The Department of Defense has released a selfie taken by the pilot of a U-2 spy plane showing the Chinese spy balloon before it was blown to pieces earlier this month.
The image captured on Feb. 3 shows the object floating above land in apparent full capacity. It met its demise the next day after getting shot by an F-22 fighter jet at an altitude of 40,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina.
The balloon reportedly entered U.S. airspace near Alaska and was first spotted by residents some 60,000 feet above Montana. It traveled across the continental U.S. for several days before the White House ordered its destruction.
China insists the balloon was a civilian airship used for meteorological research. However, parts recovered from its wreckage were deemed “inconsistent” with equipment found in weather balloons, intelligence officials said.
The selfie shot by the pilot shows a clear image of the balloon’s payload, with solar panels attached to its sides.
U-2 planes are single-seat, reconnaissance aircrafts that fly at altitudes greater than 70,000 feet.
One intelligence official previously stated that photos taken by U-2 flybys confirmed the balloon as having multiple antennas that likely performed “signals intelligence collection.” Meanwhile, the solar panels were said to be “large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors.”
The payload, which contained the aircraft’s electronics, was described to be the size of about three buses.
Recovery efforts concluded on Feb. 17, and, according to Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh, “the majority of the balloon, including the payload, was recovered.”
After Feb. 4, the U.S. Air Force shot down three more aerial objects. However, they are not believed to be from China nor are they suspected of posing national security threats.