Australian news, and some related international items

How Australia helped the US keep tabs on its nuclear rivals through a secret balloon program

By Tim Callanan ABC News, 9 Apr 23  

For those with a keen mind for history, the recent Chinese spy balloon controversy may have reawakened some distant memories of Australia’s Cold War-era balloon program.

While it was officially “secret”, everyone knew about it.

More than 60 years ago, Australia and the United States launched the Hibal (High Altitude Balloon) project as a way of keeping tabs on weapons developments in other countries.

Not by flying over them, but by testing the air at extremely high altitudes.

It was a bit like sticking your nose out of the top window of your house to smell what the people three doors down were cooking.

The Americans figured the air from nuclear testing sites in the Pacific would waft across to Australia, carrying tell-tale particles with it.

Steven Thorn worked on the program in its early years and has since written his own book on Hibal, which was based in the regional Victorian city of Mildura.

“The Americans were sniffing at other people’s weapons. They were interested in the French [nuclear testing] out in the Pacific,” he said.

“The Americans had trace elements in their bombs and they could determine from the type of residue whether they were a hydrogen bomb or an atom bomb so I suspect that was part of the ‘secret’ part of it.”

The balloons themselves were huge, reaching up to 100 metres in diameter.

They carried a 300 kilogram payload of atmospheric testing instruments to altitudes of more than 30 kilometres — well above the level at which commercial airliners fly.

The payload looked like something straight from the set of an old Dr Who episode, with visible wires, tubes and funnels all secured in place with what looked like sticky tape.

The project may technically have been classified top secret, but plenty of people knew about it — in fact, people used to come and watch the huge balloons being launched.

But it was the data captured high above the ground that was definitely off limits.

A race to reach the balloons as they crashed to earth…………………..

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, The HIBAL project petered out in the late 1970s as the Americans lost interest in sniffing our air, or found better ways of keeping tabs on their nuclear rivals………………….more


April 10, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: