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Hybrid Airships: outside the box Solutions for the front line.

The Aviation Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, the US European Command, and the Patuxent Partnership joined forces to sponsor the "Hybrid Airships for Heavy Lift Conference" on March 31-April 1. The speakers were impressive, not only for their breadth of knowledge and achievements but also for their belief in airship technologies. The audience was fully engaged throughout the duration of the two-day event. Participation from General Duncan McNabb, USAF, commander of USTRANSCOM, and Lieutenant General "Ken" Keen, USA, commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) - Haiti, on opening day was especially meaningful. USTRANSCOM was slated to receive the Joint Meritorious Unit Award the very next day from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; and General Keen appeared live from Haiti (via Skype) where he took time to share a personal account of the largest humanitarian mission ever undertaken in US history.



According to General Duncan McNabb, a seasoned Air Force pilot who has logged more than 5600 aircraft hours, the best flight performance exists at the "edge of the envelope" where speed and attitude are in perfect balance. A similar finesse governs successful supply chain management, and in this case, velocity is not the primary driver. If processes are not in place to receive, store, and deliver the goods forward, it doesn't matter how quickly things come.

"TRANSCOM pushes the envelope," McNabb explained, "through superb training, absolute discipline, peak fitness, team work, and communication. We win in the pits."

Lighter Than Air (LTL) technology--Hybrid Airships--may be just the push that TRANSCOM needs to continue meeting the many irregular demands faced in Afghanistan, Haiti, or other "hot spots." Testing has demonstrated that hybrid airships can rise to the challenge. They provide platforms for diverse operations like heavy lift, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Response), or satellite communications when ground lines are impaired. They offer an alternative intermodal node (or "seamless connector") that can synchronize delivery and distribution. Airships are safe, reliable, and cost effective.

Except for use in advertising and novelty tours, airships these days are an infrequent sight. Perhaps the memory of the Hindenburg or developments in heavier-than-air (HTA) flight, trucking, and maritime transport have rendered them slow or cumbersome. Fortunately, advances in avionics, computer assisted design, and weather forecasting among other technologies are generating renewed attention from commercial, government, and military sectors that may anchor airships on our horizon and in expanded new roles.



TRANSCOM is looking to transform the business of distribution, and TRANSCOM's commander is open to all of the tactical possibilities that airships can offer from mitigating infrastructure shortfalls to overcoming austere environments. "It's something we've talked about quite a bit. We sure could have used an airship in Haiti ... supplies had to go through debris and crowds of homeless people. An airship would have made a big difference."

Collateral initiatives, like the Joint Precision Air Drops (JPADS) System, have done much to extend TRANSCOM's reach, yet it costs ten times as much to deliver the goods by conventional air than by surface; helicopters are more costly. [NOTE: McNabb hailed drones as "an exciting prospect" for air drop in Afghanistan last December saying that they could make the cost "pretty cheap."] In 2005, for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), TRANSCOM delivered 2 million pounds of resupply airdrop, and 29 million in 2009. This year, 60 million pounds are projected. Air drops as is are not completely efficient, though, which is why a heavy lift airship might make a nice fit for TRANSCOM. "If we could figure this out, it would be a critical connector. It's an exciting time. We've had over 8 years of lessons learned delivering forces over great distances ... but that last tactical mile has been especially rough. As the DPO [Distribution Process Owner], if I can get it to the port, that's only half the battle. Whether it's Haiti or Afghanistan. TRANSCOM is spending a lot of time figuring out how to get to those hard to reach forward places."

General "Ken" Keen has been on the distribution "front lines" in Haiti since the earthquake struck. Speaking via Skype following McNabb's remarks at the Conference, he told the audience that strategic heavy airship support would have provided a huge logistical advantage to the JTF team. Haiti was at the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of capabilities even before the disaster. After sustaining a shallow 7-point earthquake on January 12, the only gateway into the island was the airfield--and it was just barely open. The harbor piers were wiped out and the cranes had collapsed fouling the waterway. Regarding interiors, it was next to impossible to navigate even on foot.

Had airships been available, thousands of lives could have been saved. Within hours, airships could have been tethered to release rescue teams, medical personnel, and life saving provisions. Earth moving equipment and heavy lift materiel could have been dispatched in following waves of relief assistance after ground landing wherever necessary and/or possible. Imagine how much worse it would have been if Haiti's airport had been totally damaged, or how many supplies could have been delivered directly to those in need rather than being lost to pilferage. The first items were dropped on January 18, after lawlessness broke out on the ground and goods were stolen for black market distribution. Airships could have brought civil order to the chaos through surveillance.

Generals McNabb and Keen set the stage for a host of distinguished speakers from industry, academics, and the Naval Research Lab Squadron VXS-1--the Pilot in Command of the Navy Airship MZ-3A. Exhibits from Aeros Aeronautical Systems Corporation, Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works Defense Technical Information Center, Hybrid Air Vehicles, Ltd., and Ohio Airships, Inc. rounded out the show. A wide range of subjects and displays addressed a new transport rationale--one that definitely falls "outside the box."


On April 1, General McNabb accepted the Joint Meritorious Unit Award on behalf of USTRANSCOM. The award is granted to joint activities for meritorious achievement or service, superior to that which is normally expected in combat, emergency situations, or extraordinary circumstances that involve national interests. The citation reads, in part:

 "For exceptional meritorious achievement from 1 March
 2007 to 28 February 2010 ... the US Transportation Command
 consistently displayed exceptional collaborative leadership
 and execution of wartime missions for United States forces
 engaged in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. The Command's
 three components--Air Mobility Command, Military Sea-lift Command,
 and Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command--carried
 over 5 million passengers, 25 thousand patients, and 7.5 million
 short tons in support of United States Central Commands two main
 operations ... USTRANSCOM expedited delivery of thousands of sets
 of individual body armor, armored vehicles, and supplemental armor
 kits, in addition to supporting troop surges in Iraq and


As summer approaches, US troops are drawing down in Haiti. Approximately 500 will remain as part of US Southern Command's enduring partnership and continued humanitarian assistance. The exercise "New Horizons-Haiti" will be established to construct school classrooms and emergency operations centers to help Haitians prepare for possible future natural disasters. Recently, LTG Ken Keen, who is also the Military Deputy Commander of US Southern Command, turned over Joint Task Force-Haiti to MG Simeon Trombitas. Keen will go down in history as having successfully led one of the largest disaster relief efforts undertaken by the US.


MARCH 31-APRIL 1, 2010


* Bonnie Green, Executive Director, The Patuxent Partnership

* Dr. Suzy Young, Dir., Advanced Science & Technology Directorate, Aviation & Missile Research, Devel. & Engineering Ctr.

* John C.F. Tillson, Deputy Director, Strategy, Policy and Assessments, US European Command


* "USTRANSCOM--Meeting a Global Challenge," General Duncan McNabb, USAF, Commander, USTRANSCOM

* "EUCOM/AFRICOM/TRANSCOM. Point-of-Need Delivery (POND) Experimentation Campaign," LT COL Brian "Gazer" Mead, USAF, EUCOM, J8-C, Experimentation

* "Joint Task Force--Haiti," LTG Ken Keen, Deputy Commander, SOUTHCOM, and COL Alex Vohr, J4 SOUTHCOM

* "Current Capabilities for Unmanned Airships for Battlefield ISR & Communications Shortfalls," Brian Matkin, Sr. Engineer and Program Mgr., Westar

* "Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV)," Ed Loxterkamp, Rapid Acquisition Lead, DOD ISR Task Force, USD(1), OSD

* "Airships: Everything You Thought You Knew," Pete Buckley, Airship Pilot, Integrated Systems Solutions, Inc.

* "History of Hybrid Aircraft 2000 to Present," Steve Huett, Dir. Advanced Development PMO for Airship Concepts, NAVAIR

* "OSD Heavy Lift Perspective," COL Bale Holland, USAF, Emerging Capabilities, Defense Research & Engineering

* "Heavy Lift Applications," Bill Crowder, Dir. for Advanced Technologies, LMI

* "NASA Ames Airship Research," Dr. Alan Weston, Dir. of Programs, NASA Ames

* "From the Fundamental to Applied: Considerations for Practical Airship Operations," Dr. Mark Lewis, Chair, Aerospace Dept. University of Maryland

* "Collaborative Engineering and Research Capabilities to meet DOD Hybrid-Aircraft Heavy Lift Requirements," Dr. John Horack, VP for Research, University of Alabama, Huntsville

* "Nontraditional Requirements," Jacques Collignon, Sr. Regional Logistics Officer, UN World Food Programme

* "OMNI Warfare Game Changer: Laser Beam Weapons + Static Lift," Chuck Meyers, President Aerocouncil, Inc.

* "Future Deployment and Distribution Assessment," Dave Cannella, Chief, USTRANSCOM JDPAC Programmatic Div.

OUTSIDE the Box - MZ-3A | LEMV | A160T


The Navy has resurrected its Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) program on March 2, 2010, when the MZ-3A airship took to the skies over Naval Air Engineering Station (NAES) Lakehurst, NJ, on a "functional check flight." The MZ-3A flew under the banner of Scientific Development Squadron ONE (VXS-1), working in conjunction with its parent organization, the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Flights in the coming weeks and months will be the first LTA operations since the Navy decommissioned the last LTA Patrol squadron in 1962.

MZ-3A, the first Navy airship purchased since 1960, is manufactured by American Blimp Corporation and is a Government Owned/Contractor Operated commercial "off the shelf" asset that is a slightly modified version of the "Lightship" seen hovering over stadiums and outdoor events. The airship's platform is 178 feet in length. It offers a 3000-pound payload capacity coupled with a fuel burn rate of approximately 10 gallons per hour at cruising speed (55 mph); and less when holding in "loiter" mode.

Multiple DOD and industry entities have shown interest in the capabilities that airships bring to the table. NRL and NAVAIR have already coordinated several MZ-3A Science & Technology projects through VXS-1 ensuring the future value of this platform for years to come and the return of the LTA force to the US Navy.

As this issue of the DTJ goes to press, the MZ-3A is in transit to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma where it will be stationed for at least the next 6 months. While there, according to CDR Chris Janke, USN, VXS-1 Commanding Officer, the airship hopefully will become an integral part of "a multi-service venture to impact the warfighter." On its journey to Yuma, the MZ-3A relies on a mast truck to provide a broad, stable mooring area at each stopping point, "It secures to the truck," explained Janke. "It needs a big circle." The MZ-3A and crew will follow two interstate highways, first 1-95 South and then 1-10 West

Whether or not to follow highways doesn't really matter to the airship, but it does to the ground crew. They need as simple a path as possible, so they can keep track of the aircraft location at all times. The ground crew also transports spare parts, an additional mast, and a mobile fuel tank.

RESOURCES I DC Military: "VXS-1 Airship visits Pax" (March 18, 2010) By Christine Basham NAVAIR Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; "Navy Lighter-Than-Air Program Still Flying" (March 15, 2010) By Thomas Worsdale and Lawrence Lyford.


The US Army is exploring heavy airlift possibilities, too. In particular, a Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligent (LEMV) hybrid airship that could be used on surveillance missions in Afghanistan. A Request For Proposal (RFP) was issued in February of this year, with some follow up modifications. Basic performance requirements for the LEMV airship include: optionally unmanned; 3-week endurance; 2500-pound payload capability; operating altitude of 20,000 feet above mean sea level; 16 kilowatts of payload power; multi-intelligence capable; supportable from austere locations; 80-knot dash speed and 20-knot station keep speed.

US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (SMDC/ARSTRAT) is holding a competition and plans to award the "other transactions authority" OTA contract for the airship. [NOTE: OTA was originally created to attract non-traditional commercial firms who are at the "cutting edge" of technology to do business with the government. In this case, an ISR consortium--Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance--has been formed.] Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Hybrid Air Vehicles, Aeros, and others are considering to bid.

The OTA is for a five-year technology demonstration, with performance tests to begin in 18 months of contract award, expected in June, and testing and demonstration to be conducted in Afghanistan over the remaining term of the agreement. In theater, the LEMV will provide persistence surveillance with a variety of electro-optical, radar, and SIGINT [Signals Intelligent] sensors, as well as a communications package that could serve as a radio relay for ground forces.

The Army airship takes up in many ways where the Navy left off with its blimp fleet, the ZPG-3, heavily used during and after World War II. These blimps served as a sensor platform, housing a radar system used to detect Soviet bombers.

Rick Zitarosa, a historian with the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society in Lakehurst, NJ, said the Army's airship project is a high-tech twist on the first military use of balloons in the Civil War, which provided human observers with an elevated view of the battlefield. Using an airship in Afghanistan, Zitarosa said, would provide the Army with the kind of long-term surveillance of a battlefield it could get with a satellite, but the cost of the airship would be far lower.

The Army plans to spend $76 million on its airship program this fiscal year and has designed the procurement to attract bids from companies that traditionally do not do business with the DOD.

Sources | Aviation Week 2/15/2010 by Graham Warwick; NextGov by 2/12/2010 Bob Brewin


Boeing's A160T Hummingbird UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) has successfully completed a simulated mission test proving its ability to resupply frontline troops in rough terrain. The A160T carried 1250-pound sling loads over two 150 nautical mile round trips operating autonomously on a pre-programmed mission proving the craft is capable of delivering at least 2500 pounds of cargo from one simulated forward-operating base to another 75 nautical miles away in well under the required six hours.

The A160T completed seven test flights during the demonstration, including a two-minute hover at 12,000 feet with the 1250-pound sling load and a nighttime delivery to a simulated forward operating base. Boeing says the A160T's ability to execute extremely accurate autonomous deliveries also was demonstrated.

Boeing's A160 Hummingbird (military designation: YMQ-18A) incorporates many new technologies never before used in helicopters, allowing for greater endurance and altitude than any helicopter currently in operation. Rights are largely autonomous, with the aircraft making its own decisions about how to fly itself so as to meet certain objectives, rather than relying on real-time human control.
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Author:Schmitt, Karen
Publication:Defense Transportation Journal
Article Type:Conference notes
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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