The unmanned blimp associated with NORAD’s surveillance of the East Coast that had been floating loose over Maryland and Pennsylvania for more than four hours is now on the ground and has been secured by authorities, Pennsylvania State Police said Wednesday.
The blimp came loose and dragged more than a mile of cable along with it. Thousands of people lost power. “The tether attached to the aircraft caused widespread power outages across Pennsylvania,” the governor’s office said.
The U.S. military hurried to gather two armed F-16 fighter jets to keep an eye out as the blimp came untethered from its base at a U.S. Army facility, Aberdeen Proving Ground, northeast of Baltimore, Reuters reports. Pennsylvania police spokesman Bob Reese told Associated Press that it officially came down in the area known as Muncy.
The area’s Congress representative, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-PA, said the blimp left “quite a bit of damage” before it was secured, according to Fox News. “We’re concerned about the safety of the people on the ground across a pretty wide swath of Pennsylvania. The blimp left quite a bit of damage at ground level in its path…We’re continuing to monitor the situation, but are thankful that something worse did not occur,” Barletta said.
Pentagon officials said they are not sure why the blimp broke free around noon. Military officials spent hours mulling over which way to get the thing down, but it ended up deflating on its own.
The military blimp was part of a $2.7 billion test program known as JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System), which was developed by the Pentagon in an effort to detect cruise missiles and low-flying drones. Basically, the idea behind the program is that these 80-yard-long blimps can have sophisticated radar systems that provide 360-degree surveillance for any threatening weapons, Fox reports.
The program includes two blimps. One of the stationary helium-filled blimps carries the 360-degree view that tracks incoming objects and the other carries a X-band “fire control” that can target the object’s track. That craft also has a high-definition 360-degree radar and can monitor 340 miles in any direction.
The blimps can reach 10,000 feet and stay in place for nearly 30 days via a tether used to transmit the radar data it finds and more, ABC News reports.
The testing program has been put on hold as the investigation into what happened to the blimp continues. The second blimp, which was tethered at Aberdeen, has also been secured on the ground until instructed otherwise.