PALMDALE – An experimental airship built in secret by Lockheed Martin emerged from a hangar Tuesday morning for a short test flight around U.S. Air Force Plant 42. Lockheed Martin has not disclosed the purpose or technical details about the craft, which it said is being used to test airship technology. “We have not done any public discussion about the airship. It’s an independent research and development effort so it’s coming from our own dollars,” Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Dianne Knippel said. Silver and marked “Lockheed Martin” with the “Skunk Works” logo on its tails, the airship drew onlookers at a popular aircraft-watchers’ spot on Sierra Highway at Avenue N. Accompanied by a helicopter, the craft cruised up and down the installation’s runways at low level, making several tight turns. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant “It’s kind of hard to hide a blimp,” Knippel added. Built in Palmdale, the craft first flew Jan. 31 and is designated only as P-791. Of the designation, Knippel said: “That’s just a number we pulled out of a hat that says Program No. 791. It doesn’t mean anything.” Airships have drawn new interest from American military officials. Lockheed Martin and Tarzana-based Aeros Aeronautical Systems Corp. were hired last year by the Pentagon to study possible designs for a giant airship capable of transporting soldiers and gear around the world to battle areas. Code-named “Walrus,” the new airship would fly using a combination of lighter-than-air gas – like conventional blimps or World War I zeppelins – and aerodynamic lift generated by the craft’s shape, as well as thrust vectoring. The trade publication Aerospace Week suggested in an article published last week that P-791 is a hybrid aircraft like the proposed Walrus, combining both buoyant gases and aerodynamic lift. P-791 is not connected with Walrus, Knippel said. In addition, a Lockheed Martin division in Ohio is building for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency a prototype high-altitude airship that could be used for spotting enemy missiles, acting as a communication relay, monitoring weather, or other tasks. Airships have a military history dating back two centuries. Hot-air balloons were used to watch enemy forces by Napoleon’s armies and served both the North and the South during the U.S. Civil War. Germany sent airships with rigid frames – the zeppelins – to bomb London and Paris during World War I. The United States had rigid-frame airships after World War I, but they crashed and burned. During World War II, the U.S. Navy hunted Nazi submarines with frameless blimps. Through the first years of the Cold War, blimps with radar watched for Soviet bombers. Charles F. Bostwick, (661) 267-5742 [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!