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Tue, Sep 09, 2003

It's Not Your Father's Hindenburg

Navy's Airship, Santos Dumont, to Conduct Test Phase

Skyship 600B Santos Dumont, an Office of Naval Research funded project, arrived at Brown Field in Otay Mesa (CA) on August 29, beginning a three-month test/demonstration phase in Southern California.

Measuring more than 190 feet in length, the Skyship 600B Santos Dumont will test and demonstrate the capabilities of the Littoral Airborne Sensor Hyperspectal (LASH) system, which captures light patterns and determines anomalies or abnormal patterns.

Steve Huett, Naval Air Systems Command’s director of airship programs, said the combination of the LASH system and an airship, or blimp, could potentially provide the Navy with a platform that can provide "persistent, long duration surveillance missions."

This, Huett said, may allow the Navy to beef up its homeland defense missions while cutting operational costs. Because the airship operates by using a helium-filled envelope, he said propelling it would use less energy than the traditional jet-powered aircraft - reducing operating costs for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance missions by approximately 30 percent.

"Without a doubt, as far as airborne platforms go," said Huett, "airships are the most efficient, most stable and most comfortable for that particular mission."

Huett said a lot of people are skeptical about using airships, but don’t need to be.

"As soon as you mention 'airship,'" said Huett, "people flash a mental picture of the Hindenburg (right). They think 'It’s a big target, it’s easy to hit, it’s going to burn and people are going to die.' Well, they’re wrong, wrong, wrong... and wrong."

"An airship is the most survivable form of air transportation there is," said Huett.

First, Huett explained, from a radar signature perspective, they would be relatively small targets.

Second, he said, the British Ministry of Defense "did extensive live fire testing," and because of the way airships are built, they could be very difficult to take down. "If (an airship gets hit) in the bottom, you may get a slow leak and continue the mission," Huett said. "If (an airship) gets a big hole on top, it may come down, but may take hours to do so."

The Navy’s relationship with airships dates back more than 60 years. Huett said the Navy used airships extensively throughout World War II and into the 1960s, before being replaced by the P-3 Orion aircraft.

He added that the Navy flirted with the idea of using airships in the '80s, but the program was ultimately sidelined due to budget cuts and a change in administration.

"There are a lot of people in the Navy that are looking at this demonstration period as an opportunity to reintroduce the concept of airships," Huett said.

[Thanks to Journalist 2nd Class David Van Scoy, Navy Region Southwest Public Affairs --ed.]



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