Did High Altitude Airship Set World Record?
Despite The Worthiness Of The Public Relations Effort, Tandem Is Not Much Of An Achievement
The Tandem rises into the air. Image from JP Systems website.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 3, 2011 — Late last week a press release announcing that JP Aerospace had flown an airship higher than any that had gone before was released and thousands of news websites and newspapers ran with the story.
"The big aerospace firms have been trying to do this for decades, spending hundreds of millions of dollars," says John Powell, President of JP Aerospace. "We've spent about $30,000 and the past five years developing Tandem."
A great American story, right? Small firm out-thinks the biggest aerospace companies in the world and succeeds. Lockheed Martin’s crash of the $150 million Hale-D this summer — likely to what Powell was referring — was a boondoggle, a monumental waste of time and resources.
But according to Ed Herlik, an analyst with Market Intel Group, and confirmed by a simple look at Tandem, the “airship” was really two weather balloons connected by a platform.
“It is really just a very nice science fair project,” Herlik said. “In their statements, JP Aerospace said the balloon failed at about 90,000 feet and that should be expected because it is a weather balloon.”
While no one who is interested in high altitude airships would disparage the publicity the event maintained becasue any attention is welcomed, comparing Tandem with the HALE-D is like comparing an apple to a double cheeseburger with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, onions and special sauce.
And, no one can disparage Powell for doing whatever it takes to get attention for his projects. JP Aerospace is a volunteer group that creates hypotheses and dreams of what the future of using near-space might be when policymakers finally decide to invest in the technology. Near space — altitudes between 65,000 and 325,000 feet — is being mined by various groups as alternatives to satellites and perhaps as a new gateway to the solar system and beyond. Powell should be commended for his vision.
But according to the experts, flying a real airship that can service heavy and expensive payloads is an engineering task above and beyond those achievements.
“Tandem is a general workhorse vehicle. A high-altitude backhoe, it will be used as a launch platform for small research rockets, a mother ship for hypersonic test airships and all around tool for the Airship to Orbit program. Airship to Orbit is a project to build large V-shaped airships that will fly to space,” the company’s press release read.
Powell did not respond to repeated attempts for comments on the flight of Tandem.
Granted, Powell and JP Aerospace does good things — launching cameras into the upper atmosphere via balloons, for The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Toshiba for a 2009 television commercial — but the craft can’t be compared to long-endurance, high altitude surveillance craft.
And that “airship” altitude record? Well, maybe not.