The US Defense Department has published a selfie which was taken in the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane, as a pilot flew above the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down by the US military earlier on in the morning.
The U-2 spy plane is a single-seater which is comfortable at high-altitudes and a solid surveillance aircraft with “glider-like characteristics,” according to the Air Force. As these planes are often “flown at altitudes over 70,000 feet,” pilots “must wear a full pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts.”
The picture shows the shadow of the aircraft on the balloon and a good quality shot of the balloon’s payload as it crossed the country. The selfie was first reported by CNN.
A senior State Department official also announced this month that fly-bys “revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations.”
Officials said they’d decided against shooting the balloon down over the US due to its size, stating that falling debris could hurt civilians or property on the ground.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, who is commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said later on that the balloon was 200 feet tall with a payload weighing in at nearly 2000 pounds.
Officials have also reiterated their belief that the balloon was not capable of conducting significant intelligence collection. They said that steps were taken immediately after it was spotted to protect the country against any intelligence being gathered.
Critics of this decision said that the balloon should have been shot down immediately.
The selfie shows the pilot flying above the balloon. The balloon’s altitude was recorded at 60,000 feet when it was flying over Montana.
The selfie was captured a week after the balloon entered US airspace close to Alaska, and NORAD sent up fighter jets to make a positive identification, defense officials reported.
The balloon was first spotted by the US on January 28th and shot down over Myrtle Beach on February 4th.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: LUKE MOCHERMAN
PHOTO CREDIT: NDTV.COM
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