The Conspiracy That Isn’t: Debunking Chemtrails

By Phil Derner Jr. and John Steffen via NYCAviation

contrails 01_250pxThere are several conspiracy theories that involve aviation. The most famous of these involve the aliens of Roswell and the tragic events of September 11th.  However, there is one conspiracy theory that has a measurable amount of believers that is easily refuted with the simple laws of science and statistics. This is, of course, chemtrails.

Those who subscribe to the Chemtrail theory believe that the entire aviation industry, military and civilian, are tasked by the U.S. government to spray artificial clouds high above the ground in our atmosphere with the intent of altering our climate or inoculating the population with inhalable drugs. This theory is based on the visible identification of the common aircraft contrail, and a reliance on the fallacy that it can be identified as something else.

So in a final sweeping motion, what do you say we explain-away this whole chemtrail thing after all, shall we?

The Science & History

When an organic material is burned, it will produce different compounds: soot, smoke, and various oxides.  What is produced will vary depending on the material that was burned and the process in which it was burned.  However there are two things that are generally universal in the burning of organics; water and carbon dioxide.

Generally, neither of these can be seen with the naked eye unless temperatures are cold and the steam condenses into visible water vapor.  This is common from smoke stacks, the tailpipes of automobiles, or even your breath in the winter months.

Not a chemtrail: Contrails stream out of the four Wright 1820 radial engines on these B-17 bombers during World War II.

Not a chemtrail: Contrails stream out of the four Wright 1820 radial engines on these B-17 bombers during World War II.

The gasoline engine creates about one gallon of water for each gallon of gasoline consumed.  When the engine is shut down, the remaining water oxidizes (or rusts) the exhaust and the engine’s cylinders.  This limits the life of the exhaust system and the engine, but is not a major problem and is accepted as part of the normal process and life cycle of the internal combustion engine.

This water, seemingly innocuous, became lethal in the Second World War for the crews of the Boeing B-17 bomber.  The four Wright turbocharged engines in the B-17 allowed it to climb above 30,000 feet.  The humid exhaust of the engines quickly froze in the minus 40 degree air (temperatures become significantly colder at higher altitudes) leaving long white clouds behind the bombers indicating their presence and precise location to the German fighters.  The safety of being at altitude was compromised by these telltale condensation trails, or contrails.

The military worked to find a solution and discovered that certain acidic compounds injected into the exhaust eliminated contrails.  This solution became available after the conclusion of the war and was immediately obsolete with the advent of radar, which allowed airplanes to be “seen” regardless of the time of day or weather.  This idea was later briefly resurrected with the Northrop B-2 stealth bomber, though ultimately not incorporated into the design.

The Commercial Jet Age

Not a chemtrail: A KLM 747-400 leaves four distinct contrails in its wake as it flies over Russia. Image courtesy Sergey Kustov via Wikimedia Commons.

Not a chemtrail: A KLM 747-400 leaves four distinct contrails in its wake as it flies over Russia. Image courtesy Sergey Kustov via Wikimedia Commons.

The post-war, high altitude commercial airliners typically operated around 25,000 feet.  Only the low production Boeing 377, though still propeller-driven, could climb above 30,000 feet and was most commonly operated as an intercontinental airliner.  Because of this, contrails were rarely seen in the United States prior to the 1960s.

The year 1958 was a watershed year in commercial aviation.  Boeing introduced the 707 and Douglas the DC-8, while a year later Convair debuted the 880.  The turbojet engines on these airliners thrived in the cold thin air found above 30,000 feet and they were routinely operated in these flight levels.  In the 1960′s, contrails became commonplace across the United States, especially along designated jet airways between ground based navigation aids.  When the temperature is low enough and the humidity high enough, the 1,500 gallons of water produced every hour by these jetliners was transformed into four cirrus clouds.

When the humidity is very high, the contrails will remain for hours.  In moderate humidity the contrails may last  .  .  .

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2 responses

  1. I remember first reading about chemtrails and thinking doesn’t make any sense from so many different angles yet I found myself afterwards noticing for the first the amount of persistent trails there where overhead n think ‘come on, there can’ t be anything in it can there??? ‘ basically because all of a sudden all vapour trails looked out of place, so much larger than the oft quoted 20 times the planes length as the absolute maximum size of a contrail and my memory of seeing jetliners flying overhead as a wee kid never had long contrails behind them.
    Every sane and sensible bone in my body cried bullshit but those trails i was suddenly looking at just weren’t acting how they should…… and hows that because i hadn’t given the a second look in 35 years lol.

    Then it hit me, long persistent contrails much much longer than the supposed 20 plane lengths are nothing new at all and there are 100s of iconic photographs of aeriel combat from WW2 with extensive trails.

    Being from the US you probably imagine I’m referring to those images of 100s of B-17s high over France and Germany which equally prove the point but it was actually those images of the cloudless bright blue skies over southern England in the summer of 1940 utterly criss-crossed with vapour trails… not oil clouds or smoke from burning planes being shot down but probably the most identifiable and evocative tell tale sign of the dogfights playing out in the deep blue canopy above as the history the Battle of Britain raged on.

    Now there isn’t a conspiracy theorist in the world who’ll convince me that those fighter pilots aswell as fighting for their lives and the very real fate of their countries were also spraying chemtrails aswell because if they weren’t then there are countless photographs from 1940 where you see a sky full of trails although the dogfight that produced them is long over.

    It is almost emblematic of the Battle of Britain, large persistent vapour trails covering the skies of southern England, it’s as much woven into the fabric of it as the Spitfire, Me109 or RAF fighter pilots driving red MG TAs with their loyal dog beside them….. it’s part of the collective memory because it happened, irrefutably with volumes of film and photographs to prove it so as I say either Chemtrails have been around since at least 1940 or vapour trails that stretch across the sky and last for hours are a normal artifact of avaition engines afterall.

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