Lockheed Martin to develop stratospheric airship fabric

Published 2 October 2006

It’s not your father’s Hindenburg; dirigibles — in their traditional, lighter-than-air configuration or in hybrid form — are gaining popularity as intelligence observation posts high in the sky (Israel, for example, has one parked high above the Gaza Strip, and a couple in the north, keeping an eye on the goings on inside Lebanon); the Pentagon wants airships for intelligence, too, but it is also considering the craft for transporting troops and equipment; oil and gas companies want to use them to ferry supplies and equipment to remote locations, and other commercial entities show interest as well

Akron, Ohio-based Skunk Works unit of Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) has received a $10 million contract to develop advanced material technology and next-generation hull material for stratospheric airships under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS) program. Talk of an intriguing technology: The two-year contract calls for the ISIS program to develop the core technologies necessary to integrate an extremely capable sensor package directly into the structure of stratospheric airships, which operate at about 70,000 feet. DARPA has been soliciting ideas for a while now in critical technology areas such as low areal density, advanced airship hull material, low-power density radar apertures, low power and cost transmit-receive modules, and fully regenerative power systems. Tim Clark, DARPA program manager, said that “Once successfully demonstrated, the DARPA material will dramatically reduce the weight and size of airships while improving operational longevity and payload capacity.”

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works brings more than seven decades of experience with tethered and unmanned airships to the project. “With Lockheed Martin’s substantial investment and legacy in airship materials development, we have already begun the process of creating a unique, highly-engineered, flexible composite hull material,” said David Filicky, Lockheed Martin’s ISIS advanced materials program manager. “This fabric requires significant materials development and large-scale, low-anomaly manufacturing process advancements over current state-of-the-art airship hull material.”

Lockheed Martin has developed more than 300 airships and thousands of aerostats. The company is the prime contractor for the Missile Defense Agency’s High Altitude Airship, a stratospheric airship prototype, which will provide persistent surveillance along with other critical capabilities. The company also has provided tethered aerostat surveillance systems to both the U.S. Army for deployment in Iraq and to the U.S. Air Force to support air sovereignty and counter-drug operations along the southern U.S. border.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin employs about 135,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services.

-read more in this news release [http://www.lockheedmartin.com/wms/findPage.do?dsp=fec&ci=17907&rsbci=0&fti=111&ti=0&sc=400]

Dirigibles, or airships as they are called today, have more and more uses, and the latest idea is to use them as giant air-borne delivery trucks. The oil and gas industry, especially, are looking to airships to help them deliver heavy equipment, materials, and supplies to remote locations. One example of the difficulties in building the oil and gas delivery infrastructure in remote locations is provided by Kazakhstan: Laying one pipeline