Why Is There A Balloon on FlightRadar24?

Now that there are a lot less aircraft in the skies, a few things are appearing on FlightRadar24.com that we may not have noticed before.

First off, there are a number of helicopters over the North Sea now appearing. They were likely there anyway, its just they were hidden beneath all the commercial operations.

Then there are a number of Airbus Beluga flights appearing – carrying aircraft parts between the sites in Toulouse, Hamburg and Hawarden.

The final curiosity now seen more prominently are balloons:

The helicopters are heading out to the oil rigs in the North Sea. The Airbus Beluga aircraft are freighters. But what are these mysterious balloons appearing on FlightRadar?

These are Loon Balloons.

Loon Balloon
A Loon balloon at the launch event in June 2013 © Doug Coldwell

What Is A Loon Balloon?

A Loon balloon floats at high altitudes, typically 60,000ft+ in order to provide internet access to more rural areas.

They work in a mesh type network. From a special antenna on the users building, it connects to the nearest balloon. The signal then jumps over to the next balloon, then the next until it’s near enough to a ground station that’s connected to the internet.

By all accounts, the internet provided by these balloons is of a reasonable speed, as it runs on the 4G/LTE network.

Due to the high altitudes, there isn’t too much deviation in the balloons as the wind speeds are generally low. They are controlled by either increasing or decreasing the internal gas in order to catch what winds there are in the area.

Loon Balloon over Colombia

The balloons are made by Raven industries and are 49ft by 39ft when fully inflated. The electronics inside the balloons are solar powered. Also inside the balloons are batteries, which are solar charged which allows the equipment to continue to operate at night.

Each balloon has a service live of around 100-200 days. When the balloon is ready to be taken out of service, a parachute opens on top of the balloon and the internal gases are released into the atmosphere. The equipment is then recovered and reused.

The parachute also opens automatically in case of a failure.

Further Info:


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