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Giant Blimp, Deflated

by david_axe on March 28, 2006

No! Nooooo! Say it ain’t so, Darpa! The Walrus program — the fringe-science agency’s awesomely, almost insanely, ambitious plan to build an aircraft carrier-sized blimp — is over, Defense Technology International discovers.
walrus_HUGEish.jpgCongress had always been skeptical about the idea of an airship that could schlep 500‑1000 tons halfway around the world. (After all, the Pentagon’s current go-to airborne hauler, the C-130 Hercules cargo plane, holds about 22 tons.) But blimp-lovers had pushed the “tri-phibian” (air, land, sea) Walrus as a way to make American forces less reliant on deep-water ports, foreign bases, and billion-dollar airports to wage war.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Darpa took away the fiscal year 2006 funding for the Walrus. And the agency’s 2007 budget request calls for “termination of the Walrus effort.“
Now, the Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command had its own plans for a heavy-hauling airship, too. I’m checking to see if they’re still interested. Keep your fingers crossed.
UPDATE 9:46 AM: Don’t get too bummed, blimp fans. Darpa’s plan for an all-seeing airship that tracks an entire battlefield at once is still intact.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

C-Low March 28, 2006 at 12:20 pm

Dammit Mannn!!!
I was really looking forward to a fly over of 50 or so of these monsters fully loaded being deployed darkening the sky as they went overhead.
Talk about a Battleship deplomacy potential.

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James March 28, 2006 at 3:21 pm

You know…this has been tried before. The Germans tried to resupply their little force in East Africa in 1916 with a dirigible. They made it as far as the Sudan before they were mysteriously called back. The airship was not intended to return and they had plans to cannibalize it for material for tents and uniforms. It had, as I recall, about fifteen or twenty tons of ammunition on board.
As it turned out, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. The Germans kept on fighting in what is now Tanzania right up to the end of the war.

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Nine Inch Nachos March 28, 2006 at 4:03 pm

The Bastards,
Dont they know that if you turn your back to the blimps, you turn your back to the future! Even so, they’ve probably just found a better idea… like converting sunken japanese battleships for space travel.

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DS March 28, 2006 at 4:25 pm

yeah yeah yeah…it’s probably already built and functional, so they’re just terminating the research/testing/building phase of the project. watch that money turn up in another section of the 2008 budget. lol…

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JSAllison March 29, 2006 at 9:08 am

The world needs airships on the horizon. It’s the right thing to do. Perhaps they’ll appear as an interim solution between Airbus’ cruise liner and the first generation exoatmospheric pax haulers. They’d be useful in disaster response and bulk cargo, as well.

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Charles March 29, 2006 at 11:22 am

They need the funds for some Iraq-related thing, like the JIN or that non-lethal PHASR, etc.

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campbell March 29, 2006 at 9:14 pm

Walrus is cancelled because DARPA and largest potential contractor have been unable to see beyond “envelope” “fabric” “laminate” “inflate” and a host of other ARCHAIC airship/blimp technologies.
Plus, perhaps after all, they finally recognise that their vaunted “hybrid” airship still needs a runway because it is not a true Lighter-than-Air craft. As such, it is no more than a larger form of airplane, and yes, any one of a dozen airplanes are already sufficient.
Airships will only enter use when the world wakes up to totaly rigid SHELLED craft that are truely Lighter-than-Air, are solar powered, and eliminate historic ground handling through AMPHIBIOUS design.
Proper airship development SHOULD be continued. Best work is being done by (my competitor!) at Aeros Worldwide, (although my turtle is better)
Coming fuel prices will force the issue, belatedly.

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Joe Katzman April 3, 2006 at 7:59 pm

A recent Military.com article talked about the USAF changing its mind about wanting C-27 “Baby Hercs” or C-295s because the Hercules couldn’t land on enough runways in Third World backwaters and it was affecting combat operations. They hoped smaller aircraft that could use these shorter runways might help.
But the 2008 technical demonstration version of the Walrus was supposed to haul 30 tons. Which means that funding it could give the USAF an answer that could use those shorter runways and haul more than the C-130s, thus potentially solving the problem.
Even if the 500-ton version later proved impossible, the value of a successful demo craft alone would appear to justify the investment level of a DARPA project. Now throw in DID’s recent coverage of the rising cost of fuel and the concern in the DoD.
I truly do not understand this decision.

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Daniel Markham April 26, 2006 at 10:22 am

This decision truly baffles me.
For a small amount of money (relatively speaking) DoD could validate (or not) a huge cost savings for heavy lift.
It almost makes you believe that the DoD R&D system is politicized and rigged for the big contractors.
Almost.

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Shinimegami July 23, 2006 at 3:31 pm

“and yes, any one of a dozen airplanes are already sufficient.”
How so? No existing airplanes can even come close to a 500 ton lifting capacity. One of the biggest obstacles to rapid deployment of our military is that the M1 Abrams weighs so much that even our largest aircraft can only carry a single tank. If this Walrus were made to work as intended, it could carry 7 such tanks. Even with the vehicle flying more slowly than a C-5 Galaxy, that would still allow for far more rapid deployment of armored units (which regardless of Rumsfeld’s inane “Transformation” pipedream remain essential to winning against any remotely formidable enemy) than is currently possible.

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Pathfinder March 23, 2007 at 4:21 pm

I say forget fruity airships and blimps. Lets go beyond; lets build a starship. Like on star wars episode 2 or 3. It would’nt travel space though. It would orbit the earth much like a giant space aircraft carrier and come down for invasions. Forget the sky, lets go orbital; no one will have the firepower to go against hundreds of titanium rods shooting from space that came from an orbital space battleship. It would be expensive and very dangerous, i agree but its just a start in a new age of warfare.

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Edward J. Palumbo July 29, 2007 at 12:49 am

Despite the possibility that such an aircraft may make a somewhat vulnerable target, it could be a cost-effective way to move troops and materiel in an environment in which we have air superiority. Blimps performed reliably and well in suitable roles in WWII but newer aircraft and weapons technology made them obsolete. Redesigned for today’s needs, blimps could still be an asset when speed is not a primary consideration. This matter has come up before in the civilian sector (for freight and passengers) but the initial cost of design and production would be prohibitive. Perhaps it isn’t that far-fetched a concept after all.

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Dennis December 20, 2007 at 4:26 pm

The concept has merit due to the new material of carbon fiber.
However, large aluminum catamarans with jet engine power plants would probably be able to get the stuff oversees quicker and carry just as much.
This technology is already in use in many ports as high speed ferries.
Unfortunately the company that makes them is in Australia. So no Congressman will be clamoring for the military to use the technology….
Also, the Navy does not care about moving large quantities of stuff for the Army. Imagine that….
But a boat can only get the materials so far. After that the engineers will be building bridges. A Heavy lifter would not have that problem.
-Dennis

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cup beans January 8, 2008 at 5:35 am

I have read recently about the use of airship in the army and linked it here
http://www.myairballoonsbuddies.com/airships-in-the-army-16.html
I couldn’t avoid adding the item about the Venezuela policing airship, because it is the other side of using the blimp.
Love to hear your opinion.

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Peli May 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Just take a look at this, it

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Sean May 23, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Until they invent a lightweight bullet proof material there will never be a lighter than air equipment delivery system.
Reasons?
1. Slow
2. Big
3. 1000 tons of target
IMHO

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guest March 13, 2010 at 8:33 pm

anyone else notice the Kamov KA-29 in flight over the blimp? Was this a DARPA-Russia project?? haha

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