In a large warehouse in Southern California, a futuristic-looking metallic airship that looks more like an Area 51 UFO is set to revolutionize the cargo transport industry.
"First float" maneuvers, performed in a controlled in-hanger exercise earlier this month, were the first lift-off of the Aeroscraft prototype model ML866, the world's only Rigid Variable Buoyancy Air Vehicle.
The lighter-than-air vertical takeoff air transport vehicle is designed for oversized freight transportation, and someday possibly luxury travel. With a planned 20-ton lifting capacity, several U.S. agencies including DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Defense are betting that the Aeroscraft will modernize the world's mega-projects, facilitating movement of heavy equipment and supplies in urban, remote, and ecologically sensitive locations.
Made of aluminum and carbon fiber and filled with pressurized helium, the 230-foot Aeroscraft is covered in a reflective Mylar skin which makes it appear as though it's just arrived from a Hollywood back lot of the latest J.J. Abrams film.
The fuel-efficient Aeroscraft uses about a third of the fuel of conventional aircraft. It's also able to fit into tight spaces and geographic locations which might be difficult to access with regular aircraft. The vertical takeoff and landing system requires no runways or even ground staff to oversee the landing.
Aeros CEO and founder Igor Pasternak, who is also the chief engineer of the Aeroscraft, explained that the first float test demonstrated the unique lightweight rigid structure conception and Control of Static Heaviness (COSH) system of this radical airlift vehicle and met a key Aeroscraft performance goal: operate without ballast, ground infrastructure, or handling.
The rear of the Aeroscraft, showing rudders and fins on the prototype airship. Aeros says the ship will be able to travel at speeds of 130 mph and carry 66 tons of cargo, and it has plans to build even bigger airships capable of moving more than 500 tons of cargo.
An illustration shows potential uses and environments where the Aeroscraft might be well-suited to perform transport duties, such as this remote location which lacks infrastructure to support traditional airplanes.