Unmanned Airship To Launch This Year

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Northrop Grumman said this week it will launch a remotely piloted airship designed for military use sometime this summer. The airship will be more than 300 feet long and 70 feet tall, and capable of staying aloft for more than three weeks at a time. The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) is designed for use by the Army as a surveillance and reconnaissance platform. Alan Metzger, the leader of Northrop Grumman's airship team, said the ship will be ready for hull inflation in the spring and first flight by mid-to-late summer. Test flights should be complete by the end of the year, and in 2012 the LEMV will participate in an Army Joint Military Utility Assessment in an operational environment. "As you can imagine, it's a very aggressive schedule to deliver from concept-to-combat in [an 18-month] period," Metzger said.

The LEMV system will provide "plug-and-play" payload capability for military missions, Metzger said. "The system rapidly accommodates next-generation sensors as emerging field requirements dictate, and will provide increased operational utility to battlefield commanders," he said. "The LEMV system provides a high level of fuel efficiency ... it utilizes approximately 3,500 gallons of fuel for the air vehicle to remain aloft for a 21-day period of service, that's approximately $11,000 at commercial prices." Northrop Grumman's industry team includes Hybrid Air Vehicles, Ltd., of the United Kingdom, Warwick Mills, ILC Dover, AAI Corporation, and SAIC. Northrop Grumman will lead the flight and ground control operations for the unmanned vehicle to safely take off and land in worldwide operations. The Army has reportedly invested $517 million in the project, which will produce three airships.