Doomsday planes launched after Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis? Story goes viral, then debunked

Oct 2, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Sometimes there are good stories. Other times, the story is simply too good to be true.

And it appears that reports that planespotters had the scoop on President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis fall under the latter.

It all began after military Boeing E-6Bs Mercury aircraft flying off both the east and west coasts of the U.S. mainland were observed on flight-tracking software.

The conclusion, from at least one spotter, was that the military’s “flying nuclear command centers” were mobilized to show America’s enemies the nation was ready to act should an adversary try to exploit a government that was possibly distracted by the president’s diagnosis.

Want airline-specific news? Then sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

“There’s an E-6B Mercury off the east coast near DC,” Tim Hogan tweeted at 12:19 a.m. ET along with a screenshot of a flight-tracking site showing the aircraft. “I looked because I would expect them to pop up if he tests positive.  It’s a message to the small group of adversaries with SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) and and ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles).”

Hogan, identified by Fox News as “a noted open-source intelligence practitioner,” tweeted a few minutes later that another E-6B “just popped up on the West Coast.” He suggest that meant the military “wants them to be seen.”

That led some to suggest that those flight-tracking observations amounted to a tip-off regarding what the world was just finding out about Trump’s health.

It all would have made for a fantastic AvGeek-thread to the broader bombshell of a story: a flight-tracking site leading to a scoop that planes flying as part of “Operation Looking Glass” – now known as the Airborne Command Post, according to Fox – had been deployed so the military could publicly flex its muscle. The planes help maintain military communication and can be used to deploy America’s nuclear arsenal.

But, observers soon pushed back on the conclusion about a connection.

Christiaan Triebert, who’s Twitter page says he’s on the Visual Investigations team at The New York Times, was among those.

“There’s a lot of chatter about those ‘airborne nuclear command centers’, but these two Boeing E6A Mercury aircraft were indeed flying almost daily since over the past month,” he tweeted at 3:26 a.m. ET, adding publicly available flight data showed one of the two E-6B flew was tracked on at least 20 days on the past month.

Still, the initial observations weren’t debunked before they went viral, leading to coverage across the world – everything from Fox News to London’s Daily Mail and more.

Even The Washington Post picked up the story, its version also pushing back against the initial conclusions.

“With regard to reports about E-6B aircraft on alert status, US STRATCOM has confirmed these E-6B aircraft were part of pre-planned missions,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement to the Post. “Any timing to the president’s announcement was purely coincidental.”

Featured photo by Glowimages/Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.