Part of the envelope of a Chinese balloon shot down off Myrtle Beach was reportedly seen in a boat at a boat launch near the city as the Navy and Coast Guard work to recover what’s left of the balloon’s sensors and power system. An Air Force F-22 shot down the balloon off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon. A single Sidewinder air-to-air missile was used. The operation was witnessed by hundreds on the ground and millions who watched the livestream.

The FAA closed airspace off the coast of the Carolinas Saturday in preparation for the downing of the balloon that spent the last week crossing North America from Alaska. While the balloon was over land, the Biden administration decided not to shoot it down, saying it posed too much risk on the ground. But part of the calculation was that it’s more likely at least some of the components will be recovered intact if the mission was done over water. Airports in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Wilmington were closed for part of the day on Saturday and the FAA detoured other traffic around the 22,000 square miles of closed airspace. President Joe Biden said he ordered the balloon be shot down last Wednesday but deferred to military leaders who wanted to wait until it was over water.

On Friday, China said it was sorry that a civilian balloon doing meteorological research was inadvertently blown into U.S. airspace. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported the Chinese government expressed “regrets” the balloon was “blown off course” while gathering weather data. The U.S. did not accept that explanation and consistently characterized it as a spy balloon. The jet stream carried the balloon over Alaska and Western Canada before it crossed the U.S. border near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, the site of several intercontinental ballistic missile installations. It drifted at 60,000 feet and higher, well above normal commercial and military traffic. On Saturday, the Pentagon issued a statement saying a second balloon has been spotted over Latin America.

The balloon, which had what looked like a solar array slung underneath, crossed into U.S. airspace over more than a week ago, but the U.S. government didn’t acknowledge its existence until Thursday when a Billings, Montana, television station got a clear shot of it as it passed over. Despite a growing chorus of calls from governors and Congress members to shoot the balloon down, military officials rejected that option, citing the risk of falling debris. There were reports of civilians on the ground trying to shoot it down, prompting warnings that falling bullets pose a hazard.

The military scrambled fighters and tankers to monitor the balloon on its leisurely journey, but there didn’t seem to be much concern about its security implications. Military officials told various media that the balloon couldn’t see or hear anything that satellites can’t and that anything sensitive in the range of its sensors was shut off or hidden just in case. After overflying the ICBM sites in Montana, the balloon was spotted near Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, home to the Air Force’s fleet of B-2 bombers and a facility well-versed in hiding from prying eyes.

The airspace incursion prompted U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin to postpone a planned trip to Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterparts. China has expressed anger at the U.S. actions but has not so far retaliated. The incident is said to have further chilled relations between the two superpowers.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. This “balloon” could/should have been brought down when it entered Alaska, and now the government is using the excuse of falling debris over populated areas to not take any action? What populated area in Alaska did it overfly? I guess I have to keep in mind that Biden was the only person in president Obama’s circle who recommended not to authorize the SEAL team action that took out Bin Laden!

    • Peanut gallery advice is so predictable. Fire, ready, aim. I suspect we’re gathering more intel from this party balloon than their overflight stunt is.

      • I suspect that a military that leaves $7 Billion in military hardware in Afghanistan and an administration that spent the last 4 years “improving” the NOTAM system, is NOT so brilliant as to better understand Chinese intelligence than the Chinese do. I’m not buying any of this “we’re on top of it” horse hockey.

        • They actually left closer to 80 billion in arms for the Taliban and Chinese. Welcome to an inexplicably incompetent government. This is exactly what it looks like.

        • Hey pal, you do realize Biden has only been president for two years. Maybe you need to work on your own intelligence gathering before you criticize others.

          • Hey pal, Biden is so-called President now. It’s all on his watch so yea, we CAN criticize. Hell, criticizing the government is an American right!

        • @Arthur J.F.: Let’s keep in mind that it was Trump who demanded the fast-exit of Afghanistan at the “leave it all behind” pace. Biden inherited that damage.

      • Hi John. As you well know, the instinctive rather than reflective human reaction called classical conditioning regularly shown on these threads was first revealed in Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with animals and meat powder. Evidently, peanuts can work too.

      • I think most sane people would think the opposite….the Chinese have already garnished the intelligence they wanted, and we could’ve done the same thing, except BEFORE it flew over the entire country. Too logical? I really don’t think anyone is in charge in Washington.

    • I agree 100%. I cannot imagine how SloJoe would respond if supersonic missiles were on their way ans he had to stop watching an episode of Matlock and make a split-second decision. SCARY!!

  2. When I was at Edwards, we shot down a satellite with a ASM-135 anti-satellite missile in 1985:

    In 2008, the Navy shot down another satellite with a heavily modified standard missile (SM-3) launched from a guided missile cruiser:

    What’re we waiting for? That balloon could just as well been a launch platform for NBC weapons. If not this time … maybe next time.

    Who is on first? What’s on second?

    • Exactly….what were they waiting for? I really don’t think anyone is steering the ship at the federal level. The news cycle drove this shootdown. I thought the same thing…maybe they dropped a ton of anthrax to poison the food or water supply? Who knows. Any person who thinks Biden’s predecessor would have allowed this is delusional.

  3. “A second Chinese spy balloon has been spotted moving across Latin America, the Pentagon announced on Friday night.” Let’s take a step back and neutralize the problem efficiently.

  4. “Just shoot it down!”

    Been there, done that. Back in 1998 a weather balloon threatened to drift into Russian airspace. Two CF-18’s were dispatched, hit the balloon with almost 1,000 rounds… and it kept on going. They fired rockets at it. But the rockets flew straight through the balloon without exploding. Just think about where they went after that….

    President Biden already suggested shooting down this balloon. The Pentagon said it was not a good idea. They already figured the juice ain’t worth the squeeze. Sure, you could fire a missile at it… and then listen to the howls from people complaining what a waste of money, using a million dollar missile to pop a balloon.

    At what if it missed? Where would it come down? And how stupid would the U.S. look if we tried and failed to ‘simply’ pop a balloon?

    The Pentagon already figured this balloon is no real threat, so there’s nothing to be gained (and a whole lot to lose) in trying to shoot it down.

    • Whoa there: “flew straight through the balloon without exploding”? How did the balloon manage to stay aloft with holes in it larger than bullets would leave?

      • Because the balloon was the size of a football field. Even with holes the size of your fist it would still take a long time for it to deflate enough to sink to the sea. Which it eventually did days later.

  5. About time that balloon was brought down. Hopefully the Navy can find and recover it and find out once and for all what the payload is.

  6. My prediction is that, assuming the payload is recovered, it will turn out to be…a weather research balloon. When you have satellites, why would you try to use a balloon for “spying”?

    • the politicians know this already, but they need an excuse to keep fueling hatred to Americans in order to provoke a war they need.

      • Communism is NOT real , and the media has made it up to scare you and your little sister into voting for the puppet they want in office!

    • Because imaging through a smaller amount of atmosphere whilst at a greatly reduced distance is a “thing”. Ten times closer means that each object is taking up 100 times more pixels on your imaging sensor. As Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing”, especially as the actual ratio is somewhat greater than 10:1 in reality.

      • Well, not really. Consider that over 20 years ago, our spy satellites were able to look down on the Kremlin and count the number of people sitting in Gorky Park on a nice day. Not only that, they could tell whether a person was reading a newspaper, a magazine or a paperback book. And that was from several hundred miles above. Imagine what they are capable of today. Even if the balloon could get a better view, I question the value of the intelligence it will gather, Yes, a balloon can be steered – up to a point, but they would have no control over the time of day it flew over, or the amount of cloud cover at the time. Plus, they would not be able to go back and look a second time if they saw something interesting. Considering the amount of attention the balloon attracted, expecting it to do any serious spying is a bit of a stretch.

  7. What can a balloon do for spying? It is slow, uncontrollable, and easy to be brought down. Calm down, it is just a research balloon accidentally drifted to other places. The politicians know this, but they are too warmongering and just need an excuse to provoke a war with China.

    • There was a report that the balloon was reported to be maneuvering, which seems likely considering its route over Montana and Whiteman AFB.

    • and you know this how? Do you think for a millisecond if a balloon was drifting over communist China they would simply let it? Come n man.

      • If a balloon drift to China? Actually this happened before. China carefully brought it down, inspected it, and returned to the US. No big title as “US spying balloon”. The US politicians know this is an accident, but they just need an excuse to provoke the war they need.

  8. If the CCP and North Korea were wondering what the Biden administration’s rules of engagement are for overflight by foreign balloons, now they know. Regardless of whether or not we properly identified the payload, what other payloads could they send over with a balloon without risk of engagement by the US military?

  9. “Live, raw and unfiltered.” Also known as “live,” but making it sound like a promo for porn is MUCH more entertaining.

  10. Confirmed in a video: the balloon is maneuverable, pausing over Montana, changing altitude, moving laterally. Check YT, video named “Track of China’s suspected”

  11. I hope they paint the Chinese flag in the shape of a balloon on the side of that F22. Frank Luke would be proud.

  12. The funny (sad) part of this is the reports of people being “outraged”. Come on, what’s to be outraged over some balloon. Do we declare war on party balloons next?

    I doubt there is anything to be learned that some spy satelite could not learn.

    If the balloon was malicious, I doubt any country could retaliate more than the USA. So who’s that stupid?

    As mentioned, is some balloon worth a million dollar missile?

    Over reaction does not begin to explain this.

    • There are two army officers who were manning a radar station in Hawaii who probably wished their commanding officer took more seriously their concerns over what they saw on the morning of December 7 1941! Amazing how short some American’s memory can be. That balloon should have been shot down when it crossed the border into Alaska. And on top of that another FAA ground stop in the Carolina coastal airports to accommodate the shoot down.

      • And how about all of the Washington Bureaucrats who ignored all of the warnings sent to them about all of the pilots who were asking only for training how to maneuver their airplanes, not how to land, the winter and spring of 2000/2001. This country has a history of ignoring warning signs, it’s about time these warning signs are taken more seriously.

    • Common sense, but the usual rubes here and elsewhere have been whipped into a predictable frenzy.

    • The point you’re all missing isn’t what the balloon may or may not have been carrying. It is simply the Chicoms testing the boundaries of what they can get away with, *exactly* like they’ve been doing on a daily basis off Taiwan for months now.

      “The US politicians know this is an accident”

      Yeah right – accidentally on purpose.

      “As 99 red balloons go by”

      Heh – this was a *red* balloon alright. I’m reminded of Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper around on his return to Britain in 1938 because he had achieved “peace for our time”, because Hitler said so.

  13. 99 Decision Street
    99 ministers meet
    To worry, worry, super scurry
    Call the troops out in a hurry
    This is what we’ve waited for
    This is it boys, this is war
    The President is on the line
    As 99 red balloons go by

  14. I am thrilled that we have so many commenters who are so much smarter and know so much more about the Chinese intent and our gummint’s intent to provoke hatred and war than do our military professionals and intelligence services. So reassuring… Anyone who thinks we want to provoke a war with China has some serious ‘splaining to do.

    • John, your comments seem completely out of line of every armchair quarterback smart person with zero credentials as; military generals, NSA, CIA, FBI, think tank, military/civilian strategists, etc. I’m a bit concerned of your reassurance of these smart ppeople.

  15. The “It’s just a balloon” crowd has no idea what the balloon’s purpose was, yet they minimize its presence in US airspace. “Nothing to see here!!!!!!” Predictable.

  16. So what’s the big deal? The borders are already open. It’s only a natural progression that we open the airspace as well! Right?

  17. Wow! If never suspected that so many aviators I talked to for so many years were so easily fooled by such moronic rhetoric. Must be something to do with that Space Laser thingy.

    • Just remember, there’s also a large percentage of pilots that are still convinced a plane will not take off from a conveyer belt.

      PS – and by “large percentage” I mean any number greater that zero.

  18. For a bunch of aviation enthusiasts, y’all don’t seem to know much about balloons. Hundreds of research balloons are flown into the stratosphere every year launched by many countries. Some circle the poles several times. Some of them carry large slung solar powered payloads that measure stuff. Atmospheric gas concentrations, cosmic rays, etc. Give it a rest. Just like all balloons, stratospheric balloons are minimally steerable. They can change altitude using a compressor to change the weight of compressed air in a separate compartment in the envelope. That creates a small amount of control by changing to an altitude where the wind is blowing in a different direction.

    • The administration (and his press) are drumming this up.
      I agree that it’s a weather balloon with zero chance of being a threat.
      They do not need balloons since they have known spies sleeping with congressmen.

  19. Well, it’s over – sort of. What and why? If recovered, we may have the answers. It could possibly be some scrap hoisted aloft. However, “drifted astray”? Not a chance. It has crossed a significant part of this country, and has been confirmed steerable, unless you believe that a drift-over of two major military installations is pure coincidence. As for waiting until it is over the ocean to alleviate any ground mishaps – nope, don’t buy it for a second. It “drifted” over Montana and Alaska. Has anyone ever been there? A lot more nothingness than populated area. For this to be steerable, it had to be fitted with gas volume control – not a standard weather or party balloon. And at 60,000 too. As for all the hype about missing it by shooting it down – practically a sitting target, easily terminated (as shown) by modern weaponry. And as for the comments about the delay in engaging it – here’s a thought: let’s take a couple of concrete blocks, wrap them in foil, dangle them from a balloon, and let them “drift” into Chinese airspace. My bet is they won’t even make it IN to their airspace, much less a fly-over. The Communist Chinese government is not our friend – only an ally if it profits them

  20. Does anyone think that this balloon was not carrying Intel gear? If I were executing this mission I’d have cameras or other equipment aboard to get something of value. With the miniaturized technology of today it would be simple to do and uplink to a satellite then to Red China. That being said, the DOD excuse for NOT bringing it down over US territory makes absolutely NO sense which is par for the course with this “administration.”

  21. It truly looks like the F22 jet hit the payload, not the balloon. It was reported to be an air-to-air missile. No wonder the Pentagon said the debris field would be 7 miles long. The F22 can fly at 65,000 feet, and it has a machine gun. So it’s a mystery to me why they didn’t shred the balloon to retrieve the Chinese equipment. Maybe they thought Richard Branson was aboard?

    • Maybe someone, somewhere, with a boatload of influence did not WANT the payload to be discoverable. You fire enough rounds into any bag of gas and it will drop. So many unanswered questions……..

    • There’s more detailed footage that appears to show the missile hitting the base of the balloon. The solar-panel-equipped package then drops free, seemingly intact.

  22. What’s the evidence the balloon was a Chicom asset?
    I wonder which federal agency gets custody of the wreckage, and will they share the forensic evidence without bias?

  23. Some of the comments here are idiotic. Guess which ones? They just prove that “American Exceptionalism” is and always has been a myth – we have more than our fair share of shoot-from-the-hip, yahoo-morons. God help us.

  24. Chinese balloon appears over the U.S. The Pentagon weighs its options…

    Option 1: “SHOOT IT DOWN! SHOOT IT DOWN NOW!” (aka – the General Jack Ripper approach)

    Option 2: Hmm, let’s send one of our RC-135 ELINT planes up to follow it… gather all the signals it’s receiving from its masters and see what it’s sending in return. Is it a theat? No? Ok, just keep monitoring it. Or just jam the signals it’s sending back. Or, better yet, send back false signals. And, once we’ve learned everything we can, go to Option 1.

    (Do a search for “Cobra 47” and “chinese balloon”.)

    • According to a Department of Defense statement released on Saturday:

      “Long before the shoot down, U.S. officials took steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information, mitigating its intelligence value to the Chinese. The senior defense official said the recovery of the balloon will enable U.S. analysts to examine sensitive Chinese equipment. ‘I would also note that while we took all necessary steps to protect against the PRC surveillance balloon’s collection of sensitive information, the surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,’ the official said. ‘I can’t go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.'”

    • Exactly. We likely gained more intelligence from tracking the balloon and seeing what signals it sent out, than the balloon was able to gather any actionable intelligence. And now we have portions of chinese technology intact to further study. Or if it was indeed just a benign weather balloon, we have the physical equipment to confirm this.

      There’s also value in being measured with one’s military response. If we jumped at every little thing and used our most advanced weaponry for things that ultimately pose little danger, that 1) shows capability that perhaps we don’t want to broadcast, and 2) shows the adversary that they can just launch a bunch of decoys to waste our resources on so they will be expended by the time there is a real threat.

      Sometimes, the obvious thing to do is the wrong thing to do.

  25. We can’t turn our military defense into political talking points. I’ll take our military intelligence over fox news and news max any day of the week.

  26. No need to speculate about what Trump would or would not have done if a Chinese balloon had entered US airspace during his administration. From an official Department of Defense statement released today, “The official said Chinese balloons briefly transited the continental United States at least three times during the prior administration.”

  27. MTG said Biden should shoot down the balloon immediately and that Trump would never have tolerated this. Actually Trump tolerated three similar events during his term, and as a member of the Homeland Security Committee she should already know this before commenting.

      • This is not to point fingers at what one administration would’ve done versus another. The main point is the military was learning as much as they could before disposing of this non-threat:

        “Long before the shoot down, U.S. officials took steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information, mitigating its intelligence value to the Chinese. The senior defense official said the recovery of the balloon will enable U.S. analysts to examine sensitive Chinese equipment. ‘I would also note that while we took all necessary steps to protect against the PRC surveillance balloon’s collection of sensitive information, the surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,’ the official said. ‘I can’t go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.’”

        (I would guess they did the same thing with the prior three balloons, jamming signals and gathering intelligence).

  28. I bet the pilot of the F-22 won’t be paying for his (her?) beer anytime soon, not that it was any great feat to hit, but damn, what a story!

  29. Read all the comments; a word jumps to mind: “EXPERT”.

    EX = has been

    SPURT = a drip under pressure.

    • I hope not!

      According to the DoD, approximately 1.2 million U.S. service members have KIA since the Spanish-American War in 1898. The total number of KIA for each conflict is as follows:

      World War I: approximately 116,516 KIA
      World War II: approximately 291,557 KIA
      Korean War: approximately 36,574 KIA
      Vietnam War: approximately 58,220 KIA
      Gulf War: approximately 383 KIA
      Iraq War: approximately 4,488 KIA
      War in Afghanistan: approximately 2,347 KIA

      Additionally, this count only includes U.S. service members who died while on active duty, and does not include those who died as a result of their military service after being discharged.

      “I understand that the loss of even one life is a significant tragedy and that the impact of war extends far beyond the number of casualties. The loss of 1.2 million service members is indeed a significant number and should not be forgotten. It serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by individuals who serve in the military and their families, and the cost of war on human life. It is important to remember and honor their service and sacrifice, and to work towards creating a more peaceful world.” ChatGPT

      • Your point is well made, but the math seems a little off. If you subtract those KIA numbers from 1.2 million, you get that almost 690,000 service members died after leaving the service, from trauma suffered during service. So more people died after leaving than during their service? While I recognize and acknowledge the ongoing suffering the wounded endure, often for the rest of their lives, I just question their facts and assumptions on the 1.2 million figure. It is a heavy burden for any leader to send brave young men and women into harm’s way and the loss of even one is, indeed, a tragedy. War is rarely the answer.

  30. We’ve been operating U2 spy planes over other nations for some 60 years and SR-71s from 1966 to 1996. Senator Rubio got very quiet after criticizing Biden when told that balloons had overflown US during Trump’s administration.
    Seems pretty hypocritical to get all outraged about this balloon.

  31. China KNOWS HOW TO SPY. They do it in ways far more secretive and effective than a huge blatantly-observable to-the-naked-eye balloon. This was a publicity-stunt designed to enrage the Americans against their own gov’t….to KEEP us DIVIDED…NOT UNITED as our National Slogan calls.

    The failure of America is NOT when/where/why or if….we shot it down. The failure and laughing-stock we’ve made of ourselves is our Divisiveness … which current opponents of our administration continue to display. It is Times like These…that we should UNITE instead of taking pot-shots at ourselves.

  32. The F-22 used an AIM-9 missile at roughly $500K rather than a few rounds of 20mm at about $5/round? I guess the pilot had a training square to fill…

  33. Apparently now it has been stated by Pentagon Officials that the American military had a “domain awareness gap” that allowed three other suspected Chinese spy balloons to transit the continental United States undetected under the Trump administration, the Pentagon general responsible for providing air and missile defense over North America said on Monday.