The US Army seems to be moving to acquire a robotic spy blimp, able to float high in the sky for lengthy periods and monitor activities on the ground below. According to a routine Pentagon summary dated yesterday, Telford Aviation of Dothan, Alabama was awarded an $11,195,164 contract for "operational support for Medium …
A *Explosion* of arial spying ???
Bit of an unfortunate phrasing, shurly, in view of the Hindenberg incident...
And the mind boggles at the thought of massive blimp-jams over the Middle East, all jostling for a better view.....
faint visual signature !
It's a blimp the size of a basketball field... exactly how does it have a 'faint visual signature'... my 94 year old grandfather could see it 10 miles away and he's registered blind.
Cool! They've got blimps!
They were testing these suckers out over Washington, DC about three years back. Over a week or two they were seen cruising night and day all over the city and suburbs.
They can light up from the inside. I was walking to work early one morning before the sun came up and saw this light bulb cruising along a few blocks away. I thought the Idea Men were attacking.
Well, over 10,000 feet is fine for avoiding Stingers, but not much use if the cloudbase is below 10k unless you want to spy on the clouds, or have cloud-penetrating cameras.
Personally, I think Stingers are great - they're the the cheekiest chew bar on the planet.
KISS.... Keep IT Simple Stupid.
"But it costs like crazy to monitor people from above with most of those - especiually for any sustained period - and in many cases a target will know that the spy platform is there."
Do they try communicating whilst tracking ......just to hear if the subject has plans to share. Just in case he thinks he's invisible. If he's up to no good that will rattle him which is that game as good as over for the bad guys. The SMART ones see the Bigger Picture and turn to Official Control. Being targetted personally with/for Propaganda would surely having you to defend/explain any Interest.
It would certainly demonstrate so ProActive Psychological OutPut .... and Goodness knows what you would discover.
"my 94 year old grandfather could see it 10 miles away"
True - if he knew where to look. There's a manned airship that operates near my home more-or-less regularly; it's probably a good 4x the size of this unmanned blimp. The only times I see it are when it's near the horizon directly in front of me when I am driving home. If it's flying above 2,000 feet (or about 610 meters), the engines are quiet enough that I can't hear it above normal noises in my neighborhood.
I'm out actively looking for it frequently (so sad, I'm a blimp-spotter), but I still onlt see it once or twice a month.
The Army's version will not be on a predictable schedule, and it's more likely to be directly overhead than on the horizon, so will be effectively smaller visually - that's the same effect that makes a full Moon visually smaller overhead than on the horizon - and spotting it will take a great deal of luck. If it's flying at night, you'd have a better chance of spotting Fatima doing the Dance of Seven Veils 10 miles away (which would be preferred viewing anyhow if you were a normal man).
Tough to spot...
A blimp the size of a basketball court would be 94 feet long, and in this case, would fly in excess of 10,000 feet of altitude.
Boeing's planned 747-8 will be 251 feet long (2.6 times longer), and commercial jetliners typically cruise between 28,000 and 35,000 feet (as much as 2.8-3.4 times higher).
I don't know about anyone else, but when a jetliner is at cruising altitude, the only ways I can usually spot one is by the contrail it sometimes leaves, or the sound of it's engines. The "visual signature" between the blimp and a jetliner should be roughly comparable, but without loud engines or a contrail, I think it's fair to say that the blimp would be "very hard to notice at night" as the article suggests.
Now having said that, the 80,000 cu. ft. version may be a different story...
The future is here
I think this is for homeland security rather than the battlefield although I thnk it's a great idea. No vision of the future is complete without a blimp in the sky.
For a balloon with a digital camera glued to it? Awesome where do I sign up for one of these?
Cheap? 35 years ago I worked on some airborne reconnaisance platforms. The cost of the electronics was more than three times the cost of the airframe. Make it unmanned with a ground base and up the system cost to at least seven times the cost of the airframe. I.E., as the Nobel Prize winning late economist Milton Friendman said, "There ain't no free lunch." As far as evading missiles, the US thought it was safe to spy on Russia until Francis Gary Powers flew over Russia; scratch one U-2.
This contract award is on an existing contract where Beechcraft King Air aircraft are fitted with cameras. It has absolutely nothing to do with the rather pathetic airship being developed by Telford and SAIC. $11M for that would be incredible!