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Flights Grounded, F-22 Fighter Jets Brought in One Day Before US Announced China Spy Balloon

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The U.S. on Wednesday prepared F-22 fighter jets, and imposed a 50-mile radius ground stop on air traffic in Montana, among other responses to a Chinese spy balloon above the western United States, sources told Soldier of Fortune.

The ground stop occurred one day before the Pentagon convened a hasty Thursday late afternoon briefing to tell reporters about the balloon. 

Other measures included sending an AWACS radar plane and two aerial refueling tankers to an area near Billings, Montana. 

The ground stop lasted for at least an hour on Wednesday afternoon, when no flights, including commercial air traffic, were allowed to land or depart from airports, officials said.

READ MORE about the Chinese spy balloon.

People in Billings saw what some believed was a UFO.

“I thought it might be an alien spacecraft,” local resident Christine Moore told Soldier of Fortune.

Billings resident Chase Doak told a local news outlet that he took video of the “big white circle in the sky.” He, too, thought he might be seeing a floater from outer space.  “I thought maybe it was a legitimate UFO,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure I documented it and took as many photos as I could.”

Billings resident Chase Doak said he took this video of the balloon on Wednesday.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines wrote about the balloon to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“The fact that this balloon was occupying Montana airspace creates significant concern that Malmstrom Air Force Base and the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missile fields are the target of this intelligence gathering mission,” Daines wrote. “It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy balloon was utilizing.” 

One flight was delayed and two were diverted due to the ground stop, officials said. Commercial and general aviation traffic has resumed, according to officials at the Billings Logan International Airport in Montana.

The Pentagon did not explain why it did not announce the Wednesday incident until late afternoon on Thursday.

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