A remote-controlled, unmanned reconnaissance blimp launched from Ohio by defense contractor Lockheed Martin was brought down Wednesday in a controlled descent in the woods of southwestern Pennsylvania after it was unable to climb to the desired altitude.
The HALE-D blimp was designed to float above the jet stream at 60,000 feet and can be used for reconnaissance, intelligence and other purposes often accomplished by satellites, but at lower cost. The blimp was being tested as a communications relay device as part of a contract Lockheed Martin has with the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., Lockheed spokesman Keith Little told The Associated Press.
The blimp got to 32,000 feet but couldn't climb higher, so controllers in Akron, Ohio, decided to bring it down with a "controlled descent" in a sparsely populated area, some heavy woods near New Freeport, about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The ship is 270 feet long, 70 feet in diameter and filled with helium and air, which were released gradually to bring the ship to Earth.
"There is no way for the airship to come down with it all filled," Little said. "That's how we bring it down."
The ship was launched from a former Goodyear blimp air dock in Akron that Lockheed bought years ago. The defense contractor has been making lighter-than-air vehicles for more than 80 years, Little said.
Had the test craft performed as desired, it would have stayed in the air for four to 10 days at the highest altitude, then never flown again. Instead, it was brought down around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Lockheed officials were at the scene recovering the blimp, which Little said will be brought back to Akron so the defect can be investigated.
Local and state agencies, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, also responded.
Police say no injuries were reported and no property on the ground was damaged. Little said the blimp was caught in trees about 40 feet high and Lockheed was working with the other agencies at the scene to bring it down with minimal damage.
The blimp is guided by two propellers powered by solar panels on its exterior. Researchers were going to try to bounce radio signals off it as part of the test.
Once Lockheed determines what kept the blimp from climbing, the Army must decide whether to go forward with the project or try something else, Little said.