US Army Orders Lockheed-Martin’s Mystery Airship
Recentlys! U.S. Army LEMV Program ordered this 21-day endurance, 20K Altitude Hybrid LTA for AFPAK:
A hybrid airship derives most of its lift by being filled with a lighter-than-air gas such as helium. Overall, it is heavier than air and gains the final 20% or so of lift by flying like an aircraft, but with slow takeoff and landing speeds that allow operations from short unprepared strips. The Skunk Works made the first flight of its “P-791” testbed on Jan. 31 at its facility on the Palmdale Air Force Plant 42 airport. The manned flight was about a 5-min. circuit around the airport in the morning and appeared to be successful. The company did not announce or want to discuss the flight. The P-791 is not part of a government contract, but rather an independent research and development project by the Skunk Works to better understand airship capabilities and technologies, such as materials, a company official says. However, it may also be a quarter-scale prototype of a heavy-lifter.
TO GAIN MORE SPAN TO ACT LIKE a wing, the P-791 is three pressurized lobes joined together. An observer of the first flight says it was about the size of three Fuji blimps blended together. The Fuji blimp, a Skyship 600 model, is 206 ft. long. That suggests the P-791 would have a gross lift of roughly 3-5 tons. The observer saw the craft performing very tight 360-deg. turns while taxiing. It made a brief takeoff roll, climbed to a low altitude, made a few banks–including a long sweeping turn–then came back and landed. The landing approach had a nose-down body attitude that levelled for the flare. The flight was very smooth, the observer says. The craft was flown by P-791 Chief Test Pilot Eric P. Hansen. The speed of the testbed was estimated at about 20 kt. A full-scale version would be able to go much faster, over 100 kt. Lockheed Martin has long proposed a large transport airship, at one time called the Aerocraft, which was halted around 2000 (AW&ST Feb. 22, 1999, p. 26). That design was about 800 ft. long and was to carry 1-1.2 million lb. at 125 kt. The Skunk Works was one of two contractors to receive one-year, $3-million Darpa contracts in August 2005 to study Walrus. The second Walrus phase would be a three-year demonstration effort.