Giant Airship Gets Funding Boost

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Airships seem to be getting a lot of attention lately, not only as a warm fuzzy way to advertise or give tours, but as a weapon of war. Last week, a blimp leased by the U.S. Army and loaded with sensors and cameras flew missions above the Maryland countryside, to test its usefulness as an airborne sentry post. Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced early this month it will invest $10 million to build a giant new airship, called Walrus, which would be capable of transporting 500 to 1,000 tons of military payload across 6,000 miles within four days. The ship would have a hull length of 600 to 1,000 feet, according to Aeros, an airship company that is working on the Walrus concept. DARPA hopes the airship will be available for flight tests in 2008. Interest in the capabilities of airships has been ignited by the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Aeros. Additionally, the need has been amplified by a key change in U.S. military doctrine referred to as the "10-30-30" objective, Aeros said: to be able to deploy to a distant theater in 10 days, defeat an enemy within 30 days, and be ready for an additional fight within another 30 days. DARPA envisions using the airship as part of a plan to transport an entire battle-ready Unit of Action from its U.S. base to near enemy lines, termed "from fort to fight." The Walrus air vehicle would dwarf every aircraft in existence today, Aeros said.