Planned hybrid airship will combine aspects of planes, blimps and helicopters
It was just last year that we heard about the Plimp, a sort of plane/blimp/helicopter hybrid drone manufactured by Egan Airships. As was hinted at then, the Seattle-based company has now officially announced that it's working on a passenger-carrying variant known as the Model J.
First of all, just how does the original Plimp drone work?
Well, it's basically a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) blimp with two wings, each wing in turn equipped with an electric motor/propeller. When it's taking off, landing or hovering in one place, the wings rotate so that the props are facing straight up – this lets it move vertically. Once it's ready to head for its destination, though, the wings rotate so that the props face forward, allowing for fast and efficient fixed-wing flight.
Additionally, thanks to the buoyancy provided by its helium-filled envelope and the lift provided by its wings, it will reportedly glide gently down to the ground at a speed of 9 mph (14 km/h) if its motors give out.
Plans call for the Model J to have all of those same features, but it'll be bigger. More precisely, it will measure 169 feet long (51.5 m), have a 61-ft wingspan (18.5 m) and sit 54 ft tall (16.5 m). Its gross weight will be 9,500 lb (4,309 kg) although the envelope will be lifting 5,564 lb of that (2,524 kg), reducing its ground weight to 3,936 lb (1,785 kg).
Capable of carrying ten people (eight passengers plus crew) or 2,000 lb of cargo (907 kg), it will use electric power for its vertical take-offs and landings, with a hybrid gas/electric system taking over for fixed-wing flight. That system should provide a range of 267 miles (430 km) at a speed of 86 mph (138 km/h), or 320 miles (515 km) at 63 mph (101 km/h) – those figures are for a fully-laden aircraft. Short sprints at 93 mph (150 km/h) will also be possible.
As an added bonus, unlike regular blimps that have to land at airfields where a ground crew secures them to a mast, the VTOL-capable Model J will conceivably be able to set down just about anywhere there's room. And because it's somewhat heavier than air, it will be less likely than a traditional blimp to drift away once it's on the ground.
Buyers can expect to pay approximately four to six million US dollars for a Model J, paid at $1 million a year for four years, plus overages. If you're OK with that price and really want a Model J, you can preorder one via the company link at the end of the article. Not unlike the case with a Kickstarter project, the funds will be used to finance production and development. Delivery is expected to take place in about four years.
"Since experimenting with helium balloons and model balsa gliders as a child in the early 70's, I always conceived that there must be a certain streamlined way to retain a slow and safe descent speed and get vertical take-off and forward speeds through a rotational wing around the center of gravity/buoyancy of a buoyant hanging plane," Egan Airships CEO James Egan tells us. "This is the expert design my quest ordered up."
There's more information in the video below.
Company website: Egan Airships