An airship prototype that is designed to carry heavy and oversized cargo to areas with limited infrastructure. It doesn't need a runway, it has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, and the ability to hover over surfaces.
(CBS News) -- There was a time when it was common for airships and
blimps to fill the skies of America and Europe. That all changed with
one simple word: Hindenburg. Now, more than 75 years later, airships
could be taking off again.
It looks like a big balloon,
but engineer Tim Kenny with Worldwide Aeros Corp., of Tustin, Calif.,
calls his airship the evolution of air transport. It's the Aeroscraft: a
270-feet-long, 100-feet-tall prototype of the actual airship that will
be twice as big and designed to lift tons of cargo.
remarkable, not just for what it can carry, but where. Kenny explained,
"There is no place that this vehicle can't go, we can go anywhere
there's no ports, no runways, it could be the rainforest, it could be
the Arctic, we can land on snow, ice, water."
And all at
speeds putting traditional truck or ship cargo carriers to shame: 100
miles per hour, from New York to Los Angeles in a little more than a
day. Airships seem so practical, some wonder why they ever went away in
the first place.
Airships first graced the skies back in
the 1920s and 1930s as surveillance platforms, cargo carriers, and even
passenger luxury liners. That all came to a tragic end in May 1937 when
the Hindenburg crashed, killing 26 people. It's believed a spark ignited
the volatile hydrogen gas that kept the Hindenburg afloat.
The future of airships was thought to be over.
Pasternak, the Ukranian-born chief executive officer of Worldwide Aeros
Corp., said, "The picture of Hindenburg, it will be there in people's
But Pasternak wants to erase that image. His
creation is lifted by non-flammable, lighter-than-air helium. It's not
just bigger than earlier airships, but far safer, he says.
he's not alone. Dozens of companies are working on next-generation
airships. Lockheed Martin designed an airship to haul heavy equipment to
remote parts of the globe. But the aerospace company couldn't find
funding to mass produce it.
Graham Warwick, an aviation
analyst with Aviation Week, an information and services provider to the
global aviation, aerospace and defense industries, said, "We're very
close, probably closer than we've ever been since airships started being
operated to building something that the commercial world can use."
says the only funder with the deep pockets and technical know-how to
get new airships off the ground is the U.S. military. Last August, the
Army and aviation giant Northrop Grumman Corporation took to the skies
with this $517 million aircraft, designed as a surveillance platform
loaded with cameras. But with the Afghan war winding down, it now sits
in a hangar with its further funding in doubt.
said, "One of the concerns is, is that the military is going to lose
interest before the commercial world can pick it up."
Aeroscraft got off the ground with just $35 million from the military,
but engineer Kenny is convinced it will stay afloat because of its
unique technology. He said, "If I wanna put the payload on, I just push a
button and it automatically will adjust the vehicle to either be
lighter if we add the payload, or become heavier if we remove the
That means no need for ground crews or long
mooring ropes. It stays stable in high winds. The Aeroscraft is awaiting
Federal Aviation Administration approval to take a test flight outside
the hangar. Then, this California crew is betting the sky's the limit.