A radical new kind of airship funded by the US military is about to make its first test flight – and it looks uncannily like the Thunderbird 2 craft from the classic TV show.
The Aeroscraft airship will carry three times as much as the biggest military cargo planes over thousands of miles, use a third of the fuel, and it doesn’t even need a landing strip.
It could also have major implications for cargo haulage, and almost everything now laboriously transported across the planet’s surface by boat, train and lorry could within years be carried through the skies, its makers claim.
International rescue: The silver-skinned Aeroscraft prototype sits in its hangar, where green light reflecting from it makes it look uncannily like Thunderbird Twov
California-based aviation firm Aeros, with heavy backing from the U.S. military, has been developing their revolutionary Aeroscraft for several years, and they say the airship is now in its final stages.
They have built a prototype which they hope will finally prove the concept works in practice and allow them to fine tune their systems.
Now all that needs to be done is for it to demonstrate the vertical take-off and landing that will make possible the point-to-point delivery features that will make it perfect for the commercial market.
The finished version of the Aeroscraft – expected to be ready in three years – will carry a payload of 66 tons at a speed of 120 knots, upto 18,000ft with a range of 3000 nautical miles.
That could revolutionise air transport, opening up remote areas where there is practically no other means of access.
It could carry relief supplies for victims in disaster areas, heavy oil-extraction equipment to northern Canada’s tar sands, huge turbines to remote wind farms and, of course, heavy military equipment to battlefields worldwide.
The key breakthrough has been the development of an internal system for managing ballast.
Previous airships have been held back by the need to weigh them down or tie them up while cargo is unloaded, lest they are suddenly carried away on the breeze.
But the Aeroscraft’s internal ballast management system gives its operators the ability to control the aircraft’s buoyancy by compressing the helium inside its tanks to make it heavier than air and bring down to the ground.
Once cargo has been loaded, the airship can rise by re-releasing the compressed helium into its containment tanks, making it again lighter than air, then using turbo-prop engines to control its diretion.
Because of this revolutionary system, Aeroscraft needs no airfield to operate, only a cleared area large enough for it to vertically take off and land, and enough labour on hand to unload the cargo.
Limited: Conventional airships are held back by the need for infrastructure that can enable ground crews to fill them with ballast as they are unloaded to stop them from floating away on the breeze
Internal ballast: The Aeroscraft, by contrast, is able to control its buoyancy using an internal ballast management system which means it can land anywhere that there is space to touch down
Aeros’s founder and CEO Igor Pasternak, 48, told Gizmag: ‘The advantage is you don’t need ground infrastructure. You can fly anywhere, you can land anywhere, you don’t need any ballast, you don’t need any ground crew.’
The airship has long been known as a ‘dream machine’ for visionary inventors.