INCREDIBLY INNOVATIVE AIRSHIP MAY CREATE NEEDED CARGO TRANSPORT SOLUTIONS AND WILL TEST FAA REGULATORY STRICTURES

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ARTICLE: Pelican Demonstrator Aimed At Airlift

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The CargoLifter effort to utilize the zeppelin design concept to lift heavy loads from the point of manufacture to the delivery point failed. That visionary venture attracted substantial interest from companies that required the vehicle’s proposed capacity to lift huge industrial turbines, hospitals, modular buildings (including a national fast food chain) and other outsized loads. These cargoes, if transported by traditional ground modes, either mandate the disassembly of the equipment/building or substantial disruption over the roads. It failed for a number of reasons, not the least of which was dealing with massive ballast transfer issues at the points of departure and arrival.

DARPA is now funding a new concept which utilizes both buoyant and aerodynamic lift differently from other lighter-than-air and hybrid vehicles. The design goals include greater efficiency, flexibility and ground handling. Aeros Corp’s goal is a vehicle with a C-17-like payload and range, combined with vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) capability. Above is a picture of the aircraft prototype in a World War II airship hangar in Tustin, Calif.

Its name is the Pelican and its engineering design descriptor is a “rigid-aeroshell, variable-buoyancy” (RAVB) vehicle. It can be neutrally buoyant in cruise, and can lift its load and deliver it vertically. On the ground, the Pelican can remain heavier-than-air as payload is unloaded, avoiding the need for tethers or masts and making it less vulnerable to bad weather.

The transition from a DARPA design concept to a viable commercial aircraft that can receive an FAA TC and PC plus Operating Specifications will require substantial regulatory expertise. The structural design is outside traditional FAA tests, the operation of such a large vehicle through the ATC requires novel coordination and communications, and the time aloft tests the FAA operational limits. The OEM should consider incorporating professionals familiar with all of the relevant FAA requirements.

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