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I am asking about the current crash of a Boeing 737-800. Due to the unfortunate crash of Ukrainian 752, I am trying to figure out what can be seen from the launch pad when they decided to shoot the plane. I determined the plane was at 4620 ft AGL and climbing. According to my calculations, the line of sight distance from the operator to the plane was 2058 meters = 6729 ft away.

So I want to know how a 737-800 looks like from the ground 6729 ft away at night.

I would like to know if it is possible to mistake a 737-800 for anything else from that distance at the night time with full visibility. Can anyone provide a picture of that?

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    $\begingroup$ The real question is: Are such anti aircraft missiles really launched using a visual target? I was under the impression that they generally use radar and heat signatures. $\endgroup$ – Michael Jan 14 '20 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't matter what it "looked like", it was something flying towards an area of interest, the military took (incorrect) action and it resulted in the deaths of 130+ civilians. At +1 mile at night it wouldn't look like anything other than some loud blinking lights. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jan 14 '20 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ For something shoulder-launched, the operator might acquire the target visually, but the missile guides on IR. Big SAM's typically acquire & guide on radar. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jan 14 '20 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ A mile away at night? Basically you are just going to see the lights. Is there any claim that anyone was actually trying to look at the plane visually? What was the moon's phase, elevation, and azimuth relative to the plane as seen from the spotter's position? Was the sky clear of clouds allowing uninterupted moonlight? If so the plane itself might have been fairly visible-- if anyone was looking. Perhaps much more relevant-- would an attacking enemy warplane have any lights on? $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Jan 14 '20 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ "I would like to know if it is possible to mistake a 737-800 for anything else from that distance at the night time with full visibility" Well, obviously, it is. $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Jan 14 '20 at 14:32
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At night, at that range, it will look about like a dot of light, probably with a red flashing beacon and white flashing strobe lights.

That's what you'll see from essentially every aircraft at that range at night, unless the pilot chooses to turn off some or all lights.

But you're seeing the LIGHTS, not the AIRCRAFT, at that distance, and the ability to visually identify what aircraft it is, is essentially nil.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a gunnery specialist but I would at least use binoculars before shooting at something that far away, wouldn't I? $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Jan 14 '20 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck I doubt the military would rely on visual observations alone when identifying potential targets. They have radar. $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Jan 14 '20 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ The binoculars would show you a bigger dot of light with brighter flashes from the beacon & strobes. At night, the ability to visually identify an aircraft at two miles is pretty much zero unless you have some immense magnification & image stabilization. Plus, procedurally, you'd rely on identification methods that aren't dependent on clear skies between you + the target. Thus, radar, transponder codes, airways, departure/arrival routing, voice contact, etc. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jan 14 '20 at 14:46

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