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US Army's new $0.5bn British airship will fly 'mid-next summer'

Still puny vs '30s zeppelins - Reg units analysis

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The US Army's bold scheme to build a mighty optionally-crewed airship with the aid of British designers is going well, according to the ship's builders.

American defence-industrial mammoth Northrop, contracted to deliver the Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) ship to the US Army Space and Missile Defence Command, says that the ship has "completed three important program milestones" - reviews of the project's feasibility before manufacturing begins - and it is on track for first flight in "mid-next summer".

The LEMV is intended to cruise the skies above Afghanistan carrying multiple spyeye surveillance payloads at 20,000 foot altitude for up to three weeks at a time. It will normally be unmanned in operation, but will be able to carry a human crew when required - for instance while transiting through civil controlled airspace en route to and from the warzone.

"LEMV is longer than a football field1, taller than a seven-story building2 and will remain airborne for more than three weeks at a time3, delivering a high level of fuel efficiency. Fuel costs are minimal at $11,000 for a 21-day period of service. It's very green," says Alan Metzger, Northrop airships chief.

The LEMV airship is based on British firm Hybrid Air Vehicles' HAV304 design. It is designed to take off in a heavier-than-air condition aided by vectored thrust from its propellors, and maintain lift in the cruise aided by dynamic lift from forward flight as well as buoyancy from the helium in the envelope. This means that the ship will not become lighter-than-air as its fuel is burned up, and it will be able to land without needing to vent off expensive gas.

The $517m LEMV deal will see "up to three" LEMV ships built for the US Army. The project is the largest airship effort - in terms of both ship size and money - currently underway. However the LEMV, once flying, will be a tiddler compared to the mighty rigid airships of the pre-WWII era. The last of them, LZ-129 Hindenburg of Lakehurst disaster "oh the humanity" renown, was 800 feet long4. ®

Reg units conversion Bootnote

That is:

1As long as fifty genetic clone-sisters of Brigitte Nielsen (or any similar Hollywood giantess) lying down in a line head to heel.

2As tall as a typical present day multiheaded-pachyderm-deity religious idol for use in large scale milk absorption ceremonies.

3The amount of time it takes to manufacture a small, non-functional boat out of hemp and ice.

4A rough volume comparison would be equivalent to one between the brassiere cup capacity of redheaded arthouse darling Tilda Swinton (the LEMV) and that of deceased tragedy gold-digger TV goddess Anna Nicole Smith (the Hindenburg).

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