It’s been more than a week since a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia downed a Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast with an AIM-9X missile, and some of you are still sharing photos of an alleged aerial victory marking across the side of the purported jet that made the kill.

F22 finally gets a kill stencil -Taranis

Posted by Disgruntled Vets on Sunday, February 12, 2023

While the appearance of a balloon-shaped victory marking on the side of any jet would be an awesome occurrence in the history of aerial combat, this F-22 photo is, unfortunately, a fake. 

The original photo, which shows an Air Force pilot flashing a thumbs-up from inside the cockpit of their F-22, was in fact published to the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of Edwards Air Force Base in California in 2020 and shows a Raptor assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron, F-22 Combined Test Force there. 

f-22 raptor chinese spy balloon victory marking
An F-22 Raptor assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron, F-22 Combined Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in 2020.

It’s easy to understand why the alleged photo of a balloon kill marking stirred up so much excitement in military and veterans circles online. Victory markings enjoy a long and storied history in the U.S. military dating back to World War II, and they weren’t necessarily reserved for aircraft: Navy submarine USS Barb boasted a kill marking of a locomotive after taking out a train on the Japanese home islands in 1945.

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It’s unclear if the Air Force plans on allowing victory markings on the F-22s that downed not just the Chinese spy balloon, but the three unidentified objects that two other F-22s and an F-16 Viper took out the following weekend. When contacted by Task & Purpose, the aircraft’s respective units deferred to the office of the Secretary of the Air Force, which demurred on the question. 

But if the Air Force decides to hand out a victory marking to the F-22 Raptor involved in the balloon shootdown, it won’t involve a silhouette of the balloon. According to service regulations, fighter aircraft with verifiable aerial victories are allowed to display “a 6-inch green star with a 1/2-inch black border located just below and centered on the pilot’s name block” with the type of aircraft shot down stenciled within the star in white. 

“No other victory markings are authorized,” per Air Force regulations. 

Green star victory marking
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 4012439-scaled.jpeg Airman 1st Class Kaya Schmidt, 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, secures an aircraft panel on the side of an A-10C Thunderbolt II, Dec. 6, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan)

Then again, it’s possible the service might make an exception. After all, at least one A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft assigned to the 107th Fighter Squadron, 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge Air National Guard Base boasted a victory marking of a cow in the aftermath of a fateful sortie during a 2015 deployment to Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

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