CIRCLING PLANE

Contrails from an airplane circling above The Village at Grand Traverse Commons and the Traverse City area on Friday afternoon.

TRAVERSE CITY — It wasn’t a bird and it wasn’t Superman but it was a plane.

A Gulfstream private jet circling the area at high altitude Friday was likely on a training mission, an airport official confirmed Saturday.

“The phones were really ringing over that one,” said Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein. “I saw it too, but it turned out to be nothing too exciting. Just a training as far as we can tell.”

Klein directed Cherry Capital’s air traffic control to call Minneapolis Control, the group that controls a lot of upper Midwest airspace, including the airspace over Traverse City.

Minneapolis Control staff radioed the unnamed pilot of the Gulfstream, asked if assistance was needed, the answer was no, and everyone went about their day, Klein said.

The bright white circles in the sky about 47,000 feet above town weren’t smoke but rather water vapor on the jet’s wings, Klein said.

“So many people saw them because it happened to be on a day when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky,” Klein added, about the tightly coiled circles in the sky.

“My son looked up and said, ‘It looks like they’re making a pumpkin. And, it actually did look like that.”

Reports of a mapping exercise, a spy mission or a political stunt simply weren’t true, Klein said.

Unmanned aircraft do not regularly fly over Traverse City except for pre-scheduled drone flights by Northwestern Michigan College instructors and students, Klein said.

The last unmanned military flight over the area was from Camp Grayling and occurred several years ago, Klein said.

In the airspace above Traverse City is a marker called a “VOR,” or a Very High Frequency Omni-Directional Range, that acts like a waypoint pilots use to navigate, Klein said.

The presence of this VOR makes it likely the plane that left from a Ypsilanti airport Friday afternoon and returned safely an hour or so later, was being flown by a pilot in training, Klein said.

The airport director said the cautionary directive, “If you see something, say something,” is still a good rule to live by. Even when suspicions turn out to be nothing serious.

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