A Giant Army Blimp Was On The Loose

JLENS landed in Pennsylvania after breaking away from its tether

Updated 10/28/2015, 04:25 p.m. ET A North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) spokesperson told The Daily Beast that a part of JLENS’ tail came off and it hit the ground at 3:40 PM in Montour County, Pennsylvania, which is in the middle of the state. A photo on Twitter appears to show the aircraft landing in an open field. The spokesperson added that JLENS had mostly deflated by the time it hit the ground and that the organization plans to investigate the incident.

At about 12:20 PM, Maryland residents could look up and see a surprising sight: a 243-foot-long blimp-like aircraft that broke loose from its moorings. It’s the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS for short, and contains radar and other tracking equipment to detect and transmit information any enemy boats, vehicles, or planes below it. Though the craft took 17 years and $2.7 billion to build, critics say it has not lived up to expectations.

But at the moment the aircraft isn’t detecting at all—it’s drifting at 16,000 feet, according to the Baltimore Sun, dragging much of its 6,700 feet of cable. It apparently broke free from its tether at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military facility outside of Washington, D.C.

With JLENS drifting north into Pennsylvania, two F-16 fighter jets are following the aircraft as authorities figure out what to do next. Officials mention that the aircraft has several built-in systems that could facilitate its safe recovery; given the aircraft’s cost, they are reluctant to shoot it down. That would likely be a last resort, officials told Buzzfeed News.

But they may have to act soon. Parts of Pennsylvania are experiencing huge power outages, likely because JLENS is dragging its tether, which is taking down power lines. Classes at Bloomsburg University have been cancelled as a result:

Authorities request that anyone who sees JLENS call 911. You can follow updates on Twitter with the hashtag #blimp.

UPDATE: Some news outlets have reported that JLENS has gone down in Pennsylvania. No word yet on the damage to the craft or on the ground.