Military Airship Floats Toward First Flight

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Northrop Grumman's 300-foot-long, 70-foot-tall, remotely piloted Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) airship is scheduled to fly for the first time in early June at Lakehurst, N.J. The maiden flight could take place anytime between June 6 and 10, weather permitting, and will be followed by a trip to Florida where it will be outfitted with surveillance gear. The LEMV has been designed to operate for the U.S. Army as a surveillance and reconnaissance platform, capable of loitering in the sky for days, or weeks, at a time ... provided it's not really windy at its operating altitude.

Alan Metzger, Director of Airship Programs at Northrop Grumman, told The Engineer magazine that the LEMV should be capable of carrying up to 2,500 pounds of payload and have a maximum endurance near three weeks. According to Metzger, the LEMV will be "vastly cheaper to operate" than most conventional aircraft. Three weeks in the air could cost roughly $20,000 for 3,500 gallons of fuel burned, depending on fuel prices. The vehicle can travel at speeds up to 80 knots, so winds above 20 mph are cause for consideration. The LEMV is expected to head across the Atlantic this winter for a front-line combat demonstration.