US did not put Chinese balloon sticker on F-22 fighter jet

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A doctored photo has been shared hundreds of times in multiple social media posts falsely claiming it shows a US F-22 fighter jet that was decorated with a balloon sticker soon after the United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that Beijing claimed had veered off course. But reverse image searches found that in 2020 the US Edwards Air Force Base shared the original photo of the jet, which does not have a balloon sticker. The same unedited photo has circulated on other websites since 2020.

The altered photo was posted on Twitter on February 5, 2023. It has been shared more than 330 times.

The simplified-Chinese caption reads: "The US F-22 fighter jet holds the record for the highest altitude air kill: 65,000 feet.

"Was told they have emblazoned a pattern on the plane after returning to commemorate his military exploits. How infuriating is this?"

A screenshot of the doctored image on Twitter.

US-China tensions rose after the Pentagon said on February 2 that it was tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States.

After US President Joe Biden promised to "take care" of the device, a US F-22 fighter jet shot down the balloon off the country's east coast on February 4.

Beijing protested the move, claiming the balloon was a civilian aircraft that was blown off course, and on February 5 lodged an official complaint with the US embassy in China, AFP reported.

The doctored photo was shared alongside a similar claim in Chinese and English on Twitter and Gettr.

Although some social media users pointed out the photo was digitally altered, others appeared to believe the photo was genuine.

One user wrote: "This military success is a bit funny but also memorable. After all, it is rare, a rare achievement".

"What a slap in the face," wrote another.

But the image has been edited and there have been no official reports that the US decorated one of its F-22 fighter jets after the suspected Chinese spy balloon was downed.

Altered photo

A reverse Google image search found the same photo was shared on the California-based Edwards Air Force Base's official Twitter account on April 3, 2020.

The caption reads, "Team Edwards getting the test mission done #FortheWarfighter! 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."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the doctored photo (left) and the photo shared by Edwards Air Force Base (right):

Screenshot comparison of the doctored photo (left) and the photo published by Edwards Air Force Base

The same unedited photo has circulated on other websites since at least 2020, including here, here and here.