Aug 08

Video: Army’s Giant Spy Blimp Soars Over Jersey Shore in First Flight (Wired, Aug 8, 2012):


YouTube

On Tuesday, not far from the beaches of New Jersey, was a sight hundreds of millions of dollars and years of development in the making: the Army’s football-field-size robot spy blimp took to the air for the first time at a military base in Lakehurst. The 90-minute flight of the Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), manufactured by aerospace giant Northrop Grumman and allegedly captured in the video above, is only the beginning of a months-long test program; the lighter-than-air ship won’t head to a warzone until next year at the earliest. But it’s still important news. For years, the Pentagon has tried and failed to get next-generation airships off the ground. No longer.

“The first flight primary objective was to perform a safe launch and recovery with a secondary objective to verify the flight control system operation,” Army spokesman John Cummings said in a statement. “Additional first flight objectives included airworthiness testing and demonstration, and system level performance verification.”

“All objectives were met during the first flight,” Cummings added.

Provided further testing goes smoothly, the LEMV could deploy to Afghanistan for combat trials in early 2013, floating thousands of feet over the battlefield for, Northrop hopes, entire weeks on end, scanning for insurgents. K.C. Brown, Jr., Northrop’s director of Army programs, told Danger Room the LEMV could also pull double duty, hauling military cargo out of landlocked Afghanistan as part of the Pentagon’s war drawdown. It might make for quite the lighter-than-air mule: Northrop claims the LEMV has enough buoyancy to haul seven tons of cargo 2,400 miles at 30 miles per hour.


Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence airship concept. Illustration: Northrop Grumman

The spy blimp’s inaugural sortie had been pushed back several times; turns out, combining a giant airship with satellite-based remote controls and the latest high-tech sensors is more difficult than Northrop thought it would be. When the Army cut the LEMV’s $500-million development check back in 2010, the ground combat branch expected the propeller-driven, helium-filled airship would begin airborne trials in early 2011 and deploy just a few months later.

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