When you are outside do you ever take the time to pause and look up into the sky?

If you have, and it is clear to at least partly cloudy, you have likely at some time or another seen white streaks which are trailing a hardly discernible spec. Of course, the "spec" is a high flying jet and the white streaks are its contrails.

A little internet searching reveals that a plane creates contrails when water vapor quickly condenses around soot from the plane's exhaust and freezes.

If you are a frequent sky watcher, you have probably noticed that contrails do not always accompany jets. Sometimes they stretch from horizon to horizon and last for hours while at other times they will trail the jet for a short distance before dissipating after only a few minutes.

While admittedly on most days I do not pay close attention to the contrails which appear in the heavens over Hannibal, that changes when my oldest son, Caleb, is at home. A few years ago, Caleb discovered an app that allows him to follow most of the jet traffic around the world that is airborne. Consequently, when Caleb spots a contrail, particularly a fresh one, chances are good my son will be able to determine the make of the plane, who it belongs to, where it took off from and its destination, along with its speed and altitude.

Typically, military aircraft do not show up on the app. However, that being said during Caleb's recent visit to Hannibal he one day identified a swarm of fighter jets apparently conducting training in southwest Texas. Another day my son spotted three large tanker planes flying in formation over Hannibal, at least one of which was headed for somewhere in Oklahoma. And then there is the fighter jet that is based in St. Louis that periodically will come to Northeast Missouri, make a couple of laps, before zipping back to Lambert Field.

The app does not just allow Caleb to follow the progress of high flying and fast moving commercial aircraft. Frequently Caleb has been able to track private aircraft, although the information about the plane is frequently less detailed. It was thanks to the app but we came to know "Loopy" during the past week or so.

"Loopy," which the app identified as a small single engine aircraft, caught Caleb's attention because of its flight pattern. The pilot would typically take off early in the evening, pick out an area and then slowly fly circles, or loops, over it for an extended period of time.

Early in the week "Loopy" chose Hannibal over which to fly. One night around midweek the app revealed that "Loopy" had shifted west to Mark Twain Lake initially and then later in the evening over Paris and Shelbina.

On Tuesday night Caleb called his mother, Nancy, and me into the kitchen, pointed out a window and said, "It's 'Loopy.'" Sure enough flying slowly north, in the general direction of the Henley hacienda, was a small aircraft with its standard operating lights flashing. Little did the pilot realize he had fans watching from a few hundred feet below.

Caleb returned home Thursday, leaving behind a number of unanswered questions regarding "Loopy": Who is the pilot? Why was he only flying after dark? What was the purpose of his loop flying? Since we did not see him Wednesday or Thursday night, does that mean he has achieved his objective?

It is definitely a "Loopy" mystery.

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