Airships are making a comeback with the US military, which could be good news for civilian applications. The military has the deep pockets for research and development, but then, once these ideas are worked out, civilian applications often follow along. So it is for those reasons, and not military booster-ism, that we are excited to see that the US Army is planning to deploy an unmanned airship called the LEMV which can spend up to 3 weeks at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 m) with a 2,500 pound (1,134 kg) payload of surveillance equipment by the middle of 2011.
LEMV (Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle) is a hybrid airship which gets most, but not all of its lift from the buoyant volume of the vehicle. 20% of the lift, however, comes from the aerodynamic shape of the craft and from its thrusters. The LEMV is capable of a much longer period of continuous operation than other contemporary unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
The video below shows trial flights of the Lockheed Martin P-791 prototype which, at 125 feet (38 m) long, was about half the size of the proposed LEMV. The initial Army deployment of the LEMV is to be in Afghanistan. But research applications and disaster relief are just two of the more beneficial uses this technology could be used for in the near future.