There's something slightly unnerving about the reports of a LEMV (long endurance multi intelligence vehicle) that can fly around at 22,000 feet, unmanned, for up to 3 weeks.

Sure, it will be great if they supply key surveillance data for the troops in Afghanistan, but we can't help but picture a dystopian future akin to Blade Runner, or 1984, whereby we're all monitored and maybe even beamed up by these helium filled monsters.

Call us rash and cynical, but that's what years of watching discouraging sci-fi will do to a man.

Anyway, back to the here and now, these LEMVs are being developed by defence firm Northrop Grumman, who has received half a billion dollars from the US military, with much of the design work being done by UK outfit Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd.

Technically the LEMV is not an airship and is instead referred to as a hybrid air vehicle. It uses an aerodynamic lift similar to how a normal plane takes off and then relies on its helium to stay up in the sky.

HAV’s Gordon Taylor said: "Traditional airships only float when they’re in equilibrium.  If you put ten people on board you’ve got to take ballast off before you go anywhere.

"Then, as you fly you burn off fuel becoming too light and making it hard to land: a hybrid overcomes these issues".

The aircraft, which is from a group of three, is expected to take to the skies by summer 2011 and they are on course to be deployed in Afghanistan by January 2012.

Check out The Engineer's feature length piece for more info if you're interested.