Army's LEMV Surveillance Airship Flies

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The US Air Force may have cancelled its persistent surveillance airship, but the US Army has kept the faith, and today (August 7) Northrop Grumman's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) made its delayed first flight.

Artwork: Northrop Grumman

No pictures have been released yet, but the 300ft-plus-long hybrid airship flew manned for more than 90min from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. The Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command statement says:

The first flight primary objective was to perform a safe launch and recovery with a secondary objective to verify the flight control system operation. Additional first flight objectives included airworthiness testing and demonstration, and system level performance verification. All objectives were met during the first flight.

When Northrop signed the $154 million contract for the LEMV in June 2010, first flight was scheduled for 12-13 months into the 18-month development program. The airship is planned to deploy to Afghanistan after the completion of testing, which would now put it into early 2013.

The airship is designed to operate unmanned at 20,000 ft. for 21 days; providing up to 16kW of electrical power for a 2,500 lb. payload of several different sensors. Hybrid Air Vehicles of the UK is the subcontractor responsible for the airship itself.

The LEMV is optionally manned and flew with a crew for this first flight. "Additional manned flights will resume following a planned and very detailed inspection of the vehicle," says the Army.

The Air Force canceled its Blue Devil 2 persistent surveillance airship in May, 18 months after contract award, issuing prime contractor MAV6 with a stop-work order owing to poor performance. The non-rigid airship had been inflated and was undergoing integration in Elizabeth City, NC, but had yet to fly.

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