Airplanes no image

Published on March 23rd, 2010 | by Christopher DeMorro

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Military Solar-Powered Blimp A Movable Eye In The Sky

The first use of aerial vehicles on the battlefield was balloons hoisted up into the to spy on enemy troop movements, and occasionally to drop bombs. Balloons were used in the American Civil War, and even during the French Revolution, though in recent decades emphasis has shifted towards jets, rather than balloons.

But that may be about to change. The U.S. Air Force is looking into a high-flying, solar-powered blimp to take over spy duties, and say a small demonstration prototype could be in the air by 2014.

Flying to heights in excess of 12 miles, the Integrated Sensor Is the Structure project — ISIS — would use radar to send high-def images to ground bases to provide real-time actionable info to commanders. The unmanned structure was developed by MITRE, who claims the blimp could deploy anywhere in the globe in ten days or less thanks to its 60 knot cruising speed.

The idea behind the ISIS is to offer more information at less cost. Spy planes require lots of logistics support such as fuel, ground bases, and of course extensively-trained pilots. The ISIS needs none of that. You could park it over a spot and let it observe for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, never missing a single thing thanks to its high-tech cameras and radar.

During the day, power for all this technology comes from top-mounted solar cells, which create hydrogen and oxygen from water, which is then recombined in a fuel cell for energy during the night. The ISIS uses low-power “cell phone technology” to keep the weight and complications down. Sounds pretty cool, and there should be a working model around 2014. Just don’t expect to be flying on a solar blimp anytime soon.

Source: MITRE via Inhabitat


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About the Author

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. When he isn't wrenching or writing, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • John Aislabie

    This is the point which many blimp projects reach – before they look at a cold dose of reality.

    The “general” case always looks good; the 60 knot cruise may get it where needed on average just as “on average” wind turbines give cheap electicity. But the bugaboo is the detail. On the day you want to deploy there are 75 knot jetstreams or sun-obscuring cunims, draining battery life, lowering speed, requiring rerouting and so on.

    On station there is suddenly a 10 day period of high winds rather than the “general” four day maximum catered for in the design.Because of some deterioration you cannot deploy to the critical case area because any more battery drain might lose power or control and deliver your high tech to enemy hands. In the event of any threat (a WW2 era 4.5″ anti aircraft gun?) it is a sitting duck, so you pull it back from key positions.

    Eventually what you figure out is that you are spending time, money,people and protection resources that don’t apply to an aircraft,manned or unmanned.

    I am not saying that this won’t get further as a project but I am saying that it won’t solve any problems – and will create new ones

  • John Aislabie

    This is the point which many blimp projects reach – before they look at a cold dose of reality.

    The “general” case always looks good; the 60 knot cruise may get it where needed on average just as “on average” wind turbines give cheap electicity. But the bugaboo is the detail. On the day you want to deploy there are 75 knot jetstreams or sun-obscuring cunims, draining battery life, lowering speed, requiring rerouting and so on.

    On station there is suddenly a 10 day period of high winds rather than the “general” four day maximum catered for in the design.Because of some deterioration you cannot deploy to the critical case area because any more battery drain might lose power or control and deliver your high tech to enemy hands. In the event of any threat (a WW2 era 4.5″ anti aircraft gun?) it is a sitting duck, so you pull it back from key positions.

    Eventually what you figure out is that you are spending time, money,people and protection resources that don’t apply to an aircraft,manned or unmanned.

    I am not saying that this won’t get further as a project but I am saying that it won’t solve any problems – and will create new ones

  • John Aislabie

    This is the point which many blimp projects reach – before they look at a cold dose of reality.

    The “general” case always looks good; the 60 knot cruise may get it where needed on average just as “on average” wind turbines give cheap electicity. But the bugaboo is the detail. On the day you want to deploy there are 75 knot jetstreams or sun-obscuring cunims, draining battery life, lowering speed, requiring rerouting and so on.

    On station there is suddenly a 10 day period of high winds rather than the “general” four day maximum catered for in the design.Because of some deterioration you cannot deploy to the critical case area because any more battery drain might lose power or control and deliver your high tech to enemy hands. In the event of any threat (a WW2 era 4.5″ anti aircraft gun?) it is a sitting duck, so you pull it back from key positions.

    Eventually what you figure out is that you are spending time, money,people and protection resources that don’t apply to an aircraft,manned or unmanned.

    I am not saying that this won’t get further as a project but I am saying that it won’t solve any problems – and will create new ones

  • douglas prince

    Whenever the military openly proposes a “new spying” technology, suddenly my colon tightens. I have red flags creeping up my spine saying this is a diversion from something much more sinister.

    Think about it. The military is telling the world we are going to have a new way to spy on you. And we tell you upfront, before it’s actually working?

    Then there’s the little detail of getting it to it’s assigned location – IN TEN DAYS???? What the fuck kind of surveillance system takes a week and half to get into position?

    Also, like John pointed out, this thing would be a sitting duck for any third-world yahoo country with an itchy trigger finger. Hell, the Mexican air force could bring this bugger down with nary a spill of their Dos Equis.

    No, no, no. Something else is going on here, just wait and see if some military “project” falls out of the sky at the Nevada Test Site.

  • douglas prince

    Whenever the military openly proposes a “new spying” technology, suddenly my colon tightens. I have red flags creeping up my spine saying this is a diversion from something much more sinister.

    Think about it. The military is telling the world we are going to have a new way to spy on you. And we tell you upfront, before it’s actually working?

    Then there’s the little detail of getting it to it’s assigned location – IN TEN DAYS???? What the fuck kind of surveillance system takes a week and half to get into position?

    Also, like John pointed out, this thing would be a sitting duck for any third-world yahoo country with an itchy trigger finger. Hell, the Mexican air force could bring this bugger down with nary a spill of their Dos Equis.

    No, no, no. Something else is going on here, just wait and see if some military “project” falls out of the sky at the Nevada Test Site.

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