The exact flight path of an unmanned Army surveillance blimp, a.k.a. aerostat or tethered airship, appears to be unclear after it broke loose from its ground tether just before noon today (Wednesday, October 28, 2015) at the Aberdeen Proving Ground military base in Maryland.
The 230-foot long aerostat (titled JLENS – Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System by NORAD) crash-landed around 4:25 PM in two pieces in trees in Anthony Township (Montour County), Pennsylvania. News reports regarding where the aerostat crash-landed vary due to the crash site’s close proximity to the borders of Lycoming and Montour counties. Locations given include Muncy and Moreland in Lycoming County and Exchange in Anthony Township in Montour County. In general, Anthony Township seems to be the center location.
Two Air Force F-16 fighter jets monitored the blimp as it drifted north across Pennsylvania.
The helium-filled aerostats, each nearly as long as a football field, carry powerful radar equipment that can protect a territory roughly the size of Texas from numerous airborne threats.
This aerostat was one of two tethered airships launched in December to better protect the Washington, D.C. area from cruise missiles and other possible air attacks.
PPL (Pennsylvania Power Light) said the blimp and its 6,700 foot long tether had resulted in power outages to over 26,000 customers; which included 17,800 in Columbia County and 9,000 in Schuylkill County. Officials added that the steel tether is about an inch thick.
It is unclear how it deflated. There is an auto-deflate mechanism, but news reports said a spokesman didn’t know if that was responsible.
The below map represents a possible 133-mile descending flight path, to include the location of multiple downed power lines on Valley Street in Schuylkill Township (Schuylkill County, PA), as well as downed power lines across both the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 81 at mile marker 131 (borders Ryan Township and Mahanoy Township, PA). Both incidents occurred within ten minutes of each other (around 1:30 PM).
A PPL worker repairing power lines in Schuylkill Township stated that multiple lines were “definitely pulled from their insulators by something big.”
Some people speculate that the aerostat’s flight speed slowed down drastically when it descended and its long tether began dragging on the ground. It is unclear when the tether began dragging on the ground.
Images of the aerostat on social media and news broadcasts above Pennsylvania could only be seen as it descended to the ground. No other higher images can be found online. This might have been due to the aerostat’s initial high altitude and the abundance of rain showers, fog and low lying clouds throughout eastern Pennsylvania at the time.
Oddly, no official information online or news reports describe the aerostat’s exact flight path or specific locations of power lines damaged by the tether.
A related statement posted on PPL’s Facebook page earlier this afternoon reads, “An update for customers: We are assessing and responding to damage to our system reportedly caused by the tether line of the runaway blimp. We are working to switch many affected customers to other circuits, restoring power. It has not been determined how long repairs will take. The damage appears to be most extensive in Columbia and Schuylkill counties.”
Click HERE to view earlier TamaquaArea.com photos and video showing damaged power lines in Schuylkill County (primarily Schuylkill Township).
Click HERE to view another story (via JustInWeather.com) related to a possible flight path/pattern taken by the aerostat.
Click HERE to view another story via WNEP TV 16. (dated Oct. 29, 2015)
Click HERE to view many online photos of the aerostat via a general Google Image search.
TamaquaArea.com Video of PPL Repairing Power Lines along Valley Street in Schuylkill Township: (earlier photos)
TamaquaArea.com Photos of PPL Repairing Power Lines along Valley Street in Schuylkill Township: (earlier photos)