Aircraft

Aeroscraft dirigible airship prototype approaches completion

The Aeroscraft uses a suite of new mechanical and aerospace technologies
The Aeroscraft uses a suite of new mechanical and aerospace technologies
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Aeros expects the vehicle to be finished before the end of 2012
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Aeros expects the vehicle to be finished before the end of 2012
Aeroscraft prototype
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Aeroscraft prototype
The Aeroscraft uses a suite of new mechanical and aerospace technologies
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The Aeroscraft uses a suite of new mechanical and aerospace technologies
Aeroscraft prototype under construction - the image shows the rear engine being fitted
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Aeroscraft prototype under construction - the image shows the rear engine being fitted
Aeroscraft prototype undergoes landing gear operational check
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Aeroscraft prototype undergoes landing gear operational check
The entire vehicle has an outer multilayer composite outer cover
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The entire vehicle has an outer multilayer composite outer cover
Aeroscraft control systems testing
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Aeroscraft control systems testing
Installation of the canards on the Aeroscraft
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Installation of the canards on the Aeroscraft
Rear view of Aeroscraft prototype
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Rear view of Aeroscraft prototype
The entire vehicle has an outer multilayer composite outer cover
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The entire vehicle has an outer multilayer composite outer cover

The dirigible airship, the oddball aircraft of another era, is making a comeback. California-based Aeros Corporation has created a prototype of its new breed of variable buoyancy aircraft and expects the vehicle to be finished before the end of 2012. With its new cargo handling technology, minimum fuel consumption, vertical take-off and landing features and point to point delivery, the Aeroscraft platform promises to revolutionize airship technology.

The Aeroscraft ship uses a suite of new mechanical and aerospace technologies. It operates off a buoyancy management system which controls and adjusts the buoyancy of the vehicle, making it light or heavy for any stages of ground and flight operation. Automatic flight control systems give it equilibrium in all flight modes and allow it to adjust helium pressurized envelopes depending on the buoyancy requirements. It just needs one pilot and has an internal ballast control system, which allows it to offload cargo, without using ballast. Built with a rigid structure, the Aeroscraft can control lift at all stages with its Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capabilities and carry maximum payload while in hover. What makes it different from other vehicles is that it does not need a runway or ground infrastructure.

Aeros has been running for 25 years as an airship producer as well as a research and development firm for the aerospace industry.

First, it has to be said that the Aeroscraft is not a blimp and it’s not a hybrid vehicle. And according to Aeros, it’s definitely nothing like the ill-fated LZ129 Hindenburg airship which crashed and burst into flames in New Jersey in 1937.

At the time, the disastrous crash was seen as the end of airships. But technology has marched on. The Aeroscraft is a completely different and radical design. The United States Patent and Trademark office issue assigned a design patent for the Aeroscraft in July 2012. Design elements include a smart automotive digital flight control system, enhanced envelope fabric and a robotic mooring system that make it superior in operations and maintenance. Of course, that means it has a minimum personnel requirement.

Aeroscraft prototype
Aeroscraft prototype

The vehicle is close to being completely built and ready for operation. The multilayer outer cover application is now in complete and the Aeros expects to finish construction over the next three weeks. The two front horizontal control surfaces, known in the industry as Canards, have been successfully tested and are ready to go.

So what can we expect to see next year?

The Aeroscraft prototype is 79 meters (260 ft) long, and while it is not designed to carry a payload, Aeros says the planned full-scale craft will be almost twice as long and will be capable of carrying a maximum payload of 66 tons with no infrastructure requirements. It is much simpler and easier than using a plane, which has the potential to significantly reduce air freight costs.

The vehicle, which promises to cut fuel consumption by one third of what’s traditionally generated by air freight, is designed to deliver payload directly to point of use, bypassing ports and highways, and taking goods to areas with minimum infrastructure. It has vertical take-off and landing capabilities, the ability to operate at low speed and it can hover from unprepared surfaces. Goods can be off-loaded with minimum ground handling.

Aeros says the vehicle would suit commercial operations and humanitarian missions involving search and rescue, emergency relief and airborne hospitals but the obvious area where we would most likely see it initially would be the military. It would be particularly useful for the Pentagon which is already deploying drones. A stationary or slow moving Aeroscraft could provide constant surveillance, potentially lingering over an area for days at a time.

Significantly, Aeros already has a commercial relationship with the US Army, picking up a contract in July for Technology Enabled Capability Demonstrations (TECD) in areas related to force protection. This involves the shrapnel and fragment resistant flexible panels based on Aeros Interfacial Debonding Energy Absorption (IDEA) fabric technology and portable lightweight structural hybrid truss towers based on Aeros’ composite hybrid truss design and fabrication process.

Aeros has already been talking to USTRANSCOM, the United States Transportation Command which is part of the Department of Defence.

Stay tuned for our in-depth interview with Aeros founder and CEO Igor Pasternak.

Source: Aeros

Editor's note: this article was amended on December 6, 2012 on receiving updated information from the company stating that the prototype Aersocraft is not designed to carry a payload.

70 comments
Nantha
A beautiful concept. But these craft will need clearly defined flightpaths that do not coincide with regular aeroplanes. Imagine driving on an expressway and then trying to evade a bullock cart. The low speeds could pose serious safety concerns.
Andrew McIntosh
This sounds fantastic. I would imagine that one of its greatest uses could be for commercial cargo transport in and around cities. Carrying goods directly from ports to their destinations and replacing many of the trucks that currently have to navigate busy roadways.
Ross Nicholson
When we make these much larger, wind will rotate about the shadow cast upon the ground, making these useful for moving fresh water to the interior. Operate enough of these high enough, and global warming will go poof, too.
J. James
Nantha, you'd be surprised how quick the Aeroscraft actually is. What would you guess it's speed is, if it is such a concern? 20 mph? 30? Well, actually, the top speed is 140 mph, which combined with the typical altitude it flies at, puts it roughly on par with a small single-engine airplane like a Cessna, or a large cargo helicopter. Regular airplanes fly miles above.
Satviewer2000
I can why the Hindenburg is brought up every time a dirigible article is written, but looking at how tens of thousands of people have since died in regular aircraft, the 35 people who perished on the Hindenburg is really paltry.
Nantha
@ J. James, yes you have a point that 140 mph seems pretty decent. Although compared to a regular airliner it would be about a quarter of that speed. And, as cargo vehicles there would be quite a number of them which means that there should be many of them in the air. At their lower speeds, each of these craft will be in the air for a long time, before getting to their destinations. This translates to many craft in the air at any one time. And they will be akin to lumbering giants, with huge payloads that will not be able to change direction quickly. The term airship quite accurately describes the way these these things move, with lots of momentum and inertia. I have always been a fan of airships but with today's world requiring huge amounts of goods transported, the new concern will be IN-TRANSIT air congestion. These craft would probably be best used over sea or vast areas of emptiness, in a role between a ship and a plane. It would be lovely to cruise in one of these over the Antarctic or Himalayas, if they can brave the weather.
Donny Bos
This is nothing new, 7 years ago a prototype was released in the UK named SKYCAT. Great concept for passengers and cargo but the project still did not take off...the cost savings and economies of scale are there. No airports required, point to point delivery. One can only wonder why this is still in prototype phase.
Dan Vasii
For transportation, there is a clear advantage for airships - 40% of fuel is spent by planes for taking off & landing. For short distances also, there is no need for long strips, etc. ...
Tim Collins
The Hindenburg disaster occurred not because "technology moved on" BUT because the US refused to supply the Germans with helium, forcing them to use highly volatile hydrogen..
mick2d2
Looks a bit like Thunderbird 2! 8)
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