Massive Surveillance Blimp Ready to Launch
If you happen to live anywhere between New Jersey and Florida and spot something very strange and very big floating through the sky next month, don’t panic; it’s just Northrop Grumman’s new (and massive) unmanned surveillance blimp, which is scheduled for its maiden test voyage in early June.
The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) is a 300-foot-long, helium-filled airship destined for use in surveillance applications in Afghanistan, where it can float at 22,000 feet while supporting a couple of thousand pounds of high-tech spy equipment. The hull is made of laminated fabric, and the hull shape delivers up to 40 percent of lifting for the vehicle. It can stay aloft for 21 days on 3,500 gallons of fuel.
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command commissioned three LEMVs in 2010 at a total cost of $517 million. Grumman teamed with Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), Warwick Mills, ILC Dover, AAI Corp., and SAIC to build them. A test run is scheduled some time between June 6 and June 10 in Lakehurst, N.J. The LEMV will then head to Florida to be fitted with a gondola.
Other floating surveillance platforms are also in development. Lockheed Martin has the High Altitude Airship program to develop a craft that could fly at 65,000 feet for 30 days at a time. Last year, Lockheed’s High Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator (HALE-D) crashed near Akron, Ohio, during a July test flight after reaching an altitude of 32,000 feet.
The LEMV appears to be a blimp (meaning it has no rigid infrastructure in the hull). The doomed Hindenburg was a rigid airship (with a framework surrounding multiple gas cells). Both types of dirigibles have been used for military purposes. Germany deployed zeppelins in bombing raids during World War I, while the U.S. Navy used blimps for reconnaissance during the first half of the 20th Century. Several dozen tethered aerostats are also in service in Afghanistan.
While it seems that there may be a bit of dirigible renaissance going on, a looming helium shortage has led to some deployment hiccups.
Source: Northrop Grumman