Posting in Design
Northrop Grumman and British company Hybrid Air Vehicles will soon build blimp-like airships for lengthy reconnaissance missions.
The LEMVs (Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicles) will slowly skim the skies over Afghanistan, providing military surveillance to troops on the ground. Last week the U.S. Army signed a $517 million agreement with Northrop Grumman to build the aircraft within 18 months.
Longer than a football field, the new LEMV, Condor 304, will not be your grandmother's blimp, but a robotic spy ship giving "a persistent unblinking stare" to the Earth below for weeks at a time. Though not intended for combat, the craft will be adaptable to various missions, with apparently easy sensor changes.
Aiding in the design is British company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). The HAV304 from which the Condor 304 may be modeled is shown here:
Lewis Page of UK's The Register reports:
HAV's new special sauce was the idea of "hybrid" ships which would not, like their illustrious predecessors, actually be lighter than air. Some 60 to 80 per cent of their weight would be supported by the buoyancy of their helium, and the rest by other means: vertical thrust from the engines during takeoff and landing, and aerodynamic lift generated by the ship's forward motion while in transit.
Traveling at altitudes of 20,000 feet for 21 days, the LEMV could possibly provide non-stop ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capability to the military for a 2,000-mile landscape. No pilot necessary.
According to the Army, in about 10 months they will inflate the new LEMV and then test it in Yuma, Arizona.
The HAV304 is one of many military airship designs created in recent years. For instance, Lockheed Martin's P-971 prototype (which reminds me of Ghostbuster's Stay-Puft marshmallow man) is shown below. This "suck ship" used hovercraft technology in reverse to steady it to the ground.
Image: Northrop Grumman
Jun 24, 2010
The "Achilles class" blimps should be named the sitting ducks. Then can be taken out in many rather simple ways with improvised equipment, even will cruising in ignorant bliss at 20,000 ft. They are hightech battleships from an earlier era. Billy Mitchell,call your office.
I can see a lot of peaceful uses for them. Load up with produce in CA and get it directly to Midwest or East Coast in half the time and half the cost, truckers won't like it though. Guess they could learn to fly blimps, but the peaceful uses for communications and for ferrying in supplies in normally inaccessible places after earthquakes would be phenomenal. The supply of helium could be an issue, but we learned from the Hindenberg that hydrogen is not a great fuel in an envelope.
Think of the great bedrooms. Quiet so we could sleep, finally. Resting on clouds.. Great sex. Get to sleep by midnight in NYC, wake up in Dallas after great night's sleep. How about a hot tub at 20,000 feet. Useful for airborne classrooms. Atmospherics. Geography. Astronomy, carrying a huge telescope unburdened by atmospheric dust and waves.
Peaceful uses - How about Cellular and Satellite transmission, or relays to deliver services during an emergency and/or remote areas.
oh, I'd imagine these will become much more economical and practical as materials pick up to properly store the hydrogen/helium. Problem with helium is, we have a finite supply, its only made in stars or as a by product of the fusion industry, which, we're just not quite there yet. Hydrogen is in great abundance. Both are so small, any material will leak them over a fairly quick period of time unless designed properly (read: expensive). The use of hydrogen bypasses the waste of helium due to leakage and expense relative to constraint on market supply, as well as provides a fuel for the unit itself while in flight, if using an onboard fuel cell or hydrogen burning ICE. Nano-materials capable of much tighter weave patterns would drastically cut the cost of these, but, unfortunately, its probably a decade away before we start to see those on a more mass produced level.
I think that blimp technology is long over due. I think the applications area near limitless; communication, surveillance, weaponry, peaceful application, a 'live' google-maps, shipping, cruising, etc. Some of the designs I've read, though, seem much improved over these. Namely in two key areas, 1) they use hydrogen instead of helium. This allows them to replace Exxon Valdez style tankers, as they'd just deflate as they got to market. Another is to have the tops covered in (thin film) solar panels. This way they could actually be shipped partially full with an on board electrolysis set up... as the unit flies at higher altitude, it uses the solar power, and the ambient water in the air to create the hydrogen and fresh water it'd be shipping to the intended destination.
Also, they probably could do very well as temporary communication stations/hubs (cell phone tower replacement )...
I'm thinking one of these over Haiti and other disaster areas could prove really really useful (if it could be deployed the day after or so). Can anybody think of other peaceful uses?
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for us), the popular Stinger Missile, FIM-92B, while it has an attack range of at a range of up to 15,700 feet (4,800 m); it can only attack aircraft at altitudes between 600 and 12,500 feet (180 and 3,800 m). So 20K altitude of these blimps is out of range for a hand-launched system. Wiki says that The FIM-92F developed in 2001 and added to the 1996 Block II improvements improved the missile's effectiveness in "high clutter" environments and increase the engagement range to about 25,000 feet (7,600 m). Production was scheduled for 2004, but Jane's reports that this may be on hold. So the new gas bags aren't totally out of the woods; just very effective against impoverished militaries.
Hybrid, solar-powered, or convenitonally powered blimps represent an interesting alternative to short and medium haul cargo transportation especially for items that are not time dependent. Think of replacing the five to ten commercial semi-trucks with a single blimp. The environmental benefits would be huge and the costs would probably be significantly better in terms of $/lbs/mi.