Army preps its giant chubby spy blimp for Afghanistan

Blimps had their heyday between World War I and World War II, and since then, they've more or less been left behind by the airplane. Some things, though, blimps are just plain better at, and the Army is getting ready for the first flight of their "Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle," aka "spy blimp."

Northrop Grumman's LEMV is being called a "revolutionary aviation concept" by, uh, Northrop Grumman. The blimp is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Army next month, and it should fly for the first time in New Jersey during the first or second week of June. Assuming the thing doesn't pop, it'll then head down the coast to Florida to be outfitted with cameras and radios and other super secret blimptastic spy gear. And if all goes well with the hardware integration, the LEMV will fly across the Atlantic in "early winter" for a demonstration in Afghanistan.

The LEMV is big. Very big. It's the size of a football field (300 feet long). It's no Hindenburg (that monster was 800 feet), but this is just the proof-of-concept. As far as payload, this version of the LEMV can carry 20 tons, but a larger version of the same design could potentially lift hundreds of tons. The world's largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225, is also in the hundreds of tons range, but it's hugely expensive to fly and requires a nice big runway. A blimp, on the other hand, can potentially set down anywhere it wants, and cargo can simply be driven on and off. It's slower than an airplane, but it's also way way cheaper to operate.

There's still the minor issue (as has been pointed out before) that blimps in general are vulnerable to such modern and sophisticated military technology as spears and bows and arrows, so our guess is that the LEMV will likely be far, far away from any potential combat areas lest it suffer a puncture and helplessly deflate into uselessness.

Northrop Grumman, via Danger Room

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