Update: The blimp has been grounded near Bloomsburg, PA! After a 3 hour ordeal, the 6,700 foot cable took down power lines and has been stopped in the Poconos more than 100 miles form Aberdeen, MD. Power outages were reported at Bloomsburg University, which canceled classes as a result.
One of the two JLENS blimps flying over Aberdeen Proving Ground broke free at 11:54 AM with cable more than a mile long trailing behind. It has been tracked by NORAD and fighter jets riding the strong winds into Pennsylvania at an altitude of 16,000 Ft and traveling over 50 mph due to high level winds.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Netted Sensor System (JLENS) is a new generation of first line defense for our nation. When I first wrote about this program last December, it was intended to fly in good weather. Gregg Plapas captured one of the first images (seen here) in flight late December 2014. It is unclear if it was flying off the tether or knocked free from grounding today. Being helium filled, it lifted quickly beyond the low cloud deck in today’s storm. Tracking it with the fast winds has been the primary issue.
With an intended altitude of 10,000 Ft they were part of a civil defense to monitor the East Coast of missiles or other adversaries with a view of 340 miles in all directions. The strong winds in today’s storm have been from the southeast, averaging 15 to 25 mph, but aloft they are much stronger.
Tracking The JLENS Blimp
Winds at 12 Noon:
I used these upper level winds maps earlier to track where JLENS might have traveled. These were the winds at 80 metes (250 feet ) above the ground. They were generally from the east southeast. But, the blimp travelled much higher and encountered faster winds with a chance in direction
Winds Aloft: About 5,000 Ft
At the 850mb level, winds increased well over 45 mph and changed direction from the south. With this in mind, there is a goo chance the blimp passed over York or Lancaster Counties, then on to the Poconos. It looks like that is exactly where it traveled. However the wind shift was sooner, so the path was almost due north.
Once again, compare to the actual location of where JLENS landed.
- Size: 80 yards long
- Hight: Can fly up to 2 miles altitude
- Duration: Can stay aloft (filled with helium) up to one month at a time.
- Coverage Area: New York to North Carolina and west to Ohio, 340 miles in all directions.
- Cost: $2.8 million so far. Congress has approved $43.3 million in spending.
- A second balloon will launch four miles away in the spring.
- The program originally called for up to 16 balloons, but the two over Maryland are the entire program.
See more about the JLENS mission in Maryland
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