Last week, a fire ignited at the Akron Airdock that once housed a fleet of Goodyear blimps. Firemen rushed to the 211-foot-tall structure and quickly doused the flames. Reporters and photographers descended on the landmark. Many were surprised to learn the blimps were no longer being stored there.
Turns out Lockheed Martin — the company that gave us the Trident intercontinental ballistic missile — was renovating the site for an upcoming project when the fire started. It’s being turned into a hangar for a prototype airship. If you’re frightened of this administration’s habit of spying on American citizens, you may want to stop reading.
The prototype is called the High Altitude Airship, or HAA. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Akron won the $40 million contract from the Missile Defense Agency to build HAA in 2003. It is essentially another blimp. A giant one. Seventeen times the size of the Goodyear dirigible. It’s designed to float 12 miles above the earth, far above planes and weather systems. It will be powered by solar energy, and will stay in a geocentric orbit for up to a year, undetectable by ground-based radar. You can’t see it from the ground. But it can see you.
“The possibilities are endless for homeland security,” says Kate Dunlap, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson. “It could house cameras, and other surveillance equipment. It would be an eye in the sky.”
According to a summary released by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, the HAA can watch over a circle of countryside 600 miles in diameter. That’s everything between Toledo and New York City. And they want to build 11. With high-res cameras, that could mean constant surveillance of every square inch of American soil. “If you had a fleet of them, this could be used for border surveillance,” suggests Dunlap.
Launch date: 2009.
Of course, mimicking its defense of warrantless wiretapping and phone-log data mining, the government maintains it only wants to protect its citizens from external threats. But as any geek can tell you, blimps were ubiquitous in The Watchmen, the seminal ’80s graphic novel in which heroes have been driven underground and Nixon is still president.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not watching you.