Sunday afternoon, while tens of millions of Americans got ready to watch the NFL’s Super Bowl, a pair of F-16 fighter jets scrambled to first observe and then shoot down an unidentified flying object over Lake Huron near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Now the cockpit audio of the two fighter jets in that shootdown has been publicly released, and though it does resolve some questions, others are left unanswered, according to a report from the Daily Wire.
The Sunday shootdown of the unknown object was the third such incident in as many days, with the first coming Friday over Alaska and the second on Saturday over the Canadian Yukon, and all three coming within a week of the shootdown of a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina after it had slowly traversed across much of the continental U.S.
Pilots describe the unidentified object
The cockpit audio of the two F-16s from the Wisconsin Air National Guard, who were supported by a KC-135 refueling tanker out of Pennsylvania and an E-3 AWACS radar plane out of Oklahoma, was obtained and published just one day after the incident by The Drive.
Amid the static and radio chatter, most of which pertained to headings and locations and some of which was unintelligible, the pilots can be heard attempting to get a visual identification of the small and slow-moving object and describing what it was that they were seeing as they made multiple high-speed passes.
“I wouldn’t really call it a balloon … I don’t know what … I can see it outside with my eyes,” one pilot said. “Looks like something … there’s some kind of object that’s distended … it’s hard to tell, it’s pretty small.” However, the other pilot later said, “I’m gonna call it a balloon.”
One of the pilots said, “The size of it, that would be challenging, it’s so slow and so small, I just can’t see it.” At another point, a pilot said the object was “definitely smaller than a car” and compared it to a “four-wheeler” or all-terrain vehicle.
The pilots repeatedly mentioned observing what appeared to be “strings” or wires hanging below the object, though they didn’t see any sort of payload suspended beneath it. The object itself was described as being “like a container” that was “black-ish” in color and also metallic and highly reflective of the sun’s glaring rays.
Missiles were able to lock on target
The Drive noted that the pilots could be heard stating that they had “tone” and a “good track” on the object, meaning their heat-seeking and infrared-guided AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles — which cost more than $400,000 apiece — were able to lock on to the target.
According to the Pentagon, two of those Sidewinder missiles were fired, with the first missing and falling harmlessly into Lake Huron while the second scored a hit and sent the object plummeting down into the water below. Unfortunately, the audio recording cuts off prior to that moment of engagement.
Those same missiles were used in the other incidents involving unidentified objects and the Chinese spy balloon, though they were fired by the newer F-22 fighter jets instead of the older F-16s.
Imagery from targeting pods could also be released
The Drive further noted that the F-16s are outfitted with what are known as Sniper pods that carry an array of cameras and sensors that aid in targeting, and indeed, the pilots made multiple references to the images they were seeing by way of the targeting pods in addition to what they also observed with the naked eye.
It is hoped that the Pentagon will eventually decide to release some or all of that imagery to accompany the cockpit audio recording.