The stage is set for a resurgence for airship manufacturing in the UK with the pending sale of designs, patents and other assets of Westinghouse Airships to UK investor group London Wall.

The transaction is expected to be finalised on 15 April. Leading the financiers is chief designer Roger Munk who previously worked for Airship Industries (AI) and Westinghouse Airships.

Initially Westinghouse Airships was thought to have been acquired by Northrop Grumman when it purchased Westinghouse's defence-electronics business earlier this year. The US airship maker, however, was not part of the $3 billion deal, and Westinghouse Airships was sold to London Wall.

In the early 1980s, the US Navy became interested in fielding giant lighter-than-air platforms to guard against cruise missiles targeted against its surface warships. It hired the UK's Airship Industries to perform preliminary research, and in 1987 a Westinghouse/Airship Industries team was awarded a contract to begin work on a prototype airship, dubbed the Sentinel 5000.

The partnership later ended when the UK concern declared bankruptcy. Westinghouse acquired all rights to the Sentinel 1000/5000 and hired key AI workers, including Munk. The only existing Sentinel 1000 non-rigid airship and its hangar at the firm's Airship Flight Center at Weeksville, North Carolina were destroyed by fire last August, however.

Plans to build a replacement airship stalled when Westinghouse's defence business was auctioned. Westinghouse Airships was unable to undertake an airship demonstration to the USN which had been scheduled for late 1995. The UK Ministry of Defence is continuing trials of an airship.

Source: Flight International