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US spy pilot takes ‘selfie’ with China balloon before it was shot down

In a handout image provided by the Department of Defense, a U.S. Air Force U-2 pilot looks down at the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on Feb. 3, 2023, as it hovers over the Central Continental United States. Recovery efforts began shortly after the balloon was downed. (U.S. Department of Defense/Getty Images/TNS)

The U.S. Department of Defense released a previously classified “selfie” Wednesday, taken from the cockpit of a U-2 intelligence plane.

Behind the pilot can be seen the now-infamous Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by the U.S. military off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month.

The image, first reported by CNN, clearly shows the balloon’s “payload,” which is related to the transport of data.

General Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said the balloon was 200 feet tall, with a payload that weighed “a couple of thousand pounds.”

Another senior State Department official shared earlier this month that studies of the object revealed that it was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations,” CNN reported.

However, officials also maintain the balloon was “not capable of conducting significant intelligence collection,” partly because of the government’s effort to combat the balloon.

The U-2 spy plane is a single-seat, high-altitude aircraft with “glider-like characteristics,” according to the Air Force. Because the planes are flown regularly at altitudes greater than 70,000 feet, pilots “must wear a full pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts.”

The spy balloon was first spotted on Jan. 28, but the U.S. government waited to shoot down the foreign object because they feared remnants from the balloon could injure civilians or property on the ground below.

The event has now drawn discussion around whether the U.S. is entering into another Cold War with China.


© 2023 New York Daily News

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