The region was near and overlapped with the pre-existing Hays MOA. Military Operations Areas are airspaces where military aircraft conduct various testing and training operations. At the same time, a US Air Force KC-135 was in the area.
The region included KHVR, the regional airport in Havre, which had been expecting Cape Air Flight 110 out of Billings at about dusk on Saturday afternoon. As a result of the flight restrictions, the flight returned to Billings. The plane had been in the air for about 24 minutes, and was roughly halfway to Havre, before it turned back.
Cape Air holds Essential Air Service contracts for several Montana communities and uses the Tecnam Traveller, a two-engine propeller craft that seats 9. The unpressurized plane typically operates at FL100 and most flights last less than an hour. It is usually operated by a single pilot. Among other things, that pilot would not want to run into a KC-135, or anything else being refuelled, while descending over the Bearpaw Mountains.
Traditionally if the MOA is active, that information is provided to the pilot at a pre-flight briefing, indicating that the Air Force’s operations Saturday night were either extremely urgent and/or not communicated to the FAA in the usual manner. An unidentified object flying between ground level and FL340 is not likely to be a weather-type balloon, unless the balloon is taking off or landing.
F-22 fighters screaming after Chinese spy gizmos is the stuff of James Bond movies – yet it happened over Montana this week. Canada and the US are complaining about a monitoring balloon the Middle Kingdom recently floated over North America, prompting public concern as it was spotted by skywatchers and storm chasers in western Canada, then across the central US from Montana to Missouri and on to points southeast.
The device appears to be solar powered, with a significant amount of line control and levelling equipment to stabilize the observation platform. Save for the giant balloon hoisting it up, it looks somewhat like a scale model of the International Space Station – or, more aptly, like a Google Loon. Loon made huge strides in stationkeeping free-flying balloons in hopes they could replace cell towers, but their position could only be reliable for hours, maybe days, at best. The number of natural disasters where the tech was really useful were too uncommon to keep the system in commercial use.
Stratospheric balloons are also commonly used in weather research. However, there’s two main organizations that use these balloons – weather offices that have a budget, and universities that don’t. In the latter case, they want to get their equipment back so badly, there is always a chase afoot for the balloon on the ground, tracking APRS feeds and mapping its location in real time, right up to landing.
Though spies in the sky might be worrisome, there is some precedent for adversarial overflight. In 2020 and 2021 the US and Russia withdrew (China never participated) from the Treaty on Open Skies, which was one of the hallmark agreements for post-Cold War de-escalation. The agreement promoted security stability by allowing member states to observe each others’ defence capabilities. The idea was that by keeping more military details in plain sight, there would be less need for all parties to overspend and overdeploy military equipment against unknown threats.
On the other hand, the balloon does pose a more mundane risk: it’s a hazard to navigation. Though since the demise of Concorde, commercial jets aren’t typically seen above FL450, for safety’s sake, Class A controlled airspace still extends to FL600, which is about the altitude where the Chinese balloon has been spotted. Flying in Class A airspace without ATC clearance, a radar transponder, and/or ADSB is an easy way to lose your pilot’s licence.
It just doesn’t happen every year. It was called off two years ago, and it didn’t quite take flight this year, either. The Grand Forks AFB Air Show, this time simply called “Northern Thunder”, couldn’t get away from Grand Forks’ defining feature: the wind.
Not only was it gusting to almost 20 m/s, it was coming from the wrong direction for takeoffs and landings. Even if the base had extra runways, they would never be built facing into the rather unusual direction.
Not everything at an air show is airborne, of course: Though a few announced planes didn’t quite make it to the tiedowns, this was more than offset by the surprise visit of a CC-130J Super Hercules, which drew a huge crowd despite being placed just about the farthest from the food and port-a-potties.
Not past local noon, the wind shot up violently, sending aircrew scrambling to check their lines and chalks, while visitors with loose items soon found themselves deprived. As nothing had taken to the skies, the event program turned to the occasional pull of the Shockwave, essentially a semi-truck with an afterburning jet engine stuck on the back. Loud and flashy, it kept spirits up during the lengthening wait for the return of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds to the Grand Forks skies.
By 1800 UT, there was a thick black cloud clinging to the ground around the airfield. This dirty air should have been hot and acrid with jet wash, but was instead a hazy, gritty Minnesota soil sample, carried on the raging southeast gale that turned hats and corn chip bags alike into wrathful FOD. It was time to visit the food trucks.
Vendors from all over the region were onsite; among the more impressive drives, Cookies For You brought baked cookies and frozen cake pops from Minot. Magic Bean, also from Minot, brought its black van and baristas, and Fargo’s Mi Barrio Dominican Cuisine brought a unique flavour.
Overall, it was a great event for young learners, a chance to grab squeeze toys, pop can coozies, and air-themed stickers and mission patches, or to hang out of the door of a refuelling tanker, sit in the hotseat of a fighter jet, or spin around the turret of an air defence system.
For older or wiser folks, there were a few tables from institutions doing fundraisers or fly-ins, or perhaps the beer garden for those not in a rush to drive back. Stick around and you might learn something about these metal beasts, the people who flew them and knew them, or even hear an RCAF corporal waxing on about the merits of Lobster Poutine.
As the haze only grew by 1900 UT, any would-be pilots had no choice but to save their kerosene for some other time. The show previously known as “Thunder Over the Red River” will still be looking for its first aerial event since 22 May 2010. And since the one before that was in 2006, there’ll be a fair while to wait again.
At 0230Z 03 Feb 2021, SkyWest 4472 landed in Winnipeg, closing the book on international flights to YWG during the pandemic. Later in the day on 03 February, new restrictions by the government of Canada took effect in order to limit the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19.
The move echoes Canada’s measures earlier in the pandemic that limited most overseas passengers to landing in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal. US flights, though not originally limited in the same way, were still rapidly dropped as US carriers reduced service. With the new measures in force, US flights cannot return to Regina or Saskatoon for the forseeable future.
Alberta’s measures to contain the virus now include up to 24 days of quarantine, with 14 days of quarantine for everyone in the household, following 10 days of home isolation for any confirmed positive case. Measures are even stricter at Calgary Airport, with all arriving passengers getting an additional COVID test, a police escort to a quarantine hotel for at least 3 days of isolation, a $2000 fee, and only then, if released, entering into a 14+ day home quarantine.
Here is a list of recent aviation safety incidents in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northwest Ontario that were reported to the Transportation Safety Board through 15 August 2020:
17 Jul 2020 – C-FHBS gear up landing at Olds-Didsbury AB 17 Jul 2020 – C-GDUK load jettison near Slave Lake AB 18 Jul 2020 – C-GUSD emergency landing near Winnipeg-St.Andrews 21 Jul 2020 – C-FFVS load jettison north of Red Lake ON 21 Jul 2020 – C-FVIY landing gear issue at Lethbridge 21 Jul 2020 – C-GQNS wire strike at Medstead SK 23 Jul 2020 – C-GRGO equipment failure near Calgary 24 Jul 2020 – C-FBRG damaged on landing at Chapleau ON 27 Jul 2020 – C-GEDF damaged on takeoff near Calmar AB 28 Jul 2020 – N370JA, N53134 loss of separation at Fort McMurray 29 Jul 2020 – AMT200 gear up landing at Regina 30 Jul 2020 – Learjet bird strike on takeoff at Thunder Bay 31 Jul 2020 – C-GKGA cowling separation incident at Regina 01 Aug 2020 – C-FSCT damaged on landing near Sault Ste. Marie ON 04 Aug 2020 – C-FCJZ icing incident at Regina 04 Aug 2020 – C-FHZB damaged on landing at Springbank AB 04 Aug 2020 – C-FSPN control issues at Leaf Rapids ON 04 Aug 2020 – C-GKIB damaged on landing at CFR7 (AB) 08 Aug 2020 – C-GQIF fuel spill at Estevan 11 Aug 2020 – C-FAJR hit by drone at Winnipeg-St.Andrews
Here is a list of recent aviation safety incidents in the Dakotas, Iowa, upper and western Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as reported to the Federal Aviation Administration through 14 August 2020:
17 Jul 2020 – N1962N damaged on landing at Osceola WI 20 Jul 2020 – N47T gear up landing at Burlington WI 20 Jul 2020 – N570WH wire strike near Dickeyville WI 21 Jul 2020 – N208MP damaged on landing at Thompson Falls MT 21 Jul 2020 – N2943C damaged on landing at Cambridge MN 25 Jul 2020 – N327WB crashed near Imperial NE 25 Jul 2020 – N502KJ fatal crash near Grant NE 27 Jul 2020 – N9278G emergency landing at Hartington NE 27 Jul 2020 – N53163 fatal crash near Corsica SD 27 Jul 2020 – N570WH collision on landing at Dakota WI 27 Jul 2020 – N771GB emergency landing at Hebron NE 29 Jul 2020 – N22709 emergency landing near Watertown SD 30 Jul 2020 – N4388T emergency landing near Powell WY 30 Jul 2020 – N337V fatal crash in Madison County MT 31 Jul 2020 – N16810 wire strike at Hubbard NE 01 Aug 2020 – N58B emergency landing near Helena 03 Aug 2020 – N45303 downdraft crash near Jackson Hole 03 Aug 2020 – N185GK runway excursion on landing at Kalispell 03 Aug 2020 – N67CD gear up landing at Sioux City 08 Aug 2020 – N5580W runway excursion on landing at Sparta WI 09 Aug 2020 – N89LA crashed near Logan IA 09 Aug 2020 – N6849B crashed in residential area near Burlington WI 10 Aug 2020 – N298WY crashed near Grover WY 12 Aug 2020 – N6299R emergency landing at Mosinee WI