Northrop studying potential of civil airships

Washington DC
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Northrop Grumman is studying the potential of entering the commercial sphere with a line of unmanned cargo-hauling airships, says Tom Vice, president of Northrop's aeronautical division.

"[A] thing that's very exciting, and we're going through to try to understand just how fast this market could develop, and that's commercial long-haul cargo transport," says Vice. "So we're looking at it, we're starting to see some trends, we're not sure exactly how we want to claim it."

Vice confirms that airships are the most likely scenario, with an eye to operations in the Arctic, where the routine need to haul large objects, the relatively large distances between towns and the lack of useful ground infrastructure make air transportation a tempting case.

"Think of the ways we do this today. Is there a more affordable, effective way to do this, and utilizing unmanned system to do it?" says Vice. "We have some ideas ... we're just looking."

Before the programme was cancelled, Northrop built one example of the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, an unmanned airship built for long-term reconnaissance.