Thursday, May 27, 2010

Decades later, Lakehurst, N.J., is still blimp central for the U.S. Navy

Posted by John Keller

I see the Navy's mad scientists at blimp central -- Lakehurst Naval Air Station, N.J. -- are at it again in their continuing efforts to give satellite designers a run for their money.

Seems the Naval Air Warfare Center Lakehurst folks are starting design of a lighter-than-air stratospheric airship with surveillance and communications payloads for emergency military operations across the globe.

The blimp guys at Lakehurst are onto something. They know that with all the nation's financial woes, something's gotta give in the defense budget over the next several years, and they're looking to airships as a way that's cheaper and quicker to develop than those expensive orbiting satellites.

You could launch an aerostat as a persistent surveillance platform and communications relay from almost anywhere -- even at sea -- and move it within hours or days to hot spots around the world. This is obviously an attractive alternative to waiting for the weather to clear at Cape Canaveral.

Sometimes the old solutions are the best. Decades ago the Navy relied heavily on blimps for surveillance of the world's oceans. One of the biggest aircraft hangars in the world -- it's so big it generates its own weather -- is at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif. It was built to house blimps back in the day. Now it's a curiosity along the Bayshore Freeway.

I note with a touch of humor the location of the Navy's latest blimp development efforts -- Lakehurst, N.J. This is not only where airships are born; some go there to die, as well.

Lakehurst was the scene of the 1937 Hindenburg Disaster, in which the giant German dirigible Hindenburg mysteriously burst into flames -- they used flammable hydrogen then, not helium -- and killed 35 of the 97 people on board.

Oh, the humanity!


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