Called a flying laboratory by Navy officials, the airship is used by the Naval Research Laboratory to test intelligence and surveillance sensors, at considerably less cost than aboard fixed-wing or rotor aircraft, program managers say. The blimp also served during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis by helping to monitor the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The MZ-3A has been in development since 2006 at a cost of about $3.6 million. A modified civilian A-170 airship was built by American Blimp Corp. It is serviced, maintained, and flown by civilian contractor, Integrated Systems Solution inc.

ISSI MZ-3A Pilot

The MZ-3A is an airship owned by the United States Navy since 2006. It is a modified American Blimp Corporation A-170 series commercial blimp and given the USN type/model/series T/M/S designation MZ-3A and Bureau Number BuNo 167811. After delivery to the Navy, the airship began operations as an advanced flying laboratory used to evaluate affordable sensor payloads, the development of new lighter-than-air LTA technologies and general flight support for other related R&D/S&T projects.

In May 2006, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWENTY Lighter-than-Air Vehicle LTAV Detachment VX-20 LTAV Det began regular flight operations from the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst located in Lakehurst, New Jersey. In 2007 flight operations were halted and the ship stored in Hangar Six at the naval air station.

In January 2010, the MZ-3A was transferred to the United States Naval Research Laboratory Military Support Division Scientific Development Squadron ONE VXS-1, formerly known as the Flight Support Detachment, located at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

In March 2010 the airship resumed flight operations with test flights at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona by civilian contractor, Integrated Systems Solutions, Inc. (ISSI). ISSI maintained and operated the vehicle until its decommission in December, 2014.

On July 5, 2010 the MZ-3A was re-deployed to the Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores, Alabama to assist in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery operation.

Government Owned/Contractor Operated, the MZ-3A's current livery is an all-white color scheme with the U.S. Navy’s Stars and Bars flying under the banner of the VXS-1 Warlocks.











Published on Oct 23, 2012
Take a ride on the Navy's MZ-3A airship flying out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Lakehurst, NJ. Airship flown and maintained by Integrated Systems Solutions Incorporated (ISSI). Video Credit: Asbury Park Press, Staff video by Thomas P. Costello /