The skies over the Utah desert are becoming the test site for a new fleet of hulking high-tech dirigibles the U.S. military is hoping will provide battlefield commanders a bird’s-eye view of cruise missiles and other threats.
One of the unmanned balloons — a 242-foot-long craft known as an aerostat — was launched Wednesday morning about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. It stayed aloft for about three hours before it was pulled back down as planned.
It was the first several tests expected in the coming year or so in Utah, according to Paula Nicholson, a spokeswoman for Dugway Proving Ground. The next flights could be made later this week.
Vast tracts of military-owned desert were chosen for the testing because of their remoteness and resemblance to the mountainous, arid environment of Afghanistan, the military said in a statement.
The dirigibles are outfitted with radar and communications systems to provide long-range surveillance targeting threats from aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles.
Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. was awarded a $1.4 billion contract from the Army in 2007 to design, build and test the aerostats.
Several more tests are proposed for Utah later in the year, including over the remote northern portion of the Great Salt Lake and parts of the Snake Valley.
Got any big black triangular ones?