There are plenty of ways to move cargo around the planet, but none is perfect.
Planes require long quality runways and a lot of ground infrastructure to support their use. Ships are slow and can’t travel far inland. Trucks are small.
Now a company from Southern California believes it has a new way of moving cargo that will revolutionise the industry, and change aviation forever.
They’re using a zeppelin.
The Aeroscraft is the product of Worldwide Aeros Corp., founded by Igor Pasternak, a Ukrainian who moved to the United States in the 1990s. According to the company, Pasternak found an easy way control zeppelins in flight, making them a practical way to transport huge loads through the air.
If their plan works, the Aeroscraft will not only change how we move commercial goods, it will make humanitarian relief and military missions easier and more practical. It uses only one third as much fuel as a traditional cargo plane, and doesn’t require building airports or roads.
With a 2005 grant of $US3 million from the Pentagon’s DARPA, Aeros developed the technology, and built a working prototype.
Now they’re getting ready for an imminent maiden test flight.
At the Paris Air Show in June, we sat down for an interview with the Aeros Team, including Vice President Shenny Yao and Director of Strategic Finance William C. Feeley.
They explained to us why this is a technology that could change the shipping industry, and how they plan to bring it to the market.
The Aeroscraft will come in two sizes: 66-ton capacity and 250-ton capacity. Its big advantage over a plane is that it takes off and lands vertically.
The key breakthrough came from Igor Pasternak. He devised a method to compress helium, making the ship heavier or lighter when necessary. That way, it doesn't float away as soon as its cargo is unloaded.
The advantage of the Aeros is that it doesn't need runways to take off or land. That means commercial operations in remote areas don't need to build airports and miles of roads to get heavy equipment to the scene.
It will also be able to fly military and humanitarian missions, where the ground infrastructure may not work for large planes.
To get the cargo out, the pilot lands the Aeroscraft, or keeps it hovering low above the ground. Cranes built into the ship's ceiling can lower goods out of 10 to 12 different pickup points. The pilot can control the ship's ballast so it doesn't tip over while unloading.
Much like a modern jet, the Aeroscraft will have two pilots, but can be operated by one person. The controls are based on a 'very easy automated system,' Yao said.
The Aeroscraft will cruise at 115 mph -- a lot slower than the average 567 mph of a 747-400 jet. But the company argues that because the ship can take the cargo directly from its origin to destination -- without going through airports or ports -- it can actually deliver goods more quickly than a plane.
The Aeroscraft is built to meet military specifications. Bullets don't pierce its skin. And unlike a balloon, it won't collapse if something does create a hole.
Yao: skin designed to be bulletproof, and cockpit and wheels can be retracted.
Like the landing gear, the cockpit, sits on the bottom of the ship and is retractable, a safety advantage in dangerous situations.
Aeros's plan is to operate a charter fleet of the airships, and says it could deliver the first one by mid-2015.
On a full tank of diesel, the 66-ton version can fly 3,567 miles with a full payload, and the 250-ton can go nearly 7,000 miles.
They have plenty of confidence in their business model. Their target market is 'almost irrelevantly large,' Feeley said. 'We really don't envision much in the way of competition for a substantial period.'
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