Airship ready for 21st century renaissance

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WFAA

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 8:29 AM

Updated Saturday, Aug 20 at 11:45 AM

When it lumbered into the air on its first successful test flight in 2006, the P-791 became Lockheed Martin's flagship entry into the resurgent airship business.

After five years of further development, the company is looking for customers, and through program manager Bob Boyd, was hoping to find some at the unmanned vehicle industry's conference and exhibition in Washington.

"Well we've got a couple of different applications, the primary one is moving cargo — cargo to remote areas, areas that don't have infrastructure, don't have airports, don't necessarily have roads, so to support mining and drilling operations, to support remote access to different applications," Boyd said.

But there's also a military application, either for transport or surveillance.

Using helium inside a three-lobed hull designed to maximize aerodynamic lift, the airship can stay aloft at altitudes of up to 20,000 feet for as long as three weeks at a time.

It can be equipped to give military planners a clear view of the battlefield from altitudes beyond the range of enemy missiles... but what if it does come under attack?

"It's not as vulnerable as one thinks," Boyd said. "In fact, airships actually do get bullet-holes periodically now. They're very low pressure, so not a whole lot happens when a bullet goes through.

Boyd said that with the technology established as safe and reliable, he expects to see different versions of the P-791 appearing in remote locations around the world within ten years.

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