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The Military Transportation Technology

250-Foot Hybrid Airship To Spy Over Afghanistan 343

Posted by samzenpus
from the eye-in-the-sky dept.
Toe, The writes "Gizmodo details the Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) (based on the P-791), a spyship from US Army's Space and Missile Defense Command capable of hovering at 20,000 feet. Planned for deployment in Afghanistan, the ship can float for three weeks and carry well over a ton of payload, apparently surveillance equipment. The video on Gizmodo of the P-791 shows that these ships are a hybrid not only of both buoyancy and propulsive lift, but also of both awe and hilarity."
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250-Foot Hybrid Airship To Spy Over Afghanistan In

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  • Protection? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I read TFA and the wikipedia entry for the P-791 but I can't seem to find any actual details on the crafts construction. Specifically, what material the outer skin is made of. Seems like this kind of airship would be extremely vulnerable flying over hostile territory.
    • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BrokenHalo (565198) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:36AM (#29526661)
      Seems like this kind of airship would be extremely vulnerable flying over hostile territory.

      Exactly. I'm not exactly sure what weaponry would be able to hit a target at 20,000 feet but it's a big, slow-moving target.

      On the other hand, I love the whole idea of gasbags as a means of transport, and would really like to see them come back for civilian use. I can see their time coming again as fuel bills rise or the carbon emissions of winged craft become too scary.

      Airships got a bad rap as a result of some messy crashes, but by of perspective, even with the Hindenburg crash [wikipedia.org] 63% of the passengers survived. Whereas if you're in a plane when it crashes, you can usually guarantee that you're toast.
      • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Informative)

        by TheLink (130905) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @06:03AM (#29526771) Journal

        1) Are they really more efficient?

        They're certainly better than helicopters for hovering and slow patrolling, but for transporting lots of people or stuff to a definite destination I doubt it. Given the typical shapes used, I can imagine them spending lots of fuel just fighting the wind or air resistance. Not going to be easy to beat ships or trains, or even normal planes.

        Airships are fuel efficient if you don't mind going wherever the wind blows you.

        2) What gas to use though?

        I don't think there will be enough helium to go around:

        http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.08/helium.html [wired.com]
        http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-12-02-Helium_N.htm [usatoday.com]

        So the options are hot air (which doesn't produce as much lift) or hydrogen (which has significant PR problems for airship usage).

        I suppose this would be a smaller problem. Could use hydrogen both for fuel and for lifting.

        • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jonadab (583620) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:03AM (#29526979) Homepage Journal
          The real problem is speed, or rather the lack thereof. Air travel became as popular as it is because it's so much *faster*. People might book an airship flight once a decade for the novelty, kind of like a cruise ship trip, but they're not going to hop on the blimp whenever they need to get to the other side of the country. The trip would take too long. Jets are faster, so they win.
          • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Informative)

            by necro81 (917438) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @08:27AM (#29527365) Journal
            Thankfully, as the article states, the military isn't planning on making this aircraft to open a speedy and luxurious cruise line over Afghanistan. The airships will be used for aerial surveillance, where staying in one place for long periods of time is the main goal. They are designed to remain aloft for a few weeks at a time, something that ordinary aircraft can't do.
          • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Informative)

            by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:53AM (#29528113)

            The real problem is speed, or rather the lack thereof. Air travel became as popular as it is because it's so much *faster*. People might book an airship flight once a decade for the novelty, kind of like a cruise ship trip, but they're not going to hop on the blimp whenever they need to get to the other side of the country. The trip would take too long. Jets are faster, so they win.

            People still use cars for cross-country travel. It appears that there's a serious misconception about airship speed here. Maybe we're used to seeing blimps lumbering around stadia (yeah, I typed stadia). These limp airships are only about 1/4th the size of classic rigid craft, and are intended to cruise around 30 knots. The Hindenburg made 85 mph on 4 diesel engines. The USS Akron could do 83 and the Macon 87. These were all built in the 1930s, and were designed to be much faster than surface vessels with much longer range than heavier-than-air ships. Assuming a modern passenger airship could do 100-200 mph, it could easily compete with high speed trains and cars -- even jets for trips under 500 miles or so. People use jet travel not for the speed advantage over airships, but rather for the all-weather availability. It would seem the military picked 20000 ft operational altitude to mostly avoid the problem of weather closer to the surface.

          • Re:Protection? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by smellsofbikes (890263) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:58AM (#29528959) Journal
            If you build a dirigible, with some structural solidity, there's no reason you can't stick jets on it and drive it very considerably faster than a blimp. You can design it very nearly aerodynamically perfect, after all: no wings, less commercial constraints to build a long cylinder. Instead it can be a teardrop 5x as long as wide, and have something very close to ideal, so you're just fighting (very considerable) skin friction, but don't have any induced drag or nearly any interference drag.

            I'm not saying it's economically feasible, but I think it's technically feasible.

          • I don't know, after my experiences with flying in an airplane, I think I'd actually pay good money for a blimp ride instead... assuming that I actually get _some_ leg space on a blimp, I could live with it taking an hour longer in flight. Quite happily.

            Plus, honestly, have you flown in the last 10 years or so? Between having to come an hour early just to make it through the byzantine controls and bureaucracy in time, and stuff like having to wait almost an hour on the runway because someone forgot to also l

        • Ocean-going ships are technically better for travel between continents (much more efficient, can carry lots of luggage, etc) but there's a reason they're not popular - time.

        • Solar Thrust (Score:4, Insightful)

          by copponex (13876) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:34AM (#29528631) Homepage

          Airships that are covered in solar panels could be extraordinarily efficient. Get a biomass burning generator to power the electrical system when the sunlight isn't enough. The gas provides passive buoyancy, or just make a majority of the surface absorb heat to keep the air hot. The "free" energy from the sun provides the thrust.

          Never underestimate the power of a slow moving vehicle in travel for 24 hours straight. They had them at 60+ mph in the 1920s, so at 50mph average, you could go 1200 miles in 24 hours, which seems like the speed of slow rail travel without the required infrastructure.

          It's not going to capture the LA-NY trips, but for regional pleasure travel, it could be a real winner. I know I'd rather spend a day reading a book or cruising around the internet than driving.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by eples (239989)
          Hydrogen is fine as long as you don't paint the outside of the airship with silver ROCKET FUEL based paint (perchlorate).
        • >1) Are they really more efficient?
          >...2) What gas to use though?

          Airships can be very efficient, but only when they are gargantuan. The lift goes with the volume while the cost and drag goes with the surface area, so the $/ton efficiency goes up linearly with size. Given some internal structural rigidity, airships can be reasonably fast without giant engines (roughly 100-200 km/hr for on the order of 100W / kg payload.) The problem is that you have to have someplace big enough to land and store them a

      • by magarity (164372)

        I can see their time coming again as fuel bills rise
         
        Something has to run the propellers on the thing - they don't spin for free. Airships are slow and inefficient compared to ocean liners or trains. They're like luxury cruise ships except in the air but not a substitute for basic (read: fast and cheap) distance transportation.

        • by emilper (826945)

          "Airships are slow and inefficient compared to ocean liners" ... show me an ocean liner or container train that can do 250km/h, and I'll bow to your argument. Airships have a lot of drawbacks, but being slow (compared with land or sea transportation) isn't one of them.

      • by Wansu (846)

          Exactly. I'm not exactly sure what weaponry would be able to hit a target at 20,000 feet but it's a big, slow-moving target.

        That would be a Led Zeppelin moment ...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by phliar (87116)

        I'm not exactly sure what weaponry would be able to hit a target at 20,000 feet but it's a big, slow-moving target.

        An honest-to-god SAM can probably hit one, but they don't have a lot of those in Afghanistan. Shoulder-mounted missiles won't go that high.

        It will be approximately the same size in the sky as an airliner at cruising altitude. If there were no contrail and no sound, would you be able to see a 747 crusing above you? Paint it the colour of the sky as seen from the ground -- would you even know t

    • Re:Protection? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tuoqui (1091447) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @06:30AM (#29526875) Journal

      I suspect these are more for 'eye in the sky' operations over military installations where they have a high amount of security already. And if something is 20,000 feet up there is not a lot that will hit them that the insurgency would have access to. I do not believe grenade launchers or RPG's have that sort of range but then again I'm not an expert on military weaponry.

      • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:09AM (#29527003) Homepage Journal

        There are no hand held weapons that reach out that far. Those people talking about RPG's and sniper rifles are clueless. I'd be a little worried about stingers; Raytheon claims it can reach out that far, but not that high. I'd be more worried about medium sized howitzers - but most howitzers aren't configured for dual purpose like naval guns are. You'd have to park it on a hillside to get the elevation necessary, then it would probably fall of the hill when fired. More, we are talking about skills that "army" gunners don't have - they do not routinely track and target air/naval targets. The best bet seems to be an AA battery, but I've not seen any indication that anyone in the region has AA. Remember, when the Russians were there, the Afghans relied on our donations of stingers. I can't recall one report of AA emplacements such as Saddam Hussein had in Iraq.

        Finally - anything that has a reasonable chance of hitting the damned thing is going to have radar and/or laser targeting. Since they are trying to target a surveillance craft, chances are good that as soon as they light up the electronics, it has targeted THEM!!

        "Is that a train I hear? OH SHIT!! INCOMING!!"

        • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:51AM (#29527185) Journal

          While I don't know about Afghanistan specifically, it seems to me like trying to use it anywhere near a country that's not already been soundly thrashed and left defenseless, is asking for trouble.

          Yes, you're not going to hit it with an AK-47, but for example a SA-2 [wikipedia.org] is going to hit you from 20 to 30 miles away (depending on the exact model), and up to 66,000 ft high. IIRC, if you're a large slow and non-maneuvering target, it can actually go quite a few more miles purely inertial at the end. (Pretty much like a dart with guiding fins.) Unless you're going to pack some equally oversized missile as counter-measures, no, you're not going to get much use out of targeting it before it targeted you. Though technically you will get such an early lock, because the targeting radar will lock on you at 40 miles or so, well before the actual missile actually launches, and the early warning radar from almost 200 miles.

          It's an old and cheap missile, and it's probably the most exported missile. It's all over Eastern Europe, ex-USSR, China and IIRC in a few arab countries too.

          Mind you, against a fast and low flying modern airplane, it's probably useless, and against helicopters even more so, since it has a 4 miles or so minimum range. But against a blimp? That thing was designed against the early cold war idea of big bombers flying high and not being able to maneuver much. A blimp is pretty much making its day again.

          And if we're talking artillery, why bother with a howitzer on a slope, when half the world got one or more of this [wikipedia.org] or this [wikipedia.org] or even more likely this [wikipedia.org] from the Soviets. I know at least Iraq had a lot of the latter.

          Yeah, fat lot of good it did them against modern airplanes, but you show up in a blimp within 3-4 miles of one of those and you'll get a lot of holes fast.

          So basically, as I was saying, yeah, if you just have to patrol the skies of Afghanistan or some other county you've already thrashed and conquered, and you know you'll never face anything heavier than a RPG or AK-47, it's great. But then the old WW1 Zeppelins would be just as great. And it pretty much doesn't matter if it has its own anti-radar missiles or not, because nobody will shoot a missile that high. The missiles that go that high (like the SA-2) aren't exactly concealed-carry sized, if you get my drift.

          But that's about it. If this thing shows itself anywhere else, it doesn't matter how many anti-radiation missiles you pack on it. It's a big slow target, and just asking for it.

          • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @08:21AM (#29527327) Homepage Journal

            I agree 100% that this airship would be worthless against a decently funded opponent with access to WW2 weapons and munitions.

            Regarding the targeting of ground based weapons - remember, this airship is to play the role of an AWACS. I don't expect that it is as effective as AWACS, but it doesn't sit up there unattended. It is meant to find targets for ground and/or air forces. Paint it with radar, it relays the info to a combat control center, and someone is given a strike mission. That could mean the enemy has several minutes to fire at the airship - or, it could mean they only have several seconds. A well trained gun crew only needs those seconds to kill a target, a poorly trained gun crew might never hit the target.

            So many variables.

            Personally, I wouldn't invest money in this airship, but it could very well prove worthwhile.

          • The Afghan "insurgents" don't have any of those weapons systems. They use mostly items that can be carried. They rely on speed and carting around a howitzer doesn't make you fast or stealthy. They may have some stingers from their war with the Soviets, but you don't hear about them downing helos with them. So it's not likely that they're many of them at all.

          • Re:Protection? (Score:5, Informative)

            by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @09:20AM (#29527761) Homepage Journal

            True but then again this thing will have a long slant range as well. At 20,000 ft it's sensors will have a very long line of site. Well outside of the range of those guns and probably the SA-2.
            In a limited theater type war if anybody was to light up one of these with radar I am sure that it would get catch a HARM very quickly.
            Think of this as a supplement for the E-3 and the P-3.
            The P-3 is big and slow and so far none of them have been shoot down over Afghanistan. And yes they are actually popular sensor platforms in that theater.

          • Electronically spoofing an SA-2 is about as trivial of a task as modern ECM is presented with.

            Towed AAA would be a more likely threat, but moving 57mm or 100mm artillery in Afghanistan isn't easy. I'd guess they would be able to spot the guns (MMW radar, IIR) well outside their effective range.
  • by wjh31 (1372867) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:14AM (#29526553) Homepage
    Much romance surrounds travel by blimps/airships as they float gracefully through the air. But on watching that video, i have to say it it seems to be one of the least elegant take-offs (and landing) around.
    • by Mikkeles (698461)

      Well, it's not as if they had a large pool of people with multi-year experience ever since the bottom dropped out of the Zepplin market in the 30s and it went the way of buggy whips ;^)

    • by moosesocks (264553) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:31AM (#29527101) Homepage

      The spire of the Empire State Building in NYC originally contained an airship docking port on the 102nd floor.

      Although this idea sounds awesome [wordpress.com] in theory, it was incredibly dangerous in practice, and no airships ever managed to safely dock with the building due to severe winds and updrafts.

      The idea was eventually scrapped, and the spire was converted for use as a transmission aerial, which is still in operation today. The building still retains several peculiarities relating to the unused airship terminal.

      Coincidentally, a few years later the building would later survive a direct hit from a B-25 relatively unscathed. The idea of a rooftop air terminal was later resurrected with the construction of a helipad on top of the nearby Pan-Am building, which also proved to be extremely dangerous, and was permanently closed after an accident in the 1970s.

    • by taniwha (70410) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:33AM (#29527115) Homepage Journal
      well normal (neutral buoyancy) airships don't like to be too close to the ground - wind can blow them into it and damage them - that's why they dock at masts - and why you don't see them take off (they're already off) - this thing is a hybrid - heavier than air but not by much - it needs to be able to do this so it can land and be refueled in the field without building the towers and honking big hangers that blimps need
    • by Eudial (590661) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:43AM (#29527147)

      That video was pretty ridiculous. The music doesn't make any sense. It's like out of a montage in an action movie (Under Siege? It has that Steven Segal quality...), and the contrast to that thing wobbling around makes it all the more laughable.

    • No more less graceful then an ordinary airplane on a windy day. It just looks more wobbly because of its bulk. That and I am sure because it is a brand new aircraft it is not flown by pilots who have decades of experience flying such an aircraft or something simular.

    • by Thelasko (1196535)

      Much romance surrounds travel by blimps/airships as they float gracefully through the air. But on watching that video, i have to say it it seems to be one of the least elegant take-offs (and landing) around.

      Which is why I prefer the Yakety Sax remix of the video linked in TFA. [youtube.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by oldspewey (1303305)
      They totally need to paint this thing pink and give it ears and a tail like a pig. That would be the most awesome military aircraft ever.
      • They totally need to paint this thing pink and give it ears and a tail like a pig. That would be the most awesome military aircraft ever.

        And then hang some rock concert speakers below it, and crank up "Animals."

    • Sir, an enemy craft is approaching!
      What is it man?
      It appears to be ... an Air Hippo.
      My. God.

    • Not to mention that it has the unfortunate front and rear profiles of a butt with two butt-cracks. Definitely designed for function rather than form.

  • hahahaha (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tomfrh (719891) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:19AM (#29526575)

    With this new Imperial Probe Droid those rebels don't stand a chance!!!!

  • by IBBoard (1128019) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:21AM (#29526599) Homepage

    Nice headline! "250-Foot Hybrid Airship To Spy Over Afghanistan In" - in what? In November? In 2010? In next ten years? In mission to provide big target in sky? In huge ball of flames? In super-secret mission that no-one knows about?

  • by gerddie (173963)

    Lucky there's a war going on, so we can test our new equipment. </sarcasm>

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:28AM (#29526639)

    "DARPA's goals for Vulture are not trivial: 5 years on station with a 450kg/ 1,000lb payload, 5kW of onboard power, and sufficient loiter speed to stay on station for 99% of the time against winds encountered at 60,000-90,000 feet."

    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/DARPAs-Vulture-What-Goes-Up-Neednt-Come-Down-04852/ [defenseindustrydaily.com]

  • by UncleWilly (1128141) * <UncleWilly07@noSPaM.gmail.com> on Thursday September 24, 2009 @05:58AM (#29526753)

    After painting evil elephant faces on them, and adding mini-gun trunks.

    Oh, to be an (telecommuting) operator. Sitting at a bar in Georgetown, gunning down bad guys with your own killer-flying-elephant, half a world away.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by NoYob (1630681)
      Yeah! And charge $10 for the "game". It'll have others do the dirty work and it will help pay for the war itself - brilliant!
    • by JWSmythe (446288)

          I'm thinking more of bright yellow with a big smiley face on it.

          Then again, the flying Stay Puft Marshmallow Man look really works for them. Well, it worked for Gozer. :)

  • by surferx0 (1206364) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @06:33AM (#29526893)

    The crew of the airship has been made available to the public, the Army has recruited a rag-tag group of unlikely heroes brought together under impossible circumstances from completely different backgrounds and cultures including:

    -Guy with tough exterior yet internally continues on a never ending journey of soul searching
    -Hot chick who uses her hotness to tame the tough exterior of soul searching boy
    -Underage girl with mysterious supernatural abilities
    -Relatively hot chick who doesn't know she's hot and hangs out with guys that have obvious emotional problems
    -Overly cool guy who is infatuated with himself to hook up with any of these girls on the ship
    -Random tough guy who is there to do man tasks like open jars and move furniture for all these emo boys and girls
    -Some non-human creature that nobody really knows why is even there in the first place
    -Pilot, named Cid, reportedly just completed rehab for alcoholism and a gambling addiction.

  • by ciderVisor (1318765) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @06:36AM (#29526909)

    Master, master
    This is recorded through a fly's ear
    And you have to have a fly's eye to see it

    It's the thing that's gonna make Captain Beefheart
    And his magic band fat

    Frank, it's the big hit ! It's the blimp !

    It's the blimp, Frank ! It's the blimp !

  • by catmandi (995992) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @06:45AM (#29526927) Homepage
    This kind of airship will, once at operating altitude, be essentially be impossible to shoot down unless the enemy has a true SAM based defense (e.g. SA-11). SAM would have no problems locking on, as they tend to be driven by an active radar on the ground - I doubt you could hide something that big from radar in any useful way (although, I wonder if making it extra radar reflective might not actually work better since it would give the missile to large an area to aim for?). Stingers have a useful ceiling of around 15,000 feet, and they're driven by infra-red, which means you probably wouldn't get a lock on.* The only other thing that would work would be a proper flak gun at around 88mm. While there's a lot of those lying around Afghanistan, getting them in working order, manning them, and providing reliable ammo would all be very problematic. Remember that flak is only really useful if someone is manning it 24/7 - the ceiling might be enough, but the range is terrible. * Of course, the problem with all this is that given the MOUNTAINS in Afghanistan, I wonder if there isn't a shoulder fired active radar missile available. The ceiling wouldn't have to be 20,000 feet, but rather 20,000 feet - the height of the mountain the defender is standing on. Also, it looks gay.
    • "I doubt you could hide something that big from radar in any useful way"
      IMHO, a plastic balloon hasjust zero radar signature. Of course the undelying structure needed to attach propellers and cabin may be detectable, but for sure would I be resp. for developing this thing I definitely would propose as an option to our dear military clients something purely plastic/fiberglass or so...

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        I've gone around on a similar subject with some folks. Ya, the plastic skin (assuming it is) would be mostly invisible, but there are always pesky bits like the motors, fuel tanks, etc, etc. But, they're considering it for war against a country with no military other than our own. Radar visibility isn't a big deal. They don't even have to worry about other aircraft. It's biggest threat is ... well ... someone building their own solid/liquid fueled rockets (like an Estes model rocket on

  • by PHPfanboy (841183) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:03AM (#29526983)

    As for the LEMV: a 40-foot long, 15-foot wide area behind the only sometimes-manned cockpit will carry intelligence systems, like radar and wide-area motion sensors, that will beam information back to commanders on the ground.

    sometimes-manned.

    "Guys, I had to parachute down to get some more water supplies and left the thing running at 20,000 feet. How do I get back up?"

  • Does it run Linux?
  • Laugh, Funny Boy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar (714234)

    Somebody named Toe, The pulls a PKB and says: "both awe and hilarity".

    Go on and laugh. The Army captain from 117 Space BN will be sitting in Huntsville laughing when you don't notice the laser with which he's painting you. And the Air Force lieutenant sitting in base ops in Pueblo driving the Predator will be laughing when she drops the Hellfire to home in on the reflected laser. And you three can laugh and laugh and laugh until suddenly there's two of them laughing and laughing and a cloud of well done mea

  • #2 (Score:4, Funny)

    by stox (131684) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @07:58AM (#29527207) Homepage

    Thunderbirds are go!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 24, 2009 @08:19AM (#29527315)

    And now an airship with three buttocks.

  • by spyrochaete (707033) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @08:22AM (#29527337) Homepage Journal

    From down here it looks like a participle!

  • by mikeabbott420 (744514) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @08:49AM (#29527491) Journal
    Call Nick Fury at SHIELD, find out how big he wants his.
  • Welcome to the dawn of a new era!

  • Launch all Zig! For great justice!

  • That explains all of those UFO sightings... "It was just hovering there in mid-air!"

  • FF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kellyb9 (954229) on Thursday September 24, 2009 @10:00AM (#29528213)
    Wow - no Final Fantasy references yet... and to think I was about to dust off my gunblade.
  • Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from GhostBusters...

You have a tendency to feel you are superior to most computers.

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