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The Aeroscraft is the name of a series of cargo-carrying rigid airships planned by the Worldwide Aeros Corporation. The Aeroscraft company is seeking funding for its Aeroscraft ML866 model, which will carry 66 tons of payload, and for its Aeroscraft ML868 model carrying 250 tons. A model capable of lifting 500 tons, the Aeroscraft ML86X, is also on the drawing board.
A scaled-down prototype called the Aeroscraft Pelican” was completed in January 2013 with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense.
According to the Aeros website, the Aeroscraft 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 Aeroscraft ML868 model will be 770 feet (230 m) in length and carry 200 tons, with the same speed and altitude ceiling as the Aeroscraft ML866.
Aeroscraft Commercial cargo
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 Aeroscraft’s ability to land on any flat surface, paved or unpaved, and to hover over uneven terrain. The Aeroscraft design also calls for cargo bays that are larger than any current air, truck or rail transport, which may enable the Aeroscraft to compete in the outsize cargo market, moving goods such as wind turbines or large aerospace parts.
The Aeroscraft manufacturer also envisions commercial use as a cargo carrier which could deliver a large amount of merchandise from a centralized location.
Aeroscraft Military uses
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 Aeroscraft “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 Aeroscraft 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 Aeroscraft “Pelican.”
Aeroscraft Flight testing
The first floating of the Aeroscraft 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 Aeroscraft Pelican was rolled out of its hangar on July 4, 2013.
The Aeroscraft Pelican is 250 ft long, only half the size of the planned full-scale version, but uses the same structure and avionics.
Aeroscraft Future plans
Aeros is currently seeking $3 billion to fund the construction of 24 Aeroscraft vehicles, including the 250-ton capacity Aeroscraft ML868 model. Aeroscraft aim to finish construction in 2016.
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft that is propelled through the air by engine power. An aerostat stays aloft by having a large “envelope” filled with a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air. In early dirigibles, the lifting gas used was hydrogen, due to its high lifting capacity.
Besides the main envelope, an airship also has engines and crew accommodation, typically in a gondola hung beneath the envelope.
The main types of airship are non-rigid, semi-rigid, and rigid. Non-rigid airships, often called “blimps”, rely on internal pressure to maintain the shape of the airship. Semi-rigid airships maintain the envelope shape by internal pressure, but have some form of supporting structure, such as a fixed keel, attached to it. Rigid airships have an outer structural framework which maintains the shape and carries all structural loads, while the lifting gas is contained in one or more internal gas bags or cells.