Blimps are back -- at least a little.Later this month, the Air Force is due to test out in Texas a V-shaped, 175 foot-long, helium filled airship. The goal, according to Aviation Week: to put together a "near-space maneuvering vehicle," operating more than 100,000 feet up, that can relay messages and spy on enemies.It's one for the first times since the 60's that Americans has aggressive tried to exploited that region of the skies, Col. Kent Traylor, vice commander of the U.S. Air Force's Space Warfare Center, tells the magazine.But it's not the only lighter-than-air craft being designed by the U.S. military. By the end of the year, the Missile Defense Agency is supposed to pick a contractor for its High Altitude Airship -- a solar-powered zeppelin that'll track missiles from 65,000 feet.THERE'S MORE: Mirrored, laser-firing blimp, anyone? The Pentagon "might combine two of its missile defense efforts the Aerospace Relay Mirror System and the High Altitude Airship to increase the range of military laser systems," according to a Jane's story from over the summer (via Global Security Newswire).
The Missile Defense Agency is scheduled to begin flight tests of the airship in 2006, and officials want to conduct experiments that combine both systems around that time. The airship is primarily being developed to track missiles, but it could be teamed with the mirror relay system to allow ground-based lasers to track targets that are out of direct view, according to Janes. The mirror system would be attached to the airship with cables and would sit 50 meters below the aircraft.AND MORE: Popular Science has details on the High Altitude Airship. Did we mention it's 25 times the size of the Goodyear blimp?