WASHINGTON -- A close-up photo of the Chinese spy balloon, taken mid-air from a U-2 spy plane, has been released by the U.S. military
The photo was taken on Friday, Feb. 3 as the balloon flew over the American Midwest at an altitude of 60,000 feet -- as the U-2 spy plane trailed it flew across the continental United States.
The image shows the U2 spy plane flying just above the balloon with the pilot's helmet seen in the foreground.
U-2 spy planes are usually one-seater aircraft but the U-2 that was flying alongside the balloon was a two-seater trainer.
The photo was taken by the other pilot sitting in the second seat.
Visible in the balloon's white fabric is a silhouette of the U-2 aircraft and below it is the payload that carried reconnaissance sensors, antennae, and solar power panels.
That payload was described as being equal in length to three school buses.
The day after the photo was taken the balloon was shot down on Feb. 4 over U.S. territorial waters off of South Carolina.
A two-week recovery operation off the coast of South Carolina recovered most of the balloon and its payload that is now being analyzed by the FBI.
The incident created a domestic and international political firestorm.