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US Army cancels LEMV airship project


February 15, 2013

First flight of the Northrop Grumman LEMV airship (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

First flight of the Northrop Grumman LEMV airship (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

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When Northrop Grumman announced that it was building the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), it looked as if the age of the great airships was returning. When the LEMV took to the air in its maiden flight, it seemed a certainty. Now, the US Army has announced that the US$517 million program has been cancelled.

When we contacted the US Army, a spokesman said, “The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), a hybrid air vehicle, is a technology demonstration project administered by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. This project was initially designed to support operational needs in Afghanistan in Spring 2012; it will not provide a capability in the timeframe required. Due to technical and performance challenges, and the limitations imposed by constrained resources, the Army has determined to discontinue the LEMV development effort."

The LEMV was intended to act as a very long endurance aircraft that could hover on station at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 m) for 21 days, for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Northrop video below shows the LEMV taking off.

Source: US Army via Popular Science

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

OK NG, reuse blimp for : Slow Air Cargo runs Tourism: carry 50 passengers for flights over HI, Mex, US etc. Carry produce, foods from Cent Valley CA to LA CA or Portland> Make it Go Civil. Donate plans to GoodYear??

Stephen Russell

Oh, for crying out loud. Over half a billion spent on developing this, and now they decide it won't be of use? I would rather see it be completed and then deployed for other regions. There's always going to be another hot spot bubbling up that could use an observation platform with that kind of endurance.

Dave MacLachlan

It was high cost, limited use. Hopefully now they will take a look at something much more viable. At least run some studies to check this out. ConcordLift.com has animation and the paper presented to last fall's AIAA conference. There has been nothing found that renders this concept unworkable in an engineering sense or without potential profitability. 5 million shipping containers are in motion each day. Just 1% would need 1000 large ConcordLift. Lower cost than 3rd world truck, rail and less than small ships. Faster more direct for less cost.

Stephen Funck

These were always too easy a target even in WWI. The LEMV was a boondoggle since day 1, I don't know how it escaped administrative notice until today. I am a big fan, but these gentle giants are peacetime vehicles only.


Easy. Keep it on station and pack it with a few emergency cell tower equipment. At altitude it should cover about 10 states.


VERY disappointing. I wonder if the looming threat of sequestration was the death knell.

Like Dave, I'm hoping that much of the hard work was already done and that Northrop Grumman and it's partners can keep the project alive by appealing to cargo companies, etc. And the did build and demo the LEMV we see in the video as proof of concept, so all we boasters can do is hope that someone in industry picks up where the Army left off.


Even if not for war, airships seems to me like a savior for civilian transportation. They are VTOL (hence requiring almost zero runway), are a HELLAVALOT cheaper than planes (even if they lose economical edge once you scale them up), require no jet fuel (arguably they can probably run fine on solar rechargeable battery), and will still make a much smoother and faster ride than cars.

I can really see this being a great option for close to mid distance transport, like interstate ride. Budget airlines are already doing these routes with small planes, but I think a Blimp holding those 30-50 passengers will be a hellavalot cheaper than planes. (Not that I really know their price, but I suppose that should be about accurate)

Savin Wangtal

That is a big disappointment. I was hoping for the military to have it so it can be transformed for civilian purposes; like the show that had things developed for the military but become useful for civilian use; an example is GPS.

I think it would be really cool as a floating cruise ship; like the Hindenburg but way safer.


pshh, typical government waste... Think of a good product, create it, then scrap it.

I think airships/hybrids have a bright future, I think the biggest money maker for them will be lifting heavy, large, & oddly shaped items. This project got canned, but the one that I think shows the most promise (Aeroscraft) is still chugging along with progress.

Derek Howe

Does this thing have any cargo or passenger capacity? If so, I can see quite a number of commercial applications.

Robert Fallin

There is a severe shortage of helium so the cost of it has skyrocketed ergo project cancellation.


Yet again the Brass demonstrate their short sightedness. True at low altitudes, it is vunerable to ground fire; once aloft however it would (with onboard defensive/offensive UAVs) be more than capable of defending itself. In addition, unlike current aircraft, it can loiter at altitude almost indefinitly! Still there is plenty of scope for the civillian air market...it may be a trifle slower, but the ship could fly city to city requiring much less space than current airports (and incidently, offering an enviromentally friendly means of transportation.

Mike Callesen

Blimps are a waste of money and time. Anything they can do can be done with something far more practical. The simple fact is that they are slow and vulnerable to attack. We don't need them for any real military purposes. I smell pork.


One of the single biggest war costs is moving supplies to the war zone.

100,000 soldiers consume many tons of ammo, food, water, etc. daily.

Convoys are extremely vulnerable driving through mountains. One attack costs millions.

Just maintaining surveillance over the convoy route or military operations areas is invaluable.

Should be easy to add long range laser designators to basically weaponize the blimp. Given guided 70mm or 4.2 mortars, it really could increase accuracy/lethality.

The military has other blimps in use. It may be this program was in trouble.


So, where does this leave the Aeroscraft project? I thought, and may be incorrect, that airship was a DoD funded project. Or, maybe it is DARPA?

Charles Gage

originally the biggest assumption for this blimp was not war as known but civilian monitoring and stabilisation. I guess they found a better way or this civil war threat isn't on the cards. All speculation surrounded by the fact in military based war scenarios blimps can be shredded by AA, but in civil contexts AA gear is rare/non-existent.

Murray Smart

It's too late. Incredibly asinine policies of dumping helium from gas wells, selling it at less than cost and wasting it on billions of children's balloons has pretty much ended the planet's supply. Just another example of official and unofficial stupidity.

Michael Pearce

How do you spend more than half a BILLION dollars and THEN decide it's useless?

Look up the Piasecki-97. It's on Youtube and elsewhere.

At least this blimp project didn't kill anybody... as far as I know.


Just a thought; the LEMV could be re-purposed for archeological use in Central & South America. Just park it over one of the unexplored ruins in the jungle & lower everyone down at dawn to work, then bring them up at dusk & climb to a safe altitude for the night, to enjoy the safety & modern conveniences of the LEMV.

Bill Barker

Anchor these things in the jet stream provided with HUGE wind turbines generating electric power. Use a small portion of the energy to pull (condense) H2O out of the atmosphere which then could be split to provide hydrogen for ongoing lift. Don't have the science to prove the concept, but I'm sure some of you geeks do.


Another pork barrel our taxes went to! No skin off Northrop Grumman.


The good news is this is not dead as it was not a northrop grumman owned design airship, the main design is the property of HAV a UK based company who have the possibility of making versions called the Airlander. there has already been interest from canada and other countries with reference to there prospectus. Lets just hope this project comes to fruition.

Colin Littley
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