Army Eyes Man-Hunting Mini-Blimps

Plumbbobfranklinblimp2 We'll get to the real substance in a second. But first, let's focus on the man-hunting mini-blimps.

Stephen Trimble flags this odd, odd paragraph in an otherwise straight L.A. Times story about the spending choices facing Defense Secretary Bob Gates in a new administration.

Some Army officials are pushing development of a small blimp equipped with an automated high-powered sniper rifle that could provide a form of inexpensive but effective air support for platoons in Afghanistan.

"Surely, the army is really asking for a small aerostat linked to an actual soldier on the ground with a sniper rifle, no?" Trimble asks.

Maybe a sniper detection system, mounted on an airship? A "Sniper" targeting pod, put on a blimp? The mythical "AirSniper" mini-drone, come to life? Or perhaps some folks in the Army really do want to have a small blimp, floating in the sky, taking out enemies, one by one.

Of course, all of those ideas are pretty wimpy, when you compare 'em to 1957's "Operation Plumbob." As part of a series of above-ground nuclear weapons tests, the government hung a-bombs "as large as 74 kilotons beneath blimps," Popular Mechanics says. And then the unmanned airships dropped the weapons, to see what would happen. Needless to say, the blimps didn't fare particularly well, after the blasts.

Three years later, notes Airminded, the Navy ran a pair of trials, to see if airships could drop nuclear depth charges on Soviet submarines. The results:

The first airship exposed to overpressure experienced a structural failure of the nose cone when it was rammed into the mooring mast, together with a tear of the forward ballonet which necessitated deflation of the envelope. The second airship broke in half and crashed following a circumferential failure of the envelope originating at the bottom of the envelope, forward of the car.

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