Airships after a series of high-profile catastrophes in the 1930s seemed to be a thing of the past, completely supplanted by airplanes and then helicopters. but история again went in a spiral. Technical progress has not killed the airships. On the contrary, it gives them a chance to be reborn, helping to uncover the best qualities of these aircraft. For Russia, they can be extremely useful.
Indeed, airships are extremely environmentally friendly, not only in terms of air pollution, but also in the fact that they are very quiet. They are very economical and can be extremely load-carrying, significantly load-carrying the largest transport aircraft. Airships do not require large and expensive runways and can land on virtually any relatively flat surface. They can fly very far and very long (day and week, sometimes even months and years). In addition, they can hang in one place, and also very long. The airship is little noticeable in the infrared and radar ranges, and it is much easier to prepare the airship pilot than the pilot of the aircraft or helicopter.
The main drawback of the airship is low speed, about 100 km / h. But this is quite comparable with the speeds of cars and trains, and, unlike them, the airships are not tied to the roads.
The non-combustible inert helium became the carrier gas of the current airships instead of the extremely explosive hydrogen (in fact, it was he who destroyed the airships of the first half of the twentieth century). The fabric sheath, sealed by rubber, was replaced by new synthetic materials (Kevlar, polyurethane, Mylar, Dacron, etc.), which several times reduced the weight of the shell and two orders of magnitude - the diffusion of gas through it (this is very important due to helium - its high fluidity). The shell is made by computer-aided design using laser cutting machines. Gondolas and cargo compartments of airships are now made of composites, which also significantly reduces their weight.
In addition to the classic airships, the lift of which creates a carrier gas, hybrid airships have appeared, where either the carrying surfaces (wings) or helicopter-type screws provide additional lift. And hybrids can be very outlandish. For example, in the United States, the Megalifter airship was created, which actually was a C-5 transport aircraft, but the middle part of the fuselage was replaced by a semi-rigid airship shell. Another American airship, Heli-Stat, was a shell with four SH-34J helicopters attached to it. One of them was controlled by a pilot, the rest - remotely. Hybrids are harder and more expensive than classic airships, but they have a higher speed (up to 400 km / h) and maneuverability.
On small airships, piston engines are used as the most economical and providing high maneuverability. On larger devices, gas turbine engines are used. At the same time, various exotic projects such as solar-powered engines or the use of nuclear energy are considered.
The main military tasks that can solve airships are obvious and determined by their merits. First of all, it is transportation of troops and cargo over long distances. No less obvious is the use of these devices for long-range radar detection (DRLO), and here we are not talking about tethered unmanned aerostats, which have long been used in the United States, Italy, and Israel to protect borders, namely, autonomous airships (which, however, can also be unmanned). In addition, airships can be successfully used in the fight against submarines. Finally, these devices can become effective repeaters, partly replacing communication satellites in this quality, being several times cheaper.
The efficiency of the airship is determined by the fact that it has specific fuel consumption 3 ― 4 times less than that of the aircraft, and 14 15 times - than the helicopter. True, there is the problem of helium, which is quite expensive. However, the more airships there are and the larger they are, the more profitable will be the production of helium.
Size matters for other reasons. One cubic meter of helium at normal atmospheric pressure provides a lift of one kilogram of cargo. To lift one ton of payload (taking into account the weight of the airship) you need to fill the shell 20 thousand cubic meters. m helium. Cost-effective cargo airship, by definition, must be large (with a higher carrying capacity below the cost of transportation). Moreover, as today's practice shows (for example, the well-known airline Volga-Dnepr), air transportation of oversized heavy loads is a service that is very much in demand in the market, it is not affected by any crisis.
In addition, the larger the aircraft, the less it is exposed to the wind: the force of the wind pressure on the shell is proportional to the square of the linear dimensions, and the resistance to the wind is proportional to their cube. This makes it possible to build airships with a carrying capacity of up to 2000 tons, which is almost 20 times larger than that of the largest transport aircraft.
On the other hand, for very large airships, very large hangars and a lot of fuel are needed. For example, the airship with a carrying capacity of 2000 tons for flight over a distance of 4000 km must carry around 1000 tons of kerosene. The situation with the development of airships is described by the well-known expression “I want, and it hurts”. The advantages are obvious, the problems too.
Today, the largest airship in the world is a semi-rigid German-made Zeppelin NT LZ 07, which operates tourist flights, taking on passengers and two crew members on board the 12. The airship Skyship-600, which is also used for tourist flights, carries 10 passengers and two crew members. In addition, there are lots of experimental devices and even more ambitious plans.
In 1996, a special unit was formed in the United States called JAPO (Joint Aerostat Project Office). It was engaged in the development of reconnaissance systems placed on aerostats. In 1997, he was tasked with creating a JLENS (Joint Land attack cruise missile defense Elevated Netted Sensor system) system. It was intended for over-the-horizon detection of air targets (primarily cruise missiles) and the issuance of data to air defense / anti-missile defense systems (anti-aircraft missile systems and fighters) for their destruction. The radars of the system were located in 70-meter unmanned airships gondolas capable of being in the air for up to 30 days. During the tests, it turned out that the airship is very resistant to damage, even when an anti-aircraft missile hits it, it does not fall, but slowly sinks to the ground, which ensures the safety of the equipment.
The North American air defense system NORAD considered the possibility of adopting DRLO airships (they should have patrolled at an altitude of 24 km) for detecting cruise missiles at a distance of up to 740 km.
The possibility of using unmanned airships for aerial reconnaissance. For example, an unmanned aerial vehicle MaXflyer of ellipsoidal shape with a diameter of 80 m is being developed in the USA. Having various reconnaissance equipment on board, it can fly in a given area at an altitude of 30 km for several weeks. The main protection of the device will be its extremely low radar visibility.
Of course, transport vehicles were not forgotten. For example, the American airship of the hybrid type Aerocraft (length 307 m, height 77 m) was supposed to deliver cargo weighing up to 1000 tons (18 Apache attack helicopters, or 8 tanks Abrams, or 16 BMP Bradley) at a distance of 9300 km. The British company ATG developed the SkyCat 1000 airship-catamaran also 307 m long. With its own weight, it is able to deliver a payload of 1000 tons per 7400 km or 600 tons per 16000 km.
In the USA, such exotic variants of the use of airships were also considered, such as launching intercontinental MX ballistic missiles from them. Such launchers would become completely invulnerable to the enemy.
In Russia, which has good traditions of airship construction, there are also a number of experimental samples and even more - projects. For example, Avgur develops the Berkut stratospheric airship, 250 m in length, which can be an alternative to geostationary communications satellites. It can hang at an altitude of 20 ― 22 km, and two are enough for a review of the European part of Russia.
Note that helium reserves in Russia are 9,2 billion cubic meters. m (one third of world volume and second place after the USA with their 13 billion cubic meters). The main thing is that airships can be useful to us like no one else.
First, as a vehicle. For delivery of military and civilian goods to the eastern regions of the country, airships simply do not have a price, only they can save us from critical dependence on Transsib and the Northern Sea Route. It is so obvious that it does not require comments.
Airships can be the most important means of air defense. In this case, perhaps, it is not necessary to limit its use only to the role of an intelligence observer. Nothing prevents the airship from being loaded not only with a powerful radar station (which should effectively detect both “invisible airplanes” and cruise missiles), but also air-to-air missiles to hit targets it detected. Airships can hang at an altitude of 20 ― 30 km above the ground, which will provide rockets with very large potential energy at launch, which translates well into additional kinetic energy. On the other hand, the enemy fighters to get to the airship, hanging in the stratosphere, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. In addition, as mentioned above, the hit of one or two missiles is not fatal for the dirigible; it just sinks slowly to the ground. Several dozen airship airships may well become a powerful "wandering barrier" on Russia's air borders, complementing, and to a large extent, replacing fighters and air defense systems. Perhaps, by the criterion of cost / efficiency, it is such an air defense system that will be the most suitable option for Russia.
The airship can be the carrier of long-range air-based cruise missiles (several dozens, if not hundreds), as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles, ideally fitting into the concept of "elusive nuclear deterrence forces" (SNF). An apparatus with a pair of missiles on board, hanging over the Krasnoyarsk Territory or Yakutia, will be completely invulnerable to any enemy (at least until the appearance of space weapons). He can also “ship” an entire flock of cruise missiles from his airspace to destroy ground and surface targets.
Due to the large carrying capacity and the stratospheric altitude, the airship can carry a powerful electronic warfare complex, which allows the enemy to "crush" the electronics over a large area. In the future, airships could become carriers and laser weapons (a combat laser, if it is created, will probably be large and heavy).
Finally, airships, as has already been said, can wonderfully replace communication satellites, being much cheaper and much less vulnerable.
In general, it makes sense to try.
Strike from the stratosphere
- Alexander Khramchikhin
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