Over the last 45 years, small teams of engineers and businessmen have worked to develop the airship concept. Using advances in engineering techniques, improved materials and practical innovation these groups have tested new ideas, and in many cases re-discovered concepts that have lain dormant until the materials sciences could catch up. Occasionally larger corporations or government departments put some effort in to projects to investigate the state of the market; but shifting personnel, budgetary constraints and a lack of immediate need, have usually closed down these projects.
Since 2012, there have been several funded projects by the US Government and civilian commercial companies. The Government funded projects have covered both surveillance (LEMV and MAV 6), and transport experiments (Project Pelican), none of which have yet borne fruit.
Of the two surveillance projects, the U.S. Army's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) prototype, built by Northrop Grumman with major subcontractor Hybrid Air Vehicles, was designed using hybrid principles. It was able to make its first, 90 minute, flight from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., in August 2012, before the project was cancelled. Because the design of LEMV was essentially dual-purpose (intended for high altitiude, persistent surveillance, but also capable of carrying a reasonable load at low level if necessary) the US Government sold the prototype back to the manufacturer, Hybrid Air Vehicles in the UK so that they could continue developing the civilian transport variant at their own expense, without wasting the considerable sums already invested in the design and build of the platform.
The US Air Force project, designed and built by the company MAV 6, was a more conventional design. Also known as M1400, the airship did not meet with USAF approval, and was deflated and packed for storage before reaching first flight.
Transport Projects (Hybrid)
Lockheed Martin (LM), who designed and first flew the P791 prototype in January 2006 at the company's flight test facility at Palmdale, California, have agreed with the FAA a set of airworthiness requirements to which their operational scale vehicles will be constructed, and have created a commercial organisation to handle the sales of civilian versions. Work on the first 20 ton payload variant is understood to be underway at a LM facility in California.
In the UK Hybrid Air Vehicles, the manufacturer of the LEMV, are reconstructing and have partly inflated the prototype LEMV in the No 1 hangar at Cardington, Bedfordshire. When reconstruction and is complete, they hope to resume the flight-testing programme in early 2016.
Transport Projects (based on compression of gas to vary lift)
RosAerospace of Russia have been funded for a project by the Russian Government to construct and demonstrate a transport airship using compression of the lifting gas to vary buoyancy. Meanwhile they continue design and development of their small non-rigid airships.
Varialift of the UK are continuing to raise funds to progress their Transport Airship using their variable lift designs. They have identified a construction site.
The prototype ML 866 Dragon Dream constructed for Project Pelican by Aeroscraft (formerly Worldwide Aeros), made several tethered flight tests and one free flight outside its hangar at Tustin California in September 2013. However the ML 866 prototype was subsequently damaged by debris falling from the roof of the old airship shed in which she was housed in October 2013. Work has not yet resumed on ML866, but it has been reported that design studies continue on the civilian cargo airship project.