Pilot takes selfie with Chinese spy balloon

The US Defense Department has released a new photo taken by a pilot of a U-2 plane, showing the Chinese spy balloon as it flew over the US earlier this month.

The selfie was taken by the spy plane pilot while flying above the balloon and shows the shadow of the plane on the airship and the payload it carried across the US. The existence of the image was initially reported by CNN.

The balloon was initially spotted on 28 January and was taken down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February.

Earlier this month, a State Department official said that fly-bys “revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations”.

The balloon wasn’t shot down over land because of its size and the possible damage it could do upon impact on the ground.

The commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, General Glen VanHerck, said the ballon was 200 feet (61 metres) tall and its payload weighed thousands of pounds, CNN reported.

The Defense Department released a selfie from a spy plane of the Chinese balloon (The US Department of Defense)
The Defense Department released a selfie from a spy plane of the Chinese balloon (The US Department of Defense)

Officials added that the balloon was unable to collect significant intelligence, partly because of US measures.

The U-2 has a single seat, and flies at high altitudes during reconnaissance and surveillance missions with “glider-like characteristics,” the Air Force states.

Pilots “must wear a full pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts” as the planes often fly “at altitudes over 70,000 feet”.

The balloon was spotted over Montana at an altitude of more than 60,000 feet.

The recovery of the balloon started after it was taken down on 4 February and was finalised on 17 February. Parts of the debris were taken to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory in Virginia for analysis.

On Wednesday, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said that the balloon’s payload had been recovered, according to CNN.

Earlier this month, a senior defence official said Chinese spy balloons previously entered US airspace three times during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mr Trump and other Republicans previously rejected such assertions, attempting to blame the incursions on Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama.

The Defence Department previously said in a statement that “Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental United States at least three times during the prior administration”.

Yet another balloon entered US airspace previously during Mr Biden’s time as president, according to the AP.

Expanding on those comments, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was able to retroactively identify the presence of Chinese balloons in US airspace during Trump’s term after the US ”[enhanced] our surveillance of our territorial airspace.”