Oct. 19, 2012 at 11:37 AM ET
In the future, U.S. soldiers abroad may see their supplies come in carried under the bellies of zeppelins. Aeros Corp., a California-based startup, is working on a high-tech prototype airship on the behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense. When completed, Aeros' Pelican zeppelin will test a novel combination of airship and airplane technologies for carrying cargo long distances, the industry news site Aviation Week reported.
In the Pelican's first test flights, scheduled for early 2013, developers just want to see that they can fly and control the aircraft, Aeros CEO Igor Pasternak told Aviation Week. In the future, Aeros hopes to build a larger version of the Pelican to carry tens of tons of cargo, like current military cargo planes do. Unlike planes, however, the Pelican should be able to take off and land vertically, so it won't need long runways at its landing sites. It should also be able to sit on the ground while it's being loaded, so it won't require tethers like other airships, and it will be able to land in poor weather.
"This will land in Africa, Afghanistan, a Walmart parking lot — wherever," Pasternak told the Los Angeles Times.
Cargo isn't the only reason the military is interested in airships, and the military isn't the only market for a modern generation of airships, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Pentagon now uses drones to patrol enemy areas, but airships can be more effective and less expensive patrollers. An unmanned airship is able to hover over one spot for days, while drones can only go on hours-long flights. The U.S. already has more than 100 camera-equipped balloons over Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported. The balloons, called aerostats, are too large to be shot down.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing airships to carry commercial cargo.
Not all of the military's bets on airships have worked out, the Los Angeles Times reported. The army has lost lighter-than-air craft during high winds, including an $8.2 million airship that drifted away and exploded during a tropical storm in Puerto Rico. The Air Force also scrapped a $211 million project called the Blue Devil because of development problems.
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