High-tech cargo airship being built in California (Update)

Jan 30, 2013 by Raquel Maria Dillon
The Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, is seen in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The massive blimp-like aircraft flies but just barely, hovering only a dozen feet off a military hangar floor during flight testing south of Los Angeles.

Still, the fact that the hulking Aeroscraft could fly for just a few minutes represents a step forward in aviation, according to the engineers who developed it. The Department of Defense and NASA have invested $35 million in the prototype because of its potential to one day carry more cargo than any other aircraft to disaster zones and forward military bases.

"I realized that I put a little dot in the line of aviation history. A little dot for something that has never been demonstrated before, now it's feasible," said flight control engineer Munir Jojo-Verge.

The airship is undergoing testing this month at Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, and must go through several more rounds of flight testing before it could be used in a disaster zone or anywhere else. The first major flight test took place Jan. 3.

The biggest challenge for engineers is making sure the airship will be able to withstand high winds and other extreme weather conditions, Jojo-Verge said.

Leonel Cruz pulls down the flab on the Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Worldwide Aeros, the company that developed the aircraft, said it also must secure more funding for the next round of flight testing, but is hopeful the Defense Department and others will step in again as investors.

The company says the cargo airship's potential to carry more cargo more efficiently than ever before would provide the U.S. military with an advantage on the battlefield and greater capacity to save more lives during natural disasters.

Bradley Hasemeyer, the host of AOL's Trasnlogic show, uses his smartphone to photograph the Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, outside a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside the blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The lighter-than-air vehicle is not a blimp or a zeppelin 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 give the vehicle lift.

The airship functions like a submarine, releasing air to rise and taking in air to descend, said Aeros mechanical engineer Tim Kenny. It can take off vertically, like a helicopter, then change its buoyancy to become heavier than air for landing and unloading.

Aerospace engineer Munir Jojo works in the cockpit of the Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

"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," Kenny said.

The project has set abuzz the old hangars at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin. The structures were built to hold blimps during World War II. Now workers zip around in cherry-pickers, and the airship's silvery surface shines against the warm tones of the aging wood of the walls.

Electrical engineer Varoujan Sarkissuan, left, and aerospace engineer Munir Jojo chat in the cockpit of the Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

"You could take this vehicle and go to destinations that have been destroyed, where there's no ports, no runways, stuff like that. This vehicle could go in there, offload the cargo even if there's no infrastructure, no landing site for it to land on, this vehicle can unload its whole payload," said Kenny.

Next, Aeros wants to build a full-size 450-foot (137-meter) -long vehicle that can carry 66 tons (60 metric tons) of payload.

The Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, is seen in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, is seen in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship is has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


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antialias_physorg
3.9 / 5 (12) Jan 30, 2013
Inside, balloons hold the helium that give the vehicle lift.

Sounds expensive.

with an advantage on the battlefield

I was under the impression that speed (and not being a big, fat, unarmored, slow moving target) was an advantage on the battlefield.

This should be more in the commercial sector for long range hauls of unwieldy cargo, where the time factor isn't very important.

As for disaster zones: It's good for landing stuff there. But it's not so good for getting stuff there, fast. (Which is pretty essential in the events of a disaster)

ivo_dekeijzer
3.7 / 5 (6) Jan 30, 2013
"As for disaster zones: It's good for landing stuff there. But it's not so good for getting stuff there, fast. (Which is pretty essential in the events of a disaster)"

Exactly. The speed is too slow to be off use unless it happens to be prepared and only hundreds of miles out. If it`s 2000 Miles or more out it`s completely useless with an average speed of roughly 35 miles per hour for these kind of airships it would take over 2 days.

And helium will be getting more and more expensive as it runs out here on earth (Ask the scientist complying about it still being used and wasted in party balloons).

For terrorists or forces of other nations it also is a big and easy target. The airships designs supported by NASA has been attempted many times in different forms. It never became huge for all the good reasons. Not least because to carry significant payloads the thing would need to be much larger then this and thus only increasing it`s cost and problems.

Pkunk_
3.7 / 5 (9) Jan 30, 2013
Damn, this looks like something right out of an alternative steampunk universe. The cockpit is quite impressive and looks like its made by someone who knows what they're doing.
While airships can be slow , they offer impressive fuel efficiency especially with heavy cargo. They can do inland what cargo ships do in the sea. If someone cracks the problems of actually building a working prototype then it'll be great for those land-locked areas.
antialias_physorg
3.2 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
they offer impressive fuel efficiency especially with heavy cargo.

I wasn't thinking so much about heavy cargo but more about stuff that otherwise blocks highway traffic (e.g. turbine blades for windfarms which can reach 100 meters)
It also saves the trouble of shifting from on-shore transportation to off-shore transportation and back (truck-ship-truck) IF there is an area at the production facility and target where the craft can pick up the cargo (which isn't necessarily a given). If there is not then that advantage isn't that great.
ScottyB
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
that looks COOL!!! i want a ride!!
Birger
3 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2013
This could really be something for third-world countries that can not afford a traditional modern transport infrastructure.
In regard to terrorist threat: these things do not explode. A bullet hole in the canopy will merely make a blimp descend slowly. Diesel engines with heat-suppressed exhausts will be invisible to heat seeking missiles.
Eikka
3 / 5 (6) Jan 30, 2013
with an average speed of roughly 35 miles per hour for these kind of airships it would take over 2 days.


You can't airdrop an entire field hospital even if you can fly an airplane to the location. 2 days late is better than nothing at all.

The main problem is, that in order to get goods to a disaster site with helicopters, you need to establish a logistics post near the disaster site where the helicopters can operate from because they have a limited range and carrying capacity. Then you have to establish a logistics chain that carries goods over to that site first.

That takes time anyways. These airships can come in from a thousand miles away in just the same time as it takes for you to set up the supply lines, or if weather is not permitting them to reach the site directly, they can unload supplies at the secondary site. The secondary site can be in the middle of a field with no major highway/railroad/airport nearby, and be used for a quick resupply depot for the helicopters
Husky
3 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2013
you could mount 8 phalanx C-RAM unit on it for 360 coverage and multiple target engagement, i can see it hoovering above a carrier group or an important forward millitary base to protect it.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Jan 30, 2013
A bullet hole in the canopy will merely make a blimp descend slowly.

Which is sorta bad for the crew. Because by definition they'll land somewhat close to the guy firing the gun without being able toget away.

And combatants are notorious for having tools that can dispense more than one bullet (i.e. make more than one hole in a rather short time).
On occasion they are known for having stuff that makes rather big holes in one go.
2 days late is better than nothing at all.

Helicopters are still much better. And you can get them anywhere in the world in (compareably) no time. They don't need anything except for fuel (which the blimp needs, too) and a very modest level area.

or if weather is not permitting them to reach the site directly

Weather not permitting (anywhere en route) you can forget about blimps completely. Helicopters can fly against head/sidewinds. Blimps either crash or fly backwards.
antialias_physorg
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
i can see it hoovering above a carrier group or an important forward millitary base to protect it.

They tried that in WWI for bombers and spotters (and as far back as the american civil war balloons were tried for spotters).
Not a popular post. Snipers, artillery, planes have all the time in the world to shoot them down, and they are so unwieldy that it's next to impossible to get them down/away if threatened - which is a given for a frontline spotter unit.
Large, unarmored, (semi-)stationary targets are an all-time favorite of ALL weapons systems.
SarCasm
3.6 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
This will be useless when the Helium is gone.
Mannstein
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2013
It makes a great Sky Hook.
The Singularity
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 30, 2013
A few of these could put the ice road truckers out of business!.
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2013
The article should have mentioned that the cruise speed for the full-sized Aeroscraft is specified at 120 kt.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (3) Jan 30, 2013
Hydrogen works just fine in an airship. The fire visible in the Hindenburg disaster is mostly from the diesel fuel and varnished skin. A hydrogen leak would be vented upwards, since hydrogen is lighter than air, and at worst would burn off as the craft slowly descended.

My complaint is this line:
"The lighter-than-air vehicle is not a blimp or a zeppelin because it has a rigid structure"

From Wikipedia:
"The most important feature of Zeppelin's design was a rigid light-alloy skeleton, made of rings and longitudinal girders."
It IS a Zeppelin.

The Sigularity: One of the most practical purposes. They'd be ideal for Arctic use. No roads or paved landing strips needed.
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (3) Jan 30, 2013
Which is sorta bad for the crew. Because by definition they'll land somewhat close to the guy firing the gun without being able toget away.


If by close by you mean up to a hundred miles... nah, forget it. The air bladder in a large dirigible is so close to atmospheric pressure anyways that even if you blew a hole in it with a bowling ball, it would probably take hours to empty.

Helicopters are still much better. And you can get them anywhere in the world in (compareably) no time. They don't need anything except for fuel (which the blimp needs, too) and a very modest level area.


With helicopters you have to compromize between cargo capacity and operating range, because the more stuff you load in the more throttle you have to give just to stay in the air. A blimp uses the same amount of fuel to go forwards whether it's loaded or not.

So yes, you can dispatch a helicopter form 500 miles away and have it fly back to the base - empty both ways.
krundoloss
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
Maybe we could float one of these in the right spot and ride the jetstream? Just a thought. If they could be made cheap enough, they could even be unmanned. I always liked the idea of a zeppelin, I wish they could find a way to make them fast AND lighter than air.
stephen_funck
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
Not good for general cargo use. See concordlift.com for a much better, heavier lift, faster, alternative. No issue identified that it is unworkable - engineering or impractical - business use. Potential build in the 1000s.
Eikka
3 / 5 (4) Jan 30, 2013
Weather not permitting (anywhere en route) you can forget about blimps completely. Helicopters can fly against head/sidewinds. Blimps either crash or fly backwards.


Blimps use no extra fuel to stay afloat unlike helicopters, so they can dodge weather en-route by simpy changing their altitude and climbing above the weather. Helicopters are bound to fight the winds because they would use more fuel to climb higher, and they wouldn't have enough for the return trip.

The problems start when they need to land at the disaster site, and it's still too windy.
Eikka
3 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
Hydrogen works just fine in an airship. The fire visible in the Hindenburg disaster is mostly from the diesel fuel and varnished skin. A hydrogen leak would be vented upwards, since hydrogen is lighter than air, and at worst would burn off as the craft slowly descended.


The main reason why the entire skin of the Hindenburg caught fire that fast was because of the hydrogen bladders that caught fire on the inside, and the skin of the ship burst into flames from the radiant heat of the hydrogen fire. The skin itself wasn't -that- flammable, despite the crazy theories that it was made out of thermite.

A bubble of hydrogen in free air is not actually all that fast to leave the scene because it diffuses and mixes into air quickly, and in doing so it no longer has the same kind of lift. It burns more violently though. The entire fireball was over in less than 60 seconds, and it was so intense that some of the spectators got burns from the infrared radiation.
Eikka
3 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
That's also the problem with other hydrogen leaks here on the ground. If hydrogen is diffused into air, it rises up much much slower because lift is a large scale phenomenon. At the molecular scale, the interaction between molecules is stronger than the effect of local density differences.

As an analogy, if you mix water and alcohol, in theory the alcohol should rise to the top because it's 22% lighter than water, but in practice you never have to shake a bottle of vodka to re-mix it. Only in very large vats do you see a concentration gradient, if it stays still for a very long time.

This is problematic for small leaks that go unnoticed for some time, because the concentration can rise over the explosive limits in an enclosed space, or under overhanging structures. For larger leaks, the bulk of the hydrogen won't have time to mix with air and will rise quickly to be blown away by the winds.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
With the upgraded C-5M Galaxy hauling 140 tons, why do we need this blimp?

Areas with no runways need food? Parachute pallets of food out the back during a slow pass.
trapezoid
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
Damn, this looks like something right out of an alternative steampunk universe.

Flight of the Navigator
El_Nose
5 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2013
We will ot run out of helium any time soon, even with Congress getting rid of the national heluim reserves. every new oil well taps more and more heluim and this is added to the supply chain. It's the reason we are getting rid of the national heluim reserve.

But for all those that don't get the military application:

Our military sets up, and then goes to war. And many coutriese do not have a military presence outside of their borders. The US does, that is why it's military is SO strong. It exists near almost every foreign asset. So if we needed to say move 1000 tanks we can, through friendly airspace and international water. Where MOST potential enemies have no presence.

This would not be used in the battlefield.. but in setting up a battle field. Preparation wins wars.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (15) Jan 30, 2013
Which is sorta bad for the crew. Because by definition they'll land somewhat close to the guy firing the gun without being able toget away.
-Guessing again AA?

"a top speed of 120 knots (222 km/h), and a flight ceiling of 12,000 feet (3,700 m)."

-or 140 mph.

"The craft also uses Dynamic Buoyancy Management, a novel technology which controls buoyancy by compressing its helium gas into pressurized tanks...Releasing the compressed helium into the gas bags expanding inside the structure displaces the air and creates positive buoyancy"

-Meaning that separate bags could compensate for leaks. Holes would tend to be in the bottom of the craft anyway. Result - it would descend far slower than any other damaged craft, including hot air balloons, with plenty of time and speed to maneuver away from danger.
https://www.googl...ie=UTF-8
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (15) Jan 30, 2013
As an analogy, if you mix water and alcohol, in theory the alcohol should rise to the top because it's 22% lighter than water, but in practice
Not a valid comparison - alcohol is hydrophilic which is why it is used as a dessicant.
every new oil well taps more and more heluim and this is added to the supply chain. It's the reason we are getting rid of the national heluim reserve
There is a shortage:

"Experts say the shortage has many causes. Because helium is a byproduct of natural gas extraction, a drop in natural gas prices has reduced the financial incentives for many overseas companies to produce helium. In addition, suppliers' ability to meet the growing demand for helium has been strained by production problems around the world. Helium plants that are being built or are already operational in Qatar, Algeria, Wyoming and elsewhere have experienced a series of construction delays or maintenance troubles."

-Why is otto the fact checker of physorg?
Egleton
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 30, 2013
No naval convoys across the Atlantic were lost if they were accompanied by an airship during WW2. The airship could see the U boats.
A U boat surfaced and challenged an airship, blowing holes through it with their deck cannon.
It took 15 min for the airship to settle onto the ocean. Plenty of time for the airship to return fire and sink the U boat.

And the Hindenburg was painted with aluminum powder and iron oxide (Thermite) to prevent superheating and subsequent venting of the H during the day.
The fact was supressed by the Zeppelin company for insurance purposes.
80% of the people on board walked away. "Oh the Humanity" was a bit of over the top hyperbole. Consider the survival rate of the two Jumbos that pranged in Tenerife. (0% for those who are not good at maths.)

Those who advocate Heavier than air craft because, in their short lives, oil has always been as available as air, should examine their assumptions.
dan42day
2 / 5 (4) Jan 31, 2013
Still waiting for someone to claim that we can make all the helium we need with cold fusion!
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jan 31, 2013
Not a valid comparison - alcohol is hydrophilic which is why it is used as a dessicant.


Fair point.

But let's use another lighter than air gas. If you take a roomful of methane mixed with air, it won't actually rise to the ceiling when it's all settled. You'll see a slight concentration gradient where you have less methane at the floor and more at the ceiling, but nevertheless methane in the entire volume of the room because the lift of the gas is much weaker than the random collisions bumping the molecules around and making it diffuse. With hydrogen you'd see a steeper gradient, but still the gas will diffuse, even downwards.

And the Hindenburg was painted with aluminum powder and iron oxide (Thermite)


Thermite is when you mix these two at a specific ratio at a small grain size. The paint in the Hindenburg was in layers, not mixed, and it takes considerable heat to ignite thermite - e.g. burning magnesium - in the first place even when it's properly mixed.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (2) Jan 31, 2013
a top speed of 120 knots (222 km/h), and a flight ceiling of 12,000 feet (3,700 m)

They were talking about using this for deliveries on the battlefield. On the battlefield, during a delivery, that thing is neither 3,700m up nor 222km/h fast. It's sitting there being the worlds biggest/slowest/most enticing target.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.3 / 5 (15) Jan 31, 2013
On the battlefield, during a delivery, that thing is neither 3,700m up nor 222km/h fast. It's sitting there being the worlds biggest/slowest/most enticing target
You think the military would intentionally fly these things where they would be shot down? Thats a little unrealistic isnt it?

"the Aeroscraft has six downward-pointing turbofan jet engines for vertical take-off and landing"

I assume they would be used like C5, Mi-26 Halo, and other heavy lift vehicles:

"C-5s have also been used to deliver support and reinforce various US allies over the years. During the Yom Kippur war in 1973, multiple C-5s and C-141 Starlifters delivered critical supplies of ammunition, replacement weaponry and other forms of aid to Israel, the US effort was named as Operation Nickel Grass."

"Bell Boeing Quad TiltRotor - a C-130-size V/STOL transport for the US Army...payload of up to 25,000 lb (11,000 kg) in a hover."
_traw_at
not rated yet Feb 01, 2013
Putting flexible thin-skin solar cell material on the outside, and using the energy to heat the gasses inside to make it less dense, will give it more lifting capacity. A kind of hybrid airship/ hot air balloon.
The electricity could also be used to run motors to help move the craft, and extend their flying range somewhat.
On the outer edge of things like this, it could also be used to generate ozone to help heal the ozone hole over the poles.
If the craft flies at, say, 2 or more miles above the ground surface, most bullets won't reach it... :-)
stephen_funck
not rated yet Feb 02, 2013
Not good for general cargo. See concordlift.com for heavier lift, faster, low cost. 5 Million containers are in motion, it would take 1000 of the largest ConcordLift to move 1%. Lower cost than truck train small ship. Presented at professional conference AIAA.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (11) Feb 02, 2013
Putting flexible thin-skin solar cell material on the outside, and using the energy to heat the gasses inside to make it less dense, will give it more lifting capacity. A kind of hybrid airship/ hot air balloon.
You want to convert sunlight to electricity at 12% max efficiency and then convert it again into heat energy? This sounds a little inefficient don't you think? Might just offset the weight of the panel matl but probably not.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2013
They were talking about using this for deliveries on the battlefield. On the battlefield, during a delivery, that thing is neither 3,700m up nor 222km/h fast. It's sitting there being the worlds biggest/slowest/most enticing target.


Of course you don't drive it to the frontlines just like you wouldn't a heavy cargo helicopter because they would just get shot at. They would be used to establish an efficient logistics chain from port to base camp in the absence of roads and rail, and the delivery to the frontlines would be done with small helicopters that can get in and out quickly.

The main advantage of airships over heavy lift helicopters is that they use fraction of the fuel, they're mechanically more reliable, cheaper to maintain, safer, quieter, and they don't blow stuff around when they land.
SteveL
not rated yet Feb 03, 2013
RPG's are fairly accessible to combatants, SAMs and MANPADS less so but still available. The holes either make are significantly larger than bullet holes. If they can hit a plane or helicopter in flight there should be no issue hitting what is basically a comparatively slow moving non-agile blimp. Either should be able to split the flight platform wide open, if not in two, making for a rapid descent.

If such a platform were to be used for military purposes they should certainly utilize multiple active protection systems.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (11) Feb 03, 2013
RPG's are fairly accessible to combatants, SAMs and MANPADS less so but still available. The holes either make are significantly larger than bullet holes.
Sorry it would be much easier to bring down a C141 or heavy lift helicopter than one of these. And they are not slow moving.
If such a platform were to be used for military purposes they should certainly utilize multiple active protection systems.
And of course, they will, just like they do everything else they use.
They were talking about using this for deliveries on the battlefield. On the battlefield...It's sitting there being the worlds biggest/slowest/most enticing target.
And youre guessing again. What an embarrassing habit. The military WILL use them in certain venues because of their obvious advantages and they WILL NOT expend them recklessly. Obviously.

Here is a similar such target
http://www.youtub...9vlnqRuo
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (11) Feb 03, 2013
Heres an old airship design (I couldnt find a climb rate for this new airship but with turbofans and milspec I assume it would be a lot faster):

Goodyear GZ-20 airship
Rate of climb: 2,400 ft/min (12.2 m/s)

To compare:

Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe
Rate of climb: 1,330 ft/min (6.75 m/s)

Lockheed C-141 Starlifter
Rate of climb: 2,600 ft/min (13.2 m/s)

C-17 Globemaster III
Approach speed: 213 km/h (132 mph)

-Again this is extrapolating among different craft; but in comparable areas of vulnerability (takeoff and landing) the airship is comparable to current heavy lifters. And it probably has at least twice the climb rate of the sikorsky.

Airships are faster than you would expect.
DirtySquirties
1 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2013
Amazing how so many of you dipsticks assume it's slow...

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