Here’s a metaphor: a remote-controlled, tremendously expensive, basically useless JLENS aerial surveillance blimp has detached from its tether at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. If you see it, call the authorities. Do NOT try to get it down yourself.
Seventeen years after its birth, JLENS is a stark example of what defense specialists call a “zombie” program: costly, ineffectual and seemingly impossible to kill.
Instead of detecting things like cruise missiles and terrorists, the sensor-laden airship basically doesn’t do anything except burn tax dollars and look sort of cool floating in the air. It was also designed to withstand hurricane-force winds without getting blown away, and yet now it’s floating away and up the eastern seaboard, the Baltimore Sun reports, and nobody knows why:
The 243-foot-long, helium-filled blimp detached from its mooring on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Grounad at about 11:54 a.m., a spokeswoman for the Army installation said. It was pulling approximately 6,700 feet of cable.
That’s a lot of cable—but don’t try to grab it yourself. Call the police:
JLENS blimp has broken free of its tether and is now over Pennsylvania at 16,000 feet. Two fighter jets are monitoring: NORAD spokesman— Matthew Hay Brown (@matthewhaybrown) October 28, 2015
BLIMP UPDATE: A student at Central Columbia High School in Bloomsburg, PA says she’s spotted the JLENS:
UPDATE 2: Another student in Bloomsburg has tweeted this video that appears to show the blimp going down: “Oh my God, it’s goin’ down,” someone exclaims.
Update 3: Not so fast—the JLENS isn’t down all the way, and reportedly leaving a trail of destruction in its wake:
MSNBC reports #JLENS is dragging its 1.5 mile tether behind it, taking out power lines!— Dan Froomkin (@froomkin) October 28, 2015
Untethered JLENS #blimp cable is dragging the ground in Bloomsburg and causing massive power outages, Columbia Co DPS Director says.— Dianne Gallagher (@DianneG) October 28, 2015
Update 4: Watch out!
Drag line on property near Bloomsburg, PA. Witness says he saw blimp cable dragging near his home. pic.twitter.com/g30HY5iclC— Andy Mehalshick (@AndyMehalshick) October 28, 2015
There are currently more than 20,000 without power in the Bloomsburg area, according to Joe Nixon with PPL Electric. Nixon said they have “reports that the blimp hit power lines in the Bloomsburg area” and that they are going to the scene to investigate.
Nixon noted it is rainy and windy in the area.
Update 6: NORAD is now reporting the blimp is down for the count in Pennsylvania.