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

Oct. 02, 2020
3 min read
Doomsday planes launched after Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis? Story goes viral, then debunked
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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.

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“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.

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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 image by Getty Images/Glowimages RF

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023