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Biggest airship gets blown up

A time-lapse YouTube video compresses the six-hour process of inflating

E-Green Technology's 235-foot-long Bullet 580 airship into two minutes.

The biggest airship in existence passed its first full-up inflation test this week inside Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Ala., opening the way for its maiden flight later this year. You can watch E-Green Technologies blow up the 235-foot-long, 65-foot-diameter Bullet 580 in this time-lapse video.

E-Green says the blimp ... er, airship ... can carry payloads of up to 2,000 pounds to altitudes of 20,000 feet, and is capable of going 80 mph. The first flight is destined to carry an experimental payload developed by NASA and Old Dominion University to measure moisture content in soil. Eventually, such airships could be used as "stratellites" for communications, weather monitoring, surveys and surveillance. They could even be used as floating weapons platforms, E-Green says.

The largest airship that ever flew was the 804-foot-long Hindenburg, a hydrogen-filled German passenger craft that famously went down in flames in 1937, killing 36 people. Oh, the humanity! The Bullet 580 will be much, much safer because it's filled with nonflammable helium and has a Kevlar coating.

E-Green spokesman Ian Murphy told me that some airships in operation today, such as the Zeppelin NT, are longer - but measured by volume, the $8 million Bullet is the biggest. And even bigger airships are on the way, from E-Green as well as other companies. "The airship industry is at the beginning of a boom," Murphy said.

For more on the airship venture, check out this video backgrounder from E-Green, this Discovery News report and this week's update from Discovery's Irene Klotz.

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