4 New ‘Blimp’ Designs Bring Return of the Airship

We already took you inside our floating future with hybrid airships. Can new tech put them on the fast track?

Always on the verge of a seeming comeback, airships are back in the spotlight, touting new technologies. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency recently announced funding for an innovative, ballast-free airship technology created by Aeros Aeronautical Systems, based outside Los Angeles. The Aeroscraft ML866’s potentially revolutionary Control of Static Heaviness system compresses and decompresses helium in the 210-ft.-long envelope, changing this proposed sky yacht’s buoyancy during takeoff and landings, Aeros says. It hopes to end the program with a test flight demonstrating the system. Other companies are planning their own first flights within the next few years. Each has a design that it promises will launch a new era of lighter-than-air transportation.

HAA

HAA Description: To blanket hundreds of miles with high-resolution radar, the 450-ft.-long, unmanned High Altitude Airship will use old-fashioned lifting gas to ascend. A top-mounted solar array may enable this massive radar platform to stay aloft for up to a month.
Designer: Lockheed Martin
Operational Alt.: Up to 60,000 ft.
Speed: 28 mph (cruising)
Progress: The airship’s radar system is still being developed, but Lockheed is scheduled to fly a full-size prototype of the ship by the end of 2009. The Missile Defense Agency is a potential user.

SA-60

SA-60 Description: This unmanned, 62-ft.-dia. diesel/electric hybrid broke the world airship altitude record in 2003, reaching 20,000 ft. Designed for scouting and surveillance, the SA-60 can fly autonomously. Its round design gives it more low-speed maneuverability.
Designer: Techsphere Systems International
Operational Alt.: Up to 10,000 ft.
Speed: 35 mph (cruising)
Progress: With no major deals announced, Techsphere is putting its best blimp forward, with a higher-altitude followup to the SA-60–the SA-68–scheduled to fly this year.

Skycat-20

Skycat-20 Description: The cargo-hauling SkyCat-20 features retractable hover-cushion engines that allow for vertical takeoffs and landings and can also be reversed, eliminating the need for a ground crew or handling equipment. Variants could include firefighting blimps.
Designer: World Skycat
Operational Alt.: Up to 10,000 ft.
Speed: 97 mph (maximum)
Progress: World SkyCat originally planned a first flight for 2002. The updated schedule calls for a SkyCat-20 world tour by the end of this year, and production models in early 2009.

By Erik Sofge

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