Airships 101

Continuing the series on Airships:

Some basic comments on airship technical design. I'll be referring to Goodyear's web pages on flying their blimp.

The basic components of the airship are the envelope (outer covering), gondola, fins or aerodynamic controls, engines, and the balloonets.

Lift for the airship is provided by a combination of static (buoyancy) lift provided by the lifting gas - usually helium - and dynamic lift provided by the air moving over the aerodynamic shape of the airship and the thrust provided by the engines. Airships are boyant, like any balloon, by being less dense than the surrounding air. To be specific, the airship weighs less than the amount of air volume it displaces. This difference provides lift. If an airship weighs exactly the same as the air it displaces, then it is neutrally buoyant and will neither rise nor sink. The problem with this is that as you ascend into the atmosphere, the air becomes less dense. Airships are normally trimmed with ballast (added weight) to be slightly heavy at ground level - and to use dynamic lift provided by forward motion to climb.

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Attack of the Airships!

It seems that all of a sudden, everyone has an airship, a blimp or an aerostat (tethered blimp), either manned or unmanned. Two years ago no-one was talking about them, and now fat, boyant, helium filled UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), OPV (Optionally Piloted Vehicles), and MV (Manned Vehicle) lighter-than-air craft fill the skies. I just attended the AUVSI conference in Washington DC, and I saw a lot of blimps and airships.

A quick note: A blimp is a lighter-than-air craft that is propelled by an engine, has an aerodynamic-shaped (teardrop) body, and maintains its shape via internal pressure, like a balloon. An Airship is the generic name for a powered lighter than air craft. A Zeppelin, or rigid airship, has a metal frame, usually of aluminum, that maintains its shape. The vast majority of airships today are blimps. Zeppelins are heavier, but faster.

I think that the reason for all this interest in airships is fueled by the need for persistent survellance - the ability to maintain overwatch of a large area for long periods of time, and this need is created by the use of IED's to attack US troop overseas, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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My Robot Designs - the List!

In my official biography, I said that I have designed of over 20 unmanned vehicles over the years. You may wonder, what 20 vehicles am I talking about? I fell that I need to provide a list of all my original designs – time to “put up or shut up”. So here is the official list - to date:

So in this definition of “vehicle”, we will have anything that can move on its own – on wheels, tracks, or treads, float, swim, or fly. My smallest unmanned ground vehicle weighed just three pounds, while the heaviest a whopping 28,000 lbs (14 tons).

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Now entering BOOK MODE

I've finally decided to get off the fence and write a book about robots. The working title is "Don't Fear the Robots: The Myth of the Robot Apocalypse". This means that at some time I will have to learn to spell "Apocalypse".

You are familiar with the Robot Apocalypse of course- you've seen it in movies and read about in books. The story goes that robots become intelligent and decide that they can run the world better than we can and (for our own good) either destroy or enslave humanity. So that includes even the original story "RUR" that gave us the word "Robot", the Terminator Movies, the Matrix, and even the recent fiction book, imaginatively titled "Robopocalypse". You can check out "Armed Robots.com" which keeps track of this subject.

I'm here to say its all bunk.
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Robotics Technology May Keep Soldiers Far from Harm

Read more: http://www.asdnews.com/news/37274/Robotics_Technology_May_Keep_Soldiers_Far_from_Harm.htm#ixzz1UTyavbhp

Interesting article on the challenges of operating a robot remotely (like from the next continent) using the internet and a secure web site. As you would expect, latency is the issue. Interesting article.

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A Quick Update

OK, I've not been keeping my Blog updated. Well, its time to get back into the game, so expect to see a lot of updates over the next few weeks. I've been really busy doing some really interesting stuff. What kinds of stuff? I've been designing telemetry systems for race cars, with GPS and IMU sensors to track cars in real time. That job is over, but I'm really proud of the results we got. I'm now back looking for a new job and a new home, and faced once again with trying to figure out what I do when I grow up. At 50 that's both a lot tougher and a lot easier than at 17. Tougher in that I have dependents, a house, two cars, etc. that are affected, and easier in that I have a lot of tools to work with.

We also had a very sad time in our house this week, as our Cat, Aaron, passed away. He usually would sit right behind this computer as I would work at home, and would keep you company and snuggle with you if your were feeling low. He kept stealing my pillow at night and I would wake up with the cat purring happily on my pillow and my head on the mattress. I will miss him greatly. We have another cat, China, who is doing well and we are trying to keep her occupied.

So what do I do next? It all depends on what is open. I look back on what I've done, which includes designing over 20 robots, being responsible for 6 full unmanned ground vehicles (from start to finish), helping design the International Space Station and contributed to the Space Shuttle, and working on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I guess that my first love has always been aviation, and I'd like to find a place where I can put all of my talents and interests to bear.

Wish me luck!

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