This weekend I got the paper edition of IEEE’s Spectrum Magazine and read about the current research trends for future airships that will be inspired in the classical Zeppelins or dirigibles. Engineers from Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), in McLean, Va., have been conducting test flights of a new type of lighter-than-air vehicle.

These new vehicles are being designed to lift heavy payloads, remain aloft for weeks or even months at a time, and fly without pilots for different kind of duplications such as heavy payloads transportation, continuous monitoring of military or earthquake damaged areas or even to act as “hot-spot” for an ad-hoc wireless network as a response to a major event that collapses or brings down standard networks.

From IEEE’s Spectrum Magazine:

Residents of Caribou, Maine, who happened to glance up at the skies over the former Loring Air Force Base recently got a glimpse of the future—although they might have thought they were looking at something out of the past. Engineers from my company, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), in McLean, Va., have been conducting test flights of a new type of lighter-than-air vehicle.

In appearance, the Skybus 80K bears the same oblong shape as the Goodyear Blimp, and it’s based on the same flight principles that have governed airships since the 1800s. But this airship, one of a number of commercial and military vehicles now under development, represents a distinct break from tradition. Unlike their dirigible cousins of past centuries, these new vehicles are being designed to lift heavy payloads, remain aloft for weeks or even months at a time, and fly without pilots—all while expending far less energy than a conventional airplane or unmanned aerial vehicle. The Predator UAV, for instance, can carry a payload of 340 kilograms on a typical mission of up to 40 hours. SAIC’s Skybus 1500E pilot-optional airship is being designed to carry a payload three times that size and stay aloft for up to 21 days.

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