back to article DARPA in search for five-year-mission solar wingship

The Pentagon's blue-sky technology office has finally announced the three contenders who will take forward its Vulture project. Counter intuitively, the plan involves no thirsty technology scribblers, nor even shy paparazzi. Rather, the idea is to build a remarkable machine which could do away with the need for certain …


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  1. Paul F

    What's with the Cheesy Music?

    Wow! We gotta fund this one! I was tapping my toes!

    Mine's the one with the headphones in.

  2. System 10 from Navarone

    They laughed and said I was mad

    when I suggested airships for this kind of thing. No easier to shoot down than a big flimsy flying wing, cheaper surveillance and easier deployment than satellites, they stay up even without power, can drop guided bombs, etc. Just cover one in solar cells for powering the steering and propulsion etc and yer laffin.

  3. Ross

    Damn it

    You said "'Vulture' Enterprise-style stratocruiser compo is go"!!!! You got my hopes up - I thought *you* were running the comp. Now what am I going to do with my plans for a stratocruising spy thingy?

  4. Mike Richards


    I really, really like the overdue addition of music to the promotional video - before I heard the soundtrack I doubted the Vulture*, but now - I'm sold.

    Do you think the final version will come with the huge spotlight shown in the video? It'll be really useful for when I come home late at night and I've forgotten a flashlight.

    * Not you guys obviously.

  5. Snert Lee


    Thought that was indicating the cone of surveillance.

  6. Graham Dawson Silver badge


    "Just cover one in solar cells for powering the steering and propulsion etc and yer laffin."

    Well, no. Helium has a nasty tendency to leak out of an airship's envelope over time, and with the changing temperatures over a 24 hour period it'll be venting gas and dropping ballast to try and maintain a constant altitude. You'd have to bring it back every few days for a refill or it'll be bobbing around the valleys of the Kush half a year into it's mission, looking slightly wrinkly, until some Tuareg pops it so he can do chipmunk impressions.

  7. William Doohan
    Dead Vulture


    How is this like 'Starship Enterprise'? Just 'cause of the 5 year mission? I don't remember ANY of the Enterprises having wings. :-P ... This bird is dead on arrival.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Well, I grinned.

    Aurora Flight Sciences? Someone out there has a sense of humour, if nothing else...although no chance of knotted contrails with this thing... Love the macho music for what is just a flying plank covered in solar cells.

    It's just gotta be the black helicopter, hasn't it.

  9. andrew mulcock

    Heavier than air

    This heavier than air thing. as the guys above say why ?

    The only real reason I can see is may be the air at 100,000 feet is so thin that Helium is not much lighter than the air, so no advantage.

    I don't know, but a thought, would a strut made of 'material' be it Kevlar or what I don't know, pumped with Helium, to make it 'stiff' be lighter than a strut made of only Kevlar.

    After all, you don't need to make the thing lighter than air, your just trying to save weight, every gram counts.

    If you start off heavier than air, you don't need to worry about ballast et all, your just making the structure lighter.

  10. Shades

    @Graham Dawson

    Whats a Tuareg? Is it that 4x4 by Volkswagen? :-)

  11. Anonymous Coward

    The trouble with helium...

    Is that it is a monatomic gas with an atomic weight of 4. As such it leaks out of things very, very quickly.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    What I want to know is....

    will they be beaming that music to us all. Ouch!

    Where do they find a pilot to fly that thing for 5 years? Think of all the food and water he will need, won't that increase the payload? Oh, and at 100000ft the pilot will need a pressure cabin and what about emptying the toilet, better not fly over my house. If he craps on my head I shall get my big concave mirror out and burn some holes in his pressure struts. That'll stop 'em. Ooh sometimes I get really cross.

    Technical note: You can't use helium long term for pressurised struts as it leaks through most materials.

  13. Sceptical Bastard

    This idea will never take off

    Why don't those boffins at DARPA do something useful? Like inventing a global packet-switched computer network or something ...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Helium-filled struts

    Apart from the leakage, gas-tight hollow spaces would impose significant additional variable stresses as the gas inside expanded and contracted Better to design in allowance for a 1 bar compression and pump it out to a vacuum.

  15. Tom Austin
    Thumb Up

    Is that Joe Satriani...

    ...squeezing out the power chords on the needlessly macho soundtrack? For a large flying plank that kinda, if one squints, could be represented by a guitar fret.


  16. System 10 from Navarone

    Having turned the sound up on my PC

    it seems the Helium vs Solar Cell debate is void anyway as the contraption seems to be cheese powered

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