A commercial customercould be announced within 12 months for a new heavy freighter version of ahybrid airship in development for the US Army, Northrop Grumman said.
The commercial marketappears to be evolving rapidly even as a Northrop/Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV)team is still assembling the first long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle(LEMV) ordered by the army a year ago.
“This week we havebegun parts of the inflating process,” said Alan Metzger, vice president andintegrated product team leader for LEMV and airship programmes. Nineteensections that comprise the structure of the balloon will be inflated over aperiod of several weeks, he added.
The army could buy asmany as three of the optionally manned hybrid airships, which rely on bothbuoyancy and aerodynamic forces to achieve lift.
An undisclosedcustomer within the army intends to demonstrate that the LEMV can perch at20,000ft over a three-week period with a 1,133kg (2,500lb) payload thatincludes four high-definition electro-optical/infrared sensors, a signalsinterceptor, radar and three communications relay antennas, Northrop said.
The same vehicle witha few modifications is already being offered to the commercial freightermarket.
The cargo version canbe designed to carry up to 18,143kg for 1,000nm. Required design changesinclude a new freight floor added to a payload bay, and enlarged fuel/freightmodule and hover pads added t the landing skids, Metzger said.
Northrop’s interest inthe commercial market is moving forward after its chief competitor – theLockheed Martin SkyTug – teamed with a Canadian start-up to produce a hybridairship for the commercial cargo market. Meanwhile, the US Air Force has alsosigned a $82 million contract with MAV6 to develop a surveillance airship withone week endurance.
“Lots of people haveideas, and they’re all good ideas,” Metzger said. “What we have is a vehicle.”