Skyborne airship technology nears final flight test

Several people had stopped by to ask about the giant inflatable sphere on Skyborne Technologies’ lawn, said the company’s owner Mike Lawson.

“What is that thing?” they would ask. “It looks like a moon.”

Lawson liked the sound of that – “the new moon of Northwest Florida.”

The seven-story high DATT, which stands for Detachable Airship from a Tethered Technology, has been years in the making. But after the successful inflation test on Tuesday, there is only about a month left until Skyborne can execute the aircraft’s final flight test.

“It was great to see the inflation test with motor attachments,” said Jim McKnight, the director of Gulf County Economic Development Coalition, who was present when the orb was inflated. “I look forward to the next inflation when the airship will fly from Wewahitchka to the Costin Airport in Port St. joe as part of the final flight test.”

Skyborne first came to Gulf County a little less than four years ago.

The aircraft – a blimp-like structure, was produced through a collaboration with Gulf Coast State College. It aims to help improve surveillance capabilities following disasters.

The DATT will have both manned and unmanned capabilities with a package of two drones onboard the ship. With a payload capability of up to 1,000 pounds, it can be configured as a hybrid-electric aerial platform with recharging stations for the two drone packages. 

Skyborne is pinning its hopes on the enhanced, detachable functionality for the DATT, which enables it to travel further distances, and remain in the air longer and higher as it performs any one of several possible assignments.

If the flight test is successful, the technology used in the DATT will help Skyborne produce a larger vessel of a similar nature, but this time with the ability to carry large numbers of passengers.

“Our company is at the beginning of our growth stage that other commercial space tourism companies were a couple years ago,” said Billy Robinson, the company’s chairman, in December, 2021. “The goal is to target our cost per passenger to under $50,000 a person opening up the space experience to what we are dubbing the ‘People’s Space Experience.’”

McKnight said the technology has contributed to a quickly growing aerospace industry in Gulf County.

“The inflation test is another positive milestone for Skyborne, Gulf County and the growing aerospace industry in Northwest Florida,” said McKnight. “The jobs created will diversify our economic base by adding additional manufacturing opportunities for our workforce.”

Lawson said the DATT will be off the ground before the end of next month.

“It’s pretty well finished,” he said. “We just need to insert the avionics, and we’re in the air.”

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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