Scrapped $300 Million Army Blimp Rises Again
A British company has parlayed a $300 million project abandoned by the U.S. Army into a media spectacle that might launch a commercial airship business. Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) had originally partnered with Northrop Grumman to develop the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, a lighter-than-air vehicle with aerodynamic properties that nominally put it into a new class of aircraft called hybrid air vehicles. The project suffered numerous technical and performance setbacks and last year, faced with budget cuts, the army cut the airship project loose. It ended up selling the aircraft back to HAV for $301,000, about a tenth of a cent on the dollar. On Friday, with some rock star fanfare, the British company revealed how it was going to put all that U.S. taxpayer investment to use.
Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson, a former airline pilot who is also involved with Eclipse Aircraft, put money into HAV's plans to sell the former Army version of the aircraft for surveillance, security, humanitarian projects or as a communications or broadcast platform. The prototype of a larger aircraft designed to carry passengers or up to 100,000 pounds of cargo was also shown to the British media on hand at the company hangar in Cranfield. "This is a beautiful thing – the sheer imagination and scale of it – British-designed and built," Dickinson told reporters. "Rarely do you get the chance to be involved in something really at the cutting edge of aviation."