The Story Behind the China Spy Balloon Over Billings Montana
Larry Mayer is not only an incredible photographer who captured the above photo of the Chinese spy balloon over Billings, Montana- he's also a pilot who has great connections and insight when it comes to aviation in Montana.
Larry Mayer is a longtime photographer for The Billings Gazette, and one of the best in the business. I caught up with him Friday morning, after it was confirmed by the Pentagon that the mysterious object hovering over Billings, Montana was a suspected Chinese spy balloon. The Chinese later admitted it was one of their own later in the morning.
Here's part of what Larry had to say:
Aaron Flint: There were a lot of things that weren't really adding up when these sightings first started happening, and then they they grounded flights at the Billings airport.
Larry Mayer: Yeah, right. And so that was the first call that I got. I've been flying in Montana for over 40 years now, and so I know a lot of people around the state- pilots and people involved in aviation. And so I got a call from somebody that said, why did they close the Billings airport? So I called the Billings airport and they said, 'No, the airport's not closed.' Then they call back five minutes later and said, 'Well, yeah, it is closed.' And I said, 'Well, who closed it?' And they said they didn't know- to contact the FAA. So this all happened on Wednesday. And so then I contacted the FAA, and they said, 'It's military and it's not our deal. Basically, everybody was passing the buck. And so I went on FlightAware, and you could see that there were air tankers out of Travis Air Force Base running a racetrack pattern over the Beartooth Mountains. And, you know, well I didn't know about the balloon at that time, we just knew that there was something going on. And then there were fighters that landed in Bozeman, and people were calling me from around asking me what was going on and heck, I didn't know. But I started toput all of those things together. And I know that tankers don't run a race track pattern. Typically, when they're doing a race track pattern, that's because they have some sort of tactical operation going on. I think that everybody everybody should know that they were very clearly going to shoot that thing down over the Beartooth Mountains. And because I also heard that they were preparing to put up a temporary flight restriction that would have encompassed an area from around Cooke City out to almost Billings.
Full audio of our chat with Larry Mayer can be heard below about halfway through the podcast audio. You can also hear my conversation with KGVO Radio's Peter Christian. Later in the morning, we heard from Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, and we also got some very interesting insight from retired Lt. Colonel Darin Gaub out of Helena who says he has actually shot down surveillance balloons overseas.
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