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Monster Afghan spy airship to feature quad drinking straws

Also: New vid of unsold P-791 Walrus suck-belly ship

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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:

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.)

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