Pentagon releases image of surveillance pilot’s selfie with Chinese spy balloon

The Defense Department Wednesday released stunning images taken by a U-2 surveillance pilot of the Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month.

The series of photos represent the closest look yet at the device  which officials estimated to be about 200 feet tall, weigh thousands of pounds, and carry a payload the length of a regional jet.

The photographs were taken Feb. 3, the day before two US Air Force F-22 fighter jets shot down the balloon off Myrtle Beach, SC. The shot of a U-2 pilot looking at the balloon was published Tuesday on the blog Dragon Lady Today, run by UK-based aerospace journalist Chris Pocock. Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh confirmed the image’s authenticity Wednesday. 

The photos were taken by a second pilot inside the aircraft, ABC News reported Wednesday. While U-2 spy planes typically only have one seat, the one used to monitor the Chinese balloon was a two-seat trainer.PREVIOUS

The U-2’s shadow can be seen on the billowing white balloon, which was attached to a payload of surveillance equipment powered by solar panels.

U-2 spy planes, a feature of the US Air Force since the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s, can cruise for hours above 70,000 feet — enabling the pilots to get above the balloon as it neared the East Coast of the US. 

President Biden was criticized for waiting to down the balloon until it was over the Atlantic Ocean, but defense officials have said the added time allowed the military to collect more information about China’s surveillance program by observing the device in the air.

The intelligence community is now inspecting the balloon and its massive payload up close at the FBI Lab at Quantico, Va. after the Navy finished recovering its debris from the ocean floor on Feb. 16.

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