Tag Archives: airships

Fleet of hybrid airships to conquer Arctic

One Per Cent: Fleet of hybrid airships to conquer Arctic.

Joel Shurkin, contributor


(Image: HAV)

Travelling through the Arctic is notoriously difficult and climate change is making it even harder. But there is a way to rise above the problem: the latest generation of lighter-than-air vehicles. Canadian company Discovery Air has signed a contract with the UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) to buy around 45 new hybrid air vehicles. These aircraft will be used across Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Whether taking out lumber from the forests or helping people access remote villages, transportation in Arctic Canada can be extrememly daunting. Most transportation is either by air, which is expensive, by boat, or by ice road. Rising winter temperatures, due to climate change, are likely to make Canada’s ice roads less stable and reduce the amount of time in winter in which they can safely be used.

Gordon Taylor, marketing director for HAV, says the vessels are technically neither airships nor blimps. While they do make use of non-explosive helium for lift, they also get substantial lift from the aerodynamic design of the fuselage.

HAV already has a major contract for hybrid vehicles with the US Defence Department for long-endurance surveillance vessels.

The vessels Discovery Air has ordered are HAV’s model 366, which Taylor says can carry 50 tonnes if they take off horizontally like an airplane and around 30 tonnes if they take off vertically. Not even the largest helicopters in the world can match that, explains Taylor.

One hundred and ten metres long, the vessels can reach altitudes of almost 3000 metres and can take off and land almost anywhere. The cargo will fit in the fuselage for very long trips or can hang beneath the ship for shorter ones. Later models can also be flown remotely.

DARPA at Phase 3 on solar powered surveillance strato-ship

DARPA at Phase 3 on solar powered surveillance strato-ship • The Register.

This technology has HUGE non-military potential, from portable self-powered comm towers to situation monitoring and aerial recon, to portable power generation;

The famed Pentagon Q-branch boffinry hothouse, DARPA, has unveiled another ambitious plan to further US military-technical dominance. It has given $400m to American weapons globocorp Lockheed to develop a solar-powered robot radar airship, able to lurk in the stratosphere for a year at a time, potentially tracking individual people walking about on the ground across areas 1200km wide.

DARPA concept of the ISIS radar airshipThe government spooks didn’t need numberplate tracking any more.

Yesterday’s contract announcement was for Phase 3 of DARPA’s Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS) project, in which a flying sub-scale demonstrator will be built to prove that the concept can work as planned. Phases 1 and 2 consisted mostly of design studies and materials work.

The idea of ISIS is to hugely improve on what a normal airship can do, by using the ship itself as a radar antenna rather than carrying a separate piece of machinery – hence the name. DARPA believe this will hugely increase the size of radar antenna a stratospheric airship can carry, which in turn means the radar would deliver much better sensor resolution for much less power.

The lowered power requirements of the ISIS radar-ship, DARPA believes, will mean it can run on solar power. Excess energy generated during the day will be stored by cracking water into hydrogen: at night, this will be burned in fuel cells to keep the ship flying and its radar shining even in darkness.

DARPA calculate that the ship should be able to cruise at 60 knots or sprint at 100, which will let it deploy from the US to a global troublespot in 10 days. It will then be able to hold station easily in the stratospheric “wind bucket” found at 65,000 to 70,000 feet, scanning the ground beneath it with its all-seeing radar mega-eye.

The performance of the massive scanner, according to DARPA, should be such that it can track unobscured “dismounts [people walking] across the entire line of sight” – in other words out to the horizon, which at operational height will be 600km away.

That said, the contract announcement suggests a slight bit of neck-winding, referring to an ability to track “all ground targets” to 300km. Closer in, the Pentagon boffins think, it will be capable of tracking such small objects even through overhanging foliage. Performance against easier airborne targets – planes, missiles etc. – would definitely be right out to the horizon at 600km.

If the ISIS can do all that DARPA suggest, it will handily trump most of the other aerial scanners in use by the US forces, including AWACS sky-scanner planes, the smaller E-2 Hawkeye AWACS that flies from US carriers, Joint STARS ground-sweeping tank sniffers, and the JLENS moored-balloon radar plan. The potential would be there perhaps to do without all these things, simply assigning a single ISIS ship in place of the several AWACS or whatever you formerly needed so as to keep one up on patrol.

An ISIS airship would potentially be vulnerable to enemy action, but at 70,000 feet only quite serious enemies – the sort who could also threaten AWACS or JSTARS aircraft – would have any chance of hitting it. And those planes carry large crews, whereas the ISIS is unmanned.

So this is potentially big news for the US military, the more so in that ISIS has now made it to Phase 3 – we’re no longer talking just about design studies here. The privacy/surveillance issues – the chance that ISIS spy-ships might lurk one day above US or allied territory, tracking every vehicle or even every person walking about – could be even more significant. Forget about numberplate cameras or face tracking; you’d have to live underground to avoid this sort of thing.

For those who’d like to know more, there’s a pdf on ISIS from DARPA here. ®

The giant Skylifter airships which can carry buildings hundreds of miles

The giant Skylifter airships which can carry buildings hundreds of miles | Mail Online.

  • Invention could see disaster-relief centres dropped into remote areas

Giant balloons that can carry loads over long distances could one day even transport entire buildings.

Australian firm Skylifter is developing a piloted airship that will carry up to 150 tonnes more than 1,200 miles.

They hope that the vehicles could one day carry rural hospitals and disaster-relief centres to remote areas.

See video of the prototype below

Skylifter balloon

Up and away: An artist’s impression of the 500ft Skylifter balloon which would be able to carry heavy loads over hundreds of miles

The airship's design means that it is extremely easy to steer, according to the Australian firm behind it

Steady as she goes: The airship’s design means that it is extremely easy to steer, according to the Australian firm behind it

The airship has been designed as a disc rather than a conventional cigar shape, which the developers say makes it easier to steer and carry heavy loads under different wind conditions.

Measuring 500ft across – the size of a football stadium – it will move using propellers which can be adjusted to change direction while the heavy weight of the load hanging underneath keeps the airship steady.

And the payload it carries will be 700 times that of a heavy cargo helicopter.


One small step: A scaled-down prototype of Skylifter, which its developers hope will one day carry a 150-tonne payload to remote areas


High hopes: The firm plans to launch a full-sized prototype, nearly 150ft wide, within the next three years

Skylifter has already produced a prototype called Betty which is just under 10ft across and can carry just over a pound in weight.

It has also produced a 60ft-wide prototype of the balloon design itself, without an engine.

The firm plans to launch a full-sized prototype, nearly 150ft wide, within the next three years.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1317510/The-giant-Skylifter-airships-carry-buildings-hundreds-miles.html#ixzz11bqwD9w8

spy airship should be used for DMAN

Monster Afghan spy airship to feature quad drinking straws • The Register.

This is actually really cool tech that has direct use in DMAN….

Free whitepaper – The Reg Guide to Solutions for the Virtual Era

US aero-weapons goliath Lockheed, builder of the famous P-791 airship prototype, was beaten to a half-billion-dollar deal to supply spy ships above Afghanistan earlier this year – but the firm is still marketing its P-791 technology aggressively.

Meanwhile details have emerged of the powerful surveillance gear to be carried by the winning airships, which will be built in the US to a British design.

First up, here’s a spanking new Lockheed marketing vid describing their ship:

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The P-791 was built in-house by Lockheed’s secretive “Skunk Works” advanced-projects arm, hoping to be selected for the now defunct “Walrus” project. This was a plan by the maverick Pentagon crazytech agency DARPA in the early years of the century to produce mighty cargo-hauling airships which would be able to drop off an entire US ground-combat battalion, fully equipped, in a single load, at an unprepared site.

In the event, the Walrus project was cancelled in 2006 and the only remaining buyer for a big airship became the US Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) project, seeking an “optionally manned” ship able to prowl the skies above Afghanistan for weeks at a time observing events beneath. Aerial surveillance at present is normally carried out by aeroplanes both manned and unmanned, but these have high running costs, require large servicing crews at their bases and several must be deployed in order to keep one on patrol.

Lockheed offered a P-791-derived craft for the LEMV programme, but was beaten to the deal by rival US arms megacorp Northrop Grumman, offering a ship designed by Blighty’s Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd.

This makes sense, as the LEMV mission is quite different from the Walrus one. The surveillance ship doesn’t need to carry nearly as much payload, instead being specified to reach twice the altitude – 20,000 feet as opposed to 10,000. (The Walrus’ low ceiling was essential for it to have any chance of lifting its planned load, but meant it would have been very vulnerable; this is probably why it was cancelled.)

The LEMV airship to be built for the US Army. Credit: Northrop/HAVYou could play a game of rugby on top of it. Well, actually everyone would fall off when a try was scored, but you get the idea.

Perhaps most critically of all, the LEMV has no requirement to offload heavy cargoes at unprepared sites like the Walrus. This is a primary reason why Lockheed’s P-791 uses a reversible aircushion undercarriage, so that the ship can suck itself down onto the ground and avoid surging uncontrollably skyward as troops and vehicles are unloaded – without the need to vent off costly helium.

The LEMV must still cope with the fact that it will burn up its fuel and become much lighter during a weeks-long surveillance mission, but this will be easily done by taking off in a heavy condition, aided by vertical thrust from its swivelling props and dynamic lift from forward motion. (Both P-791 and the LEMV are technically “hybrid” airships, intended to fly in a heavier-than-air state much of the time.)

Building of the Northrop/HAV LEMV is now under way, and it is expected to fly next year. In the meantime, some details of its capabilities are emerging.

It was announced this week that the LEMV will carry four Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) spyeye turrets, each featuring 1080p full-HD cameras allowing simultaneous “general surveillance” of an area while also carrying out “precise targeting” within that area at the same time. Meanwhile the other turrets can be looking at other places. Most current spycraft offer only a single “drinking straw” viewpoint of a small area; the LEMV will provide four.

The LEMV may well carry other payloads such as ground-scanning moving-target-indicator radars, but no details have yet been forthcoming. The massive ship, eight stories high and so long it would barely fit between the try lines of a rugby pitch, may carry different things on different missions: it is intended to offer “plug and play” swapping in and out of kit.

On the job the LEMV will usually be unmanned, but pilots will be carried for legal reasons in civil-controlled airspace.

Meanwhile Lockheed haven’t given up hope for the P-791.

“The P791 demonstration aircraft that we flew back in I think it was 2006 still exists,” Skunk engineer Bob Ruszkowski told Flightglobal last week. “It’s still in our hangar. It’s available to use again for other demonstrations. And we learned quite a bit from it, and like I said we’re exploring other opportunities for hybrid airships.” ®

Earth's helium reserves will run out within 25 years

Earth’s helium reserves ‘will run out within 25 years’ | Mail Online.

By Niall Firth
Last updated at 11:19 PM on 23rd August 2010


Helium is sold so cheaply that it is used to fill balloons for children, when it is actually a precious resource

It is more commonly known as the gas that fills cheap party balloons and makes your voice squeak if you inhale it.

But helium is actually a precious resource that is being squandered with Earth’s reserves of it due to run out within 25 to 30 years, experts have warned.

Earth’s resources of helium are being depleted at an astonishing rate, an effect which will spell disaster for hospitals which use it to cool MRI scanners.

The world’s biggest store of helium – the most commonly used inert gas – lies in a disused airfield in Amarillo, Texas, and is being sold off far too cheaply.

But in 1996, the US government passed a law which states that the facility – the US National Helium Reserve – must be completely sold off by 2015 to recoup the price of installing it.

This means that the helium, a non-renewable gas, is being quickly sold off at increasingly cheap prices, making it uneconomical to recycle.

Nasa uses the gas to clean its rockets of fuel while liquid helium is used to cool nuclear reactors and space telescopes.

Nobel laureate Robert Richardson, a professor of physics at Cornell University in New York,  told New Scientist magazine that once our helium reserves are gone there will be no way of replacing it.

He also warned that although some substitutes can be found for some applications where helium is used, it will be impossible to use a different material for MRI scanners

He told the magazine: There are some substitutes, but it can’t be replaced for cryogenics, where liquid helium cools superconducting magnets for MRI scanners.

What helium is used for

Airships: Helium gas is seen as a safer alternative to hydrogen for lifting airships and blimps because it is non-flammable

Doctors Giving Patient MRIMRI scanners: Its low boiling point makes it perfect for cooling metals to make them superconductive. it is used to cool the superconducting magnets in an  MRI scanner

Nasa rockets: Nasa uses helium to clean out rocket engines and pressurise the inside of rocket fuel engines

‘There is no other substance which has a lower boiling point than helium. It is also used in the manufacture of fibre optics and liquid crystal displays.

‘The use of helium in cryogenics is self-contained, in that the helium is recycled. The same could be done in other industries if helium was expensive enough that manufacturers thought recovering it was worthwhile.’

Helium is formed through the slow radioactive decay of rocks on Earth and nearly all of our reserves have been formed as a by-product of the extraction of natural gas.

The only way to obtain more helium would be to capture it from the decay of tritium – a radioactive hydrogen isotope, which the U.S. stopped making n 1988.

The US stores around 80 per cent of the world’s helium and so its decision to let it go at an extremely low price has a massive knock-on affect on its market.

But Professor Richardson said that low price of helium meant that it was being ‘squandered’ rather than being treated as a precious resource.

He said: ‘The problem is that these supplies will run out in a mere 25 years, and the US government has a policy of selling helium at a ridiculously low price.’

And he said that the only way to deal with the problem would be for the free market in helium to prevail.

He said this will mean that a helium balloon of the kind used at children’s parties would cost $100 in the future as the price soared.