Whatever you want to call it, the new technology has just won the company (or rather, their US defence contractor ally Northrop Grumman) a contract with the United States Department of Defence to the tune of half a billion dollars. In just 12 months the team at Cardington must build a 300ft-long surveillance vehicle capable of staying airborne for 21 days at a time. It will be known as the LEMV (Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle).
The LEMV will hover above Afghanistan at 20,000ft, equipped with the sort of super-powerful cameras that can read a signature on a letter from four miles away. It will be, Taylor says, ‘an unblinking eye’, recording every move made on the ground. In theory, no one will be able to plant a roadside bomb – a device which has claimed the lives of so many British soldiers – without the cameras seeing who did it and, more importantly, where they came from. And, if the LEMV is a success, it could prove to be a tipping point, ushering in a new age of airships.
Realistically, SkyCats would be most useful in the transport of heavy loads – the largest SkyCat can carry up to 200 tons – to harsh environments, like the Arctic territories of Nunavut. ‘The average age there is 21,’ Taylor says, ‘and it’s got the highest suicide rate, highest drug rate, highest sickness rate in Canada by a long shot. They’ve got nothing – this vehicle will save their lives.