aerostat

The Aerostat hovers over its mooring platform on Fort Huachuca in this image from a past Herald/Review article.

FORT HUACHUCA — Look, up in the sky, the Aerostat is gone. And it has been for a while.

In the last few weeks, several people have asked the Herald/Review to find out what happened to the huge, fish-shaped balloon that looms over Sierra Vista on Fort Huachuca.

Rumors, of course, have abounded, and the newspaper twice asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection where the Aerostat had gone.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations uses the Tethered Aerostat Radar System to provide long-range detection of low-altitude aircraft at the radar’s maximum range.

According to a TARS fact sheet, the apparatus, stationed at Fort Huachuca, “Detects and tracks a majority of suspicious air traffic along the southwest border, including ultralight and short landing aircraft threats. The Department of Homeland Security requires this unique TARS capability in areas beyond the southwest border, including the Gulf of Mexico, southern Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and extended regions throughout the Caribbean used by transnational criminal organizations for illicit smuggling of narcotics and people.”

The first time the newspaper asked about the balloon, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said he could not discuss it.

The second time, on Tuesday afternoon, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman sent the newspaper a short statement saying the Aerostat is down for maintenance.

“Due to the inclement weather systems moving across the region, the TARS balloon at Ft. Huachuca has been removed for maintenance. CBP will restore the system operations as soon as threatening weather patterns subside. TARS is not being phased out. There may be confusion due to previous press reports regarding a different CBP aerostat (TAS) operated by the U.S. Border Patrol. These are not TARS systems.”