‘Octagonal’ Object Shot Down Over Lake Huron (Updated)


For the third time in three days, U.S. fighters downed an unidentified object on Sunday afternoon, this time over Lake Huron just north of Michigan. It was flying at 20,000 feet and described as octagonal in shape by Pentagon officials, who maintain they don’t know what it or the other two objects shot down over the weekend actually are. “We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” said US Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command. The object was initially spotted over Montana on Saturday but was dismissed as an anomaly. It was picked up again over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Sunday and subsequently taken out by an F-16. The FAA issued a TFR over the area clearing the airspace for all but military aircraft, and Transport Canada issued a NOTAM closing the airspace.

Meanwhile, a U.S. fighter shot down what Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand described as a “small cylindrical object” over Canada’s Yukon Territory Saturday afternoon. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the action jointly with U.S. President Joe Biden. “I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” Trudeau said in a statement he posted on Twitter. The object was shot down by an F-22 operated by the North American Aerospace Defense Command over the central Yukon Territory. NORAD is a joint U.S./Canadian defense organization. Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden and the two leaders jointly ordered the action. Canadian military and police personnel are looking for the wreckage.

Anand gave the description of the object at a news briefing on Saturday. She said it was at about 40,000 feet and that the debris on the ground does not pose a threat to the public. The Canadian object is similar in description to the object shot down off the coast of Alaska on Friday. Anand said the Canadian military and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will recover and analyze the wreckage. It’s the third high-altitude intruder spotted in the last two weeks. On Friday, a U.S. F-22 shot down an unknown object just off the north coast of Alaska and near the Canadian border and a surveillance balloon was shot down off South Carolina last week.

Meanwhile ABC News is reporting the object shot down off Alaska Friday was “cylindrical” and “silverish grey.” Citing unnamed sources, the network said they described it as “floating,” which seems to be supported by official accounts of it lacking any propulsion or maneuvering capability. Chief ABC News Correspondent Martha Raddatz quoted her source as skating around whether the object was a balloon. “All I say is that it wasn’t ‘flying’ with any sort of propulsion, so if that is ‘balloon-like’ well—we just don’t have enough at this point.”

One of two F-22s that intercepted the object shot it down with a Sidewinder missile. It was flying about 40,000 feet above Prudhoe Bay on Friday morning. In an announcement at the White House, spokesman John Kirby said the object was “the size of a small car” it fell onto the frozen surface of U.S. waters. A recovery mission is under way. President Joe Biden ordered the action. Kirby said it presented a “reasonable threat” to civilian air traffic.

The object was first spotted late Thursday. “We do not know who owns it, whether it’s state owned or corporate owned or privately owned,” he said. Although a fighter approached the object and determined it was not occupied, Kirby did not describe it or say what it was. He did say the debris field from the object was much smaller than that left by the high-altitude balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina last weekend.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. If you fly close enough to tell it is unmanned, can’t you at least describe it as “balloon, plane, quad copter, floating thingy? something.

  2. Also is it strange that in 3 intercepts on opposite sides of our country they were all with F-22’s? We have 1500 fighters in the USAF and about 140 are F-22’s. Are we sending them out so the craft we are intercepting can’t track the fighter, or is it so the craft we are intercepting practices tracking the F-22 to learn more about stealth technology?

    • The F-22 has been to air shows and has been performing intercepts in various scenarios for years, so there isn’t much chance anyone will learn anything about stealth that they didn’t already know. (And they probably have stolen more information directly by espionage.) Using the F-22, at least on the first shot, may have been about the balance of service ceiling, time-to-climb, and time-on-station after the climb. (Note that they also had F-15s supporting the first shot, but they stayed at lower altitudes.)

    • The F-22 has a low-speed high-alpha capability that allows the plane take a good look before shooting the object.

  3. It’s a win-win. Fighter pilots get to shoot their missiles and politicians get to say “I ordered…”. My personal flying object (PFO) is airplane-shaped, blue, with an old guy wearing an orange helmet sitting near the front. Don’t shoot!

  4. I’ve passed multiple party balloons on approach to various airports in my airline career. Most notably on approach where two separate groups of mylar balloons were floating in the approach corridor to LAX runways.

  5. Bad time to be a Vulcan trying to make First Contact.

    Hopefully, we nailed some Ferengies. Oh sorry, they’re already in Washington DC performing Oo-Mox on each other. DC/Ferengi motto:

    Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.

    • Yeah, I wonder about that, too. Wouldn’t be the first time the media got it wrong – maybe someone heard ‘sidewinder’ when it was actually ‘sparrow’ or some other radar guided missile? Maybe someone on here with actual knowledge could posit whether a large helium balloon would have any significant IR signature.

      • The current AIM9X has an imaging seeker head that extends its capability beyond just “heat”. An object against a sky background would have sufficient contrast for tracking and intercept.

  6. Note that the aircraft used and and method of intercept used gives the bad guys intel about our defenses. I was in ADA in th’ ol days, cold war, and the AF got the intercept becuse the Pentagon did now want the bad guys to know our ADA capabilities, e.g., how many seconds did it take us to shoot one down (not many).

  7. Well, lets hope it is not the ChiComs doing this after getting caught with the balloon. They might use the shoot downs of their surveillance equipment to retaliate and start zapping US spy satellites, in preparation for an assault on Taiwan.

  8. I have to wonder if the fly-overs were to disperse invasive bugs to attack our woodlands. Some bugs can wake up after freezing temps and go to work on the trees.

  9. This raises some questions in my mind.

    1. How much more does a Sidewinder missile cost compared to 100 rounds of 50-caliber cartridges?

    2. Were any of these UFOs a red sedan with a “T” emblem on the hood?

    3. Could it be that this is how COVID-19 arrived?

    4. I see Amazon sells 20′ diameter professional weather balloons for only $65 each. The shipping is free, but it takes a couple months to arrive. Hurry! Only 5 left in stock!

    • “2. Were any of these UFOs a red sedan with a “T” emblem on the hood?”

      Not likely. The only Tesla known to have achieved escape velocity is a Roadster, not a sedan.

      And I have the t-shirt.

  10. Per the Interweb:

    Based on the 2021 fiscal year defense budget, AIM-9x Sidewinders cost about $430,818 for Navy use and about $472,000 for Air Force use.

    I’d estimate double that for the F22 delivery.

  11. I’ll bet the best of fighter pilots from WW1 are rolling with laughter in their graves. How many aircraft did it take to support the Chinese balloon downing?

    • Bear in mind that this operation should also qualify as a training flight for all aircraft involved.

      Granted, a normal training mission might not require live munitions…