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High-Tech Blimps Earning Their Wings

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the truly-goodyear dept.

The Military 200

coondoggie writes "The US Army this week showed off its latest high-tech blimp laden with powerful radar systems capable of detecting incoming threats 340 miles away. The helium-filled blimps, or aerostats, are designed to hover over war zones or high-security areas and be on guard for incoming missiles or other threats. The Army wants them to reduce some of the need for manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights. The aerostat demonstrated this week is known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Sensor System (JLENS), which is designed to fly up to an altitude of 10,000 feet. According to GlobalSecurity.org., the $1.4 billion JLENS is a large, unpowered elevated sensor moored to the ground by a long cable. From its position above the battlefield, the elevated sensors will allow incoming cruise missiles to be detected, tracked, and engaged by surface-based air defense systems even before the targets can be seen by the systems."

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200 comments

blimps (2, Funny)

buswolley (591500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210731)

I know they lose brain matter an all..but now they're floating?

Panties STINK! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29210765)

Panties Stink!
They really, really stink!
Sometimes they're red, sometimes they're green,
Sometimes they're white or black or pink
Sometimes they're satin, sometimes they're lace
Sometimes they're cotton and soak up stains
But at the end of the day, it really makes you think
Wooooooo-wheeeee! Panties stink!

Sometimes they're on the bathroom floor
Your girlfriend- what a whore!
Sometimes they're warm and wet and raw
From beneath the skirt of your mother-in-law
Brownish stains from daily wear
A gusset full of pubic hair
Just make sure your nose is ready
For the tang of a sweat-soaked wedgie
In your hand a pair of drawers
With a funky feminine discharge
Give your nose a rest, fix yourself a drink
cause wooooooo-wheeeeeee! panties stink!

Re:blimps (1)

buswolley (591500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210829)

I don't do anonymous for surface trolls I troll anonymously when I'm serious.

Even so I'll stand by my troll ha ha ha :)

Re:blimps (-1, Troll)

buswolley (591500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210843)

That's why I like to live on the edge of Excellent and Good Karma. I can give a good troll once in a while and still maintain my status at /.

Re:blimps (-1, Troll)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211087)

    Post more good stuff. Mine's been "Excellent" for years, and a few of my posts have been modded down for whatever reason. But hey, screw 'em if they don't have a sense of humor. :)

Re:blimps (0, Troll)

buswolley (591500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211839)

I think you misunderstood me. I did live in Excellent land for a long time. A bit boring there. I started adding some snark..or rather I didn't tow the /. line so closely, and now I get modded down and up all the time. I've purposely struck a balance between Good and Excellent karma for interesting karma. :) Sure years of Excellent karma makes you resistant to some bad moderation, but you can't make a practice of snarky trollism without giving up a bit of karma.

Re:blimps (0, Offtopic)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211997)

    Aw come on, you haven't read some of my posts. I range from condescending to being a complete asshole, depending on my mood. There's good reasons though. Check the most recent entry in my journal.

    I'm sure this thread will get us modded down at least a little bit. :)

    -10 really off topic

Re:blimps (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211201)

Is she illin in the panicillin?
Is she chillin in the panicillin?
Is she stealin in the panicillin?
Is she feelin in the panicillin?

Panka panka

Is she liable no suitifiable pliable style is so suitifiable
Is she liable no suitifiable im not on trial but its suitifiable
Is she reliable no suitifiable not just viable but real suitifiable
Is she try-able no suitifiable lying in the aisle im real suitifiable

Is she spillin in the panicillin?
Is she squealin in the panicillin?
Is she feelin in the panicillin?
Is she trillin in the panicillin?

Panka panka

Is it libel? no suitifiable pliable style is so suitifiable
Is it a style? no suitifiable im not on trial but its suitifiable
Is it a mile? no suitifiable not just viable but real suitifiable
Is it wild? no suitifiable lying in the aisle im real suitifiable

1.4 billion? What is that describing? (2, Insightful)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210751)

Even after reading the article, it doesnt specify if that is per unit or the total cost of all the systems, including r&d. It says they are less expensive to buy and operate than comparable fixed-wing aircraft so I am hoping that is the total.

Re:1.4 billion? What is that describing? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29210893)

It may be an expensive initial cost (though you really see how much aircrafts cost as well, anything flying is expensive), fuel and manpower is expensive. Using planes to constantly circle an area would far exceed a blimp once you factor in time.

fuel
manpower: pilot, mechanics, transportation (for fuel), officers to guide and maintain a constant launch
# of planes to covers the same area due to smaller size for instruments

Factor all that over the lifetime of the blimp vs the airplanes, it's really no surprise the blimp is cheaper

Re:1.4 billion? What is that describing? (2, Insightful)

danwesnor (896499) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211117)

It's going to be either total life cycle costs (requirements, development, manufacturing, operations/maintenance and disposal) or costs through proof-of-concept or LRIP (low-rate initial production). I don't think SMDC's total budget is $1.4B/year. The military budgets programs for total life-cycle if they know it's going to be fielded, or through the expected milestone decision if it's a tech demo that could potentially be fielded. That's why the costs of fighter jets jumped from $20M each to $200M each when acquisition reform was introduced. They are no longer allowed to hide the true total costs of the program by leaving out maintenance/operations/disposal.

Re:1.4 billion? What is that describing? (2, Informative)

ralewi1 (919193) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211795)

I second the opinion that the $1.4B is for proof-of-concept. Reuters reported [reuters.com] that the contract was for the System Design and Demonstration phase of the contract, with which the Army buys two orbits of two aerostats (likely engineering design models) for testing and evaluation.

Regarding the aerostats floating over Iraq and Afghanistan now, these are likely the Persistent Threat Detection System [lockheedmartin.com] .

Re:1.4 billion? What is that describing? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211541)

As it states in the article; "Long term acquisition requirements call for 12 complete systems at an estimated value of $1.6 billion. " Each system consists of 2 blimps and mobile ground facilities.

Re:1.4 billion? What is that describing? (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212467)

Even after reading the article, it doesnt specify if that is per unit or the total cost of all the systems, including r&d. It says they are less expensive to buy and operate than comparable fixed-wing aircraft so I am hoping that is the total.

Yes. $1.4Big is a lot of balloon, especially when you can inflate it directly from Washington and get the hot air free (grin).

It's most likely the cost of the entire programme, and simply administering the deployment will cost big bucks. Figure you'll have quite a few of these things, even if it's as few as (say) 10,000 units, you have to tie in with logistics to package and deliver them, train people on their use, worry about spares and repair and system upgrades, and of course -- the "hot air". Which can actually be hot air if they want, although I'd think it unlikely given the IR signatures & suchlike. Although a radar signature of a quickly-deployed hot air balloon may not be such a problem if your theatre is 340 miles away.

More likely hydrogen (hey if it gets hit, it blows up. Pretty!) and I hope certainly not helium, which is a bit more difficult to source. The US has a lot of it, but once it escapes it's gone. Hydrogen availability we know about. Hot air would be way easy to deploy - easy to get fuel and you have grunts to clean the burners. Possibly a bit simple, however, to get past the procurement process. YMMV.

Blimps (2, Interesting)

proudfoot (1096177) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210755)

Isn't it kind of easy to shoot down blimps? Can't anything a blimp does be better done with a satellite or a loitering drone?

Re:Blimps (3, Informative)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210791)

At 10,000 ft, eh maybe. But blimps are cheaper and use less fuel to stay up there.

Re:Blimps (1)

Kratisto (1080113) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210859)

Hell, at 10,000ft most firearms won't make the trip. Hopefully, these things are orders of magnitude cheaper to produce, as well. It would be advantageous to cover a battlefield in hundreds of cheap sensors communicating to provide a comprehensive image, rather than sending up one or two UAV's to scan the area with a limited perspective for the same price.

Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (3, Informative)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211035)

I hate to pop your balloon (pun intended) but 10,000 feet is not that high. In World War 2 the Germans had anti-aircraft guns that could easily get to much over 20,000 feet. Many cheap modern shoulder held anti-aircraft missiles can easily shoot this high and a blimp would be easy to hit. It might be safe from small arms fire but a few small holes wouldn't hurt it much. An anti-aircraft missile is another matter.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (1)

Drakonik (1193977) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211109)

So....you're saying that the aircraft is going to be vulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles. Stop the presses.

Really. If the blimp can be built cheaper than an airplane/UAV, and cover loads more area, then it getting shot down would be unpleasant, but a loss less expensive than losing a plane, its fuel, its weapon payload, its pilot, and so on.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211471)

So....you're saying that the aircraft is going to be vulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles. Stop the presses.

Really. If the blimp can be built cheaper than an airplane/UAV, and cover loads more area, then it getting shot down would be unpleasant, but a loss less expensive than losing a plane, its fuel, its weapon payload, its pilot, and so on.

And if the blimp is cheaper than the anti aircraft missiles you might have a net benefit right there.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (1)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211837)

You are forgetting something... The estimated cost of 1.4 billion! How many blimps are we talking about? Knowing the military, not very many. Even if 1,000 blimps are built we are talking about 1.4 million.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211905)

Yes?

That's cheap as dirt for what they're talking about it doing. Your average fighter jet costs around a 50 million. For the top of the line jets, 100 million sounds about right.

Hell, a missile costs around a million as is. A thousand, fairly long term, radar stations for only a million each is cheap. Comparatively that is.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (2, Insightful)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211993)

Note: on further investigation, it seems that we are talking about 12 or 24 blimps. Taking 24 that puts the cost at 58.3 million. Given much of the costs are in ground facilities and development, but the total cost is just too high for something that can easily be shot down. The entire program sounds like the infamous $800 toilet seat the military paid for.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212113)

58.3 million per blimp is still cheaper than a fighter jet. And in reality we should be comparing this with actual surveillance thingsmabobs used by the military now. Drones and whatnot which cost quite a bit more even purely with fuel costs.

As for easily being shot down, the article states they've used it before in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presumably in low threat situations as their example was overseeing the election in Afghanistan.

I'd also assume they'd have quite a few anti-missile defense systems to prevent being easily shot down.

All in all, I'd say the real important part is whether we need the extended range on our systems. If we do, and this is cheaper than current tech, it's beneficial. If we do, and this is more expensive than current tech, it's useless. If we don't...it's useless.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211919)

That doesn't mean the incremental cost is 1.4 million per blimp.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (4, Interesting)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211155)

In World War 2 the Germans had anti-aircraft guns that could easily get to much over 20,000 feet

Well, yes, artillery is referred to as "guns", but that's a bit misleading, don't you think? If the bad guys have managed to move artillery pieces that close to your base of operations, you've got bigger problems than whether or not your blimp gets shot down.

Many cheap modern shoulder held anti-aircraft missiles can easily shoot this high and a blimp would be easy to hit

Yeah, most modern shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles could get a lock at that range, but most of these missiles also use infrared guidance. Would a blimp give off enough of a heat signature for a lock?

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (1, Insightful)

students (763488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211253)

But the blimp is for missile defense. What sort of adversary would have missiles but no antiaircraft guns? As for closeness, all sorts of weapons are more easily smuggled on the surface than launched by missiles, so missile defense is pretty futile.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (1)

glennpratt (1230636) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211387)

Guns that are big enough to shoot the blimp down would probably be better off aimed at the base this thing is tethered to. Large enemy ground weapons shouldn't be moving that close to your base. Missiles should be detected by the blimp and engaged with defensive weapons, guns should be kept far enough away with basic security.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211755)

You don't necessarily need a lock to hit something as big as a blimp. I don't know the upward range of an RPG but you could fire one of those blind (without a lock).

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (5, Funny)

MynockGuano (164259) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211303)

I hate to pop your balloon (pun intended) but 10,000 feet is not that high. In World War 2 the Germans had anti-aircraft guns that could easily get to much over 20,000 feet. Many cheap modern shoulder held anti-aircraft missiles can easily shoot this high and a blimp would be easy to hit. It might be safe from small arms fire but a few small holes wouldn't hurt it much. An anti-aircraft missile is another matter.

True.
Blimpin' ain't easy.

Re:Shoot down at 10,000 feet is easy (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211311)

Its not just its vertical distance, but horizontal. With a 320 mile range you could put it a hundred miles behind your own lines and still have two hundred miles of enemy territory covered. Not a lot of surface to air is going to reach that far I think.

Re:Blimps (1)

adnd74 (1022357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210919)

and blimps don't have to move around to stay a'float

Re:Blimps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211895)

no, u make another blimp, without any fancy radar equipment, float it up, and then fire the missile from it.

  Even better, now, Iran, N.Korea and etc, can use blimps as a great ways to deliver missiles...without spending great rocketry science in figuring out how to make booster rockets.

  But, hey, if DARPA does not find any validity in it...why bother hiding the fact that this cheap technology is a great way for third world countries to create rain of terror?

  Imagine 100 cheap balloons raising to 10,000 and then releasing the payload. Oh and most of them are fake too. Good luck dear anti missile system that cost millions of dollars, cause it cost the other guy only couple of thousands of dollars.

  Did I say how highly mobile such system is?
  But, hey, DARPA not taking this seriously, then why worry?

Re:Blimps (3, Interesting)

Jason.Jung (1007145) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210823)

It's extremely easy to shoot one of those down. The Taliban when I was in Afghanistan were great at knocking those out of the sky within days of actually figuring out they couldn't eat their brains. No joke. It seriously scared the shit out of them.

Re:Blimps (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211593)

How did they shoot them down? Guns or missiles?

Seems like if the Taliban hate blimps you could troll them with blimps listen for fire and then kill them.

Re:Blimps (1, Informative)

Jason.Jung (1007145) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211783)

They ended up shooting them down with AK-47, PKM, and Dishka fire. Just the standard stuff.

Re:Blimps (3, Insightful)

Sebilrazen (870600) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210867)

Clouds mess with a satellite and you're limited to the window it's over that area of the planet. Loitering drones use lots of fuel to stay aloft because they need to keep flying. A blimp just needs to ascend to elevation, vent some of the lift gas, and float - using small fans for positioning.

Re:Blimps (1)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210917)

Clouds mess with things at 10,000ft too.

Re:Blimps (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211123)

And if this is in any way related to the blimp system they're testing near the Sarnia Canada border [thestarphoenix.com] (which I'm betting it is), they don't do so well with lightning either.

Re:Blimps (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211167)

Yah, those lead-lined clouds cause huge problems for our radar arrays ...

Re:Blimps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29210901)

In the '80s we called them targets.

Re:Blimps (1)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211205)

The blimp has a radar system that allows it to detect all flying objects (missiles, airplanes, rockets) before they reach it - that eliminates the danger from radar sensitive missiles. Since it isn't metal and doesn't have any heat sources, radar guided and heat guided missiles aren't going to be much use.

Re:Blimps (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211269)

I'm guessing that, while it probably puts out rather less an a conventional aircraft engine, you aren't going to get a big radar array running with zero IR signature...

Re:Blimps (1)

rattaroaz (1491445) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211355)

Isn't it kind of easy to shoot down blimps? Can't anything a blimp does be better done with a satellite or a loitering drone?

I don't think they are easy to shoot down. Remember that when you poke a hole in a large area, the gas only escapes so quickly. I remember reading somewhere that back in WWII, it was not easy to shoot down blimps. Sure, you could shoot them, but all you would end up with is just a blimp with a bunch of holes that flew home safely. citation unavailable.

Re:Blimps (1)

Gruff1002 (717818) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211379)

A laser would make ribbons of it and there is no warning with a laser, speed of light and all.

Re:Blimps (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211725)

And of course the Taliban has a bunch of high powered lasers hidden throughout the mountains of Afghanistan. But wait. How are the sharks going to survive in that desert environment?

Re:Blimps (2, Interesting)

Seraphim1982 (813899) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212101)

There is more to a blimp then a big gas bag. There are engines, a crew area, weapons, fuel and probably a whole lot of other things. Most of those arn't going to react well to bullets.

As for your claim that blimps were hard to shoot down in WWII:
The US was the only major power to use blimps in World War II. These were generally used for non-hazardous and anti-submarine patrols. Given a U-boats tendency to flee from an airborn threat anti-submarine threat wasn't someplace where they would really encounter heavy AA resistance. One was lost to enemy action (K-74) and one had its crew disapear (L-8).

Re:Blimps (2, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211959)

There are no satellites in orbit that can do this job right now. To put new one up would cost quite a bit more.

A drone with enough radar power to do the job would be called an E-3. This requires huge airports and infrastructure to support.

Be on guard for incoming missiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29210767)

More like be on fire from incoming missiles.

Overpriced (2, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210907)

$1.4 billion dollars? We are talking about what is basically a balloon with an instrument package slung beneath it, aren't we? I don't know about you, but I'd be willing to bet that if the purchaser was anyone but the Pentagon, the price would be at least an order of magnitude lower.

Re:Overpriced (4, Insightful)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211017)

Consider that price includes development (not just construction), and that to power the radar you're going to need a multi-kilowatt power source that will last for as long as the blimp is in the air, without refueling.

Re:Overpriced (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211065)

It's tethered.

Re:Overpriced (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211715)

I am considering that. Excepting the blimp itself and whatever aerodynamic controls are involved, everything else can -- or could be -- sourced from off-the-shelf parts. And since the device is tethered, the power source could be on the ground.

Whether it's a good idea to build a platform so vulnerable to such a wide variety of low-tech, improvised attack vectors is another question altogether.

Re:Overpriced (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211147)

Sure, but they're not just paying for the defense, they're paying for the sticker, for the -status- that a Rayethon brings. You cruise around in a lockeed blimp, people ignore you. They see "Raytheon JLENS" and they want to know who you are, the valet makes sure not to scratch the doors.

In seriousness, it looks like raytheon built them. Their wiki page on them lists several controversies [wikipedia.org] that seem pretty typical of the industry [wikipedia.org] .

Another blurb on JLENS I found (http://defense-update.com/products/j/jlens.htm) had this interesting bit

A different concept of an untethered airship is pursued by Lockheed Martin. The program cost is estimated at US $149 million with completion expected by November 2010.

(a page on that airship here http://defense-update.com/products/h/HALE-airship.htm [defense-update.com] )

I'm not any kind of expert in defense or aerospace, so maybe the key differences would be obvious to an expert or someone who did more than skim over those two product descriptions, but yeah, an order of magnitude. Suspicious...

Re:Overpriced wrong price (4, Informative)

markk (35828) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211261)

That billion dollar price includes the communication system between the aerostats radar and the targeting radar of other systems like anti-aircraft missile systems. So it is a very misleading number. I would guess the "blimp" or really aerostat part is less than 5% of the total cost. This is really an integrated detector system that happens to use a blimp as one of its inputs.

Re:Overpriced (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211569)

The price is not each but as the report says; "Long term acquisition requirements call for 12 complete systems at an estimated value of $1.6 billion. ". Which is actually 24 blimps and related mobile ground equipment"

Re:Overpriced (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211711)

That appears to be the entire program cost: "Long term acquisition requirements call for 12 complete systems at an estimated value of $1.6 billion." So, yeah, each one is almost exactly an order of magnitude cheaper than you are thinking.

I know the Pentagon pays quite a bit for stuff, but even the B2 Stealth Bomber are less than a billion per copy.

Re:Overpriced (1)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211903)

"even the B2 Stealth Bomber are less than a billion per copy."

When you add in the entire costs of the B2 system it costs about 2 billion each.

Re:Overpriced (1)

strength_of_10_men (967050) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212377)

Son, it costs good money to come up with these fancy acronyms. After all it takes some creativity to come up with a name that shortens to something that vaguely sounds like what it's intended to do.

Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Sensor System (JLENS)

By my reckoning, that should spell JLACMDESS. Even accounting for the dropping of "and", that's still a stretch to shorten it to JLENS

yeah: all those cruise missles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29210909)

...because everyone is shooting cruise missles at everyone else? sounds like a made up threat for a porkbarrel program

Get a patent! (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210921)

High tech [wordpress.com] ! With a computer!

Sign the Balloon Protest Petition (0, Troll)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#29210991)

Moon the Balloon!

Morbo laughs at your puny earth blimps! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211127)

High-Tech Blimps Earning Their Wings

Blimps do not work that way!

Re:Morbo laughs at your puny earth blimps! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211661)

lol

And... (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211131)

Yet it still can't detect the low-tech truck bomb or suicide bomber that is the biggest current threat.

Re:And... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211177)

Yes you can: if the truck or suicide bomber has strapped himself to the side of a missile!

Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (2, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211157)

I saw this thing the other day about the Hindenburg and how it wasn't burning hydrogen that the world saw, but rather it was the doping compound used on the outside of the airship. Turns out the majority ingredients used in the compound are the same ones we use today... in solid rocket boosters! (The 3rd Reich knew about it back then but blamed the use of hydrogen to save face.)

Hydrogen is lighter and is easier and cheaper to create. So I have to wonder why it's not being used.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (4, Interesting)

RobVB (1566105) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211277)

This page [www.zyra.tv] , despite the horrible colors, does a pretty good job of explaining why helium is used instead of hydrogen.

The main reason to use helium is that hydrogen is indeed flammable, even though it may not have caused the fire on the Hindenburg, it's still highly reactive to oxygen.

From the link:

Hydrogen (atomic weight 1, but exists as pairs of atoms (diatomic), molecular weight 2), should weigh 2g per 24 litres at room temperature, whereas Helium (exists as lone atoms (monatomic), atomic weight 4), should weigh 4g per 24 litres at room temperature. But the mistake is to think that this would automatically make it float twice as buoyantly. The fact that's important is not the weight of the gas in the balloon, but the weight of the air which it displaces.

[...]

Both Hydrogen and Helium weigh almost nothing for the purposes of buoyancy in air. In contrast, air is mainly nitrogen, as pairs of atoms, which has a weight of about 28g per 24 litres at room temperature. To put some figures on it, a 24 litre helium balloon would seem to weigh 4g minus 28g = minus 24g in air. In comparison a 24 litre hydrogen balloon would seem to weigh 2g minus 28g = minus 26g in air. -24g or -26g, take your pick? The difference is about 8%.

So basically, you're either flying a safe blimp, or a giant bomb with 8% better buoyancy.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212079)

So basically, you're either flying a safe blimp, or a giant bomb with 8% better buoyancy.

Quibble. Hydrogen burns, it doesn't explode. Well, not in this application.

There is a difference.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212481)

So basically, you're either flying a safe blimp, or a giant bomb with 8% better buoyancy.

Which is probably only unacceptable if it's a manned blimp.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211371)

Adding to the above post, hydrogen is much harder to keep contained over He. After all, it's just a proton.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (3, Informative)

erice (13380) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211485)

No. Two protons. Atomic hydrogen is pretty much never seen in nature. It's always bonded as H2. I think that's actually a slightly bigger molecule than mono-atomic He.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211625)

Lol, you're right as it's diatomic. I'm a chemist, should have caught that!

Fail.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (2, Informative)

Tweenk (1274968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211455)

Hydrogen is not actually much lighter than helium. What matters is not the molar mass, but the difference between the molar mass and the average mass of air - this is what generates buoyancy. Hydrogen is 2 g/mol, helium 4 g/mol, air approximately 29 g/mol (it is a mixture, so that's the average value). Ths means that 1 mol (about 22,4 l) of helium will lift 25 g, and 1 mol of hydrogen - 27 g. Therefore hydrogen is only 8% better than helium.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211507)

I have heard it's because it's a smaller molecule and therefore escapes easier. More of it just aspirates through the skin of the bag, so to speak, than does helium. IANAChemist.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211721)

Just because you can't see hydrogen burning, it does not mean that the hydrogen was not burning. I have a DVD at home with some of the original newsreel footage. Certainly the covering did burn, you can see it burning. However at one point when the tail is down and the nose is up, fire breaks out through the nose covering without the covering in between having burnt. It is as if the fire was burning the hydrogen inside before it has ignited the covering. Overall, I think if the contents had been helium, the covering burning would not have caused a disaster on the same scale. As to which ignited first, I think that is pretty much an open question. My money would be on a static discharge igniting venting hydrogen.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212027)

Even though hydrogen did not take down the Hindenburg it is still highly explosive particularly in compressed form. What would you prefer to transport to and through a war zone; inert helium or volatile hydrogen?

Calling it Rocket Fuel is Ignorant (1)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212167)

I saw this thing the other day about the Hindenburg and how it wasn't burning hydrogen that the world saw, but rather it was the doping compound used on the outside of the airship. Turns out the majority ingredients used in the compound are the same ones we use today... in solid rocket boosters!

Please don't take what you see on TV (or on the internet) at face value.

For the above to be true, one has to make a pretty wild assumption: engineers who knew how to get a 240-metre airship to fly at all were totally ignorant about the chemistry of the building materials they used. In addition to this, the papers below show that surviving pieces of the fabric covering are actually hard to ignite and slow-burning.

Here's an excellent page with papers about this thing: http://spot.colorado.edu/~dziadeck/zf/LZ129fire.htm [colorado.edu] . It states sources, authors and credentials so you don't have to trust it blindly, either.

Hope this helps.

Re:Why Helium and not Hydrogen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212271)

What I've read (a few weeks ago, when I was looking at a side project involving hydrogen balloons) is that hydrogen is a lot harder to hold on to, because of quantum effects - H2 molecules can easily come apart temporarily, and the individual hydrogen ions (protons) can tunnel relatively freely through most materials. Therefore, it takes more expensive materials to make the balloon.

Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (5, Informative)

students (763488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211183)

The amount of Helium on the Earth is very small (though there is lots in space). Helium is needed for medical MRIs and scientific research, but we are going to run out in a few decades. My lab is already suffering from increased Helium prices. Helium has a nasty way of escaping from containers (we're only able to recycle about a third of what we use), so these blimps are likely to waste a lot. Just like the rest of the missile defense systems, they'll never be used for their intended purpose.

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (1, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211255)

Using Helium in the blimp really is a big mistake... most of it will be wasted by GIs taking hits off it so they can talk like Donald Duck! On the other hand, hydrogen is extremely abundant and lighter, so it should be used instead. Regardless of what it is filled with, this thing is a sitting duck and when it gets hit it is going down. It should automatically jettison the payload and parachute it down, while the gas bag itself should be cheap and disposable. The fact that things burn quicker in a hydrogen environment should be irrelevant for this application.

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211357)

I eagerly await somebody's explanation of how the Free Market will conjure up a substitute...(for a lot of things, sure, for a particular element with a rather useful set of properties, that forms very slowly in the company of alpha-emitters and has a penchant for escaping, not so much.)

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211457)

I await somebody's explanation of how ANY market with conjure up a substitute.

Unless we resort to man-made. When it's gone, it's gone.

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (1)

lena_10326 (1100441) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211473)

Hot air balloon carrying a propane tank?

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (2, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211491)

If it's really that scarce non-renewable, people could make big bucks buying it now and storing it for a few decades. People right now either think that the price is fair --- (helium price now + cost of N decades helium storage + financing / opportunity costs) >= (helium price in future) --- or people are being stupid/oblivious to opportunity.

Perhaps you and your finance buddies should get a helium futures ETF started? It's a commodity play, and people are worried about inflation in the next few years. Could be a sweet little deal.

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (2, Funny)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211767)

There was already a bubble in the helium futures market. It didn't exactly burst, it just floated away...

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (2, Insightful)

evilWurst (96042) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211935)

What comes to mind is that, as far as I know, we only use helium for three things... lighter-than-air stuff, as a neutral gas in very deep dive air tanks, and as a coolant for nifty medical and sciency devices. Part of the reason, IIRC, is that it's just that it's a relatively cheap byproduct of existing oil and natural gas mining. But we could just as easily use hydrogen for the lighter-than-air stuff and other gases or techniques for the coolants. I'm not so sure about the diving, but then, we use a hell of a lot less helium for that than we do for blimps or coolant, so it may be that diving will be fine, since using helium to fill gigantic balloons will price itself out of that market before it prices itself out of the diving air market...

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212093)

What does this have to do with the free market? If we use helium, and it escapes into the atmosphere (and I guess eventually into the upper atmosphere and space?) we will run out eventually. This would happen in a free market, a soviet style economy, or a tribal barter system.

Re:Irresponsible waste of nonrenewable resources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212073)

If only someone was working on a way to make more helium.

Unfortunately, because of their size... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211189)

... the blimps will be seen from over 1000 miles, and the single high-altitude high-speed stealth anti-spy missile will say hello, shortly thereafter. ;)

Re:Unfortunately, because of their size... (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29212055)

And who has these "high-altitude high-speed stealth anti-spy missile[s]"? No one. So for now this is a moot point. Who has cruise missiles? Just about everyone.

Wow that's impressive! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211369)

"capable of detecting incoming threats 340 miles away"

That's amazing detecting a straight pin from 340 miles away! (to the confused, blimps, balloons, do the math)

Bah. (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211437)

Wake me up when they bring back the Transatlantic Zeppelin flights. We already have a perfectly good mooring mast [stitchkingdom.com] in New York City.

Re:Bah. (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211815)

I'm anticipating those newfangled steam powered vehicles and trains that everyone is talking about. I mean, they run on water which is like 75% of the Earth's surface!

Overmind? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211461)

Why does this make me think like the Pentagon are going to start using Zergling rushes as a tactic?

Re:Overmind? (1)

Rip Dick (1207150) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211705)

Fool! They're obviously going to use Goblin Sappers to demolish key enemy structures...

There is already a Federal blimp flying over me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29211683)

... because I live on Cudjoe Key.
http://www.n-the-florida-keys.com/Fat-Albert.html

The ultimate in slow moving targets. (1)

richardkelleher (1184251) | more than 4 years ago | (#29211869)

They should be able to track what ever is coming to take them out. I can't imagine it would take much and it is not like the will be able to get out of the way! If they want to use them to protect or monitor, they will have to put up enough of them to block the sun! They will be shot down in minutes.

blimp laden (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212219)

> latest high-tech blimp laden with

> blimp laden

> blimps laden with radars to find Osama Blimp Laden?

There's only one Zeppelin authority in the U.S. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29212557)

If they haven't consulted Airship Ventures [airshipventures.com] about it, then I'm sorry but I don't care.

There is only 1 Zeppelin operator here in the U.S. They are the experts.

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