Yuma Test Of Border Blimp Hits Snag
World Surveillance Group’s ‘Argus One’ High Altitude Airship Is Torn As Craft Is Moved Into Hanger
The Argus One. Image courtesy World Surveillance Group.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Aug. 31, 2011 — Free-flight tests of an unmanned surveillance blimp were abruptly canceled last week as the envelope of the craft was ripped as it was being moved to escape bad weather and winds at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz.
According to information released by World Surveillance Group, the private company hoping to deliver surveillance airships for military and border protection, the Argus One craft had passed physical inspection and analysis conducted by the flight safety board at the Yuma proving ground facility. The safety board initially approved the Argus One airship and accompanying on-board systems for tethered flights and, after successful demonstration of tethered flights, the Argus One was approved for free flight tests.
But before the free-flight tests could get under way, high winds descended on the hanger area where the craft was moored. When attempting to move the Argus One back into the hangar, the envelope of the craft was ripped. All tests have been delayed until repairs can be completed.
“While we are very disappointed at the unfortunate incident that resulted in our inability to execute the flight tests we had planned for Yuma, we remain optimistic about the unique capabilities of our Argus One airship design based on the results from our numerous Easton (Md.) flight tests,” said WSGI's President and Chief Executive Officer, Glenn D. Estrella. "We are actively in discussions with the directors at Yuma to reschedule new testing dates to get back to Yuma as soon as possible and will continue our testing in Easton in the interim."
The U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground is one of the largest military installations in the world and is located about 30 miles northeast of the city. The proving ground is spread over 1,307 square miles and restricted airspace controlled by the test center amounts to over 2,000 square miles.
By testing the Argus One at the Yuma Proving Ground, World Surveillance Group does not need approval or clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration thanks to the restricted airspace. According to the company, technical partner, Eastcor Engineering is expected to repair and enhance the airship's envelope by Sept. 9.
The delayed tests were set to focus on aerodynamic and free-flight maneuvering of the Argus One airship followed by an expanded payload testing and demonstration exercise in October. The payload testing is planned to be devoted to the performance of ISR and communications payload packages. The modular sensor bay on the Argus One is capable of hosting various sensors and payloads with a simple plug and play architecture that provides power, an airship inertial navigation system and environmental data. The tracking and monitoring system in the October test will process data collected through Globalstar Inc.'s low earth orbit satellite constellation utilizing a proprietary web-based online platform by Global Telestat Corp.
World Surveillance Group is banking on getting a platform with an accompanying payload that can adequately track and monitor vehicles and individuals over hundreds of miles before anyone else. The company purchased Global Telesat Corp. earlier this year in order to add the technical expertise in surveillance packages.
The delay of the free-flight test of the Argus One is the latest setback to the development of the lighter than air, autonomous surveillance systems. Earlier this month, The $150 million HALE-D prototype was launched by Lockheed Martin. The test was initially scheduled to last for several days with the craft reaching an altitude of 60,000 feet. The HALE-D crashed after six hours and only reached 32,000 feet.
John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.