A U-2 pilot flying high above the Chinese spy balloon took a close-up photo of the large white orb just a day before the Air Force shot it down off the South Carolina coast.
The photo shows the top of the pilot’s helmet inside the U-2 cockpit with the balloon flying below.
It was taken on February 3 as the balloon “hovered over the Central Continental United States,” according to the caption provided by the US Department of Defense.
The Pentagon released the image on Wednesday, more than two weeks after the balloon made international headlines as it transited the United States.
The balloon was downed on February 4 by an F-22 Raptor fighter jet firing a AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
The strike took place once the balloon was no longer over land but was still within US territorial waters.
More objects shot down
The U-2 Dragon Lady is a high altitude US spy plane that has been in service since the 1950s.
The Pentagon announced last Friday that Navy ships and submersibles had completed recovery of the massive balloon and its payload, which fell in pieces into the Atlantic Ocean.
The payload was recovered from the ocean floor and is being analysed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said on Wednesday.
The shootdown led to three other smaller objects also being shot down by Air Force jets within a period of eight days: one over Alaska, one over Canada and one over Lake Huron. Searches for the Alaska and Lake Huron objects have ended.
The balloon incidents have triggered a new diplomatic confrontation between Washington DC and Beijing.