A Chinese balloon photographed from the air before being shot down
The US Department of Defense has released a high-altitude selfie taken by a pilot from the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane flying near a Chinese balloon – which is used to collect information, accuses Washington – on the eve of its destruction by the American army.
The balloon, described by China as a “civilian aircraft used for research purposes, primarily meteorological,” was shot down on February 4 on the orders of US President Joe Biden.< /p>
The case has intensified tension between Washington and Beijing. The United States believes the balloon was controlled by the Chinese military and was part of a fleet sent by Beijing over more than 40 countries on five continents for espionage purposes.
The photo released by the Pentagon on Wednesday shows the white balloon hovering over a wide expanse in the central United States on February 3, observed by the pilot of the U-2 plane.
In the photo, solar panels are visible under the balloon and the pilot's helmet appears in the foreground.
The next day, an F-22 fighter jet shot down the balloon over the Atlantic near the coast of South Carolina, with the Pentagon citing an “unacceptable violation” of American “sovereignty”.
The photo first circulated on the specialized site Dragon Lady Today, the U-2 plane is commonly nicknamed Dragon Lady, and a Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, confirmed its authenticity during a Wednesday press conference.
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The American media jumped on the cliché. CNN television had previously reported on this selfie, “already endowed with legendary status both at NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and at the Pentagon”.
The U-reconnaissance plane 2, designed to be able to fly up to over 21,000m to spy on enemy territory, is renowned for being one of the most difficult aircraft in the world to fly. A veteran of the United States Air Force, he rose to fame when one was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.