Northrop Grumman's long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) airship programme is running according to schedule, the company says, having completed its critical design review in late November.
The next step for the massive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system being built for the US Army is hull inflation at the final assembly site, which has been decided but not disclosed.
"There are three upcoming major milestones in the next 10 months," says Alan Metzger, Northrop's vice president and integrated programme team leader for LEMV and airship programmes. "We'll have hull inflation in the spring and first flight of the airship test article by mid-to-late summer. Upon completion of the development ground and flight testing phase, we expect to transition to a government facility and conduct our final acceptance long endurance flight just before year's end. In early 2012, LEMV will participate in an army joint military utility assessment in an operational environment," he adds.
Under the June 2010 contract with the army's Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, LEMV is to be designed and developed within an 18-month time period.
"It's a very aggressive schedule to deliver from concept-to-combat in this time period," Metzger says.
Described as "longer than a football field and taller than a seven-storey building", the airship will be capable of remaining aloft for 21 days at a time. Northrop's partners in the venture include UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, as well as US-based AAI and SAIC.