Runaway military blimp floats over Pennsylvania

A JLENS aerostat is equipped with radar to track potential land, air and sea threats to the East Coast. (Photo credit: Raytheon)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – An unmanned military blimp broke free from its tether at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and floated across Pennsylvania on Wednesday before coming down in Bloomsburg.

Photo Credit: Lebanon Daily News
Photo Credit: Lebanon Daily News

The unmanned airship, or aerostat, broke free just before noon with about 6,700 feet of tether attached, Aberdeen officials said on their Facebook page.

It floated over Lancaster County around 12:30 p.m., then headed north into Berks and Schuylkill counties.

Around 2:30 p.m., ABC television affiliate WNEP-TVsaid it had numerous reports of sightings from the Bloomsburg area. Just before 3 p.m., the aerostat reportedly knocked out power lines at it came down near the Columbia-Montour Area Vo-Tech School.

PPL Electric’s website reported about 24,000 customers were without power in the area.

The helium-filled balloon is 243 feet long. It is part of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Netted Sensor System (JLENS), an aerial detection system designed to track possible air, land and sea threats to the East Coast.

It was floating northeast at around 30 mph. Authorities said it is equipped with a device to slowly deflate it, but it apparently did not work.

NORAD launched F-16s from Atlantic City to monitor it. The FAA also was tracking it.

A statement on Aberdeen’s Facebook page said people should keep their distance from the airship and its tether as a safety precaution.

Photo Credit: Scott Yordy
Photo Credit: Scott Yordy

According to Raytheon, the defense contractor that built JLENS, the aerostats carry powerful radars to detect missiles and manned and unmanned aircraft from up to 340 miles away.

JLENS can also remain aloft and operational for up to 30 days at a time, according to the company’s website.

Governor Wolf’s office said the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the National Guard were closely monitoring the situation.

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