The US Air Force recently cancelled its proposed Blue Devil II persistent surveillance airship project, but the US Army is pressing ahead with its plans for a similar vehicle. The prototype of the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV, flew for the first time on August 7th. Ares reports:
The Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command statement says:
"The first flight primary objective was to perform a safe launch and recovery with a secondary objective to verify the flight control system operation. Additional first flight objectives included airworthiness testing and demonstration, and system level performance verification. All objectives were met during the first flight."
When Northrop signed the $154 million contract for the LEMV in June 2010, first flight was scheduled for 12-13 months into the 18-month development program. The airship is planned to deploy to Afghanistan after the completion of testing, which would now put it into early 2013.
The airship is designed to operate unmanned at 20,000 ft. for 21 days; providing up to 16kW of electrical power for a 2,500 lb. payload of several different sensors. Hybrid Air Vehicles of the UK is the subcontractor responsible for the airship itself.
The LEMV is optionally manned and flew with a crew for this first flight. "Additional manned flights will resume following a planned and very detailed inspection of the vehicle," says the Army.
There's more at the link. Here's a video clip of the LEMV's first flight.
It's good to see an airship in the air again, particularly one combining the lifting effects of gas with an aerodynamically-shaped 'body' providing lift as well. It'll be very interesting to see whether the Army's plans for this vehicle come to fruition.