UAV’s, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, tend to face two issues – not being able to stay on station for long periods, and carrying enough of a payload to be useful. Nevada outfit Airship Manufacturing is introducing a new line of UAV airships, called Sky Sentinels, that promise larger payloads with greater endurance, as well as being adaptable, modular, and economical to operate. And they do this without any wings.
As a UAV, these lighter-than-air vehicles offer large payload modules, multiple sensor attachments (as many as eight per payload module), significant electric power, and endurance measured in days rather than hours. As a bonus, the airship can be very quiet, providing a near noise- and vibration-free environment for finicky sensors.
The line of Sky Sentinels airships use various engine configurations determined by the mission being flown, including a single, large, low speed stern propeller that provides nearly silent flight. Electrical power is provided by a single diesel engine. As with most airships, an internal air bladder called a ballonet allows the airship to adjust its internal pressure to match changes in the outside air pressure. This allows the airship to maintain its shape as it climbs or descends.
Talking to Gizmag, Airship Manufacturing President Paul Adams, a long time airship activist and manned airship pilot, said that the objective of the Sky Sentinel is to be a cost-effective, long-duration, large-payload system that requires a minimum of ground crew. Crewed airships require many people on the ground to "catch" the airship as it lands. The Sky Sentinel is designed to require just four or five – a major cost savings. Early testing with this airship configuration resulted in “impressive” performance with the airship able to operate safely in 20-35 knot winds.
The introductory version of the Sky Sentinel is a 98 ft (30 m) long airship that contains 26,000 cubic feet (736 cubic meters) of helium and lofts a payload weight of about 300 lb (136 kg). Airship Manufacturing is located near Las Vegas in the town of Mesquite Nevada.
Since US FAA regulations currently do not allow a UAV to be operated commercially, Mr. Adams feels that their first sales will be outside the United States, in areas like South America, Africa, or Europe.
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