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2016 Year in review: Aircraft and Atmospheric Systems

Large deposit of helium gas found in Tanzania


The Lighter-Than-Air Systems Technical Committee stimulates development of knowledge related to airships and aerostats for use in a host of applications, from transportation to surveillance.

In August, Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander 10 emerged from its Cardington, England, hangar, and made its first test flight, a brief 19-minute excursion. On Aug. 24, Airlander undertook a second test flight, remaining aloft 100 minutes before returning to base, where it sustained a slow-motion, nose-down heavy landing that left the front of its flight deck damaged. Pilots and ground crew were unharmed. HAV says both the damage and causes for the incident are being assessed and that it expects Airlander to fly again in early 2017.

In March, Lockheed Martin announced that Atlanta-based Hybrid Enterprises, the exclusive reseller for Lockheed’s 20-ton capacity LMH-1 hybrid airship, had signed a letter of intent with English aircraft operator Straightline Aviation, or SLA, under which SLA can acquire up to 12 hybrid airships for a reported price of $480 million. In August, Hybrid Enterprises announced that a partnership between SLA and Alaska’s PRL Logistics will operate, starting in 2019, LMH-1 airships out of Kenai, Alaska, for clients in mining, oil and gas, construction and other industries. Lockheed has built a full-scale prototype LMH-1 gondola that includes a cargo bay, fuel bay, flight deck and cabin for 19 passengers. The company also unveiled Spider, a self-propelled robot that can autonomously find and patch tiny pinholes in airship envelopes.

In June, the University of Oxford and Norwegian exploration company Helium One announced the discovery of a significantly large deposit of helium gas in Tanzania. The deposit, only one of what the researchers believe to be many, contains a probable resource of about 1.5 billion cubic meters. By comparison, the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve currently holds 685 million cubic meters, and total known U.S. reserves are 4.3 billion cubic meters. Global helium consumption is running about 227 million cubic meters a year.

Dueling aerostats provided protection for the Rio Olympics: The Altave Omni system by Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Altave, using Virginia-based Logos Technologies’ Simera cameras, represented the first use of a wide-area persistent surveillance aerostat for civilian use. Tethered at 200 meters, it captured 360-degree, high-definition images of an area of up to 40 square kilometers. Airship do Brasil deployed a rival system, ADB-A-150, equipped with a gyro-stabilized 3-gimbal SHAPO camera. ADB says it separately is developing and building a 50-meter long, 20-meter tall airship, ADB-3-X01, capable of carrying payloads of up to 2 tons. Also in development is a cargo airship, ADB-3-30, which would carry 30 tons. The Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization announced in May the introduction of its Nakshatra aerostat system, with a surveillance range of up to 100 kilometers. It is intended for use by military clients, including both the Indian army and India’s border security force. A second-generation model, with a surveillance range of up to 250 km, is in development.

China, via People’s Daily Online, said in October 2015 it had test-flown an unmanned, high-altitude, solar-powered 18,000-cubic-meter airship over Mongolia. The craft, jointly developed by Nanjiang Space and Beijing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics, reportedly flew for 22 hours and reached a peak altitude of 65,000 feet. 

Goodyear’s second German-made Zeppelin NT airship (LZ N07-101), or “Wingfoot Two,” made its inaugural flight in March after undergoing final assembly at Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake, Ohio, hangar. It eventually will be based in Carson, California, replacing Goodyear’s “Spirit of America” blimp. Assembly of Goodyear’s third (and final) Zeppelin NT is scheduled to begin in January. ★

Large deposit of helium gas found in Tanzania

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