In the April 2019 Military Monitoring Recap and Mode-S Log, I wrote about two interesting Mode-S codes and flights that showed up during the month. They’re two Mode-S codes, AE66B9 and AE66BA that I’d never picked up before and they used air traffic control callsigns that don’t fit with anything known, so they do seem to be a mystery. Given the sound of their transmit audio and their apparent destinations and points of departure, I’m guessing that they’re P-8A Poseidons.
The Mode-S codes and callsigns in question are AE66B9/NAVY HC(?) 14 and AE66BA/NAVY EC 14. I have a suspicion that with HC(?) 14, I misheard them saying EC 14. Neither of these flights sent ADS-B data or showed callsigns, but there was nothing else showing in the area that could have been them and the MLAT tracks fit their ATC frequency progressions. Both seemed to be associated with NAS Jacksonville with AE66B9 apparently en route there and AE66BA apparently departing from there. Additionally the transmit audio for both sounded like that of a P-8A Poseidon; they both had that distinctive background whine that all of the P-8s seem to have. NAVY HC(?) 14/AE66B9 was heard southeast bound across Georgia in the early morning hours of 4 April 2019, track data was lost in southeast Georgia, but it seemed to be pointed at NAS Jacksonville. NAVY EC 14/AE66BA appeared to have departed NAS Jacksonville on the night of 25 April 2019 and tracked northbound along the Georgia/South Carolina coasts, asking for R-5311 (which is at Fort Bragg) with air traffic control when last heard. At this point, my best guess is that both were P-8s; they sounded like P-8s and seemed to be operating from NAS Jacksonville. They also may be special forces related flights because the track on AE66B9/NAVY HC(?) 14 seems to originate from Fort Campbell and AE66BA/NAVY EC 14 apparently was going to Fort Bragg.
The Mode-S tracks and radio traffic don’t just suggest that the aircraft are associated with NAS Jacksonville. The Mode-S track for AE66B9/NAVY HC(?) 14 seems to originate at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. NAVY EC 14/AE66BA was asking for R-5311, which is a restricted area at Fort Bragg, North Carolina with Air Traffic Control before went out of my listening range. Both Fort Campbell and Fort Bragg are association with special forces, so this suggests that these flights could have been associated with special forces. I bounced these intercepts off of Larry Van Horn, military monitoring expert and author, on Twitter and he wondered if AE66B9 and AE66BA could be part of a block of exercise or temporary block of Mode-S codes. By the way, I highly recommend Larry’s E-books, articles and columns in The Spectrum Monitor, and blog for excellent military monitoring information and resources.
Could AE66B9 and AE66BA be P-8As like the one pictured above? The few Mode-S and ATC intercepts for them seem to indicate so. Beyond that, there’s not a lot of evidence or information to expand what we know about them so they’re mystery aircraft at this point. And there’s nothing quite like a mystery to keep things interesting… If you pick up one of these Mode-S codes (or one like it) or hear something like this, please share it and help us try to figure out who and what these aircraft are. If you want to join the discussion of these kind of topics on Twitter, there’s a great community of military monitoring enthusiasts, military aviation enthusiasts, and ADS-B/Mode-S enthusiasts there.