Runaway blimp's radar returns to Maryland - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 6, 2015 3:10 pm

Runaway blimp’s radar returns to Maryland

An update on Aberdeen's wayward aerostat, plus Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger waxing poetic on the “unfortunate irony” of the incident.
The JLENS aerostat in happier times.

The JLENS aerostat in happier times.

(Photo courtesy of Raytheon)

The surveillance blimp that broke free from Aberdeen Proving Ground last week is returning home, at least for a little while.

According to NORAD, the blimp has been “recovered in its entirety” from the wooded area where it crashed last week near Muncy, Pa. The blimp was found in two pieces in Pennsylvania. The radar system in the blimp was returned to Aberdeen Proving Ground, while the blimp itself is on its way to Elizabeth City, N.C., where it was manufactured, according to APG News, the Proving Ground’s newspaper. (Hat tip to the Baltimore Sun for finding the report.)

Still, the aerostat is unlikely to float again anytime soon.

The Army is still investigating how the blimp got loose from its moorings in Aberdeen. A NORAD official characterized it as a “tether break” in the APG News article, but there’s still question about how that happened. The 240-foot aircraft drifted about 160 miles north to Pennsylvania, knocking out power with its mile-long cable dragging along the way. The second blimp that flew near Aberdeen was immediately grounded after its companion floated away.

Until the investigation is complete, the military is suspending the overall JLENS missile defense program of which the blimp and its twin were a part.

“If the investigation results indicate resumption of the operational exercise is warranted, we will work with the Army and the Department to review the way forward for the JLENS exercise in support of cruise missile defense capabilities of the National Capital Region,” said Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of NORAD.

Baltimore-area Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, who has supported JLENS in the past, called it “the right decision.”

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“It is an unfortunate irony that a program designed to help safeguard the skies over the nation’s capital threatened the security of citizens on the ground, including in my district,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “While I strongly believe the capabilities that JLENS provides for the defense of Maryland and the national capital region against low-trajectory missiles from enemies such as ISIS and other terror groups are critical, civilian safety must come first.”

Ruppersberger added that a long-term decision about the program shouldn’t be made until the investigation is complete. But the 17-year-old program will probably face a serious headwinds, considering it was already labelled a “zombie” and cost $2.7 billion.

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