It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a 2.7 billion dollar blimp making a bid for freedom.
The blimp is actually a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) aerostat, which is a surveillance blimp, and usually firmly anchored at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Unfortunately, the blimp broke free around 11:54 am on Wednesday and has been drifting around 16,000 feet up off the ground. It’s now being monitored by two F-16 jets from the Air National Guard base in Atlantic City, NJ, but authorities are asking anyone who sees the blimp to call 911.
If the blimp drifts in your direction, dangling its 6,700 feet of cable like a sad useless leash, it will be hard to miss. From front to back JLENS measures 243-feet. It is unfortunate that the blimp has decided it will no longer be (literally) held down by the government, as it cost 2.7 billion dollars and 17 years to create. It’s capable of using radar to track ships in the ocean or cars on land for up to 340 miles in any direction and NORAD has been testing its effectiveness at watching incoming cruise missiles.
But, as with all blimps, JLENS has issues with poor weather–in addition to a host of technology issues with software–so it is usually attached to the ground with 10,000 foot cables that are used to transmit collected data. It’s actually one of two not-so-secret surveillance blimps keeping an eye on the east coast, though it is the only one currently getting a taste of freedom.
The FAA has been working to ensure the blimp doesn’t wreak havoc with regular air traffic and NORAD is working with a few other agencies to figure out how to deal with the blimp, which is designed to stay aloft in 70 knot winds or if it’s punctured.
But if you do happen to look up and see a giant slightly-sinister helium-filled marsh mellow floating above you, don’t try to bring it down yourself. NORAD advises that any civilian attempt to capture the balloon would be extremely dangerous. Chances are you won’t see it around, as around 4 pm on Wednesday, a Pennsylvania State Trooper said the balloon was “contained” though it did take out a bunch of power lines on the way to Pennsylvania.
As of publication, they were still trying to figure out how to get the balloon safely to the ground.
The takeaway lesson is similar to when a child has a balloon, make sure that bad boy is tied down tight or everyone will be crying.
(Also, was anyone else kind of routing for this little–okay enormous–guy to get away. Be free, blimp!)
UPDATE (8:45 amThursday): The blimp is officially on the ground and secured in Moreland Township, PA. It is mostly deflated, though the military is not elaborating on how it was retrieved from its freedom run. They’re still not sure how it broke free.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense