Image altered to add balloon-shaped marking on US fighter jet

February 7, 2023 GMT

CLAIM: A photo shows the U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter jet that shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon now sporting a victory mark in the shape of a balloon.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Altered photo. The original image is from 2020 and shows an F-22 at California’s Edwards Air Force Base, which posted the picture on its social media accounts at the time. It was edited to include the victory mark.

THE FACTS: Shortly after the U.S. military used an F-22 to shoot the balloon down on Saturday, social media users began spreading a photo that purported to show the plane in question with a new decal marking the occasion.

In the image, the pilot can be seen giving a thumbs up from inside the jet. Below the cockpit, a balloon-shaped victory mark appears to have been added to the outside of the plane. A victory mark, also known as a kill mark, is a symbol affixed to a military vehicle to denote a certain achievement.

One tweet that shared the image had received more than 15,000 likes and more than 4,800 shares as of Monday. An Instagram post featuring the same photo had more than 7,000 likes. While some appeared to share the image as a joke, others suggested it was authentic. “The F-22 has a balloon kill marking,” read the caption on one Instagram post.

But the image is years old and shows an F-22 at Edwards Air Force Base, which is located about 100 miles (161 kilometers) outside of Los Angeles. The base posted the original photo on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts in 2020. No balloon marking can be seen on the original image.

“Team Edwards getting the test mission done #FortheWarfighter!” the posts featuring the image say. “Maj. Brandon Burfeind, 411th Flight Test Squadron, F-22 Combined Test Force, gives a thumbs up after a ground crew gets his F-22 Raptor ready for flight, April 1.”

The suspected spy balloon traversed sensitive military sites across North America after it entered the U.S. air defense zone north of the Aleutian Islands on Jan. 28, the AP has reported. It was shot down on Saturday at about 2:39 p.m. EST approximately 6 nautical miles off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. China has insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and said it reserves the right to “take further actions.”


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.