U-Turn contrail near San Francisco [NASA502 GLF3 Survey Plane]

SR1419

Senior Member.
I felt like a true contard today as I was snapping photos of contrails from a moving car....and I am ashamed/proud to say it was my wife who pointed it out :D

photo 1(3).JPG

Not really a "race track" contrail as it just made one pass but a big loop of a contrail. My guess is that it was climbing after taking off from SFO or San Jose? The older portion of the trail was heading east to west and then west to east after the u-turn. The older portion seems much lower than the newer portion but we know how that goes. In the second photo the trail(s) are the same just the "U" portion was out of frame.

A very contrail-ly sky today despite a record setting heat wave...but there is a front moving pushing down from the PNW and pushing some upper level moisture with it...and hopefully a sea breeze will follow this afternoon.

Can anyone with more flight search skills help track down the flight....these pics were taken at approximately 11:20am PST over southern Marin county, CA.

photo 2(4).JPG
 
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WeedWhacker

Senior Member
Can anyone with more flight search skills help track down the flight....these pics were taken at approximately 11:20am PST over southern Marin county, CA.

My guess is that it was climbing after taking off from SFO or San Jose?

Er, I'd suggest that any local departures won't have made the contrails. The upper photo seems to show an approximately 90° turn and seems to be at a fairly constant altitude.

Any number of reasons for this....one that I can think of, given your location, is an inbound flight from the Pacific that wasn't allowed a more direct route to its West Coast destination, and was made by ATC to fly in, then turn using the domestic routing Airways. This would be unusual, but possible heavy traffic conflicts might have made it necessary. I cannot tell (in photo #1) what direction your camera was pointing. (NW or SE, etc?)

One possible scenario, using this SkyVector link (purely speculative):
http://skyvector.com/?ll=37.02828472727246,-122.91394042898222&chart=304&zoom=3

Say a flight using R465 and then Control 1173H was made to come all the way to the WOODSIDE (OSI) VorTac, then turn northwards towards its destination...maybe Seattle, perhaps elsewhere.

Normally one would not find it efficient to "Coast In" in that manner, but sometimes the selection of over-water routes can be limited, and thus allowances made, when flight planning.

Again, only one possible speculation....until we discern the actual flight, then we will better be able to determine its actual flight plan.
 
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Trailspotter

Senior Member.

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
When I see similar contrails in the UK, they are usually left by one of Raytheon Sentinels.
In your place they are probably produced by a Gulfstream III flying at a similarly high altitude:

View attachment 7262
http://www.flightradar24.com/2014-05-15/18:20/12x/GLF3/356ca6a

You beat me to it this time :) I saw that GLF3, but the track seemed rather jacked, and I was unsure if it was a glitch or not.

This is where it starts and ends, so it was certainly flying around for a while, just not quite as jaggedly as the track suggests.
 
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M Bornong

Senior Member.

WeedWhacker

Senior Member
When I see similar contrails in the UK, they are usually left by one of Raytheon Sentinels.
In your place they are probably produced by a Gulfstream III flying at a similarly high altitude:

View attachment 7262
http://www.flightradar24.com/2014-05-15/18:20/12x/GLF3/356ca6a

So are you saying that G-3 was orbiting over the area? That would certainly explain a lot.

Of course, conspiracies will infer some ulterior motive to this, but as usual, such activity always has a very benign explanation.

I should add that there are MANY reasons for such a pattern of flight, by an airplane such as a G-3. Usually related to avionics testing of some sort, and after knowing the ownership of the airplane, then things will become more clear.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
It's a NASA flight NASA502, mapping earthquake faults.
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/armstrong/news/FactSheets/FS-089-DFRC.html#.U3WC_JQv-I4

This is from a different day, but has the full radar track (attached)


https://flightaware.com/live/flight/NASA502/history/20140515/1615Z/KPMD/KPMD
This is from today, and actually has the same complex route filed as a flight plan:


(Methodology: Noticed it was a Gulfstream 3, and started and ended the flight in Palmdale. So googled for "Gulfstream 3" + Palmdale. Flightaware link for NASA502 was the first result)
 

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