For the second time in less than a week, United States fighter jets have shot down an object illegally flying within U.S. airspace.
White House officials said Friday that the aircraft was flying over Alaska, posing a threat to other aircraft.
While officials are only identifying the object shot down as unmanned aircraft, Randy Reep, an experienced F-15 pilot, said the size of that object and the suspected Chinese balloon that was shot down is what he finds interesting.
“In modern times, the opportunity to see drones in the air is not uncommon. What you’re seeing that’s unusual is the size of these unmanned vehicles that are transient in our airspace,” Reep said.
The suspected spy balloon was the size of three buses. Officials said the size of the latest aircraft that was shot down was the size of a car. Reep said because both aircraft were unmanned, by definition, they are drones.
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Reep also said the aircraft was likely picked up on radar entering U.S. airspace before it flew over Alaska.
According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, there are air defense and intercept procedures in place to deal with aircraft that illegally fly into U.S. and Canadian airspace. The U.S. and Canada are both surrounded by an air-defense identification zone. The pilot of any aircraft wishing to fly in or through the boundary must get permission first. Any aircraft flying through the zone without authorization is considered a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, which led to the aircraft over Alaska being intercepted by fighter jets.
Reep said in this latest incident, the term “unknown rider” was likely declared because intercepting fighter pilots likely tried to communicate with the aircraft but didn’t get a response.
“They would not employ ordinance against this until they knew it was an unmanned vehicle,” Reep said.
The aircraft was also considered a threat to other aircraft because it was traveling at an altitude of 40,000 feet and according to Reep, that’s where many modern jet transport aircraft fly.
“They will have to wait to have all the data so they can provide a good briefing on the exact situation that it was,” Reep said.
Officials have not said how fast the aircraft was traveling, but Reep said if a radar picked it up, then officials know the speed and likely know what kind of unmanned aircraft it was if the intercepting fighter pilot got close enough to get a visual.