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HomeFact CheckViral Video Of US Air Force Shooting Down Chinese 'Spy Balloon' Is...

Viral Video Of US Air Force Shooting Down Chinese ‘Spy Balloon’ Is Actually A Simulation Footage

Authors

Vasudha noticed the growing problem of mis/disinformation online after studying New Media at ACJ in Chennai and became interested in separating facts from fiction. She is interested in learning how global issues affect individuals on a micro level. Before joining Newschecker’s English team, she was working with Latestly.

Last week, the US Department of Defence confirmed that the US Air Force had shot down a Chinese “spy” balloon which had been floating in the American skies since January 28, 2023. A release by the  Dept Defence read, “U.S. officials first detected the balloon and its payload on January 28 when it entered U.S. airspace near the Aleutian Islands. The balloon traversed Alaska, Canada and re-entered U.S. airspace over Idaho.”

Following the announcement, several social media users shared a two-minute-eleven-second-long video purportedly showing the “US Air Force shooting down Chinese spy balloon.” Newschecker found the footage to be a flight simulation, and not showing the actual incident.

The video is going viral on Twitter.

Archived versions of such tweets can be seen here, here, here and here.

News outlet Firstpost also featured one such tweet in this report on the taking down of the Chinese balloon by a US fighter jet.

Screengrab from Firstpost website

Newschecker also received the video on our WhatsApp tipline (+91-9999499044) requesting to be fact checked.

Also Read: Nepal Plane Making Emergency Landing At Indian Airport? No, Simulation Video Viral With False Claim

Fact Check/Verification

Newschecker began our investigation by closely analysing the viral video. We first noticed that the audio in the background appears to show two aircrafts communicating with one another. The video also showed an aircraft shooting a missile and taking down what appears to be a “balloon”. Thirdly, the fighter jets seen in the footage resemble  a F-22 Raptor -aircraft used by the US Air Force to shoot down the Chinese balloon.

Screengrabs from viral video | Courtesy: Twitter @Paul_Koshy

We then scanned through the comment sections of the post carrying the clip, and noticed several users pointing out that the video is a simulation product. An aircraft appearing around 1:04 minutes into the viral footage does look animated too.

Screengrab of tweet by @Paul_Koshy
Viral Video Of US Air Force Shooting Down Chinese 'Spy Balloon' Is Actually A Simulation Footage
Screengrab from viral video | Courtesy: Twitter @Paul_Koshy

Additionally, we noticed fire and black smoke after the missile hits the balloon, neither of these were seen in the footage of the incident shared by various news outlets. Such reports can be seen here, here and here.

(L-R) Screengrabs from videos posted by AP and BBC, and screengrab from video tweeted by @Paul_Koshy

Taking a clue, we conducted a keyword search for “F22 Raptor,” “Balloon” & “Simulation” on YouTube, which led us to a video by Growling Sidewinder, dated February 5, 2023, titled ‘Real Audio | F-22 Raptor Vs Chinese Spy Balloon | Digital Combat Simulator | DCS. Notably, Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS World) is a free-to-play digital battlefield game. It aims to provide realistic simulation of military aircraft, tanks, ground vehicles and ships possible.

Around 45 seconds into the video, we spotted the viral footage that is being shared to show the actual shooting down of the Chinese spy balloon by the US Air Force.

Screengrab from YouTube video by Growling Sidewinder

The description of the video enlists a number of equipment (hardware/software) used in creation of the footage. It further read, “On this channel we like to do a lot of dogfighting. Most videos are some sort of dogfight between 2 different aircraft as we explore their different capabilities… If you enjoy war thunder or Microsoft flight simulator 2020 or even dogfighting in Battlefield 2042, consider getting yourself into Digital Combat Simulator by Eagle Dynamics, the Combat side of Aviation with the BVR and Dogfights really provides a different and interesting perspective on aviation…”

Screengrab from description of YouTube video by Growling Sidewinder

We found several such digitally simulated videos showing aircraft fights on the channel. Such videos can be seen here, here and here.

This helped us to confirm that the viral video is a product of digital simulation, and does not depict the actual US Air Force showdown as widely claimed.

Newschecker continued our investigation to ascertain the authenticity of the audio heard in the background, and looked up keywords “US Air Force,” “Chinese Balloon” & “Audio” on Google which led us to report by The War Zone, dated February 7, 2023.

Screengrab from The Drive website

The report stated, “We are now getting a sense of what it was like for the pilots and ground controllers involved in executing that (shooting Chinese balloon) mission from a fascinating 24-minute-long copy of their audio communications beginning at about 2:02 P.M. local time on February 4th. It was recorded by Ken Harrell, a military aviation radio monitor from South Carolina who frequently listens to and records aviation radio chatter.”

It carried a YouTube video featuring an audio similar to the one heard in the viral clip. However, the audio heard in the viral clip is less distorted. The report also carried a transcript of the audio communication between the pilot and the ground command.

On comparing the transcript’s text with the audio and the subtitles in the viral clip, we conclude them to be the same – despite minor discrepancies in subtitles and transcript.

The transcript of audio heard in the viral clip can be seen below (Courtesy – The War Zone): 

As per the report Frank 1 is the lead F-22 that took the kill shot. Frank 2 is its wingman. Eagle 1 is an F-15C and Eagle 2 is its wingman. The Eagles backed-up the F-22s and used their SNIPER targeting pods to record the shootdown and mark areas of debris for recovery.

… Steak. Charlie Zulu 5-3-5. Bullseye. 0-1-1-15. 64,000.

Frank 1-we’re going to need you to back us up because we don’t have a high-fidelity line on the coastline. Looking for you to provide six-mile map call when you are observing the TOI at six nautical miles off the coast

Frank 1 – Just an amendment to the game plan just based on the limited ability for
Eagle 1 to point for Frank 1. Eagle 1 will just marshall and commit north in trail of Frank1… but it will help geometry to help point TOI one.

Frank 1 engaged. Charlie Zulu 5-3-5 Bullseye. 0-5-0. 15, 64,000. FRANK01 is preceding outbound. Copy restriction…

Frank 1 – Package resteak. TOI of one. Charlie Zulu 5-3-5 Bullseye. 0-5-0. 15. Heading 1-4-0 left hand turns. 

Frank 1 – Eagle support angels as desired. Point TOI one. Charlie Zulu 5-3-5.
 …Attack heading 1-4-0. Profile. 1.3 mach…delivery…five miles shot range. 

Eagle – That is a t-kill. The balloon is completely destroyed…

Eagle 1 – There appears to be metal chaff clouds…It’s definitely metal breaking apart. Screen for an altitude check.

The same audio was heard in a YouTube video featured in the Air & Space Forces Magazine. The report further quoted Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek as saying, “The audio is authentic and depicts communication from the 1st Fighter Wing pilot confirming the aerial target was destroyed. It’s important to clarify this audio is communication between the pilot and air traffic control that can be heard by anyone on the same frequency. (sic)”

However, we weren’t independently able to verify the same.

Conclusion

We could thus conclude that the viral posts claiming to show the US Air Force taking down the Chinese “spy” balloon are false. The video is actually a digital stimulation.

Result: False

Sources

YouTube Video By Growling Sidewinder, Dated February 5, 2023
Self Analysis


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Authors

Vasudha noticed the growing problem of mis/disinformation online after studying New Media at ACJ in Chennai and became interested in separating facts from fiction. She is interested in learning how global issues affect individuals on a micro level. Before joining Newschecker’s English team, she was working with Latestly.

Vasudha Beri
Vasudha Beri
Vasudha noticed the growing problem of mis/disinformation online after studying New Media at ACJ in Chennai and became interested in separating facts from fiction. She is interested in learning how global issues affect individuals on a micro level. Before joining Newschecker’s English team, she was working with Latestly.

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