Danger Room: Army Readies Its Mammoth Spy Blimp for First Flight

22.05.12

Categorie: Afghanistan, Air, David Axe, Wired |
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The U.S. Army's massive Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle. Illustration: Northrop Grumman

The U.S. Army's massive Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle. Illustration: Northrop Grumman

by DAVID AXE

TAMPA, Florida — Sure, it took an extra year or so, but Northrop Grumman has finally penciled in the first flight of the giant surveillance airship it’s building for the U.S. Army. The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle — a football-field-size, helium-filled robot blimp fitted with sensors and data-links — should take to the air over Lakehurst, New Jersey, the first or second week of June. K.C. Brown, Jr., Northrop’s director of Army programs, crows: ”We’re about to fly the thing!”

It’s fair to say Northrop and the Army are crossing their collective fingers for the flight to actually take place, and smoothly. Giant airships promise huge benefits — namely, low cost and long flight times — but it’s proved incredibly hard to build and equip the massive blimps with military-grade sensors and communications … and fill them with helium.

The Air Force’s highly computerized (and potenitally missile-armed) Blue Devil 2 airship recently ran into integration problems, forcing the flying branch to cancel a planned test run in Afghanistan. (Although the service had never been too hot on airships in the first place.) The Navy meanwhile grounded its much smaller MZ-3A research blimp for a lack of work until the Army paid to take it over. The LEMV seemed to be losing air, too, as Northrop and the Army repeatedly delayed its first flight and planned combat deployment originally slated for the end of 2011.

Read the rest at Danger Room.

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One Response to “Danger Room: Army Readies Its Mammoth Spy Blimp for First Flight”

  1. campbell says:

    Airships offer immense advantages; especially in cost to build, operate, and maintain. As military budgets continue to decrease; the use of airships will prove worthy of continued development.

    However, the continued use of flexible envelope materials used for airships is self-defeating. The high-tech Kevlar/Tedlar/ laminates are too expensive and available only from two or three suppliers worldwide.

    Truly viable military airships must be constructed of rigid, inexpensive, readily available materials. The historic precedent is aluminum; this, paired with carbon fiber can result in far more capable craft.

    Continued use of traditional shapes is likewise laden with problems; ground control is extremely difficult when handling an immense lighter-than-air craft; the rounded lower hull and/or single ground contact of the traditional gondola is not enough to provide stability on the ground. The LEMV has a wider ground contact area; a slight improvement over traditional blimp shapes.

    Much greater attention needs to be placed on ground control. The hyped “hovercraft” landing systems are insufficient.

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