Meet SPIDER: The Hybrid Airship’s Closest Friend


I’m a one-of-a-kind robot committed to protecting the cargo-hauling ship of the skies, the Hybrid Airship. For years, teams of five to ten people have used bright lights to search every inch of airship envelopes to locate and patch tiny pinholes found during final assembly and major maintenance operations. This was tedious, slow and costly.

A small team of engineers at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works are the brains behind my creation. The team recognized the current challenge faced by the industry, and in typical Skunk fashion, they worked to find an innovative solution. That’s me, SPIDER! I’m an autonomous robot that locates and patches pinholes found in the Hybrid Airship’s envelope.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Hybrid Airship is, in my modest opinion, the most innovative remote transportation solution the world has ever seen. The Hybrid Airship can affordably delivery heavy cargo and personnel to virtually anywhere, which will take it to remote locations all over the world. That’s why my job as the envelope’s inspector and repairman is so exciting – I will get to hear about the airship’s adventures and make sure it’s ready for its next mission!

Life on the Envelope

When Lockheed Martin begins production on the Hybrid Airship, I will spend my days along with five of my SPIDER friends, roaming the Hybrid Airship in parallel with the final assembly process. Our support will help reduce the amount of man-hours needed to complete the long and tedious task of inspecting the envelope. Not only will we locate these tiny holes, but we will also securely patch the holes from inside the envelope. Get this – our mighty team of six will be able to scan, locate and patch tiny pinholes on 75 percent of the envelope in just one day. That’s a nearly 80 percent reduction of labor hours required for today’s manual process. Now that’s teamwork!

How exactly will we manage to locate and repair these holes so quickly? Well that’s a secret of the Skunk Works. What I can tell you is that a central computer station, a central hub, makes sure my SPIDER friends and I scan the envelope in an efficient manner. If one of us gets too tired, the central hub makes sure the rest of us are there to support.

This central intelligence system will allow us to keep a historical log of where we’ve located and patched the pinholes over the course of the airship’s thirty-year life.

An Unbreakable Bond

Our SPIDER team takes pride in knowing that we will be able to quickly send the airship on its next mission. The Hybrid Airship may be off transporting cargo and personnel to a remote mining site in Alaska, supporting geologic surveys in South America, drilling sites in the Pacific islands, or delivering emergency supplies and personnel in Africa, but we all know the airship will need us upon its return.

It may be an unlikely friendship, a SPIDER and an airship, but we both have the same essential mission to ensure Hybrid Airships provide an affordable, efficient and environmentally sound solution for remote cargo operations around the world.

SPIDER was recently named as a Popular Science Best of What's New for 2016. Stay tuned for more Hybrid Airship Innovations to see how we’re revolutionizing remote transportation.

An Unbreakable Bond