Northrop Grumman says a newly launched hybrid airship will be able to lift as much cargo as a Lockheed Martin C-130E Hercules.
The US Army awarded a contract less than 50 days ago for the Northrop/Hybrid Air Vehicles team to demonstrate the long-endurance, multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform.
But Northrop chief engineer Michael Addison says the same aircraft can lift a 15,875kg (35,000lb) payload by removing the ISR payload and making other modifications.
"By using the same hull and changing some of the configuration of the solid structure underneath, we can also provide a substantial heavy-lift capability," Addison says. "It will be a modification done without changing the basic hull, so that's exciting."
Addison's lone briefing chart for his presentation said the "heavy/mission lift configuration" can haul a 15,875kg load over a 1,852-2,778km (1,000-1,500nm) distance.
By comparison, a US Air Force fact sheet lists the C-130E as capable of delivering the same weight of cargo over a 2,315km distance.
The LEMV program, however, is aimed at proving a hybrid airship can be effective at the ISR mission, perching over a target at 20,000ft for a period of 21 days. The airship is designed to carry a 1,133kg payload for three weeks.
The ISR payload includes a ground moving target indicator radar, full motion video, communications relay and communications intercept.
Northrop is scheduled to complete a preliminary design review within two weeks, Addison says. First flight remains on track for the end of the 2011 with inflation scheduled in the late second quarter next year.