Runaway US military blimp wreaks havoc in Pennsylvania

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

An Escapee From Maryland, Military Blimp Flees to Pennsylvania.

ABERDEEN, Md. – A military blimp that had been tracking airspace on the East Coast broke free of its tether just before noon Wednesday and floated freely over Pennsylvania, The Baltimore Sun reported.WASHINGTON (WNEW/AP)— An unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its mooring in Maryland and floated over Pennsylvania for hours Wednesday with two fighter jets on its tail, triggering blackouts across the countryside as it dragged its tether across power lines.

Government watchdogs were reeling Wednesday as the House approved an additional $45 billion for the Defense Department in 2016 and 2017 — on the same day the military lost a $2.7 billion unmanned surveillance blimp, which went on a marauding journey across Maryland and Pennsylvania. Just after 3 p.m., however, NORAD officials told WBAL in Baltimore than the blimp is on the ground, lassoed it near Millville, Pennsylvania in a non-populated area. The bulbous, 240-foot helium-filled blimp eventually came down in at least two pieces near Muncy, a small town about 80 miles north of Harrisburg, as people gawked in wonder and disbelief at the big, white, slow-moving craft.

No injuries were reported. itted with sensitive defense technology, the radar-equipped blimp escaped from the military’s Aberdeen Proving Ground around 12:20 p.m. and drifted northward, climbing to about 16,000 feet, authorities said. As it floated away, aviation officials feared it would endanger air traffic, and two F-16s were scrambled from a National Guard base in New Jersey to track it. The blimp had been slowly losing helium and deflating until it descended to the ground, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). “The ironic thing about all this is when Congress should be debating whether the Pentagon is properly using the money it already has, they’re not asking that question and just increasing spending,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. He said there was an auto-deflate device aboard the blimp, but it was not deliberately activated, and it is unclear why the craft went limp. “I honestly was worried that there were people in it that would be injured. A neighbour down the road is thinking it knocked down a tree branch and power pole by his house that could’ve potentially destroyed his house,” Hartkorn said.

They were deployed over Maryland to provide early warning and targeting of low-flying airborne threats such as cruise missiles coming from the Atlantic. Wendy Schafer’s first thought upon seeing the blimp near her job at a spa and salon in Bloomsburg was that a nearby school was conducting an experiment. “I had no idea what it was.

The JLENS program raised eyebrows because of its huge price tag and 17 years of development, and a resulting system that has been plagued by software glitches and poor performance in bad weather. We lost power at work so I looked outside and saw the blimp,” Schafer said. “My first thought was Vo-Tech was doing something at the school until my friends tagged on Facebook about the blimp. It was crazy.” About 27,000 customers in two counties were left without power, according to electric utility PPL, and Bloomsburg University canceled classes because of the outage. The craft even knocked out power to the State Police barracks at Bloomsburg before settling in a wooded hollow, where it was swiftly cordoned off while military personnel began arriving to retrieve it, State Police Capt. But on its website, the defence contractor said the chances of the tether breaking are small because it made of a durable synthetic fibre has withstood storms of about 180km/h.

The aircraft is known as a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defence Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, and can be used as part of a missile defence system. It can reach as high as 10,000 feet, according to its maker, Raytheon Co. “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,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at the Pentagon as the journey unfolded. “This happens in bad weather.” Raytheon referred questions to the military. Jason Jarinko, a teacher at Central Columbia High School in Bloomsburg, said he was alerted to the blimp by a student who was gazing out the window just before the start of a class. “We just kind of scoffed that he had seen a bird or something, and he said, ‘No, look!’ and it was this blimp coming at us from the east,” Jarinko said. He said students gathered in disbelief as it passed over at maybe 200 to 300 feet. “As it got closer to us, all of a sudden our lights started to flicker and we lost power,” he said. “At first, we didn’t realize the two events were related.” (TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries.

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