Back to the Future with Cargo Airship

It looks like a blimp but technically it isn’t one because it has a rigid structure made out of ultra-light carbon fiber and aluminum underneath its high-tech Mylar skin. Inside, balloons hold the helium that gives the vehicle lift. Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg airship that crashed in 1937, helium is not flammable.

The Aeroscraft is being developed by Worldwide Aeros for use as a cargo aircraft that could bring a large load of supplies into areas without a prepared landing surface.

According to an AP report posted at Military.com, the airship functions like a submarine, releasing air to rise and taking in air to descend.  It can take off vertically, like a helicopter, then change its buoyancy to become heavier than air for landing and unloading.

“It allows the vehicle to set down on the ground. And then when we want to become lighter than air, we release that air and then the vehicle floats and we can allow it to take off,” project chief engineer Tim Kenny said.

DoD and NASA have invested $35 million in prototype testing so far, and Aeros is looking for more funding to start the next phase.  Eventually the company wants to build a full-size 450-foot-long vehicle that can carry 66 tons of payload.

  • riceball

    A lighter than air craft that has a rigid skin, there’s already a term for those kind of aircraft, they’re called zepplins.

  • Roy Smith

    I like the idea of having an airship that can move heavy equipment like main battle tanks,but I also see,if this actually comes into being,a GIGANTIC slow moving target just begging the enemy to “shoot me down.” You need either absolute control over the skies to prevent enemy aircraft from shooting it down(& you need defensive counter-measures against mobile anti-air missiles or mobile anti-aircraft guns),or you need to paint a gigantic “bulls eye” target on it.

    • Skygod 225

      A slow moving target that the enemy can shoot down…Hell I wanted to shoot down the Areostat balloon over the closest FOB when I was in Bdad…it was just begging for some MA Deuce action…

    • Jacob

      Could still be useful for logistics far from the front lines.

    • XYZ

      Full-size version carries 66 tons of payload… An Abrams is 67. As my instinct told me when I started reading this, there’s a huge size-payload ratio. And this thing would be friggin huge to be able to carry more than one Abrams. That said, 66 tons for an airship is a lot.

    • Tom

      Yeah, using a gigantic slow moving airship that can’t defend itself to move cargo is as dumb an idea as using a gigantic slow moving sea vessels that can’t defend itself, I’m sure the military wouldn’t do either of those.

    • Sean

      We already have air superiority, and all of the defensive measures well in place.

    • tumaini

      why do you have to think in terms of war? why cant you think of its peacetime usage, like disaster zone supplies, etc?

  • blight_

    66 tons is a little unrealistic for an airship. For perspective, this 450 foot monster is more than twice the length of a C-17, but the plus side is it can deliver cargo without a long, properly graded runway.

    You need a huge volume of gas of lower density than surrounding air to deliver 66 tons: The precise amount you need is the delta-mass between helium in the canopy and mass of gondola and cargo versus the equivalent volume of outside air.

    Maybe it will come with some kind of lifting body to help keep it aloft in flight, or perhaps use tilt-rotor props to apply an upwards force to aid in keeping it aloft?

  • blight_
  • C-Low

    Compress it. Compressed gas tuns into liquid and goes heavier than air rather than the lighter than air gas. Decompressing the liquefied gas would lose weight and gain lift. Either way you lose no product and just go back and forth with the material state.

    The proposals still have some lift from forward motion so the air ship will still be moving over a hundred miles an hour at 20k feet the weapons able to reach it will be limited. The gas sacks divided up would mean it would take allot of fire to bring her down and even if it would be a slow decent less impact than a auto rotation of a helicopter. Ohh and those same weapons if they made hits on say a C-17 would be allot more destructive. Either way we are talking a behind the lines resupply type system not made for assault.

    • Giovanni

      The idea to use this flying whale for military transport is completely insane. It would be an irresistible flying bull eye for the enemy to shoot it down in a theater of war. I was the developer of the Hybrid Airship platform for the purpose of suppressing major forest fires, then using the same platform for mechanized re-forestation. However in addition to static lift you need dynamic lift for optimum control and safety.

  • tiger

    As there are few Air ship hangers, Is this located at Lakehurst by any chance?

  • Phono

    the problem with zeppelins and lighter than air technology is, that is has no resilience against the wind. Usually it has to much surface and to less weight to be controlable in strong winds.

  • Dfens

    Oh look, a missile magnet! Unsurvivable, can’t operate in bad weather, f’ing expensive to design, build, and operate. What a great way to waste billions of your tax dollars. They cancelled the SR-71so they can build these pieces of crap? Brilliant.

  • Guest

    Heavy lift cargo, ASW operations, maritime surveillence, AEW, AWACS….

    What’s not to like?

  • Guest

    This is an offshoot of DARPA’s Walrus program from a few years ago. It actually compresses air into tanks for ballast. This counters the lift that the Helium provides. The body provides some lift. It is much more flattened than a dirigible. The engines are turbines optimized for electrical generation and located within the body of the craft. The props are driven by electric motors. I imagine the exhaust from the turbines could provide some push also.

    • zivbnd

      I think it actually compresses the helium in the balonets, allowing air to flow into the space between the balonet and the mylar, hence decreasing lift, which can be counteracted by either using the 6 downward mounted turbo fans, rotating the lift props upward, or releasing the compressed helium back into the balonet. Plus, the body of the aircraft itself forms a lifting surface of sorts. Kind of slick.

  • Guest

    The balloon system that Richard Branson and two others used years ago used the same basic principle. It did not take much compression of the air to control altitude to stay within a given air current from the looks of that design.

  • elportonative77

    Imagine this thing carrying 1500 metric tonnes and going 150 knots! It would be able to go from Travis AFB to Japan in a little over a day. Now imagine a flight of four doing this. Talk about rapidly deploying forces.

    • Dfens

      Now imagine they hit a storm over the Pacific. 6,000 metric tonnes of cargo at the bottom of the ocean. Not with my tax dollars!

      • elportonative77

        Oh come on. Say a CRAF aircraft with 300 men ends up on the bottom of the Pacific or a fully loaded MSC ro-ro springs a leak end up on the bottom of the Pacific. Then what? Sh*t can happen but hey that’s life. I think DARPA, DoD and NASA are making a good move by investing in this aircraft and concept.

        • Dfens

          Commercial and military transport aircraft fly over the weather at Mach 0.8, not through it at Mach 0.01.

  • guest

    Global helium shortage…

    • CJHFl

      And the US is closing the Strategic Helium Reserve.

  • Prodozul

    Apparently this thing is going to be in the new dlc of Battlefield 3

  • Robert C

    I wonder if this concept will survive the Sequester coming up.

    • Curt

      Since R&D has been funded primarily by the Oil and Mining Industry, I don’t see it being an issue.

      • Belesari

        Except these would make it possible to set up oil rigs and supply them in very remote places and do a host of things far cheaper. And actucally I and every american tax payer funds R&D.

  • Belesari

    Really is funny how little people know about this type of technology.

    Oh and the Irony of people flaming how its gonna get destroyed but the 1.5+ billion dollar San Antonio’s are like freaking ninja’s and no sub or ASBM is EVER going to sink one.

    • Roy Smith
      • Belesari

        Because if your enemy is poping out nukes then it doesnt matter the war goes nuclear and its over.

        The renditions are just the fetish of the artist they want sexy and badass. Im sure you can find pics of C-17’s dropping troops off while being shot at by tanks.

        Also the majority of missiles will go through the bladders without detonating. Same for rounds. If we followed your pov then no blackhawk, chinook, or anything else can go into a area with ANYONE in it.

        Also consider. This thing will be able to haul tons of people. What type of defensive armament could it mount.

        • Roy Smith
  • Chuck

    What’s going on in the comments here? Do people think all military airlift goes to hostile territory? I’ll bet 99% of military airlift is through non-contested territory.

  • Rob

    Couldn’t they fly above most weather? With the right engines, doppler, SATNAV, you can run an automated cargo train using high altitude winds for an assist. I wouldn’t put troops up at 65,000, but I’d put heavy equipment, base components, UCAVs; reinforced comms, sensor arrays and relays, etc.

    • Dfens

      Sure, they can go waaaaay high, but the payload fraction goes waaaaay low. Plus you know they’re coming for days instead of hours. What a bonus.

  • chaos0xomega

    Personally, I think this would make the Navy largely obsolete (assuming the AF gets with the program and gets on board with this). Traditional and Hybrid rigid-body airships are cheaper, more efficient, and have lower operating costs than any ship out there (or for that matter, plane). Depending on design they can reach ridiculously high altitudes, and stay aloft for extended periods of time.

    Besides their applications of moving large amounts of cargo long distances in a relatively short amount of time, and using it as an ISR platform, imagine replacing the P-3 and P-8 fleets with a handful of airships carrying rocket-assisted torpedoes and advanced sub-detection suites, remotely operated from shore facilities? If they can demonstrate reliability, they could be utilized as an element of the nuclear triad (quadrilateral?). AWACS? Yep. Missile shield/”bomb truck”? Yep. And so on and so forth. As long as you avoid the hydrogen, they are more survivable than any other aircraft out there…

  • Ping

    Compression of the helium into a smaller, yet still gaseous volume is the trick i think. Taking it all the way to liquid would be way too energy intensive. Describing it as letting air in only accounts for the constant volume of the aerodynamic structure. That flattened structure also has a greater dynamic body lift in forward motion than the tubular sectioned standard airship. Interestingly the parallels to submersible boats brings to mind one of the very first such craft built by Cornelius Drebbel in the 1600’s. It reduced its sealed volume somewhat like an accordion using jacks to allow it to sink with air under somewhat increased pressure.

  • FASnipeHT2

    Possibly a precursor to the floating carrier?

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