Who was afraid of the big bad balloon?

I just couldn’t get worked up about it. It was an elegant, efficient piece of technology, but even if it was spying on the US, I don’t know what they’d see that their satellites hadn’t already shown them.

In fact, I’m all in favor of more transparency.

In case you were worried, though, the US has popped the balloon.

U.S. fighter aircraft, acting on an order from President Biden, downed a Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday, the Pentagon said, ending what senior administration officials contend was an audacious attempt by Beijing to collect intelligence on sensitive American military sites.

OK, I guess.


America is safe once again.


  1. aziraphale says

    There is always data that is more easily collected from 50,000 feet up than from 200 miles. At a guess, short-range radio and cellphone transmissions? Heat signatures of vehicles?

  2. euclide says

    It’s inadmissible for a country to send aircraft over another country without their authorization.
    The USA would never do that. The U2 and SR71 programs were developed to only fly above US territories and catch UFOs.

    And it’s not like China, Russia, India and most of the NATO countries have spy satellites flying over the US all the time and don’t need definitely non stealthy method of spying.

  3. drsteve says

    I, for one, am outraged at the most serious foreign infiltration of American airspace since that time the UK sent over a humongous peach.

  4. euclide says

    @2 aziraphale it’s easier to do that from the ground too, with hardware you can buy on amazon or build yourself.
    Since the USA are not North Korea, having boots on the ground is really easy, especially with the large number of Chinese tourists and students in the USA anytime of the year (less so with covid but not really an issue)

    Seriously, I’m a firm believer of stupidity before conspiracy, and a lost balloon makes a lot more sense than a clumsy attempt of a “low tech” non stealthy technique

    This whole story is manufactured outrage over a non issue

  5. heffe7 says

    How dare the Chinese govt launch a balloon at 60,000ft, that is clearly at the whim of the jet stream! Though they are pretty clever to “know” that the path will take it from Alaska –> to Montana –> where are nuclear missile silos are!
    Oh… the jet stream could’ve changed and left the path in Canada you say???
    Nevermind! Didn’t you hear they’re attacking/monitoring Latin American now too??!!
    [face palm]

  6. Tethys says

    I would like to believe that’s it’s merely a runaway weather balloon, but I think shooting it down without risking debris falling onto anyone and recovering the balloon to see exactly what tech it is carrying is a good idea.

    China‘s track record in such matters is rather Chequered.

  7. Artor says

    “It’s inadmissible for a country to send aircraft over another country without their authorization. The USA would never do that.”
    Bwa-ha-ha-ha! That’s a good one! Euclide is quite the comedian today.

  8. John Morales says

    heffe7, you’re just ignorant.

    Those balloons are equipped with means to change altitude (solar panels to power cold air reservoir fuller or emptier) so as to choose appropriate winds and thus steer them. And they’re not launched at their cruising altitude (!).

  9. robro says

    Here’s Scientific American’s take on it: “Chinese Spy Balloon Has Unexpected Maneuverability.” About all we can say definitively at this point is that it’s “mysterious”. I they recover parts of it, perhaps we’ll learn more but that will be up to the powers that be and what mileage they want to get from it. It isn’t a typical weather balloon tho China claims it was for “weather surveillance”. As John Morales notes and the article indicates, it is somewhat maneuverable though still dependent on the wind…specifically the jet stream. Apparently there may be some advantages to balloon based photographic surveillance over satellites, but that seems marginal. It could hardly be called stealthy because people could see it from the ground. Perhaps it was just a test that got away from them, but I doubt China will ever own up to that.

  10. John Morales says

    Or perhaps China is just probing, seeing how it pans out.

    Plausible deniability, no real harm, and all that.

  11. euclide says

    The only country with intelligence services dumb enough for that kind of probing is the same that almost started a war with New Zealand by sinking a ship inside Auckland harbor. As a French citizen, I would be pissed if China made a worst move.

    The saber rattling around this story reminds me a lot of the story of the Iraqi aluminum tubes and other dubious claims.
    If the analysis of the debris by the military says it’s indeed not a spy thing, fox news will denounce the deep state in service of China and call for sanctions or a war, if they say it’s a spy thing, they will call for sanctions or war.

  12. microraptor says

    euclide @5: It’s difficult to loiter next to a military base with a bunch of cameras filming everything you can see without getting arrested. An observation balloon can spend hours monitoring an area, noting things like shift changes. You can’t do that with surveillance satellites, they move too quickly so there will be gaps in your coverage.

    Plus, the way that the US reacts to such a blatant intrusion is also useful information.

  13. John Morales says

    An F-22 jet fighter engaged the high-altitude balloon with one missile – an AIM-9X Sidewinder – and it went down about six nautical miles off the US coast at 14:39 EST (19:39 GMT), a defence official told reporters.


    Good practice, though Wikipedia notes the US$381,069.74 cost of a Sidewinder.

  14. raven says

    The hysteria around this balloon was amazing.
    One commenter said it could carry a nuclear weapon payload, (Apparently the Chinese don’t have any planes or missiles.) Or it could be a Chinese bioweapon.

    Xpost from Infinite thread.
    The hysteria around this Chinese balloon is amazing.
    We haven’t seen anything like it since the Dark Ages or a year ago, when the Covid-19 virus vaccines came out.

    CHINA Published February 4, 2023 8:40am EST Fox NoNews:

    China spy balloon shows country is preparing citizens for war that could come at ‘any time’: expert ‘

    According to Fox NoNews, this balloon shows that China is going to attack the USA in a war any day now.

    Because nations always launch balloons over countries they are going to attack. Or something. It is just stupid fear mongering from the lunatic fringes.

  15. robro says

    John Morales @ #11 — Yep, it could be anything. Or nothing. All we have right now is speculation, and fairly massive reaction. (Other than seeing 10 seconds of that ABC report PZ posted, I don’t watch news so I have no idea what the Fox idiots are doing, or CNN, or NBC, or MSNBC, etc. but I assume the worst.)

    microraptor @ #5 — I doubt that any intelligence service would need to loiter around a base to gain that kind of information. Their work schedules are pretty well set, so just drive by a few times a day, check traffic patterns in the area on your map app, or open a restaurant across the street from the gate.

  16. John Morales says

    PS cannon is so much cheaper, and F22s have them.

    Implication? Dunno, either cost is not a factor or, well… I could speculate.

  17. microraptor says

    Robro @16: That would give you information about things going in and out of the base. Getting information on what’s happening inside the base over time can also be useful. But like I said, seeing how the US responded is in itself useful information.

  18. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “seeing how the US responded is in itself useful information.”

    The response was “the MAGAts freaked out”.

  19. John Morales says

    Snarky, too facile.
    What you wrote presumes that the US and the MAGAts are the same thing.

  20. raven says

    JESSE WATTERS: How big of a threat is the Chinese spy …https://www.foxnews.com › media › jesse-watters-big-thre…

    24 hours ago — Fox News host Jesse Watters reacts to the Chinese spy balloon and … Now, how do we know the next balloon isn’t loaded up with bioweapons?
    GOP Rep Warns That Chinese Balloon May Have ‘Bioweapons’ From ‘Wuhan’
    Fox News
    House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY) casually suggested to Fox News on Friday that the suspected Chinese spy balloon floating over the United States could contain “bioweapons” from “Wuhan,” invoking the “lab leak theory” that’s been embraced by Republicans.

    Rep. James Comer and some random Fox NoNews talking head both say the balloon could contain Chinese bioweapons.

    Because Chinese passenger jets never land in the USA. Or something.

  21. Tethys says

    Cannon ammo is far too small in size at 20mm to take down a balloon this large. Canadian forces shot one with over 1000 rounds, but it drifted off into international airspace before deflating enough to fall to earth.

    A sidewinder is radar guided and clearly rips a big enough hole to deflate the balloon. I’m sure the Air Force was delighted to be ordered to take it down as soon as it cleared the coast, so they could actually use some of their stupidly expensive armaments.
    It’s public theater, directed at anyone who mistakes a considered, modulated response to a balloon as some sort of a weakness.

  22. raven says

    Dry run: Balloons called top ‘delivery platform’ for nuclear EMP …https://www.washingtonexaminer.com › news › balloon…

    1 day ago — High-altitude balloons, such as the one China has floated over mountain state military bases this week, are considered a key “delivery …

    I think the right wingnut loons are just getting started here.

    The balloon is a Chinese bioweapon or maybe a nuclear bomb EMP platform.

    They need to work in Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Hunter Biden, and adrenochrome in the next few days. After that, it is demons, UFOs, Muslims, crisis actors, and Democrats.

  23. wzrd1 says

    I find it interesting that the US waited until the balloon was over the ocean, rather than shooting it down over a densely populated state, such as Alaska or Montana.
    Interesting that they’d allow data to theoretically be recorded and uplinked to one of their satellites. Also interesting is that the PRC launched a few spy birds in the 300 mile orbit region quite recently.

    During WWII, the Japanese capitalized upon the newly discovered jet stream and sent incendiary bomb equipped balloons at the US. One site was slightly damaged that was producing the plutonium for he Nagasaki bomb.
    Six children were killed by one bomb that appeared to have crashed weeks previously.
    So, the technology for balloons crossing to the continental US is quite mature.

  24. epawtows says

    I doubt the Sidewinder even saw the gasbag. It would have engaged the payload, which is a big metal truss (Sidewinders aren’t radar guided, but anything metal in the sky will have enough of a temperature difference for one to discern). Shrapnel from the explosion would have shredded the gasbag pretty thoroughly, though.

  25. hemidactylus says

    I must acknowledge that having a potential Chinese spy balloon overhead— while the Taiwan issue is heating up, the US has secured a better military footing in the Philippines, and Putin photo-oped with Winnie the Pooh— is a bit concerning. It at least gets the FoxNews crowd all riled up about the Chi“Coms”.

    All I can say is that I’m not amongst the clueless sheeple using the TikTok spy balloon on my phone. Kinda co-opted the TikTok jab from Bill Maher’s recent monologue. But yeah whine about the one in the sky while watching videos of whatever on that crap app.

    Sure all countries spy, but I’m hoping mine has the better vantage point. Recently I read it pointed out China now has a bit of a naval advantage. Not sure what that bodes.

  26. epawtows says

    The chance of falling derbis killing anyone on the ground is very low, especially over Montana, but not zero. The reason the Air Force didn’t want to take even that minimal risk is they didn’t consider the thing much of a threat. It was barely worth the effort to shoot down; more target practice for one pilot than anything else. Only reason this is a major story instead of a minor note in the back of a newspaper ‘s international section is hyper partisan politics.

  27. Tethys says

    Why would shooting a balloon down so that it doesn’t fall onto anyone be even slightly interesting/suspicious?

    The balloon debris was still falling five minutes after the missile hit, just imagine how large the actual debris field must be?

    A penny dropped from that height would kill you instantly as it went straight through your head. Of course the people with F22s and a working knowledge of accelerating bodies had it shot down over the Atlantic!

  28. hemidactylus says

    In @28 I think I mistakenly coded a photo-op between Putin and Winnie a year ago as recent from seeing this headline on Google News: https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/02/china/china-russia-partnership-one-year-blinken-intl-hnk-mic

    So less alarmed though they are bit too cozy: “Meanwhile, the security relationship between China and Russia has raised concern among America’s Asian allies.

    In recent months, China has sent more than 2,000 personnel into Russia for a joint drill, dispatched its strategic warplanes for patrols alongside Russia’s over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea, and deployed a number of vessels for week-long, live-fire joint naval exercises in waters near Japan.

    On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg voiced concerns over Russia’s “growing military cooperation with China,” including “joint operations and drills in the vicinity of Japan,” in a meeting in Tokyo, according to their joint statement.”

  29. JM says

    Department of Defense press release
    I didn’t see anything of interest in there except this little bit “The official said Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental United States at least three times during the prior administration.” So they have been doing this for a while. China lost control of this one and it drifted across the US, attracting too much attention to ignore as insignificant.
    Military claims to have been aware of the balloon as soon as it entered US air space. I would assume they actually knew of it before that but don’t want to give away any information on how far away they can see it.

  30. John Morales says


    Recently I read it pointed out China now has a bit of a naval advantage.

    Not even slightly likely.
    USA rules the seas. They have the systems, they have the professionalism, they have the experience, they have the money. Veterans vs neophytes, no matter how shiny. And puff evaporates in an actual war, as we’ve recently seen.

    heffe7 (not huffy!):

    Ah Wikipedia…

    Ah, yes. So, what’s a Sidewinder actually cost?

  31. John Morales says

    hemidactylus, right.

    Again: the USA has the systems, the professionalism, the experience, the money.

    (I don’t see China doing a Putin)

  32. John Morales says

    [Mind you, I didn’t see Putin doing a Putin, either. Thought it was too obviously stupid — as it’s proven to have been — but here we are]

  33. says

    In 1978 the Soviet military radar satellite Kosmos 954 broke up over northern Canada. The Canadian government spent a lot of time and money looking for debris from the satellite’s nuclear reactor, despite its isolated location. Amongst the pieces they found was one sufficiently radioactive to kill someone who was in close proximity for several hours. Given that we have no idea what the Chinese balloon’s payload contained for power it was probably considered better safe than sorry to destroy it over the ocean.

  34. Tethys says


    Never mind the curmudgeonly JM. He does enjoy trolling for his amusement.

    Apparently I’m ruining something by making accurate comments about how pennies falling from the sky can easily kill a person. I expect that in his mind I should have calculated its terminal velocity, despite the obvious fact that people are often killed by bullets that are just falling back down after being shot straight up.

  35. John Morales says


    Apparently I’m ruining something by making accurate comments about how pennies falling from the sky can easily kill a person.

    Heh. Have ruined.

    I expect that in his mind I should have calculated its terminal velocity, despite the obvious fact that people are often killed by bullets that are just falling back down after being shot straight up.

    Bullets, pennies… same thing. Deadly pennies from heaven.
    Go “straight through your head”.

    Got it.

    (Beware the vultures!)

  36. milesteg says

    The only thing it could plausibly do even remotely discretely would be listening to radio transmissions. I’ve seen lots of posts about using radar or lidar or other similar active mapping technologies to do spy things, but such activity would be trivial for anyone on the ground to detect.

    But it doesn’t make much sense to use a balloon to listen to radio transmissions. It’s a lot more discrete and useful to just load listening equipment on a truck and drive it around or even on a civilian plane if you wanted to be in the air doing it. I’d be very, very surprised if there were not dozens of such vehicles/planes traveling near important places as I write this. Hell, drive by all the embassy’s in DC and they all have massive listening equipment out in plain site, hah.

    If this is a “spy balloon” it’s purpose almost certainly revolves around testing what the reaction would be or trying to get the U.S. to show their hand on various military or intelligence capabilities. In such a case, the best thing to do would be what was done: basically ignore it but safely capture it if possible for further study.

  37. Tethys says


    Go “straight through your head”.

    Clearly not yours as it’s ridiculously hard, but I said head, not skull.

    The entire point of my comment was that debris and small metal objects falling that far can and do kill people, so they did not shoot it down over land. They also closed the airspace to any other aircraft while shooting the balloon as a safety measure. When was the last time a metal excreting vulture was flying around in the upper atmosphere?

  38. microraptor says

    Shooting the balloon down over the ocean instead of land also gives an improvement on the odds of recovering more parts of it intact.

  39. StevoR says

    Aussie SBS news has this good article here :


    Explaining a few things that have come up inthis thread whilst ABC news has this article :


    Plus we have the wikipage for Kosmos 954 here :


    which #42 timgueguen noted.

    @ 32. heffe7 : “Ah Wikipedia… The standard for science, evidence, proof, and what have you…”

    Wikipedia isn’t perfect but it is a good starting point and is pretty accurate on many things in my experience and a good jumping off point to other sources as well. Interms of providing the basics and ballpark figures, Idon’t see anything wrong in citing it. Do you have any reason to think wikipedia is wrong here esepcifically? Other than I guess inflataion maybe?

  40. StevoR says

    @ 49. Tethys : “When was the last time a metal excreting vulture was flying around in the upper atmosphere?”

    Depends how you define “metal excreting” but bones & carrion do contain minerals and metals albiet in trace quantities. (Iron in blood etc..and sadly often bioaccumulated heavy metals.)

    It also depends how you define “upper atmosphere” but vultures are the highest flying birds of all
    ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_by_flight_heights ) notably the Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture,(Gyps rueppelli) which can fly up to 11,300 m (37,000 ft) above sea level – although these are, sadly, now critically endangered.
    ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%BCppell%27s_vulture )

    Also, whilst it wasn’t a penny dropped from a skyscraper but rather a tortoise dropped by an eagle there is the, perhaps apocryphal, end of the Greek tragedian Aeschylus to consider here… See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeschylus#Death

  41. birgerjohansson says

    When they pick up the instruments and find they were just ordinary meteorological instruments, I expect the results if the analysis to get classified. Unless POTUS can score points against the more rabid republicans.

  42. birgerjohansson says

    If pumping ordinary air into the balloon makes it more heavy, it cannot be a zero-pressure balloon.
    Instead, the separate gas envelope with ordinary air is causing the helium/hydrogen envelope to shrink, as the inward pressure from the balloon surface prevents the total volume to increase.
    För an elegant example of a near-surface blimp using this principle, check the soccer-ball patterned airship of Hokan Colting, Canada

  43. StevoR says

    @35.John Morales : “Ah, yes. So, what’s a Sidewinder actually cost?”

    Usually, it can cost around $2500. However, since sidewinder is a venomous kind of snake, it can cost a lot. One gram of certain types of venomous snake (Wait, what? I imagine they could mean venom here for milking for scientific, medicinal or ritual usage maybe? – Ed) or other can sell for $2,000.

    Source : https://reptilescove.com/care/snakes/sidewinder

    Oh you meant the missiles? Well, apart from wikipedia, there’s this :

    Total Number Built 11,350; Development Cost $ 39,800,000; Recurring Price $ 73,000; Flyaway Unit Cost $ 71,000; Development cost $ 50,000,000 in 1986 dollars; Unit cost $ 76,680 in 1986 dollars.


    Though that’s only for (a?) part (?) or this :


    They typically aren’t sold by the each. The unit cost tends to be lower when you buy a sufficiently large number.

    In public/ open-press numbers, a single typical AIM-9X is said to cost about US$604,000 plus tax and licence.

    & I hate to think what this is doing to set off red flags here.. Well, out of my price range anyhow. Pretty sure even in the US of A people can’t just buy them privately. Or can they?

  44. consciousness razor says

    Pretty sure even in the US of A people can’t just buy them privately. Or can they?

    Well, a private company, Raytheon, is paid very generously to make the AIM-9X® SIDEWINDER™ and is allowed to sell them to parties which are not the US military. So, what’s supposed to be the principle that we’re working with here?

    Gun nut time, get ready for it:
    Why is it that natural-born American Citizens® are less “free” than, I don’t know, the Saudi royal family or whoever?

    <shakes a copy of the second amendment, rendered in crayon>

    Why don’t you believe we should be just as free as they are? Why do you hate Americans®?

  45. consciousness razor says

    Anyway, I’m just plain scared of all balloons, in all circumstances. But if they’re floating around in the air, as they too often are, that just makes it worse. It’s just sort of weird and creepy, you know? You don’t see me floating around, do you? Not even once, of course not. It would be awfully suspicious if I were, though — no doubt about that.

  46. birgerjohansson says

    Just in… at least three Chinese balloons travelled across USA during the Trump years, but he kept it secret.

  47. consciousness razor says

    flange, the rifle just happened to be there, because it always is — totally incidental.

    It just seems like the balloon (or maybe the sky itself) needs a good talkin-to and a stern look, maybe even a strongly worded letter if it comes to that. That’s all.

  48. Ed Seedhouse says

    @49 “The entire point of my comment was that debris and small metal objects falling that far can and do kill people, so they did not shoot it down over land.”

    Then why not say that, instead of putting in a pseudo fact without checking its accuracy first? Maybe lookup “terminal velocity”? Nah, too much work…

  49. Tethys says


    Depends how you define “metal excreting” but

    Shut up about Vultures which absolutely aren’t flying around at 60,000 feet, OR shitting literal shrapnel. John does not need your help in being the resident curmudgeon.

    I’m actually fond of curmudgeons, but nobody enjoys being corrected due to Aspie type fixation on correcting everyone, often due to taking figures of speech Literally.

    People usually don’t actually fall down and break their necks, and few actually got an eye poked out, but I’m sure that parents everywhere use similar phrases to children who are endangering themselves or others.

  50. Tethys says

    The terminal velocity is going to change as the atmosphere becomes more dense. Also, is the penny on edge, flat, or tumbling?

    I figure the penny will hit about 300 fps for the first minute of falling, and slow later. No way to account for wind or other variables, so maybe focus on the point rather than joining the ranks of men who feel the need to drone on about their incorrect assumptions rather than read for comprehension.

    Is falling balloon debris falling on your head hazardous to lethal? Yes, indubitably.

    Sheesh, Men splaining thins.

  51. Rob Grigjanis says

    Tethys @65: At the risk of more men splainin thins, the terminal velocity of a penny is no more than 50 mph, or about 70 feet per second, in the lower atmosphere. The terminal velocity is higher at higher altitudes, but once it hits the denser air, its max speed will quickly drop to 50 mph.

    So this, at @31:

    A penny dropped from that height would kill you instantly as it went straight through your head

    is simply, flatly, wrong.


  52. Tethys says

    Yes Rob, you are correct that the penny probably won’t kill you. I certainly would not want to be hit in the head by a penny at that speed, but I gather that several people are ok with it?

    I appreciate and trust your calculations though, since I quickly realized that calculating terminal velocity is heavily dependent on factors like atmospheric density and precise numbers.

    The date the penny was minted would also need to be known, since modern US pennies weigh much less than older versions that had more copper.

    It’s a lot of fuss for a comment that was answering ‘Why didn’t they shoot it down over land?” and simultaneously teasing JM a little.

  53. John Morales says

    It’s a natural thing to think, and only people who actually care about the realities think otherwise.

    From a recent pulp space opera book, referring to orbital bombardment:
    “The barrage came down through the planet’s atmosphere like a fall of deadly hail, each solid piece of metal dropping at tremendous speed, gaining energy as it plummeted to the surface, until at impact, that energy was released in a burst of destruction.”

    Obviously, that should have been “losing energy as it plummeted to the surface”.

    (Alas, hard SF is almost impossible to find)

  54. silvrhalide says

    According to ABC News, the area needed to contain the falling pieces of the balloon and its payload was about 20 x 20 miles. Which is why they chose to shoot it down over the ocean.

    As for its payload, jamming its sensors should have been relatively easy. Destructive interference with whatever sensory systems should have fixed the problem relatively easily.

    @28, 33 Bold prediction: PRC navy is going to turn out to be one giant paper tiger. Sure, they have more ships total but less armament and firepower. I suspect the PNC’s navy is also riddled with the surface ship version of the K-19 (nicknamed “Hiroshima” by the Russians who crewed it), given China’s general (well-deserved) reputation for half-assed, substandard manufacturing. FFS, these are people who can’t even manage to make an antifreeze-free dentifrice.
    The US has superior technology, manufacturing, a deep bench in terms of R&D, a professional fighting force and allies. The PRC has peasant conscripts who can’t tell their asses from their elbows and a big mouth.
    That doesn’t even count the air capabilities of the US Navy, which currently has 11 carrier strike groups, including the one that is normally deployed out of Japan. PRC has… 3 aircraft carriers, only 2 of which are operational and they are struggling to get enough qualified pilots to crew the aircraft on the third carrier.

    Small wonder they only have a balloon to spy on the US and Canada. Where would they find a pilot for the mission? Or a stealth aircraft in which to fly?

    As far as the “growing military cooperation” between Russia and China, I wouldn’t read too much into it. Russia is already fighting a war it can’t win on one front, it’s not going to fight two wars on two fronts with (ostensibly) two different enemies, especially since an attack on Japan or Taiwan would give the US and its NATO allies all the excuse it would need to attack China, and indirectly, Russia. Also, lots of people on both sides haven’t exactly forgotten the Sino-Russian war in 1969 or the fact that Russia supported Taiwan instead of the nascent PRC. Russia and China periodically make some sort of show or statement about the brotherhood and/or “friendship” between the two largest communist countries. Yeah, great friendship–you know, the one where China spilled/dumped prodigious quantities of toxic and/or hazardous chemicals into the Amur River… after a Chinese manufacturing plant blew up and spilled various benzene compounds into the river… and didn’t tell their BBF Russia about the spill until weeks after Russians started getting sick from drinking the poisoned water. With “friends” like that, who needs enemies.

  55. silvrhalide says

    @53 The results of the examination of the Chinese spy balloon will be classified regardless. Classifying the results keeps China in the dark about exactly what the US found. Maybe the US will find only shrapnel, maybe they will find intact technology that lets the US and allies know exactly what the PRC was looking at and looking for.
    No way to know for sure when the findings are classified.

  56. StevoR says

    @64. Tethys : Hey, if you don’t want a question answered then don’t ask it. Or specifically ask to seriously NOT to have your question answered. It made me curious, created an intresting mental image and so I went on the side-track your figure of speech and question sent me on in case other people were also curious.

    Also vultures are remarkable, under-appreciated creatures that deserve some better press and the odd bit of educative attention thrown their way. So if you get the opportunity to talk turkey (any) vulture* why not?

    Also more pedantic & a bit facetious than curmudgeonly I think .

    .* Cathartes aura the modst widespread vulture species in the Americas. See :


  57. says

    Perhaps it was just a test that got away from them, but I doubt China will ever own up to that.

    Actually, that’s pretty much what the Chinese said: it was a weather balloon that went off course, and we’re a bunch of idiots for making such a big deal out of it. (I’m sure some Chinese DJs are playing “99 Luftballoons” over and over and laughing their asses off.)

  58. Tethys says

    @ Silent Bob

    At this point I’m only responding to questions about the velocity of unladen sparrows.

    Seriously, there is a rhetorical thing called exaggerating to make a point?
    I’m flabbergasted so many feel the need to repeatedly offer me a clueless correction, while ignoring all context AND my previous replies to other corrections.

  59. StevoR says

    @ ^ Tethys : African sparrows or English / European ones? (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Dropping it now. This topic that is..)


    JIm Wright of teh Stonekettle Station blog who is someone with relevant expertise here has witten this on his fb page

    So, Chinese Spy Balloon.
    While you were yelling in red-faced rage, you know what this really means? Do you?
    Yeah, turns out Chinese intel satellites aren’t very good.
    The Chinese deployed a clunky system that operates, at best, with vast imprecision and that would, inevitably, cause international outrage.
    The Chinese are a lot of things, but they aren’t stupid. If they had better collection systems, well, they wouldn’t have launched balloons, because the risk just isn’t worth the consequences otherwise.
    (Same risks/payoff/consequence WE took for exactly the same reasons back in the days of Francis Gary Powers, et al)
    The US intel community, if they are doing their jobs correctly, learned FAR more about Chinese strategic capability from the mere existence of a “spy balloon” than its operators could possibly learn from operating it.
    Take a breath, sit down. Think rationally. Don’t listen to the doomsayers.
    – Jim Wright, his facebook page.

    Which makes a lot of sense. Albeit there may be there balloons can do better than satellites or spyplanes like the whatsist SR-71 Someone in the comments there also shared this article :


    Which makes the relevant point that this did happen when Trump held power as well too. No doubt before then even..

  60. Markus Schäfer says

    I find this blasè attitude regarding the killer balloon concerning, and also insensitive. When I was a child, I was attacked by an aggressive balloon someone had let roam free without a tether. I needed years of therapy and still get flashbacks.

  61. Ed Seedhouse says

    @74: “Seriously, there is a rhetorical thing called exaggerating to make a point?”

    Yeah, great wonderful people like Donald Trump do it all the time! You are in great company!

    Around here there are different standards. Read the room. Around here people tend to get upset when you tell a falsehood to make a point. Silly us.

  62. raven says

    While you were yelling in red-faced rage, you know what this really means? Do you?
    Yeah, turns out Chinese intel satellites aren’t very good.

    This sounds plausible but the data to support it isn’t there.
    They are claiming the fact that China used a balloon means their spy satellites aren’t very good.

    Spy satellites are ancient technology by now.
    I’m sure that China could come up with a workable system.

    This technology is so old that there are now commercial spy satellites in orbit and you can buy time on them. If nothing else, China could just spend some money to access one of these.

    How commercial spy satellites are changing war https://www.bostonglobe.com › 2022/04/21 › business

    Apr 21, 2022 — Hundreds of orbiting surveillance satellites — most owned and operated by private corporations — are providing images to news organizations ..

    There are hundreds of private spy satellites.
    A high resolution image will cost you though.
    You can buy a high powered image for $8,000.

  63. raven says

    The newest commercial spy satellites use radar for all weather capability.
    They offer coverage of any spot every hour or so and at lower cost.

    Really, all the Chinese need to do is spend a few dollars on a few hours of satellite time from these companies.

    New Low-Cost Spy Satellites Are Getting Scarily Powerful
    Finland’s ICEYE and Capella Space are set to launch satellites this year featuring radar that cheaply scans the Earth regardless of weather conditions.

    “Our goal from day one has always been to be able to look at anywhere in the world every hour,” says Payam Banazadeh, CEO of Capella. Banazadeh stresses the difference between “average revisit times,” which may give you four images in an hour and then none for the next three hours, and what Capella has in mind, which is persistent hourly coverage. “For that, it’s just a physics problem,” he says. “You need, at a minimum, 36 satellites.”

    Low-cost satellites will mean not only more data, but lower-cost imagery as well. A single high-resolution satellite image can cost anywhere up to $8,000 to cover an area 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) on a side, Banazadeh says. “We want to be below that by an order of magnitude,” he adds.
    Crawford says the new generation of spy satellites won’t be able to track your individual pattern of life. “There’s no way you can track a person,” he says. “Even a car, you can tell a Mini from a Hummer, but trying to identify a Toyota versus a Hyundai? Give it up. We’re tracking patterns. We’re looking at how many cars are in the Walmart, not whether John Smith is in the Walmart.”

  64. robro says

    Subject line from this morning’s Washington Post “Daily 202” email: “The Daily 202: Four things that pop from the Chinese balloon incident”. Hahaha!

  65. robro says

    Oh, dear the monster grows. This isn’t the first, but the fifth Chinese balloon, with four during the Chump admin. Some how Gen. Glen D. VanHerck knows about these other balloons, but they went “undetected” under Chump. Guess he was too busy doing something or other. Surprised Chump didn’t use it as part of the “China virus” story line.

  66. seversky says

    I wonder if the fighter pilot gets to paint a little symbol of a balloon on the outside of his or her cockpit as a mark of his or her kill?

    Does he or she get to change their call-sign to “Balloon killer”?

    Was this whole thing a stunt being filmed for “Top Gun 3”?

  67. StevoR says

    @ ^ seversky : There’s a meme on facebook going round with a fighter jet showing a little ballooon image painted belwo the cockpit ace pilot style. I suspect its probly fake though.

    There’s another meme that notes :

    Can’t believe how many people are treating the Chinese spy balloon like its a joke.
    This is serious. It ticks off every box necessary for a successfull espionage mission : highly visible, slow, impossible to control,defenceless, and incapableof cpaturing useful information.
    – Hailey@ Cryptid onStrike.

    @ robro : I suspect the reason Trump wouldn’t have used it is because it would raise more questions about him letting these balloons fly over the mainland USA, just as are being asked of Biden now. Maybe someone pointed that out to him or maybe he just didn’t read the briefing and ignored the issue because it wasn’t literally visible and wasn’t on TV on Faux Noise? Seems these flights have ben happening unnoticed for a while. (See link in #75.)

    The big question here I think is why this one got so much more noticed. Was it flying seems much lower than usual? Was that deliberate? Was it just luck?

    @ 80 & 81. raven : Good points, I really don’t know. I do know Jim Wright has lived experience in the military intelligence area and trust his judgement on that as a fan of his blog in general. (I know “no heroes” & sur ehe isn’t perfect but still.)


  68. StevoR says

    ^ Typos in the meme quoted above are mine.

    News article here :


    Plus here via PBS :


    In addition to :


    I don’t think we can trust what the PRC says but the timing seems wrong for any deliberate provocation or pys-op if we go conspiracy theory rather than error here and don’t see why the Chinese would metaphorically (ball) moon the USA now. Kinda baffled here. I ‘spose if you fly enough of these flights something is eventually likely to go wrong with one of them or get noticed eventually?

  69. says

    I suspect the reason Trump wouldn’t have used it is because it would raise more questions about him letting these balloons fly over the mainland USA, just as are being asked of Biden now. Maybe someone pointed that out to him or maybe he just didn’t read the briefing and ignored the issue because it wasn’t literally visible and wasn’t on TV on Faux Noise?

    Maybe Faux Noise chose not to mention the balloons during Trump’s term, so neither Trump nor his fans heard about it.

  70. John Morales says

    “Not Found
    The requested URL /page/202302/12849 was not found on this server.”

  71. wzrd1 says

    Recent reporting suggests we were electronically monitoring its communications, which would be a primary reason to leave it alone over land. Another reason, assess its maneuverability.