JLENS Blimp Escapes and Heads for freedom. Or not.

By Faye Higbee

One of the military’s JLENS blimps decided it needed freedom, so it escaped from its mooring at the Aberdeen Proving  Grounds in Edgewood, Maryland on Wednesday morning. It floated off, dragging its tether behind it…taking out power to some 20,000+ residents along the way.

Two fighter jets were scrambled from a National Guard facility in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Their mission was to follow the blimp on its 4 hour, 160 mile journey until it landed in Moreland Township, Pennsylvania, after slowly losing helium.

JLENS blimp

The JLENS blimp as it takes a journey – photo via extremetech.com


The JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System) system is a set of two NORAD aerostats that monitor the East Coast as a missile defense system. They are helium filled blimps that contain sophisticated military radar- hence the need for jet fighter escort. Pennsylvania state police remarked that the balloon was “contained,” and that the process of recovery was continuing.

The blimps are tethered to the ground with thick, 10,000-foot cables that transmit the data they gather. They’re supposed to stay up in winds of up to 70 knots, and remain in the air even if their skin is pierced.The developer, Raytheon, says the cable is unlikely to break. This blimp’s excursion is not new, Ashton Carter says they use them in the Middle East and have to re-deploy them when the weather takes them down. The JLENS system is in test mode to see how effect it will be in preventing a missile attack in the Nations’s capitol area.

That’s great, IF they don’t come down in the middle of a Taliban stronghold, or an ISIS camp.

Danger from the cable

Bloomberg University cancelled classes because of a “Widespread power outage.” The blimp was trailing 6,700 feet of cable (the tether), which is what knocked out power on its way to taking a nap in Pennsylvania.

Authorities yesterday issued a warning to all residents  in the path of the bothersome blimp to stay away due to the danger of coming in contact with the tether.

“Anyone who sees the aerostat is advised to contact 911 immediately. People are warned to keep a safe distance from the airship and tether as contact with them may present significant danger.” Aberdeen Proving Ground spokeswoman Heather Roelker 

The JLENS program was created after 17 years of research and $2.7 Billion (yours). It has had difficulty due to the airships being vulnerable to weather- even though they supposedly are supposed to be ok in heavy winds. The weather at the blimp’s mooring yesterday was rainy and windy.  There were no reports of injuries from the blimp’s escape.