The image, shared by the US State Department, was taken one day before the shooting down of the balloon.
The Pentagon has released a close-up photo of the Chinese spy balloon taken by the pilot of a U-2 jet, just one day before the Air Force shot it down off the coast of South Carolina.
The spy balloon was spotted by the public over Montana and US authorities tracked it as it moved across the country, sparking a diplomatic rift between the US and China.
As the balloon traversed several states and reached the Atlantic Ocean, where the military deemed it safer to destroy, it was brought down with a single missile fired from an F-22 Raptor fighter jet taking off from Langley Air Force Base, in Virginia.
The photo shows the top of the pilot’s helmet inside the cockpit of the U-2 with the balloon flying below. It was taken on February 3 as the balloon “hovered over the central continental United States,” according to the caption provided by the Department of Defense.
Regarding the different versions of what the intentions of this balloon were, Beijing maintains that it was a weather balloon that strayed from its route.
However, Washington believes it is part of a Chinese government intelligence-gathering program.
US authorities first detected the balloon when it crossed Alaskan airspace on January 28.