Walrus Heavy-Lift Blimp Getting off the Ground
Posted 30-Aug-2005 05:53
DID(Defense Industry Daily) has covered the US military's rising interest in aerostats, blimps and related programs, including the Walrus heavy-transport blimp (that's "heavy" as in "1-2 million pounds") which may be able to offer a faster and more versatile substitute for sealift. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has now awarded funding to two contractors for the first phase of the Walrus program.
In this article DID explains the concept, details the contractors and contracts involved in this initial award, and lays out the program's structure...
DARPA notes that a key goal of the Walrus program is to establish clear and credible solutions that provide confidence that earlier airship-era limitations will be overcome. In particular, an early focus of the program will be the investigation of advanced breakthrough technologies that will support the development of innovative lift and buoyancy concepts that do not rely on off-board ballast.
Concept & Key Technologies
The Walrus program will develop and evaluate a very large airlift vehicle concept designed to control lift in all stages of air or ground operations including the ability to off-load payload without taking on-board ballast other than surrounding air. This is obviously rather important when offloading up to 2 million pounds of personnel and military equipment in remote areas. In distinct contrast to earlier generation airships, 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.
The Walrus operational vehicle (OV) is intended to carry a payload of 500-1,000 tons (that's 1-2 million pounds) up to 12,000 nautical miles, in less than seven days and at a competitive cost. Given these enormous capacities, they would mostly be used to deploy full-scale fighting units (for example, the components of an Future Combat Systems Army Unit of Action) quickly, getting them to their site with a minimum of equipment reassembly work required. The ideal is that transported forces should fully ready to fight within six hours.
Initial conceptions call for the Walrus to operate without significant infrastructure and from unimproved landing sites, including rough ground having five-foot-high obstacles like boulders, shrubs, et. al. Additionally, Walrus should be capable of performing theater lift and supporting sea-basing or even persistence missions like communications and surveillance.
DARPA says that advances in envelope and hull materials, buoyancy and lift control, drag reduction and propulsion have combined to make this concept feasible. Technologies to be investigated in the initial study phase include vacuum/air buoyancy compensator tanks, which provide buoyancy control without ballast, and electrostatic atmospheric ion propulsion.
The two contractors receiving Walrus Phase I awards are:
Lockheed Martin Corp. Advanced Development Programs in Palmdale, CA ($3 million)
Aeros Aeronautical Systems Corp. in Tarzana, CA ($3.3 million)
The Walrus program will develop an operational vehicle concept design and required breakthrough technologies and will conduct risk reduction demonstrations of these new technologies.
During the program's first phase, a 12-month analytical effort, the two contractor teams will conduct trade studies to determine which OV design concept most satisfies the operational tasks and optimizes design capability. Phase I will explore various vehicle configurations (rigid, non-rigid and semi-rigid), and will conclude with a concept design review of the OV and the supporting technology development plan for risk reduction demonstrations including the ATD vehicle.
DARPA will select one contractor team to enter the second phase, which will be a demonstration effort spanning three years. During phase II, the program will refine the Walrus' design needs, identify its potential military use through modeling and studies, develop breakthrough technologies, and conduct risk reduction demonstrations of components and subsystems.
DARPA also notes that demonstrations will include flight tests of a Walrus Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) scaled aircraft. This is a fancy way of saying that under the $10 million Walrus advanced technology demonstration (ATD), they plan to flight-test a "significant-scale" lifting airship in 2008 with a payload capability of around 30 tons, comparable with a Lockheed Martin C-130.
These risk reduction demonstrations, including the ATD vehicle, are designed to establish a low-risk technology path for proving the Walrus concept and achieving the operating goals.
Darpa linkage pdf file...