The "weird" missilelike object creating white trails in the skies above the West Maui Mountains on Tuesday night appears to have been part of a successful flight test for a ballistic defense shield for Europe.
The Maui News received a couple of calls from residents Tuesday night about the unidentified flying object.
"It could have been an airplane or a missile," said Richard Goodenough from his home in Kula 200 on Tuesday night. "It looked more like a missile than an airplane."
This white pattern in the skies above Maui on Tuesday night apparently was part of a successful flight test for a ballistic defense shield for Europe launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
VAUN STOVER-FRENCH photo
This photo was taken by David DeLeon from his home in Haiku after 7 p.m. Tuesday evening. “Never saw anything like that before,” he said in an email. “The impression I had in Haiku was the mysterious phenomenon was hanging over the West Maui Mountains. More I thought about it, the more it seemed like a rocket trail, but who the heck would be shooting a rocket that big over the West Mauis?” The Missile Defense Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense is the answer. They were testing their Aegis Ashore system that is meant to create a shield against ballistic missiles.
DAVID DELEON photo
He estimated the object - with a "white trail that was zigzagging" - was about 20,000 feet above the West Maui Mountains. It was not a plane contrail, he said.
"This was weird. It was white," Goodenough said.
The object was visible for about 10 to 15 minutes just before 8 p.m. before disappearing, he estimated.
The sighting coincides with the first test flight of the Aegis Ashore system from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. At about 7:35 p.m., the Aegis system fired a Standard Missile-3 Block IB guided missile against a simulated ballistic missile target, said a news release Wednesday from the Missile Defense Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.
The simulated target was acquired, tracked and engaged by the Aegis system, the news release said. The purpose of the test was to confirm the functionality of Aegis Ashore by firing a land-based SM-3.
The success of the test supports the continued development of the system, which is planned to begin operations in Romania next year, the news release said.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Maui County, viewed the missile flight test from Fort Belvoir, Va.
"I appreciated remotely viewing this first-ever, historic flight test from a land-based Aegis ballistic missile defense system and was pleased that it was executed successfully," said Gabbard, who did not mention the sightings in the Hawaiian skies in her news release. "The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex on Kauai confirms Hawaii's important strategic role in our nation's investment in our ballistic missile defense capabilities."
She said the Aegis Ashore system is important in the Asia-Pacific region as well, especially with the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
"Not only have missile threats from North Korea been increasing, so are their capabilities - putting the U.S. and the people and national defense assets in Hawaii under threat," she said.
The Aegis Ashore system "marks positive progress in defending the U.S. and our allies against threats of short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles," Gabbard said.
Military attaches from Romania and Poland also were present and received updates on the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense facilities being built in their countries, Gabbard said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.