A new hybrid air vehicle built by Northrop Grumman and Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd. for the U.S. Army flew for the first time last week, at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. The long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) is the first airship of its kind, the company said. It's designed to provide an "unblinking stare" above ground troops, with the ability to stay aloft up to several weeks while relaying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information. "The successful first flight of the vehicle demonstrates the readiness of hybrid air vehicle technology to serve military needs," said Gary Elliott, CEO of Hybrid Air Vehicles, which is based in the U.K.
The first flight lasted more than 90 minutes, the companies said. The entire program, from initial design to first flight, took two years. The airship is about 300 feet long and 84 feet tall, and it is remotely piloted. It is expected to be capable of carrying up to 2,500 pounds of payload, and will be much cheaper to operate than conventional aircraft. The aircraft can fly up to at least 22,000 feet. A crew of about 12 to 24 would be enough to support about 18 of the vehicles, according to Northrop. The company expects to deploy the aircraft "in theater" by the end of this year. Video of the first flight is posted on YouTube.