LISTEN: Audio of 148th airmen shooting down object over Lake Huron

A general confirmed the first missile missed the object.

A silhouette of a fighter jet with its landing gear down against the backdrop of a sky at dusk.
An F-16 from the 148th Fighter Wing prepares to land at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Madison, Wisconsin's Truax Field.
Contributed / @badger_wings on Instagram

DULUTH — The small “octagonal” object flying over Lake Huron on Feb. 12 appeared to have strings hanging below it before it was shot down, according to cockpit audio of the two F-16 pilots from the Minnesota Air National Guard’s Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing that responded.

The Detroit News confirmed the authenticity of the audio with a U.S. Air Force spokesperson Wednesday, Feb. 15. The audio was first reported by The War Zone , a military news site.

“It’s almost like an octagonal shape. I’m going to call it a balloon,” one of the pilots said. “I’m able to see strings hanging down below it but I don’t see anything below it. It’s pretty small, I don’t know, like the size of a four-wheeler or something.”

The pilots can be heard in the 14-minute audio clip trying to see and describe the object.

“It definitely looks like something, there’s some kind of object that’s suspended in the air? It’s hard to tell. It’s pretty small,” one of the pilots said.


At one point, one of the pilots said he had a “tone” at 3 miles. A tone indicates a missile has locked onto a target.

“I just can’t see it with my eyes, with the glare in the cockpit,” he said. “It’s so small.”

“Looking outside if it’s kind of a blackish, I’m going to call it a container,” one of the pilots said. “I can’t really tell, though, what the shape is.”

Eventually, one of the F-16s would down the object, which was flying at an altitude of about 20,000 feet, with an AIM9x Sidewinder missile.

Airmen from the 148th took off from Madison, completed the mission and returned safely, the Minnesota governor tweeted.

The object fell into a deep area of Lake Huron and likely in Canadian waters. A search for it is underway.

It was the third unidentified object shot down over the U.S. and Canada in as many days. The shootdowns come after a Chinese spying balloon was brought down Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina after crossing much of the country.

First shot missed

The missile that downed the object wasn’t the only missile fired by the F-16s Sunday. The first missed, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Tuesday.

“First shot missed, second shot hit,” he said.


Milley said the missed missile was tracked and “landed harmlessly in the water of Lake Huron.”

“We go to great lengths to make sure that the airspace is clear and the backdrop is clear to the max effective range of the missile,” he said.

Object could be ‘benign’

All three objects shot down last weekend have yet to be recovered.

John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, on Tuesday said there has been no indication those objects were part of China’s spy balloon program, Reuters reported.

The intelligence communities are considering the possibility that the three objects could be balloons "tied to some commercial or benign purpose," Kirby said, according to Reuters.

Biden, in his most extensive remarks about the Chinese balloon and other objects, did not say when he would speak with Xi, but said the U.S. was continuing to engage diplomatically with China.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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