TUSTIN (CBSLA.com) — An Orange County aerospace firm will soon begin flight tests for a new high-tech blimp-style aircraft designed to carry oversized cargo.
Tustin-based Worldwide Aeros Corp. designed the 266-foot-long Aeroscraft, a 36,000-pound, blimp-like aircraft made of aluminum and carbon fiber, as part of the “Dragon Dream” project.
The Aeroscraft, which incorporates a “buoyancy management system” that will allow the lighter-than-air vehicle to vertically airlift up to 66 tons of cargo, is part of a $35-million partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, DARPA and NASA. It will provide new ways of moving heavy and oversized cargo from point-of-origin to point-of-need, even to areas with damaged infrastructure or those lacking it altogether, according to company officials.
In addition to its military applications, engineers say the Aeroscraft can provide an “innovative” solution to many logistical “bottleneck problems” and aid in humanitarian crisis response due to its unique ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, as well as hover and reach locations that have no roads or places to land.
Tim Tenney, lead engineer for the Dragon Dream project, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the Aeroscraft represents a “revolutionary” shift in aerospace technology.
“A traditional blimp, when it goes from its takeoff place to a destination, when payload gets off or the passenger gets off, the blimp would simply take off or you need a large ground crew to capture that aircraft,” Tenney said. “This aircraft can do that internally through a buoyancy control system…internally it can create the weight and actually maintain stability on the ground.”
A test flight crew that includes pilot and U.S. Air Force General Raymond Johns was selected in August to evaluate the system’s pilot interface and controllability. The test flight comes on the heels of approval from Federal Aviation Administration on Aug. 31.
But despite the obvious comparisons to a traditional blimp aircraft, Tenney says the Aeroscraft is a far cry from another more infamous passenger airship that crashed in spectacular fashion on May 6, 1937.
“The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, which is a highly flammable gas,” said Tenney. “We’re using helium, which is completely non-flammable, so there’s no threat of burning.”
The Aeroscraft began tethered testing on Saturday at the Tustin hangar and will move on to more advanced tests later this year.