Blimps Against Terror

A man shows his destroyed house in Okcular village in the eastern province of Elazig, Turkey, March 8, 2010, hours after a strong earthquake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6, hit eastern Turkey early Monday.
AP Photo
On its first test flight near Washington D.C., there were 2,000 reported UFO sightings.

As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, it's actually a helium air ship, a low-cost, low-hanging satellite and quite possibly, America's next weapon for national defense.

Steve Huett, director of airship programs of Naval Air Systems Command, sees the helium air ship having a clear potential for border patrol and national defense.

"Absolutely, without a doubt,'' Huett says.

What the Pentagon suddenly can envision is a fleet of these air ships guarding America's coastlines.

On board would be surveillance sensors, video cameras and a wireless communications package. Unmanned air ships could stay aloft for days, even months, depending on the mission and the altitude, relaying suspicions to operators on the ground.

Another possibility: airships could patrol the skies of Iraq and protect U.S. soldiers from above.

"Imagine if you have a convoy running down the road and we have eyes on the road four to five miles ahead of it," says Huett.

Over hostile territory, at altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, the air ship would be hard to spot, even harder to shoot down.

A radical redesign created by Mike Lawson's company includes a second inner bag to hold the airship's helium.

"So a hole is not going to make that much of a difference,'' he says.

Even under attack, this airship would be a survivor. All of its outer skin is made of spectra, a synthetic that's ten times stronger than steel, and because of the pressure of the helium inside, a bullet hole or any puncture would become, at worst, a slow leak, not a catastrophe."

"Even putting a thousands rounds would not take it out," says Lawson. "It would descend slowly."

Within the next few years, dozens of airships could be on patrol, to keep terror away from American soil.