After a Chinese spy balloon flew over the US and hovered over nuclear silos, it was shot down by an F-22 Raptor fighter jet firing a single Sidewinder missile.
The $200 million jet took off from Langley Air Force Base on Saturday to dismantle the balloon at 2:38 p.m., separating its surveillance payload and plunging it toward the ocean off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Pentagon confirmed: “The balloon used by the People’s Republic of China in an attempt to patrol strategic locations in the continental United States has been brought down over US territorial waters.”
The two F-22 Raptors used for the mission flew with the call letters “FRANK01” and “FRANK02,” a possible homage to World War I ace First Lt. Frank Luke Jr., the “Arizona Balloon Buster” who destroyed 14 German observation balloons.
An F-22 Raptor fighter jet fired a single AIM-9X missile to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon and its payload, which was equipped with cameras, sensors and radars
The F-22 has a top speed of 1,500 mph and can fly at a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet, with its rocket capable of speeds of 1,900 mph. Pictured: an F-22 firing a Sidewinder
Spy balloon shot down six miles off the coast of South Carolina (pictured)
Developed by aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin, the F-22 Raptor took off for the first time on September 7, 1997 over Marietta, Georgia.
The modern single-seat fighter jet has a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and can fly at a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet.
A Raptor is typically armed with air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile and AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
The F-22 Raptor that struck the Chinese spy balloon on Saturday was armed with AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, high-tech weapons that can lock onto a target simply by tracking their pilot’s eyes.
A Sidewinder rocket’s top speed can reach 1,900 miles per hour, and each rocket costs about $380,000.
The missile severed the Chinese balloon with its payload, a solar-powered mechanism equipped with cameras, sensors and radar.
Defense officials estimated the balloon was about the size of three buses at 120 feet and that the debris field would be substantial, estimated at seven miles.
The deployed F-22s used the call sign “FRANK,” a possible homage to World War I ace Lt. Frank Luke Jr. (pictured), known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster”.
The Balloon Destroyers shot down German observation balloons during the war, with Luke being credited with shooting down 14 of them in just 17 days
Pictured: An American pilot downing a German balloon during World War I
The successful launch of the balloon and the callsigns used by the F-22s commemorate the legacy of US Army Air Service Medal of Honor recipient First Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr., known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster.”
Born on May 19, 1897, Luke was known for his athleticism. He served as the captain of the Phoenix High School track and field team and as a member of the football and basketball teams.
At the age of 20 he enlisted in the Signal Corps to train as a pilot and saw combat deployment as a member of the First Pursuit Group of the 27th Aero Squadron in France.
The squadron received specific orders to destroy the German observation balloons flying over France.
Luke, along with his close friend Lt. Joseph Wehner repeatedly volunteered to dismantle the balloons, which were heavily defended by anti-aircraft units.
In just six days, the duo launched multiple balloons solo, with Luke firing at the blimps while Wehner provided cover.
But on September 18, 1918, Wehner was killed in a dog fight with two enemy Fokker D.VIIs.
Luke proceeded to shoot down the planes that killed his friend, along with two other observation balloons.
Frank Luke Jr. volunteered at the age of 20 with his friend Lt. Joseph Wehner to dismantle the balloons assigned to their squadron
The observation balloons were used by the Germans as a form of espionage and intelligence gathering, and were heavily guarded by anti-aircraft units
Luke was recognized for his heroism in bringing down 14 of those balloons, including two after Wehner was shot down
Luke’s final mission took place on September 29, 1918, where the villagers of Murvaux, France, documented his heroic death.
The witnesses testified that an American plane had been shot at by a squadron of German planes.
The American dove towards the ground before righting and veering onto two German balloons at Brier’s farm, shooting them down while dodging enemy fire.
Unfortunately, witnesses said the aviator flew wounded after the takedown, but he fought on anyway and destroyed another balloon before he was forced to land.
He fired from his plane, killing six German soldiers and injuring others before his plane came to a halt.
Luke then drew his .45 caliber pistol and fired at the enemy before receiving a fatal shot to the chest.
The witnesses claimed that after the American’s last stand, a German commander kicked Luke’s body in anger and ordered the villagers to “get that thing out of the way as soon as possible.”
Luke fought to his last moments, and along with receiving the US Army Air Service Medal of Honor, a statue of him was erected in his native Phoenix, Arizona
Pictured: Historical paintings of the American balloon fighters that devastated German craft
Not knowing who he was, the village erected a tomb that read “Unidentified American Airman.”
Between September 12 and September 29, 1918, Luke was ultimately responsible for shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes.
Luke’s commander, Maj. HE Hartney, said of him: “No one had the sheer contemptible courage that this boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying gunner on the western front.
“We had plenty of experienced pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of everything in the world, was rare. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.’