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Old Airlift Vehicle Concept Made New 291

starexplorer writes "LiveScience is reporting on an early conceptual design of The Walrus the DOD's new planned 'very large airlift vehicle'." Could the concept of a 'war-balloon' really be gaining favor again?
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Old Airlift Vehicle Concept Made New

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  • At Last!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:20PM (#13542237) Homepage Journal
    An airship that will look like the budget that funds it!

    I've been a huge fan of airships after reading up on them, but this thing will positively scream "TARGET" (not the chain store) to every radical nut with a shoulder launch missile. It will also move rather slowly.

    Perhaps a good choice for moving materiel between safe locations, but not something you'd fly over the Middle East any time soon.

    • Anyone seen cid? I think he's probably looking for his vehicle...
    • Re:At Last!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:24PM (#13542267) Homepage Journal
      C5s & C141s are not exactly small & speedy.
    • by brohan ( 773443 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:24PM (#13542268) Homepage
      Also, this airship isn't built for hardiness at all. From what I can get from the article it will have many points of faliure. I don't see how a well placed photon torpedoes down a shaft can bring the whole death star^W^W Walrus down.
    • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:32PM (#13542340) Homepage Journal
      except from altitude and even then they are rarely if ever deployed in heavily contested areas. Most of the time they require large airstrips which in itself implies control over land and air of the region.

      What it does offer is many possiblities for not just military operations. If these things pan out in efficiency you can bet UPS and FED Ex would want them. Let alone the possibilities of flying cruise ships!

      FWIW, anything is a target for a terrorist, though preference is giving to things that don't shoot back.
    • Re:At Last!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 ( 716938 )
      In a post petroleum era, control of the air may rely on balloon technology. One byproduct of oil production in the US is that we are virtually the world leader in supplies of helium. This fact, and our reluctance to sell same to Germany, was the main reason for a particular fire in Lakehurst NJ some years back
    • oh, but the stealth cloaking technology should take care of that, they wont even know its there!

      but realisticly: flying at night, they'd be deadly silent and all but invisible to everything but radar (unless they flew low enough?). I guess you trade speed, armor and agility for stealth.
    • by kfg ( 145172 )
      . . .every radical nut with a shoulder launch missile.

      Around here we just call them "arrows."

    • Ever play the original Dynamix "Red Baron"? The missions against dirigibles were a bear to complete -- come zooming in from almost any angle and there's another frelling gun turret in your face.

    • Answers to the "target problem"

      1) bullet holes are no problem. Airships like the goodyear blimp get shot at regularly by rednecks and the compartmentalization keeps them afloat.

      2) This thing should be able to carry a fairly advanced array of anti-missile weaponry and decoys. Combined with a low radar and heat signature, it's not as good a target as one might think. It should even have enough lifting capacity that they can throw in some anti-missile gatling guns like the ones they use on cruisers and aircraf
      • Rednecks? The blimps are over cities nearly all the time. Sure, the rednecks come to the football games, but they don't usually bring their guns. I'd bet that the gunfire is coming from another, more urban group with a less socially-acceptable epithet than "rednecks".
      • They carried a complement of fighter airplanes on board, and could launch them at will for self defense

        Well, that was the hope, but the planes carried were not called "peashooters" for no reason. They were basically about the size of a Pitts Special biplane, with one or maybe two .30 cal machine guns (think: M-60's). They had to be pretty damn light, just like everything else on an airship.

        Later on in the 50's, the techniques were revisited with the hopes of making a little jet-powered fighter that could be
  • by OneByteOff ( 817710 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:21PM (#13542242)
    By Selling them my girlfriend, some off-green paint and helium tanks!!!!
  • by Nerd Systems ( 912027 ) * <ben@nerdsystem[ ]om ['s.c' in gap]> on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:24PM (#13542266) Homepage
    I read this story and it is very impressive how much tonnage that this device can carry... only one question comes to mind... how are they going to protect it?

    Based on the size of this warship, not to mention the slowness of it, am sure that it can't just easily outrun a fighter jet sent to destroy it, or be able to perform evasive manuevers...

    I can imagine that it will be escorted by a fighter division, not to mention have some high-tech anti-missle weapons and the like, yet I can see an air to air missle easily bypassing those protections and bringing down a TON of hardware with it... major catastrophe...

    Anyone have any ideas what sort of protection methods will be used to protect this massive warship, as well as if this will be used for strictly hardware transport, or troop transportation as well?

    We shall find out shortly it seems...

    • by greulich ( 87871 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:29PM (#13542307)
      The Goodyear blimps come home with bullet holes all of the time. An airship is a lot more difficult to bring down than you would think.

      As long as you don't coat it in rocket fuel of course... ;)
      • Oh the humanity!!!
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:50PM (#13542479) Homepage
        As long as you don't coat it in rocket fuel of course

        Myth [].
        • How fast does CAB burn in a hydrogen-air atmosphere, for different percentages of hydrogen?

          SRB fuel *CAN* burn explosively. Witness the aerial footage of the SRB fuel plant burning, and then conflagrating rather quickly and abruptly...

          SRB fuel might have a slow burn rate, but it does make a lot of gas, and if you contain it and leave it only one way out (as you would in a rocket motor), it does have some force. Plus, you have to remember that the area burning in the SRB is essentially the length of the SRB
          • How fast does CAB burn in a hydrogen-air atmosphere, for different percentages of hydrogen?

            Not much of a different rate than the hydrogen-air would alone. Solid rocket propellants have their own oxidizer, so the only difference in SRB propellant combustion rates would be temperature; there's no way the temperature increase would accelerate it to a remotely relevant speed compared to the rate of the hydrogen wavefront.

            footage of the SRB fuel plant burning, and then conflagrating rather quickly

            I assume you'r
        • Published in "Buoyant Flight, The Bulletin of the Lighter-Than-Air Society".

          Sorry, but that doesn't sound like a peer-reviewed journal to me. How do I know this has any more credibility than the original study by Addison Bain and Richard Van Treuren?

          • That's hardly the only paper on the subject. Dessler alone has written several. As for his credentials:

            BS Physics: Caltech
            PhD Physics: Duke University
            7 years in Space Physics Research at Lockheed Missile and Space Co.
            26 years at Rice University as Professor of Space Physics and Astronomy (includes 15 years as Dept. Chair)
            4 years at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center as Director of Space Science Laboratory
            Presently, Sr. Scientist at University of Arizona, Lunar and Pl
      • How often do you think they come home with bullet holes?

        Perhaps as high as 3% of the time? Does that really qualify as all the time?

        Not sure what the hyperbole was for, or how this can get +5 insightful for implying that at least half (if not most) if blimps that go up are fired upon.
      • Reference?

        I'm surprised those blimps are fired upon...but then again, we Americans are a little stupid.
    • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:31PM (#13542327) Homepage
      Put a giant teddy bear costume on it. No one would shoot a cute teddy bear!
      • Nah ... paint it with a likeness of the "Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man", and the message "Compliments of Zuul." Nobody without an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on their backs will come anywhere near it.
    • ever see that simpsons?

      "Bogey's airspeed not sufficient for intercept. Suggest we get out and walk."
    • Continent transport of a LARGE amount of cargo. Think of transfering from the Europian theatre to the mid-east theatre. This is a good way to get large amounts of supplies there in a relatively short period of time.
    • By the time the army moves in, whoever they're fighting doesn't have any runways for a jet to take off from, and probably no aircraft either (because the US isn't going to try to move ground troops under enemy aircraft; air-to-ground is just too effective these days). The bigger danger is surface-to-air. But really, this is likely to mostly replace moving stuff in by helicopter, and helicopters aren't that tough or fast either, and have the habit of crashing even when they haven't been shot, so it's a win a
    • by reality-bytes ( 119275 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:53PM (#13542505) Homepage

      Even the most modern, lumbering Aircraft Carrier is a big target for waiting submarines / strike aircraft so you protect it.

      You protect these things according to their strategic value. ie: The Aircraft carrier is strategically valuable so you give it a Frigate / Destroyer screen along with air-cover.

      In the case of the huge HTA cargo carrier, you likewise protect it with fighters, refuellers etc and because it can carry huge ammounts, perhaps give it it's own air to air missile system.

      Given it's size / lifting capability, perhaps these warships could also carry a Phallanx / Goalkeeper type system.
    • For a start, helium filled, multiple gas bags. These things are mostly empty space. You'll have to hit it lots of times punching big holes to have any effect at all. Little holes will just leak slowly.
    • I'm thinking that protection isn't going to be that big of a problem.

      Mount a bunch of Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense guns so you have 360 degree line of fire.

      Hook them up to buff computer network and program it to create a 1000 foot killing zone around the craft. So if they flip it on in a hostile area anything heading towards it gets turned into a cloud of debris.

      And enough already with all the idiots and their "omgz!! it'll blowdz up like the Hindenburg!!".

      That's just annoying and ignorant.
    • A vehicle with a 500-ton cargo capacity would make a great platform for an anti-missile laser. We can fit those in a 747, so this thing should have capacity to spare.
    • it's about as vulnerable as any transport for god's sake.

      you keep them out of harms way whenever possible.
  • Here's another clue for you all - the Walrus was Paul.

    Makes me think of "Warlords of the Air" - a peculiar Moorcock book from the 70's. Had flying dreadnaughts - designed by the Chilean wizard O'Bean.

    • I think I liked "The Land Leviathan" more, to be honest. Although I thought Moorcock was making some kind of statement about fate when Hiroshima ended up being the first city to get nuked anyway.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:27PM (#13542294) Journal
    Nice thing about this, is it would be perfect for doing firefighting or even work in 9/11-katrina areas (think of it as a floating hospital, or simply ability to drop in national guard, etc). Hopefully, it gets used.
    • Actually, this is probably one of the worst applications for one of these.

      For one, the cycle time for loading that much water will SUCK.

      For another, fly one of these babies over a hot spot, where the air is suddenly a lot less dense, and your 500 tons of water suddenly gets a lot of inertia heading down. With the size of the thing, even if they suddenly dropped the water, it might be too late to counteract actively, with its huge moment of inertia (even if it weighs 100 tons empty).

      But it would sure fly to
  • What if such developments in dirigible tech actually mean that it's easier for a robot to fly from LA to Las Vegas? Would the DARPA Challenge be folded up since it's no longer needed, or is there a real requirement for land-based robotic vehicles? Are flying vehicles a level of magnitude more expensive?
    • That's why the military's interested in using these to move things (like tanks) from one place to another. What's in between is not their concern. That's robot tank business. Long-range terrestrial navigation (and sweet-mother-of-god destruction) is a whole other matter.

      This thing's big boat in the air. They just need it to be a boat. In the air.

  • by centinall ( 868713 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:37PM (#13542382)
    Looks just like Thunderbird 2.
  • by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:39PM (#13542398)
    Only a few comments so far, most of them about how easy it would be to shoot it down.

    But it won't be that easy. First of all, compartmentation. No doubt the bag will be at least dozens, if not hundreds, of individual compartments. Weight prevents anything equivalent to a ship with thousands of watertight compartments, but there will certainly be enough that bullets won't be much of a danger. The lifting gas won't be under pressure, so it won't start rips that widen the holes. And certainly the gas bag material will have anti-rip threading.

    It won't use hydrogen either, no one is that stupid. Helium is the lifting gas of choice.

    Shoulder fired missles are not a threat. This thing will fly above them. Their range is only a couple of miles. Full sized missles and full size AAA are a different matter, but again, compartmentation will help, and gas bags probably don't provide much of a radar signature to trigger fuzes, nor does the gas bag itself offer enough resistance to trigger most fuzes; they will probably fly right through and leave behind a few holes, trivial to patch.

    Which brings up damage control. I am sure the crew will be able to climb around inside and apply temporary patches.

    I think these heavy lift combat balloons are a silly idea. But they aren't nearly as silly as so many quick posts make out.
    • Full sized missles and full size AAA are a different matter, but again, compartmentation will help, and gas bags probably don't provide much of a radar signature to trigger fuzes, nor does the gas bag itself offer enough resistance to trigger most fuzes; they will probably fly right through and leave behind a few holes, trivial to patch.

      But the cargo inside the ship will indeed be solid and will offer enough resistance!

    • Anti-aircraft missiles are not intended to hit their targets, that is too difficult. They explode in proximity to the target and bring it down with shrapnel.
      As such, they would be just as deadly for an airship, filling it with thousands of little and not so little holes.
    • According to DARPA's press release, "the Walrus aircraft will be a heavier-than-air vehicle and will generate lift through a combination of aerodynamics, thrust vectoring and gas buoyancy generation and management."

      You and everyone else who suggested comparmentation as a reason why it won't be so vulnerable probably didn't RTFA. Depending on how much of the lift really is the aerodynamics, a single deflated compartment may very well destroy its lifting capacity.

      Regardless, all of us are idiots for think

    • Shoulder fired missles are not a threat. This thing will fly above them. Their range is only a couple of miles.

      This is an airlift vehicle. It is ment to move large payloads. Generally, that means it's probably going to be landing in the hostile country to drop off those paloads. If one or more hostile folks with shoulder launched missles sneak up near the landing field, it could mean a very rough landing.

      • Shoulder launch missiles are generally either unguided or heat seeking. A missile hitting the gas bag would hole it - probably minimal damage, they leak slowly; a missile hitting the hottest part of the ship - one of its lift/propulsion motors - would sort out the motor and probably put a fair few shrapnel holes in the gas bag - neither will quickly down the aircraft.

        Also, this aircraft will be (according to TFA) transporting troops and equipment to areas that are relatively safe - those are the sort of are
        • Sure, bullets won't make it come down quicly, but in the Armor/Armament back and forth arms race, this simply been out there requiring a new notch to Armament. All it would take is an good sized explosive round set to detonate inside the thing. That would blow the fabric skin away from the frame and blow away the interior bulkheads. Boom, no more airship.

          If this thing comes to production, expect weapons capable of easily dropping it to come out shortly afterwards.

  • RA2... (Score:2, Funny)

    by MiKM ( 752717 )
    Kirov reporting.
  • by McSnarf ( 676600 ) * on Monday September 12, 2005 @07:51PM (#13542491)
    Anyone left who remembers the fabulously failing Cargolifter AG in Germany? lifter/ []
    • The difference between those who fail and those who succeed is those who succeed usually fail more but eventually succeed from learning from their history. If you give up when something doesn't work, then why try at all? There is a quote from someone saying something to the affect of "If you're not failing 90% of the time, then you're not thinking revolutionary enough".
  • will generate lift through a combination of aerodynamics, thrust vectoring and blah blahbitty blahbiddy bla blablahblah.

    Of course, the article fails to answer the most important question: can it turn on a dime?

  • Why are there so many "I Am The Walrus" references associated with this thing?

    (Don't shoot me. I'm 22.)
    • The airship is called the Walrus, and Paul McCartney also called himself "the walrus" in the LSD-period Beatles song.

      I Am the Walrus
      Beatles, 1967

      I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
      See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
      I'm crying.

      Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come.
      Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody tuesday.
      Man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long.
      I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
      I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob.

      Mister city polic
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2005 @08:14PM (#13542659)
    FedEx tried this once, with Lockheed Martin Skunk works as the prime and ran out of money. One of the biggest problems was that the vehicle was so big, it would hardly fit onto the runways at LAX. Try having those things land regulary at any busy airport and you are going to have major logistical problems. Also, I worked on a similar concept for a now extinct company in Germany called CargoLifter. There airship was called the CL160, which was actually lighter than air (didn't need aerodynamic lift) and was the length of roughly 3 American football feilds in length. It could carry 160 tons of cargo from destination to destination ...eliminating the need to build things in small enough pieces to be carried on the highway. Seemed like a good business plan until the German government pulled th plug on funding. The old hanger, which could fit two of these things side by side, is now a bioshpere like amusement park: []
  • They will be putting the Lead in Led Zepplin?

    Sorry, couldn't resist
  • The colour and shape remind me of another old heavy-lift vehicle: Thunderbird 2 []. Coincidence?
  • Kirov reporting! []

    Airships might be tougher than they look, but I'm still not sure about this one's defenses. Some military transports have rear-mounted cannons in addition to chaffs/flares*, so I guess the Walrus would have at least these. It's still a BUSlowF though, making it an easier target and complicating its escorting.

    In any case, this seems to be a very interesting and promising project. It can carry almost twice what an An-225 can, or probably even the An itself. I don't know what the operating cost
  • Just wondering but is a huge 60mph blimp somewhat fragile over or near a war zone?
  • by Cervantes ( 612861 ) on Monday September 12, 2005 @09:44PM (#13543114) Journal
    Stuff like this makes me wonder... wouldn't it be fuckin' awesome to work for DARPA and be able to bring life to the crazy shit you dreamt up when you were 9?
  • These may make interesting transports based upon the last few wars the U.S. has been in (or created for the hell of it, too!).

    Gulf War I & II

    These wars both had lengthly start-up cycles with lots of troops, hardware, and materials piled up waiting for deployment. Getting things to and from rear deployment areas would be prime candidates for a ship like this.

    Balkans (under Gen. Clark)

    Though this was won without U.S. troop involvement on the ground, like the Gulf Wars we had large staging areas

  • by hey! ( 33014 )
    I can think of an earlier example of this idea:

    From Lord Tennyson's Locksley Hall, startedin 1830 and published in 1842:

    For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
    Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

    Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
    Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

    Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
    From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;

    Now mind you the persona

  • by TheHawke ( 237817 ) <rchapin@[ ] ['stx' in gap]> on Monday September 12, 2005 @11:27PM (#13543883)
    Weather, for starters.. Folks seem to forget what happened to the first Zeppelin airfleet that was made by both the US navy and the brits.

    They had made some wonderfull airships and were considered to be real plum assignments to have.

    Just they underestimated Mother Nature.
    Both sides lost at least 4 airships before scrapping their airship fleets to sudden storms, squall lines and even a hurricane.

    This Walrus maybe almost impervious to enemy fire and operating in the rear area, but when a sudden storm comes up and the thing aint secured, well.. Break out the torches boys, alot of scrap metal is headed to the recyclers.
  • Ever since I was little kid Popular Mechanics has been predicting the retunr of the blimp. Hope springs eternal.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner