A photo taken by a pilot as he flew over the Chinese balloon shot down earlier this month was released on Wednesday by the US Department of Defense.
The photo was taken from the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane as military leaders tracked the high-altitude balloon’s progress over the continental US.
U-2 spy planes are usually one-seater aircraft but the U-2 that was flying alongside the balloon was a two-seater trainer. The photo was taken by the other pilot sitting in the second seat.
Visible in the balloon’s white fabric is a silhouette of the U-2 aircraft and below it is the payload that carried reconnaissance sensors, antennae, and solar power panels.
The balloon was said to be hovering at an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,200m). U-2 planes routinely fly at altitudes over 70,000 feet, according to the Air Force.
The image was taken the day before the balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February.
🚨#BREAKING: Incredible HD footage of the Chinese surveillance balloon being shot down
Watch incredible HD video of the moment when the Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down by a single missile from an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base pic.twitter.com/KjwTrgcvcb
— R A W S A L E R T S (@rawsalerts) February 4, 2023
Parts of the Chinese balloon have been recovered
In a statement at the time, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said a U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the balloon on the orders of President Joe Biden.
Lloyd said the balloon was being used by the People’s Republic of China “in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.”
Biden gave authorization to take down the balloon as soon as it could be done “without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path,” Lloyd said.
Recovery efforts for the balloon’s scattered remnants in the Atlantic Ocean ended last Friday.
Pieces of the debris, including the payload, have been recovered and are being studied, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said.