Aerostats Based 70 Miles From Washington

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The Army will test a tethered airship-based missile defense system at a military restricted area near Baltimore starting next year and that has prompted safety concerns for aviation operations. As we reported last week two aerostats packed with sophisticated radar and other gear will be tethered anywhere up to 10,000 feet and stay there for up to 30 days. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., announced the location later in the week. The tests will be done at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds on Chesapeake Bay. The vast military preserve is already designated as restricted airspace but concerns linger about the tests.

Several readers noted the military area is adjacent to some important airways and that the whole area is generally busy with airplanes. Although the military preserve is about 70 miles from Washington, the defense system, called the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, is capable of covering a wide area against air-, land- and sea-based threats. The tests are expected to start in September and last three years. AOPA says it's worried about the concept of tethering airships in the Washington area. "The Washington, D.C., airspace is extremely congested. There is no place to tether these two aerostats where they will not be a hazard to aircraft," said Tom Zecha, AOPA's manager of aviation security. The operation will be headed up by the Army. Last week's story incorrectly identified the North American Aerospace Defense Command as the agency responsible. Data from the aerostats will be integrated into the defense system operated by NORAD to protect the capital.