Wednesday, September 15, 2010
No - it wasn't aliens - or "chemtrails" or fighters on patrol on the anniversary of 9/11 - but rather a NASA high altitude research aircraft that caused the "mysterious" contrails over the Houston area Saturday.
Houston Airport Systems spokeswoman Marlene McClinton told Local 2 that NASA's WB-57 is a high-altitude aircraft, operating out of Ellington Field.
"It is taking air samples between 45,000 and 51,000 feet," said McClinton.
According to McClinton, it was a normal operation, but due to atmospheric conditions, the contrails were extremely visible.
Many callers said the plane looked like a big commercial passenger plane with the NASA oogo on it.
"It was just circling," said Cindy Hamilton who lives in Friendswood.
She saw the plane around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"It would go north and just circle back to the south. I was just concerned because of what day it is. Seeing the plane brought back memories," Hamilton said.
Karon Wisdom saw the plane in Channelview circling for hours.
"Because its 9/11, everyone's keeping their eye on the sky," she said. "I thought either someone was watching out for us on the Gulf Coast, or something weird was happening."
NASA officials said the aircraft was testing out a new instrument and that "they have made several flights this week. It's unfortunate for the atmospheric conditions that made it very visible on 9/11."
Officials said it was nothing to be alarmed about.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 7:21 PM
Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Air Force expects to start working on a new bomber in the next budget, the first such warplane since Northrop Grumman Corp.’s B-2 Spirit was developed almost three decades ago.
“It’s my conviction that the nation benefits from a long- range strike capability,” General Norton Schwartz, chief of staff for the Air Force, said today at the annual Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The service plans to keep using its B-2, B-1 and B-52 bombers while working on a “new platform,” Schwartz said. The program could initially produce a “modest” aircraft that eventually would incorporate more-advanced capabilities, Schwartz said.
Adding a new bomber would sharpen the competition for Pentagon dollars as Defense Secretary Robert Gates moves to slow a “gusher” of spending since 2001, capping annual growth at the inflation rate. The bat-wing-shaped B-2, which went into development in 1981, costs about $1.2 billion each.
Such expenses have helped spur upgrades to current models decades after they began flying. Boeing Co.’s first B-52 entered service in 1954, and the B-1, developed by a company now owned by Boeing, became operational in the mid-1980s.
Discussions are under way about the scope and budget for a new bomber program, Schwartz said. He said he hoped the proposal would be included as part of the 2012 budget that will be presented to Congress in February.
The Air Force is trying to exercise discipline in the specifications it will seek in the new bomber in light of budget constraints, Schwartz said.
A new long-range strategic bomber would fill a “significant gap” in an Air Force fleet now geared more toward shorter-range jet fighters, according to Mark Gunzinger, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent Washington-based defense-research group.
As a first step, the U.S. must begin developing a fleet of at least 100 “optionally manned planes” that can carry a payload of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) and fly as far as 5,000 nautical miles, Gunzinger said in an interview.
Such a plane may cost as much as $500 million each and take about 15 years to develop, said Gunzinger, the author of a study published today titled “Sustaining America’s Strategic Advantage in Long-Range Strike.”
Gunzinger said that plane should be supplemented by an unmanned bomber that can fly off of U.S. aircraft carriers and go 1,500 nautical miles; a long-range cruise missile; non- nuclear ballistic missiles that can strike targets within hours; and planes that can disable enemy radar.
These elements would be a new “family of systems” enabling the U.S. military to strike targets deep in countries like Iran and China, Gunzinger said.
--Editors: Ed Dufner, Stephen West
RELATED (dated) Article: B-3 and Beyond. This is what strategic thinkers were imagining ten years ago - Steve Douglass
Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:25 PM
On the shelf in Pepper’s study was a shortwave receiver. It wasn’t some secret type of radio, just a typical multi-band receiver that one could buy at any electronics outlet.
On Monday, Tuesday or Friday nights, Pepper would tune the receiver to one of four frequencies, 7.527 MHz, 7.482 MHz, 7.787 MHz or 6.855 MHz. The frequency he tuned to depended on shortwave reception quality, which varied due to sunspot activity.
Sometimes the sun-generated noise was so bad that Pepper couldn’t hear the broadcast that was intended for him, but since it was repeated over ten days, there was always another chance to receive it on the next listening night. He hadn’t missed a message yet.
The coded messages were broadcast in the clear on powerful transmitters. Anyone with a decent shortwave radio could pick them up just as easily as Pepper did, in fact, the Interceptors had listened in on many occasions, but since they were coded and the code was unbreakable by anyone who didn’t have the key, anyone stumbling on them would just think they were one of those oddities found on the shortwave bands, tire of listening and after a while look somewhere else for entertainment up the bands.
These “Spy Numbers” broadcast consisted of an automated voice, reading off a series of numbers in Spanish.
A typical broadcast began with the date the code was good for, the only part of the message that could be decoded without a key. For example a message that was good on April 5th would be transmitted as “Quatro Cinco” repeated over and over for the first five minutes of each numbers broadcast.
The date was followed by a series of four numbers groups, such as “Uno, Tres Ocho Nueve, again repeated over and over also over a span of five minutes.
These four-number groups identified which covert operator the message was intended.
When Pepper heard “Uno, Uno Tres Ocho (1138) he knew the transmission was meant for him. Pepper noted that there seemed to be fifteen-separate identifier broadcasts. This either meant that there were fourteen more spies like him (in this or other countries) or his spymasters wanted other intelligence agency to think there was.
Once the identifier was established, the next transmission consisted of more numbers being read (again in Spanish) in groups consisting of five numbers each. For example, a typical message sounded like, “Ocho, Tres, Quatro, Cinco, Nueve, and then the next set of five numbers and the next and so on.
This was the body of the message itself. It was these numbers that Pepper would jot down on a pad made of flammable flash paper that would burn completely away in a millisecond if needed. All he had to do was touch the hot end of a cigarette to the paper and it would vanish instantly.
Sometimes the messages were long and tedious to copy down. If Pepper made a mistake, as he wrote the numbers down, the entire message would make no sense.
When that happened, Pepper would have to wait a half hour or more for the entire message to repeat, so Pepper took great pains to concentrate on getting the numbers right.
To make sure that any eavesdropping devices (possibly planted by agents on a spy hunt) would record him listening to the spy numbers transmissions, first Pepper would do an entire sweep of the premises with a bug detector, again a perfectly normal piece of electronic equipment any AFOSI agent would have in his possession.
Once he was convinced the room was secure, he would turn on his shortwave radio, plug in some headphones and then wait for the transmission to begin.
Once he wrote down the message he would open up that day’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, a national financial newspaper.
The key was hidden in the same place every day, in the third paragraph of the first story on page fifty one.
What the news story was about was not part of the message, but the third letter of the first word (that contained more than three letters) held the key to the transmission.
Sounds complicated but it isn’t. For example, if the third letter of the first word was “T” then the first Spanish number transmitted (such as the number eight (ocho) was assigned to the letter T.
Then it became just a simple substitution cipher with the next letter being assigned the next number in the alphabet, such as U being assigned the number eight and R being assigned the number nine extending through the entire 26 letter English alphabet.
When more complex instructions needed to be relayed to Pepper, Chin would do so by what was known in the spy-trade as a “Dead Drop.
Another unseen operative would leave coded instructions for Pepper in a predetermined public place.
If one of the radio messages Pepper decoded read: SEEK ALPHA, he was to look for instructions left in an envelope hidden, taped to the bottom of a certain park bench in the Alamogordo City Park.
To decode the message he would again look in the Washington Post but on page sixteen, article three, for the first letter in the second word (consisting of more than five letters) for the key to decode this message.
So far Pepper had only had to “clear the drop” seven times, something he never liked to do.
Because he knew from experience he knew that many spies were arrested as they attempted to clear a drop.
Once FBI spy hunters uncovered a spy catching an enemy agent red handed with evidence of his covert activities on their person was all the evidence they needed to put them away for a very long time.
Emptying a drop took hours. It would be foolish for a spy to drive straight to the drop and search for the hidden envelope.
It took time to make sure the covert operative wasn’t being followed. Sometimes disguises were used (which Pepper thought were quite hokey) and sometimes the operative would have to take elaborate procedures to shake anyone possibly tailing him.
Unexpectedly doubling back was one trick spies used to make sure no one was tailing, as was making fake drops of envelopes containing absolutely nothing of espionage value.
Going back to the fake drop sites later and seeing if the enveloped had been moved or tampered with gave away the presence of a tail.
Invisible registration marks on the glue flap or something as small and inconspicuous as a human hair (placed in a way that would reveal the envelope had been opened or moved) could reveal the presence of a shadow.
One of Pepper’s favorite tricks was to cover the envelope with dead leaves, take a digital photograph of the envelope (recording the exact position of the leaves) and then comparing them to another photo of the envelope taken the next day.
If it had been a still night (no wind) the photos should match with the same leaves in the same position in both photographs.
On one occasion Pepper was alarmed to find one of his fake drop envelopes looking like it had been disturbed, but when he retrieved the envelope and examined it closely he found rodent droppings and tiny chew marks on it on it. The culprit must have been a rat (the four legged variety) attracted to the mint-flavored adhesive on the envelope.
Such was the life of a spy, constantly on guard and quite logically paranoid. Pepper considered himself to be a master spy, suddenly facing the training and managing of his own little agency of amateur teenage spooks, known as the Interceptors.
DOWNLOAD THE INTERCEPTORS CLUB TODAY AT THIS LINK
Posted by Steve Douglass at 10:30 AM
(CNN) -- A personal phone conversation by an air traffic controller likely contributed to the cause of a deadly midair collision over the Hudson River last year, the The National Transportation Safety Board said.
A single-engine plane and a sightseeing helicopter collided on August 8, 2009 near Hoboken, New Jersey. All nine people aboard the two aircraft were killed, including several Italian tourists visiting New York from Bologna.
In a statement released Tuesday, the NTSB said the air traffic controller's personal phone call "distracted him from his air traffic control duties, including the timely transfer of communications for the accident airplane to the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) tower and correcting the airplane pilot's incorrect read-back of the EWR tower frequency."
The on-duty personal phone conversation might not have been the first for the air traffic controller.
Video: Last 5 seconds before fatal crash Video: Twitpic's role in 'miracle'
An NTSB report says the controller's personal call might not have taken place "if the front line manager had corrected the controller's performance deficiency involving an earlier nonpertinent telephone conversation."
In addition, the board said, the "front line manager, who was not present in the air traffic control tower at the time of the accident, exercised poor judgment by not letting staff know how he could be reached while he was away from the tower and by not using an available staffing asset to provide an additional layer of oversight at the tower during his absence."
READ THE FULL STORY AT CNN
Posted by Steve Douglass at 7:13 AM