Photographs of aeroplanes don’t prove existence of ‘chemtrails’

26 April 2022
What was claimed

Photographs show that those who say that chemtrails don't exist and that it's just aeroplane fumes are wrong.

Our verdict

False. The photographs do not show aeroplanes taking part in a chemtrails conspiracy.

A Facebook post shared over 1,400 times contains multiple pictures of aeroplanes with the caption: “To those who say that chemtrails don't exist and that it's just 'aeroplane fumes'”. 

The idea of ‘chemtrails’ refers to a conspiracy theory that the white lines of vapour trailing behind aeroplanes in the sky are actually evidence of a plot to spread poison or control the weather. In reality, these lines, or contrails, form when the warm moist exhaust fumes from an aircraft mixes with the cold air, producing ice crystal clouds.

The 32 pictures shared in the post, most of which show aeroplanes carrying some kind of containers, are not evidence that chemtrails exist. Although Full Fact was not able to track down the original version of every photograph, most can be verified. 

The post includes some pictures which have either been edited or identified as jokes. One photograph really shows a Boeing 747 carrying water containers to add weight, but in the Facebook post a biohazard label has been added to the front container. 

As reported by fact checker Lead Stories, several pictures feature people sporting labels, badges and other branding from #TeamChemtrail - a running joke among pilots and social media users. A website based on #teamchemtrail is now inactive, but its archive explains: “We are happy to present to you the official TeamChemtrail website where we work hard to bring forth some of the most entertaining pilot products you can find. Deep in the Chemworks we are constantly working hard to bring you new and improved ways of enlightening and scaring all conspiracy theorists.”

This suggests some of the people sporting #TeamChemtrail badges and paraphernalia may be deliberately trying to fool those who believe in the chemtrails conspiracy theory.

Some of the pictures show aeroplanes used for firefighting. One picture, which can be found on Wikipedia, shows equipment called the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS), which can be used to enable cargo planes to fight fire, being loaded onto a plane. Another photograph, which appears on the website Wildfire Today, comes from a report of MAFFS-equipped military aircraft being used to fight wildfires in Texas in 2011. Another picture reportedly shows a plane with spraying equipment used to lower the mosquito count at an airbase in Charleston, South Carolina.

Several of the photographs featured in the Facebook post show the A380 Airbus carrying large containers. Many of these are water containers used to add weight to the aircraft to simulate a passenger load. This includes a photograph taken from Reuters showing a test of the A380 during the 49th Paris Airshow in 2011, and another photograph of the A380 taken at the Dubai Airshow in 2005, found on Another photograph, sourced from the website, shows similar containers (also called ballast barrels) in an A380 undergoing a high altitude test, while one picture found on the online picture library Alamy shows an A380 filled with test equipment in Bristol in 2009.

The post also includes photographs of the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, taken from a German government website and showing her touring an Airbus at a Berlin Airshow in 2014. 

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Geoengineering and Bill Gates blocking out the sun

The post also claims: “Geo engineering is actually a thing...... and Bill Gates has been backed to try and 'block out the sun’.”

According to the Met Office, geoengineering is the “deliberate large-scale manipulation of climate”.  Two key aspects of this are Greenhouse Gas Removal—using natural and artificial means to remove greenhouses gases from the atmosphere, ranging from planting more trees to chemically removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—and Solar Radiation Modification, which involves using technology to reflect some of the Sun’s energy back into space, thereby reducing the amount of heat it transfers to the Earth. 

Beyond simple things like planting more trees, work is still ongoing internationally to fully understand the implications of geoengineering, and whether more artificial means should be used to counteract climate change remains a matter of debate.

As USA Today and PolitiFact have reported, the claim that Bill Gates is trying to block out the Sun appears to stem from a Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) from researchers at Harvard University. The small-scale experiment is financially backed by Mr Gates, and involves spraying aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect some sunlight back into space. 

The experiment seeks to understand the risks and efficacy of undergoing large scale solar geoengineering. 


Photograph courtesy of Joe Thomissen via Wikimedia Commons.

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