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Interview: Aeros CEO Igor Pasternak

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December 12, 2012

Artists rendering of the Aeroscraft

Artists rendering of the Aeroscraft

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The Aeroscraft airship, with its minimal fuel consumption, vertical take-off and landing capabilities and point-to-point delivery is promising to revolutionize aviation. This radical new vehicle platform created by the Aeros Corporation in California is now entering its final stages of development and in this interview the company's founder and CEO, Igor Pasternak, talks to Gizmag about how different the Aeroscraft will be from anything else we have seen before.

Igor Pasternak, who founded Worldwide Aeros in Ukraine before moving the firm to California in 1994, is confident that the new dirigible Aeroscraft airship will get U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approval next year and revolutionize air travel forever.

“We are working with the FAA around the requirements for the vehicle,’’ Pasternak says. “With understanding the requirements and complying with the requirements, we are already there. Now the next step is to build a full size vehicle and go through FAA testing and certification.”

At this stage, Aeros has built an Aeroscraft prototype. At 79 meters, or 260 feet, long, it is smaller than the final model. While the company initially told us that the prototype is not designed to carry a payload, Pasternak says that it can indeed be used for freight – but the payload capability is less than the 66 tons that the planned larger craft will be designed to carry when it enters commercial operation.

“The prototype is a sub-scale of the full size of the vehicle,’’ Pasternak says. “It’s 50 per cent of the length of the full-scale vehicle. This vehicle has all the systems and all the structure from the big one. It’s just built on a smaller scale. It’s designed as an operational payload vehicle. It carries some proportion of payload but the most important part of this vehicle is it has a rigid structure built from the same elements as the 66 ton vehicle, it has the landing gear from the 66 ton vehicle, it has the flight control software of the 66 ton vehicle, it has all the elements.”

The prototype vehicle is just weeks off from being completed. When it’s finished, it will demonstrate the vertical take-off and landing and point to point delivery features of the platform. Pasternak says this makes it perfect for the commercial market.

Igor Pasternak, founder and CEO of the Aeros Corporation

Igor Pasternak, founder and CEO of the Aeros Corporation

“The aircraft is the vehicle that allows customers to make money. The advantage is you don’t need ground infrastructure. You can fly anywhere, you can land anywhere, you don’t need any ballast, you don’t need any ground crew.

“You can carry a lot of weight and at the same time, fly long distances. When you look at hybrid airships, they require a runway. The aircraft doesn’t need this, not a ground crew, not a runway, not the ballast.

“It’s a complete transportation system. It does not need infrastructure."

Potentially, Pasternak believes, these advantages could make the platform more cost effective than road or rail.

“If you’re looking at freeways and rail, you always have the interface between freeways and rail," he says. "You don’t have this interface here. You can land it anywhere and you can take off anywhere.

“If you are looking at the economics, you can never compete with a train or a truck, they are still pretty inexpensive but the moment when you start looking at delivering 66 tons and three full trucks, in some scenarios, it can be more cost effective than trucks,’’

And the potential applications?

“It can deliver food to Africa. It’s a vehicle that can bring the infrastructure to build factories in the middle of the continent where there are no roads or ports. It can be used for disaster relief or for delivery of fresh flowers

“And it’s not just the money, it’s also the time. In some cases, for example, wind turbines might take for them delivery of three weeks. Now we can deliver it in one week.

The military presents another obvious application according to Pasternak.

In terms of a business model, Aeros doesn't intend to sell the craft but will instead lease it out.

“We are selling the service, we will become the operators on a lease basis,’’ he says. “We would provide the crew, would provide the maintenance, all the requirements and the service for the customer. Our prices will be competitive with logistics companies, not just for prices but delivery time as well.”

The commercial models will have a cruising speed of 110 knots over a range of 3000 nautical miles.

“It is the speed that the market and customers need,’’ he says.

One of the keys to the new platform is its buoyancy management system. This allows the weight of the vehicle to be adjusted to suit conditions and operational needs. It is completely different from a "blimp" or something like the Hindenburg which needed a hitching post. With the Aeroscraft, there is a gas envelope above a freight chamber which reduces the buoyancy until the craft is 50 feet above the ground. Then you land it as you would a helicopter.

“The concept of the operation is absolutely new. When it comes in for a landing, say 100 feet or 50 feet and it touches the ground, at this moment you become heavier than air,’’ he says.

“From the structure stand point, all of us are familiar with the Hindenburg and Zeppelin designs, continues Pasternak. “This is different. We built a space frame that sits inside of the vehicle and around the frame we built a rigid cell. The function of the rigid cell is to have it work with the aerodynamic laws. It’s a very simple approach.

“It also allows us to build vehicles very rapidly. When you’re talking about the production of vehicles, you need the ability to build number of them in a short term and with the frames you can do this.”

The other notable aspect of the buoyancy system is that it uses helium. “We use helium these days,’’ Pasternak says. “Hydrogen is nice but it’s going to take a while to convince people to use hydrogen.”

It’s also much more fuel efficient than aircraft, again saving the customer costs. “It’s uses a diesel engine which allows you to achieve 3000 nautical miles. It’s very efficient on fuel consumption and it’s propeller driven,’’ he says. “It’s about 30 per cent more fuel efficient when compared with modern state-of –the-art aeroplanes ... and it requires normal commercial diesel fuel, not aviation grade fuel.”

Pasternak says it took the company, which employs over 100 people, four years to develop the technology which includes a smart automotive digital flight control system, enhanced envelope fabric and a robotic mooring system.

Indeed, infrastructure is kept to such a minimum that it’s designed for a single pilot.

“With the flight control system for this vehicle, it’s an innovative approach. It’s an intuitive approach. The pilot is not the captain of the ship. With the system interface, he is more the supervisor.

“It’s probably the largest aeroplane in history that requires a single pilot.”

Pasternak maintains that the great advantage of the craft is that it goes to where the customer is, wherever that may be.

“We deliver the Aeroscraft to where we find the customer. It will not go to an airport, that’s the last place where you would see this vehicle. You land it where customer needs it so that the customer isn’t thinking about delivery to the airport or the road.”

About the Author
Leon Gettler An award winning author and freelance journalist with a strong background in newspapers, magazines and podcasts, Leon is passionately drawn to all things innovative and unknown with a deep interest in telecommunications, environmental technology and design. When not indulging his passion for reading and writing, he can be found memorizing lines immortalized by Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.   All articles by Leon Gettler
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29 Comments

It's certainly a nice-looking airship!

I'd **love** to see this company succeed, and I wish Mr Pasternak all the best as he gets this great airship to the market.

mooseman
12th December, 2012 @ 11:05 pm PST

It would be cool to travel between Europe and US in one of these airships. I would look forward to having a small cabin with bedbunks, some office space and common social area onboard. I think the travel time would be around around 26 hours.

Christian Nygaard
13th December, 2012 @ 12:43 am PST

Excellent interview! I love blimps, so I'm glad to see someone recognizes their potential and is working to bring them into the modern age.

Joel Detrow
13th December, 2012 @ 12:45 am PST

Well, a very similar project (http://www.cargolifter.de/geschichte_der_cl_ag.html) has failed big time about 10 years ago in Germany. I hope this one will do better, as it offers certain advantages over 'traditional' airlifting technology.

Best,

Martin

martinkopplow
13th December, 2012 @ 02:27 am PST

Great idea but I would like to see how it flies in wind and what effects that would have on the ground handling. This is a problem that has plagued earlier ideas.

Tommo
13th December, 2012 @ 04:21 am PST

Martinkopplow, the aeroscraft and Cargolifter are very different vehicles. Cargolifter was flawed from the start- they intended to use a conventional LTA(lighter-than-air) airship to lift heavy cargoes, which has all sorts of associated problems. Their design was also quite inefficient- thrice the volume of the 800-foot Hindenburg(payload: 112 tons) and yet it didn't lift all that much(payload: 160 tons). Then of course there was the problems with their business model...

With the aeroscraft, you have a hybrid vehicle ideally suited for cargo operations. By being HTA(heavier-than-air) like an airplane, the airship's payload is increased dramatically, and it can offload the cargo safely without needing any expensive ground infrastructure. It also uses a buoyancy control system similar to a submarine's, which allows it to remain heavy and stable on the ground and light and efficient in the air. Lastly, it has an all-terrain hovercraft landing system that allows it to land anywhere, unlike a Cargolifter airship, which could land in only a few places in the whole world. These benefits also mean the airship can be built a great deal smaller than leviathans such as the Cargolifter, which not only helps performance and weather tolerance, it's also cheaper and easier to deal with as well.

J. James
13th December, 2012 @ 07:50 am PST

I agree with Tommo, airships are wonderful but something that big in relation to its weight/mass is going to be at the mercy of sudden storms. Not saying accurate weather forecasting won't help that issue, but even strong winds in the neighborhood of 30+ knots, not unusual even close to the ground, will make for bumpy and very slow progress when going upwind. New York to LA, facing the prevailing wind, would run the risk of averaging 60 knots which would make for a long and potentially uncomfortable trip for passengers. I hope there's an answer for these considerations, because the prospect of a leisurely "cruise" by air is potentially fabulous. If our current ever-faster culture would be able to take such trips without going completely mad with impatience. Price is another thing. If business people don't sign on, because it's too inefficient, you've lost a significant share of your potential market, which will mean fewer flights and higher prices per ticket. As an ocean liner experience, probably a natural...if they can make it pay off without catering only to the idle rich .

Jim Lawrence
13th December, 2012 @ 08:35 am PST

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the world was running out of helium and when it's gone, it's gone. The world of airships reminds me somewhat of fuel cells - endless promise, never fulfilled. Here's hoping.

To Leon Gettler: Hurray, you are a Gerry Mulligan fan! As a youth I bought every record (and I mean record - 78 rpm shellac type) he made. Can still hum many of his solos. Love it all to this day.

GeoffG
13th December, 2012 @ 08:40 am PST

I am not sure about running out of helium, as we can create it. I like the idea, and am happy that airships are potentially re-emerging. The old Hindenburg accident really put a scare into people. This technology has huge potential. I also wonder that they these ships couldnt utilize the newer lightwieght solar/photovoltaic technologies to generate more power or electric engines instead of diesel powered.

yinfu99
13th December, 2012 @ 09:05 am PST

Not quite right about the helium, as I understand it. Helium can be mined from the ground or extracted from the air. However, it costs about 10,000 times as much to extract from the air as to mine it from the ground. This could probably be improved considerably if you extracted it at high altitudes where it is found in much higher concentrations. Maybe a hydrogen filled balloon could lift a device to the region where helium is more abundant, and a device could extract it. However, it would always be costly. I am in favor of regulations on using helium in frivolous uses like the balloons you see in supermarkets.

On the main subject of the article, it sure would be nice to replace our current gas guzzler aircraft with something more ecofriendly.

David Charles Leithauser
13th December, 2012 @ 09:07 am PST

Could this guy be the next 'Aerosmith'? ...... (Sorry.)

OK, first of all, I don't think this was ever conceptualized to be a passenger vehicle, but rather a full-time heavy hauler and sky crane. I doubt that very many of us in this 21st Century would envision ourselves indolently relaxing on a slow boat to China.

And, irrespective of Igor's denouncements re:hydrogen, he's most likely going to introduce that changeover as quickly as thinks he can enlist public acceptance. H2 is much more efficient - and now more readily available than ever, vs. helium.

And I agree with comments re: Leon Gettler - his reporting has always been uniquely imbued with a passion for innovative thinking, and he relays that in such a way as to invite all of us into his camp. You go, L.G.!

OuldBill
13th December, 2012 @ 10:38 am PST

peak helium. surmise all you will on sparsest data. it was announced to the metal fabricating industry's future over a decade ago. peak is peak. the rest is overly expensive stall. except some fusion processes i can' t see coming online soon.......

Walt Stawicki
13th December, 2012 @ 10:54 am PST

Jim, the top speed of the aeroscraft is 140 mph. If it flies headfirst into a tornado, it'll start going backwards. Under normal conditions, it can fly just fine. Basically, it avoids storms with winds exceeding around 55 knots using the weather radar because they ruin the fuel efficiency and make it dangerous to land. It has the range to do this. Weather is not a problem. As for the stability, it's like comparing a dinghy in rough seas to an oil tanker- it rides out turbulence. Famously, passengers on Zeppelins would balance a pencil on a table and wait hours for it to fall over.

David, you're right that Helium can be renewably extracted from air(where it is constantly replaced by radioactivity in the Earth), but you're wrong about the costs of doing so- it's nowhere near 10,000 times as expensive. Krypton gas is extracted using the same method, and it's 5 times rarer. It costs about $1.00 per liter. Xenon is the same, but 50 times rarer than Helium- and it costs $10.00 per liter. Demand forces notwithstanding, Helium should cost around $.20 per liter. Currently, it costs(very broadly speaking) around $.06 per liter, using the cheaper ground mining method. The aeroscraft, and airships in general, could still economically operate(competing against other cargo aircraft) even if the gas cost nearly as much as extremely rare Xenon. Using a similar airship as an example, the Airlander 50, compared to an Airbus A400M, the math looks like this: an Airlander 50 carries 50 tons, contains 75,000m3 of Helium(leaking out at about 3% per annum, which is negligible), and costs $45 million. The Airbus carries 30-40 tons, and costs over $200 million, not even including the higher operating costs. The cost to for the initial fill-up(the largest helium expense) using Helium extracted from air is about $15 million, assuming $.20/L Helium. Pretty pricey, but relatively speaking he difference in cost is still enormously tilted in the airship's favor.

J. James
13th December, 2012 @ 11:17 am PST

If they can develop a material that is strong and light enough, you could use a vacuum instead of Helium or Hydrogen. Helium has weight and a cost and can't be manufactured on the run whereas a vacuum can be created with pumps and a vacuum is more buoyant than Helium or Hydrogen.

Some pretty heavy forces to deal with though.

warren52nz
13th December, 2012 @ 12:08 pm PST

Warren, unfortunately that is impossible. The forces we are talking about are immense, nigh incalculable, going up exponentially with the size of the container. It's beyond whether a material is "strong" or "weak," there is nothing capable of withstanding those pressures. It's like trying to find a type of wood paper that can survive the surface of the sun without burning. Vacuum only has about a 70% advantage over Hydrogen and Helium, but the weight of trying to contain it is vastly more than its buoyancy can handle, much less provide any meaningful aerostatic or economic advantage over the two gases.

J. James
13th December, 2012 @ 12:58 pm PST

What altitude will the Aeroscraft fly? Can it hover at any or a specific altitude? How big is the diesel engine and is there only one?

TechnoLvr
13th December, 2012 @ 07:23 pm PST

If you bombard lithium with neutrons you produce hydrogen 3 (tritium). The National Institute of Standards and Technology lists 4,500±8 days (approximately 12.32 years).[ It decays into helium-3 (Trilium) by beta decay.

So if you run the tritium through a fuel cell and collect the resulting heavy heavy water it is easy to store and separating the helium from the oxygen is a trivial process.

This is primarily of interest only to fusion enthusiasts because of the expense but it can be done.

Slowburn
13th December, 2012 @ 07:35 pm PST

@Slowburn,

And it can be done at the expense of.... Lithium? Consider the limited current supply of lithium for batteries that are in high demand and that there will be fewer places where you'll be able to mine it economically, I don't see that happening at all. Just weighing both materials on cost, lithium versus helium already says enough.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
14th December, 2012 @ 01:33 am PST

TechnoLvr, the aeroscraft has 3 Diesel engines each of about 300 horsepower or so. It usually flies at around 12,000 feet max but can make preparations ahead of time that allow it to fly at 20,000 feet or more.

Slowburn, that's interesting. While I agree with Freddy, it's always helpful to look at alternate ways ad methods of synthesizing something so valuable, in the hopes that it might someday lead to a breakthrough, something that rapidly accelerates the process or makes it extremely efficient.

I somewhat doubt that any synthesizing technology can really ever compete with simply distilling it from the atmosphere or mining it from the ground, though, at least not anytime soon.

J. James
14th December, 2012 @ 12:06 pm PST

Clearly harvesting helium from the atmosphere would be cheaper if the helium isotope is unimportant but the "We are Running out" choir annoys me because there has not been a scarcity problem that in the long run has not turned out to be a boon for mankind.

In a choice between batteries and keeping medical imagers functioning I think medical imaging wins but I think the only reason that the process would be used is for producing fuel for H2/He3 fusion reactors that primary benefit is that they produce very few free neutrons.

Slowburn
14th December, 2012 @ 06:16 pm PST

Land anywhere? The prototype/demonstrator is half the length of the to-be-built commercial model.

Land "anywhere" as long as you have at least a 600 foot diameter clearing.

Won't be landing out in the "wilderness", the Sierra Club and other "greenies" will see to that. Farm fields? Not during at least 2/3 of the year when the crops are being planted, growing and being harvested.

Most sports stadiums aren't even big enough to land the prototype. Could use the infields of large race tracks like Daytona and Talladega.

600 foot diameter, clear circles of "anywhere" tend to be nowhere near places that freight is sent to and from.

Gregg Eshelman
14th December, 2012 @ 10:05 pm PST

A vacuum would be ideal but very difficult to achieve. The weight of the atmosphere is nothing to sneeze at.

Maybe an aerogel covered envelope with all the air sucked out could work but i don't have a feel for their bearing strength or cost to produce the aerogel.

cm
14th December, 2012 @ 10:30 pm PST

Greg, you shouldn't underestimate the Aeroscraft's ability to land anywhere. When they say anywhere, they mean it. The aeroscraft can land at sea, on lakes, on snow, on permafrost and tundra(where trees cannot grow as the ground is frozen), on sand, dirt, grass, swamps, etc... And even if the trees are far too thick or there are no clearings, you forget that the Aeroscraft can lower the cargo on the internal crane system whilst hovering overhead. Unlike other cargo aircraft, which carry payloads in an internal bay, the aeroscraft suspends it from the ceiling of the vast cargo compartment. So they can deliver cargo even to places where it is impossible to land ANYTHING. It's quite an advantage.

J. James
15th December, 2012 @ 02:20 pm PST

As a matter of fact, I ran into Aeros' website after searching for some info on airships because I personally see a bright future for them (and also because I'm looking for a job).

I don't think Europe/North-America are the targeted regions where the Aeroscraft will operate because cities and infrastructures are already built and efficient. South-america and Africa might be more interesting though.

For instance, Brazil is the 5th or 6th economy in the world and represents 67% of South America's surface. Their infrastructures are horrible and this lack of logistics mean is a big issue. How practical could be an Aeroscraft there? No investment in (air)port, and unlimited size load? That might be part of the solution for them.

Nitsuj Ffrec El
17th December, 2012 @ 09:13 am PST

...would a more personable size say 2/3 person be viable ? I am thinking Australian outback as an alternative to 4wd / caravan. Great for the aging nomads!

Ken Munyard
18th December, 2012 @ 02:32 pm PST

The aeroscraft has 4 wings in the back and 2 more up front, but unless there is airflow over them, they aren't doing anything. At least the pivoting rotors on the Zeppelin NT give it maneuverability, but the aeroscraft doesn't have any engines or thrusters visible anywhere.

The variable buoyancy scheme must involve large volume, high-speed compression and expansion of helium.

No matter how much they claim it can be landed "anywhere", it will never be true. Dirigibles were pretty good at weathering storms, but they are fair-weather craft when it comes to landing.

Grunchy
28th December, 2012 @ 06:50 am PST

What Engine on this project?

Serg Bursyuk
13th January, 2013 @ 12:47 am PST

These things could be the new trains. Faster than cars, way, way cheaper than high speed rail, and ample space. And I'd read these things could travel at up to 170 mph.

lugnut
29th January, 2013 @ 06:34 pm PST

Briliant! It's about time we replaced huge marine life killing freighter burning bunker oil, killing the planet...

Andrew Melchior
3rd February, 2013 @ 01:30 pm PST
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