US Releases Pilot’s High-Altitude Photo With Chinese Balloon
WASHINGTON, United States: The US Department of Defense has released a high-altitude cockpit selfie of a pilot soaring atop a Chinese surveillance balloon the day before a U-2 spy plane was shot down.
President Joe Biden’s order to scale back what the US has called a “sophisticated high-altitude surveillance vehicle” has sparked the latest diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
China said the balloon was an errant weather observation plane with no military purpose and both countries accused it of espionage.
A photo released by the Pentagon on Wednesday shows a Chinese balloon floating over the central United States that was observed by the pilot of a U-2 spy plane on February 3.
A white balloon can be seen hovering overhead, its solar panels visible below, and the pilot’s helmet visible in the foreground.
An F-22 fighter jet shot down the device off the coast of South Carolina the next day, with the Pentagon saying its days-long flight over US territory was a “violation of our sovereignty”.
The image was first circulated on aviation enthusiast website “Dragon Lady Today,” and Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed its authenticity at a press conference Wednesday.
The U-2 selfie, nicknamed the “Dragon Lady,” has the American media jumping at the chance to share the image with all the major news outlets.
CNN reported earlier this month that the pilot selfie “already has legendary status with both NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and the Pentagon.”
The U-2 spy plane, designed in the 1950s for high-altitude reconnaissance of the Soviet Union, could fly above 60,000 feet, about the size of a Chinese balloon that flew over the United States.