It's a blimp! It's a plane! It's an…Aeroscraft?
The Aeroscraft, a new type of airship said to be capable of vertical takeoff and landing and speeds of over 130 mph, has passed an important round of tests, according to a Jan. 3 statement from maker Aeros Industries.
But don't rush out and try to book a flight. Aeroscraft hasn't flown yet -- these were ground tests, in which the craft floated along the floor like a hovercraft. The tests were conducted at a 500,000-square-foot hangar at the Former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, an Aeros representative told The Huffington Post in a phone interview.
Though luxury cruises may eventually part of Aeroscraft's duties, its primary mission is defense. In 2005, the U.S. military awarded Aeros a contract to "build a 'hybrid ultra-large aircraft' that could transport 500 tons of cargo at least 12,000 nautical miles," Popular Science reports.
The company hopes its airship will revolutionize cargo transportation, and it doesn't seem so implausible given the craft's impressive specs. Airships have some big advantages over traditional planes -- for one thing, they can take off and land vertically, which means there's no need for large, costly runways, according Aeros' website.
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So why hasn't anything like this been built before? It's not just because airships fell out of fashion after the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. It's also extremely difficult to steer something so light. Aeroscraft solves the problem with an innovative ballast system, which compresses and releases the balloon's helium inside special chambers.
This system allows Aeroscraft to deliver its payload directly to wherever it's needed, and Aeros expects the craft to to "cut fuel consumption by one third of what’s traditionally generated by air freight," according to innovation news website Gizmag.
What else could the Aeroscraft be used for? Aeros CEO and Chief Engineer Igor Pasternak has discussed delivering food to Africa and factory supplies to remote areas, and tech writer Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo imagines even more idyllic Aeroscraft applications:
Civilian versions would be able to offer air cruises at any altitude. Just like a cruise ship but over land. Imagine taking the most awesome trip over a three or four days, from New York to San Francisco, slowly flying over the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains, watching the incredible scenery while sipping on a cocktail or comfortably having dinner in a restaurant with huge glass windows. Then, at night, you sleep in your comfortable room. That's what the full-size Aeroscraft will be able to offer and I will be the first one in line to experience it.