A 68-year-old retiree from Summerville, South Carolina, captured US Air Force pilots who were communicating on an unencrypted military frequency under the control center named Huntress as two F-22 fighter jets closed in to strike a Chinese balloon that caused consternation and GOP hysteria after floating over the nation last week.
Ken Harrell recorded the exchange during the balloon shootdown by scanning radio frequencies used to conduct missions to secure the eastern United States, for massages between the pilots and the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s eastern air defense sector controller.
The world watched as an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter from the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia fired a missile into the Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina that had been floating over the United States for days.
NORAD confirmed the authenticity of Harrell’s recording.
The recording provides a unique view into how the mission was executed with many moving parts in the air.
The F-22 was moving at Mach 1.3 when it fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile at the balloon from roughly five miles away, for instance.
It also underscores that there was some danger, as the debris falling at various speeds could spell disaster for any of the aircraft that strayed beneath it.
“Five miles offshore,” Huntress advises in a transmission that was captured by the South Carolina aviation hobbyist.
“Frank One is switches hot,” the first F-22 reports. The call sign “Frank” was given to both aircraft to honor 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, who earned the Medal of Honor in World War I for downing multiple balloons and aircraft.
“Frank Two is switches hot,” the second F-22 radios in.
When Huntress calls out that the balloon is exactly six nautical miles out, Frank One takes the shot.
“The balloon is completely destroyed!” radios an F-15 fighter jet that also took part in the mission, advising quickly that “there appears to be metal chaff clouds. … It’s definitely metal breaking apart.”
Harrell is the radio enthusiast who recorded the Feb. 4 exchange between “Huntress,” NORAD’s eastern air defense sector controller, with “Frank One” and “Frank Two” call signs for the pilots of two Air Force F-22 fighter jets that closed in on the Chinese balloon off the South Carolina coast.
Eagle One and Two are F-15Cs backing up and recording the operation.
The first combat use of the Sidewinder was on September 24, 1958, when a Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force North American F-86 Sabre engaged in an air battle with the People’s Republic of China, during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis.
While Chinese Communist and Chinese Nationalist forces clashed, the U.S. Navy modified some of the F-86 Sabre fighters of the Taiwan Air Force with its newly developed early AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles under a secret effort called “Operation Black Magic”.
The missiles gave the Nationalist pilots a decisive edge over the Communists’ Soviet-made MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters in the skies over the Matsu Islands and the Taiwan Strait but one lodged in an enemy jet without exploding, to be removed after landing and reverse-engineered into the Soviet K-13.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, III said in a statement after the balloon was shot down that “President Biden gave his authorization to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.”
After a week of GOP hysteria over the floating surveillance device, Pentagon officials revealed that Chinese spy balloons traveled over the continental United States during the administration of former President Donald Trump but they were not disclosed to the public.