Fighter Jets Scrambled After Surveillance Blimp Escapes Maryland Base

The Army in 2014 launched a surveillance blimp, or aerostat, called the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. (Raytheon photo)
The Army in 2014 launched a surveillance blimp, or aerostat, called the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. (Raytheon photo)

Two Air Force fighter jets tracked an unmanned Army surveillance blimp Wednesday that broke loose from its ground tether in Maryland and drifted north over Pennsylvania, Pentagon officials said. The North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado said the blimp detached from its station at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, at about 12:20 p.m. EDT, and was traveling at an altitude of about 16,000 feet. State police in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, confirmed they had been getting 911 calls about blimp sightings, but they could not provide additional details. The runaway blimp was causing a stir in Pennsylvania, with people tweeting photos of an object believed to be the blimp. The blimp is the kind used extensively in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to provide surveillance over U.S. bases and other sensitive sites. "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 in a brief exchange with reporters at the Pentagon. "This happens in bad weather." Carter did not say what the two F-16 fighters tracking the runaway blimp might be asked to do or whether he considered it a threat to aviation. The F-16s were launched from the Atlantic City Air National Guard Base in New Jersey, according to the NORAD statement. FAA officials were working with the military to ensure air traffic safety in the area. The aircraft is known as a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System , or JLENS, and can be used as part of a missile defense system.wb It was not immediately clear how the blimp came loose. -- Associated Press writer Kristen De Groot in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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