Sunday, November 25, 2007

Terry and the Pirates

If men who build IEDs out of cell-phone parts, explosive and Radio-shack components are called referred to as "Minutemen" and "patriots" by the some journalists what would you call people trying to build protective devices from century-old technology? Besides "mercenaries"? The Virginian-Pilot describes a something a little unusual over the skies of North Carolina.

For nearly two years, Blackwater has been developing an airship to tap a growing government demand for aerial surveillance and security - from patrolling U.S. borders and coastal waters to guarding military bases in hostile lands.

Earlier this month, its efforts finally got off the ground.

Officials with Blackwater Airships, a business unit of the Moyock-based tactical training and security company, say they successfully field-tested a 170-foot prototype on the grounds of a former Navy air station here.

Called the Polar 400, the non rigid blimp is designed to be unmanned and remotely controlled from a ground station. It would carry aloft such payloads as intelligence-gathering cameras, radar, communications gear and infrared sensors.

Blackwater! Well it's got to be bad. But why exactly? The article continues:

The increasing dollars have drawn plenty of companies to the market, including defense and aerospace giants Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Lockheed Martin and SAIC both are working on unmanned airship projects.

"Blackwater is attempting to enter a crowded market, and it would seem to me that they're going to have to have a pretty good story to tell - and maybe they do," said John Pike, director of, an Alexandria-based group that monitors military and homeland security issues. "Companies like Blackwater are not going to have Iraq forever," Pike said. "They would have to be looking around to figure out other brand extensions they can develop that are relevant to their existing customer base."

Maybe this is the reason why Blackwater-built blimps are so much worse than those built by Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

Back in World War 2 private participation in the war effort was commonplace. For example, the Singer Sewing Machine factory made items ranging from .45 caliber pistols to B-29 fire control computers and turret castings. Why, Singer products might well have flown on raids over Tokyo! Politics is interesting because it makes things good or bad depending not on the things themselves, but on a point of view.


Blogger Peter Grynch said...

So, if at one end of the spectrum we have a 170 ft blimp, at the other end of the mobile observation spectrum we have...

How does the world look through the eyes of a humming bird? Imagine a basketball game: You watch the players from an altitude of twenty feet and then�within seconds�see them from three inches above the court floor. Then you follow the player with the ball across the whole court, always exactly one foot above his shoulder. You pass him and climb up quickly to one inch above the basket, right in time for the slam.

The device that could deliver these unusual camera perspectives is a 5-inch autonomous rotary-wing MAV with a video camera and wireless transmission. Four electric ducted fans and an absolute position sensor enable it to hover automatically. After it is switched on, the mobot automatically stabilizes itself in the air, so that it stays where it was put. To move it away from this initial position, one can use simple voice commands such as up, down, left, and right, spoken directly towards the vehicle, or through a walkie-talkie-like communication device. It also accepts more complicated verbal mission requests like "Follow this person at a distance of 8 feet and an altitude of 5 feet." Because such a video surveillance activity resembles Paparazzi photographers, the appropriate name for this device is Papa-TV-Bot: Paparazzi Television Mobot.

To reduce the annoying effects of such a "flying spy camera," another set of intuitive voice commands, like go away, let it immediately move away from the speaker

11/25/2007 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Anything with the name Blackwater attached to it attracts moonbat paranoia and BDS. A surveillance platform REALLY makes 'em nervous. Bush might find their stash!

Meanwhile PMC's Other Than Blackwater and the military-industrial complex carry on, mostly under the radar and grateful for the diversion.

11/26/2007 01:51:00 AM  
Blogger PapaBear said...

regarding Singer .45's: I was at a gun-show a few years back, and came across an M1 carbine rifle stamped as being made by IBM

This appealed to the computer geek in me

11/26/2007 04:20:00 AM  
Blogger Buddha said...

I have an M-1 carbine manufactured by Rock-ola, the juke box company. I can't imagine the German or Japanese hit with a couple slugs from her would have felt any better knowing that the manufacturer normally made machines capable of playing the latest Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey platters.

11/26/2007 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Always best to have at least a couple of slugs from a Carbine!
"Present Arms" w/a Carbine transported one back to the boyscouts!

11/26/2007 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Rock on, Garth!

11/26/2007 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I'd put my money on Blackwater, just as I would Rutan's Scaled Composites over Boeing, et-al.
Whether the Govt will at this point in time is another matter.

11/26/2007 05:09:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Las Vegas Police Dept Employment Questionaire, Question number 54:
Have you, your wife, or her family, or your family ever been associated with any gang or gang activity?
Aryan Nation,

Suicide Nation
Mara Salvatrucha not spoken here.

11/26/2007 05:12:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

An outfit with the awkward name of Drive In Theater Movie Company (DTMCO for short) developed an automated device designed to test all of the speaker connections at drive in theaters and produce a report on which ones were defective. The test equipment was adapted by Convair as a means to test wiring harnesses on Atlas missiles.

Airships as surveillance devices, load carriers, and even weapons platforms pop up every few years. Even Gen Billy Mitchell thought they were just great (a fact that typically is not recalled when speaking of his vision of airpower). In the late 1980’s the US Navy was working on airships for sea control duties, and around the same time the Piasaki company was developing a bizarre airship/helicopter combination for hauling large items. I think they even used a small unmanned airship for a while for logging – hauling trees selectively out of forests without the need for logging roads – much more environmentally sensitive, y’know.

A few years back the US Army was dreaming up huge airships capable of carrying as much as Ro-Ro ship, while not being limited by oceans and ports. And even today the USAF has been envisioning gigantic airships hovering at above 50’000 ft for various applications.

And none of these ideas ever amount to anything. Guess we will see. Again.

11/26/2007 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I would think modern robotics, avionics, and etc would give them a leg up on previous efforts.
(haven't heard of a restart on the solar soarer that met it's fate high over Kauai, what's up w/that?)

11/26/2007 05:44:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Shackleton Redux (without the bad stuff)
A century after Sir Ernest Shackleton's epic--but ultimately doomed--route to the South Pole, James Fox and Richard Dunwoody are setting out to reattempt the fateful expedition.
Dubbed "Beyond Shackleton," Fox, Dunwoody and Stoup's 60-day journey will take the men across the Great Crevasse Field, up a 10,000-ft ascent and across the vast, icy expanse of the South Pole. Like Shackleton, the crew will battle extraordinarily tough conditions: temperatures as cold as -58 and Katabic (descending) winds that clock in at upwards of 100 mph, all while dragging sleds weighing about 250 pounds.

Presumably, they'll skip the part where they get stranded on the ice, fend off killer whales and have to paddle 800 miles in a lifeboat.
--Damon Tabor

11/26/2007 05:48:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

rwe said....
A few years back the US Army was dreaming up huge airships capable of carrying as much as Ro-Ro ship, while not being limited by oceans and ports. And even today the USAF has been envisioning gigantic airships hovering at above 50’000 ft for various applications.
There's currently a stationary airship balloon platform being constructed along a 200 mile border with Canada. They will be spaced one every five miles and tethered to the ground.

I think they'll likely work fine on the northern border. But likely in the war like environment of the southern borders--the narco traffickers will likely discover they need to cut the tethers to stay in business--and do so.

11/26/2007 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

I've thought that there could be a come back for dirigibles as flying cruise ships. In the 1930s there was the triple crashings of the Akron, Macon and Hindenburg that discredited dirigibles as a technology. The Akron and Macon failed because no one knew how to design light weight structures in the early 20th century. However with modern graphite composite materials, it would be relatively easy to design a safe dirigible. Unfortunately there has been no perceived commercial market for them. Despite this, I suspect money could be made flying sightseers in dirigibiles off the coasts of Norway, Alaska and the south island of New Zealand. I guess the big barrier is the development costs. The whole technology would have to be rebuilt from scratch (not cheap!).

11/26/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Here at the Cape we used to have a balloon-borne radar; they still have them off the coasts of southern and eastern Florida. Someone in an airplane even managed to hit the cable of one earlier this year.

The SF Writer Dean Ing has popularized the idea of delta-shaped dirigibles used to haul freight. The delta shape wuld enable them to get lift off the airframe in addition to internal balloonlets of He. The shape would make them stronger and less vulnerable to winds as well. Add in a composite airframe and Kevlar or other strong fabric skin, and it ain't exactly your father's Hindenberg.

Sounds great - but the fact is that the things would still be terribly vulnerable to high winds and too slow to get out of the way of a storm.

And as for combat - you should do fine, as long as the enemy does not have the capabilities of at least, say, a Sopwith Camel.

11/26/2007 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said:

"The SF Writer Dean Ing has popularized the idea of delta-shaped dirigibles used to haul freight... The shape would make them stronger and less vulnerable to winds as well. Add in a composite airframe and Kevlar or other strong fabric skin, and it ain't exactly your father's Hindenberg."

One can get a fair amount of lift from a regular dirigible shape if it's flying at an angle-of-attack. Also the classic shape is much easier to analyse (Max Munk did all the pioneering work in the early 20th century). A Kevlar fabric skin along with a graphite composite structure would be the enabling technologies.

A concept that I have for the tourist dirigible earlier described is to propel it with quiet electric powered props using electricity from hydrogen-air fuel cells. Store liquid hydrogen fuel on-board in dewars and use the boil-off to pressurize some of the lift cells in areas of the dirigible isolated from static electricity. Helium would initially be the lift gas and slowly replaced with hydrogen in the isolated lift cells (the hydrogen would be jettisoned during descent). Use the water produced by the fuel cells as drinking water and ballast. I imagine the vehicle serving roughly 100 passengers plus a small number of crew members.

Unfortunately the economics doesn't work out. A simple back-of-the-envelope estimate: Assume each vehicle carries 100 passengers, each paying $2000 for 10 day excursions. Assume the vehicle has a service life of 20 years. The vehicle would produce $146 million over its lifespan not including operating costs and assuming full occupancy. Unfortunately one would estimate the vehicle unit cost to be about $100 million each and the technology development cost to be about $500 million. Assuming an initial fleet of 10 vehicles means no profit margin over the vehicle and development cost. Since operating cost and ground facilities costs are not included, the concept is a no-starter. The only way it'll ever happen is if Uncle Sam could be convinced to cover the development cost (no way for something as old fashioned, slow and unsexy as a dirigible). Too bad, it would be cool to be silently floating around the fjords of New Zealand.

11/26/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Cas said...

I'm thinking these blimps are filled only with helium (a noble gas which does not react with anything), and not the much more combustible hydrogen (as was the Hindenberg)...

11/26/2007 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger OmegaPaladin said...


A lot of your criticisms are rather unfair. No one is suggesting the use of blimps in combat outside of expendable unmanned surveillance. A C-130 is vulnerable to anything jet-powered with a machine gun. It doesn't take much firepower to sink a cargo carrier either.

11/26/2007 10:10:00 PM  

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