First Flight For Segmented Lighter-Than-Air UAV

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It looks like a flying fish -- or maybe the ambitious techno-art project of a geeky undergrad -- but the beautiful lighter-than-air unmanned aircraft built by Sanswire Corp. is a serious project meant for commercial and military use. The airship, with its unique flexible, segmented design, flew for the first time this month, in Stuttgart, Germany (click here for the video). Piloted remotely through a ground control station located on site, the STS-111 UAV hovered and performed several ascents and descents. David Christian, CEO of Sanswire, said, "We are convinced that the segmented design of the STS-111and its long-endurance fuel-gas-powered propulsion system addresses unique security needs that require extended-duration station-keeping." The ship can stay aloft for more than two days, he said, giving it an advantage over fixed-wing drones. "Our goal is to offer commanders another way to reconnoiter without putting personnel at risk while providing a more efficient acquisition and operational cost to the end user," Christian said.

The company plans to fly the STS-111 in the spring of 2010 at Sanford International Airport (SFB) in Orlando, Fla. Anyone who would like to attend the demonstration can apply online to request an invitation. The patented segmented design utilizes a non-rigid articulating structure that enables the ship to react to gust loads and relieve stress, enhancing the craft's stability, the company says. "Following this demonstration, we plan to deliver the STS-111 to our systems integrator and operations partner, which we expect to be a major milestone for lighter-than-air aviation," Christian said.