One of the U.S. Air Force’s secretive planes is pretending to be a vessel from the far, far future—the 23rd century, in fact. A U-2 spy plane took off from Northern California today broadcasting the aviation code NCC-1701A, which, as all Star Trek fans know, is the designation for the USS Enterprise.
The Twitter account monitors military air movements, typically through the Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) aircraft tracking system. Such transmitters are required in all civil aircraft across the United States to help other pilots and controllers ID them. Some U.S. military aircraft are equipped with the system, too. ADS-B is a boon to plane spotters, allowing hobbyists on the ground to watch the comings and goings of vast numbers of aircraft.
Today the AircraftSpots account noticed an unusual ADS-B signal emanating from an aircraft that had recently taken off from Beale Air Force Base. Beale is notable as being the headquarters of the and home to U-2 Dragon Lady, T-38 Talon and RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft, and maybe, just maybe, starships belonging to the United Federation of Planets.dvids
The unusual signal was emanating from aircraft 80-1093, a number that signifies the aircraft is a U-2 spy plane, and the flight number was NCC1701A. In Star Trek canon, NCC-1701A, or the Enterprise-A, was a Constitution-class starship built at the San Francisco Fleet Shipyards (Beale Air Force Base is just 2.5 hours northeast of San Francisco) in 2286. It was commanded by Captain James T. Kirk at the end of the movie Star Trek IV, after the events of Star Trek III resulted in the destruction of the original NCC-1701.
Although U-2 spy planes are capable of long, nearly starship-level voyages, this NCC1701A is sticking close to home, flying a over northern California. After a steep ascent, NCC1701A leveled out at 400-knot air speed at an altitude of 60,000 feet. That’s about 20,000 feet higher than commercial airliners. Space technically does not begin until the Karman line at 330,000 feet, so this is definitely no spaceship, no matter what the designation says.