PENTAGON BLIMP FETISH ON THE RISE

lockheed_blimp.JPGThe old blimp-building airdock in Akron hasn't been on the cutting edge of much of anything for almost 70 years. But that may be about to change.In the early 1930s, Goodyear Co. used the nearly 1,200-foot-long, 325-foot-wide hangar to house a set of zeppelins designed to launch an era in lighter-than-air transport.A series of horrific crashes put those dreams to rest. Over the years, airships became little more than advertising vehicles at sporting events.Now, the Pentagon has become fascinated with potential new uses for blimps -- to spy on potential adversaries, transmit conversations and maybe even haul helicopters or Humvees one day.That's given the Akron airdock, now owned by Lockheed Martin Corp., a new mission. The massive hangar is being used to put together a tethered blimp for the U.S. Army in Iraq. By June, it will be keeping watch over western Baghdad from 2,500 feet and relaying commanders' orders and insurgents' coordinates to troops in the field.Generals aren't the only ones interested in airships, however.Thanks to tougher fabrics, more efficient solar panels, and longer-lasting batteries and fuel cells, blimps can now hover over an area for months at a time. That durability could allow airships to essentially act as cell towers or wireless Internet hot spots -- ones that sit thousands of feet up in the sky.My Chicago Tribune story has details.

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