People in the US are waking up today to the news that President Trump has tested positive for coronavirus.
Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
Around the same time, something fascinating gained a lot of traction on aviation Twitter. Specifically, did the Boeing E-6 Mercury, often referred to as a “flying nuclear command center,” start flying around to warn adversaries not to attack the US? That was a rather sobering thought…
RT There's an E-6B Mercury off the east coast near DC. 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 and ICBMs. pic.twitter.com/3ta9PmPxZD
— Tim Hogan (@TimInHonolulu) October 2, 2020
Basics of the Boeing E-6 Mercury
The E-6 Mercury is a modified version of the Boeing 707. 16 were built, with the first entering service in 1989 (these were the last 707s produced). These planes are intended to provide command and control of US nuclear forces in the event that ground-based control becomes inoperable.
They can operate a mission known as TACAMO, which stands for “TAke Charge And Move Out.” If needed, the plane could operate for up to 72 hours with inflight refuelings.
Was an E-6 deployed because of Trump’s coronavirus?
As mentioned above, a Twitter user pointed out that a Boeing E-6 was flying near DC just shortly before it was officially announced that Trump tested positive for coronavirus:
- Was this actually intended as a warning to adversaries with submarine-launched ballistic missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles?
- Was the plane flying specifically because of the imminent announcement of the president of the United States having coronavirus?
A lot of reputable people seemed to believe this, noting that the Pentagon is taking Trump’s diagnosis seriously by deploying these planes.
However, it would appear that this isn’t quite as scandalous as it sounds. As mentioned above, there are several of these planes, and some are publicly trackable (presumably intentionally, to show “adversaries” that they are flying). To look at the flight activity for two of these planes:
- One of these has been flying 20 of the past 31 days
- Another one of these has been flying 18 of the past 31 days
And here's the flight data for that other E6A Mercury, #EA0415. It was publicly tracked on 18 out of the past 31 days. (That's 4 more days than I initially mentioned; I'm sleepy. H/t @Amstelsam and @BillDedman for making me properly fact-check these flights btw.) pic.twitter.com/MGgayGdDK4
— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) October 2, 2020
And that’s just for a couple of the planes…
It does increasingly seem like this had very little to do with Trump testing positive for coronavirus, and a lot more to do with the normal training exercises these planes undergo (or maybe just reminders to other countries with nukes that they exist?).
Yes, a “flying nuclear command center” was spotted on radar near DC around the same time that Trump’s positive coronavirus test result was revealed. However, it seems unlikely that the two are connected.
It appears the US wasn’t specifically trying to send a message to adversaries that the US was still on alert in light of the president quarantining, but rather that’s just what these planes are constantly doing, I suppose.
Interesting/scary thing to think about though, eh?
(Featured image courtesy of Balon Greyjoy)