Airship Ventures Keeps U.S. Zeppelin Skills Alive

22.02.10

Categorie: Air, David Axe |
Tags: , ,

by DAVID AXE

In the 1920s and ’30s, the U.S. Navy operated large airships for maritime patrol. Poor weather forecasting doomed four of six rigid Navy airships when they crashed in storms. Today, better forecasting and GPS have made airship operations much, much safer — and the military is considering getting back into the lighter-than-air business in a big way.

The Army already operates hundreds of sensor balloons over Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force is studying a high-altitude airship as a replacement for manned surveillance jets. The Navy bought an airship for limited testing with squadron VX-20 in 2006 and 2007 and wants bigger models for transport missions.

One of the contract pilots for the VX-20 tests was Jim Dexter. One of America’s most experienced airship pilots, today the 53-year-old Dexter is flight-ops officer for Airship Ventures, a tour operator based at the Navy’s decommissioned dirigible base at Moffett Field, outside San Francisco. I flew with Dexter last week on a brief sightseeing circuit over the Bay area.

Dexter told me that his 12-passenger, German-made Zeppelin has “good endurance, good range.” With a top speed of just 50 miles per hour, the Zeppelin ain’t fast, but it’s cheap to operate, can remain in service pretty much forever with periodic envelope replacement and with adequate weather forecasting is basically crash-proof. Today Airship Ventures flies just Visual Flight Rules at 1,000 feet altitude, but is cleared for instrument flying at higher altitudes. Dexter said he wasn’t worried about integrating airships with manned aircraft. He said the planes can see you coming.

As airships make their big return, folks like Dexter and operations like Airship Ventures will function as the skills “seed” to ensure we’re not just starting from scratch. Up airships!

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13 Responses to “Airship Ventures Keeps U.S. Zeppelin Skills Alive”

  1. altereggo says:

    Until every high-ranking supporter of the program dies in the same blimp crash, like last time…

  2. campbell says:

    all well and good, except: all need for mooring masts, ground crew assistance, and hangars need to be eliminated. speeds need to be doubled at a minimum. flexible envelopes need to be eliminated

  3. FooMan says:

    blimps have never died, they carry surveillance radars in the gulf of Mexico right now. Their low speed and huge carrying capacity are advantages, their need for comparatively large ground crews is not, but they do in fact, use less man hours for every hour in the air than fixed wing or especially rotary wing aircraft.
    Foo

  4. Paralus says:

    These could be treated almost like an airborne equivalent of the Austal Catamaran transports the Navy is acquiring. Similar speeds, etc.

    If an airship such as this could be designed to carry a company of troops and its equipment, it would be a tremendous way of transporting troops to locations where RO/RO ships cannot go. Imagine a hundred of these flying over Pakistan without the need to set foot on Pakistani soil.

    And it would move at more than twice the speed of conventional maritime assets as well as being able to get closer to the hotspots.

  5. [...] missions. In coming decades, lighter-than-air vessels much larger than the 250-foot-long Eureka could become a fixture in U.S. military transportation [...]

  6. SJ says:

    Airships and hybrid airships have tremendous potential for hauling large amounts of cargo. The only immediate thought that comes to mind is how vulnerable these big birds are to small arms fire and other ground fire compared to rotorcraft.

  7. James Bond says:

    Hi folks,
    The US military really have got serious about the use of Helium filled hybrid air vehicles since this article was written, with the award of the 517 million dollar LEMV contract to Northrop Grumman and Hybrid Air Vehicles from England to build 3 HAV 304′s for the US Army and the first will fly on schedule next summer.
    If you want the latest news on HAV’s or airships try http://www.hybridairship.net or if you just want a Helium sniffing laugh try http://www.hybridblimp.net
    Regards JB from Blighty.

  8. [...] effort. Along with robot trucks, robot helicopters, “smart” parachutes, hybrid trucks and even airships, it’s also evidence of the Pentagon’s never-ending quest for better resupply [...]

  9. [...] effort. Along with robot trucks, robot helicopters, “smart” parachutes, hybrid trucks and even airships, it’s also evidence of the Pentagon’s never-ending quest for better resupply [...]

  10. [...] Along with robot trucks, robot helicopters, “smart” parachutes, hybrid trucks and even airships, it’s also evidence of the Pentagon’s never-ending quest for better resupply [...]

  11. [...] effort. Along with robot trucks, robot helicopters, “smart” parachutes, hybrid trucks and even airships, it’s also evidence of the Pentagon’s never-ending quest for better resupply [...]

  12. [...] as much to operate as fixed-wing aircraft. Mav6, founded in 2007, wasn’t the only company to see blimps’ potential. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman pitched a massive airship to the Army for surveillance and [...]

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