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Thai war airship going over like a lead zeppelin

Thailand has a less than positive experience with using an airship to counter its southern insurgency.

Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

If you're going to fight an Islamic insurgency, you'd think there would be more practical tools than an airship.

But that's just what Thailand has been using to track militants in its restive southern provinces. Its manned Aeros 40D Sky Dragon, manufactured by California-based Aeros, has again run into technical trouble, making an emergency landing in the south's Pattani Province recently.

The Sky Dragon developed propeller problems and began losing altitude. It sustained some damage in an emergency landing, but no one was hurt, the Bangkok Post reported.

Thai Government Public Relations

The 350 million baht ($11.7 million) U.S.-built craft has been seen as a boondoggle in Thailand due to problems with equipment and delays in delivery. It was returned to Aeros last year following major leaks, according to the paper.

Because the warranty has expired, the Royal Thai Army will have to pay for repairs.

The airship has a rigid structure and is thus not a blimp, and it measures 11.6 yards wide by 51 yards long. It's supposed to fly up to an altitude of 10,000 feet with a top speed of 54.6 mph. Its operational range is 348 miles.

The military has been using the dirigible for surveillance in the insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives. It's been equipped with high-def night cameras and communications systems.

Opposition politicians, though, have ridiculed the "spy blimp," saying it takes fuzzy pictures and is a sitting duck for insurgents as problems have caused it to fly only up to 3,000 feet.

You might be surprised to learn that airships, vulnerable to strong winds and enemy fire, have been used in military operations since World War I, when Germany used them to bomb London.

Aeros, meanwhile, has imagined a new generation of war dirigibles that can carry infantry units and even heavy armor into the battlefield. In the wild promo vid below, its $40 million Aeroscraft concept airship can deliver "ship-like payloads" via "helicopter-like operations" without the need for a runway.

According to CNBC, the U.S. military is interested, and construction, industry, and tourism opportunities are being mooted (just don't think about the Hindenburg disaster).

The Aeroscraft is slated to start test flights next year. But the reality in Thailand, today, isn't so great.

(Via Bangkok Post)