But here’s the thing… despite its looks, it’s not a blimp… or even a zeppelin. It’s the Aeroscraft.
And while to the casual observer, it’s a “so what?” moment, in actuality, this craft’s ability to hover for only a few minutes is a big step forward in aviation.
The United States Department of Defence (DoD) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) have poured some Cdn/US $35-million into this prototype blimp.
Why? Because this prototype could one day carry more cargo than any other aircraft to disaster zones.
If you listen to the prototype’s flight control engineer Munir Jojo-Verge, he’s quite impressed with himself and the blimp: “I realized that I put a little dot in the line of aviation history. A little dot for something that has never been demonstrated before, now it’s feasible.”
Although this Aeroscraft – tested at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, which oince help US Army blimps during WWII – has many more tests to go through, a key for it will be to determine if it can handle high winds or other extreme weather conditions.
Designed and built by Worldwide Aeros of Montebello, California,the prototype needs more money for the next round of tests, and is hoping the DoD will pony up a few bucks, like it did for the initial phase.
Good to know how your money is being spent, I suppose.
For the DoD, the Aeroscraft’s ability to carry more cargo would, aside from humanitarian aid during time of disaster, also provide it with a bit of an advantage on the battlefield where runways are not feasible – though it’s does look like a decidely juicy target.
So… why is the DoD excited? Well, it’s a new type of aircraft.
This lighter-than-air vehicle is not a blimp or a zeppelin simply because it possesses a rigid structure made out of ultra-light carbon fiber and aluminum underneath its high-tech Mylar skin. Inside, balloons hold the helium that give the vehicle lift.
Aeros Worldwide mechanical engineer Tim Kenny describes the craft’s function as being similar to a submarine, as it releases air to rise, and takes in air to sink. The aircraft has the ability to take-off vertically and become heavier-than-air to land.
Says Kenny, “It allows the vehicle to set down on the ground. And then when we want to become lighter than air, we release that air and then the vehicle floats and we can allow it to take off.
“You could take this vehicle and go to destinations that have been destroyed, where there’s no ports, no runways, stuff like that. This vehicle could go in there, offload the cargo even if there¹s no infrastructure, no landing site for it to land on, this vehicle can unload its whole payload,” he adds.
Worldwide Aeros – for it’s second phase – wants build a bigger version of this already huge vehicle capable of carrying 60 tonnes of cargo. It would measure 137 meters (450 feet).
Okay… that’s pretty damn huge.