Limp Blimp Crimps Green Energy Pimps

A runaway JLENS aerostat highlights the uncertainty and risks of pie-in-the-sky green energy schemes.

JENS blimp (US Army photo)

JLENS blimp (US Army photo)

Guest essay by Tom Scott

One reason that a fragile naked human species has adapted to conditions in every corner of every continent is its ingenuity. Its is simply impossible to know the limits of homo sapiens. That said, one tactic of the green blob, used to rationalized the destruction of existing energy infrastructure, has been to throw out the possibility of one “free energy” scheme after another while ignoring or actively hiding the unknowns, risks, costs, and public dangers associated with each new proposal.

But first a quick review for those who did not see the news reports. On October 28th a 240 foot long (80 meter) aerostat, or tethered blimp, broke loose from its mooring and drug 6,700 foot of cable for some distance, apparently knocking out power for about 20,000 customers. This blimp was one of several in a multi billion dollar Federal system call JLENS. Two aerostats have been in service for less than a year in a Baltimore suburb, but this is at least the second time one of the devices has broken loose.

How could such a thing happen? At least one comment to the Baltimore Sun article referenced below was right on point.

“I worked on the PTDS (very similar) balloons in Afghanistan for a year and what they don’t tell you is that it’s not really the “wind” that makes them break free, it’s the slack and then sudden tension applied to the tether. You are NOT going to stop it. We lost millions of dollars worth of balloons over there.”

The JLENS aerostat operates on a 10,000 foot long cable. Consider for a moment some of the proposed power schemes wherein huge fleets of devices would float 20,000 feet overhead, tethered by 30,000 foot long cables, and collect/generate lots of “free” power.

What could possibly go wrong with that scheme? Not to mention the huge areas of airspace which must be confiscated from public use because of the cables and their swing and unpredictable catenary.

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It would be impossible to make a blanket claim that pie-in-the-sky energy schemes could never work. And I applaud anyone who would apply intellect, hard work, and their own investor’s money toward innovative schemes. But a bird in hand is worth 100s of unproven ideas.

Until a concept is tested and proven by experience and a long operating record, and its costs and benefits are truly known, it can never be properly compared to a real production system, much less serve as a rationale for destroying existing infrastructure. If you think otherwise, I suggest you browse the past 90 years or so of “Popular Mechanics”, “Mechanics Illustrated”or “Popular Science” and then ask yourself why so many of those great-sounding ideas never made it past a drawing board and into everyday life.


References:

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/12/drone-hunting-blimp-launch-over-washington-dc/101328/

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/10/28/2-fighter-jets-track-jlens-blimp-that-has-broken-free-its-tether-in-maryland/?intcmp=hplnws

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/aberdeen-havre-de-grace/bs-md-jlens-blimp-loose-20151028-story.html

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120 thoughts on “Limp Blimp Crimps Green Energy Pimps

  1. These things need to be un-tethered. The tethering is the problem. However, untethered means motors. For defense, that’s probably OK but for energy generation it is a deal breaker.

    • Untethering wouldn’t work though because the energy they them procure would have no means of reaching any source. The tether is the wiring through which the energy is delivered in the form of electricity. Not much “Wireless” Electricity transmission out there.

      • “Not much “Wireless” Electricity transmission out there.”
        Nikola Tesla didn’t think so. But, as for a Sasquatch, where’s the beef?

      • Use the blimp to direct lightning into a large capacitor that would then charge a battery. Problem solved.

  2. Love Huckabee’s metaphor of the rogue blimp to the federal gov’t in last nights Republican debate.
    “If you saw that blimp that got cut loose from Maryland today, it’s a perfect example of government,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said at the Wednesday night debate hosted by CNBC.
    “I mean, what we had was something the government made — basically a bag of gas — that cut loose, destroyed everything in its path, left thousands of people powerless, but they couldn’t get rid of it because we had too much money invested in it, so we had to keep it.
    “That is our government today. We saw it in the blimp. That’s exactly what we saw.”
    ref: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/susan-jones/huckabee-sees-runaway-blimp-metaphor-our-government

    • tim r.
      I cannot see how three cables can stop the balloon falling, and then rising with such force to break the cables as before. Keeping the cables under stress must surely be the difficulty, a problem which is not eliminated by your suggestion.

      • The Blimp depicted is already tethered in 4 locations. Front, Base (center) and both sides.
        The apparent Rise and Fall is similar to that of Light Aircraft (Cessna’s & Pipers) in a moderate wind. In a Hurricane they become Kites if not properly protected.

      • Bryan
        The back end can wreally wriggle wround.
        And with a thirty or forty meter lever – it will wriggle – wright up it will.
        If – like a ship – the anchoring effect comes not from the anchor, but from the weight in the cable, it may [might] work.
        not sue about aerostats.
        The ship’s anchor holds the end of the ship’s cable [the anchor chain], and the cable’s catenary holds the ship.
        in most conditions.
        I advise my masters that – if a gale is approaching – go to sea.
        Go early.
        Go far to sea.
        Be safe.
        We will support you.
        I know what a modest hurricane does to a ship that (tried to) sail from port, too late.
        She had the bottom ripped out of her.
        Auto

      • Have you ever seen TV cable lines bounce at an harmonic between telephone poles?
        It’s pretty impressive.

    • “Easy solution, run three tether cables to an equilateral triangle base.”
      Perform this experiment.
      Buy a dollar store helium balloon.
      Attach two additional strings and attach weights to the free ends of all three.
      Spread the weights into a triangle.
      Press the balloon sideways as if blown by wind.
      At least one string will go limp and rest partially on the floor.
      Conclusion: Your tripod will require an active reel to take up slack on the downwind string(s). Plus all three strings will still form a catenary, constantly varying in geometry due to varying tensions, wind forces and lengths. Any time a 5-mile-long-cable crosses another there will be the potential for disaster.

      • They also can’t go much closer together than the height of their mooring lines. 10,000′ high equates to almost 10,000′ separation to prevent Mooring Line tangles in High Wind Conditions

      • The answer is obvious…they need a sky hook.
        A hook hanging down from the sky.
        So…hang a cable from the moon, or from a geosynchronous satellite if you need it to stay in one spot.
        You’ll can thank me later.
        I will invoice my consulting fee first of the month.

    • Even Solar PV isn’t exactly that Green or efficient / cost effective. It would cost me $70 – $80,000 worth of infrastructure costs to offset a $250 monthly electric bill. With a Payback term of 30 years, the Solar Cells would become degraded and need replacing before the payback year was reached. With replacing Solar Cells on an average of 25 years, it would take 62 years before I realized any savings from current “Free Solar”

      • Bryan A – Thanks for that pricing. Similar to what I have found and I have looked at it several times for my remote location when I first built my new farm house in 2003 and every few years since. It might be better in some places with subsidies; but not where I live. Someday maybe.

      • Wayne Delbeke It might be better in some places with subsidies;
        Wayne, subsidies do not change the efficiency / cost effectiveness calculation. It only changes who is paying. Someone is still paying.

      • “It would cost me $70 – $80,000 worth of infrastructure costs to offset a $250 monthly electric bill.”
        What size system? Unless your grid electricity costs are a few pennies per kW/h, that price seems way high?

      • I can’t install them on my roof as I am in a mobile home so I would have to replace my driveway awning with one covering my entire side yard and it would need to be anchored to the ground with a concrete foundation. A little more than half of the cost would be the support structure

      • That is about how the numbers worked out for my dad’s solar powered water heater worked out. It has been broken for many years. Can’t fix it because the company that made it and the outfit that installed it are out of business. If it weren’t for the tax break he got he would be way behind.

      • If the solar panels are replaced before the payback period, how could you ever realize any cost savings?

      • Now figure out how much that $70-80,000 would be worth I 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years at a modest investment rate. When I did the math I found that after I invested what I spent (with subsidies deducted) after 5 years I could start withdrawing money for the electric bill, factor in a 3% annual rate hike, and never run out of money, in fact have a decent nest egg after 40 years.

    • They’ve already invented that, it’s called a bungee cord. Just get a super long one, wrap a wire in a helix around it and viola! You’re done. See how simple (and stupid) this green stuff is?

      • An elastic cord is not a solution. Ever heard of “spring effect”? There’s still snap-back. It would have to be dampened, hence our cars with both springs and dampers. A ten thousand foot long damper?

  3. What you just said about proposed versus proven, is precisely what is wrong with the way the government approach has been. The same goes in airplane or ship design or anything else. Cost overrun is the key to it – buy the unproven and pay the cost of the changes to it as it attempts to become what it was you thought you were getting on the cheap.
    Then combine that with the mindset that since we have to stop 6 billion people from breathing in order to get the carbon dioxide levels down to the “pre-industrial age” levels, whatever it takes is what we have to do. I am sure that I probably put out more carbon dioxide over the course of a year than does my car because “my engine” runs all the time, and the car only runs some of the time.
    What you get is inefficient and half baked ideas trying to fill a void being created by knee jerk reaction. consider that mirror solar plant in Death Valley. I wonder how many gallons of water are wasted daily there just keeping the mirrors clean? That’s a lot of hot mirror surface that has to remain virtually spotless in a very dry environment. I’m sure that helps the water situation in California, but they do get all that electricity that the natural gas generator can deliver – oh, and yeah, the electricity from the solar plant, too, when it’s working.

  4. The tether cable marauded across the landscape shorting out power lines for 30,000 people.
    The military apologized for the power interruptions, and expressed relief that no lives were lost….this time.
    Look at the bright side, domestic terrorists now have a cheap and easy platform to bring down the grid.
    Just launch a herd of $50 weather balloons and allow them to drag cheap piano wires across high voltage lines. Thank the USA military for the successful demonstration of principle.
    I’ll remind you that that balloon was 1 billion bucks. Wind is a b1tch.

    • Right now, on Amazon, you can get an 8′ Latex Weather Balloon for $21.50 each. More than enough to drag a 200′ Copper wire tether for miles at 40′ altitude. and take out line after line

    • Remember how the greens equated domestic nuclear power with Hiroshima in the 1970s? That was effective.
      Similarly Anthony has taken the first step of weaponizing wacky airships in the psyche of the greens. Interesting is it not?
      The balloons, kites and tethered turbines are not innocuous free-power harvesters, they are menacing, evil killers devised by the children of german scientists.

      • Paul, the difference is that this problem is endemic to the high-altitude wind idea. There is no fundamental difference between this and a similar sized blimp carrying a windmill
        We’ve been saying for years that the cable is the failure of the whole idea. Here we have a balloon sitting still, not trying to spin a turbine, built on a no-expenses spared budget, and it still snapped and had an enormous cost. Plus, in a power-generating balloon, the cable will be charged.
        This isn’t an “oh the horror” situation. It’s a “see that’s exactly what I’m talking about” situation.

  5. The story is missing its analytical connection.
    Blimps tethered to 30,000 feet will have slack-tension cable breakages and will inevitably escape their moorings. They’ll drag 30,000 feet of cable behind them.
    The cables will probably drag at high ground speed, given the winds at 30,000 feet. Dragging cables will knock through houses, cause crashes if they drag across freeways, and likely kill people.
    Some engineer out there needs to calculate up the broken mooring scenario, and comment it in here. It’s the fitting and necessary finish to the story.

    • Pat Frank October 29, 2015 at 12:14 pm
      The story is missing its analytical connection.
      Blimps tethered to 30,000 feet will have slack-tension cable breakages and will inevitably escape their moorings. They’ll drag 30,000 feet of cable behind them.

      No they should not. It is bizarre that a “weak link”, at the blimp was not included in the design. The idea of a weak link being included in a mechanical or electrical transmission device is not new. They are everywhere. Obviously this travesty was “designed ” by green zealots not engineers.

      • Consider a blimp no longer holding up a multi thousand pound cable. First the cable falls. You don’t want to be under it when it lands. Then the blimp gets essentially a multi thousand pound upward force and takes off for the heavens. There better be pressure relief valves before it explodes!
        Other than that, I’m sure nothing else could go wrong. 🙂

      • Ric, that gave me flashbacks of working at a power plant in the ’70’s and while changing the supply bank on the generator’s hydrogen cooling system, we decided to fill a trash bag with hydrogen and tied a lit cigarette (carefully) to it with the twist-tie. It went up out of sight in the twilight and there was a bright flash followed by a loud pop. We laughed hysterically. The stuff you try when you’re 20 something…

  6. Mod,
    Please correct typos:
    Its is simply impossible>It is simply impossible
    rationalized>rationalize
    Federal system call>Federal system called
    Thank you
    [Please identify the specific comment. It sometimes takes a long time to find based on scant info like that. Thanks. -mod.]

  7. In March of 2004 I took a job as a hydraulic pump design engineer at a private company in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The company had a contract with the EPA (NVFEL) in Ann Arbor to design and build prototype hydraulic pumps to be used in hydraulic hybrid UPS delivery trucks. The project was the brain child of Charles Gray, who had been with the EPA since its inception, and who retired in 2012. I was happy to further my career and to be involved in this interesting project, to help design a drive train that uses hydraulic pumps and accumulators to capture braking energy and then reuse that energy to accelerate the vehicle again. I believed in the project for the first six months, and then I saw the light. Turns out it was just another wasteful government boondoggle.
    What happened? Things were not making sense. Firstly, I thought the approach was barking up the wrong tree because it was a series drive, instead of parallel, also known as a launch assist, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_Launch_Assist) which propels the vehicle from a stop and as stored hydraulic pressure is exhausted the vehicle is then propelled by the normal transmission gears. The hydraulics are only in use during braking and starting from a stop. Conversely, a series hydraulic system (hydrostatic drive) is active any time the vehicle is moving.
    So with a series drive the truck will be propelled by the engine-driven pumps as it cruises down the road at constant speed, not a good idea because gears are more efficient. Energy saved in the start/stop cycle will be used during constant speed driving, due to the inefficiencies of the pumps plus energy needed to flow the oil through the many hoses and fittings. At least the EPA drive uses highly efficient variable displacement bent axis pumps. Hydraulic systems are generally heavy, noisy, expensive, and not very efficient, but are highly controllable and can pack lots of power in a small space. Electric hybrids (Prius) have high energy density, while hydraulic hybrids have high power density.
    It would make more sense to use a launch assist in addition to the existing drive train, but there was no room for that on the vehicle, in fact the stock transmission had to be removed to make room for this new drive. Hydraulic hybrids are best suited for big, heavy trucks in frequent start/stop service, like trash trucks (Parker RunWise system). Even with fuel at $4/gallon, payback time is ten years or more, and by then the pumps may be worn out. With fuel at under $5 per gallon there is simply no business case for hydraulic hybrids unless they are heavily subsidized, like wind turbines.
    Other things bothered me, but I played along, it was a good job to have. None of the people at the EPA had ever worked in industry, they are all career bureaucrats. The few times I went to EPA for meetings, the parking lot was full of SUVs, nary a Prius to be seen. I am glad I only attended a few of the weekly meetings, I found Charles Gray annoying. Pompous and intoxicated by his position, he considered himself some kind of mechanical engineering genius, yet he only held a chemical engineering degree. He was always meddling in the minutiae of the pump, hoping to discover some breakthrough that others were too blind to see. Far from it, he went down many dead ends that I knew were a waste of time, but we were happy to take his money and give him whatever he wanted, to extend the program and give our suppliers more business.
    Charles apparently had old connections in Washington DC and he was able to get funding for his pet project, to play with hydraulics until he retired. Government has a poor track record in developing new technology for industry, and I sensed that this would be another shining example. He also wanted to claim patents (at taxpayer expense) from which he would receive royalties. I looked up some of his patents, they are for things like solar hot dog warmers. We had about 10 people on the program, EPA had about 6 people on it, and our suppliers had several people working full time on it. Charles revised the specifications a few times, I worked on three generations of pumps in five years. Prototype pumps like these are very expensive, over $200,000 each, whereas production pumps are under $5,000.
    We designers had a love/hate relationship with Gray and he was the butt of many jokes. We loved him for being the source of our jobs, but hated him for wasting tax money on silly ideas. I never asked my bosses what they thought of the program, I knew they were just playing the game too, they had good salaries. The whole program must have run north of $50 million total. It was a high pressure job and there was always a hurry up urgency about everything, as if hydraulic hybrids will save the world.
    In March of 2009 the recession caught up with us and a quarter of the company was laid off, including me, and a year later the hydraulic hybrid program was ended. I was glad to be out of there, I knew that such a vehicle had no commercial value.
    Let’s crunch a few numbers: the average UPS (or FedEx) package truck gets about 10 mpg and drives about 12,000 miles per year. UPS reports that the hydraulic hybrid system improves mileage 25% to about 12.5 mpg, which results in a savings of about 240 gallons per year. With gasoline at $3.00 per gallon that is a savings of $720 per year, or $7200 per 10 years. Let’s say that a hydraulic hybrid costs a mere $15,000 more than a regular UPS truck, so it would take over 20 years before the savings even begin!
    To take a bad idea one step further, the EPA partnered with Chrysler in 2011 to build a hydraulic hybrid mini van, again with a series drive train. As I mentioned before, only large vehicles making lots of stops might benefit from a hydraulic hybrid drive, and the family car is way too small. I would love to drive that mini van, I can only imagine that it is louder, heavier, more expensive, and gets worse mileage that the stock vehicle. I love hydraulics but this is not a good application.
    I do not understand how people can think that such a drive would be commercially viable; it seems attractive on the surface, until you examine the numbers. Payback times of 10 years do not make good business sense. Furthermore, such schemes should not be subsidized by government, they should be able to stand on their own merit. There are a few other companies developing or selling hydraulic hybrid drives in the US, one in Michigan and another in Colorado. I suspect that such companies are grant farms, or their products must be subsidized heavily to entice buyers. The company that inherited the EPA design, American Hydraulic Power, (http://americanhydraulicpower.com/) closed their Troy, Michigan office in 2012 and is up for sale, but I doubt that it will sell.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for saving energy and protecting habitat and wildlife, I am a tree-hugging, nature-loving outdoorsman and camper, and efficiency appeals to me as an engineer. I understand what many climate alarmists feel; 7 billion people is a bit scary to contemplate. I also worry about the environment and the future. We all thought that gasoline prices would only go up and up, just as we thought that real estate would do the same, until the bubble burst.
    Our tax dollars at work.

    • Back in the 1970’s Union Pacific and other American railroads looked at Krupp diesel /hydraulic locomotives. Had a relative who was an engineer for UP. Now the Krupp
      people had a crew of mechanical engineers and a car to travel with the locomotives.
      They got a real lesson in American locomotive operation.
      1. If it breaks, depending on the break-we keep going. Adding fluid or shutting it
      down as necessary. It will stay in the lashup until the next repair yard 300-400 miles or so.
      2. Running 24/7 is the norm. No exceptions.
      3. Distances of 1500+ miles are not uncommon.
      again no shutdowns, and the Locomotives are to go back on the line
      without shutdown..
      I was told about one of the German engineers staying in the crew car in his bunk,
      sucking his thumb in a fetal position, mumbling “my beautiful locomotives….”

    • A nice illustration of why most government programs don’t work. Why despite repeated attempts communism and socialism always fail. I was a sophomore in high school when President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the great War on Poverty and told us how our goal was to end poverty in our lifetime. Our government began spending trillions on welfare, food stamps, scholarships, work training, and God only knows how many serious minded sociological studies of root causes. And yet oddly enough there are supposed to be more people living in poverty today than back before this War on Poverty all started. Of course our government’s War on Drugs was wildly successful in stopping the drug trade and drug gangs and drug killings and and and never mind.

      • Don’t forget the “War on Terror”.
        In which millions of formerly happy people were introduced to erm…terror.

      • And all those Tsars. Even in the UK, where we have decent enough handles – like Duke, Marquess – -ohh go on, Csars
        Tzars?
        Czars??
        Anyway – they got publicity . . . .
        Auto

      • A nice illustration of why most government programs don’t work.

        I was going to post a comparison of Canadian Medicare vs. American HMOs and googled “HMO horror stories”. Almost all the links with a date were from back in the 1990s. Did something happen to HMOs while my back was turned?

    • Your comment is a classic example of the value to be found in WUWT commentary. Thank you for adding to my education of real world, engineering, physics, and economics.

  8. I looked into this idea briefly, when it originally appeared.
    Off the top of my head, a cubic metre of air weighs approx 1kg.
    Now I have handled a 2kw wind turbine generator unit – and I could barely lift it.
    I would imagine that it weighed well over 60kg.
    So, whilst there are higher wind speeds at greater altitude, it seems to me that it would require more than 60 cubic metres of blimp to raise that 2kw alternator into the sky.
    I forget how much helium weighs – so I’m generously disregarding it’s weight altogether.
    And I’m also ignoring the weight of the fabric – and the guy line and the blades and mounting frame.
    It still looked very questionable to me. At first glance.
    Has nobody thought of the advantages of perhaps mounting such a heavy item atop of a tall guyed tower. (sarc).
    Does anybody have the LCOE for these things in practical applications?
    Even the theoretical LCOE – ignoring the costs of damage caused by units that go on the rampage and destroy civilization.

    • For clarity, I was discussing the Altaeros BAT, or similar concept. Not the JLENS, obviously.
      The military can waste as much money as they like. Nobody can ever change that.

  9. There are no ‘free energy’ schemes. Wind and solar both cost twice as much as CCGT when LCOE is correctly calculated (the EIA does not), and work less well because of intermittency. And they are now of such scope and scale that they will never reach grid parity. Schemes like tidal generation (Swansea, Wales) are much worse. Since India and China will not reliquish economic growth based on inexpensive USC coal fired electricity, all the green energy schemes are essentially futile.

    • Last time I checked – the UK tidal/wave subsidy was still set at approx. 10x the wholesale electricity rate.
      The subsidies are scaled to reflect the stupidity of the concept.
      More stupidity begets more subsidy.
      The system is designed to create a level playing field in which stupid ideas can compete with sensible ones.
      Wave and offshore wind are truly bonkers and so they get the highest subsidies of all.

  10. Anyone who owns a boat understands the problem of tethering these behemoths. There is no way to keep them from moving when they are only tethered to a single plane, but exist in an environment that is moving constantly in every direction possible.

    • Exactly, a mooring snubber stops the snap. At anchor, enough chain played out serves the same purpose.

  11. I have just found this analysis of the Altaeros concept, written by Mike Barnard (Senior Fellow — Wind, with the Energy and Policy Institute). Airborne wind generation. Behind the hype.
    “.. as soon as you start engineering an airborne solution to harvest that energy, the compromises strip away the potential bit-by-bit until it just isn’t viable in any incarnation so far attempted. And it’s clear that many of the current organizations in the field were started at best with optimistic assessments issues regarding safety and aviation authority approvals.”
    General analysis of all airborne windgen tech here:
    http://cleantechnica.com/2014/03/03/airborne-wind-energy-platypuses-instead-cheetahs/
    Analysis specific to Altaeros, here:
    http://cleantechnica.com/2014/06/02/altaeros-bat-airborne-wind-generation-behind-hype/

  12. I’m surprised they didn’t incorporate some sort of shock absorber system into the tether stay lines. If shock loading is the problem then allowing that shock to be absorbed by a spring or hydraulic device would seem to be the answer.
    Sailing ships did/do similar sorts of prevention (in fact they’re called preventers) in the rigging for that reason.
    Someone’s either not asking for solutions, doesn’t recognize the problem or is wedded to current design for some unscientific reason.

  13. The JLENS folks just rediscovered the “Operation Outward” effect.
    See:
    Operation Outward
    Britain’s World War II offensive balloons
    By Raoul E. Drapeau
    http://magazine.ieee-pes.org/september-october-2011/operation-outward/
    Apparently wayward UK barrage balloons shorted out German electrical power lines and the British hit on launching 45,000 cheap balloon borne power line grapples to strike at the German economy.
    This appears to be the historical genesis of the power line attacking American cruise missiles of the two wars with Iraq.
    FWIW, JLENS as a weapons system has the potential to revolutionize integrated air defense systems as a static supplement to AWACS/AEW&C type radar planes or UAV’s.
    JLENS is much cheaper to operate, and provides non-line of sight over the horizon capability to shoot anti-aircraft missiles at low flying cruise missiles and penetrating jets.
    This has been trialed with the US Navy SM-6 anti-aircraft missile that uses an AIM-120 AMRAAM active seeker derivative.
    Given compatible uplinks to missiles, JLENS could be used with any missile that has a fire and forget seeker.
    This is potentially of immense strategic value in NATO and Pacific Rim theatres, as it cripples key capabilities of the Russians and Mainland Chinese.
    The main challenge — beyond slack issues in balloon tethers — will be keeping JLENS alive, as it is not unlike 1914-1918 artillery observation balloons, a soft skinned high value asset with zero mobility.

    • Trent
      Thanks.
      TLAs. FLAs.
      Even SLAs, if I count correctly – it’s late here in Croydonistan.
      Try speaking to those here, not in the [right fifth of] the Pentagon/Whitehall/Lyubianka.
      Sorry. You have a tale to tell, but tell it for us poor ignorami and bum boaties.
      Auto

  14. Just to put the current hype and investment goldrush into some perspective.
    “W. R. Benoit US Patent 4350897 Lighter than air wind energy conversion system by William R. Benoit, filed Oct 24,1980, and issued: Sep 21, 1982.”, from wikipedia.
    And that is the earliest patent. The idea would clearly predate that.
    I’ve been hearing about this whacky stuff for all of my life.
    And yet the only competitive renewable technology is still hydropower from dams.
    With onshore wind (HAWTs), solar domestic water heating and solar PV, showing promise.
    BUT – it’s all just development of old technology. Where is this touted innovation?
    We’ve had decades of hype and promises.
    Where is the result of the hundreds of millions gifted to crazy dreamers.
    Can anyone name a single game-changing innovation that is vaguely competitive?

  15. So …. one of the green-energy dreams is to use blimps to generate power and then cut the power to the people using those same blimps?
    I assume that the (subsidized) companies that put up these things will go bankrupt but no one involved will be held personally or financially responsible?
    Sounds like a “Green” plan alright!

  16. Somewhere out there was a proposed anchor design based on the plain mussel. Their footing, as I understand it, is made of a rigid anchor, with a “cable” that is initially thick and rigid, but gradually become thinner and more flexible.
    It was found that this type of anchor and cable combination could withstand tremendous amount of force, as would be expected where mussels live (think storm and massive waves crashing onto rocks, and those mussels just simply thrive).
    The connection points on both ends of a 10,000′ cable should not allow the whiplash action to break the tether. Each end should not be just the cable, but perhaps spread out to many strands, just like mussels.
    Thoughts?

  17. I’m not a scientist here, but the other thing I always wonder about re wind power is what we are doing to the planet’s weather system if we harvest significant quantities of energy out of it with all of these wind power ideas and contraptions.
    The Greenies are always telling us is that “all we need are wind and solar energy”. To do that, it seems to me that we would have to harvest massive amounts of wind energy out of the Earth’s weather system to replace our fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. What are the consequences of doing that?
    If environmentalist ideology truly involves minimizing humankind’s impact on the Earth and its environment, I can’t help but wonder if the Greenies are really thinking rationally and know what the hell they are doing when they push ideas like wind energy on an unsuspecting public.

    • Think of it from the opposite position. Could you change the planet’s weather system by turning on a large number of big fans in an attempt to add wind energy to the Earth’s weather system?

  18. Feb 1984 Camp Ethan Allen Vermont.
    1st Bn 10th SFG (A) was conducting winter warfare training. The first two weeks of training involved ski training at Smugglers Notch. We were billeted in the concrete block barracks at Camp Ethan Allen during that phase of training. Sleeping after a long day on the slopes my team was awakened by a terrible racket. Camp Ethan Allen, besides being a training facility, was also a testing area. Vulcan cannons were tested there among other things.
    The thing that woke us up was one of those other things being tested. One of those mini blimps. The mini blimps were first developed by the DoD to provide an elevated platform for radar and thermal sensors. The idea was to provide a static and yet portable platform for sensors to have a “look down” capability to see low flying incoming cruise missiles. Later the same blimps with sensor packages were used by the Coast Guard to search for drug runners using cigar boats for transports. (Those that think our borders can’t be secured should take note of that)
    This blimp that was being tested had been caught in a Nor’easter. The wind in the Green mountains was strong enough and from the right direction to jam the winch so it couldn’t be lowered. Eventually the the forward cell of the little blimp burst and the thing started flapping and diving and climbing like a huge kite out of control. It was that flapping that woke us. We came out in the sub zero weather and wind and watched it do it’s dance and then eventually the thing just basically blew apart.

  19. What a waste of Helium, that can be put to better use by scuba divers.
    I don’t understand why modern, fire proof materials are not used to form a Hydrogen dirigable with multiple small cells to contain any fire, along with strategically distributed CO2 containers to put out any fire that may start.

  20. Look, if you’ve got so much money (that the taxpayers paid for) that all you can think of is a blimp that levitates your radar systems, while being a sitting duck….I just gotta ask, where did all the money go ?
    Seriously, where did all the money go ??

    • Martin
      +++
      At sea – water density 1025 – iron/steel anchors work, with iron/steel ships.
      In air – density 1 – frankly, my dear, not much does.
      Innovation may find a way.
      And Nature can trial it . . . . .
      At least, if the tie-cables all detach from the blimp, little damage will be done.
      If they detach at the ground end – we know they take out a county – or more.
      Auto, admiring the innovation!

  21. Drag is a regular verb so the past tense is “dragged”. While turning drag into “drug” as if it were an irregular verb might be a common grammatical error in the US, its use in a public paper does not make it right. Otherwise, and interesting read.

    • I think it used to be drug in English too. Any Chaucer experts around? The French complain of the French Canadian accent and grammar and vocabulary, but in the 18th. century, this is how French was … and still is in remoter parts of Normandy and Brittany, where many french Canadians came from.

  22. In addition to all the comments here about how nutty tethered balloon wind harvesters are (economic, safety), are we not at or past peak helium.

  23. JLENS, Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. They carry radar that can warn a territory the size of Texas about airborne threats.
    I must be missing something, These are balloons. Tethered with thousands of feet of cable. They are fragile to enemies and natural forces or cut the cable and let the balloon do damage across the country side as it did by accident in this case. In a real war I hope this is not what we are banking on for warning of airborne threats.

    • During the depths of the Cold War, the DEW line of manned radar sites across northern Canada and Alaska would’ve warn of an approaching Soviet bomber attack. (now unmanned sites are used). Of course they are fixed sites with known coordinates, and could be taken out in the first attack wave, but their purpose would have been served, warning. In a pre-emptive attack, the adversary would try to compress and mass the attack to achieve maximum damage and surprise. Satellites now can reliably can detect ballistic missile launches and large bomber aircraft, but small low observable CMs are a real problem. Planners trying to devise defense strategies and warning signs with viable reaction times to protect, preserve your forces need to have reasonable estimates of warning times to plan those precautionary reactions as viable options to military and NCA leadership.
      Of course as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the nose.”

    • I don’t believe that a 2015 instrument package is design for cruise missiles or Soviet aircraft. As you say, airborne threats can be in the form of small domestic planes, balloons, drones etc of the form a small terrorist cell may configure to dispense dirty radioactive material or anthrax or whatever evil genius stuff these a-holes can dream up and I am sure they are dreaming them up hourly.
      I would hope that the JLENS is jam packed with seized alien electronics and mind reading antennas ( that was a joke) or the most advanced passive sensors and …jammers in existence.
      The balloon platform may well be a scam to use green grants to fund homeland security initiatives. A scam inside a scam.

  24. Something to keep in mind here is that there are “Blimps’ and there are “Balloons”. Both have limits. Within those limits they can be and are often are very useful. (In WW2, no convoy escorted by a (manned) blimp lost a ship.)
    The technology is fine. What they want to do with it is questionable.

  25. worth noting:
    29 Oct: UK Register: Shaun Nichols: US govt drafts Google, Walmart, Amazon, BestBuy execs for drone registration system
    Task force to draw up database for owners of flying gizmos
    The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has named the 25 people who will draft the blueprints for a nationwide database of drone owners.
    As promised by the FAA and US Department of Transportation (DOT), the task force consists of individuals from companies and organizations that make and sell drones, as well as pilots, crimefighters, and hobbyist organizations…
    The FAA said the task force will have until November 20 to decide what recommendations it should make on how to roll out drone registration. The group will gather to meet from November 3-5 to hash out the recommendations.
    Chairing the board will be Earl Lawrence of the FAA and Dave Vos of Google X. Vos leads Google’s Project Wing drone delivery experiment…
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/10/29/faa_committee_drone_registration/
    28 Oct: IEEE Spectrum: Evan Ackerman: Wal-Mart Wants to Use Delivery Drones, Our Skepticism Reaches New High
    http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/aerial-robots/walmart-delivery-drones

  26. Google’s Loon project on BBC radio yesterday had plenty of caveats about interference with planes, drifting off or going down cutting internet connections etc.., but it’s all pretty much positive in Kelion’s documented BBC version and the second AP link:
    28 Oct: BBC: Leo Kelion: Google’s Project Loon internet balloons to circle Earth
    Google believes it is on course to have enough internet-beaming balloons in the stratosphere to form a ring over part of the world next year…
    The declaration coincides with the announcement that three of Indonesia’s mobile networks intend to start testing Project Loon’s transmissions next year…
    Google suggests that Project Loon would be a cheaper solution than installing fibre optic cables or building mobile phone masts across all of Indonesia’s islands, which contain jungles and mountains…
    It is also pursuing a separate effort codenamed Titan, which aims to use solar-panelled drones to provide the internet to unconnected parts of the world.
    Facebook is also developing a similar drone-based scheme.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34660205
    29 Oct: UK Telegraph: AP: Google’s Internet-beaming balloons to take off in Indonesia
    Balloons will begin hovering in the stratosphere above Indonesia in an expansion of ‘Project Loon’
    About 250 million people live in the country composed of about 17,000 islands in that part of southeast Asia, although only 42 million have Internet access, according to the CIA’s estimates.
    Google’s 2-year-old “Project Loon” programme aims to change that by transmitting high-speed Internet signals from clusters of balloons floating about 60,000 feet above the Earth…
    To pull it off, the project’s engineers must choreograph a high-altitude dance, ensuring that as one balloon drifts out of a targeted territory’s Internet-receiving range, another one will float in to fill the void…
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/11962052/Googles-Internet-beaming-balloons-to-take-off-in-Indonesia.html

  27. You could approve a billion dollar budget for a military project, and they’d spend 1.1 Billion, have nothing much to show for it, and come back to the senate ask for more.
    Works like this…
    $50,000 = One military grade monkey wrench ($50.00 via Chinese sub-contractor), Contractor gets $49,950.00 R&D and manufacturing. Donates to the most helpful appropriations committee’s favored party.
    $100,000 = One military grade monkey wrench ($50.00 via Chinese sub-contractor), Contractor gets $99,950.00 R&D and manufacturing. Donates to the most helpful appropriations committee’s favored party.
    $1,000,000 = One military grade monkey wrench ($50.00 via Chinese sub-contractor), Contractor gets $999,950.00 R&D and manufacturing. Donates to the most helpful appropriations committee’s favored party.
    See how that works?

  28. I was curious as to the material used for the tether and found out that it is made from Vectran fibers (specific grade not indicated).
    Since any long cable hung from high elevations has a critical length where it will fail near the top because of it’s own weight . So a high strength to weight ratio is important. It appears that Vectran HT has a value of 229 Km versus 7.9 Km for stainless steel, thus its suitability for a long tether. Since the tether apparently did not fail at the top the weight was likely not the primary cause of failure assuming the remaining cable length was still long.
    One would need to be suspicious that a potential cause of failure could be a defect in a 10,000 foot long cable, since the probability of a defect increases with the cable length
    Material compafisons
    Material Density (g/cm3) Tensile Strength (G Pa) Specific Strength (km*) Tensile Modulus (G Pa) Specific Modulus (km**)
    *Specific strength = Strength/Density (also divided by force of gravity for SI units). Also known as breaking length, the length of fiber that could be held in a vertical direction without breaking.
    ** Specific modulus = Modulus/Density (also divided by force of gravity for SI units). This measure increases with increasing stiffness and decreasing density.
    (KAI data)
    Vectran NT 1.4 1.1 79 52 3700
    Vectran HT 1.4 3.2 229 75 5300
    Vectran UM 1.4 3 215 103 7400
    Titanium 4.5 1.3 29 110 2500
    Stainless Steel 7.9 2 26 210 2700

  29. We’ve got two different technologies being discussed here:
    1. Blimps/balloons carrying (relatively) lightweight sensor systems for military use, that ‘only’ need tethering to the ground. Yes, the technology for a strong tether (Vectran) is possible for even a blimp up very, very high. It would be (relatively) easy to design an explosive charge pack at the top of the tether that could be fired to release the tether if it broke along its length, or at the ground attachment point, to avoid it causing havoc as it’s dragged along the ground over power cables and buildings.
    2. Energy-generating gear-boxed turbines in the sky. We haven’t got a technology for a tether than can carry the current, for a device up in the high-wind stratosphere. Easy to attach a turbine to a blimp – impossible to get the current to the ground over a very long (pair) of cables. Any company attempting this is going to simply lose a lot of money for its investors.

  30. Those things have been in use since at least the 1970s when they were used to provide a radar look-down capability along our southern coast after one or two Cuban aircraft entered the USA at low level. They gave long duration surveillance. Can’t recall them being a problem back then. Maybe everyone just kept quiet about it.

    • Fat Albert was in service for many years on Cudjoe Key. It was neat to drive by and get a peek whether it was deployed or moored at the moment. This was the ideal topography for such a device, but I suspect they had many thrills dealing with afternoon thunderstorms and the related wind gusts and shear.

  31. @ Tom Scott

    Consider for a moment some of the proposed power schemes wherein huge fleets of devices would float 20,000 feet overhead, tethered by 30,000 foot long cables, and collect/generate lots of “free” power.

    Consider this for a moment, also.
    A space elevator is a proposed type of space transportation system.[1] Its main component is a ribbon-like cable (also called a tether) anchored to the surface and extending into space (35,800 km altitude). It is designed to permit vehicle transport along the cable from a planetary surface, such as the Earth’s, directly into space or orbit,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

    • The difference is that everyone knows the space elevator is a pie in the sky dream and aren’t telling us to rely on it for basic needs. I’ve been repeatedly told that the only reason we don’t have these wind-powered blimps up and running is a big-oil conspiracy.

  32. Balloons are not the answer. The only practical solution is a space tether similar to the space elevator in the science fiction novel “The Fountains of Paradise” by by Arthur C. Clarke.
    Side Note: I heard of a really good deal on the Brooklyn Bridge and am seeking investors.

  33. Update 2137 : Terrorists fly commercial space planes into HEGST (Humongous Electricity Generating Space Tether), a billion tons of cable falls to earth in a swath of mass destruction.

  34. Far from me to second guess what our best sneaky bastards are up to.
    But, this just looks like an easy target 🙂

  35. If everyone is enjoying lunacy, here are two daft ideas:
    1. Make a giant mattress of blimps tethered to each other to vector the stresses horizontally across several neighbours and provide ‘ripple’ shock absorption for the vertical impulses.
    2. If you can’t get the power down to the ground, just make everyone live in the air – pave the areas in between the balloons, it’ll look just like those Star Wars scenes..
    Alright. I know they are stupid ideas. But it only took me five minutes to imagine they might be interesting.. I just have no faith at all in people who can’t even come up with an exciting (but worthless) fantasy in how many years??? Why don’t the balloons have dolphin-skins, and nano-aerofoils, and honeycomb cross-sections, and, oh, all sorts of things, instead of STILL looking so WWII??

  36. The Altaeros BAT is a joke, right? Surely this can’t be a serious contender for the world’s energy supply.

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