Unique airship hybrid defies easy categorization

 - September 20, 2007, 7:17 AM

It’s always big news when a new aircraft model is introduced at NBAA. Worldwide Aeros Corp., making its first NBAA appearance this week, hopes that introducing an entirely new category of air vehicle will be really big news.

The Tarzana, Calif.-based company– which has been building airships for the past 20 years–unveiled a scale model of the Aeroscraft ML866 prototype air vehicle it plans to begin flight testing in 2010. “It’s not a blimp and not an airship or dirigible; it’s a new category,” said Edward Pevzner, Aeros business development manager. Pevzner said the design uses a hybrid of buoyant and aerodynamic lift in a vehicle capable of performing vertical takeoffs and landings and cruising from 20 to 120 knots with a range of up to 3,000 miles.

A 1/48th scale model of the proposed 212-foot-long and 95-foot-wide craft is on display at the Aeros booth (No. 7359). Said Pevzner, “We have been working with the FAA to establish basic criteria for this new category of aircraft. The FAA has designated it as Type Number 4.” He added that because Aeros created the concept, the new category will be called “aeroscraft.”

The flying prototype will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engines. A rendering on the Aeros Web site (www.aerosml.com) shows two turboshafts with six-blade propellers mounted on each side of the craft. “This is not a lighter-than- air vehicle,” Pevzner continued.

For the ML866, he said, “We envision private uses, business or executive transport as a flying office and short-haul commuter service on routes such as between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.” Pevzner predicted wide usage for low density bulk cargo to areas with limited infrastructure. The aeroscraft design would operate as high as 12,000 feet.

With usable interior space of about 5,000 sq ft, the ML866 will carry passengers and cargo inside the airframe, which rather than being fabric-covered, as is the case with most airships, will be constructed of composite materials. Pevzner said a proprietary “dynamic buoyancy management system will make the craft either heavier or lighter” using a helium compression technique. About 70 percent of the ML866’s lift will be provided by buoyancy from the helium, with the other 30 percent from aerodynamic lift of the airframe body. The airfoil shape is described as “one big thick wing.”

With design of the technology already complete, system fabrication is now under way at the Aeros plant in California’s San Fernando Valley. “We will use the already FAA-certified Aeros 40D airship as a flying test bed for qualifying the system structure and components,” Pevzner said. The rigid composite structure will, in two to three months, begin airframe static testing. Airborne testing, including the ML866’s first flight, will take place at San Bernardino International Airport (SBD), the former Norton AFB.

As for marketing the aeroscraft, he said, “We do not have a customer at this time, but there is a lot of positive interest. At NBAA our main goal is to contact the end users and get input about their particular application desires, what they want that we can incorporate.” Pevzner said he expects the price of an ML866 would be less than that of a Gulfstream V, which is currently selling for about $40 million.