In 1918, just 15 years after the Wright Brothers took their first flights, American soldiers in France were describing clouds that sometimes formed behind airplanes. Captain Ward S. Wells, for example, wrote from the Bois de Hess, behind Montfaucon (Scientific American, June 7, 1919, p. 601):

There were two or three days of rain, when came a wonderfully clear and beautiful morning with not a cloud in sight… Our attention was first drawn to the sky by the sudden appearance of several strange and startling clouds — long, graceful, looping ribbons of white. They were tapering to a point at one end… On close observation we noticed some distance ahead of each cloud point the tiny speck of a chase plane. Apparently the churning of the air was all that was needed to upset the delicately balanced meteorological conditions and precipitate this strange cloud formation. 

German geophysicist, meteorologist and astronomer Alfred Wegener, who first advanced the theory of continental drift, also described persistent contrails. Writing in January 1920, he described a cloud 50 kilometers long that formed behind three airplanes that flew over Munich, and explained the physics behind it.

On May 9, 1919, and again on May 11, German pilot Zeno Diemer, flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet, at a temperature of about -50⁰ C, noticed the formation of a cloud stream that extended for about forty miles behind his plane. Each time, this stream gradually spread out to form a cloud layer that was about 3,000 feet thick. (Luftfahrt, Mai 1919, p. 17; Nature, May 3, 1930, p. 693). 

As the technology improved and airplanes began flying at ever higher, colder altitudes, persistent contrails became more common. By the beginning of World War II, airplanes flying above 30,000 feet, as commercial airplanes do today, often left long, thickening clouds trailing behind them. In February 1942, French aviation pioneer and famed author Antoine Saint-Exupéry published Flight to Arras, a memoir of his service flying high-altitude combat missions against Nazi Germany in 1939 and 1940. He described the challenges of his reconnaissance missions, including the cold that could freeze the controls of his aircraft, and the anxiety of knowing his plane was trailing a white streamer that pinpointed his position for enemy fighters and gunners. Saint-Exupéry wrote:

The German on the ground knows us by the pearly white scarf which every plane flying at high altitude trails behind like a bridal veil. The disturbance created by our meteoric flight crystallizes the watery vapor in the atmosphere. We unwind behind us a cirrus of icicles. If the atmospheric conditions are favorable to the formation of clouds, our wake will thicken bit by bit and become an evening cloud over the countryside. 

This was a problem for every nation. Flight Lieutenant M. V. Longbottom of Britain’s Royal Air Force, after consulting with a French meteorologist, wrote a report titled “Condensation Trails at High Altitudes,” in which he wrote that contrails will form under conditions of low temperature and high humidity. Under these conditions, he wrote, “the rapidly expanding gases from the exhausts” of the plane cause “sudden condensations to form in [the plane’s] wake.” This also meant that there might be layers in the atmosphere some of which would support contrail formation while others would not. And indeed this was the experience of the fighter pilots: when heavy contrails started forming behind them, they could sometimes stop their formation by descending one or two thousand feet.

Between 1928 and 1931, America’s top airman, General Henry H. Arnold, directed a project whose objective was finding a way to reduce aircraft vulnerability to enemy gunners by dissipating their contrails.

And in September 1942, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics issued a report on condensation trails explaining how and why they form, and that their persistence depends on temperature and humidity at that altitude.

Not only the higher altitude of airplanes, but the introduction of jet fighters during World War II made persistent vapor trails commonplace in the sky. They became a common feature also in peacetime skies after commercial jets became common during the 1960s.

Donald R. Baucom published a two-part history of contrails through 1945: “Wakes of War: Contrails and the Rise of Air Power, 1918-1945”, Air Power History, Summer 2007, pp. 16-31, and Fall 2007, pp. 4-21.

Here is a photograph from World War II, in which the exhaust clouds behind fighter planes blended together and covered the sky:

Here is another, from the 1957 book, Air Force: A Pictorial History of American Airpower by Martin Caidin, p. 100 :






Here is a 1953 photo by Ansel Adams,
titled“Rails and Jet Trails”:








A production photo from the movie Spartacus, taken in Thousand Oaks, California in 1959:





A scene from the 1959 movie Battle Hymn with Rock Hudson:





Plate 113 from the 1967 book, Cloud Studies in Colour by Richard Scorer and Henry Wexler:





And Plate 11.4.1 from the 1972 book, Clouds of the World: A Complete Colour Encyclopedia by Richard Scorer:



I have a lot of such pictures from the past. But the most vivid are the ones engrained in my memory from my freshman year at college. Air traffic was exploding in the skies over upstate New York. It was 1968, as I sat high in the bell tower overlooking Ithaca. The tunes I was playing on the Cornell chimes rang out over the campus, and spilled down the hill into town. After my morning concert, I gathered up my books, descended the 162 steps, and hiked down into the bottom of Triphammer Gorge to study.

As I lay on my rock drinking in the early freshness of the breeze and the unbroken blue of the sky, I saw far above me a jet plane on its way to some unknown destination, leaving a widening trail of water vapor behind it — and then another, crossing the first, and another and another. By early afternoon, my beautiful sunny sky was gone. Not a trace of blue was left.

I tried to tell everyone I knew what was happening, but no one cared.

Eventually I moved out to the less humid west, where the sky was still blue and the growing rivers of air travelers left relatively little trace. That changed during the 1990s. Even in the arid west, there is a limit to how much water you can pump into the high layers of sky without making clouds. But half a nation of people who were used to air traffic being invisible did not know what they were seeing.

Origin of a Hoax

A couple of con artists from Lancaster, Ohio took advantage of that fact. Larry Wayne Harris was a lieutenant colonel in the white-supremacist organization Aryan Nations and a member of the racist, anti-Semitic sect Christian Identity. He was arrested for possession of bubonic plague bacteria in 1997, and convicted of wire fraud for posing as a research microbiologist to obtain it. He was arrested for possession of anthrax and convicted of impersonation of a CIA agent in 1998. He and his neighbor Richard Lew Finke are the people who invented “chemtrails.” But it took a nationwide radio show to popularize it, so widely that it has become nearly impossible for the average citizen to sort out the truth, to distinguish fact from fiction.

In 1996, Harris offered his services to analyze soil samples that he said were contaminated by fallout from additives in jet fuel. He told his clients that their samples contained ethylene dibromide (EDB), and that it was being added to jet fuel as part of a depopulation agenda. No matter that EDB was an agricultural pesticide that persisted in the soil for years. It was in agricultural soil, he said, because it fell from the sky. The following year he and Finke took this fable even further: they started a consulting company purporting to analyze soil, water and jet fuel samples and Finke sent out an email announcement about “genocide” via “lines in the sky.”

In 1998, that email slowly circulated and became embellished. EDB became transformed by some into aluminum, barium, and strontium. These were also found in samples of soil and groundwater and were also said to have fallen from the sky. No matter that aluminum and barium are also in agricultural pesticides, and that strontium is in gypsum and other minerals and is ubiquitous in groundwater.

In January 1999, Canadian journalist Will Thomas, still sticking to the EDB story, embellished it even more: he published two articles speculating that poisoned contrails were being “sprayed” by unmarked military jets, were related to HAARP, and were being used for weather modification. On January 25, 1999, Thomas appeared on Coast to Coast conspiracy radio, and disseminated a version of the fable to millions of people. On February 10, 1999, still talking about EDB, he sent out an email telling people to “TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY” and to “STAY INDOORS when contrails are being woven overhead.” He said that “Emergency Rooms are overflowing with acute respiratory cases from coast to coast,” that the New York Times was reporting that “this is not the flu,” that the BBC was reporting 6,000 deaths from respiratory failure in England in two weeks, and that there was “a BBC photo of a freezer-semi filled with dead bodies”. However the epidemic he described did not actually exist, and neither the BBC nor the New York Times reported any such thing.

But Thomas continued to embellish these reports on Coast to Coast radio. In March 1999, he coined the word “chemtrails.” He introduced the notion that “contrails” dissipate quickly and “chemtrails” do not. Whereas 80 years previously Wegener had explained that whether they dissipate or not depends on temperature, pressure and humidity.

Belief in the epidemic that Thomas had invented out of whole cloth spread round the world and has been impossible to eradicate since. Rather, it has been disseminated and embellished by a variety of individuals of questionable motives, all of them non-scientists, who to varying degrees have made their living from it: computer consultant Clifford Carnicom; filmmaker Michael John Murphy; TV weatherman Scott Stevens; builder of solar systems Dane Wigington; and author Elana Freeland.

More recently, in an attempt not to sound like conspiracy theorists, those spreading the fable have embellished it even more, claiming that the lines in the sky are being sprayed to combat global warming, and they are using the term “geoengineering” instead of “chemtrails” to sound more credible. Wigington’s website, for example, is now called But this newer invented purpose is in addition to depopulation, weather control, and “ionization” of the atmosphere to enhance global communications. And it has nothing to do with actual proposals to remedy global warming, which are found on,, and other websites that report only real information.

Early on, Thomas began to deliberately combine real information about electromagnetic radiation with made-up stories about “chemtrails,” and Freeland and others have further embellished and reinforced this. This confuses the public, discredits those of us with an important message, and does yeoman’s work for the telecommunications industry. The reason this is so important, and the reason I am sending out a newsletter about it, is that the “chemtrails” fable has been promulgated so successfully that according to a 2016 survey, almost 40% of Americans believe in it and only 34% are sure that it is false. This is also true of EMF activists and the people protesting 5G: a huge number of them believe in “chemtrails,” or “geoengineering” as it is now wrongly called, and do not believe in global warming. This discredits us and makes it more difficult to gain traction with the media and with environmental organizations.

Ironically, EDB actually was and still is being used as an additive in airplane fuel, just not in military or commercial jets. It is used as an antiknock agent in leaded fuel in general aviation by piston-engine airplanes that do not fly high enough to leave contrails behind them. That is the real scandal: 38 years after leaded fuel was banned in cars in the United States, 175,000 small airplanes are still spewing lead into all the air we breathe.

Arthur Firstenberg
President, New Mexicans for Utility Safety
President, Cellular Phone Task Force
Author, The Invisible Rainbow: A History of Electricity and Life
Administrator, International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and in Space
Caretaker, (End Cellphones Here On Earth)
P.O. Box 6216
Santa Fe, NM 87502
+1 505-471-0129
January 31, 2023

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