Navy's Airship, Santos Dumont, to Conduct Test
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
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
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
"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
"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
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.]