Are Many of the Navy UAPs Mylar Balloons?

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
From the hearing:
External Quote:
Scott Bray: We attribute this increase in reporting to a number of factors including our work to destigmatize reporting an increase in the number of new systems such as quad copters and unmanned aerial systems that are in our airspace. Identification of what we can classify as clutter, mylar balloons and other types of of air trash and improvements in the capabilities of our various sensors to detect things in our airspace.
"Mylar balloons" is oddly specific. I think it's in part a reference to their internal characterization of the FlyBy object (Which Bray described as "reflective" and "not fast". But I also found a mil reference to it in a discussion of ICBM.

https://usacac.army.mil/sites/defau...bs/AnArmyAtWar_ChangeInTheMidstOfConflict.pdf
External Quote:

The midcourse of a ICBM's
trajectory is the longest and most predictable phase of flight meaning intercep-
tors have the best chance of accurately predicting when a warhead will be in a
particular location and arriving in the same location at the same time to destroy
it. The length and predictability of the flight also offers the longest amount of
time in the flight path for the deployment of various countermeasures designed to
counter the predictably of the flight path and confuse or overwhelm interceptors
with devices such as Mylar balloons, decoy warheads and the release of multiple
reentry vehicles.
Boost-phase missile defense circumvents these challenges by
shooting the missile down before it has the opportunity to employ countermea-
sures.
[...]
Even if the technology cannot accurately distinguish decoys today, it is still
reasonable to argue that future developments in radar and in the EKV's infra-red
acquisition capabilities will ameliorate the problem and produce a system that
can discern a Mylar balloon from a nuclear warhead.
This is discussion mylar balloons in space (where the lack of atmosphere means they can go, ballistically, at the same speed as the missile that deplys them) - but it's interesting that mylar balloons are used as radar target.

The system can easily be fooled by decoys nearly as simple as the traffic cones we encounter on the street or the Mylar balloons that are so popular at the zoo. [...] In the near-vacuum of space where the missile defense would operate, there is no air drag to cause light decoys to move differently from heavy warheads, so it is relatively easy to create cheap impostors. [...] Since all the objects the kill vehicle will see are far away, they will appear as points of light -- like stars in the night sky -- all moving in about the same way.


There it's not clear if the mylar balloon decoy is acting as a visual or radar target. But the point here is that the military is familiar with mylar balloons as decoys.

Does this mean that mylar party balloons would act as decoys, as false targets? Is that a large part of the clutter, and odd radar returns, in Navy training ranges?
 
Last edited:
The release of 'party' balloons is a known issue in Virgina on the Atlantic coast. It wouldnt take much of a wind to blow it out to sea into Navy Training areas.

https://virginiaplasticpollutionpreventionnetwork.wildapricot.org/Research/9858893

http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/publications.html

1652973400731.png


Naval training areas close to Virginia....
1652973573019.png
 
Last edited:
Most commercial Mylar balloons are covered in foil, possibly this makes them RADAR reflectors to shine extent.
 
You may be on to something. The fact mylar balloons can be used as decoys isnt a secret. Here is a publication from 1985:
https://www.princeton.edu/~ota/disk2/1985/8504/8504.PDF

An often discussed problem for discrimination would be the possible tactic of using aluminized mylar balloons to surround both RVs and decoys. Balloon-type decoys could be very light, and could be included in payloads in quantities far in excess of 10 per RV. When a balloon is placed around the RV, the warhead is made to resemble a decoy—an example of the concealment technique called antisimulation. Also, shrouds such as balloons or other configurations may be placed around, but not centered on, the RVs. This would make a kill more difficult for some kinetic-energy weapons, since the position of the RV target inside may not be known with sufficient precision.

A decoy could be given signatures which would closely match real RVs for several sensing methods, a technique known as simulation. There may be from 10 to 100 decoys per RV, causing an immense bookkeeping problem. Up to hundreds of thousands of objects could be involved.

(RV is Reentry Vehicle).

It also appears the British Polaris actually used something similar:
https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Chevaline

No mention of mylar, but tubular shaped decoys.

BTW, as I understand, the purpose of the mylar is creating identical radar and infrared returns for the actual warhead and the decoys. Without it, it might be possible for an antiballistic missile to differentiate them.
 
Not sure if this has been brought up ever, but modern stealth aircraft use Luneberg Lenses to alter the radar signature. You could easily slap these on an oddly shaped balloon to fool visual and radar contact:

https://www.mayurakshi.net/luneberg.htm

The Luneberg lens is a passive radar augmentation device used to increase the radar reflectivity of a target without the use of additional energy The lens reflector is a sphere in shape, usually composed of concentric dielectric shells. By the proper selection of dielectric constants for each shell, radar energy incident on one of the faces of the lens is focused at a point on the rear surface of the lens. The rear conductive surface reflects radar energy back to the source.
 
A new set of quotes from Ryan Graves, including some discussion of balloons:

Moreover, training ranges typically begin 10 or more miles offshore, which, according to Graves, “is a significant barrier for drones.” “Even if they were submarine-launched, we would see them descending to the ocean at some point. We’d see something. Even if they just blew up, we’d see something,” he said.

Regarding balloons, Graves told me, “I would occasionally see small party balloons at very low altitudes … I got balloons on my radar and then saw them [visually]. Usually they’re behaving in a predictable manner, [moving] with the wind; they’re not moving very quickly.”

Ultimately, drones and balloons “aren’t that mystical” to fighter pilots, Graves said. “If I see them on the radar and … I can see how [they are] moving and the airspeed, it’s not going to confuse me.” In stark contrast to the military’s recent UFO reports, Graves said, “there’s no mystery [with drones and balloons].”


Interesting that he confirms that the radar will pick up balloons, but rejects the idea that he might fail to identify them.
 
Not sure if this has been brought up ever, but modern stealth aircraft use Luneberg Lenses to alter the radar signature. You could easily slap these on an oddly shaped balloon to fool visual and radar contact:

https://www.mayurakshi.net/luneberg.htm
Damien Leimbach, a 6 year avionics specialist in the USAF, seems to agree. In this post he posits applying a Luneberg lense inside a missile in order to spoof a radar return.

Leimbach:
‘It would therefore be very easy to take a small cruise missile, like this ADM-160 MALD and put Luneburg lenses inside it, to give it the same radar signature of a fighter or a bomber.
Screen Shot 2022-07-10 at 4.27.11 PM.png
Source
 
I was just about to post what Flarkey did, ie that a number of warning areas where they do training in etc are off Virgina beach, an area known for a big party (mylar) balloon release issue.

The batman balloon seemed to be near virginia beech as well
 
Naval training areas close to Virginia....
1652973573019.png

Yesterday I did a better fit of the AARO UAP hotspot map to an actual map (it was a bit fiddly, but a modified Robinson projection seemed to fit)

2024-03-05_13-54-20.jpg


The center of the hotspot is the Cherry Point complex, just south of the Vacapes complex (which is also pretty "hot")

2024-03-05_13-34-40.jpg


The Virginia beach Naval station is at the top of the hotspot.
 
I have been pointing this out for years. Mylar balloons are all over the place. As a pilot I see them all the time.
Typically they don't show up on radar because the software weeds them out due to low doppler and low ground speed. To be honest I don't think they would have much of a return but the Naval search radars are very sensitive. On occasion I have had ATC call out an unknown possible contact the turns out to be a flock of birds.

But yes, difficult to judge size and speed of the mylar balloon from the cockpit.
As a Navy fighter pilot I flew loads of training missions in those areas.
As a commercial pilot we see a lot of balloons at all kinds of altitudes, especially in South America.

Years ago flying a 757 out of LAX I had a mylar balloon pass only a few feet from our cockpit at 28,000 feet. Our true airspeed was probably around 450mph so you can imagine how quickly it flashed by the window.

I find it frustrating that this simple information is not emphasized when talking about UAPs. Not to mention it is quickly dismissed by all the non-aviation UFO folks.
 
Years ago flying a 757 out of LAX I had a mylar balloon pass only a few feet from our cockpit at 28,000 feet. Our true airspeed was probably around 450mph so you can imagine how quickly it flashed by the window.

I find it frustrating that this simple information is not emphasized when talking about UAPs. Not to mention it is quickly dismissed by all the non-aviation UFO folks.
Interesting. It would be great hear from other pilots about this. I wonder if there's a good pilot forum where you might ask about it?
 
Interesting. It would be great hear from other pilots about this. I wonder if there's a good pilot forum where you might ask about it?
John Oliver did a 30 minute long segment on Boeing on his /Last Week Tonight/ last week. The failures of the 737MAX and its MCAS antistall mechanism were obviously discussed:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8oCilY4szc
and you can seek to~1110s, 0:18:30 for the pertinent quotes:
"[John Oliver]... activated by a single sensor ..."
"[Capt Dan Carey] The angle of attack sensors protrude out of either side of the fuselage near the cockpit. if a happy birthday mylar balloon gets stuck on that vane it becomes unreliable. Believe it or not, we hit balloons, we hit birds, uh, and all of these things, uh, are not uncommon."
So balloons were the first thing to mind when coming up with an example threat.
 
As a commercial pilot we see a lot of balloons at all kinds of altitudes, especially in South America.

Years ago flying a 757 out of LAX I had a mylar balloon pass only a few feet from our cockpit at 28,000 feet. Our true airspeed was probably around 450mph so you can imagine how quickly it flashed by the window.
This is very useful. Internet searches for "How high can a Mylar balloon go?" produce mixed results, and it is possible to find a citation that they 20,000 feet is about the limit, or even as low as 10,000! "And we know this because..." seldom seems to be included. (To be fair, you can also find claims of greater maximum altitudes. But somebody arguing that a particular UFO seen from a plane cannot be a balloon because they don't go that high can generally seem to find a "source" to back that up.)
 
This is very useful. Internet searches for "How high can a Mylar balloon go?" produce mixed results, and it is possible to find a citation that they 20,000 feet is about the limit, or even as low as 10,000! "And we know this because..." seldom seems to be included. (To be fair, you can also find claims of greater maximum altitudes. But somebody arguing that a particular UFO seen from a plane cannot be a balloon because they don't go that high can generally seem to find a "source" to back that up.)
It's hilarious right?
I mean obviously a mylar balloon could go quite high depending on how full it was. But I could even imagine that small plastic bags and light debris could be lifted quite high under certain atmospheric conditions.

Here are a couple photos I have taken of larger balloons from the cockpit.
20181229_035802-01 (1).jpeg
IMG_0015-01 (1).jpeg
 
View attachment 66515

The Virginia beach Naval station is at the top of the hotspot.
That is Naval Air Station Oceana, in Virginia Beach. Those areas off shore are our normal training areas. We use them everyday for air combat training. Part of the area is a telemetry range and commonly used for intercept and dogfight training. There are more areas all along the east coast south of there to USMC Cherry Point. They include bombing ranges in those southern boxes.
 
Interesting. It would be great hear from other pilots about this. I wonder if there's a good pilot forum where you might ask about it?
I asked on our union pilot forum and on a former military pilot forum.
There were quite a few anecdotal stories.
Mylar balloons at altitudes into the 30s (30,000ft), several that had struck them or even injested them into the engine with little effect.
One fighter pilot mentioned he even had a bundel them on radar at a short range and maneuvered to avoid.

The larger balloons I have seen in mostly Latin America are quite dangerous in my opinion and I believe have resulted in the loss of an aircraft years ago but I can't find any information on that.
1000057822.jpg
 
loss of an aircraft years ago
I've found two accidents involving unmanned floating balloons (manned balloons have accidents rather more frequently).

On September 16th, 1970, a MiG-19PM hit a hydrogen-filled weather balloon over Hungary at ~15,000 ft; the balloon exploded and damaged the aircraft, which crashed.


NTSB AVIATION ACCIDENT/INCIDENT DATABASE

NTSB Report Nbr LAX94FA047
Event Id 20001211X13742
Local Date11/15/1993

THE AIRPLANE WAS OBSERVED FLYING OVER ROLLING HILL TERRAIN AT A LOW ALTITUDE WHEN IT ENCOUNTERED A BUNDLE OF HELIUM BALLOONS. A POPPING NOISE WAS HEARD FOLLOWED BY THE AIRPLANE ENTERING A VERTICAL DIVE WHICH CONTINUED TO GROUND IMPACT.

Accidents involving weather balloons seem to be extremely rare.
The aircraft in the second case was a Piper PA30.

Compared to bird strikes or cable strikes, balloon strikes are rare. I've even read of an aircraft that had its wing clipped by flying into the cable of a tethered balloon clearly marked on the map!
 
Maybe worth mentioning in passing that we're drifting away from "mylar" party balloons and into discussion of weather balloons, a big tethered balloon large enough to be marked on a map, and the amazing "Chinese paper" balloons of Latin America. This is fine by me if we're out of things to say about the party balloons and/or the observations about the cousins in the balloon family provides some insight into whether some of the Navy UAP might in fact be mylar party balloons.

As per @deirdre 's request, I happened across this link to a story about @Leekster 's image posted in Post 21 above:

https://www.thenationalnews.com/bus...-narrowly-misses-balloon-over-brazil-airport/
External Quote:

Reports say such balloons are illegal but they are commonly seen during the country's month of June festivals, the Festas Juninas.

Rafael Freitas, who was photographing aircraft at the airport, told local media that “the Boeing 777 came in a little misaligned with the runway to avoid the balloon. When it had passed the balloon, it turned to correct its alignment”.

...

Balloon incidents are rare but not unheard of.

On New Year's Eve, 2020, an Avianca Airbus A319 hit a balloon containing streamers that had drifted near Bogota International in Colombia. The crew landed the plane safely.
 
Very high up, but not space.

Per your link:

It should be noted that technically speaking, the stratosphere isn't space, but it is 23 miles (121,440 feet) above the surface of Earth, which is far higher than the flying height of commercial airplanes (31,000 feet to 42,000 feet).

That's less than half the way to the Karman Line, a typically used delineating altitude for "space". With an exponential drop-off in density, where "space" begins is a matter of convention.
 
Very high up, but not space.

Per your link:



That's less than half the way to the Karman Line, a typically used delineating altitude for "space". With an exponential drop-off in density, where "space" begins is a matter of convention.
I was being sarcastic.

I guess that doesn't come across well in text.

I am constantly surprised that the media would say that a balloon could fly to space.

Other than in a rocket as a ballistic warhead decoy....
 
That's less than half the way to the Karman Line, a typically used delineating altitude for "space". With an exponential drop-off in density, where "space" begins is a matter of convention.
Yep. "Sky is black during daytime and air is thinner than a common vaccuum chamber" does it for me, and balloons can go that high.
 
Very high up, but not space.
...
That's less than half the way to the Karman Line, a typically used delineating altitude for "space". With an exponential drop-off in density, where "space" begins is a matter of convention.
Yup, they're probably using the "you need a space suit" version of "space":
External Quote:
The Armstrong limit or Armstrong's line is a measure of altitude above which atmospheric pressure is sufficiently low that water boils at the normal temperature of the human body. Exposure to pressure below this limit results in a rapid loss of consciousness, followed by a series of changes to cardiovascular and neurological functions, and eventually death, unless pressure is restored within 60–90 seconds.[1] On Earth, the limit is around 18–19 km (11–12 mi; 59,000–62,000 ft) above sea level,[1][2] above which atmospheric air pressure drops below 0.0618 atm (6.3 kPa, 47 mmHg, or about 1 psi). The U.S. Standard Atmospheric model sets the Armstrong pressure at an altitude of 63,000 feet (19,202 m).
-- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armstrong_limit

The Samsung altitude was basically the bog-standard weather baloon limit, which is slightly lower than Baumgartner's jump record for RedBull a few years back.
 
Back
Top