Chemtrails: Real or Not?

What you always thought were simply contrails are really dangerous chemicals being sprayed.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Conspiracies, Environment, General Science, Health, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #27
February 15, 2007
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Today we're going to put on our Men In Black suits, buy a plane ticket, and spray the world with mysterious chemicals as part of an evil government conspiracy. For today's subject is chemtrails.

Wow. Where to begin. I read a fair amount of skeptical, paranormal, and conspiracy web sites, but I don't recall ever reading so much vituperation, anger, and name calling as when I read a few forums discussing chemtrails. If you're not familiar with the term, chemtrails are what some conspiracy theorists call aircraft condensation trails. Most of them don't believe that conventional contrails exist, and that when you see one, you're actually seeing a trail of mysterious airborne chemicals sprayed from the aircraft. Those who do concede the existence of contrails often claim subtle differences in appearance or behavior between a condensation trail and a chemical trail.

First, let's discuss exactly what a contrail is. A condensation trail, also called a vapor trail, forms at altitudes above 25,000 feet in temperatures below -40 degrees when engine exhaust condenses into ice crystals, creating an artificial cirrus cloud. Water is produced by hydrocarbon burning engines in about the same quantity as fuel consumed, and in the right conditions, this extra addition of water into the air pushes the water vapor past the saturation point, and condensation occurs. It takes a moment to happen, which accounts for the contrail appearing a short distance behind the aircraft, rather than immediately, like you'd see from a smoke pod on an aerobatic plane, or like when a crop duster releases chemicals. Contrails can also be caused at high altitudes by the extreme low pressure areas created by wingtip vortices, which reduce the temperature enough to condense the existing moisture in the air. As previously mentioned, many chemtrail believers claim that there is no such thing as a condensation trail. Since they're well understood, 100% reproducible, and observable practically any time you look into the sky, the onus is really on the believers to prove that no such thing is possible. In my opinion they have quite an uphill battle on this one.

By the way, in case you're wondering whether I meant Celsius or Fahrenheit when I said -40 degrees, here's a bit of science trivia for you. -40 is the point where the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales are the same. If you can figure out where Fahrenheit and Kelvins intersect, go to and post it in the forum.

Some chemtrail believers say that the population is being gassed with some unknown chemical for an unknown reason. Others tie into pop culture, suggesting that chemtrails are the active manifestation of one proposal to combat global warming by placing dust into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight. One guy told me "You guys are so full of yourselves just can't conceive of spiritual warfare can you? Try this fact: malevolent interdimensional entities are involved — project keep the human slave race suppressed."

Like all conspiracy theories, chemtrails require us to accept the existence of a coverup of mammoth proportions. In this case, virtually every aircraft maintenance worker at every airport in the world needs to be either part of the conspiracy, or living under a threat from Men in Black, with not a single whistle blower or deathbed confession in decades. Yet the threats are not frightening enough to prevent stories like the following from appearing on the Internet:

For reasons you will understand as you read this I can not divulge my identity. I am an aircraft mechanic for a major airline. I work at one of our maintenance bases located at a large airport. One day last month I was called out from our base to work on a plane for another airline. When I got to the plane I found out that the problem was in waste disposal system. When I got into the bay I realized that something was not right. There were more tanks, pumps, and pipes then should have been there. As I tried to find the problem I quickly realized the extra piping and tanks were not connected to the waste disposal system, at all. To my amazement the manuals did not show any of the extra equipment I had seen with my own eyes. I even tied in to the manufacturer files and still found nothing. I could trace the control wires from the box to the pumps and valves but there were no control circuits coming into the unit. The only wires coming into the unit was a power connection to the aircraft's main power bus. The system had 1 large tank and 2 smaller tanks. It was hard to tell in the cramped compartment, but it looked like the large tank could hold about 50 gallons. The tanks were connected to a fill and drain valve that passed through the fuselage just behind the drain valve for the waste system. I discovered that the pipes from this mystery system lead to every 1 out of 3 of the static discharge wicks. These wicks had been "hollowed out" to allow whatever flows through these pipes to be discharged through the fake wicks.

About 30 minutes later I was paged to see the General Manager. When I went in his office I found that our union rep and two others who I did not know were waiting on me. He told me that a serious problem had been discovered. He said that I was being written up and suspended for turning in false paperwork. I sat at home the first day of my suspension wondering what the hell had happened to me. That evening I received a phone call. The voice told me "Now you know what happens to mechanics who poke around in things they shouldn't. The next time you start working on systems that are no concern of yours you will lose your job! As it is, I'm feeling generous, I believe that you'll be able to go back to work soon." CLICK. Well that's it. Now I know 'THEY' are watching me.

Another forum poster replied:

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

I, too, work for an airline, though I work in upper management levels. I wish I could document everything I am about to relate to you, but to do so is next to impossible and would result in possible physical harm to me. Airline companies in America have been participating in something called Project Cloverleaf for a few years now. The earliest date anyone remembers being briefed on it is 1998. I was briefed on it in 1999. The few airline employees who were briefed on Project Cloverleaf were all made to undergo background checks, and before we were briefed on it we were made to sign non-disclosure agreements, which basically state that if we tell anyone what we know we could be imprisoned. About twenty employees in our office were briefed along with me by two officials from some government agency. They didn't tell us which one. They told us that the government was going to pay our airline, along with others, to release special chemicals from commercial aircraft. When asked what the chemicals were and why we were going to spray them, they told us that information was given on a need-to-know basis and we weren't cleared for it. He seemed perturbed at this question and told us in a tone of authority that the public doesn't need to know what's going on, but that this program is in their best interests. He also stated that we should not tell anyone, nor ask any more questions about it.

I take back my comment about the lack of whistle blowers. It seems that just about everyone is discussing it freely, and since the government is openly laying out virtually all the essential details to 20 people in every airline office in the world with complicity from all the union reps, why the secrecy? If we're truly on the edge of a global warming catastrophe and a worldwide cooperative effort to spray reflective dust into the atmosphere is the only way we can save ourselves, wouldn't a little glasnost be a more effective approach? Of course it would, but then we wouldn't have had those two very exciting and original stories.

If the goal was to drug a population, you'd put the gas where it could reach people, you wouldn't release a minute quantity into the jet stream where it's going to be diluted to undetectable levels and eventually rain into the oceans. If the goal is to put reflective dust into the atmosphere to fight global warming, you'd need to plant it a lot higher than commercial jets can travel if you don't want it to rain right back to earth (in fact you need to put it well up into the stratosphere, not just at the top of the troposphere), and you'd need a lot more than can ever be delivered with 50 gallon tanks. But then, the arguments in favor of chemtrails don't appear to be based on any kind of logic. They appear to be based on nothing more than imagined conspiracies and sightings of visible contrails, which are well understood, and are being left by planes every hour of the day over every city in the world, and have been for over 50 years. It's how the malevolent interdimensional entities remind us of their ominous presence.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Anonymous. "An Airline Manager's Statement." Aerosol Crimes & Cover Up. C.E. Carnicom, 22 May 2000. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. <>

Anonymous. "A Mechanics Statement." Aerosol Crimes & Cover Up. C.E. Carnicom, 19 May 2000. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. <>

Bruce Conway. "The Chemtrail Smoking Gun - Proof of Global Geoengineering Projects." Lightwatcher. Illumina Publishing, 20 Jun. 2003. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. <>

Hope, Ray. America Sold Out. Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2003. 145-152.

Ludlum, David M. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1991. 24-26.

U.S. Air Force. "Contrails Facts." Official website of the U.S. Airforce. U.S. Air Force, 13 Oct. 2005. Web. 5 Nov. 2009. <>

United States Environmental Protetion Agency. "Aircraft Contrails Factsheet (EPA430-F-00-005)." United States Environmental Protetion Agency. 1 Sep. 2000, EPA430-F-00-005.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Chemtrails: Real or Not?" Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 15 Feb 2007. Web. 27 Apr 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 270 comments

Macky, can you give an example of a case where trails were documented to have formed from aircraft "at different heights from where contrails form"?

Belfrey, Florida
May 5, 2014 3:47am

dumping fuel might be quite routine. if the powers that be wanted to kill us they would just unleash the plague and wipe out two thirds of us.

andy, glasgow
May 7, 2014 6:36pm

Belfrey, I'm sorry I cannot give you any documented cases, only visuals from me and three other posters here earlier on in this thread.
We are all quite clear that we are not promoting any world wide conspiracy whatsoever, just that we have seen trails that are obviously not contrails, and are at different heights from Brian's descriptions of contrail heights.


While what you say may well be true, there is no reason to be complacent that such occasional spraying of populations in selected areas does not take place, as a part of some experiment or other.
I've already posted links to US laws that virtually permit such chemical testing on civilians.

That doesn't prove it's happening, of course, but it is possible, and the multiple sightings described earlier on in this thread by non-conspiracy theorists of trails that are much lower than normal contrails is worth reading, when you have some spare time on your hands.

Macky, Auckland
May 8, 2014 3:20am

I have a problem with the statement "at different heights to where contrails form" as I have seen contrails at heights from sea level to 15,000m if the weather is right. Antarctic research flights regularly leave contrails at takeoff for example.

Peter, newcastle
May 8, 2014 7:37pm

Sure Peter, well then has Brian made a correct statement about contrail formation : ..."forms at altitudes above 25,000 feet in temperatures below -40 degrees when engine exhaust condenses into ice crystals,.." or have I read his explanation in a particularly narrow way ?

Is it a fact any contrail can form at -40 degrees, at any height, which seems to me to be more sensible ?

I accept your statement "..I have seen contrails at heights from sea level to 15,000m.."

At this point, can you describe the contrails you saw at this great range of heights as lasting for an hour, say, and spreading out gradually over the sky in a yellowish haze, or otherwise dirty-coloured lines that hovered steadily in the sky and were observed still holding their form a long time after first being noticed ?

Did the contrails you observed near the ground last for any longer than a few minutes at the outside, for example ?

Any genuine contrail I've seen near the ground from an aircraft has only lasted a few seconds.

Macky, Auckland
May 8, 2014 10:04pm

It's common to see vapor forming off wingtip vortices at low altitude if the humidity is there (vortices have low pressure inside). They dissipate almost immediately because the atmospheric pressure is too high at altitudes lower than about 25,000 feet. These numbers do fluctuate depending on meteorological conditions.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
May 9, 2014 12:08am

Yes the wingtip vortices sightings at low altitude are certainly correct, Brian.

I have observed these often, as the airliners of Air NZ on national routes fly over our house from the south, just before turning to line up with the Auckland Airport runway.

I am interested in Peter's post re contrails at "sea level to 15,000m" and assume that he is talking about engine exhausts.

I have never seen contrails lower than approx. 25,000ft, and would ask Peter if any contrails he saw lower than that height last for say an hour, and spread out, creating a haze over a large part of the sky. And whether said haze was white or other colours, dirty yellow etc.

Macky, Auckland
May 10, 2014 1:26am
Some nice photos of ground level contrails from all sorts of hydrocarbon burning vehicles.

Peter, newcastle
May 12, 2014 5:29pm

Thank you Peter. Nice photos, indeed...

Macky, Auckland
May 13, 2014 2:18am

Those wacky chemtrail lovers aren't sitting on their hands; they are keeping up with the times. Chemtrails are no longer being emitted by commercial airliners - nowadays the government is using drones!

Canyon, Verde
August 22, 2014 8:26am

Make a comment about this episode of Skeptoid (please try to keep it brief & to the point).

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