PorcFest Chemtrails Session Outline

Varrin and the MD-11

Varrin and the MD-11

On Saturday, July 26th, I gave a talk with Q&A at the Porcupine Freedom Festival. Unfortunately, there is no video of the presentation. There may have been an audio recording, but I haven’t received the audio and don’t know if or when it might be available.

I prepared an outline of the talk which was not intended to be published. I also prepared a powerpoint to accompany the talk, but no projector was available. Since the content may be of interest to those who were not there to hear it, and since the source material was not printed for attendees to see, I have decided to simply publish my notes. Note that the line at the end was delivered in an obviously humorous way. Here are the raw notes:


Chemtrails: Fact or Fiction?

Started: 05-28-2014

Revision: 1.1 06-07-2014

Author: Varrin Swearingen

Pre-intro / intro

Poll: 1st Porc Fest? Decided to move because of this PF?

Topic: Topic is Chemtrails: Fact or Fiction.

About me: 2004 mover, FSP Board member, 2x FSP President, ‘life long libertarian’

Learned to fly in 1992, flight instructed, Comair, World, NCA

BSA Embry Riddle, 10,000+ hours, big airplanes, worldwide operation

Format: Short introductory talk, then mostly Q&A

Purpose: Not to explain in detail the science of contrails and/or chemtrails.

To share my extensive real world experience

I have a science degree but am not a physicist.

As an operations professional, I have a deep understanding of practical matters

As a libertarian, I oppose government coercion, and I embrace honesty

Define Chemtrails

From How Stuff Works: “conspiracy theorists have nicknamed contrails “chemtrails” under the suspicion that the government is taking advantage of this scientific phenomenon to secretly release other substances into the atmosphere.” http://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/flight/modern/what-are-chemtrails.htm

From CSI (committee for skeptical inquiry): ““Chemtrails” have been described as either a means of carrying out biological warfare upon the citizenry of the United States or as a method of weather modification, perhaps related to mitigation of global warming.” http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/chemtrail_conspiracy

Numerous other definitions are similar. The most important elements are:

1: Secret / ‘denied’ conspiracy

2: Non-coincidental / unnatural / intentional action

3: Specific effects (weather / biological effects)

My definition: The word “chemtrail” is most often used in reference to visible trails following airplanes which are claimed to be intentionally sprayed as part of a (usually government) conspiracy to have some effect: usually controlling the weather, but sometimes also poisoning or controlling the population.

Define Contrails

“Contrails are clouds formed when water vapor condenses and freezes around small particles (aerosols) that exist in aircraft exhaust.” NASA: http://science-edu.larc.nasa.gov/contrail-edu/science.php This definition is exclusive to aircraft engine exhaust. NASA provide sub-categories by effect (how long it lasts, etc.). Conversely, Wikipedia’s contrail article incorporates Britannica’s more broad definition:

“… On rare occasions, when the air is nearly saturated with water vapour, air circulation at the wing tips of an airplane may cause sufficient pressure and temperature reductions to cause cloud streamers to form.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/623212/vapour-trail Contrail Science (a website devoted to debunking chemtrail conspiracy theories) suggests three types:

Exhaust contrails are formed by the mixing of the hot humid exhaust of the engines with cold humid surrounding air, creating long streamers of clouds. … Aerodynamic contrails are  formed by the temporary reduction in pressure of the air moving over the surface of the plane, or in the center of a wake vortex. … Hybrid Contrail, defined as two distinct thin cylindrical portions of an exhaust contrail that have larger ice crystals due to wake vortices.” Contrail Science: http://contrailscience.com/hybrid-contrails-a-new-classification/

For this discussion, I’ll suggest categorizing visible trails three ways:

  1. Condensation trails caused by engines I’ll call exhaust contrails.

  2. Condensation trails caused by pressure changes from wings, flaps, winglets, etc., I’ll call aerodynamic contrails.

  3. A third type of visible trail is not accurately called a contrail, but it can look like one. On occasion, fluids are discharged from aircraft, such as galley drain discharge or fuel dumping, or even dirty exhaust, and those can sometimes look like contrails. These trails are technically not condensation, therefore it’s incorrect to call them contrails. I’ll call these discharge trails.

Substance of the Conspiracy Theory; Chemtrails or Contrails?

Chemtrail conspiracy theory requires not just that aircraft emit chemicals. It is not controversial that combustion engines emit chemicals. The question is whether something additional is intentionally done to create or alter effects resulting from aircraft operations. The conspiracy requires one or both of the following to occur:

  1. Aircraft operators (pilots, etc.) intentionally operate chemical systems onboard aircraft in order to spray chemicals beyond the normal operation of the aircraft. This might include switching on equipment, etc. And/or,

  2. Aircraft automatically / passively spray chemicals without operator action or maybe even knowledge. This could include automatic aircraft systems, and/or propulsion system (engine and/or fuel) modifications.

For either of those to occur, the active participants in the conspiracy would be numerous, potentially as high as the tens or hundreds of thousands. While conspiracies of that magnitude exist (eg. government), no conspiracy so large has ever been kept a secret without any evidence whatsoever leaking out. It is simply not plausible that such a conspiracy exists and I have seen no credible supporting evidence.

Without reviewing every assertion in detail (which is too long to do here), I can say that every single theory I’ve ever heard includes elements that are beyond far fetched and demonstrate significant lack of knowledge about aviation operations. While I don’t expect non-professionals to know what we, who regularly engage in professional aviation know, most often those promoting chemtrail conspiracy theories do not ask actual working professionals or only listen to the very few so-called ‘expert’ sources without any critical analysis at all.

Chemtrail conspiracy theorists publish pictures and videos claiming to be chemtrails. Most often, these are of airliners, but occasionally they are of military aircraft. I have reviewed countless such examples. In almost every case, they are clearly ordinary contrails: exhaust, aerodynamic or a combination of the two (hybrid, or other combination).

It would be exceptionally rare for anyone to ever look up and see a trail following an airplane that is not: visible aircraft exhaust (i.e. Exhaust smoke), an exhaust contrail, an aerodynamic contrail, or a combination thereof. By exceptionally rare I mean that many people are unlikely to have ever personally seen such a thing outside of an airshow. For those who have, it would be a very rare event. Keep in mind, the conspiracy theory depends on widespread application.

Effects of Ordinary Contrails

Some of the effects purported to be a result of the chemtrail conspiracy may actually occur as a result of ordinary contrails. Specifically, contrails very likely affect the climate. There isn’t widespread agreement as to how or how much, but it is plausible that there is some effect. PBS’s Nova discusses the matter, specifically mentioning a post-9/11 study taking advantage of the absence of contrails for several days when (almost) all U.S. Air traffic was grounded. See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/contrail-effect.html

Jet engine exhaust does contain pollution. Such pollution may contribute to environmental problems, which may have health consequences. Some researchers suggest that air pollution kills a million people per year and that jet traffic contributes to as many as 10,000 of those annual deaths. See: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/10/101005-planes-pollution-deaths-science-environment/

So ordinary contrails are not without effects. The presence of those effects doesn’t prove the chemtrail conspiracy theory, but may be a concern worthy of attention.

Actual Non-Secret “Chemtrails”

Discharge trails of some sorts could be considered chemtrails. In some cases, such as aircraft drains, there is no intentional action to spray for effect. Rarely, aircraft do have to jettison fuel, which is not for the purpose of spraying, but results in a significant chemical (fuel) spray.

Aircraft do sometimes spray or otherwise emit liquid, vapor, or sometimes solid material, for the purpose of emitting. Examples include:

  • Spraying water and sometimes water mixed with additives to perform various aerodynamic tests. This includes testing the effects of icing conditions on aircraft handling characteristics.

  • Spraying smoke to make a visible trail. This includes skywriting and airshow smoke.

  • Spraying chemicals and/or substances for weather control research and practice. This includes cloud seeding, typically using silver iodide or dry ice (or salt or even liquid propane).

  • Emitting chaff and flairs from military aircraft as decoys for anti aircraft weapons.

  • Spraying water or chemicals for fire retardant purposes (fire bombing).

  • Spraying pesticides on crops (crop dusting).

  • Spraying agents (agent orange), or, more recently, bombs and bullets on bad guys (war).

None of the above are the trails commonly seen overhead which are normally cited as “chemtrails”.


Is there anything to be concerned about? Yes, but not a vast, secret conspiracy to intentionally spray, on a widespread basis, chemicals to achieve a specific effect.

Legitimate, potentially significant, concerns include:

  • the health and climate effects of air pollution from aircraft engine exhaust,

  • the effects of contrails on climate,

  • the health effects of pesticides on food,

  • the environmental and strategic impact of areal firefighting,

  • and, of course, death by war.

But not chemtrails as we know them.

Why, then, oppose chemtrail conspiracy theories? Maybe it’s my theory that the conspiracy theorists are part of a vast conspiracy to infiltrate groups who like freedom to make them look like crazy people.


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