US agency on search for military service to sponsor massive cargo airship development for global transport

Developing a massive cargo airship capable of loading a brigade-sized unit and depositing it anywhere on the globe within seven days is the goal of a new US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project to start in June.

Early plans for the so-called Walrus airship show that the agency is seeking technology breakthroughs in load-bearing materials and buoyancy management.

Two notional goals for the powered-airship are to support a useful payload of more than 500t and to maintain lift control without the need for buoyancy aids, such as taking onboard ballast during the off-loading process. "The capability we envision for Walrus does not currently exist," says a DARPA programme document.

DARPA is also still searching for a military service to sponsor the long-term development of the technology, but developers are being told to think of the airship's primary mission as being to deploy brigades capable of fighting within six hours of landing. Developers also are being asked to consider designs that will not require "significant" support systems and can operate from unimproved landing sites, which include 5ft (1.5m) obstacles. A further requirement calls for a design that can take off vertically, within 4,500ft for short take-off missions, and within 10,000ft for conventional take-offs.

Three contractors will be selected by June to launch the programme's first phase – a 12-month concept definition period. A single contractor will be selected in 2006 to launch a three-year Phase 2 effort to develop a preliminary design and conduct risk reduction demonstrations. The result will then be transferred to a sponsoring military service for continued development.

DARPA expects the Walrus to have a maximum take-off weight of around 1,000t.


Source: Flight International