Aircraft

Lockheed Martin’s HALE-D airship takes to the air

Lockheed Martin's HALE-D is launched
Lockheed Martin's HALE-D is launched
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Lockheed Martin's HALE-D before launch
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Lockheed Martin's HALE-D before launch
Lockheed Martin's HALE-D is launched
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Lockheed Martin's HALE-D is launched
Lockheed Martin's HALE-D is launched
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Lockheed Martin's HALE-D is launched
Artist's conception of the HAA
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Artist's conception of the HAA

With the use of airships for passenger transport decreasing in the early 20th century as their capabilities were eclipsed by those of airplanes - coupled with a number of disasters - they were largely resigned to serving as floating billboards or as camera platforms for covering sporting events. But the ability to hover in one place for an extended period of time also makes them ideal for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes, which is why Lockheed Martin has been developing its High Altitude Airship (HAA). The company yesterday launched the first-of-its-kind High Altitude Long Endurance-Demonstrator (HALE-D) to test a number of key technologies critical to development of unmanned airships.

The HALE-D is a sub-scale demonstrator made with high-strength fabrics and featuring thin-film solar arrays serving as a regenerative power supply. Lightweight propulsion units propel the airship aloft and guide it during takeoff and landing as well as maintaining its geostationary position above the Jetstream at an altitude of 12 miles.

The geostationary positioning coupled with modern communications technologies give the airship capabilities on par with satellites at a fraction of the cost. In position, the airship would survey a 600-mile (965 km) diameter area and millions of miles of cubic airspace. It will also be reconfigurable with the ability to easily change payload equipment, making the HAA significantly cheaper to deploy and operate than other airborne platforms to support missions for defense, homeland security, and other civil applications, according to Lockheed Martin.

Artist's conception of the HAA
Artist's conception of the HAA

Lockheed Martin launched its HALE-D at 5:47 a.m. on July 27, 2011 out of an airdock in Akron, Ohio. The airship was aiming to reach an altitude of 60,000 ft. but encountered technical difficulties at 32,000 ft., which prevented it from reaching its target so the flight was terminated. It then descended at 8.26 a.m., landing in southwestern Pennsylvania at a predetermined location. Lockheed Martin is coordinating with state and local authorities to recover the airship from the heavily wooded area in which it landed, but confirmed that no injuries or damage were sustained.

"While we didn't reach the target altitude, first flights of new technologies like HALE-D also afford us the ability to learn and test with a mind toward future developments," said Dan Schultz, vice president ship and aviation systems for Lockheed Martin's Mission Systems & Sensors business. "We demonstrated a variety of advanced technologies, including launch and control of the airship, communications links, unique propulsion system, solar array electricity generation, remote piloting communications and control capability, in-flight operations, and controlled vehicle recovery to a remote un-populated area."

Lockheed Martin has built more than 8,000 lighter-than-air platforms since receiving its first production contract in 1928. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (SMDC/ARSTRAT) contracted with Lockheed Martin to develop the High Altitude Airship program to improve the military's ability to communicate in remote areas such as those in Afghanistan, where mountainous terrain frequently interferes with communications signals.

17 comments
Charles Bosse
\"I can see my house from here!\"
Matt Fletcher
I believe lighter than air stations are a good idea and should be used as a holding area for space station and satelite materials. But this particular airship design used in the troposphere is like putting a whale in the ocean with nothing other than hand fans to propel itself. Guess what? It crashed. 1st day up and it\'s down. Should have used large detachable engines to get it up above the troposhere.
solutions4circuits
Cute, but someone needs to break the news to these basement-dwelling rocket, er \"balloon\", scientists that there isn\'t going to be any helium left on the planet in a bit over two decades (there\'s also a Hindenberg Uncertainty Principle that applies if these use up the He quicker). The only inflated thing about this machine is the PR, and no doubt, the porkbarrel funds that sanctioned this pointless program.
alcalde
There\'s been rumors since the late 90s that the U.S. already had (or was flying test versions of) a stealth, semi-silent heavy-lifting airship. Now there\'s this. Very interesting.
pstemmer
Great idea, how about a high altitude lift balloon that detaches when it reaches altitude. Good luck getting HALE back, landing would be rough, maybe a service blimp to bring in lower, catch it, do the maintenance.
Jason Catterall
What?? No more squeaky voices?
Mr Stiffy
@ Jason Catterall - Actually Helium is an incredibly important gas and liquid. It's inert AND mon-atomic - meaning that atoms fly solo and thus - they will permeate through the most incredibly small gaps, cracks, leaks etc. So when the helium goes - so do all the super critical leak testing - on all those things that are bad to have leaks and cracks in. It's also what is used in all those "millionth of a degree" above absolute zero research temperatures.... It's inert and because it's solidification temperature is higher than almost anything, it's used in cleaning and purging all the lines, valves and containers that transport liquid oxygen - inside rockets etc. So yeah the squeaky voice comment was funny - but when the Helium goes, so do many other things that rely upon it..... Socially and engineering wise, it's the left leg that goes in the left shoe. No left leg = major problems.
Alien
Actually I\'m rather amazed how Lockheed Martin can manage to TRY and make a PR success out of this flight. If I understand your article correctly, it was launched successfully, reached a touch over half-way on its intended flight plan and had to abort. Whereupon landed in a heavily wooded area, described as \'pre-determined\' and now they are working out how to recover it!. Well, perhaps \'pre-determined\' in this context really means that someone had thought earlier that this was one place it might come down if they were unlucky! I would suggest that while the aims of the program are laudable and no doubt there has been considerable success so far, it would actually be much better PR if the company did not try to put such a positive spin on a rather poor outcome. Future credibility is at stake - Lockheed Martin please take note.
Slowburn
solutions4circuits - Helium-3 can be manufactured but it might put a dent in the lithium supply. Mr Stiffy - With the possible exception of a specific color of neon lighting there is nothing that helium does that can not be done with other gasses.
JohnB
This piece is all out of context in that it implies that Loc-Mart is leading the way with this entire idea. I suggest that all of you, including the author, check out the following site: http://www.aerosml.com/ (Ed's note: we have been keeping an eye on Aeros - http://www.gizmag.com/tag/aeros/)