At Last, Huge Hybrid Airship for ISR Makes First Flight
The Northrop Grumman long endurance, multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) has made a 90-minute first flight, about one year behind schedule. The 304-foot-long optionally manned hybrid airship was released from tether at Lakehurst, N.J., on August 7, according to the sponsoring agency, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC).
The primary objective of the first flight was to perform a safe launch and recovery, with the secondary objective of verifying the flight control system, the USASMDC said. “Additional first-flight objectives included airworthiness testing and demonstration, and system-level performance verification. All objectives were met during the first flight,” the Army continued. The LEMV was manned for the first flight, and will also be manned for subsequent test flights following “a detailed inspection of the vehicle,” the USASMDC added.
The LEMV was designed to support ground troops by providing a continuous stream of imagery and signals intelligence from multiple sensors over many days. The platform was designed by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) of the UK under subcontract to Northrop Grumman. HAV flew a subscale version of a hybrid airship some years ago, but nothing on the scale of the LEMV has ever been attempted. The vehicle was supposed to be flight-tested, and its mission systems integrated, in time for a deployment to Afghanistan early this year.
HAV business development director Hardy Giesler told AIN today that, configured as a freighter, the airship could carry a payload of 20 tonnes, but for the ISR mission it is designed to carry a 2,500-pound payload at 20,000 feet for 21 days. The Army says the airship will perform the ISR mission with fuel consumption 10 times less than that of mission-comparable platforms, and that it will provide a 2,000-mile radius of action.