Savannah – Early this morning, I began seeing Mode-S code BA10ED show up on Mode-S and ADS-B on my Mode-S receiver. It was plotting around the Beaufort, SC area and one point was overhead MCAS Beaufort at around 61,500 ft (its altitude varied from 59,### to 61,### ft). This one has apparently been in the area for a few days; I’ve heard aircraft asking about and Jax Center on 132.425 has said it has been floating around the area for a few days. This morning’s controller has been asking aircraft if they can see it and has told aircraft that it is a Google balloon. It is the first time I’d seen a balloon on Mode-S so it has piqued my curiosity. After doing a bit of web research, it seems that it is a Google Loon balloon, which use HBAL### flight ID’s on Mode-S; BA10ED showed a flight ID of HBAL399. The map below is from my M0de-S receiver and shows (as the white aircraft symbol) HBAL399 over MCAS Beaufort at 61,500 ft. (Note: since they’re floating around at 60,000 ft, they aren’t causing problems for regular aviation which usually doesn’t go much over 40,000 ft.)
Google Loon is a Google project to provide wireless internet connectivity through a network of high altitude balloons such as HBAL399. The balloons would be placed where they need to be in the atmosphere to provide network coverage by using software that would guide them into the right level of the atmosphere to use the most favorable winds to keep them where they need to be. Each balloon would use LTE technology to provide internet access to an approximately 50 mile in diameter area. It’s a fascinating idea – more information is available at the Google Loon webpage.
This is the first time I’ve seen one of the Google Loon balloons show up on the Mode-S receiver, but it looks like they’re all equipped with Mode-S/ADS-B. They might be something interesting to track since they’re something a bit unusual.