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Blimps: Are They Better than Drones, or Just Waiting to Be Popped?

Written by on Monday, July 16th, 2012

If I asked you to identify the most technologically advanced vessels in the US Air Force, your first guess would probably be a supersonic war fighter like the F-35 or the F-15. Some of you would go with the state-of-the-art spy and surveillance satellites orbiting earth. Very few of you would think of a blimp.

And for good reason — these bloated lighter-than-air vessels are little more than glorified balloons with a lot of extra gear strapped to the bottom. They’re huge, slow, clumsy, and most of us associate blimps with the ill-fated Hindenburg. We tend to think of blimps as outdated leftovers from an earlier era or as floating advertisements at football games, not as a viable military aircraft.

Well, believe it or not, blimps are making a comeback. The USAF has been dropping millions of dollars into Blue Devil 2, a massive, 370-foot-long blimp that could cruise at heights at 20,000 feet.

Surely, I must be kidding. Blimps? What can these slow, clunky aircraft possibly offer that other aircraft, such as jets, helicopters, and drones can’t? It’s simple, really: space.

Blimps can hold much more equipment than their winged counterparts, which means that surveillance blimps could drastically outshine the dinky single camera of drones. You think your iPhone has a lot of apps? Wait until you listen to this. Blue Devil 2 and other blimps like it could have a wide-area airborne surveillance system that uses 96 cameras, day and night video cameras, communication relays and receivers for ground sensors, on-board listening devices, satellite signal receivers, and half a dozen other systems that turn the blimp into the ultimate observation tool.

And here’s the best part: these buy valium no prescription needed blimps should be able to do a lot of the processing on their own. The USAF is drowning in a sea of digital data that they’ve collected from drones, and it’ll be years before they manage to sort through it all. Surveillance blimps should have enough space for on-board computers that can do all of the processing automatically. These lighter-than-air aircraft, appropriately enough, will lighten the digital burden on military processors. Add the fact that each surveillance system will be able to exchange information with each other, and you’ll have something akin to a communication specialist or a five-star general hovering over the battlefield.

The only problem is getting the blimp into the air. Budget problems, set backs, and red tape have been plaguing the Blue Devil 2 since its inception. The Air Force and legislators haven’t been able to agree on whether or not the massive vessel is worth it. The USAF has been wanting to scrap the program, but Sens. Thad Cochran and Daniel Ionuye are peeved that the USAF isn’t following through. Currently, the vessel is slated to be dismantled and stored. So, has the blimp program been popped before it even got off the ground?

No, not exactly. The Army is also working on their own surveillance blimp, the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle. The Navy is getting in on the action, too, by toying with designs for lighter-than-air hybrid aircraft. Theoretically, the success of either of these blimps could resuscitate the USAF’s dying blimp program. At this point, it’s hard to tell whether blimp technology really is the next best thing in aerial surveillance, or if the idea is just a bunch of hot air.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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