New Mexicans for Science and Reason presents

"A Pilot's View (on Chemtrails)" by Ian Wickson



I have recently become interested in the “chemtrail controversy” to which much web space is currently dedicated.  I must admit, I have certain reservations regarding the validity of the many assertions I have read and interpretations of the photos I have seen.


I hold a private pilot license and, as a pilot, I have a rudimentary understanding of meteorology and the formation of clouds and “contrails” (condensation trails) produced by aircraft.  Much of the “chemtrail evidence” I have seen does not mesh with solid scientific facts I have been taught as a pilot.


Contrails vs. sprayed agents


First, let’s establish how a normal contrail is formed.  When burned, fuel containing hydrogen is combined with oxygen in the air to form water vapor, among other byproducts.  Under certain conditions, that vapor will condense to form a visible trail – an artificial cloud, for all intents and purposes.  Because the high temperature of the exhaust gas keeps the water in a vapor state until it has a chance to mix with the colder surrounding air, this artificial cloud will always form some distance behind the aircraft, rather than directly aft of the engines.  If atmospheric conditions support a “persistent” contrail, it will most likely become more visible and spread to a more natural cloud-like state with distance from the aircraft.


If an aircraft were spraying some form of liquid or powdered solid, such as bacterial agents or aluminum particulates as suggested by many theorists, it should be most visible directly behind the trailing edge of the wing (or wherever the nozzles may be located), becoming less visible as it dissipates in the atmosphere in the wake of the plane.  This is exactly what you would observe when watching a crop duster.  Yet, in every photo of an aircraft producing a “chemtrail” I have seen, the opposite is true.  They all look like normal contrails.


Having said that, it is possible to make a sprayed agent behave as a contrail.  In the case of a liquid, it would have to be heated to the point of vaporization, so that the vapor would re-condense in a manner consistent with a normal contrail – some distance behind the aircraft.


If the liquid were used as a medium for biological agents, the temperature required would most likely kill the microbes.  If the high vapor temperature didn’t do the job, then the extremely low temperature of the surrounding atmosphere just might.  Assuming these biological agents survived the hostile environment, they would tend to have a very slow rate of descent back to earth due to their microscopic size.  (Microscopic dust from volcanoes is known to remain in the upper atmosphere for years after an eruption.)  In all likelihood, atmospheric disturbances would scatter them and they wouldn’t even land in the area they were released.  All in all, this seems an inefficient method of “bombing” the population with any type of harmful agents, if that is the intent.


A reliable method would be to release the agents at very low altitudes, as is done by fire suppression aircraft and crop dusters.  Yet, no one seems to be presenting any evidence that this is indeed the case.


“Grids” in the sky


Many theorists have used the observation of “chemtrail grids,” or crosshatched contrail patterns as evidence that aircraft are blanketing target areas with sprayed agents.  To prove this, they would need two things. One: video or photographic evidence of aircraft emitting materials in a manner inconsistent with normal contrails, as described above.  Two: video evidence of a single aircraft making multiple passes over an area consistent with the formation of the grid pattern.  It would be helpful if we could actually see evidence of the spray nozzles being turned on and off during the maneuvers.


So far, I have seen no such videos, and none of the photos I have seen prove that this is the case.  All I have seen are photos of a few parallel trails and perhaps one intersecting trail.  (Why didn’t the photographers wait until the aircraft had completed real “grids” and photograph those?)  In fact, there is a reasonable explanation for the formation of these parallel lines.


Aircraft flying above 18,000 feet are required to be on an “instrument flight plan.”  As such, they often follow “federal airways” designed for the separation and management of air traffic – especially in the vicinity of hub airports.  Aircraft en route to the same destination are likely to be following one another on the same airway.  Think of these as highways in the sky.


Here’s what happens.  Aircraft A is traveling along airway XYZ, leaving a contrail behind.  Several minutes later, aircraft B follows on the same airway, tracking the exact same line over the surface of the earth.  It is also leaving a contrail.  However the air mass is in motion due to wind aloft, which carries the first contrail away from its original location.  The result is the contrail from aircraft B appears as a line parallel to that of aircraft A’s contrail.  Enter aircraft C, D, and E following the same airway.  You now have five parallel lines.  Add aircraft F, traveling a course perpendicular to the others, and you have the beginnings of a grid.


Another predictable multiple contrail pattern is that of a “V.”  Again, assume the air mass is in motion, carrying the contrails away from their original locations.  Aircraft alternately departing and arriving at the same hub, and following the same airway (at differing altitudes, of course) would produce this effect as their contrails alternately converge and diverge.  I believe this is what is shown in the various satellite photos that appear on many web sites, but are misinterpreted as evidence of “chemtrail grids.”


Intermittent “chemtrails”


There is no hard and fast rule regarding the elevation at which an aircraft’s engines will produce contrails.  Furthermore, there are a variety of atmospheric conditions, such as ambient temperature, relative humidity, concentration of dust particles and winds aloft that will affect how the trail behaves once it is produced.  For instance, contrails tend to “persist” when produced in areas of high relative humidity and low temperatures, while they dissipate quickly in the presence of warmer, drier air.


Descending air currents found in wind shear conditions can carry the aircraft’s exhaust gases to lower elevations and warmer temperatures where the moisture will vaporize, rendering it invisible.  The portion of the contrail on the other side of the shear will remain in conditions that support its persistence.  This accounts for breaks in visible contrails, which some have theorized indicates the “spray nozzles” have been turned off.


“Chemtrail generators”


A 1974 patent awarded to the Navy for an aircraft-mounted device designed to disperse microscopic titanium oxide particles into the air has been circulating about the web.  This is used as evidence of military involvement in the proliferation of “chemtrails.”  Again, other explanations are available.


I’ve read the patent document, and it clearly states that the device is intended to replace smoke-oil injection systems used on aircraft exhaust systems to generate a smoke trail.  Anyone who has been to an air show or seen skywriting has witnessed the use of smoke-oil systems.  In this case, it seems the device was invented to allow a towed target glider (which has no hot exhaust system with which to generate smoke) to leave a visible trail for purposes of target identification.  Since this system generates no “smoke,” it seems they replaced the words “smoke trail” with “contrail.”


I’ve looked into the “noxious” nature of the chemicals referenced in the document.  DuPont R-931 is the identification number given to a highly reflective paint pigment made of titanium oxide.  DuPont lists applications for this particular pigment in both indoor and outdoor latex paints.  It seems we are all exposed to this chemical on a daily basis.  Yet none of the “chemtrail” proponents call for a reform in the paint industry.  Nor are they warning us that the very walls of our houses contain the same chemical the government is secretly dropping on our heads.  Why?  Probably because it has none of the detrimental qualities they claim.


According to the chemical manufacturer, LabKorea (, “The colloidal silica is available for various applications such as fiber, sizing, diazo paper’s manufactures, cellophane film, precision casting, ceramics, glass fiber, paints, catalysts, batteries, wax, optics, elastomer, food, health care, industrial chromatography and polishing.”  Again, it would seem we are exposed to this chemical frequently.


And finally, the silica gel.  This is a drying agent used quite commonly in food packaging.  Next time you open a refrigerated pasta product, look for a packet of the stuff glued inside the packaging.  How harmful can it be?


If this device were actually in use for clandestine purposes, the “contrail” it produced would be visible immediately aft of the aircraft.  Again, all the photos I have seen show a normal contrail becoming visible a significant distance behind the plane.


I believe this patent presents evidence of an alternative method of generating air show smoke, not government involvement in the bombardment of citizens with noxious substances.


Other metals in the air


During the Viet Nam era, fighter pilots were vulnerable to radar and infrared guided surface-to-air missiles.  To address this threat, a program known as “Wild Weasel” was started.  It involved equipping various fighter aircraft with infrared and radar countermeasures, which included advanced air-to-ground missiles, infrared flares and radar-reactive “chaff” delivery systems.


Chaff is the term used to describe the tiny silicate/metallic particles deployed by military aircraft for the purpose of confusing the enemy’s radar and preventing them locking onto the aircraft.    Because it’s important to use material with a low molecular weight to maximize the time the chaff remains suspended in the air, aluminum is most commonly used.  Chaff is deployed in small packages which then burst open in the plane’s wake, creating an aircraft-sized false radar signature.


What would happen if aircraft were deploying continuous streams of chaff and creating grids of the stuff, as claimed by some “chemtrail” theory proponents?  Think about it.  Radar used by air traffic controllers would be rendered useless.  They would be unable to distinguish between real airplanes and the “ghost” images created by the chaff.  Not a likely scenario.


What has happened to our “normal” clouds?


This question is posed by many conspiracy theory proponents, and answered with supposed effects of “chemtrails.”  If the appearance of our skies has changed in the last decade or so, there may be a less sinister explanation.  The overall effect may be attributable to a combination of the following changing conditions.


Global warming means generally warmer air temperatures in the upper atmosphere.  Warmer air has the ability to hold more moisture in vapor form.  On days when the atmosphere in a given region and at normal flight elevations is supersaturated (a condition wherein the relative humidity is at or above 100%, but clouds have not formed due to lack of solid particles for moisture to condense with, or insufficiently low temperatures to cause water vapor to sublimate directly into ice crystals), it may take as few as one or two aircraft flying through to trigger widespread formation of cirrus clouds.  This can happen one of two ways, or as a combined effect of the two.


In addition to water vapor, jet exhaust contains carbon particles commonly referred to as “soot.”  These particles make an excellent surface for moisture to condense upon, thus creating a visible cloud that spreads horizontally in the wake of the plane.


The other effect is a byproduct of the aerodynamic forces that cause the wing to create lift.  Aircraft wings are curved more on the top surface than on the bottom.  This causes the air traveling across the top surface to speed up, reducing its density and pressure.  The air on the bottom side maintains normal, ambient pressure.  The net effect is an area of relatively high pressure on the bottom, accompanied by relatively low pressure on the top surface of the wing.  Thus, lift is produced.


The reduced air pressure above the wing is always accompanied by a momentary reduction in air temperature.  (If interested, consult the ideal gas law, PV=NrT to prove this fact.)  Under supersaturated conditions, this downward spike in temperature is sufficient to cause water vapor to sublimate into ice crystals.  The ice crystals, themselves, then become surfaces for more moisture to condense upon, creating a more and more dense cloud spreading in the wake of the plane.


Global warming, rather than “chemtrails” as some theorize, may also be to blame for drought conditions in some areas and flooding in others.  As stated earlier, warmer air has the ability to hold more moisture than cooler air.  In the case of drought, this warmer air may be retaining moisture it would normally have dropped in the form of precipitation under our previously cooler global environment.  In the case of flooding, the opposite is happening.  When atmospheric conditions cause the formation of precipitation, the warmer, post-global-warming, air contains more moisture to release.  Thus the rainfall is heavier than it would have been under our previously cooler conditions, causing flooding.


And yet another possible explanation for increased high-altitude cloudiness: higher concentrations of particulates in the upper atmosphere for moisture to condense upon.  Every year, we put more and more automobiles on the road which produce more and more particulate emissions.  Increases in air travel have the same effect.  Volcanic activity is on the rise, as is the destruction and burning of rainforests.  Drought ridden areas are experiencing unprecedented forest fire activity.  One would have to surmise that the concentrations of particulates in the atmosphere are higher now than they were a decade ago.  More particulates = more condensation points for moisture = increased cloudiness.


Could a mass psychological effect be in play?


Blaming the government for our every woe seems to be in vogue at the moment.  I’m not saying it isn’t warranted in many situations.  (Personally, I don’t agree with invading Iraq to protect our oil-hungry lifestyle, and I think the Federal Reserve is unconstitutional.  But, I digress.)  However, this practice has become a catch-all drawer for our societal problems.


As the greatest consumers on the face of the earth, and with much of our wealth coming at the expense of the environment, I don’t see how Americans could not experience a certain amount of guilt – at a subconscious level, at least.  We see our little planet changing before our eyes, and must know we carry a great deal of the blame.  But, that’s a hard thing to own.  So we look for a scapegoat – the government.


We look at the sky, and it looks different.  In our hearts, we know why.  But, we can’t accept our own role.  The government must be to blame.  They are bombarding their own people with noxious substances.  Why?  To cull the population?  (But, what will happen to their economic machine if they reduce the number of consumers?)  To test the effects of biological agents?  (Don’t they have laboratory animals for that?  And, think of the cost to the government of a class action lawsuit.)  Weather control experiments?  (Maybe.  It’s a fact that cloud seeding operations are conducted to induce precipitation.  But that’s a far cry from manipulating the weather on a global level.  And last time I checked, rain wasn’t known to be particularly harmful to humans.)


Global warming is happening.  Weather patterns are changing.  Through scientific evidence, the reasons are becoming clearer.  The answer is also clear – we must look to clean, renewable energy sources.  We can’t burn petroleum forever.  We can no longer support the destruction of rainforests for cheap lumber and beef.  The day will come when we must change our habits.


With change comes uncertainty, and that scares us to death.  We want the “good life” we’ve become accustomed to.  We don’t want to change.  We’re afraid of economic changes that will surely accompany a change in the very base of our energy system – petroleum.  And we certainly don’t want to face the possibility of paying more for the resources we need to live.  Rather than confronting to our problems and initiating the changes we know must come, we support environmentally destructive business as usual at an ever increasing rate.



What should we really be concerned about?


In truth, the exhaust gases and contrails produced by aircraft do have an effect on our environment, but probably not because they contain the clandestine substances “chemtrail” proponents believe.  The chemicals that exist in contrails are the same ones produced by our automobiles – hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and various oxides of nitrogen.  All of these substances are known to have an effect on air quality and chemistry.  The scary thing is that aircraft emit these chemicals in large quantities miles up in the stratosphere.


There are solutions.  Reducing these chemical emissions would call for major changes in the way the airline industry operates their aircraft.  One solution would be to retrofit airliners to run on liquid hydrogen.  Doing so would eliminate the introduction of hydrocarbons, CO and CO² into our upper atmosphere.  Unfortunately, the nitrous oxide problem would remain.


In addition, the cost of this conversion would be substantial.  That cost would ultimately be passed on to consumers through elevated ticket prices.  So much for cheap travel.  There would also be the problem of educating travelers.  People hear “hydrogen,” and immediately think they would be flying around in H-bombs or Hindenburgs.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.


Are consumers ready and willing to accept these changes?  I would guess not.  We’re talking about change, and nobody wants that.  We might have to give up a little piece of the good life.


Are “chemtrails” real?


It’s entirely possible.  In concluding this lengthy dissertation, I have to admit I can’t disprove their existence.  My point is simply this: proponents of the “chemtrail” theory have failed to produce a “smoking gun.”  There are logical and believable explanations for all the “evidence” I have seen.  No truly damning evidence seems to exist – or if it does, it’s lost in a sea of inconclusive theory, conjecture and photos of normal contrails and meteorological events. 


-Ian Wickson

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