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Spy Blimp Axed?

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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 August, but the project now has been cancelled, according to a recent report in Wired. The remotely operated airship, which is about 300 feet long, is capable of carrying up to 2,500 pounds of payload, and was intended as a reconnaissance vessel that could be deployed for weeks at a time in advance of ground troops. "Due to technical and performance challenges, and the limitations imposed by constrained resources, the Army has determined to discontinue the LEMV [long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle] development effort," Army spokesman Dov Schwartz told Wired in an email last week.

According to Wired, the ship never flew again after its first flight, and doubts had arisen regarding its capability to meet the requirements for the program. A technical analysis in 2011 questioned whether the blimp could actually stay aloft for the 21 days Northrop claimed, according to Wired. Northrop said it had built the ship and flown it in just 24 months, "a considerable accomplishment for a vehicle of this scale and complexity." The successful first flight, the company said, "demonstrates the readiness of hybrid air vehicle technology to serve military needs." Wired added that with U.S. troops preparing to leave Afghanistan, the rationale for continuing with the blimp program has evaporated.

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