Airship development tends to come in waves, the most recent of which arrived in the mid-2000s. Facing two wars and a need for new surveillance and logistics craft, the Pentagon undertook a flurry of airship development. The Navy was first, with the MZ-3A, a technology testbed. The Air Force and Army followed, with their Blue Devil and Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) programs. Both ships were about as long as a football field and capable of flying for weeks. But then the bottom fell out. The financial crisis hit (bad), the wars began to wind down (good), and a helium shortage struck (expensive). In June 2012, Blue Devil lost funding. Eight months later, the LEMV got the ax too. The MZ-3A is still flying, but its funding is on the chopping block. If there was an airship renaissance in the making, alas, it has come down to Earth.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Popular Science. See the rest of the magazine here.