Spy Blimps and Heavy Lifters
The latest thing in airships.
- By Ben Iannotta
- Air & Space magazine, September 2007
(Page 4 of 4)
After landing, the hover pads will be reversed to “suck” mode to keep the craft on the ground while its payload is wheeled off. No ballast will be necessary.
Since DARPA did not prohibit foreign proposals, the SkyCat Group had hoped to get Walrus program money to build a small SkyCat. But the agency turned that proposal down, and will not comment publicly on its decision, says spokeswoman Jan Walker. The company is presently in bankruptcy, but is hoping to claw its way out with two demo vehicles, which it calls SkyKittens. The 40-foot SkyKitten 1 earned a visit from Pentagon officials after it flew in 2000. Says Gordon Taylor, the company’s marketing director, a 50-foot SkyKitten is planned, followed within 30 months by the first operational SkyCat vehicle. That craft will carry either 20 or 50 tons of equipment; Taylor says managers haven’t decided whether to go straight to the larger version.
Competing companies have come up with designs that resemble the SkyKittens—to a suspicious degree, say the SkyCat developers.
It’s probably not going to be easy to nudge any of these concepts into the real world. A technology as simple-sounding as airships—fabric, helium, maybe a propeller or two—turns out to be surprisingly complicated. “I’ve heard—seriously—people say ‘Well, we shouldn’t have much problem doing something like that; you just take a gas bag and put a couple of engines on,’ ” Hokan Colting says, laughing. But if the design challenges can be mastered, the decidedly low-tech aircraft could become a critical part of the 21st century fleet.