stratospheric balloon over iowa

I enjoy checking the air traffic over our area using a site called ADS-B Exchange. Their zoomable map shows all the flights anywhere in the world. We live under the flight paths of many planes crossing the country. That is why we are sometimes called a flyover state. Their map includes the smallest one-runway airstrips scattered around the country which support a lot of single engine planes. We also can watch the helicopter traffic over us carrying patients to the University of Iowa Hospital for care. By clicking on an aircraft symbol, it brings up windows with flight details about the aircraft, how high, direction, speed, etc.

Today, I noticed something unusual on the map. It was not a symbol showing an airplane or helicopter. It was a symbol shaped like a hot air balloon. I’ve seen that symbol only one time before on the map. The info window in the next image says the altitude was 64,700 ft and a speed of 28 knots. Most commercial planes are at altitudes between 30,000-40,000 ft. This balloon was twice as high as those planes and moving very slowly.

I wondered if it was visible in the clear sky above me. The map showed it over my town. I stepped outside with binoculars and easily spotted it nearly overhead. I aimed my camera with the long zoom lens nearly straight up as the balloon drifted high above a jet contrail.

Was it another spy balloon? Will it get shot down? Where did it come from? The map shows the track of any aircraft you click on. The balloon track originated near the tiny Dangle airport in southeast South Dakota. It continued southeast into Illinois and started to descend rapidly. The last place it appeared was north of Galesburg IL and very low near interstate 74.

Who flies these balloons? An info window on the website stated that the balloon was owned by Raven Aerostar headquartered in Sioux Falls SD. They have been in the balloon business over 65 years with their division of Stratospheric Balloons and Airships. I wondered how they managed flights, informed the FAA, retrieved equipment, etc. I wrote to the company using their Contact Us link and got a reply soon after.

Hi Jim,

Thank you for reaching out!

Aerostar files flight plans with the FAA and coordinate with them throughout the duration of our flights. When we end a flight, the balloon and the payload are brought down with separate parachutes. We have a recovery team that tracks the balloon and coordinates with local authorities and landowners to retrieve the balloons and payloads.

I hope that helps answer some of your questions!




8 thoughts on “stratospheric balloon over iowa

  1. joynealkidney

    Fascinating stuff. My husband is a retired air traffic controller. Something else fascinating to follow online is all the big lakers on the Great Lakes and where they’re headed.


We love comments! Tell us what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s