A 243-foot-long helium-filled blimp broke its tether and escaped from Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland last Wednesday and, chased by F-16 fighters, snapped some power lines before it went to ground 160 miles away in a ravine in Montour County, Pennsylvania. The $175 million surveillance “aerostat” was finally subdued by Pennsylvania state troopers with shotguns, and it’s being dismantled with chainsaws.
The pricey gasbag was part of the $2.7 billion Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System or JLENS, produced by Ratheon for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Two of these tethered aerostat platforms floated 10,000 in the air, protecting the airspace over Washington, DC from hostile aircraft, but they missed that Florida gyrocopter that landed on the Capitol lawn in April.
Another $186 JLENS blimp was destroyed at the Elizabeth City NC test facility during a storm in September 2010. More recently, on October 11th, a similar surveillance blimp in Kabul was involved in an accident that killed five people.
“After runaway blimp debacle, fresh scrutiny of JLENS missile defense program,” David Willman, Los Angeles Times
“After Blimp Broke Free and Crashed, JLENS Program Hangs by a Thread,” Jen Judson, DefenseNews
“How a $2.7 billion air-defense system became a ‘zombie’ program,” Davild Willman, Los Angeles Times
“Runaway Surveillance Blimp Deflates Raytheon’s Hopes to Sell More,” Dan Froomkin, Lee Fang, The Intercept
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