Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has developed a robot to scour the hull of its LMH-1 commercial heavy-lift hybrid airship for helium-leaking pinholes in the Vectran fiber.
Manual inspection of an airship hull requires crews working outside and inside the deflated envelope. The Skunk Works’ autonomous Spider (Self-Propelled Instrument for Damage Evaluation and Repair) has inner and outer halves that magnetically couple through the airship envelope and traverse the inflated hull together.
The outer half shines a light on the surface of the hull. The inner half, inside the inflated envelope, detects any pinholes with light sensors, aligns its patching mechanism, repairs the hole and sends before-and-after images to a central processing station for verification of the repair.
The ability to repair pinholes in hard-to-access locations is expected to reduce maintenance costs and airship downtime. “We’ve learned a lot about autonomous inspection and repair with Spider,” the company says. “We are working on more ideas, like Spiders roaming around in flight for larger airships.”