What is a pico balloon? US government $400,000 shot down claim leaves internet in disbelief

Speculation suggest US government might have used $400,000 missile to down $12 pico balloon (Image via Gunter Krebs/Twitter and Getty Images)
Speculation suggest US government might have used $400,000 missile to down $12 pico balloon (Image via Gunter Krebs/Twitter and Getty Images)

An inexpensive $12 pico balloon belonging to an Illinois enthusiast club was possibly one of the objects shot down by the US government using a $400,000 missile last week.

On Thursday, the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB) told Aviation Week that one of its K9YO gasbag devices went “missing in action” on Saturday, February 11, 2023. The NIBBB is a group of enthusiasts that creates, releases, and tracks homemade balloons.

The same day, a US F-22 jet shot down an unidentified airborne entity near Canada’s Yukon Territory. Although the group did not link the two events, they mentioned that the trajectory of their pico balloon might showcase a connection.

The NIBBB’s pico balloon, an affordable silver-coated, cylindrical-shaped object made for high-altitude ballooning enthusiasts, last reported its position at 38,910 feet off the west coast of Alaska on Friday.

Aviation Week reported that based on the hobby balloon’s projected path, the object would have gone across the central part of the Yukon Territory around the same time the military Lockheed Martin F-22 shot down an unidentified object on Saturday.

If the theories are to be believed, it would mean that the US government used an expensive missile costing around $400,000 to down a hobby balloon worth just $12.

Authorities from the US also said that the three objects shot down following the destruction of the Chinese spy balloon were likely benign and may have been for commercial or climate research.

Fortune reported that the Air Force used Sidewinder missiles in its attacks against the Chinese spy balloon, and the mystery UFOs shot down last week. The publication also confirmed that each missile comes at a price tag of roughly $400,000.

Ron Meadows, the founder of Scientific Balloon Solutions, whose Silicon Valley company makes purpose-built pico balloons for hobbyists, scientists, and educators, told Aviation Week that he attempted to alert US authorities about the materials:

“I tried contacting our military and the FBI, and just got the runaround, to try to enlighten them on what a lot of these things probably are. They’re going to look not too intelligent to be shooting them down.”

The NIBBB’s balloon was reportedly equipped with a small GPS transmitter and an antenna and could be tracked using a ham radio. As per The New York Post, the K9YO balloon circumnavigated the globe six times during its 123-day span before its tracking device went missing on Friday.

These balloons usually float in the sky until damaged or downed by bad weather.

A closer look into the meaning of Pico Balloon

Pico balloons are simple hobby balloons that allow ballooning enthusiasts to explore high-altitude ballooning and the use of ham radio in an affordable way. As per Aviation Week, these balloons range between $12 and $180 each depending on the type.

According to the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade’s website, pico balloons usually have a 32-inch diameter and 100-inch circumference and have a cruising altitude between 32,000 and 50,000 ft.


These balloons usually contain trackers, solar panels, and antenna packages. It is usually filled with less than a cubic foot of gas and measures things like temperature, pressure, and humidity.

As per Aviation Week, pico balloons are typically about 3 ft. in diameter on the ground before being launched. Once they reach 20,000-50,000 ft. in altitude, the balloon envelope expands by about 2-3 times in size and achieves neutral buoyancy.


This phenomenon allows the balloons to float at a roughly consistent altitude, while wind currents then push them through the atmosphere. Some pico balloons are capable of encircling the world several times before crashing down on its own.

The owners of these hobby balloons keep track of the objects through HF and VHF/UHF radio links. A small GPS tracking device is attached to the balloon by a tether, which helps in broadcasting its position using the WSPR protocol on HF and the ASPR standard for line-of-sight on VHF/UHF.

Netizens react to US government’s $400,000 missile used for downing objects

US government’s $400,000 missile claim left internet in disbelief (Image via Dave DeCamp/Twitter)
US government’s $400,000 missile claim left internet in disbelief (Image via Dave DeCamp/Twitter)

In the wake of the U.S. government shooting down back-to-back UFOs last week, a recent report suggested that one of the objects downed by authorities using a $400,000 missile was possibly a $12 pico balloon belonging to an Illinois ballooning enthusiast club.

The latest speculation left social media users in disbelief, and many took to Twitter to react to the situation:

On Thursday, President Joe Biden addressed recent military actions in American airspace and said there was no evidence that the unidentified objects taken down after the Chinese spy balloon were malicious in nature:

“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were. But nothing, nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program, or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”

Speaking about the nature of the balloons, the president said:

“The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects are most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreational or research institutions, studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”

The North American Aerospace Defense Command told Fox News that the FBI has already reached out to the NIBBB and “expects the National Security Council to have more on potentially identifying the objects.”

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also shared that efforts were being made to locate and identify the remains of the downed objects, but the process was reportedly hampered due to their remote locations and freezing weather.

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Edited by Barsha Roy