To understand contrails and sort out the chemtrail issue, we must first know a few things about the aircraft responsible for them. So let’s start at the beginning.
Altitude has also increased dramatically. The first Comet had a cruise altitude of 42,000 feet, while the hulking, supersonic Concorde can reach nearly 60,000 feet.
There are two main types of civilian passenger airliner: long-haul jumbo and widebody jet airliners, and short-haul passenger jet airliners. Today’s jets have two to four engines, which can be located on the wings, fixed above the stabilizers in the rear of the plane, or integrated into the tails.
How Many Jets are in the Air?
Estimates of how many aircraft are in the sky on any given day range from 13,000 to 20,000.
An estimated 13,000 planes fly over the U.S. on the average day, Patrick Minnis, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, told Chicago Tribune reporter Ronald Kotulak in August 2002, the same week the results of a groundbreaking study of contrails were published in Nature. (3)
A USAF pamphlet on contrails states there are approximately 60,000 daily flights over the U.S.
Whatever the specific number, there can be thousands of planes in U.S. airspace at one time, as shown by the animations of the NASA-developed FACET simulation software. One particularly fascinating FACET series, “A Typical Day in U.S. Airspace” is currently available on NASA’s website. It shows aircraft, depicted as tiny yellow dots, swarming U.S. airspace like ants moving over an anthill. We first see an average day of flight patterns, with yellow dots teeming along the East Coast, then an example of how flights are redirected to avoid bad weather. Finally, we are shown what air traffic looked like on 9/11: A flurry of dots swim across the screen, start to fade, then blink out entirely.
During peak hours, there are roughly 5000-6000 planes flying over the U.S. In 2005, the flight-tracking website Flight Aware published “A Day in U.S. Airspace“, showing 5664 aircraft over the country at 2:00 PM (CDT).
While chemtrails have only been a going concern since the late ’90s, the potential effects of the increase in air traffic over the past 40 years have been avidly studied since the early ’70s. You’ll be seeing a rundown of that research in the next post. For now, here are two examples:
- In a 1971 paper, the late meteorologist Lester Machta and colleague Tom Carpenter reported increases in cirrus clouds over North America between 1948 and 1970, with most of the increase occurring between 1962 and 1966. One suggested reason for the cirrus increase was the steady increase in jet traffic over the Northern Hemisphere. (4)
- In a 1981 paper, Stanley Changnon reported the results of his studies of cloud, sunshine and temperature records for the Midwestern U.S. between 1901 and 1977. These results indicated that the greatest increases in cloud cover in that portion of the nation since 1960 occurred within the overflight zones of commercial jet traffic.
The Parts of a Jet
Before delving into the chemtrail issue, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of how jets are constructed. As we’ll see, misidentification of planes and airplane components can lead to much confusion when it comes to contrails. In particular, observers frequently mistake the various parts of a jet wing for specialized, chemtrail-related equipment. The illustration below shows where some of the key jet components are located and what they do (from a NASA diagram).
In this video, a pilot identifies the components of a jet wing.
Here’s an example of how ordinary jet components can be mistaken for chemtrail equipment. The video below is said to show a chemtrail being sprayed from special nozzles beneath a jet’s wings.
I asked Captain Bruce Sinclair, a pilot with 46 years of flight experience, to view this video and explain what’s going on in it. He pointed out that the “chemtrail spraying” stops at precisely the same time that the plane’s three engines stop contrailing. The “nozzles” are not nozzles at all, but the fairings around the flap actuators (the mechanisms that move the flaps). In other words, this is an ordinary jet contrail.
Many photos that are thought to show jets spraying chemtrails are actually photos of highly specialized aircraft. You can see several examples of this mistaken identity at the website Contrail Science.
Many chemtrail theories rely heavily on the assumption that it is simple and inexpensive to add chemicals or metal oxides to jet fuel. In fact, jet fuel production is tightly controlled because fuel is expensive and must contain as few impurities as possible.
The most common commercial jet fuels are called Jet A and Jet A-1. Jet A is available only in the U.S. It has a higher freezing point than A-1, and does not have to contain an antistatic agent like A-1 does.
Jet fuel is pricey stuff. In 2008, a record 25 airlines declared bankruptcy or stopped operations, thanks in large part to the high cost of fuel. Just this week, Delta Air Lines (which came out of bankruptcy in 2007) became the first airline to purchase its own refinery, in an effort to reduce its $12-billion-a-year fuel costs. Synthetic fuels and biofuels are currently being tested and used on a very small scale, in the hopes that an affordable alternative to petroleum-based fuel can be developed. (5)
Military jet fuel is a different story. Though it has the same basic ingredients as commercial jet fuel, it is often highly specialized for specific aircraft.
Jet fuel additives are always extensively evaluated and tested, as anything added to the fuel could adversely affect engine performance and safety (metals, in particular, are something you don’t want to add to jet fuel; even trace amounts can have disastrous effects on the thermal stability of the fuel).
For this reason, producers hew to the jet fuel standards set by ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), known as the ASTM D1655, and/or the Defence Standard 91-91. Jet A must meet the ASTM D1655 specifications, while Jet A-1 has to meet the specifications for Defence Standard 91-91, ASTM D1655, and the specifications of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Guidance Material (Kerosine Type), NATO Code F-35. (5) Jet A-1 is a high-quality fuel. If it doesn’t pass purity and quality tests, it is sold off to ground-based consumers rather than being used in jets. (6)
Currently, the ASTM D1655 specifications allow for the following additives to be added to jet fuel (often these are added in extremely small quantities, measurable in parts per million):
- Antioxidants to prevent gumming. These are usually based on alkylated phenols.
- Antistatic agents to prevent sparking. Stadis 450 is the most widely-used agent, and is speculated by some chemtrail researchers to be the source of the barium allegedly present in chemtrails (see, for instance, this video).
- Biocides to inhibit microbial growth in fuel systems. Fungi and bacteria can pose serious problems to planes. In 2009, Australian airline Qanta grounded all three of its Airbus A380s due to fuel tank leaks reportedly caused by fungus. Currently, only two biocides are approved for use in jet engines: Kathon FP1.5 Microbiocide and Biobor JF.
- Corrosion inhibitors
- Fuel system icing inhibitor agents. As jets reached higher altitudes and stayed at them for longer periods, ice in the fuel became a deadly hazard. In 1958, a B-52D crashed in South Dakota due to ice blockage in the fuel system, killing 5 of the 6 men on board. Studies indicated fuel icing was the probable cause of over 200 previous aircraft losses. (7) Beginning in the ’60s, anti-icing agents were added to military jet fuel. I find it very interesting that it took the military 20 years and over 200 crashes to figure out that fuel icing could be a problem.
- Metal deactivators to mitigate the effects of trace metals. The only allowable deactivator is N,N’-disalicylidene 1,2-propanediamine, and it is seldom used.
Aside from the Stadis 450, which we’ll examine in another post, note that there isn’t anything on this list that would account for the metals thought to be in chemtrails (barium, aluminum, titanium, and strontium). Nor does the fuel itself contain them.
But it must be noted that aviation fuel emissions do contain toxic pollutants. The combustion of jet fuel during flight causes aircraft engines to emit carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides (in small amounts), carbon monoxide, sulfur gases, and soot. (8) Jet emissions have also been found to contain particles of zinc, beryllium, lead, vanadium, and copper. (9) Note that these are heavy metals, unlike the alleged chemtrail metals.
I ask you, how is this any better than what’s supposedly being found in chemtrails?
In 2007, the Discovery Channel program Best Evidence examined chemtrails. A team led by Dr. Gregory W. Davis at Kettering University’s Automotive Engine Research Laboratory tested five gallons of randomly selected jet fuel from a Flint airport, running it through a small jet turbine. They ran an array of tests on the fuel itself and the emissions, looking for aluminum (the metal most frequently mentioned in connection with chemtrails). They found none. They did find some sulfur in the emissions, though.
1. Wikipedia entry for jet aircraft (accessed June 24, 2012)
2. “The Opening of the Commercial Jet Era” @ The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website (centennialoflfight.gov)
3. “Jet trails above fueling weather changes below, researchers say” by Ronald Kotulak. Chicago Tribune. August 8, 2002.
4. Advances in Geophysics, Volume 21. Edited by Helmut Erich Landsberg and Barry Saltzman. Academic Press, 1979.
5. Wikipedia entry for jet fuel (accessed June 24, 2012)
6. “Aviation Fuel” @ The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission website (centennialoflfight.gov)
7. “Above and Beyond: Fire and Ice” by Leonard R. Scotty. Air & Space magazine. November 2010. Scotty and a ground crewman were the only surviving crew members.
8. EPA Aircraft Contrails Factsheet (2000)
9. “Evaluating Particulate Emissions from Jet Engines: Analysis of Chemical and Physical Characteristics and Potential Impacts on Coastal Environments and Human Health“. Karleen A. Boyle. Transportation Research Record 1517, 1996.