Feeds

Plods scrap crap stealth spy blimp

It kept falling down the stairs in bad weather, guv

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Disappointed plods in Manchester have scrapped a cunning surveillance balloon intended to provide "eye in the sky" capability at less cost than police helicopters. The aerostat apparently could not cope with bad weather.

"It's become something of a joke," a police source told the Manchester Evening News, which broke the story.

"We experienced a number of technical and other problems with the blimp and it was decided, especially in the current climate, that it was neither cost effective nor operationally viable to maintain," Chief Superintendent Dave Anthony told the paper. As specialist operations chief of the Manchester force, the blimp unit - made up of five officers operating the aerostat from a specialist truck - was under his command.

Originally the spy balloon was deemed a "covert intelligence tool", despite being the size of a lorry when inflated, and as such the Manchester cops have been reluctant to discuss just how and where it was used during its short operational career. The aerostat apparently took to the skies just 18 times, leaving the plods rueful over its £80,000 cost.

The police have sought to suggest that the aerostat was intended mainly for use at large public events such as concerts or football matches, and reportedly it did see such employment. However, foolish as the idea of a "secret" or "covert" blimp might seem, it should be noted that an aerostat is far less obtrusive than a helicopter - especially at night.

Any resident of urban Britain who lives anywhere near a troubled council estate will know how obvious - and how irritating - the use of helicopters to monitor such neighbourhoods can be. It seems plain that the Manchester cops would have intended to use the silent balloon for this sort of work as well as crowd control.

In the event, though fitted with a 360-degree camera rated for a mile allround coverage, it would seem that the balloon's camera system wasn't adequately stabilised or capable of penetrating rain. Furthermore, the aerostat envelope would apparently rip or tear in adverse weather.

No doubt the poor performance of the blimp has justified the Manchester police's decision to bin it - but one might note that the force are keeping their helicopter, and £80,000 is not much money at all in the context of running a copter rated for night flight over urban areas. There has been much criticism for the fact that the aerostat cost the plods more than £4,000 for each time it went up - but that sort of cost would be normal for a few hours' helicopter flying time.

Maybe the cash-strapped Manchester cops should look into getting an autogyro instead - as it happens some ex- Special Ops pilots are offering one specifically for surveillance at the moment. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Musicians sue UK.gov over 'zero pay' copyright fix
Everyone else in Europe compensates us - why can't you?
Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it
Go ahead, you're all clear, kid... Sorry, wrong film
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Megaupload overlord Kim Dotcom: The US HAS RADICALISED ME!
Now my lawyers have bailed 'cos I'm 'OFFICIALLY' BROKE
Forget Hillary, HP's ex CARLY FIORINA 'wants to be next US Prez'
Former CEO has political ambitions again, according to Washington DC sources
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.