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Lockheed Martin's prototype blimp crashes during maiden voyage

The Army has awarded a $517 million, five-year contract to Northrop Grumman to build the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, which would provide commanders with real time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information from 20,000 feet.

COURTESY U.S. ARMY

By JIM MACKINNON | THE AKRON BEACON JOURNAL Published: July 28, 2011

The High Altitude Airship prototype's maiden voyage this morning did not end well. The high-tech, unmanned airship crashed in a controlled descent in Western Pennsylvania when something went awry within hours of it taking off from Akron.

Lockheed Martin's High Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator blimp, which took flight at 5:47 a.m. today from its Akron Airdock base, is down in a wooded area in Greene County, Pa.

No one was hurt, officials said.

The airship got as high as 32,000 feet this morning when the decision was made to bring it down.

"We had some anomaly," said John Cummings, Army spokesman. "We were supposed to get up to 60,000 feet."

"We did make a decision to bring it down and bring it down in a nonpopulated area," Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Kimberly Ramalho said. "I don't think we know the state of the aircraft."

Lockheed Martin issued the following statement: "The U.S. Army and Lockheed Martin had a successful launch of the HALE-D aircraft from Akron Ohio at 5:47 am.
"The aircraft ascended as planned up to 32,000 feet along the prepared flight profile.

However, an anomaly prevented our ability to ascend to the target 60,000 feet.
"A decision was made to end the flight and make a controlled descent into a non-populated area in southwestern Pennsylvania at 8:26 a.m. More information as we know it.

Crews were on the way to the site of the crash. Television pictures showed a silvery blob on top of trees.

The U.S. Army, which is funding the unmanned, solar-powered airship, did not give advance notice of the flight this morning.

By 6:30 a.m., the 240-foot-long airship, which also goes by the acronym HALE-D, was a small, shiny silver dot high up in the sky.

The untethered airship was designed to hover over one spot for weeks at a height of 60,000 feet, well above where commercial jets fly. If the concept proves itself, Lockheed Martin wants to build full-size unmanned airships that would be 400 feet long -- more than twice the length of the 192-foot-long Goodyear blimp.

The High Altitude Airship is billed as a lower cost alternative to satellites that can do surveillance and provide communications.

Lockheed Martin and the military on Monday announced that they expected the HALE-D to fly within seven to 10 days, weather permitting. Spokespeople for the Army and the defense contractor said it was likely that the airship would take flight early in the morning, likely before dawn.

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Copyright (c) 2011, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.



 

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