From troop deployments and military surveillance to mobilizing disaster relief efforts, a new hybrid airship prototype holds promise as an innovative mode of aerial transport. When deployed, the 500-footlong Aeroscraft airship will provide increased capacity to move massive loads into remote areas, including fragile terrains, says Mansoor Kouchak, vice president of engineering for manufacturer Aeros in Montebello, Calif. The vessel’s carbon composite and aluminum shell is central to the airship’s expansive payload capabilities as it provides structural strength for the craft, which has an anticipated range of 3,100 nautical miles and an estimated airspeed of 110 knots.

The Aeroscraft is in the final stages of assembly and all components have been validated and tested. The firm is ahead of schedule in testing the prototype and intends to scale up the production process, eventually constructing a 66-ton commercial airship. Aeros expects to conduct test flights by the end of this year.

The craft’s rigid framework is a key aspect of the invention, providing the vessel with “full authority when in low speed or hover mode,” says Sadia Ashraf, communications manager for the company. Most airships have non-rigid structures that are prone to puncture and are extremely light when cargo is offloaded, causing them to float away without a ballast. By contrast, the Aeroscraft has an internal ballast system and a rigid structure to control lift at all flight stages and carry maximum payload while in hover mode.

Igor Pasternak, chief engineer and founder of the company, says the Aeroscraft is the only rigid variablebuoyancy air vehicle of its kind. The airship’s buoyancy system, which incorporates carbon fiber frames, has the potential to revolutionize air transport, says Pasternak, who launched the company in 1987 while still residing in the Ukraine. The aerospace inventor moved to the United States in 1993.

Several types of carbon fiber tubing, fabricated to achieve a high strength-to-weight ratio, were used to construct the ship’s trusses. A very strong, lightweight fabric covers the vessel’s skeleton.

The craft’s buoyancy management system uses compressed helium, which creates a vacuum inside the envelope, so the operator can adjust the vessel’s buoyancy. Controlling the level of helium makes the vessel lighter or heavier, allowing the pilot to raise or lower the craft. “When helium is compressed into pressure vessels, it creates a vacuum inside the envelope allowing for the air to fill in the expansion bags,” says Kouchak. “At this stage, the vehicle becomes heavy.”