The Great Blimp Chase of 2015 ended Wednesday afternoon when an Army observation balloon went down in Moreland Township, Pennsylvania.
The balloon became untethered from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, about 12:20 p.m. on Wednesday, prompting two New Jersey Air National Guard F-16s to pursue it, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command.
While the F-16s from Atlantic City Air National Guard Base were armed, at no points did the pilots consider shooting the blimp down, said Navy Capt. Scott Miller, a spokesman for NORAD.
Officially known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, the balloon is meant to detect manned and unmanned aircraft, cruise missiles, swarming boats and tanks, the news release said. It is meant to stay afloat up to 10,000 feet above sea level.
In the end, it was not shot down, Miller told reporters on Wednesday. It is not immediately clear how the blimp deflated, but its tail piece fell off about a quarter mile from where it finally came to rest, he said.
It is also unclear how the cable that linked the blimp to the ground snapped, but officials do not believe the weather was a major factor in the balloon losing its mooring, Miller said. It dangled several thousand feet of cable as it drifted away, he said. No one on the ground was hurt when the balloon went down.
About 2 p.m., the balloon was spotted over Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, after it apparently knocked out power lines.
Media had speculated that the two F-16s trailing the balloon may have to shoot it down. While that was never in the cards, U.S. pilots have downed balloons before.
During World War I, Army Air Corps pilots would attack heavily defended German observation balloons. Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, is named after Medal of Honor recipient 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, known as the "Arizona Balloon Buster" for shooting down 14 observation balloons before being killed in September 1918.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.