Pentagon releases pilot’s close-up photo of Chinese balloon

One day prior to the Air Force’s shot of the spy balloon in China, a U-2 pilot flew high above it and took a close-up photograph.

The photo shows the pilot’s helmet in the U-2 cockpit, with the balloon below. According to the Defense Department’s caption, it was taken February 3, as the balloon “hovered above the Central Continental United States.” The Pentagon released Wednesday’s image, two weeks after the balloon was featured in international news as it transited through the United States.

An F-22 fighter plane fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile and brought down the balloon on February 4. The strike occurred when the balloon was no more above land, but still within U.S. territorial water.

The U-2 Dragon Lady, a U.S. spy aircraft at high altitude, has been in use since the 1950s.

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Last Friday, the Pentagon announced that Navy ships and submarines had successfully recovered the large balloon and its payload from the Atlantic Ocean. Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the FBI is currently analyzing the payload recovered from the ocean floor.

Three other smaller objects were also shot down by Air Force jets during the shootdown. One was over Alaska, one was over Canada and one was over Lake Huron. The search for the Alaskan and Lake Huron objects has ended.