Massive experimental airship hovers in test flight, but wind forces quick landing


By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

A massive experimental airship briefly lumbered into the skies in front of the former military base in Tustin, Calif., where shifting winds kept it from making its first untethered flight.

The 266-foot-long Aeroscraft was built by Worldwide Aeros Corp. with more than $50 million in funding from the Pentagon and NASA to demonstrate a novel buoyancy system that enables the airship to carry heavy loads — and to move vertically with the precision of a helicopter.

The helium-filled airship’s only cargo Tuesday was two passengers, test pilot Corky Belanger and Aeroscraft inventor Igor Pasternak.

Not long after sunrise, the airship slowly climbed to about 20 feet, kicking up clouds of dust and debris in front of one of the two 17-story wooden blimp hangars in Tustin, where the silver airship was built.

The Aeroscraft tested for about two hours, creating a stir in the nearby community with neighbors coming out for a look, cars pulling over, and a school bus stopping for a short while.

In the end, company officials decided that shifting winds were too strong to allow for a more ambitious flight. Flight testing at Tustin will continue for the next several months, as the company aims to go higher and longer each time out.

The Aeroscraft is a new type of hybrid aircraft that combines airplane and airship technologies and doesn’t need a long runway to take off or land. That’s because the buoyancy system uses air just as a submarine uses water to submerge and surface at will.

Design work on the Aeroscraft began in 2005 when Worldwide Aeros won a $3 million contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Who else thought its Thunderbird 2 (ed)