Thursday, August 09, 2012

Something we may be seeing more of in a year or two: gigantic blimps.

Test flight of the latest semi-rigid airship in New Jersey.

A next-generation airborne spy ship as long as a football field made a successful maiden test flight over New Jersey on Tuesday, according to Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command headquarters on Redstone Arsenal.

The Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle is sort of a digital-age dirigible under development by SMDC and prime contractor Northrop Grumman. LEMV is designed to keep a 2,500-pound Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance payload aloft up to three weeks at a time, staring at an area or enemies from 20,000 feet with an "unblinking eye," according to company materials.

Here's some more background on recent heavy lift airships from Defense Industry Daily.

Video from WIRED here.

As usual, the big brains at Northrop Grumman have created the super duper version of a military airship. This thing can haul a total of seven tons, that being 14,000 pounds of fuel, payload and pilots. It can in principle stay in the air for weeks, particularly if they arrange for mid-air refueling. Its full of helium so it will be very difficult to shoot down. Helium doesn't burn. Its also designed so it can fly with no humans on board, land, drop payloads, pick things up, whatever, all under remote control or even under its own local control like a robot vacuum cleaner. World's biggest Roomba.

As airships go this one is very interesting, it has a unique double-hull design that makes it much more aerodynamic and the hull apparently generates lift too when the machine is moving forward. Very, very cool.

Northrop Grumman says they are going to fly it around for a while before sending it on to Afghanistan to get shot at. Probably wise.

Now, this machine is like the ultimate Cadillac Eldorado with the mega tailfins, turbo-nitrous 500 cubic inch engine and the ten thousand watt stereo. Its got everything including a kitchen sink. Its -huge-. But, and this is where the real fun for us "citizens" comes in, compared to a drone or a spyplane, measured by flight hours per dollar, this thing is dirt cheap. I mean super duper give-it-away cheap. Assuming this machine makes itself useful in Ashcanistan, every city in the USA will want at least one for their cops.

There's a reason Goodyear still flies those ancient blimps at the Superbowl.  Its because they offer a rock-steady camera platform and they cost almost nothing compared to a helicopter. Oh, and they can't actually crash either. If you shoot a missile into one the most you can do is make it come down rrrreeeaallllyyy slow, because the gas is held in many small compartments inside the big bag. You can't rip them all at once and the gas itself will put out any fire you can get started. Its helium. If you want you can use your airship to carry and launch smaller drones. Or cruise missiles. Or smart-bombs. Or even put a gun on it and drop artillery shells on things. With deadly accuracy, because it doesn't wiggle as it flies.

Take your crash-proof high tech airship, scale it down. Make it a drone. Stick a FLIR pod on it, maybe some side-looking radar.  Now you've got every official peeping Tom's dream, the eye in the sky that sees in the dark, and they can afford to run it twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Yeah, I think we should get used to seeing something like this floating around big cities real soon. Just remember the Batman movie in Aurora Colorado and the Gurudwara in Oak Creek Wisconsin when they fire up the hype machine to sell this new surveillance toy. Big Brother watching you doesn't make -you- safer. It makes Big Brother safer.

Time to invest in some mylar window blinds and thick drapes. Tinfoil works too, so they tell me.

The Phantom

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