A U-2 spy plane pilot took a selfie with the Chinese spy balloon

That's one hell of a shot!
Jared Keller Avatar
u-2 chinese spy balloon selfie
A U.S. Air Force U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane pilot looks down at the Chinese surveillance balloon as it hovered over the central United States February 3, 2023. (Defense Department)

The pilot of a U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane tasked with surveilling the Chinese spy balloon that traversed the continental United States earlier this month managed to snap a selfie with the balloon from the cockpit of the aircraft.

The photo, the existence of which was first reported by CNN on Feb. 8,  was first published online by long-time aviation journalist and U-2 expert Chris Pocock on Tuesday. 

The photo shows the Chinese spy balloon as seen through the cockpit window of a U-2, with the shadow of the aircraft silhouetted on the side of the balloon’s envelope. The curve of the U-2 pilot’s “space suit” helmet appears on the right side of the shot, although their face is obscured. 

The photo quickly spread on social media over the next 24 hours before Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed its authenticity during a press conference on Wednesday. The high-resolution version of the photo appeared on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) website shortly thereafter.

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As our colleagues at The War Zone were first to report, a pair of U-2 spy planes were tasked to assist in monitoring the path of the Chinese spy balloon as it traveled over the Midwest at the start of February. President Joe Biden ultimately ordered an Air Force F-22 Raptor to shoot down the balloon off the Carolina coast on Feb. 4.

The Chinese spy balloon was traveling at an altitude between 60,000 and 70,000 feet during its trip across the United States; as The War Zone notes, the U-2 is the only known aircraft in the Penatagon’s inventory still in use that can fly above that altitude. The SR-71  holds the record for fixed-wing flight at 85,000 feet, but that aircraft has not been used since NASA retired it in 1999. 

While not the highest-altitude selfie ever taken (if space selfies are considered, which should be), this is almost certainly one of the most geopolitically consequential selfies in the history of the U.S. military. And to the unnamed U-2 pilot: we salute you for such an exquisite shot.

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