About that balloon. On Saturday afternoon, an American F-22 jet shot a Sidewinder missile at a Chinese spy balloon to the patriotic cheers of the people on the ground in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It had enjoyed quite a trip, this balloon, first entering U.S. airspace on January 28 over some Alaskan islands, then flying into Canada, then down into the continental United States, which it traversed, unbothered, for five days. It would have likely been a quiet trip, too, if not for an amateur photographer in Billings, Montana, who spotted it flying overhead on Wednesday, February 1, which was also the day the balloon flew over one of America’s nuclear missile silos.
The local photography buff raced to get his camera and used it to snap a photo that quickly went viral. “I had posted a couple of photos just to social media, just joking, like I thought I saw a UFO,” the photographer, Chase Doak, told the local news station. “It was just right here. I was literally just right here in the vicinity of my driveway.”
Well, it seemed that Chase Doak and his camera forced the Biden administration to go public earlier than it wanted—if it wanted to at all. It also didn’t help that the Pentagon scrambled fighter jets to try to shoot the balloon down that afternoon while closing the civilian airport in Billings, only to determine that the debris radius—the undercarriage, the Pentagon later said, was the size of three buses—would be massive. Moreover, the Defense Department wondered, what if, in shooting at the balloon, it merely blew a hole in it, causing it to slowly drift down to the ground for hundreds of miles, landing god knows where? So the generals recommended against shooting at the thing while it was still over land and the jets were called back, but by this point the Chinese balloon was out of the proverbial bag, and held the entire nation in its thrall.