An aerostat is a lighter-than-air craft that relies on a ground tether for movement and sometimes for electrical power as well, as opposed to blimps which are self-powered, free-flying craft. The US military has slowly come around to the benefits of aerostats in an era that requires persistent surveillance, but features high fuel prices.
The RAID program has morphed into the tower-centric GBOSS, and progress on the naval front remains slow, but the $1+ billion JLENS advanced aerial surveillance program is still moving ahead, and Lockheed Martin has delivered its PTDS aerostats to the front lines for ground surveillance duties. TARS is also part of this mix, with several firms participating in the program…
In Smithsonian Air & Space magazine’s 10-year, post-9/11 look at the US Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Scott Van Beek talks about the US ANG’s coming pilot crunch, driven by trends in civil aviation, and by the military’s own attempt to shift to UAVs. Going forward, he had this to say:
“For now it’s a good balance, but by the end of 2012, things will get interesting. 9/11 and the economic downturn allowed many of us to put our civilian careers on hold to fill the 9/11 tasking. Employers have been very accommodating, because if their employee came back they would have to lay off someone else, so they would rather let us stay on leave. But there’s a storm brewing. The Air Force had a need for UAV pilots… so they involuntarily transitioned current fighter pilots, and downplayed the fighter track to new graduates from the academy. They’re now facing a fighter pilot shortage. The airlines are slowly hiring again. When the airlines are hiring, pilots leaving active duty increases. The age-60 [retirement] rule has delayed airline retirements, because the [new] rule allowed pilots to stay for another five years. That five-year period will be over at the end of 2012, and mandatory retirements will skyrocket. That is when the airlines, short on pilots, will make [Guard] pilots come back. And the Guard units will look to fill the empty positions from a fighter pilot pool that does not exist.”