News & Politics

UPDATED: Military Blimp Drifts Away From Maryland Base, Leaving Trail of Damage

Photograph via US Army.

Personnel at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in northeastern Maryland are looking for a radar-equipped blimp that broke free from its ground tether on Wednesday morning, the Army says. The blimp is part of a small fleet at the base involved in the testing of an East Coast missile-defense system.

The blimp—part of the military’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, for short—broke free of its moorings on the side of the proving ground bordering Edgewood at 11:54 AM, officials reported on Facebook. The wayward dirigible took about 6,700 feet of cable with it, and is currently being tracked by NORAD as it drifts toward Pennsylvania.

Anyone who sees the blimp or its long trail is advised to call 911 and not attempt to touch it, the Army says. The Baltimore Sun reports an Air National Guard station in Atlantic City, New Jersey has scrambled a pair of F-16 fighter jets to monitor the JLENS craft as it floats along.

The first of the two Raytheon-manufacturered blimps began a three-year test in December 2014. The $175 million crafts are designed to monitor a 340-mile radius spanning from North Carolina to Canada, and are capable of monitoring both land and sea movements. Under development since the late 1990s, the JLENS program has cost the Pentagon more than $2.7 billion, the Sun reports.

UPDATE, 2:58 PM: There are multiple Twitter accounts claiming to tweet in the blimp’s name.

UPDATE, 3:30 PM: The blimp has been lassoed and brought back down to the ground near Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, more than 130 miles from the Aberdeen Proving Ground, WBAL reports. The Lebanon Daily News snagged a photo of the blimp as it descended.

UPDATE, 4:23 PM: Although the blimp is being recovered, its journey from Maryland to Pennsylvania was not without collateral damage. The 6,700-foot tethering cable the airship dragged with it took down several power lines during the flight, leaving nearly 27,000 customers of PPL Electric Utilities in Pennsylvania without power. The bulk of the damage took place in Schuylkill and Columbia counties, with the latter suffering 17,000 outages, the utility says.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.