After many delays, it appears the U.S. Army has finally put its Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle -- a.k.a. a spy blimp -- to the test. Just inside New Jersey's coast the blimp made under Northrup Grumman's $154 million contract appeared to have been flown in plain view with at least one onlooker recording video.
Aviation Week reports the 90-minute flight taking place Tuesday near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Wrightstown, New Jersey. This video on YouTube (via Wired) is allegedly of the blimp's flight. The description calls it a "football-field-size airship with surveillance gear designed to do the work of a dozen drones." The user "jmeriney" writes that it was spotted over Patriots Park. Check it out:
“The first flight primary objective was to perform a safe launch and recovery with a secondary objective to verify the flight control system operation,” Army spokesman John Cummings said in a statement according to Wired. “Additional first flight objectives included airworthiness testing and demonstration, and system level performance verification.”
Here's how Northrup Grumman describes the blimp:
We’ve developed a clean aerodynamic design with less drag than competing designs, use existing proven hull materials, a type certified engine, off-the-shelf sensors, and the Army’s Universal Ground Control Station with 100% interoperability with DCGS-A. We integrate ISR payloads most efficiently through our Murphy Bay on the vehicle centerline. Every design tradeoff was made with an unyielding commitment to schedule. Our open architecture and business model invites third parties to get onboard the aircraft with limited interference, weapon system, balanced by its elegant simplicity.
Wired has more on the delays surrounding the maiden voyage of the blimp:
The spy blimp’s inaugural sortie had been pushed back several times; turns out, combining a giant airship with satellite-based remote controls and the latest high-tech sensors is more difficult than Northrop thought it would be. When the Army cut the LEMV’s $500-million development check back in 2010, the ground combat branch expected the propeller-driven, helium-filled airship would begin airborne trials in early 2011 and deploy just a few months later.
Northrop and the Army repeatedly pushed back the initial launch, without ever explaining exactly why.The first flight had been slated for early June, but unspecified problems forced another two-month delay.
Overall, Cummings said the objectives of the LEMV were met, but further testing is needed before it is officially ready for surveillance operations. Wired reports Northrup Grumman aiming for combat trials in Afghanistan by early 2013.
“Additional manned flights will resume following a planned and very detailed inspection of the vehicle,” Cummings said according to Wired.
The LEMV is touted by Northrup Grumman to be fuel efficient with the capability of "more than 21 days of unblinking stare."
News of the Army finally testing the blimp comes shortly after the U.S. Air Force cancelled its program developing similar technology. Check out Wired's full post for more background on the other blimp technology that was being developed but was since cancelled here.