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PIE IN THE SKY?

12 Sep 04. The Times reported that British troops are go with a Thunderbird airship. BRITAIN’S armed forces could be transported to the world’s troublespots in what is likely to be the largest flying object ever built. Senior Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials confirmed last week that they were looking at commissioning the first British-designed Skycat 1000, a giant combined airship and hovercraft.

Resembling the film world’s Thunderbird 2, the Skycat would be more than 1,000ft long, bigger than the MoD’s headquarters and 230ft longer than the Graf Zeppelin airship of the 1930s. It could carry up to a dozen Challenger tanks or, potentially, several hundred troops. Today’s largest transport aircraft can hold only one tank.

The seriousness with which the MoD is considering the Skycat was revealed by Wing Commander David Stubbs, a director in the expeditionary logistics and sustainment section, at a conference on ways of making the armed forces more mobile. “You may be pleasantly surprised at how far the technology has come on,” he told the conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
The airship was the “most likely to deliver” the solution to the chronic shortage of heavy transport aircraft and ships capable of carrying large numbers of troops or equipment.

The Skycat 1000 would compete with a new generation of large fast ships and a sea-skimming cargo plane developed in Russia. The US military is also studying the craft and at least one other government is said to be close to placing an order for a smaller version. Officials believe the Skycat could be ready for use by the RAF as early as 2010.

Designers at the Advanced Technologies Group in Cardington, Bedfordshire — home of the R101 airship that crashed in 1930 — said six gas turbine engines would lift Skycat to an altitude of 5,000-8,000ft to cruise up to 6,000 miles at 100mph.

Some defence experts, however, are sceptical about its prospects. “Current defence thinking is to do more with less, but I would be very concerned about putting all my eggs into this one basket,” said Tony Mason, a retired Air Vice-Marshal and an expert on air power.

Comment: Another Airship project surfaces from the old Airship Industries HQ at Cardington. The Editor remembers the company comning to the Defence Magazine HQ in 192 to request PR and coverage for another project which later bit the dust. Airships were proposed as floating platforms for surveillance in Northern Ireland and were considered too vulnerable to ground fire. One flight from Boscombe Down to Middle Wallop took so long due to the wind direction and the craft spent some of the flight going backward! 12 Challenger tanks or several hundred troops is a huge load at 8000 feet with the craft giving a huge target at 8000 feet where even UAVs are considered vulnerable!

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