On October 22nd, just a day after the first manned flight of an electric multicopter took place in Germany, California's JP Aerospace achieved an aeronautical feat of its own - it broke the record for the world's highest airship flight. Remotely controlled from the ground, the all-volunteer group's Tandem twin-balloon airship reportedly ascended to an altitude of 95,085 feet (28,982 meters). That's almost four miles (6.4 km) higher than any airship has gone before.
JP Aerospace's Tandem class of airships are fairly spartan, consisting of two balloons mounted at either end of a central keel frame, and two six foot (1.8 meter) -long propellers, each driven by a separate electric motor - those propellers are specifically designed to work in the thin air present at high altitudes.
The aircraft used in last month's flight weighed 80 pounds (36.3 kg), including its balloons. As is the plan for all Tandems, it gained altitude using the lift of its balloons only. After making its way through turbulence from 40,000 to 60,000 feet (12,192 to 18,288 meters), the airship eventually reached its cruising altitude, at which point its motors were remotely turned on. A pilot on the ground then guided it through a series of maneuvers until eventually one balloon burst, at which point the other balloon was intentionally released, and the airship drifted back to the ground with the help of five parachutes.
"The big aerospace firms have been trying to do this for decades, spending hundreds of millions of dollars," said John Powell, President of JP Aerospace. "We've spent about $30,000 and the past five years developing Tandem."
The Tandem is intended to function as a workhorse aircraft. It could serve as a launch platform for small research rockets, and perform various duties for JP's proposed Airship to Orbit program, in which large V-shaped airships would travel from Earth's upper atmosphere into space.
Some of the record-breaking flight can be seen in the video below.
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