U-2 spy plane used by US to track Chinese surveillance balloon

According to officials, Air Force aircraft collected intelligence information about antennas and equipment from the surveillance balloon, which was later shot down by an F-22 Raptor off the east coast

The United States used U-2S Dragon Lady spy planes to capture intelligence about the Chinese surveillance balloon that crossed the country last week and was shot down by an F-22 Raptor fighter on February 4, the government revealed.

Developed during the Cold War, the U-2 is capable of flying at high altitudes of over 70,000 feet (21,300 meters), therefore above the level where the balloon was (between 60,000 and 65,000 feet).

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According to the US Department of Defense, the U-2 flights checked the equipment and sensors that were being carried by the balloon, and that served to collect and geolocate communications.

“High-resolution imagery from U-2 flybys revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations,” a senior State Department official told Air & Space Forces Magazine.

The U-2s flew in support of the U.S. Northern Command and, because they were used over the United States, required special authorization as it is prohibited to collect intelligence data within the country.

The surveillance balloon over Montana

Technical upgrades

In service since the 1950s, the U-2 has been kept active thanks to technical upgrades. The subsonic aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin has unique characteristics that make it useful, even nearly 70 years after its maiden flight in August 1956.

The US Air Force (USAF) maintains 27 aircraft in active service that were manufactured in the 1980s. The U-2S is a versatile model as it can carry a wide range of payloads, from optical equipment to sensors of various types.


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