USN, DARPA See Blimps & HULAs Rising
Small business qualifier Integrated Systems Solutions Inc. in Pomfret, MD won a $64 million ceiling-priced cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract for research and development services to increase the government’s understanding of Lighter Than Air platforms and their usage for sensor technologies. Services to be provided include experimenting with outfitting commercial blimps with sensors and a tactical data link, equipping an airship with Electro Optics /Infrared /Hyperspectral cameras to provide all-weather, day-night surveillance, the use of an Advanced Airship Flying Laboratory to provide a flying laboratory for testing sensors, the use of high altitude airship surveillance, the creation of Hybrid Ultra Large Aircraft (HULA), and training of Test Pilots to fly airships.
Work on the R&D contract for the U.S. Navy will be performed at Patuxent River, MD, and is expected to be complete in April 2010. This contract was competitively procured using Broad Agency Announcement with one offer received. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract (N00421-05-D-0017).
Blimps and other LTA craft are enjoying a renewed surge of interest in DARPA and the Pentagon, from deployment of aerostats for communication by the U.S. Marines to the use of blimps for Army surveillance in Iraq, border patrol tasks, and even the United States’ Cruise Missile Defense Program.
Extremely large HULA concepts like DARPA’s WALRUS program and the U.S. Army Surface Deployment Distribution Command’s Mobilius Initiative are also underway, with the eventual aim of delivering loads normally delivered by transport ships via hybrid airships. Advances in envelope and hull materials, buoyancy and lift control, drag reduction and propulsion make the concept feasible, DARPA says. Technologies to be investigated in the initial study phase include vacuum/air buoyancy compensator tanks, which provide buoyancy control without ballast, and electrostatic atmospheric ion propulsion. Under the $10 million Walrus advanced technology demonstration (ATD), DARPA plans to flight-test a “significant-scale” lifting airship in 2008 with a payload capability of around 30 tons, comparable with a Lockheed Martin C-130. The full-scale objective air vehicle would be capable of carrying 500-1,000 tons over an 11,000km (6,000nm) range. More information can be found here.