Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing assists in shooting down suspected Chinese spy balloon
The Republican February 6, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Members of Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport assisted in shooting down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina Saturday afternoon.
"As part of our 24/7, 365 (days a year) mission to protect the United States from aerial threats, we launched two F-15C Eagles in support of the successful downing of the Peoples Republic of China surveillance balloon," said Col. David Halasi-Kun, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing.
"We're very proud to have taken part," Halasi-Kun said in a written statement on Sunday.
He did not specifically describe the work the pilots of the two fighter jets did to bring down the Chinese balloon.
The 104th Fighter Wing has a fleet of 21 F-15C Eagles assigned to the unit. It is currently competing to upgrade the fleet to the more modern F-35A Lightning II or F-15EX aircraft.
The balloon was first seen entering the United States air defense zone north of the Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28 and moved over land across Alaska and then into Canada. It crossed back in Idaho on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
While President Joe Biden ordered it downed on Wednesday, advisors said it would be safer to wait until it was over water to prevent injuring people on the ground. Officials collected intelligence on the balloon to learn how it moved and what it was capable of surveilling until Saturday when it moved off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Associated Press said.
The balloon, which was flying at about 60,000 feet, was shot down at about 2:40 p.m. by an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base that aimed a missile at the balloon, puncturing it. The Navy then took over to recover the debris, the Associated Press reported.
The F-22 Raptor crew took off from Langley in Virginia. It fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile to take down the balloon, according to officials from the 104th Fighter Wing.
The 104th maintains a round-the-clock Aerospace Control Alert providing armed F-15C fighters ready to scramble on a moment's notice to protect the northeast United States from any airborne threat, according to the wing.
Officials for the 104th could not be reached immediately for further comment
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