Aeroscraft begins flight testing following FAA certification


September 8, 2013

Still attached to tethers, the Aeroscraft prototype lifts a short way into the sky as pre-flight testing continues on the ground-breaking airship (Photo: Aeros)

Still attached to tethers, the Aeroscraft prototype lifts a short way into the sky as pre-flight testing continues on the ground-breaking airship (Photo: Aeros)

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After a 70-year absence, it appears that a new rigid frame airship will soon be taking to the skies over California. Aeros Corporation, a company based near San Diego, has received experimental airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin flight testing the Aeroscraft airship, and it appears that the company has wasted no time getting started.

Aeros has provided these photographs of the Aeroscraft airship outside undergoing tethered testing on Saturday, September 7, 2013, and they clearly show the airship off the ground and under control. The large bag structures under airship are landing pads, a type of inflated hovercraft skirt that allow the airship to rest on the ground – or water, or ice – without wheels.

Speaking to Gizmag, company Communications Director John Kiehle says that the first untethered test flight will be “very soon – within a few weeks” and should see the airship fly around the airfield at a height of about 100 ft (33 m). First flights will not include operating the Aeroscraft’s trademark variable buoyancy system, but that system has been successfully tested inside the large hangar where the airship was built at Tustin, California.

President of Aeros Corporation, Igor Pasternak, announced the FAA approval on September 5: “I’d like to personally thank the Aviation Safety Inspectors Cindy Napolitano and Kurt Krumlauf at the FAA for their professionalism and effective collaboration with Aeros over these many months.”

The company also announced the flight test crew for first flights of the airship. Chief test pilot will be 40-year airship veteran Corky Belanger, who has flown just about every airship available. The co-pilot is retired four-star General Raymond Johns, former head of the Air Force Mobility Command. Also on the flight will be someone with a personal stake in the operation – Aeros CEO Igor Pasternak will take on the duties of Flight Engineer.

The Aeroscraft has been under development since 2006, and the US Government has contributed some $35M for research, along with expertise in aerodynamics and control systems from NASA.

The impressive Aeroscraft prototype is 266 ft (79 m) long and 97 ft (29.5m) wide and nearly fills a football field or soccer pitch. It is powered by three swiveling engines – two on the sides and one in the back – that provide both lift and thrust to lift the airship into the air and propel it forward. The rear engine gives control at low airspeeds by pushing the tail around, side to side or up and down. Two sets of wing-like control surfaces are mounted fore and aft, and two large rudders push up vertically from the tail end. These aerodynamic surfaces are used at higher speeds (above 20 mph / 30 kph). As big as this airship is, it is still a one-half scale prototype – the final design is expected to be more than 400 feet (121m) long and be able to lift a cargo weight of 66 tons.

The Aeroscraft is a fully rigid airship, of the type that has not been seen in the air since 1940 when the highly successful airship Graf Zeppelin was retired after flying over one million safe air miles and making 144 trips across the ocean. A rigid airship has a stiff outer frame that maintains its aerodynamic shape regardless of the amount of helium inside the ship. This is different from the more common blimp, where the shape of the airship must be maintained by the internal pressure of the gases inside the envelope. As with all modern airships, the lifting gas inside the large hull is helium, an inert element that cannot burn.

The Aeroscraft airship was designed from the start to haul cargo, and it needed to solve a problem that has prevented airships to be used for cargo in the past: the problem of ballast. Airships are basically balloons with motors and steering, and like balloons, the helium gas inside provides a fixed amount of lift all of the time. If you picked up 10 tons in an airship and delivered it to a remote location, before the 10 tons could be removed from the airship, 10 tons of other weight must be added in order to prevent the airship from rocketing skyward from the extra 10 tons of lift. You could dump a lot of helium overboard, but that gets very costly, as helium is an expensive, non-renewable resource that is found under the ground in natural gas wells.

What the engineers at Aeroscraft have done to compensate for this problem is to take a lesson from submarines. The Aeroscraft airship can compress a certain amount of its lifting gas and put it into fabric tanks, under pressure. The density of the compressed gas is higher so that it is no longer lighter than air, and therefore this airship, unlike any of its predecessors, can change its buoyancy. The company calls this system COSH, an acronym for “Control of Static Heaviness.”

This ability adds another benefit: reducing the ground crew. Since blimps and other airships are always close to neutrally buoyant, they are in fact always flying. To land an airship, a large ground crew comes out to catch ropes and hold it down until it can be attached to something – usually a mast anchored in the ground or connected to a very heavy truck. This ballet of ground handling can take a crew of up to 20 people for even a small airship ... and the Aeros is not small.

With the Aeroscraft, the crew starts up a pumping system as it nears landing, which begins to compress the gas in the gas cells, making the craft heavier. The engines on either side power up to compensate, and by the time the vehicle touches down, it is quite a bit heavier than air and will stay in place on its own. The pumps continue to compress helium as cargo is removed and the craft remains heavy as long as it’s on the ground. When it is once again time for takeoff, a proper amount of helium is released from the tanks back into the gas cells, meaning the airship becomes lighter and the engines can easily lift it off the ground in a vertical take-off.

Blimps contain smaller gas bags inside their main envelope, called ballonets (French for “little balloons”) that are filled with air, and the crew can adjust the pressure in the envelope as the airship climbs and descends. As an airship climbs, the outside air pressure reduces, and the helium inside expands. The crew releases air from the ballonets to maintain the shape of the blimp.

Rigid airships do not have ballonets. Instead they have a series of gas cells inside the rigid frame that can expand and contract independently, and thus have more volume of helium to work with. The frame itself has weight, however, and must be balanced by more helium, which is why airships like the Aeroscraft are so large.

The rationale for bringing back this type of airship relates to its ability to deliver heavy, outsized cargo to remote locations without needing an airport to land at. Communities in locations like Alaska, the north of Canada, Africa, and the Australian outback are rich in minerals but lacking in infrastructure. It is the vision of Pasternak and his crew that the Aeroscraft will transform the delivery of cargo to mines, wind farms and oil fields in remote areas like these.

Source: Aeros

About the Author
Francis X Govers III Francis Govers is the designer of over 20 land, sea, air and space vehicles and teaches robotics and the design of self-driving cars. He spent 10 years at NASA, helped design the International Space Station, participated in the DARPA Grand Challenge, and managed the only Zeppelin operating in the US. As a commercial pilot, writer, artist, musician, engineer, race car nut and designer, Francis has a serious addiction to building things that frequently gets him into trouble. All articles by Francis X Govers III

I think this is way cool. I hope it marks the beginning of the return of the rigid airship.


"The rationale for bringing back this type of airship relates to its ability to deliver heavy, outsized cargo..." Surely the main reason for bringing zepps back is the fact that to keep them flying costs virtually nothing whilst to keep, say, a 747 flying costs about 70% of the fuel it uses, which is to say, a heck of a lot!

Cover an airship with thin film solar and it could power itself for free - obviously you would need something for the night time!

Mark my words, short of hyperloops or teleportation, airships will be the next mass-transit mode of transport for humanity. Safe, luxurious and very cheap to run, half-mile long zeppelins will one day cruise the skies just as ocean liners currently cruise the seas. MW

Martin Winlow

Planet earth actually has a supply side problem with the element Helium. They better develop a commercially feasible method of extracting it from the atmosphere, or magically sucking it from the abundant reserves of the universe in order to have their ship take off in a big way, business-wise.


I suggest that the Aeroscraft would be a good candidate for solar power.The shape of the dorsal area could be covered with flexible solar batteries.The rear engine would remain internal combustion for needed extra power to change altitude and emergencies.The ribs could act to stabilize the power lines ,thus rendering the operation safe and the maintenance manageable.

David Galler


The problem would not be so bad if the U.S. government had not recently decided to relieve itself of its Strategic Helium Reserve, which was the largest in the world. Government short-sightedness will likely make helium supply an obstacle now rather than the boost it would have been.

I agree that it would be great to find a way to extract it from air, but according to Wikipedia the atmosphere is only 0.000524% helium. That means you have to process A LOT of air, even if you find an otherwise efficient extraction process.

Anne Ominous

I'm a huge fan of airships, though if you make any historical study of them there seem to be challenges that technology could probably overcome and things that seem to be more difficult. Of course since the 1930's golden age of Zeppelins a vast amount of advancements have been made, and surely the new ballasting method and swiveling engines and lighter materials will be big gains. But what really wrecked so many airships was simply that so many were lost in storms. You still have the problem that they are slow and huge and are not going to be able to rise high enough to get above storms or outrun them or find ground shelter in most of the places they visit. Some of this can be minimized with intense careful operational management, but some of it will come down to luck as the weather is simply not 100% predictable. It is true that modern blimps have maintained a fairly good safety record, but also that there are very few of them, and they are not workhorses of industry, and so there is no that much pressure on the operators to risk any kind of dicey weather. So that is my main concern about bringing back the airships, magnificent as they are.


Anne Ominous is correct. Currently, the technology for Helium extraction is vastly improved over what it was- we are now able to extract .05% by volume just as economically, where it used to be 5-.5% by volume. It opens up a lot more Helium sources, aside from the uncommonly pure ones.

Despite being a renewable portion of our atmosphere, it would still take an estimated 300% more energy investment to draw it from air rather than natural gas- notwithstanding technological limitations.

Fortunately, airships don't use nearly as much Helium as you might imagine, and their rate of loss is extremely low- in this case, further aided by the fact that the Aeroscraft should never have to vent Helium in normal operation.

David, the full-size aircraft's powerplant is meant to be a hybrid diesel-electric, for efficiency's sake. I don't know if that would make for a good fit with solar panels- one gets the impression that they wouldn't want to take up valuable payload and space with heavy batteries for storing the excess energy and delivering it smoothly to the motors. However, there is another hybrid airship with a delta-shape, and therefore an even larger surface area, that does use flexible thin-film solar panels. It's Canadian, called the "Solar Ship."

J. James

All you people saying blimps are the future can be quiet.

There is a reason why blimps aren't widely used and are NOT considered safe outside of the fairest weather conditions. (that should give you a hint...) And it doesn't seem anybody has solved the problem.

I'll spell it out for you: They are huge, and not very dense! That means that the littlest gust of wind (little, in terms of MPH, but not in terms of energy,) can exert a huge amount of force on the blimp, making it impossible to keep steady and under control.

They will always, at most, be niche vehicles. They can ONLY fly safely when there is no wind.

Mike Edmister

Just use hydrogen gas instead of helium. What could possibly go wrong?


This could be used to launch Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from 20 miles high. Probably carry 2 or 3 and would save a lot of cost over using the WK2 carrier craft. Maybe not for people in a hurry.

Brian Bertine

Notice the huge blimp hangers in the background. These are relics from WW II and are a couple of the largest free standing wood structures on earth. They are historically significant structures. I am thrilled to see at least on of them put back in use for airships.

The article says the company is near San Diego. Well, their corporate headquaters is on Montebello which is in LA County. The hanger is in Tustin, CA which is part of Orange county and is also closer to LA than San Diego

John Baskette

@Mike Edmister "All you people saying blimps are the future can be quiet. There is a reason why blimps aren't widely used and are NOT considered safe outside of the fairest weather conditions. (that should give you a hint...) And it doesn't seem anybody has solved the problem."

Keep in mind the Aeroscraft is not an ordinary "blimp" in any sense of the word. Nor is it a Zeppelin, or a dirigible. It's completely dissimilar to any airship that has ever flown, for a variety of reasons.

For one, it's part airplane/helicopter. It is heavier than air, which gives it enormous maneuvering and landing advantages over airships, and indeed pretty much any other aircraft. The internal ballasting system gives it even more control.

For another, the reason that airships would crash in harsh weather a century ago was overwhelmingly due to two reasons: Hydrogen fires or structural failures. The airships of the past were made of canvas, stretched thin over a frail aluminum skeleton. This is made of carbon fiber, aluminum alloy, and composite fabrics, with an internal load-bearing frame (not just a hollow shell) and modern structural engineering. That's like the difference between a Kevlar vest and tissue paper.

And naturally, the shape and power-to-weight ratio is important as well. Being laterally streamlined gives this ship about 1/4 the lateral wind area as a cigar-shaped airship of a similar volume. Add that to the thrust vectoring, and it can maintain a flight path in 70 mph winds.

Even 60-year-old normal blimps (the Navy's ZPG-2s) performed well in horrendous Arctic conditions:

"Landings were made in the runway nearest the wind, sometimes with a "crab" angle of over 40 degrees. Never in the two years that I ran the project did a ship ever drift or get blown off the runway, even with over 40 knots of wind."

"Airships manned the Arctic AEW station continuously for 10 days... Weather was the area's worst in years, with combinations and variations of ice, snow, rain, fog, and 60-knot winds."

"One airship flew in continuous icing conditions for 56 hours, the record on station was 96 1/2 hours..."

"Takeoffs and landings were made with ceilings under 100 feet during snowstorms, and with winds from 30 to 50 knots..."

"The conclusion? Blimps could relieve each other on station during a period when weather had grounded ALL other kinds of aircraft."

J. James

Great rebuttal. The article itself notes that the Graf Zeppelin had a good safety record during 140+ Atlantic crossings. And that was before anyone could track the weather. I do hope they're planning to "land" quite a ways from wind generators to be serviced. That just doesn't sound like a very natural match.


The two words no one aboard wants to hear: WIND SHEAR.


@BeWalt & Author Francis Glowers,

Please stop the beating drum of a Helium shortage, it can be up to o.5% of natural gas extracted, this is due to the decay of Thorium isotopes in the earths crust and until the Earth runs out, there will always be some. There 'is' a shortage of Helium extraction plants to capture Helium - so it goes to waste, this is not surprising because natural gas itself was considered a waste product by oil companies and burnt off, and in some areas such as Nigeria, still is - the term is Flaring.

Helium is also considered so valuable it is captured and recycled as much as possible, which begs the question if we are prepared to spend so much to capture miniscule amounts at the users end, why do we spend so little on extraction at source.


I wonder why we still keep on going to develop airships. The amount of helium is massive and not readily available. We run ... or spin this out natural gas .. and thats not durable at all. I have been involved with ABC airships and they have to be filed up on regular basis. Helium is the seconds smallest monocle and in time does go past any other monocle that is holding the helium gas in mass.

All the nice high end technical features do not live up agains the helium spillage. So the helium airship is not won't liv out this carbon ( fuel/ gas & oil) era.

Victor Klein

@ Anne Ominous They like to make a big deal about what a small percentage of the atmosphere helium is. But after you have separated out the C02, oxygen, nitrogen, and argon what percentage of the remaining gas is helium? the reason that helium is not harvested from the atmosphere is not because of its relative rarity. It is because of the low cost of harvesting it from Natural gas.

@ xLSDx The danger presented by hydrogen is greatly exaggerated. The Hindenburg burned when a skin panel on the side away from the camera burst into flame do to static discharge. The Graf Zeppelin was also hydrogen filled but used a different doping compound on the skin. The FAA has banned hydrogen as the lifting agent in manned aircraft and it is easier to convince lead to float in the air than get a government agency to change an opinion.


@ benito

Why do you think wind shear such a problem? it is not like losing air speed is going to make it drop out of the sky like a brick. It took a special kind of stupid to fly airships into storms, but then the Army Air Corps trained its pilots to fly directly through thunder heads until a structural strain gauge equipped B-17 tried it and just barely survived and had a record of the forces involved. The policy was promptly changed.


The technology has changed, it has a rigid body which is cool, but the crew still sit in a cramped gondola while this is a huge area inside. When will that be made available. If you can't furnish the inside and enjoy sailing the sky, might as well stay on the water and enjoy the sea breeze.


@ Gargamoth

The lift chamber is full of helium if it wasn't it wouldn't fly.


The design has a low profile for horizontal winds, but has a high profile for vertical winds. The proposed full size craft will have huge upper and lower surface areas. These facts, plus the expected heavy cargo loads makes it vulnerable to microbursts, i.e. violent downdrafts, which we get here in Orange County, CA. It's doubtful that the innovative buoyancy control system could adjust quickly enough, or be effective in that situation. The structure must also be strong enough when carrying cargo to withstand violent vertical winds. Solution? The craft needs a wind shear detection system like those aboard passenger aircraft, and real time weather monitoring. Even so, wait a few years before putting your grandma on board.

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