NOT a Cruise Missile in Flight Over Utah

Not a cruise missile, a jet in Google EarthYesterday someone posted a find in Google Maps of what they claimed was a cruise missile in flight over south central Utah captured in the satellite photo. I have to admit at first glance it appeared to be a missile (although I was pretty sure it wasn’t a cruise missile from the looks of it). However, in Google Earth , if you zoom in closer you can see this is a jet airliner with dark colored wings. If you click on the thumbnail picture to the right here you will see a larger contrast-enhanced version where the wings are more visible. Not only that, but if you use the GE measuring tool, the fact it is 90 feet long is a clue. Also, the pair of vapor trails shows it has two engines (a cruise missile only has one). There was a Digg on the find, and many commenters were quick to point out it was not a cruise missile. One commenter said the jet is an MD-90. Over at the Google Earth Community, a lot of people posted the “cruise missile” find after the Digg. Hopefully this post can help spread the word about what it really is.
Related: Finding planes in flight in Google Earth.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. How do you measure objects that are not on the ground?

  2. Navneeth says:

    Using the measuring stick could be a little misleading, wouldn’t it? I mean, the plane’s probably a few thousand feet off the ground, while the measuring stick measures things on the ground.

  3. The measuring stick is still effective with measuring airplanes in flight. The reason is that the satellite is at least 100 miles above the earth. From that distance, the line of sight is essentially parallel between the plane and the ground. So, the measurement is still very close to correct.

  4. satellite or arial foto? And contrails are from the wings, not the engines. Yes there are wings and cruise missiles have wings. I don’t know which one it is but it could be either.

  5. What are the white objects on either side of the plane about the middle? These appear to be a pair of engine pods. What plane has engines on top of the wings?

  6. I thought some of the pictures, especially the high-resolution ones, are aerial photos taken from an aircraft.
    And by looking at the contrails of the “cruise missile”, I’ll say that its flying higher than 30.000 feet.

  7. Anthony Kelly says:

    “The measuring stick is still effective with measuring airplanes in flight. The reason is that the satellite is at least 100 miles above the earth. From that distance, the line of sight is essentially parallel between the plane and the ground. So, the measurement is still very close to correct.” –Frank
    So you are saying that an object that is perhaps 20,000+ feet off the ground is covering the same amount of the photo as the ground that is 20,000 feet below? Think about it…

  8. Anthony Kelly: Yes, the difference in size of the plane viewed from 96 miles is about the same as from 100+ miles where the satellite is taking the photo from. 20,000 feet just doesn’t make much difference from those distances.

  9. Contrails can be made both by wing tips and engines. But contrails from wing tips are seen only on takeoff and landing. Long (look at the picture from far away) contrails are almost always seen on planes flying very high.

  10. To do some quick and dirty math, 100 miles is 528000 feet. The presumption is something at 528000 feet and something at 508000 look approximately same. According to significant figure math, if we only have 1 significant figure involved both numbers are essentially 5*10^5. With two significant figures its 5.1*10^5 versus 5.3*10^5. Perhaps more importantly, A tomahawk cruise missile (a rather large cruise missile) is, according to Wikipedia somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.25 Meters in length, which is 625 CM (625/2.54)/12~=20.5 Feet in length. When we compare: 91 Feet and 20.5 feet and then knock them down to a single significant figure, which is probably over estimating the precision of our instruments we get 9*10^1 versus 2*10^1 both resulting from 5*10^5.
    Now, I may have butchered the rules of significance arithmetic a bit, but you get the idea.

  11. Wiki’s explanations don’t cover the contrails observed way-back-when with piston-engined, prop-driven aircraft. Perhaps a WWII bomber pilot might have firsthand comments on contrails forming at the not-so-high altitudes attained with their unpressurized aircraft. You’ll also see contrails in some of the photos of dogfights between WWII fighters that were observed from the ground. – – – In the case of these piston-engined planes, the vortex created by the tips of the prop slicing through the air probably caused the vapor condensation. A vapor “wall” can be observed forming along the fuselage in pics of a jet breaking the sound barrier, and, as someone noted on the Wikipedia page, with rapid changes in wing angle during fighter-aircraft maneuvers. The Wiki article credited a drop in air pressure for the observed vapor but could the ‘increase’ in speed over the curved fuselages/wings/props be a consideration? As an illustration, with older carbureted engines in cooler, damper air, the speed-up & compression of air through the carburetor’s venturi chilled it to the extent that you could see a vapor forming – sometimes even icing occurred to the extent that the engine would stall. (see

  12. Funny thing…if you follow the vapor trail of the missile (plane) back to 38 degrees 11′ 11.06″ N and 112 degrees 17′ 16.31″ W you will find something that looks like a missile silo.

  13. dark wings? there impossible 2 see at all.
    i dont realy know about cruise missiles but i do know about planes and its not an MD-90 the tail shows cruise missile characteristics with the propeller style thing, and the short wings but dark coloured wings? cant understand this email me cheers man:)

  14. hey also its just near junction airport but i dont know if thats a military airport

  15. late & still curious says:

    I am amazed that you guys don’t see the dark wings (on what tom thinks are engines). And on Toms engines: nice logic, but what missile has engines there?

  16. Lear Jets have engine pods mounted just aft and above the wings. The wings are very visible in the blowup photo, though they are just barely darker than the ground. If they were painted dark, the velocity of the jet would blur them out a bit making them harder to see.

  17. What sort of Airliner is only 100 ft long? and with wings so trim? not any i’ve ever seen. you?

  18. If you do a little research you will find out the aircraft is inbetween 2 NAVAIDS the Bryce Canyon KBCE VOR and the Delta KDTA VOR on the delta three arival to Salt lake city intl airport. Mystery solved.

  19. Only after your explanation could I tell it was a plane- How great. Thanks for the post

  20. Its not an MD-90 jet. MD-90’s are 152 feet long

  21. Did any one besides me see what appears to be a spinning blade at rear of the object?

  22. Was this object in a major jet lane? Missiles don’t fly there. It’s possible a military jet or private aircraft might be outside the jet lanes, but it’s unlikely.

  23. it’s likely a Bombardier, Inc. Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ100/200) flown by a feeder air carrier. According to Wikipedia, it’s length is 87’10”. the light-colored objects at mid fuselage are the painted escape lanes directly egressing passengers forward away from the jet engine intakes. the engines are mounted at the tail partially obscured in the shadow of the aircraft’s T-tail.

  24. I think Jeff is spot on….Also contrails can happen at any altitude depending on temp.

  25. This has to be a plane. For one contrails are only left by jet or turbojet engines. The picture shows 2 contrails. Cruise Missiles only have 1 engine, so by default it can only leave 1 contrail. Even 4 engined aircraft will leave 4 contrails if you look close. 2 contrails are only left at above a specific altitude. Cruise missiles never fly more then a couple hundred feet above the ground. Unless the missile is flying close to the same height as the get stream and is still only several hundred feet above ground, a cruise missile can not leave a contrail.

  26. i don’t think those are actually contrails from the engines. it’s just the difference in air temperature between the jet exhaust and the outside air temperature. commonly called “heat mirage” it’s more noticable on hot days, but is always present when there is a difference in air temperature.

  27. No one has mentioned a ufo yet… definitely a ufo

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