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US Army's LEMV successfully completes maiden flight

The US Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) has successfully completed its maiden flight.

LEMV is a persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform that flew for more than 90 minutes over Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, on 7 August.

Described as the world’s largest and most persistent lighter-than-air optionally piloted aircraft, LEMV was designed, built and flown in 24 months by prime contractor Northrop Grumman and an industry team that included Cranfield-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, which was responsible for air vehicle design.

In use, LEMV can reportedly operate in partnership with other land-, sea- and air-based assets, providing unmanned surveillance of up to 21 days at up to 20,000ft (6,096m) and up to five days manned at 16,000ft.

According to a statement, the endurance ability of the LEMV system comes from a design that is built around Hybrid Air Vehicles’ HAV304 aircraft design and Northrop Grumman’s open system architecture design, which provides a modular and flexible payload capability along with room for mission expansion and growth.

Northrop Grumman was responsible for the overall system development, integration and implementation of the open system architecture, unmanned flight control software, mission system flight and ground operations and maintenance and field support for worldwide operations.

Team member Warwick Mills was responsible for fabric development, ILC Dover for hull fabrication and seaming, AAI Corporation for air vehicle control through its Universal Ground Control Station and SAIC for full-motion video exploitation.

The US Army's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle has successfully completed a maiden flight that saw the aircraft fly for more than 90 minutes

Key features

  • Energy efficient; fuel consumption more than 10 times less than comparable capability
  • 12–24 forward deployed crew members to support 18 vehicles 24/7/365
  • 1,500–2,400nm range with 15,000lb (heavy-lift configuration)
  • More than 21 days’ endurance with 2,750lb payload (ISR configuration)
  • Payload volume more than 2,700ft³; heavy-lift yield additional volume
  • Service ceiling greater than 22,000ft, MSL
  • Loiter/dash speed: 30/80 knots

Capabilities

  • More than 21 days of ‘unblinking stare’
  • Proven multi-INT payload integration
  • Multi-mission capable: persistent surveillance, force protection, counter-drug operations
  • Support for host-nation ops, disaster, humanitarian relief, overwatch/support troops
  • Flexible Murphy Bay modules to accommodate current and future payloads
  • Very short or vertical take-off, excellent ground stability
  • Bow thruster to provide low-speed control and position hold capability
  • Leverage-proven type-certified engine
  • Future growth accomplished through field installations
  • Radar, SIGINT, Full Motion Video, LOS/BLOS COMM relay

Source: Northrop Grumman


Readers' comments (14)

  • Great to see the first large hybrid air vehicle flying. The LEMV was designed and manufactured by Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd in Cranfield England, with final assembly in Lakehurst using an envelope from Dover ILC. Roger Munks dream finally came true and I am looking forward to the first flight of the slighly larger more powerfull cargo Airlander 50 from Cranfield. For more pictures clips and information try my web site or Google hybrid air vehicles.
    Regards Hybrid Pilot Services

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  • Not withstanding the key features and capabilities, how do you protect such a large and slow moving target from being shot down?

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  • We put your query to Hardy Giesler, business development director at Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd, who replied: In hostile environments, such as Afghanistan, the vehicle will be launched from a safe site and when operating at 20,000 feet there is little chance of the vehicle being damaged. It should also be mentioned that the vehicle has been tested for the Department of Defense, with multiple rounds fired at it and explosive devices detonated nearby. Due to the large volume of the envelope, air and helium loss can be managed and the vehicle returned to safety to be repaired. The chance of a catastrophic failure is extremely low.

  • Not exactly nimble let alone stealthy.
    The question is have I missed somthing?

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  • At last, an Airship that actually flies with substantial financial backing. It is a shame that we, in the UK, had one waiting in the wings in the 1980's built by Airship Industries in the Cardington Hangers that housed the great "R" type airships of the 1920's and 1930's. With directional power nacelles the 1980's Airships were very capable and almost made a success of it. Near sighted Ministry funding saw them off and we have had to wait until now to get something that may be up to the task which is, of course, American with a large contribution from Cranfield. These vehicles will be slow and probably easy to shoot down but being so cheap to produce perhaps this has been taken into account.

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  • How does Trevor think you can shoot down an LEMV at 20,000 ft?? The Taliban can't even shoot a stationary aerostat at 2,000 ft at present and they don't have an air force. To make matters more difficult the German diesels exhaust is too cool to give a good lock on to a IR homing missile unless you are standing on their airfield.

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  • Maybe these eyes in the sky are not destined for military use against serious enemies at all - perhaps they are more suited to monitor traffic, agriculture, fisheries and other non military activities, or maybe just keeping check on the occasional terrorist among us otherwise peaceable folk?

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  • Shooting down a slow moving aircraft is not too hard to do, James. I would suppose that the US Army would have more than one in order to cover a variety of battle field actions which may involve the use of other, more powerful aircraft. There is also the possibility of a land based missile that may be able to reach them and create a proximity burst. You seem to have missed the point of my message about the UK company developing this surveillance platform and passenger carry system nearly 30 years ago. The Goodyear blimp continues to float over London on occasions and they use the directional engine set up.

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  • I hope the next stage for HAV to deliver large scale heavy lifting capability also gets delivered, based on this step up provided by (US) military investment.

    Ignoring private/public debates - why is it that in the UK both the government and private investors are failing to take a risk to sink significant funds/investment into a market that could be huge. One area maybe heavy lifting of equipment for mega solar arrays in the sahara, where few roads exist. There are I'm sure many more.

    Same applies to Reaction Engines. Aerospace is said to be one of the UK's remaining industries where it has a world class impact. But in the two significant product developments that are potentially transformative, the investment/development funding is tiny. many large firms (perhaps not in the UK) are sitting on huge cash mountains - can anyone explain why they have lost their nerve to take a risk and invest this money?

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  • It's one of those strange but true facts that the subject of LTA vehicles' vulnerability to enemy fire is cited as a major drawback to their deployment in theatre as if other types of relatively slow moving aircraft such as helos are somehow immune. The fact that a number of rotary-winged a/c have been lost to simple and cheap RPGs when flying low and slow in combat zones doesn't stop them being used to great effect. For many mission situations they're indispensable. As far as not being stealthy - very few a/c are, so that's no real drawback - that said, LTAs make poor radar targets, so you could argue they are low observable(ish).

    Is LTA a panacea? Of course not - neither it is something that should be regarded as a poor or quirky substitute for HTA that'll soon lose favour. Let's not forget that back in the 1950s, the CIA's slow moving U-2 spy planes were expected to be too vulnerable to missile attack to be of any long-term use, hence the A-12/SR-71 spy planes were developed. The U-2s are still in service - unlike their superfast 'replacements.' As others have said. 20,000 feet presents a major headache when it comes to a ground-to-air shootdown. Due to its vast gas capacity and the low pressure differential in the ship, it would take a truly massive hole in the envelope to bring it down - and even if that happened, it would in all probability come down a slow enough rate to save some of the ISR kit and be capable of being repaired.

    Computer simulations and 'expert' opinions have their place, but they're no substitute for real-world flying hours. Let's give this vehicle a chance and see how it works out. Nice work everyone at HAV Ltd - and the US taxpayers who funded the creation of Roger Munk's vision.

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  • When you put the 15,000lb heavy lift cargo down, doesn't that mean you then have 15,000lb of lift thrust? How is this managed? It will very rapidly be the next space station if it's not done carefully! Can someone explain? Thank you

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  • Thank you for your comment. We approached Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Hardy Giesler again, who came back with the following:

    Most of these concerns are raised because airships fly lighter-than-air. AIRLANDER differs in that it is operated “heavier-than-air”. Think of it as a fixed wing aircraft and like all aircraft, journeys have to be planned and range, weather conditions and cargo taken into consideration when planning the amount of fuel to be carried.

    AIRLANDER is no different, except that the aircraft has to have a minimum weight to counter the effect of helium. This can be achieved by: managing the fuel load on-board;plan to carry cargo on the return journey (cost effective); carry ballast, such as water if necessary

    The use of vectored thrust from all four engines can also be deployed to “drive” the vehicle towards the ground, if required.

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