US Military's New Spy-Blimp Struggling To Find Enough Helium

Yes, the world's helium supply is slowly running out, and as sad as it will be to see thousands of tear-stained cheeks of balloonless birthday boys and girls, the military is already feeling the sting.

The military has been on a blimp bender lately. They can stay in the air longer than any drone (by days) and haul much more gear. There have been three airship surges since last fall, as these vehicles have become the military's favourite surveillance tool in Afghanistan, where several dozen are already deployed. The military has already been struggling to get enough gas to fill those ships, but things are about to get kicked up a notch.

Next year the military is planning on sending two ginormous blimps to Afghanistan. We're talking longer than a football field and taller than a seven-storey building. That duckie needs 22,653 cubic metres of helium to make it float. When the military put out the order, none of their suppliers could handle it, and the order had to be broken up into smaller pieces. With the armed forces already planning to use more and more (and more biggerer) aerostats (that's the broad family name for airships, balloons and blimps) between now and 2017, things could get very tricky, and very expensive, very soon. [Wired]

Image: Getty/US Navy