This Mysterious Military Spy Plane Has Been Flying Circles Over Seattle For Days

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick via,

A very unique USAF surveillance aircraft has been flying highly defined circles over Seattle and its various suburbs for nine days now. Nobody at the DoD seems to know who the aircraft belongs to or what exactly it is doing flying so many missions over the Seattle area. But based on its visibly exotic configuration, and information collected by open source flight tracking websites, we can get a good idea of its capabilities and guess as to what it’s up to.

The aircraft, which goes by the callsign “SPUD21” and wears a nondescript flat gray paint job with the only visible markings being a USAF serial on its tail, is a CASA CN-235-300 transport aircraft that has been extensively modified for the surveillance mission. You can see more pictures of the aircraft here.

It is covered in a dizzying array of blisters, protrusions, humps and bumps. These include missile approach warning detectors and large fairings on its empennage for buckets of forward-firing decoy flares, as well as both microwave—the dome antenna behind the wing and flat antenna modification in front of the wing—and ultra high-frequency satellite communications—the platter-like antenna behind the dome antenna. A communications intelligence suite also appears to be installed on the aircraft, with the antenna farm on the bottom of its fuselage being a clear indication of such a capability.

But what's most interesting is the aircraft's apparent visual intelligence gathering installation. It is placed in a fixed position, on the left side of the aircraft, below the plane’s forward emergency door. The rectangle structure has a sliding door that covers the system's sensors when not in use. 

On the lower end of the capabilities spectrum, the system installed could be similar to the DB110 reconnaissance system, which can provide very high fidelity imagery of a target area from standoff "slant" ranges. The system, which is popular among F-16 operators in a podded version, can be acquired in varying configurations. Some have multi-spectral fusion capability, where electro-optical and infrared imagery is combined to bring out unique details that neither can see alone. An additional wider angle camera is also available as well, along with an assortment of data-link options that can send the system’s imagery to analysts and “customers” on the ground for rapid exploitation. In this case, the analysts could fly inside the aircraft, eliminating the requirement—or at least the outright need—for such a feature. 

On the higher end of the capability spectrum, the aperture could be filled with a wide area aerial surveillance (WAAS) camera system that can view a large area—the size of a town—continuously at one time. This technology, which allows for tagging of vehicles and other moving objects, and can even be used retroactively to trace someone's movements over time, is among the biggest surveillance game-changers of our time. You can read all about how it works and its great potential to change everything from how we survey the battlefield to how we solve crimes here at home in this past feature

WAAS camera systems have rapidly evolved over the last decade and have gone from the battlefield to the commercial market here at home. They also now come in all different sizes and capability classes—as well as a variety of interesting sounding names to go with them such as “Gorgon Stare,” “Hawkeye” and “ARGUS” to name a few. In fact, WAAS payloads, which were once the domain of larger aircraft like the  MQ-9 Reaper drone and King Air twin turboprop, are now deployable on small tactical drones, such as the "Red Kite" sensor mounted on RQ-21 Blackjack used by Insitu, a Pacific Northwest company that is now owned by Boeing.

RQ-21 fitted with WAAS "Red Kite" sensor.

Some WAAS sensors require the aircraft to fly tight overhead orbits, while others work at a slant angle in relation to the ground. Considering the mounting location and aperture size on the CN-235 in question, this kind of "slant" setup would likely be the case. Also, the counterclockwise orbits the aircraft flies, between roughly six and twelve miles across, at altitudes from 17,000 to 22,000 feet, also indicate such a setup.

A sampling of tracks from SPUD21 missions around the Seattle area. 

Above all else, these types of surveillance systems are especially good at capturing and monitoring so called "patterns of life" over and around a target area. This is an especially useful tool when collecting intelligence on an enemy target or group of targets over time and can open up new possibilities when it comes to the  process of finding, fixing and finishing the enemy. 

Simply put, instead of recording a snapshot in time such as what a satellite can furnish, persistent airborne surveillance sensors capture massive amounts of exploitable information over hours and days. So if a picture is akin to a thousand words, this persistent type of wide area aerial surveillance is equivalent to an entire novel or even a series of novels.  

When paired with communications intelligence gathering, such as intercepting radio communications and mobile and satellite phone chatter, a high fidelity "picture" of a targeted area and how specific targets in that area operate can be compiled in a relatively short period of time, all using a single relatively economical asset. Also, the aircraft’s extensive communications suite can take this information, including streaming video, and send it to a command center around the world or relay it to regional ground stations. As such, it can likely provide high-fidelity overwatch of ongoing special operations mission, and relay that video and/or audio to commanders in real time.  

Now that we have at least some idea of what this aircraft is likely capable of, the big question is what is it doing over Seattle and its suburbs? And maybe even more important—who is operating it? 

Aside from what appears to be a weekend off in Portland, Oregon, the aircraft flies its missions out of Boeing Field, and it is operating out of Clay Lacy Aviation, the local fixed based operator (FBO) at Boeing Field, not from Boeing's military ramp. It is totally common for military aircraft—from fighters to transports—to use local FBOs when traveling away from home. In fact, aircrews often prefer the amenities and ease of access of a high-end private jet center over a nearby military base.

Clay Lacy Aviation in relation to the Boeing military flight test ramp at KBFI.

In Seattle at Boeing Field, Clay Lacy Aviation is famous for its seemingly constant stream of visiting military aircraft—but those aircraft aren't usually executing highly peculiar surveillance missions over nearby urban areas for days on end. And the fact that the aircraft is not operating from the Boeing military ramp is a very good indication that its mission does not involve the aerospace giant. As such, this also largely eliminates the possibility of Boeing doing some sort of systems integration testing on the aircraft which could have explained some of its strange behavior. 

As to who sent the aircraft and who even takes ownership of it, those details have turned out to be incredibly tough to pin down. Though it seems indisputable that the aircraft is or at least was U.S. government property at one point based on its Air Force-style serial number, none of the obvious U.S. military organizations claim they are aware of the CN-235 or its activities.  

Public affairs officers at U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees American military activities in North America, and its subordinate Joint Task Force-North (JTF-N), both said they weren’t tracking the aircraft or its mission. JTF-N is responsible for handling requests from domestic civilian agencies, such as Customs and Border Patrol, for military support, including contractor-operated surveillance aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) had similarly not been able to determine if the aircraft belonged to one of its units. U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) forwarded yet another query on the issue back to AFSOC. 

In an attempt to simply establish basic ownership, we reached out to the public affairs office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, home of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, which keeps tabs on all of the service’s aircraft. After speaking with a number of individuals by phone and email on the subject, they decided to send our query to the Pentagon’s main public affairs office.

The CASA CN-235 is a favorite of militaries and mercenaries around the world. This example was operated in Afghanistan by the US mercenary firm popularly known as Blackwater

Taken together, these responses would seem to point to what many observers might have already speculated immediately, that this was a mission or training exercise in support of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) or a civilian agency such as the Central Intelligence Agency. This particular CN-235, with the serial 96-6042, is one of six that researchers commonly associated with the Air Force’s top secret 427th Special Operations Squadron. Recent pictures of the other aircraft show they are all in relatively similar configurations at present. 

The 427th occupies the same space with a host of other “black” U.S. military aviation elements, most of which are affiliated to some degree with JSOC and the Intelligence Community. The War Zone has previously explored what is publicly known about these units in great detail.

Of course, the idea of the federal government employing a military aircraft to conduct surveillance within the United States would involve very complex and often controversial legal requirements. Far too complicated to go into detail here, we recommend taking a dive into Lawfare’s extensive writings on the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities and related issues, which are tangential and touch on many of the same debates, though are not necessarily directly related to aerial spying. In 2016, BuzzFeed News also wrote an in-depth feature about airborne surveillance programs within the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that gets into many of these questions.

In short, if the military placed the aircraft under civilian control to some degree and with an appropriate legal justification, the U.S. military could possibly fly it in support of a domestic operation or one focused on a foreign suspect or organization operating within the United States. SOCOM and JSOC both have had connections to an “alphabet soup” of counter-terrorism elements that may have domestic components since at least 2008

Official documents refer to organizations like SOCOM-National Capital Region (SOCOM-NCR), the Joint Interagency Task Force-National Capital Region (JIATF-NCR), or simply the Interagency Task Force (IATF), which may or may not be related to each other. Just what these organizations do or whether they are just staffs that coordinate with other U.S. government agencies in Washington or an actual operational headquarters has been unclear—and not just to us.

The National Defense Authorization Act for the 2014 fiscal year specifically withheld funding from SOCOM-NCR until the Secretary of Defense submitted a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that explained, among other things, “the purpose of” and “the activities to be performed by USSOCOM-NCR,” according to a Congressional Research Service report. The official $10 million budget request to establish this particular entity said it would send “liaison officers and Special Operations Support Teams to other federal agencies.” 

It’s also entirely possible, if not probable, that the aircraft could be involved in a realistic training exercise rather than an actual operation, akin to the annual JADE HELM special operations drill. The special operations community in general has a unique interest in being able to operate in complex urban terrain. Some think these areas will be the primary battlefields of the future. Still, the public is at least tacitly informed about these drills before they begin. NORTHCOM runs its own complex multinational and interagency counter-terrorism exercise each year called Vital Archer. In 2015, the scenario reportedly involved a nuclear or radiological attack

With all this in mind, maybe the CN-235 is part of a secretive set of drills involving terrorists smuggling themselves and their weaponry into the United States via Seattle's sea or airport facilities.

The area could have simply provided a suitable urban area to test existing or new surveillance technologies, too, though this could spark serious privacy concerns if true.

Whatever the aircraft has been doing in the Seattle skies, it seems curious that it’s been using civilian airports for the job. But so far, the plane does appear to be doing a good job of hiding in plain sight with no one able to say who even owns it.   

We will keep you updated if we find out more on this mystery plane and its mission.


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Son of Captain Nemo's picture

Didn't that also happen exactly 15 years 11 months and 11 days over Manhattan and Washington D.C.?...

Gotta get the "dry runs" in before show time!!!

Manthong's picture


With all the commies in Seattle…..

The surprise is what ?????

ufos8mycow's picture

It's flying over's spraying deodorant.

Manthong's picture


..they need a fleet of those retro-fitted forest service DC-10’s with huge internal tanks to even come close to doing that job


847328_3527's picture

They could use those millions to prevent beat downs on BART or DART by dindus instead of looking at poetential crime patterns over Seattle.

toady's picture

Building target packages.

researchfix's picture

Preparing the North Korea strike.

SethPoor's picture

Watching babes sunbathing.

BuddyEffed's picture

It's just billionaires trying to feel safe during Seafair is my best guess. They want to be on yachts watching races and blue angels and they want all the best high tech signal intercepting and signal processing that they have in that area surveilling.
Latest drone and camera tech might have the billionaires concerned about being outside for extended periods at fun events like this. Flying low aids in drone detection.
Expect flights to end Monday or Tuesday after private jets have departed.
Look for it again at other billionaire gatherings.

fleur de lis's picture

Maybe the DC Swamp dwellers and their CIA concubines are looking for a new narcotics air route.

Or someplace they can stash all the gold they stole from the bank vaults at home and abroad. 

They probably figured trying to cut Trump in would backfire in volcanic proportions.

What ever the case, they are up to no good as usual.



jeff montanye's picture

those are likely possibilities but we have to allow that it might be attorney general jeff sessions surveilling for vets smoking reefer to counter post traumatic stress disorder:

Pairadimes's picture

Occam's Razor: if you can't get an answer from the government, it is because they know you will not like it. 

armada's picture

"a domestic operation or one focused on a foreign suspect"

All they need to do is watch the Israeli embassies. 9/11 came from there, the next one will also.

HowdyDoody's picture

I wonder if it is carrying one of these 1.8 gigapixel cameras.



Doom Porn Star's picture

IF you had to ask more than once or force disclosure it is also just as likely that the answer given is not true.

Lumberjack's picture

Methinks we have a winner!!!

Nice observation!

Full on platorm to intercept all communications and real time video monitoring, including IR and radiation sensors.

Imagine all the hippy porn the af and israelies in that thing are seeing!

BuddyEffed's picture

ZH needs to follow up on this as to when surveillance ends and let us all know.

Krungle's picture

If I'm not mistaken the article stated the plane is sitting in Portland this weekend and not flying this weekend....

BuddyEffed's picture

Angels fly Thursday thru Sunday. Hydros out practicing too.

Future Jim's picture

They fly overhead and shut off the power so they can map the coordinates where there is still power when the grid is down. Those are their future targets.

decon's picture

My guess is they're testing equipment that will detect fissile material at a distance.

mc225's picture

i live in the puget sound area, and one of the things going on over here is a pall of smoke like there has never before been in these parts... at least not in the last 40-50 years if memory serves. back in the 1980s, before the wood stove bans, there were smoke palls like this in the winter, but to see it this way during a summer month is unprecedented; at least to my memory. they say the smoke is drifting over from some british columbia forest fires. also, there was a recent fire out in goldbar, which isn't too far from seattle/everett...


don't know if this plane has anything to do with monitoring this situation, but the smoke is eerie (and very irritating to the breathing apparatus)...

wee-weed up's picture



“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”

-- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Creative_Destruct's picture

"When everyone's out to get you , paranoia is just a healthy attitude."

---Dr. Johhny Fever, WKRP in Cincinatti

logicalman's picture

What makes it worse is that the buggers doing this are using money they extorted from the very people they are spying on to pay for this kind of shit.


fattail's picture

I thought that was Kurt Cobain.

e_goldstein's picture

You have never been to Seattle, have you?


Krungle's picture

85 and sunny all weekend. In fact, in the 80s and sunny through mid-month. The lied about the rain to try and keep the Californians out. Clearly this did not work.

unsafe-space-time's picture

Yeah it sucks that best genetics are concentrated in big cities. Just repeating the millennia old human cycle of the destruction of the fittest.

EX-floor hedger's picture

it only rains in Seattle...

Creative_Destruct's picture

Determining if they can detect and reliably identify  a rotund 5' 2", beardless asian male target individual among a similar population and similar topography.

SybilDefense's picture

Project firesign as suggested in the Bensenson strategy report.  Since the Red Dawn Russians are coming and the BLM civil war hasn't been enough to return the presidency to the Dems, this Gizmo will show false flag alien attack or Jesus coming in the skies.  Perhaps a fake NK missle with a cIA placed nuke in Chicago, baltimore or Detroit.  Somewhere "expedable".  Then they will have their new Pearl harbor and the MIC beast gets a feeding.  My guess this plane is not for gathering info, but more about disseminating grand scale propaganda aka project bluebeam or project firesign.

All too real


Alfred's picture

Preparing North Korea's strike.

Fixed it for you...

His name was Seth Rich

cossack55's picture

It is rather apparent that since it is surveying Seattle, it is trying to determine signs of intelligent life.  Mission failed.

GUS100CORRINA's picture

This Mysterious Military Spy Plane Has Been Flying Circles Over Seattle For Days

My response: The first thought that came to mind without reading article was "They are measuring for radiation that may be coming from FUKUSHIMA or an EMP device". Of course, that is just speculation on my part. 

I do expect that RADIATION LEVEL MONITORING is one of the measurements that will be periodically taken in the days/weeks ahead in selected USA zones. Ameica cannot be safe unless it is RADIATION FREE.

Eyes Opened's picture

Your response "WITHOUT READING THE ARTICLE" means jack shit...

SWRichmond's picture


process of finding, fixing and finishing the enemy

Seems to me there's a whole shitload of liberals found and fixed already in Seattle.  Probably didn't need an expensive plane to do that.

translator zero's picture

Flying over U.S. territory:

finding, fixing and finishing the enemy. 

"You don't need no stinking Posse Comitatus!" -Police State

Lore's picture

This technology will help operators to identify and target hospitals, weddings, and other key centers of insurgency.  Additionally, it will used to monitor and defend the narcocracy against elements that might attempt to interrupt the "trade" and flow of "goods" into the United States at key checkpoints and distribution nodes.  Some may raise privacy concerns, but clearly, the potential benefits and cost savings are considerable and outweigh concerns.  Besides, if the purported priority is to "keep Murkans safe," the ends justify the means.

Seriously, Seattle is topographically varied, and the company doing the testing probably has an office nearby, which makes the city a good candidate for field testing in a large, busy urban environment.  it would be interesting to who's behind it, know how much the systems cost, and how much data processing is expected to cost.  Anyone else smell a cash cow? 

political_proxy's picture

Search the internet, it will cover those goals. No gazillion Dollar planerequired.

Jubal Early's picture

It was out there too long for it just to be testing.  Personel costs alone would have been prohibitive.

I think Ole Dammegard was predicting a terrorist attack in Seatle, so maybe this will foil a false flag.  

Otherwise I would guess data collection of some sort.  Maybe they are trying to map BTC public keys to ip adresses or even street adresses.  Once you map it once you can follow everywhere it goes...

Common_Law's picture

Probably just spreading morgellons disease.

Offthebeach's picture

That blue ice, mist, isn't deodorant,  I shit you not.

A. Boaty's picture

Seattle for the glorious People's Revolution, Comrade Manthong!

Manthong's picture


I hear, I see , I obey ... like a good left wing nutjob.

max2205's picture

Ask Baltimore and they only used a Cessna. ...this thing can count how many bones you have a day.....

Badsamm's picture

Why don't they fly that thing along the border?
Just kidding

forestgump227's picture

I have a flight coming back to Seattle on September 11th. I'm scared guys!