Fast-Moving Blimp Can Follow Convoys
Blimps are back. Geneva Aerospace says, if the military will
install its unmanned autonomous flight control technologies to
blimps, the military soon will have more cost-effective
communications capabilities in combat areas.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom,
the military learned its communications coverage, including the
ability to keep up with convoys, was not adequate. The US Army
Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), together
with the Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) explored the
following short-term answer to this problem.
The Airborne Communication Extender (ACE) airship, manufactured
by ISL-Bosch Aerospace Division of Huntsville, AL. ACE was recently
tested for use by RDECOM in Lakehurst, NJ. The 125-foot blimp can
operate at an altitude of 1 mile, move at speeds of up to 50 miles
per hour, and stay aloft for more than 24 hours at a time without a
pilot. The blimp is equipped with Geneva's avionics technologies,
which include the flightTEK mission computer, as well as
"We have given the blimp the capability to be completely
autonomous," said Max Jensen, director of sales for Geneva
Aerospace, Inc. "You can give the vehicle a mission plan and launch
it, and it will be completely hands-off until you recover it. Plus,
with flightTEK, the blimp can be guided by an operator from the
This application creates a continual
communication link for the military, which currently relies on
fixed radio towers or fixed-wing aircraft to provide communications
"A lot of communications use towers for relays, but they provide
only a very short range," said Jim Boschma, manager of the
ISL-Bosch Aerospace Division. "On the other hand, conventional
manned and unmanned aircraft can stay up for only four to five
hours at a time before they have to refuel.
"In contrast, the blimp is like having a satellite overhead all
the time," he added. "If ground forces are on the move, they can
stay in radio range constantly."
Bosch chose Geneva's flight control system for the ACE Airship
after conducting a survey of autopilot equipment available on the
market, Boschma said.
"There are an awful lot of people competing for this kind of
business," he said. "But Geneva had the system for us. flightTEK is
truly on the leading edge. Plus, the company is flexible about
customizing its software to meet the needs of the blimp."
"The blimp can be built and then operated for years at a
fraction of initial cost of building a satellite," Jensen said. "In
the future, the unmanned blimp could be used for surveillance
activities as well," he added.