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Blimps Ahoy!

Airlander 04

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) have brought back their demonstrator HAV304 from the US Army, after the cancellation of the Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) programme.

Now renamed Airlander 10, HAV plan to reassemble the Airlander 10 in the UK (subject to raising £10 million) and fly it on a demonstrator tour during 2015-16 for a planned bigger model. The tour will primarily include Canada and the US, before a planned finish in Rio de Janeiro in time for the Olympics.

Airlander 01 Airlander 02 Airlander 03 Airlander 04

Should the MoD help fund the Airlander 10?

Other than being an area that the UK could take the lead in, this could also be a relatively inexpensive way of undertaking some practical experimentation of the utility of Airships?

I’m not suggesting that airships could directly replace any current or planned platforms, but perhaps it could supplement in ISTAR and Transport roles?

Imagine an unmanned version of one of these in Mali, loitering over the battlefield for days at a time with the combined sensor power of Sentinel and Gorgon Stare?

Or acting as a mobile skycrane during the flooding?

Perhaps an MPA or overland communications relay?

The Airlander 50 model has a planned range of 4,815 kms, which from RAF Brize Norton, would allow it to self deploy to all of North Africa and Cyprus.

A model based at Waddington would easily be able to cover the entire UK EEZ / SAR region, albeit its not clear how well it would perform during poor weather.

Original story:

Hybrid Air Vehicles:

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32 Responses

  1. Perhaps DFiD should help fund it, the potential for disaster relief is tremendous.

  2. Thanks TD for adding the videos and images to my post.

    Ian – That’s definitely an idea. Point is that a reasonably small investment from the UK Govt could fund a series of trials involving the Airlander to investigate the practicality of the Airships.

  3. No idea at all what the military utility of this is, but if I win the lottery I’m definitely booking a ticket…maybe the Boss could negotiate a block booking discount and we could have a TD floating seminar on it?


  4. In tight times, I can’t see the government too keen to fund a rejected US defence program.

  5. Can’t help thinking it would benefit from replacing Helium wit Hydrogen.

    The big airship disasters of the 30s were as much attributable to unfortunate envelope materials and surface treatments as they were to the flammability of the gas. Hydrogen is lighter than Helium, much more common and cheaper, can be made almost anywhere with water and electricity, and is less dangerous than petrol* – go hydrogen. Greater lift for the volume, or smaller blimps for the same payload.

    As for utility, they make easy targets so not ideal in hostile skies, but for either stand-off surveillance or cargo duties to secure territory (via secure airspace obviously) they might be useful. Give or take safety certification probably their best future remains civilian transport (passengers or cargo) and disaster relief. Anyone know if this has a rigid frame or if its a proper dirigible? If the latter it would be interesting to see just how small it packages without full gas bags, such that it might be stowed as cargo on disaster relief vessels and pumped up on site if needed? Note this is another case where not using Helium makes the job easier…

    *Hydrogen vs. petrol – when petrol spills and burns the vapours are heavy and drape the ground, thus burning anything within the area the vapour extends across, but Hydrogen being light goes straight up whether burning or not, generally leaving goods and personnel unburnt beneath. Not that you’d field a system without fire prevention measures – firstly losing buoyancy is a bad thing if the ground is a long way down, secondly it can be a bit fierce when it burns such that ‘fire’ behaves more like ‘explosion’ even if the gas is not contained. But in the big scheme of things, Hydrogen’s dangers are perhaps less than feared by public belief.

  6. @Chris: all excellent points vs H2. But I suspect only applicable to unmanned platforms methinks :-)

    Personally, I’m all in favour of cheap barrage balloons for cruise missile defence :-)

  7. wf – having seen the extraordinary risk phobia exhibited by CAA mandated ‘safety’ measures at Goodwood’s Revival (600yd wide spectator exclusion zones on the perimeter track for the duration of defined air displays, combat aircraft only permitted lazy part throttle turns, etc) I can only agree – whether its safe in real terms or not, CAA couldn’t permit H2 filled passenger aircraft – H&S fuelled paroxysms of fear of legal action would grip CAA corridors, H&S gnomes would go grey with the worry that they might have taken (gasp!) a risk…

    Funny really; I have always been of the opinion that life is a continual game of risks and benefits; sometimes the risk outweighs the benefit, sometimes the benefit outweighs the risk, but its right and proper that we can take risks if we chose. Life is still fatal – none of us will avoid its departure. I’d prefer to be left to live life to the full by my own assessment of what risks I will take, rather than have some faceless official (resplendent in a hi-vis tabard) deciding what I may be permitted to do ‘for my own good’…

    Oops sorry rant over.

  8. How will it perform in bad weather?

    It’s obvious TD….

    It will do what airships always do… It will crash. And will if filled with hydrogen burn.

    If you look at the history of those military units that had a real use for them like USA in between the wars. Apart from enemy action, bad weather got a lot of them.

    This thing no different.

    Trips round the bay weather permitting fine bit of advertising great. Long range All weather use suicidal.

  9. The BBC have been all over this story:

    On helium rather than hydrogen, Bruce Dickinson ( yes, THAT Bruce Dickinson ) explained that a major advantage is that because helium is heavier than hydrogen, the ship won’t just float away, and doesn’t need an army of ground crew to wrestle it to a landing spot.

    Airships are of course completely bonkers, which I reckon makes them absolutely essential. It would be a dull world without a bit of oddness.

  10. Oh dear. With great excitement I followed TD’s link to the competition for a trip on the maiden flight, only to discover that I would have to agree to my details being handed over to anyone willing to buy them so that they could try and flog me something. I hate cold callers. There is a special place in Hell reserved for cold callers. It is right next door to where they keep the people who say: “There’s no reason for it; it’s just our policy.”

  11. @Chris

    The problem with lighter than aircraft using hydrogen is that as the fuel is burnt the hydrogen has to be vented and therefore the airship trails a cloud of hydrogen ready to be ignited by static, lightening, or sparks from an engine.

    The Zeppelins had a system of capturing their exhaust gasses to reduce this problem.

    My understanding is that the Airlander 10 is a hybrid in that it is not necessarily lighter than air but of neutral buoyancy or a little heavier than air and relies on lift from its aerofoil section like any other airplane.

    Love to see it being tested especially in adverse weather. And if it does perform well could it be scaled down to provide a VTOL AEW facility for the new aircraft carriers.

  12. Interestingly, the US Navy used blimps for convoy escort, coastal anti-submarine patrol, and minesweeping from 1942 through the end of WW2. Starting the war with 8, by the end of the war Goodyear had produced 150 blimps for the Navy.

    “• During the course of the war, U.S. Navy blimps provided cover to an estimated 89,000 convoy vessels. Only one ship under the protection of navy dirigibles was ever sunk by a U-boat — an oil tanker named the Persephone.
    • Similarly, only one U.S. Navy blimp was ever lost in combat. The engagement occurred on the night of July 18, 1943 off the coast of Florida when the blimp K-74 attacked the German U-boat U-134 while surfaced. A malfunction prevented the airship from dropping its depth charges on the sub, which afforded the enemy gunners the chance to fire on the slow-moving target. The damaged craft was forced to crash land on the water. Its crew was picked up at daybreak by a patrol plane, but not before one of them was attacked and killed by a shark. The U-134 was destroyed on its homeward voyage by British bombers off Spain.”

    Perhaps it was the “small” size of the blimps used in WW2, but there are no reports of weather-related losses even though they escorted convoys across the North Atlantic.

  13. DejaVu – ref ballast issues – the answer is blindingly obvious (to a ‘Doc. Emmett L Brown’ type engineer)! Don’t vent buoyancy gas – burn it for fuel! It wouldn’t be a one-for-one weight trade but close enough for stubby wings to add or subtract to static buoyancy. No vented gas. No greenhouse gas emissions. Very cheap fuel. Enormous fuel capacity. What’s not to like?

    On the subject of bulbous aircraft, stubby wings and large cargo holds – just paint it green…

  14. ECS

    Also have a look at the airship crashes page on wiki. An awful lot of USN blimp J K L . Etc blown away in storm etc.

    A lot of them seem to have had bugger all to do with enemy action and a lot of them due to wind.

  15. ” “Aren’t airships useless in strong winds or severe weather?”

    Reality – Small non-rigid airships may have long-range difficulty in severe weather, but there are several recorded instances of large airships encountering severe squalls and passing through intact. The success of German zeppelins in severe weather came down to both great piloting skill as well as structural engineering. British and American rigid airships succumbed to bad weather in large part due to avoidable piloting errors and structural flaws.

    Today there are two major developments that further diminish bad weather as a problem for airships. Advances in weather tracking technology and the development of more powerful vectoring propulsion systems combine to help airships avoid inclement weather altogether or be able to ride out the storm. Advances in flight instrumentation, structural design techniques and material strengths could also serve to further enhance the durability of any modern rigid airships.

    Bad weather poses the greatest risk not to airships in flight, but to airships taking off and landing. Take off and landing procedures could be further developed with technology. In the event of poor weather conditions airships may delay a take-off or landing just as airplanes do.”

  16. ST.

    My great uncles worked on r 100 and r 101. Both aeronautical engineers. Both firmly of the opinion they were really dumb idea.

    They mentioned real problems with lots of areas no one mentions.

    The link you post effectively says yep they have real problems but if your skilful and lucky it’s all OK.

    Look at the thing floating around the hanger and imagine it in a 30- 40 knot gusting to 70 – 80. Whilst trying to land… or even steer a straight course.

    Airships are sailing ships, fixed wing aircraft are modern freighters.

  17. The link says they have a problem landing in bad weather. Don’t most aircraft?

    And isn’t sail making a comeback via new technology?

  18. When the pilot and significant investor Mr Dickinson is on record saying straight out that weather forecasting was one of the key improvements made for the technology you know that all those old LTA issues are still there!. For my money I’m sure there will be a place for this technology. That place is not going to be tied to carrier strike groups though.

    Personally, call me a romantic who never got over the Rotodyne if you will, but I think there’s more promise here:

    (paste link into browser)

    If they can get the technology to scale up and deliver even 70% of what they anticipate that could have a revolutionary impact on what a STOVL deck can deliver.

  19. Personally, I really like the idea of the Royal Navy getting a couple of these, but mainly for COD purposes. The old 20-ton or 50-ton SkyCat would be very well suited to the job. They are slow (ish), but at c.150kph not all that much slower than a helicopter… Most missions would probably see them operating from a forward base, e.g. Gibraltar or Cyprus for Mediterranean ops. They would just fly the payload (people, jet engines & spares) the final leg of the journey. Equipment would fly from Brize out to a forward base on a C-17 or A-400M, then switch to the SkyCat…

    For anything beyond support roles, i.e. genuine ISTAR, I think it’s doubtful that they’d be appropriate, given their weather limitations.

    In terms of sensor carrying, I think the one to watch is the Israeli ETOPs tethered platform. It provides a safe alternative to the low-end aerostats. In the basic version, it can carry an IR/EO turret, weighing about 20-30kg. In a larger version, though, it should be able to carry a much heavier payload, probably upwards of 100-150kg. This should be enough to loft a reasonably capable air defence radar, e.g. Sea Giraffe (the actual radar itself, not the other parts of it. In effect, it has the potential to give frigates a big boost in radar horizon, supplementing the proper radar, e.g. Artisan.

  20. @IXION – Both the USS Akron and the USS Macon were radical redesigns of the Zepplin craft which included dangerously weakened fins aft (a primary cause of the loss of the Macon). The USS Akron was lost primarily due to poor airmanship.

    However, neither of these losses have anything to do with blimps. Yes, there were weather-related losses to blimps during WW2, but that doesn’t have anything to do with their effectiveness.

  21. I hereby offer my sincerest apologies for that pun!

    entirely unintentional though I do wonder now whether there was anything subliminal knocking about after a ‘youf’ spent listening to ‘2 minutes to midnight’ and ‘Run to the hills’ with irritating regularity!

  22. This thing’s utility as a transport or skycrane would be limited – it can’t work as a skycrane because it can’t hover and retain lift, it’s a hybrid, not a pure lighter-than-air vehicle; it needs the dynamic lift from moving forwards to fly. That’s why it’s easier to handle on the ground, not because it’s He rather than H2 filled, Dickinson, you silly boy. And it has a payload of only 5t – though they’re planning a bigger one that can lift 60t.

    The COD idea is interesting, but it could be tricky getting one of those things (300 feet long, 100 feet wide) down on to a carrier deck (900 feet long, 300 feet wide). And it needs a minimum 1000-foot runway to take off again. (Remember: hybrid, not lighter-than-air.)

    Even the 60t payload version is really just a slower way of having a C-17.

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