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After running away, surveillance blimp program is totally grounded

After Wednesday's mayhem, aerostats are no longer on the Baltimore horizon.

The first JLENS aerostat, before it was launched above Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of Raytheon Corporation)

The internet had a lot of fun clowning on the giant surveillance blimp that got loose from its mooring at Aberdeen Proving Ground and took a trip to rural Pennsylvania on Wednesday:
Cleaning up after this floating fracas is a more serious matter, however. For one, there are big guns involved.
The blimp, which is actually an aerostat because it is usually tethered to the ground, broke free into blimp status around noon on Wednesday. Four hours, 150 miles and two fighter jets later, the 240-foot aircraft finally came back to Earth. It landed in two parts about a quarter of a mile apart in a wooded area near Muncy, Pa.
According to the AP, Pennsylvania State Police troopers working to get the blimp down fired about 100 shotgun shells at the nose of the blimp to deflate it completely on Friday. Authorities, including the National Guard and military personnel, are working on the recovery operation after the blimp’s 6,700-foot tether knocked out power. Among the tasks is removing the fire radar control system onboard.
Federal officials are conducting an investigation to determine how the blimp broke free, and answers have yet to be provided. The tether was made of a material called Vectran, which was supposed to be capable of withstanding “storms up to 100 knots,” officials from Raytheon, the company behind the project, had said.

Whether the military’s surveillance blimp will soar again seems to be an open question.
The saga of the runaway blimp was just the latest in a long series of snafus for the JLENS program, which is run by Raytheon and the military. The program aims to use two aerostats to look for cruise missiles, drones or other enemy aircraft. The idea is that the blimps would be used to monitor warzones or the coastline.
Back in September, the David Willman of the L.A. Times reported that the $2.7 billion effort had become a “zombie” defense program. After 17 years in development, Willman found the blimp struggled to detect objects, and succumbed to glitches, bad weather and other issues that couldn’t keep it afloat for the desired 30 consecutive days.
Congress already had questions about the program after the blimps failed to detect a drone flying onto the White House lawn in April.
Now, one blimp full of bullet holes and split in two lies in a Pennsylvania field. Its counterpart is also now grounded “as a precaution.”

Companies: Raytheon / U.S. Government

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