A suspected Chinese spy balloon made national news headlines last week.
Did it look familiar?
The infamous balloon bears a close resemblance to airships designed and tested by Gulf County based UAV Corp’s Skyborne Technologies. According to UAV Corp’s CEO, Michael Lawson, the similarities did not go unnoticed.
“We’ve been besieged with calls,” Lawson said, “from different areas, from government agencies, you name it.”
“The deal is, even though (our airship) is wanted for disaster relief, it’s basically the same thing… The difference is we’re not traveling with the jet stream and using that as the propulsion. We have our own propulsion for that altitude, to keep it stationary over an area where it’s needed.”
UAV Corp’s seven-story high DATT, which stands for Detachable Airship from a Tethered Technology, has been years in the making. It has undergone several successful inflation tests at the company’s lot near Wewahitchka.
The DATT aircraft — a blimp-like structure, was produced through a collaboration with Gulf Coast State College. It aims to help improve surveillance capabilities following disasters.
It will have both manned and unmanned capabilities with a package of two drones onboard the ship.
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.
According to Lawson, the Skyborne airship will be able to reach an altitude of about 68,000 feet — as much as 8,000 feet higher than that which was observed by the Chinese balloon.
Now, Gulf County Economic Development Director Jim McKnight said, the airship is nearing its final flight tests.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, McKnight wrote that Skyborne’s airship is scheduled for flight tests in the early spring.
“It was certainly eerie to see that thing the first time I saw the picture of the Chinese balloon because it does look very similar,” he told The Star. “It even has some of the same markings on the side.”
“I’m ready to see them fly ours, and that’s coming.”
More current iterations of the DATT airship won’t resemble the Chinese balloon quite so closely, as they will be slightly more oblong. This design change, Lawson said, improves the airship’s aerodynamics.
But still, when the balloons are off the ground, he said he expects that given this past week’s events, the airships will gain even greater attention than he already anticipated.
“People were already interested, just given our airship’s appearance,” he told The Star. “It looks so unique, and based on all this news about the Chinese airship, that just makes it even more intriguing.”