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Keep Your Eye on the HBAL—Tracking Project Loon Balloons

Keep Your Eye on the HBAL—Tracking Project Loon Balloons

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Each day, we receive inquiries on social media and through our support channels asking about balloons, specifically—“What are those balloon icons wandering around the map at 65,000 feet?”

A Google Loon balloon floating off the coast of Brazil
A Project Loon balloon floating off the coast of Brazil

These balloons belong to Project Loon, designed to bring Internet access to remote regions not served by traditional infrastructure. The helium balloons contain equipment that connects the balloons to each other, ground relay stations, and the Internet. They are also equipped with an ADS-B receiver, which makes them visible on Flightradar24. The balloons float in the stratosphere gaining and losing altitude to find the right wind patterns to carry them where the need to be. They float above weather systems and commercial air traffic, generally between 55,000 and 70,000 feet.

Speed and altitude detail for one of three Loon balloons floating over Brazil
Speed and altitude detail for one of three Loon balloons floating over Brazil

Learn more about Project Loon in the video below and keep up to date with Loon progress on their Google+ page.

 

How to Track Loon Balloons

Loon balloons are launched from a number of locations around the world, including a new location in Puerto Rico. They can be tracked in a number of ways on FR24 due to the way they transmit their flight information. Because the balloons do not necessarily transmit their type, some may appear as aircraft icons until we are able to update our database.

The easiest way to find a Loon balloon is to just look for the balloon icon on the map. You’re most likely to see a Loon balloon over the equator. To search directly for a Loon balloon, use callsign “HBAL”. An aircraft type filter for “BALL” will also return Loon balloons, but may also include other ADS-B-equipped balloons, such as hot air balloons.


Loons over Puerto Rico

Following the devastating hurricanes that impacted Puerto Rico during the summer of 2017, Loon teamed with telecommunications companies to help supplement mobile phone service on the island with Loon balloons.

Loon balloons over Puerto Rico on 22 January 2018

 

Featured image by iLighter, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia

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