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First flight of LEMV military blimp scheduled for next month


May 24, 2012

Northrop Grumman’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) is scheduled to make its first flight next month

Northrop Grumman’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) is scheduled to make its first flight next month

Next-generation airships are notorious for always being just around the corner, almost but not-quite ready to take to the skies. According to a report in Wired, however, Northrop Grumman’s military Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) has been scheduled to make its maiden flight early next month.

The announcement was reportedly made at a special forces industry conference in Tampa, Florida, by Northrop Grumman’s director of Army programs, K.C. Brown, Jr.

Apparently the LEMV should begin test flights at Lakehurst, New Jersey, sometime between June 6 and 10. It will then head to Florida, where it will be outfitted with a custom gondola containing its cameras and radios. By early winter (Northern Hemisphere) it should be crossing the Atlantic Ocean, unmanned, for a front-line combat demonstration in what was described only as “a theater.”

Northrop Grumman is building the LEMV for the U.S. Army to operate primarily as a surveillance and reconnaissance vehicle, although potentially also to transport cargo. In fact, Discovery Air Innovations of Canada has already agreed to purchase a larger heavy-lift variant of the LEMV, for providing cargo services to remote regions.

Source: Wired

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

awesome. I a big fan of airships, they are way cheaper then satellites, that said, this ones budget is ludicrous. 500 million is 400 million too high.

Derek Howe

The 500 million figure is for 3 LEMV's not 1 and that figure includes all the very expensive surveillance gear, remote control systems and ground stations. The cost of each hybrid air vehicle is less than 100 million and will be far less than that of an equivalent fixed wing aircraft once in mass production, they also use only a fraction of the fuel requirement of normal aircraft. The real longer term future is with the HAV 366 that is under development for Discovery Air for vertical heavy lift and long range point to point (Off airport) cargo operations in remote areas. The new hybrid air vehicles use a hoverskirt for an undercart and so don't need a runway, just a flat area of land, ice, snow or water.

Trevor Hunt

Lakehurst, NJ, huh? Well, at least we know the builders of this airship aren't superstitious.

Mark Dixon

I would be concerned about using these for surveillance. I realize that they are less expensive than a satellite, but one handheld ground to air missile and it's game over. The reason that unmanned drones work so well is that they are small, fast and can fly close to the ground. There's nothing small or fast about a LEMV.

I agree that the heavy lift version of this will have some really powerful uses.

Royce Edwards

The thing about blimps or balloons, ever since WWI, they are such easy targets.


@Mark Dixon There's a naval air engineering station in Lakehurst. I heard someone say the airship hangar there is the largest wooden hangar in the world. I've been on the property of the facility but wasn't able to get a pass to see the hangar during the time I was there. I'd love to pay a visit to the closest civilian location to the base and hopefully see this LEMV in flight.

Oh, and for those who don't understand what Mr. Dixon was referring to, this location in Lakehurst, NJ was where the ill-fated Hindenburg met with disaster while trying to dock.


"... Oh, the humanity!"...Royce Edwards and Warhead pretty much sums it up. I suspect this yet another example of military contract (no bid?) awarded for reasons not discussed in public. 'nuf said.


I think those of you that are concerned with with this being shot down may be missing something. What is its stationary height? I am thinking almost into space..... Not impossible to shoot down, but would require an advanced jet or missile system to do so.

why is it whenever they build a massive airship the gondola is tiny? would it not make sense to utilize the massive underside to make the gondola carry lots of people?


Again, lots of ignorance on display here.

Mark Dixon, alcalde had it right. This is a military program, and Lakehurst has been the Navy's premier LTA facility since before the Hindenburg.

Royce Edwards, operating altitude is 20,000 feet. The Stinger is the best shoulder-launched missile system available and it doesn't have anywhere near that range. And do you think target acquisition would be easy at that distance? What would the heat-seeker of the missile lock onto, especially at that range? Can you easily see an airliner at cruising altitude from the ground? And presumably a production version of this would use something like Compass Ghost Grey coloration rather than white, so you would be hard-pressed to spot it against the sky.

floccipaucinihilipilification, you seriously overestimate the lifting power of helium or even hydrogen.


re; floccipaucinihilipilification

It is a lighter than air craft. It takes vast quantities of helium to lift a small weight, make the gondola bigger and you won't be able to get it off the ground.


Too bad we are running out of helium at an alarming rate.


I don't understand why many readers think the LEMV will be easy to shoot down. It will operate at 20,000 ft which is well above the range of anything the Taliban have and the diesel engines it uses are too cool to give an infra red missile a suitable lock on signal. The Taliban can't even shoot down stationary aerostats at 2,000 ft and even if they did hit the LEMV, the main envelope pressure differential so low and the volume so big it could tolerate a lot of holes before being forced to land. From the point of view of the US Army, if the bad guys did manage to import an effective radar guided AA missile system, then it would be much better if they shot at a LEMV rather than an airliner or transport aircraft. For more information on hybrid air vehicles try:

Hybrid Airship

Are you aware of a design for a Bio-Derigable Airship... something that I would really love to see built, it may be far in advance of anything in the air now or contemplated... Here is the link, I believe that the person is an engineer: (interesting site)

Joseph Hyde

Being unmanned and flying very high it could use hydrogen instead of helium. Of course all manned lighter than air should be helium filled but as a "spy in the sky" I see no reason hydrogen could not be considered.


For long term loft forgoing hydrogen and helium might be best while ammonia and methane do not have as much lift they are much easier to contain.


a) Being shot down: Even if it was carrying cargo, and was dropping it off at places where the action is, they may be able to do high altitude drops (high altitude low opening parachutes that open at the very last moment automatically, with fins steering it where u want the cargo to go before parachutes prevent whatever is in it being smeared over the grown as debris OR if they have to land to do so will only do so if the place around it is assumed to be free of any enemies with something that can take it down - ie not on the warfront but miles behind it where other "bases" are that ideally have their own defense systems for the area not just per building. and / OR it can have its own missile defense systems in place / lasors or anti-missile-missles etc. being so far away means that gives the thing a lot of advanced warning on a missile approaching - enough for its own anti-missile systems (if any) to have a chance of keeping the thing afloat.

and remember "all things military" are not invulnerable, yes it can be shot down, it can be destroyed, that doesn't mean its not practical or useful in SOME situations

b) We will not run out of helium, or oil or anything, it will just get more expensive to get (there will always be a way to get X, but cost per pound varies on available of resources and means to extract / refine / distribute it.

Andrew Kubicki

Shooting down an inert gas filled airship is extraordinarily difficult it is not a latex balloon that pops at the first prick, nor is the lifting gas at high presser.


@Gadgeteer: To quote the movie "Stripes"..."Lighten up, Francis." My intent was simply to point out the irony that the place that was, ostensibly, the deathplace for lighter than air travel should now be the place for its rebirth. Heck, it may even be appropriate that Lakehurst be that place. You know, the Phoenix rising from its own ashes and all that. In so many ways, airships simply make sense for the heavy lift needs of the military and industry and so long as we have learned the lessons of history (which I'm sure we have) and don't fill them with explosive hydrogen and paint the exterior with chemicals that approximate the formula for rocket fuel, this rebirth should be very successful.

Mark Dixon

re; Mark Dixon

At worst hydrogen is merely flammable. It was the overly energetic rocket fuel painted all over the skin that brought Hindenburg to a bad end.

The biggest problem with hydrogen as a lifting gas is how fast it must be replaced.


For all of you who took this too seriously, and for all of you who need a good laugh... Go watch the Archer episode called "Skytanic" (its on netflix). It is directly related to this "Military Blimp"


FYI, the LEMV is not a "lighter than air" aircraft. It requires aerodynamic lift to stay aloft. Without the aerodynamic lift, it will come down -- albeit very slowly (i.e., not like a 737).

Those who commented on the difficulty of 'shooting down' an airship like this are correct. Because the pressure gradient (from inside to outside) is so low, holes in the bottom skin are not going to leak much helium. And if you're shooting at the thing from the ground, well, the most likely point of contact is the bottom skin. There are other considerations, as well -- but the bottom line is that it's not coming down quickly or easily in most situations.

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