RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — An F-22 from an Air Force Base in Virginia was supported by various fuel tankers before it fired a Sidewinder missile and shot down a Chinese spy balloon just over 5 miles off the South Carolina coast Saturday, Pentagon officials said.
The shoot-down happened around 2:40 p.m. near the North Carolina/South Carolina border and came after two days of the balloon floating over several states and sensitive military sites.
The balloon fell about 6 miles off the coast in about 47 feet of water.
The F-22 fired the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the balloon from an altitude of 58,000 feet. The balloon at the time was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet.
Video footage showed a small explosion, followed by the giant deflated balloon descending like a ribbon toward the water. There were two contrails visible — one from the F-22 and another from the missile.
Bill Swanson said he watched the balloon deflate instantly from his house in Myrtle Beach as fighter jets circled around.
F-15 Eagles flying from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, supported the F-22, as did air refueling tankers from multiple states including South Carolina and North Carolina.
There is no estimate for how long the recovery mission will take, a military official said, but the fact that it came down in such a shallow area should make recovery “fairly easy”.
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile carried by fighter aircraft. It has a high-explosive warhead and an infrared heat-seeking guidance system. The Sidewinder was developed by the U.S. Navy for fleet air defense and was adapted by the U.S. Air Force for fighter aircraft use.
Each Sidewinder is about 188 pounds and costs $381,069.
The AIM-9A, a prototype of the Sidewinder, was first fired successfully in September 1953. The initial production version, designated AIM-9B, entered the Air Force inventory in 1956 and was effective only at close range.
AIM-9X is the newest variant of Sidewinder. The AIM-9X has the same rocket motor and warhead as the AIM-9M. Major physical changes from previous versions of the missile include fixed forward canards, and smaller fins designed to increase flight performance.
The guidance section has been redesigned and features an imaging infrared seeker. The propulsion section now incorporates a jet-vane steering system for enhanced post-launch agility.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report