After the "settlements", then the Palestinian Bantustans, then "the wall"...now comign is the watch them everywhere football-field-size airship.
Israel developing airship the size of a football field
By Amnon Barzilai
The Israel Aircraft Industries is developing a craft 200 meters long
and 60 meters wide that will be geostatically positioned 21 kilometers in
the air to photograph objects as far away as 1,000 kilometers, sending
the images back to a ground station.
'It will be an airship the size of a football field, nothing like it in
the world,' says engineer Avi Baum, head of the R&D department at Malam
in the IAI. 'The quality of the photographs will be very high, with
optimum resolution. The quality will be good enough to read the license
plates on moving cars on highways.'
Meanwhile, the first two out of 100 F-16I fighter jets purchased from
the United States are due to arrive at an Israel Air Force base in the
south of the country Thursday, Israel Radio reported.
The airship will be able to carry a variety of payloads for both
civilian and military purposes. The platform could serve as a communications
transponder between planes, satellites and the ground, capable of
intelligence gathering and other purposes. The plane could provide broadband
Internet, relay TV and radio signals, monitor air, land
and naval traffic, as well as provide weather forecasting services.
The development plan, which is still only in the feasibility study
stage, is under the supervision of the defense establishment's weapons
development administration and has received the blessings of the Defense
Ministry's top management. Current calculations say a prototype could be
operationally ready within four years.
The idea was born at Malam in the mid-1990s. Baum says it was 'a
brainstorm by a team of engineers. We looked at the space between the
atmosphere and space where planes, whether manned or not, or satellites don't
go. We thought about how to develop something that would be less
expensive than satellites.'
They were not the first to think about such airships. But they decided
to deal with a technological challenge so far unsolved, of- how to give
an airplane the ability to remain geostatic, meaning remaining
stationary above a specific place on the earth, to serve a as a kind of
airborne watchtower over a given area. Theoretically, says Baum, the plane
could be unmanned and remain aloft for as long as three years, changing
its position on the order of ground stations. And unlike satellites, it
could be brought back to earth safely and refitted, upgraded and reused.
Part of the challenge is to devise solar panels that would collect
solar energy, which could be converted into electricity for operating the
Malam is considered a pioneer in breakthrough technologies. It
developed and manufactures the Arrow missile and the Shavit missile launcher,
which foreign sources say is an offshoot of the Jericho intercontinental
ballistic missile. In the mid-1990s, Yair Ramati was head of future
developments at the company and gave his approval. 'We tried pushing the
plan with the American administration and domestic defense agencies,'
says Baum. 'But nobody listened. We reached the conclusion we were ahead
of the time with the idea. And Yair made the courageous decision to do
what engineers don't like to do, and put the project on hold.'
But about 18 months ago, a new engineering team, headed by Baum
reexamined the problem. This time, the team was able to prove the potential
for the solar-powered airplane. Ramati, now CEO at the company, was
persuaded the idea was possible and that Malam had the engineering
capability to develop it.
The plan calls for the plane to be divided into two separate
compartments, one containing air and the other helium. On the ground, most of the
plane would be full of air. The helium would be compressed, making it
heavier than air. But to lift off, the helium would gradually by
released and fill the air pockets. 'It is similar to what happens in a
submarine, in reverse,' said Baum, 'with water filling the air compartments,
but to rise, the water is pumped out and the air pumped in.'
To keep the plane in geostationary position, a steering mechanism would
be needed, based on a large rear propeller controlled by an electric
motor. Since the idea is for the plane to remain aloft for a very long
time, there would be a need for a continual supply of energy. That leads
to the need for solar panels on the upper surface of the plane,
collecting energy during the day and storing it in fuel cells.
No runway is necessary for launching the plane, and it could be made of
very flexible lightweight polymers. The current specifications say the
plane would weigh only 10 tons and carry payloads of about 1.9 tons.
With the feasibility study competed, the IAI now faces the challenge of
finding the estimated $100-150 million to build it. Malam, says Baum,
is seeking an international partner for the project, while also
considering industrial partners. Lockheed Martin is also at work on a similar
concept, and the Israeli project has been presented to it. One
possibility is for the two companies to join forces.
Ha'aretz - ? Feb 2004: