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back to article Huge new airships for US Army: designed in Blighty

British engineers are to partner with a major US defence contractor to build a large "optionally manned" robot spy airship, intended to lurk for three weeks at a time in the skies above Afghanistan. The LEMV airship to be built for the US Army. Credit: Northrop/HAV Now that's a big robot. American arms'n'aerospace goliath …

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Cool

That's it really....genius engineering...cool.

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Thunderbirds are go!

Looks like thunderbird 2, but white

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the rays, the rays

I was going to say that!

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Drawback

"in the skies above Afghanistan"

I'm entirely in favour of the technology, bu won't it be rather a large target for the Taliban?

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Joke

Not if it has a loudspeaker-

Saying:- "Allah here- don't shoot at me. I'm watching you..."

Anon...

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Large target, but consider the enemy

When your strategy is to bomb people (further) back into the stone age before putting a boot on the ground, then floating just above thrown-stone height seems fairly safe.

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Go

20,000 feet ?

and you can bet your life that's the official ceiling ... I wouldn't be surprised to learn they can go to 30,000 +

look up in the sky, con trails excepted, you can't see a plane that high. Sure, a highly-equipped air defence could, but that's one thing the taliban ain't. I would imagine all sorts of radar profile tricks will be used to make it virtually invisible anyway.

Hopefully the video systems fitted to these beasts will be sensitive enough to spot small changes in terrain over a few hours to indicate where IEDs are buried. Who knows, maybe it would be possible to fit them with a laser sight to pick out areas on the ground to avoid. They could certainly feed GPS co-ordinates in real time to expeditionary vehicles.

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Black Helicopters

The Taleban have got a poor idigenous weapons industry..

but a lot of money.

And money can always buy weapons, from SA or Israel, or Russia, or China, or even the US....

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FAIL

Er what now?

> I would imagine all sorts of radar profile tricks will be used to make it virtually invisible anyway.

Really? You think its possible to hide a BLIMP from radar? Seriously?

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Grenade

not sure of your point ?

or is that sarcasm ?

The structure will be sufficiently large to have *some* radar signature. You might need some quite fancy toys to see it, but it won't be invisible.

Anyway, even if the taliban do spot it and fire on it, they'd have to give their own position away doing it ....

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Joke

Under development......

"Taliban develop large pins to pop US baloons".

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Big Brother

a

Awesome, as we all know you can't be living in a dystopian future without airships floating around.

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Of course

"Not if it has a loudspeaker"

Fair point. They could just play music... (Ride of the Valkyries, perhaps)

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Alert

But JP,

they will be too high** to enjoy the smell of napalm in the morning.

**high in any way you want - they're US forces, after all.

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Headmaster

optinal Extra's

Mebbe pack it out with 50 or so unmanned Drones !!!

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Well let's hope it works better this time round...

...the last airship we sold to the US exploded over the Humber:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R38_class_airship

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Would make...

a great platform for guided bombs.

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LEMI?

Soon to be known as the Kilmister...

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About bleedin time

This should have been done ages ago. Only the army would be willing enough to have an un-sexy, but perfectly functional system such as this. It is a pity the air force had to go and scupper them at every turn.

Forget weapons, they just add complexity and fast jets can deliver them. Having a nice and semi-perminant eye in the sky monitoring and co-ordinating eveything is exactly what the grunts want. I hope they put people on them rather than going the whole un-manned route. People with brains, a keen eye for patterns and doing week long tours in the sky will be worth their weight in gold to the soldiers on the ground. Adding communication nodes to the hybrids will be pretty useful too...

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Anonymous Coward

Actually, Air balloons could be easily made invisible to the naked eye.

With a twin skin reflective internal and translucent external, the internal reflection of light around the wals, would easily make the thing effectively merge in.

That said. At 6 miles high. To anyone who doesn't suffer blue entopic syndrome, the thing would be effectively invisible anyway. And I imagine that without crew it could sit higher. It's not like the Taliban have Vulcans and Growlers doing Ironman impersonations.

Bearing in mind the alleged resolution of some spy cameras, at 100 miles or more up. The angle of incidence would be ludicrous. If a spy sat can see to say, 0.66 inches per pixel, this would be able to read the newspaper from 6 miles. Also, spy sats have to move. This doesn't.

What I'd use it for though is rapid terrain scanning. At this resolution, you could blitz areas on a daily basis and do differential analysis on the pictures of the dirt between the days. In the same way Kestrels see mouse piss as bright light, this would see the actual trail of the nutters, or better still, disturbed earth.

Hey presto, infra red picture of the nutters digging holes, and if they missed it, differential picture of the ground between nightime and morning, where they've planted the IED.

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Boffin

It moves

"Also, spy sats have to move. This doesn't."

Dynamic lift, remember? It has to move in a circle, unless there is

just the right kind of headwind (unlikely).

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Well, okay, Mr. Pedant...

...but moving in a circle over a target ain't even close to falling in a circle around the entire planet. We're taking several orders of magnitude difference... for the purposes of this discussion an airship is stationary.

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Reflective skin on an airship?

Bad idea, that: it would cause the sun to reflect off the skin and create a huge heliograph broadcast of the balloon's location.

Much better would be a flat light grey or blue-grey... like the Air Force uses on its cargo planes, for example.

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Another way...

To allow an airship to stay up without the constant consumption of fuel, and yet to have it land without venting helium... one could have it get most of its buoyancy from large helium gasbags, but to have a small hydrogen balloon tethered far above the rest of the airship at a safe distance to pull it upwards for that last little bit of lift.

That would allow indefinite hovering, and if the hydrogen balloon is lost, the other techniques remain for landing gradually.

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Boffin

Neutral-bouyancy fuel

The technologically elegant solution is fuel with the same density as air. Inflate a gasbag with methane, which is lighter than air. Burn a mixture of methane and liquid fuel such that the loss of bouyancy attributable to the methane you've burned always equals the loss of weight of the liquid fuel you've burned. Or use a mostly-ethane gas mix with the exact same density as air.

Back to inflammable gasbags, of course ... the Hindenburg casts a long shadow. But surely the lesser propensity for methane or ethane to leak and ignite coupled with modern polymers for leakproof bags ought to be safe enough for an unmanned platform?

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Bah!

Nice cleft.

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The blimp's last words

I know nothing about aeronautics, so here's comes a silly question or 2.

Where's that 30,000 ceiling measured from?

Isn't Afghanistan high above sea level?

So isn't that a few thousand feet less they'd have to lob a missile?

If I were a Taliban commander, and thought I could do half-a-billion's worth of damage in one go, I might just submit a CapEx form for some suitable Russian or Chinese surplus kit.

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Heat seeking

Russian designed AA missiles tend to be heat seeking. For most aircraft this means high performance engines with fast spinning turbines/propellers tend to attract the seekers. For a blimp, it will use bigger propellers or impellers turning slowly and thus will not generate much heat as the lift is being provided by the helium. Naturally they will have the full counter measures suite fitted just in case...

Radar guided missiles tend to need a large power source and antenna nearby to guide the missile. With god knows how many bored US jets patrolling the sky, any the Taleban purchase will not last long!

As for height, that will affect the missiles as well as the aircraft as thinner air reduces their thrust. Anything that can actually reach 20,000ft would have to be quite large and thus quite easily targeted by patrolling jets. All allied aircraft have full counter-measures suites and so far they seem to be working well, forcing the Taleban to use rocket propelled grenades for helicopters coming into to land as opposed to being able to shoot them at range with a proper AA missile. It is very easy to get old AA missiles on the black market, much harder to get the newer and more effective ones, even the Russians and Chinese keep very strict controls over them.

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Boffin

Missile thrust

"As for height, that will affect the missiles as well as the aircraft as thinner air reduces their thrust."

True only for a jet-propelled cruise missile. A true rocket, like found in all anti-aircraft missiles, just flies better if the air is thinner! It does not need air either to burn, or to push against. Their ceiling depends only on the amount of propellant.

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Quick answers

30,000' from sea level. Yes, Afghanistan is high up. Yes, it's a bit less to lob a projectile. But (a) with US ECM tech and (b) given that it'll be unmanned in action, then shooting it down will be difficult; will reveal the AA missile launcher; and will only cost the Americans the cost of the airship, which is probably on a similar magnitude of expense as the AA missile would be to the Taliban (with a much smaller budget), so the shoot-down would be pointless except perhaps as a diversionary tactic.

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Anonymous Coward

Also,

"Conventional airships could never fulfil the Walrus requirement as they had to take on equal tonnages of water ballast when offloading heavy cargo. This was to prevent them becoming uncontrollably buoyant and surging wildly off the ground - then to soar through their "pressure height" and lose most of their helium."

What's wrong with a small petrol powered vacuum pump that reduces the pressure into a gas tank to reduce buoyancy.

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@Stevie

Careful - you'll have the moderatrix after you! Mind you, if they made it the right colour, it could scare the Taliban witless...

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Terminator

The great thing...

about airships is that you can dress one up as a giant George W. Bush and have it fly around Afghanistan broadcasting (in a folksy impersonation of GWB) "you misunderestimate us at your peril", "Bring it on!" or maybe "Taliban, you thought you struck me down, but I have come back more powerful than you can possibly imagine!!"

And you can defray the cost to taxpayers AND really piss off the Taliban by putting some beer signage and "Girls Gone Wild" video advertising on the sides of the thing!!

Death from above!!

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Pink Floyd "Animals" balloon

That thing really reminds me of the Pink Floyd pig balloon that was tethered to some disused power plant for the "Animals" album.

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Go

Pig on the wing!

Which escaped it's earthly bonds over Battersea Power Station and eventually landed on a pig farm in Essex.

Airline pilots flying over London were told to watch out for a thirty-foot long pink piggy 'flying' between 10,000 and 25,000 feet!

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Stingers we gave to the mujahadeen.....

Lets see, 15,000 feet range + 10,000 foot mountain = that thing may be about 5,000 foot too low.

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Coat

As designed by Hugh Jarse

Ah, I see how it works!

While the Taliban are ROFLing because someone put a giant American Arse in the sky, the US Bum-Blimp will drop, er, sh1t on them.

If they paint it blue, they could make it look like an overstuffed pair of jeans.

Yep, that's mine with the Spiinal Tap badge.

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Solar panels

As above - how many solar panels could be fitted to the top of one of those - and would it be enough to keep the electric engines going?

That would keep the generators off for 14 hours a day.

ttfn

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NASA Space projects for this Crap!!

NASA Space projects for this Crap!! To they(US President) will cancel Nasa spending for earth bound objects.

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Flame

Anyone notice the registration?

G-CHAV!!!!

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Specsavers

Should've paid 'em a visit.

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Grenade

New type of suicide bomber!

You've had explosive belts, bikes, cars, buses, vans, trucks and planes - bring on the era of the suicide balloonist*

Stick a man in a basket with a load of helium balloons, a large fan and a one way ticket to paradise and they'll be floating up to an elevated launch platform to shoot at the big floating infidel in the sky. A couple of RPGs and they have air-to-air missiles!

* I didn't say this would be likely to work - it would be total luck if they got within a 10K of an airship, even if they knew where it was first.

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I must admit...

... I'd quite like one. It looks like it could be the aerial equivalent of living on a narrowboat. I'm a bit put off by the requirement for constant dynamic lift, but I guess a large, lazy, drifting circle would be fine. I presume it'll have an autopilot? Radar? Some sort of TCAS widget?

Where do I sign?

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