Chinese sub, I have no idea whether it really slipped past us, or if we knew it was there all along and ignored it. Chess, fencing, and warfare do not always go by direct logic.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  17. Contrail. “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

    dhmosquito (d2399f)

  18. #16, MD, the Chinese aren’t a stupid people. They’ve already made their point, they don’t stand to gain from provoking an incident which would drastically spur US efforts to improve undersea detection and tracking technology.

    The ChiComs already screwed up letting the US know they could penetrate a carrier battle group. That’s the sort of hole card you keep well hidden till the right time comes. If a US sub driver pulled such a boneheaded stunt, he’d be driving a desk in Kansas City for the remainder of his brief career.

    Launching a missile, any missile, off the coast of Southern California would be an act so irresponsible, so reckless, as to invite an all-out effort to track down the sub and sink it, or to respond with an overly aggressive move of our own. It’s a loser all the way around.

    ropelight (224dc3)

  19. Comment by SPQR — 11/11/2010 @ 5:23 pm

    If the reported observations by aircrew are accurate (35 mi West of the Palos Verde Pen.), that is well outside the area of 98% of recreational boating in SoCal waters, which is generally conducted between the coast and the Channel Islands (which also includes Santa Catalina). This was more in the area of Santa Barbara Island, which is part of the Channel Islands National Park, and is located approx. 40NM directly south of the Navy’s Point Magu facility, and approx 20NM west of the West-end of Catalina Island, and is not a destination of recreational boaters, but is used as a way-point for off-shore, sail-boat racers (as is the even more remote San Nicholas Island – which is owned by the Navy, who does not allow civilian access – ).

    AD-RtR/OS! (747679)

  20. Yep, AD. Its a bit offshore for the casual fisherman or weekend sailor. But there are still commercial lanes in that area or nearby.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  21. ropelight-

    You may well be correct, and you have good points.

    On the other hand, what is superior weaponry for? Isn’t it in some ways for political ends other than war, be it as a deterrent to attack, or as an intimidating threat to get away with something? Do the Chinese really want to develop superior weapons technology so they can defeat us in an all out war? Or would they like to intimidate an already weak administration?

    I don’t know. Wars happen when leaders of countries make mistakes in judgement on issues like this.

    If I understand you correctly in #13 (and on the previous thread), you think it is “clearly” not from an airplane, but from a missile. SPQR and others think if a missile, too big for what the Navy or AF would fire, if I remember correctly, hence SPQR thinks a plane, as he also can’t imagine the Chinese doing it.

    Comment by dhmosquito – That was my first point, essentially, though I spelled it out rather than used the shorthand.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  22. I just realized what it was. A massive load of incandescent light bulbs being jettisoned into space, headed for the great incinerator at the middle of the solar system.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  23. Comment by SPQR — 11/13/2010 @ 11:34 am

    Yes, there is the north-south sea-lane that passes to the outside of the Channel Islands.
    Then there is the “Great Pacific” lane that goes into/out of LA/Long Beach, which generally passes to the north of Santa Barbara/San Nicholas Islands, and south of the Northern Channel Islands.
    But, I put my money on the Navy at San Nic – after all, it is a “closed” island.

    Doc, you one funny fellah!

    AD-RtR/OS! (747679)

  24. Actually, the fuel needed to drop a significant load into the sun, even from earth orbit, would challenge our technology for some time I think. A small package perhaps, but not enough to make it a feasible garbage dump.

    Machinist (74634b)

  25. I’ve seen the same blue contrail after a missile launch from Vandenberg AFB.

    tc (599799)

  26. #17 wrote, “Contrail. “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

    Yes, however when people who regularly hear hoofbeats, (or see and hear hundreds of airplanes daily, year after year) take notice of one specific hoofbeat out of the many crossing their path, it’s likely to be a decidedly unusual hoofbeat that’s attracted their attention.

    ropelight (c6762a)

  27. It was some sort of weather modification or defense application test.

    The people doing this didn’t expect the helicopter to videotape and the tv station to air a report. They definitely didn’t expect anything to go viral through the internet.

    That was not a commercial airliner, and it’s a welcome sight to see someone as prestigious as Patterico come forward as a witness of the appearance of a strange coloured plume.

    That was the effects of barium.

    This isn’t science fiction. One simply needs to avoid crackpot websites to see that ptb’s are clearly tinkering with the atmosphere.

    This is one of the best websites I’ve seen for more info. I’m also proud of things I’ve come up with in the top section of the blog liked to in my username

    Prepostericity (3c6c4b)

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