Two Air Force F-16s Are Tracking Wayward Military Blimp

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Late Wednesday morning local time saw a JLENS blimp break free of its tethering at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland causing the U.S. Air Force to scramble two F-16 fighter aircraft.

NORAD makes a statement about the “blimp”

Technically the blimp-looking aircraft are aerostats given the fact that they are tethered to the ground. They JLENS blimp (aerostat) that broke free is short for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor. It’s presently traveling over the state of Pennsylvania at an altitude of around 16,000 feet well within the altitude ceilings of the two F-16 aircraft keeping an eye on it.

The blimp coming free of it’s land mooring was first reported by The Baltimore Sun with the paper saying that the helium-filled blimp became untethered at 11:54 EDT. The aircraft is worth around $180 million and is roughly the same size as a football field. The two F-16 aircraft presently monitoring the craft were scrambled out of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek said the command was working with other agencies “to address the safe recovery of the aerostat.”

While the JLENS broke free in Maryland, prevailing wins now see it floating above Pennsylvania prompting Gov. Tom Wolf’s office to issue a statement making sure that citizens of the Keystone State were not concerned with developments and that the governor had been in touch with both state and federal authorities.

“We are closely monitoring the situation, and we will work with the appropriate authorities to respond to any resource requests and assist in any way possible,” the statement read.

“The Governor’s Office is in communication with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania State Police, the National Guard, and the appropriate authorities with the federal government,” the statement continued. “We will work with the appropriate authorities to respond to any resource requests and assist in any way possible.”

Aberdeen Proving Ground statement

The Aberdeen Proving Ground is the U.S. Army’s oldest active proving ground having opened in October of 1917. It was deemed necessary following the United States’ entry into World War I in order to design and test ordinance material.

Considerably fewer that 5,000 army personnel call the grounds home presently, but at it’s busiest at the peak of World War II, there was housing for nearly 27,000 officers and enlisted personnel.

There is good reason for tracking the JLENS blimp as it’s presently believed to be trailing 6,700 feet of cable.

“Anyone who sees the aerostat is advised to contact 911 immediately,” said Army spokeswoman Heather Roelker following the unplanned release of the blimp. “People are warned to keep a safe distance from the airship and tether as contact with them may present significant danger.”

The JLENS system at Aberdeen features (featured?) two aerostats anchored to concrete pads by cable four miles apart from one another and generally float at altitudes of around 10,000 feet. One of the aerostats is meant to scan in a circle (340 miles in any direction) from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, to upstate New York and as far west as central Ohio while also scanning into the Atlantic Ocean. The other carries highly accurate radar that assists the military on the ground in the targeting of targets.

The aircraft generally remain aloft for nearly a month before being reeled-in back to the ground for maintenance and refueling.

According to a statement by NORAD in 2014, each are unarmed aircraft as are all JLENS aircraft.

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About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at theflask@gmail.com

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