An extraordinary new US cargo platform's prototype is approaching its first flight, three years after DARPA's Walrus HULA (Hybrid Ultra Large Aircraft) programme was terminated.
The Walrus HULA programme involved a proposed airship with a 12,000 mile range and a minimum 500 ton cargo capacity. The programme ended before a prototype could be manufactured and test-flown but, now, the Worldwide Aeros Corporation's Aeroscraft proof-of-concept design is almost ready.
If it enters US military service, the Aeroscraft could revolutionise current battlefield deployment tactics, giving the USAF the ability to move large loads into areas without needing a runway.
Battlefield Cargo Airship
Currently, the Aeroscraft battlefield cargo airship exists as a half-sized prototype and it's this that the Worldwide Aeros Corporation hopes to soon test-fly.
The prototype's 250 feet long - so only 50 per cent the length of the real thing - but incorporates the same structure and avionics as will feature in the full-scale Aeroscraft, which should follow-on in 2016.
The Aeroscraft won't meet the Walrus HULA's specifications but, nonetheless, will have a 3,000 mile range and a 66 ton cargo capacity. In comparison, the Lockheed C-5B Galaxy - the largest transport aircraft presently used by the USAF - has a 3,434 mile range and can lift over 122 tons of cargo into the air but it also needs to use conventional runways, specifically those 8,000 feet or more in length.
Travelling at a maximum of 120 knots, the Aeroscraft airship will operate at up to 18,000 feet. A key Aeroscraft feature will be its internal ballast control system, taking away the need to moor it down when it's on the ground.
"The advantage is you don't need ground infrastructure", Worldwide Aeros Corporation founder, Igor Pasternak, explained to technology website Gizmag. "You can fly anywhere, you can land anywhere, you don't need any ballast, you don't need any ground crew." He added: "The vehicle construction is complete and this is truly the beginning of a vertical global transportation solution for perhaps the next 100 years."
Armed Forces International will revisit this topic in future News coverage.