Robo spy-zeppelin prototype in test flight
Loitering-peeper Pinky-Ponk droid gets high
Vid An American firm has carried out flight tests of a prototype robotic spy dirigible, intended ultimately to lurk high in the skies for days carrying surveillance gear.
Needless to say, a vid was posted to YouTube in short order:
(Please check that you have Flash and your firewall is YouTube-friendly before commenting to the effect that it isn't there.)
The initial R&D testbed is eventually intended to become a fully-fledged droid zeppelin, able to cruise at 60 knots 15,000 feet up for better than two days. Such long "loiter" times are much prized in military intelligence and reconnaissance circles, and the L-15 design is also supposed to be able to lift a 1,000lb payload of surveillance peer-gear.
Former blimp pilot Paul Adams and ex-airforce colonel (and former Space Shuttle ground controller) Sandy Mangold run Airship Surveillance. The duo reckon they can get better performance than other zepp promoters because of their special gasbag tech sauce.
This appears to be partly a matter of the "optimally shaped" hard structure of their design, allowing air to flow smoothly along its whole length. The unusually large Pinky-Ponk* style tail prop apparently gives especially good fuel economy, too.
The planned full-size robo-skyship will not require the large ground crews of yesteryear, seemingly, as it will be especially manoeuvrable during berthing and takeoff - equipped with a bow thruster and semi-automated handling.
Water ballast will also be recovered from the engine exhaust during flight to compensate for burnt fuel, thus allowing the ship to be neutrally or negatively buoyant on landing without the need to valve off expensive helium. This last feature is actually something of a blast from the past, having been used on the US Navy's mighty 1930s flying aircraft carrier dirigibles - USS Akron and Macon.
Adams and Mangold reckon they could do you a manned ship, too, no trouble - but sadly for the moment their aspirations seem to be limited to military/securo loitering peeper platforms as opposed to splendid air yachts, skyliners, aerial warplane bases etc.®
*Those who lack small kids or an early-evening cannabis habit - and hence don't watch In The Night Garden - may not be familiar with the Pinky-Ponk. It is an apparently autonomous airship with a large tail-mounted propellor (and many little paddles, props, lights etc all over it) which flies about making farting sounds and occasionally carrying Makka Pakka and the rest of the cast about their obscure, mildly hallucinogenic business.