Hybrid airships nearing significant commercialization

Three hybrid airship projects are currently attracting the most attention:

  • the Airlander 10, which just launched this month, in England;
  • Lockheed Martin’s LMH-1; and
  • Pasternak’s Aeroscraft

Pasternak’s Aeroscraft ML866, ML868 and ML86X

Pasternak’s surveillance-airship business is worth millions, but wealth was never his goal. “It’s all about the cargo airship,” he said. His cargo prototype, the Dragon Dream, was in Hangar 2, on the other side of the base. Two hundred and sixty-six feet long—nearly the length of a football field—and ninety-six feet wide, the Dragon Dream was the largest rigid airship built in the U.S. since the nineteen-thirties. And yet it was just half the size of Pasternak’s proposed masterpiece, the Aeroscraft. The Aeroscraft will come in three sizes. The ML866 will be five hundred and fifty-five feet long and able to carry sixty-six tons of cargo. The ML868 will be about thirty per cent larger, with a capacity of two hundred and fifty tons. And the ML86X will be nine hundred and twenty feet (nearly three football fields) long, two hundred and fifteen feet (more than the Tower of Pisa) high, three hundred and fifty-five feet (two Boeing 747s) wide, and able to carry five hundred tons.

To get an idea of the scale of the ML86X, imagine a flying, elongated Houston Astrodome hauling a hundred and fifty elephants.

Worldwide Aeros Corp is an American manufacturer of airships based in Montebello, California. It was founded in 1992 by the current CEO and Chief Engineer, Igor Pasternak, who came to America from Ukraine. It currently employs more than 100 workers.

The company is beginning production of two examples, an ML866 and an ML868 model.

The Aeroscraft’s VTOL capability is like a submarine. For example, when a submarine needs to dive into the water, it takes on water to make it heavier. When the submarine needs to surface, it releases that water to become lighter. Similarly, the Aeroscraft can control its weight by releasing and taking on air, controlling the heaviness or lightness of the vehicle.

2013 – The Dragon Dream had its first float on January 3. The Pentagon declared the tests were a success. On July 4, the Dragon Dream rolled out of the hangar for the first time and on September 11, the first flight of the Dragon Dream occurred.
2014 – Aeros launches 40D ‘Sky Dragon’ S/N 22 into service following Congressional Christening ceremony; completes ‘design freeze’ for ML 866 (66-ton) Aeroscraft, initiates production of new 40E ‘Sky Dragon’ airship; develops and deploys a new tactical aerostat design; advances the company’s IP position for the Aeroscraft.
2015 – Aeros receives Patent from USPTO for revolutionary COSH buoyancy management system; launches the North American Defense Advanced Technology Solutions (NADATS) division, readies launch of advanced 40E ‘Sky Dragon’ airship, and continues production on the world’s first cargo airship, the Aeroscraf

Dream Dragon half size prototype

Lockheed Martin LMH-1

Lockheed’s uses helium for only about eighty per cent of its lift; the rest comes from the aerodynamic form of the body. Its weight is intended to make it easier to control on the ground. The first version has a payload of 20 tons.

The LMH-1 should become certified by the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of 2017, paving the way for delivery in 2018.

Airlander 10 and Airlander 50

HAV (Hybrid Air Vehicle, UK) had won £6 million in grants from the U.K. and the European Union and raised £2.4 million from public crowdfunding to give the hybrid aircraft a second life. HAV officially began its “Return-to-Flight” program in May and gave the HAV304 a new name – the Airlander 10. (The “10” refers to the aircraft’s ability to carry ten tons.) Unlike its previous iteration, this one will be used for more than just military purposes.

The Airlander 10 incorporates lighter-than-air technology to create what the company calls “a new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft.” The aircraft will get 60 percent of its lift from internal helium gas and 40 percent from its aerodynamic
form. A critical component of the success of the aircraft is the boost it gets from advanced composite materials. “The Airlander hull is made of a flexible laminate utilizing Vectran as the structural fiber,” says Ashley Appleton head of rigid structures at HAV. “The laminate contains specific features to protect the material from the environment and to retain helium.”

The skin of Airlander 10’s hull is a combination of five tons of multilayered Vectran weave, Tedlar and Mylar surrounding a helium bubble.

Vectran, which consists of a high-performance multifilament yarn spun from liquid crystal polymer, is five times stronger
than steel and 10 times stronger than aluminum. Tedlar is a polyvinyl fluoride film that provides an outer coat and protects the hull from wearing away. Mylar, a form of polyester resin used to make heat-resistant plastic films, creates a gas barrier to minimize helium loss.

The hull is not the only structure on the revitalized aircraft to rely on composites. The engine frames also were made from an undisclosed carbon fiber prepreg. Underneath the Airlander 10 is a 149-foot-long structure made with CFRP and GFRP materials.

The Airlander 10 will eventually have a “big brother,” the Airlander 50, designed for remote access and logistics in markets such as mining, oil and gas and humanitarian relief. Allman says that composite knowledge and expertise gained on the Airlander 10 will be utilized for the Airlander 50

A variety of cargo planes can carry 70-250 tons of cargo.

122 tons for C-5 Galaxy (US Military)
134 tons for a converted Boeing 747

The main advantages of a hybrid airship would be more fuel efficiency and short takeoff or even servicing areas without any airfield. Hybrid airships are intended to fill the middle ground between the low operating cost and low speeds of traditional airships and the higher speed but higher fuel consumption of heavier-than-air craft. By combining dynamic and buoyant lift, hybrids are intended to provide improved airspeed, air-cargo payload capacity and (in some types) hovering capability compared to a pure airship, while having longer endurance and greater lifting capacity compared to a pure HTA type.

Hybrid aircraft technology is claimed to allow a wider range of flight-performance optimizations ranging from significantly heavier than air to near buoyant. This perception of uncommon dynamic flight range when coupled with an appropriate landing system is claimed to allow ultra heavy and affordable airlift transportation.

Hybrid airships offer the potential to deliver supplies directly to users, avoiding the complications inherent in multimodal port operations. From combat cargo lift to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations to civilian cargo delivery in austere environments, hybrid airship technology is now poised to transform the transportation landscape.

The cargo bay of the largest Aeroscraft is much larger than any bay container in any commercial freight aircraft carrier today (including the Boeing 747-8F and the Antonov 124 aircraft).

The current payload of the largest helicopters is 16-tons.

1 thought on “Hybrid airships nearing significant commercialization”

  1. I'm thinking the main practical uses would be for peace time. Humanitarian aid, commercial transport, etc.
    For combat purposes, these ginormous airships offer an easy target. If at all, they would have to be positioned well behind the front lines.

    I also think they would be a bad fit for delivery/rescue at high altitudes, above the line where helicopters can go. Yes they can go up that high, but the winds at that altitude can be severe, and then couple that with the nearby dangerous mountain terrain.
    Too risky.

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