Six years after the US Army cancelled the long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) programme and shipped back the original prototype, developer Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is making a return to the transatlantic market with its Airlander 10.
The Bedford-based firm has signed a memorandum of understanding with US modifications and maintenance specialist Vertex Aerospace to "present joint proposals for provision of fully configured Airlander 10 aircraft to the US Department of Defense".
HAV says the hybrid airship's gondola and 10t payload allow it to carry 3t of equipment, with living quarters for two crew to stay in the air for five days. Its vertical take-off and landing capability also means it can be deployed in almost any location.
"That makes it a much more effective surveillance solution than anything else on the market," says HAV bid manager Robert Venner.
He says "the world has moved on" since the US Army axed the LEMV as the Afghan campaign was winding down, with the US military and other agencies now looking at a much wider range of applications for a long-endurance surveillance platform.
According to HAV, the Airlander 10 – which it is also marketing in a high-end leisure variant – "can provide a host of airborne effects to meet the needs of multi-domain operations, and a range of other special missions".
HAV has yet to confirm an order for the Airlander 10 after designing and flying in 2016 a civilian version of the original aircraft, which was returned to the UK in 2013, deflated and stripped of sensitive equipment. HAV bought the airframe, engines, and rights to the design for just over $300,000, around 1% of the total development cost. HAV had partnered with Northrop Grumman to win the contract.
The USA's "much broader defence budget" than in 2013 when LEMV was cancelled has "changed the mindset" in the Pentagon, says Brian Anderson, senior vice president of Vertex's aircraft integration & sustainment division.
"They are looking at different concepts to provide missions such as troop and border protection, and looking internationally much more," he says.
Anderson says Vertex, which was sold last year by L3Harris to private equity house AIP, would likely take on the role of prime contractor on any US bid, but "we have not constrained ourselves as to who would prime" on any export opportunities.
Around 90% of Vertex's $900,000 sales are "DoD-based", he says.