Army blimp breaks loose, drifts over Pennsylvania

The unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its ground tether at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, a U.S. military base,  on Wednesday and drifted over central Pennsylvania as two Air Force fighter jets tracked it.  (Courtesy of Susan Switzer via AP)

The unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its ground tether at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, a U.S. military base, on Wednesday and drifted over central Pennsylvania as two Air Force fighter jets tracked it. (Courtesy of Susan Switzer via AP)

MUNCY, Pa. — An unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its moorings in Maryland and floated over Pennsylvania for hours Wednesday with two U.S. fighter jets on its tail, triggering blackouts across the countryside as it dragged its cable across power lines.

The bulbous, 240-foot helium-filled blimp finally came down near Muncy, a small town about 80 miles north of Harrisburg.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado said the blimp detached from its station at the military’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland at about 12:20 p.m. and drifted northward, climbing to about 16,000 feet.

The F-16s were scrambled from a National Guard base at Atlantic City, New Jersey, according to NORAD. At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter did not say what the two fighter jets might be asked to do or whether he considered it a threat to aviation.

Witnesses reported seeing the blimp drifting in a sparsely populated area. Its tether was snapping power lines.

The local electric utility, PPL, reported about 20,000 customers without power in the area, and Bloomsburg University canceled classes because of the outage.

The blimp is the kind used extensively in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to provide ground surveillance around U.S. bases and other sensitive sites. It is tethered to the ground when in use.

“My understanding is, from having seen these break loose in Afghanistan on a number of occasions, we could get it to descend and then we’ll recover it and put it back up,” Carter said. “This happens in bad weather.”

As the blimp drifted away, Federal Aviation Administration officials worked with the military to ensure air traffic safety.

The aircraft is known as a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, and can be used as part of a missile defense system.

It was not immediately clear how the blimp came loose.Aberdeen Proving GroundArmyblackoutsBlimpBloomsburg UniversityColoradoMarylandMuncyNorth American Aerospace Defense CommandPennsylvaniaPPLSurveillance blimpU.S. fighter jetsUS

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Chase Center and the Golden State Warriors hosted a media Welcome Back conference to discuss the safety protocols and amenities when fans return for a basketball game on April 23rd at Chase Center on April 13, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Golden State Warriors ready to welcome fans back to Chase Center

COVID-19 tests, app-based food ordering among new safety protocols announced this week

People came out in numbers to memorialize George Floyd, who was fatally shot by police, outside San Francisco City Hall on June 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFPD prepares for possible protests as Chauvin trial continues

Police to schedule community meetings, provide officers with crowd control training

Mayor London Breed said Tuesday that with other counties moving ahead with expanding vaccine eligibility “we want San Franciscans to have the same opportunity.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Everyone in SF ages 16 and up is now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine

San Francisco expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday to everyone ages… Continue reading

San Francisco Park Rangers have seen their budget and staffing levels increase significantly since 2014. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Citations for being in SF’s public parks after midnight soar

Data shows disproportionate impact on Black residents

Central City SRO Collective tenant leader Reggie Reed, left, and Eddie Ahn, executive director of Brightline Defense, were among those distributing environmental awareness posters throughout the Tenderloin, Mid-Market and South of Market neighborhoods. (Courtesy Central City SRO Collaborative)
Environmental dangers are connected to racism

Let’s attack problems with better policies, greater awareness

Most Read