August 10th, 2012
02:24 PM ET

Army's all-seeing, super blimp makes debut flight

By Alicia Tarancon

CNN

The U.S. Army has launched the debut flight of its massive Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), a souped-up blimp designed to fly continuously for 21 days and provide full surveillance of an area.

The LEMV was launched Tuesday from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. The test flight lasted about 90 minutes.

The all-seeing airship is longer than football field and taller than a seven-story building, according to maker Northrop Grumman. Its shape separates the 21st-century "hybrid air vehicle," as Northrop Grumman calls it, from the blimps that have flown over sporting events for decades.

The LEMV is aerodynamic, with a shape closer to an airfoil than an elongated football like classic blimps. So while old-school blimps stay aloft because of the helium inside, the LEMV uses the helium and its shape to achieve lift.

Northrop Grumman has a $517 million contract to build three airships for the Army.

The first test flight included two pilots, but in the future, the Army hopes to have unmanned flights.

"I think the Army sees this as truly an exciting breakthrough," said Dave Nagy, vice president of business development for military aircraft systems at Northrop Grumman.

He says the Army will benefit from the LEMV because just a handful of these airships will be able to do what no other monitoring system can do. They can stay up in the air for long periods of time and can cover a significant area of ground. And the LEMV will not only be able to scan the ground for insurgents, but it may also have other uses, like hauling supplies and precious cargo to troops.

At a time when the military is looking for more cost-effective options for intelligence and surveillance gathering in places like Afghanistan, fueling the blimp will cost approximately $11,000 for a 21-day period of service.

Coincidentally, the debut flight took the LEMV right over the site of the fiery Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937. Nagy says the location, however, was deliberate.

"It's one of few locations that has hangar infrastructure for this size of vehicle," he said.

For now, Northrop Grumman will continue to test the LEMV from Lakehurst, New Jersey, where the company will continue to "expand the flight envelope," Nagy says. He said this technology will allow the military to be more flexible in the future.


Filed under: Security Brief
soundoff (651 Responses)
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    May 7, 2013 at 7:07 am | Reply
    • Richard

      On 14 February 2013, the Army confirmed that it had cancelled the LEMV development effort, citing technical and performance challenges, as well as the limitations imposed by constrained resources.

      Unfortunately, that came from this source :(

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Endurance_Multi-intelligence_Vehicle

      May 7, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
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  10. Frog

    Tried to get a empty helium tank replaced with a full one. Stoty is helium has been scarce since 2011. This thing may be just fine watching and some say carrying ammunition. Didn't I read about how the octopus is being studied because it can blend into its background. If you see this thing as a grey blob, you may be shortsighted. Think LED lights like Xmas Decorations.
    I have seen furniture showrooms for business furniture that ,even in the mid 1980's, could mimic sunrises and sunsets and that would be much easier with small LEDs, a blanket of them. Add some distance and you would probably never see the thing. How would you detect it? Personally, I want a personal craft, think of it as a snowmobile of the sky. Neutral boyancy, thickish Rogallo wing. Could perhaps stop on a dime. You would need to have sharp eyes to miss wires. At the other end of the scale is the "Death Star", that would be many miles across, linkable. It shuts out all light, used as a Blockade, a siege weapon, very demoralizing. It would be right down low, let them shoot at it, we instantly shoot back. They do not know where the few humans are. Too bad there is no helium, somebody is hoarding it. You guys all need to have a party.

    March 20, 2013 at 12:54 am | Reply
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  14. Sciguy73

    It's too bad we're about to run out of helium...

    September 6, 2012 at 8:05 am | Reply
  15. Mark

    So how long before these “insurgents” blast this beast from the sky with their slingshots?

    August 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  16. Mike

    This thing was flying over Houston the other day. Friday the 10th of Aug., around 5pm. It flew over and transformers started blowing. Lost power for a few hours. It made it's approach right before an intense storm.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
    • Karen Greer

      The lemv wasn't in Houston it only flew for 90 minutes in Lakehurst New Jersey on Tuesday August 7,2012. My husband worked on this program and the lemv was put back on the hanger. I'm not doubting you saw a blimp but it wasn't the lemv.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  17. Army

    So, where is this funding coming from...... since we have to cut the budget so much.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
    • SWIM

      That is why they are building it...
      Way cheaper that multiple drones

      August 15, 2012 at 8:22 am | Reply
  18. Johnny

    Two words: Great. Target.

    August 12, 2012 at 2:02 am | Reply
    • ed gein

      Two words: Domestic. "Surveillance".

      August 12, 2012 at 11:01 am | Reply
      • Johnny

        Yes. Because a blimp will do what all the other stuff they have for that doesn't suffice...Let them collect all the information they want. It's so much already they might as well look/listen at white-noise....

        August 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • skyship007

      One number and one comment:
      20,000 ft & The Taliban don't have an air force!

      August 12, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
      • bluegillonthefly

        You don't need an air force, all you need is a SAM. Some large caliber ballistic AAA could even fire that high during WW II, IIRC.

        August 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • athensGuy

      isnt that the hover from the hunger games?

      August 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  19. Gene

    Hey isn't that Thunderbird 2

    August 11, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  20. krolus

    beware the shadow!

    August 11, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  21. This is such BS

    SO this is what the army has spending millions of dollars on? Wow so impressive. WHATS IMPRESSIVE IS WHEN A UFO IS REALLY IN THE AIR AND SEEN BY MILLIONS, Now they have an excuse and will say ohh its our new blimp to cover it all up .WE HAVE GRADUATED FROM WEATHER BALLOONS I GUESS. This is just a cover up for future events........

    THEY THINK WE ARE STUPID.

    MICHAEL

    August 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • Laugh it off

      You are stupid. Put on your tin foil hat and all will be well.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  22. Lion

    Actually the taliban can shoot down an aerostat 2000ft. I am overhere now and have seen it done twice.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Really, Lion? Let's all hope you're right. Maybe if we didn't have all these god-awful wepons at our disposal, this obnoxious war might just end! I'm sick and tired of all the needless slaughter goin on over there!

      August 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  23. ed gein

    Folks, you do realize that this is for DOMESTIC spying, don't you?

    Feeling "safer" now?

    August 11, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  24. skyship007

    SOME INFORMATION FOR THE READERS THAT MIGHT HELP:
    1/ The LEMV was designed and constructed by Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd in England, but final assembly and inflation was in Lakehurst using an envelope from Dover plc.

    2/ The Taliban don't have an air force and can’t even shoot down a stationary aerostat at 2,000 ft. The LEMV operates at 20,000 ft using German made high tech diesels that have a very poor IR signature and even if one was hit the low Helium pressure differential means it can tolerate a lot of holes. It would be good news if the bad boys did shoot at one rather than an airliner or transport aircraft, as it can detect the firing point very rapidly and is unmanned when used in a war zone.

    3/ The LEMV uses Helium that can put a fire out, not Hydrogen. The US reserves of Helium are slowly running down, but Qatar, Siberia, Algeria, Canada, Poland, Australia, Iran, Indonesia and China all have big natural gas fields that are rich in Helium. Cheap Helium will run out when all the fossil fuels are gone, but the new envelope materials leak very, very little so it is only needed for initial inflation. Ultimately it will be extracted from under ground non gas field related porous rocks that contain traces of it or old oil wells, so it won't run out.

    4/ Each LEMV cost less than 100 million, the 500 plus contract figure was for three and includes expensive surveillance gear, remote control and ground stations. Much cheaper than a big airliner, they use a fraction of the fuel and don't need an airport. They only need a hangar for final construction or annual inspection and they do not have a breakable frame to complicate maintanance, so they can be maintained outside. Any LTAV with a complex frame will always be a hangar queen and cost at least twice as much to build and operate.

    5/ The next type of hybrid air vehicle to be developed will be the bigger more powerful (Cargo and vertical heavy lift) HAV 366, to be built in Cardington most likely (Google the company name for updated web site). Only HAV Ltd have a design, stress analysis and engineering team with enough skill to do that job (Almost 30 years of LTAV design, construction and operation). If an overseas company tries to copy one it will be a Concordski type fiasco, not even Lockheed Martin could design and build a hybrid that worked.

    6/ HAV's are not designed, built or operated like a Zeppelin or blimp, so to compare them is nonsense, as a new age has dawned and the HAV's were designed to overcome all the problems associated with previous aircraft types, not copy them, best of all they don't need an airport.

    7/ The genius behind the hybrid air vehicle concept was Roger Munk who spent most of working life aquiring the skills and building a design team capable of producing such amazing aircraft as the LEMV. He taught the other designers well and they are the ultimate company asset. Roger was in some ways as great a designer as Reginald Mitchell (Spitfire design), but although the press gave some credit to Mitchell for his good work, the press have overlooked the importance of Roger Munks contribution to aviation in a similar way as they have ignored the real company behind the LEMV.

    8/ IF YOU WANT TO READ MORE, GOOGLE hybrid air vehicles or hybrid pilot services

    9/ The LEMV did not cause the famous London Olympics UFO incident!!

    August 11, 2012 at 6:25 am | Reply
    • Robin

      Man, I hope you don't do design because you're understanding of physics is poor if you believe there is an infinite supply ("will never run out") of helium. You only violate a few physical laws with that statement. Also, it's unlikely you know why Lockheed Martin's HAA failed. Moreover, the flight regimes between the two craft from your company and the HAA are/were completely different. You get that, right?

      August 11, 2012 at 6:36 am | Reply
      • Olong Johnson

        *FACE PALM* Helium can be generated with special machines. That is ancient equipment compared to what they have now. Come on man.

        August 12, 2012 at 1:58 am |
      • Robin

        You realize, don't you, that an "unlimited supply" is one that never runs out. If it never runs out, there is an infinite supply of it. And if there's an infinite supply, there must be an infinite amount of energy that was used to create the infinite supply. Uhm, the total energy in the universe is not infinite. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans are scientifically and mathematically ignorant, something proved by your response.

        August 12, 2012 at 2:06 am |
      • U4ric Blues

        Robin, what an utterly useless comment! Bravo sir, you have nitpicked Skyship007's informative and useful collection of points and tried to negate it by saying that he believes that there is "an infinite supply of helium" which are obviously your words not his. Here's a little tip, if he is saying things like "The US reserves of Helium are slowly running down, but Qatar, Siberia, Algeria, Canada, Poland, Australia, Iran, Indonesia and China all have big natural gas fields that are rich in Helium" he probably has a decent understanding of global helium supplies. If you read his comment with the comprehension level of a fifth-grader you might take his "...so it won't run out" statement to mean that we are not likely to see the complete depletion of helium resources in the foreseeable future. Obviously you don't have that reading level though, hence my (equally useless) comment. On the bright side, your grade-school science teacher would be proud that you still know that there are no infinite resources in the universe! Oh, and thanks for the lack of any other facts, citations, or insight in the rest of your comment too.

        August 12, 2012 at 10:53 am |
      • russ

        helium is not destroyed when it is used. no matter how much helium we use, there is always the same amount on earth(unless we launch some into space, but that is negligable). You guys need to know what you are talking about before you rip someone elso on thier understanding of a topic.

        August 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • U4ric Blues

      Thanks for the informative comment, they're rare nowadays.

      August 12, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
  25. Chilidog

    Why spend the money .. just use Google maps. I just did it for my house and saw some close-up pics of toys which I bought for my kids recently in the yard! Now that is scary!!

    August 11, 2012 at 2:40 am | Reply
    • rickirs

      How much cargo does a google map carry and is google map real time?

      August 11, 2012 at 9:06 am | Reply
  26. SDH68

    Everyone automatically thinks about shooting it with bullets, so I am sure it has some sort of defense to help that, but what about RPG's? Honestly if I were the Taliban/ Al Qaeda, I would just shoot RPG's at it for an 10 minutes or so. I am sure there will be a defense for that, which will involve projectiles as we are seeing on new armored vehicles, but how much defense do they plan to have on it?

    August 11, 2012 at 1:15 am | Reply
    • Candyman

      It is not in the article but this new blimp has in invisible forcefield around it that will deflect bullets and RPM's. So don´t worry about that, okay.

      August 11, 2012 at 5:59 am | Reply
    • skyship007

      Err, she operates at 20,000 ft which is a tad out of range. The Taliban can't even shoot down a stationary aerostat at 2,000 ft!

      August 11, 2012 at 6:15 am | Reply
  27. sam

    The issue here is with the DOD or US Army, they put out the requirement for this system. Northrop Grumman fulfilled this requirement. The question is why on Earth would the DOD need this air ship ? You can't blame NGC for biding, wining this contract and building this air ship, however, you can question why would the Army would need this capability. It's wrong to trash NGC, this company has provided the best Navy platforms in the world and there is not an airman in the that returned form combat in an F14, EA18G, F18 or A6 that would argue this fact.

    August 11, 2012 at 1:02 am | Reply
    • skyship007

      IT IS NEEDED BECAUSE THE US CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY OR OPERATE MORE SPY SATELLITES OR LARGE SURVEILLANCE AIRCRAFT. IT WILL SAVE MONEY IN THE LONG TERM AND CAN DO A FAR BETTER JOB. THERE IS ALSO A SERIOUS SHORTAGE OF FUEL IN AFGHANISTAN.

      August 11, 2012 at 6:30 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Right! The Army is simply jealous and wants some new toys! This rivalry will continue until we combine all branches into one military force. Only one! Everyone's mission is the same, why have competing military branches working against each other? This what caused the Osprey disaster!

      August 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  28. Vlad

    Love how they had "United States Army" printed on it... just in case someone finds it they'll know who to return it to.

    August 11, 2012 at 1:02 am | Reply
    • rickirs

      They want you to know its not air force, navy or marines.

      August 11, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
  29. disgustedvet

    Only one use for something like this in my opinion.To watch over an unarmed populace. Put them in a war zone and they go "poof " .

    August 11, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
    • jw_617

      These are and have been in use in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. This is just a bigger version and more mobile. The ones used now can have multiple holes in them and still fly. Nothing new...

      August 11, 2012 at 3:46 am | Reply
  30. htownjesse

    We're broke & we're still wasting $$$ on crap like this.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:50 am | Reply
  31. SSampson

    Blimp – perhaps a useful tool for some things -but military inteligence gathering???

    In WW1 they got shot down all the time with biplanes – While I assume these will fly too high for biplanes, luckily we have onvented 2 or 3 newer models over the past 100 years...

    I'm not saying they have no use.... but anything that involves the airspace of another country OR the battlefield – seems a bit silly

    Even Canada would shoo this down if it flew over thier airspace – with one of those new F-35s we convinced them to buy.... (if they EVER arrive... working properly)

    August 11, 2012 at 12:44 am | Reply
    • rickirs

      How many aircraft does the taliban have?

      August 11, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
  32. Dr Todd

    When Moby pigs fly.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:43 am | Reply
  33. BADGUY

    We all know how hydrogen worked out as a "lift" gas..(ie it DIDN'T..it exploded easily). I wonder how the Army designed this thing to be "projectile proof"? Helium, obviously, is good. Is it compartmentalized? Enough to withstand shots? Is it "self sealing"?

    August 11, 2012 at 12:36 am | Reply
  34. JimiJons

    What happens if you shoot it?

    August 11, 2012 at 12:32 am | Reply
    • skyship007

      Nothing, because the internal pressure differential is quite low and the volume enormous. They tested a machine gun against a blimp envelope and it made very little difference. The Taliban shoot at aerostats every day and they have yet to bring one down.

      August 12, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  35. Richard

    The navy is now tasked(asked) to look for narco subs in at least 2 oceans. Im wondering if these can be fueled at sea by a navy tender? Regardless, Im sure at least one of these will be put to good use such as hunting down these kind of vehicles. I also wonder how good their sensors are. Perhaps good enough to hunt for diesel subs in shallow oceans? Im sure you know where I mean, lol. There's no place like the good ole US of A. Keep up the good work! Canadian supporter.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      What? This is an Army project! The Navy will never have access to it! The Navy wlll have to contract for their own version, designed and engneered from zero! Our miltary branches don't share anything!

      August 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
      • BobVA

        The services share where it makes sense. The F-35 will be shared by Marine Corps, Navy & Air Force. Navy BAMS is adapted from USAF Global Hawk. M-16 rifles are used by all services. H-60 helos are shared. There are many more examples if you bother to look.

        August 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  36. jeff

    Needs one more prop in the back and then it would remind me total recall.

    August 11, 2012 at 12:14 am | Reply
  37. TristanRay

    As someone who worked around this particular project, please take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Endurance_Multi-intelligence_Vehicle.

    August 10, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Reply
    • Bobby Weird

      Northrup Grumman has to be the biggest drain on the country there is. If you cant compete in the marketplace you can go to NG and do 3rd rate engineering and get 500% overhead plus 500X cost over runs. The country would be far better off if NG disappeared overnight. I almost vomited when I heard the president of NG say (in reference to going over the cliff in Jan) that if NG couldnt get 100% of the budget they request then really bad things will happen to the country. If the government would spend th emoney on education and research instead of propping up 1000's of 3rd rate engineers at NG then the country would be a lot better off.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Reply
      • sam

        NGC the company that put man on the moon, the top gun F14, E2D, A6 intruder, C2, EA18G,F18, A10, F5, F35, F111, X29,Gulf Stream, Pierson Yachts, satellites, UMS, the Space Shuttle, advanced composite, ISR and many other amazing technologies. Very proud past and amazing future to come. great job NGC there is nothing your team can't accomplish. You have a fine engineering team and much to be proud of.

        August 11, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Denver_DT

      Read the wiki entry and still wonder why this thing is useful. Top speed 30mph, 7 ton max cargo cap. This thing would not be safe in country.

      August 11, 2012 at 2:03 am | Reply
      • skyship007

        Rubbish, the lift off spees is 30 kts when heavy, top speed is 80 kts.

        August 12, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  38. Joe

    In related news China announced the development of a biplane designed to counter any helium powered air vehicles it may encounter.

    August 10, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
    • Vlad

      Good one!

      August 10, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Reply
    • lightbayne

      LOL

      August 11, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
    • skyship007

      China wants the LEMV out in Afghanistan ASAP, so your troops can keep the place clear of Taliban whilst they develop their mining industry infra structure to exploit the huge Copper, Lithium and REE ore deposits.

      August 12, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
  39. Steve-O

    What an enormous waste of taxpayer money!

    August 10, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Reply
    • Bender

      The word enormous does not even come close to describing this waste of money.

      "Northrop Grumman has a $517 million contract to build three airships for the Army."

      Its amazing.

      August 11, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
  40. Rick

    How easy is it to shoot down ? Looks pretty easy to me

    August 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Reply
    • Richard

      If they compartmentalize the blimp, then they should be able to take hits and stay up. Unless they get hit with some kind of incendiary device. However, they will NOT burn like a hydrogen-filled balloon!

      August 11, 2012 at 12:05 am | Reply
      • skyship007

        The LEMV operates at 20,000 ft and the Taliban don't have an air force.

        August 12, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  41. Bankrupt

    Coming soon to cities all over America to monitor for "terrorists".

    August 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Reply
    • skyship007

      Border patrol possibly, but not inland.

      August 12, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
      • Jimbo

        Skyship007,

        It's obvious that you are pimping for this technology, but you haven't thought through the whole scenario. Like the drone technology, these will end up being used against US citizens. Some politician will justify it with some fantastic "statistic", and there you go. It's surveillance at it's worst.

        BTW, I was in A-stan back in '03-'04. I saw Aerostat balloons brought down by the high winds in the Bagram Valley. You may wish to counter that these things fly at 20,000 ft, but they have to come down some time. How long do you think it would take the Taliban to train some jockey to fly a small aircraft into one of these things?

        August 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  42. popeye1128

    Defense spending in this country has become a black hole. I'm a Vet.

    August 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
    • 1st-Sgt TopKick

      Thank You for your service. The "Black hole" now includes the F-35, the Littoral Combat Ship(s), and the new aircraft carrier (and I LOVE the US Navy, BTW). But, truth is truth and these systems won't make us any safer, but the politicians in the affected states will keep hollering "jobs" and won't reduce spending no matter WHO wins 90 days from now.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Reply
    • BADGUY

      I always thought high technology was great (and it still is). But, maybe we need to scale down the number of things we build with that technology so we can contain the costs. With our manufacturing "outsourced" to China, we don't produce the wealth we once did. Without that wealth we just can't afford all these new widgets. Change our "balance of wealth" production and INCREASE our tax revenue, then maybe we can...AGAIN!

      August 11, 2012 at 12:31 am | Reply
  43. popeye1128

    The little bug size flying drones seem smarter than this. But they don't get $517 million contracts.

    August 10, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  44. scott

    the four major banks are told to be ready to not collase because the govt cant help them ,but thank the maker we have this junk for our supposed protection. we are screwed.

    August 10, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • wade long

      by "our" protection, you don't mean the citizenry, right, you're not that naive, right? This is useless on the battlefield. We'll see these in the future over disaster zones, riot zones and sites of protest by the citizenry. This is a suppression device, for the suppression of a population. See, in America, you're a terrorist if you own a Rocket Launcher and an automatic rifle, but the government is good for building this which could only serve a purpose of population suppression and homeland surveillance Thank God we're so free and safe.

      August 11, 2012 at 12:12 am | Reply
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