The Aeroscraft is the name of a series of cargo-carrying rigid airships planned by the Worldwide Aeros Corporation. The company is seeking funding for its ML866 model, which will carry 66 tons of payload, and for its ML868 model carrying 250 tons. A model capable of lifting 500 tons, the ML86X, is also on the drawing board.
A scaled-down prototype called the "Pelican" was completed in January 2013 with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense.
According to the Aeros website, the ML866 model will be 555 feet (169 m) in length, have a payload capacity of 66 tons, a top speed of 120 knots (222 km/h), a range of 3,100 nautical miles (5,700 km), and a flight ceiling of 12,000 feet (3,700 m). The larger ML868 model will be 770 feet (230 m) in length and carry 200 tons, with the same speed and altitude ceiling as the ML866.
The current prototype, the Pelican, is 266 feet (81 m) long and is designed for a top speed of 60 knots (110 km/h). It is not designed to carry a payload.
The Aeroscraft, like the Zeppelins of the past, uses a rigid internal structure to maintain its shape. Unlike modern hybrid airships, the Aeroscraft is lighter-than-air during flight, and does not rely on aerodynamic lift to maintain flight. This will enable the vehicle to hover at full payload capacity.
Aeros is developing a technology which they call "Control of Static Heaviness (COSH)", which controls buoyancy by compressing its helium gas into pressurized tanks while taking air from the surrounding atmosphere into the vacant space inside the rigid structure, thus creating negative buoyancy. Releasing the compressed helium into the gas bags expanding inside the structure displaces the air and creates positive buoyancy.
In addition to its horizontal propellers, the Aeroscraft has six downward-pointing turbofan jet engines that assist in vertical take-off and landing. The turbofans and the "COSH" buoyancy control systems make the Aeroscraft capable of taking off and landing vertically without the need for a runway, a ground crew, or external ballast.
If Aeros is able to successfully fund, build, and operate their Aeroscraft design, an Aeroscraft could be used to transport civilian cargo to remote locations, or to locations with difficult terrain or poor roads. This would take advantage of the craft’s ability to land on any flat surface, paved or unpaved, and to hover over uneven terrain. The design also calls for cargo bays that are larger than any current air, truck or rail transport, which may enable it to compete in the outsize cargo market, moving goods such as wind turbines or large aerospace parts.
The manufacturer also envisions commercial use as a cargo carrier which could deliver a large amount of merchandise from a centralized location.
The Aeroscraft could be used to transport military vehicles or supplies to difficult terrain with no infrastructure, a job currently reserved for helicopters. The Aeroscraft design calls for payload capacities significantly heavier than the current 16-ton maximum for helicopters.
Since many military transport needs involve either broken or unreliable infrastructure during disaster relief or combat, the Aeroscraft's independence from runways or other infrastructure is of interest to the military. The Pentagon has provided $50 million in funding for the development of the "Pelican" prototype.
In 2005, Aeros was granted the largest contract under DARPA's project Walrus HULA. Project Walrus was not renewed in 2010. However, the Pentagon continued to fund Aeros through the Rapid Reaction Technology Office, contracting with them in 2010 to build a prototype that could demonstrate key technologies. This prototype became known as the "Pelican."
The first floating of the Pelican occurred on January 3, 2013. It hovered at 12 feet for several minutes in a former military hangar in Tustin, California. The Pentagon has declared that the tests of the Pelican were a "success", with the craft meeting its demonstration objectives. The Pelican was rolled out of its hangar on July 4, 2013.
The Pelican is 250 ft long, only half the size of the planned full-scale version, but uses the same structure and avionics.
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