- A social media user took a picture of a high-flying airship in December 2022.
- The anomaly was spotted over the skies of Luzon Island in the northern Philippines near the South China Sea.
- Strangely the user later deleted the photo, but local media picked up the story.
- The ownership of the high-altitude airship remains unknown.
The Mysterious Flying Object South China South
Pictures of a mysterious object have been making the rounds on the internet. The photos appear to have captured a high-altitude airship flying above Luzon Island in the Philippines near the South China Sea.
Allegedly, an individual in the province of Pangasinan posted the pictures but later deleted them. Nevertheless, local media picked up on the story and broadcasted the images.
The Chinese military is famous for exploring high-flying lighter-than-air platforms. These airships perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. According to the War Zone, such airships best suit the East Asian region for military purposes.
The object appears to be a teardrop-shaped airship with four tail fins. The airship appears highly reflective in the pictures, implying that it is either metallic or glassy. But whether the plane has a translucent exterior or a metallic one is still being determined.
Many materials can create this effect when viewed from a significant distance. Additionally, from the pictures, it is difficult to guess the size or how high the airship was flying.
China’s Airship Hanger Facility
The flying object’s shape resembles the latest high-altitude Chinese airships – Tian Heng and Yuan Meng. According to reports, these unmanned airships have flown at least once before.
The Yuan Meng is part of China’s developing program of manufacturing large airships. Interestingly, the China Aviation Industry Group is also collaborating with a French firm Flying Whales to build heavy airships as well.
The first aircraft of this collaborative effort is a 60-ton payload cargo airship. Although airships can transport more material than cargo planes, their speed is comparatively lower. Specifically, an airship is better suited to delivering larger cargo to remote areas.
But why is China investing in these futuristic airships? The answer is simple: to eliminate disruptions arising from the trucking of cargo after it arrives at air or seaports. However, these airships suffer from ballast exchange issues. Therefore, an equal weight must replace the offloaded weight to prevent a disastrous take-off.
The airships are usually built to fly at stratospheric altitudes of around 23,000 to 66,000 feet above the surface. But, according to one research paper published in the Chinese Journal of Aeronautics, Tian Heng offers an “affordable part substitute for a near-earth orbit satellite.” Whatever that means?
Both projects are linked to a hangar south of Bosten Lake in China. Last year, the War Zone closely studied the facility, showing it had considerably increase in growth since 2013. The analysis also indicates additional construction sites and new administrative buildings.
A review of imagery available from Plant Labs has yet to show any significant developments on the site. But, interestingly, the newly-built hangar is near other Chinese military facilities linked to missile defence and anti-satellite weapon programs.
Who Owns This Mysterious Flying Object?
The South China Sea is an area of strategic interest for many countries, so aerial activity in that region is a regular occurrence. However, in light of political friction between the Philippines and China, it’s intriguing for many to see an airship flying over the Philippines.
Many hypothesize the airship could also belong to a different country. Experts say the spotted object could be a secretive U.S. stealth drone, the RQ-180. Yet, considering China’s growth in airship development, the drone could belong to China too.
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The U.S. military has shown interest in planes identical to the one seen in the viral photographs. Lockheed Martin’s High-Altitude Long Endurance-Demonstrator (HALE-D) is a prime example.
Recently, the U.S. Military has shifted its focus to the Pacific to keep a check on a conflict with China. Therefore, it is plausible to believe the airship may also belong to the United States. The Pentagon has even shown interest in high-altitude balloon-based systems.
This is not the first time a mysterious object has been seen around the South China Sea. The National Interest reported that China deployed aerostats over Mischief Reef to provide continuous situational awareness in December 2019.
The capabilities of this high-flying airship have several applications, both commercially and scientifically. In this race, China plans to build an extensive aerostat network over hotspots such as the Himalayas, the South China Sea, and Taiwan in the future. With interest growing rapidly in this field, similar sightings will likely increase in the future.