Despite what you may think, it’s not the Hindenburg. Nor is it a blimp, dirigible, or zeppelin. You might wonder what the hell is the difference. Well, a blimp has no real structure, and the only thing holding its shape is gas pressure. A dirigible or zeppelin has some kind of internal structure or armature that helps it keep its shape, and it has special gas bladders (I know some people who have these) that help it stay buoyant. The Hindenburg’s internal structure was made of balsa wood—hello, fire hazard. But the new and improved model for the 21st century, the Aeroscraft, is a unique “rigid airship” that runs on helium—non-flammable helium. And if you suck it, you’ll sound like a chipmunk.
Ever heard of Aeros Corporation? Neither had I, until now. That’s because they’re the world’s biggest rigid airship maker (a geek with a dirty side must’ve come up with that term). They’ve been working on blimps…er, rigid airships for the future since 1996, and their latest craft has just completed a successful test flight. The model is 260 feet long, but the forthcoming model will be twice that and will be able to carry 66 tons of cargo. The rigid shell and internal ballast help the Aeroscraft achieve one of its primary features—vertical takeoff and landing. An internal bladder alters the weight of the craft relative to air—a concept called Control of Static Heaviness (COSH), which means the craft is heavier than air when it’s on the ground, but lighter than air in the sky, a pretty key concept.
The Aeroscraft has pressurized helium tanks that the pilot releases into the bladders, or helium pressure envelopes, to enable take-off. The helium reduces the weight of the craft and it rises; the opposite procedure enables landing. This process is not so different to the way submarines use compressed air. The forthcoming model will be equipped with three engines, six turbofan engines for the COSH lift, and rudders, and will be able to reach speeds of roughly 20 mph. This thing isn’t going to be breaking the sound barrier anytime soon, but that’s okay.
One of the biggest advantages of the Aeroscraft is that it eliminates the need for runways, making it a great option for delivering cargo (elephants, people, robots, pineapples—the Aeroscraft doesn’t discriminate when it comes to passengers). It can also hover for long periods of time, making in-air loading and unloading possible. Aeros believes their new craft has limitless military applications, as well as the ability to revolutionize commercial transport and humanitarian aid.
Here’s a vote of confidence for the design: it has received over $35 million from the government for research and development, and a few folks from NASA helped with the aerodynamics. All of this work came to fruition last weekend when the smaller test model, the Pelican, took to the skies—it was tethered, but untethered flights are coming soon. It’s a bird, it’s a plane… I’m just wondering how many people will mistake this for a UFO?