Designers envision the Aeroscraft operating like a luxury cruise ship that sails through the air instead of the ocean. Up to 250 passengers will travel in comfort and style, with sleeping quarters, restaurants, a casino and other amenities. The Aeroscraft will be able to cruise past scenic landmarks to give passengers a stunning view, even if the landmark is in the middle of a jungle. The passenger version is the Aeros-ML, which would have a smaller configuration, with room for about 120 passengers or 20 tons of cargo.
The Aeroscraft also has potential as a cargo ship. There are two versions for freight -- the Aeros-D4 and the Aeros-D8. Currently, time-sensitive cargo is usually shipped by land because shipping by airplane is cost-prohibitive and has weight limitations. But the Aeroscraft's cargo hold of two acres can accommodate 400 to 500 tons of cargo, and it can handle huge items that can't be disassembled, like oil rigs or huge pieces of factory machinery. It will be able to move them without disrupting traffic, and much more quickly than trucks can. Aeroscraft's designers think it will be able to do so at a competitive cost. It may even be able to carry "an entire store's worth of merchandise directly to a Wal-Mart" [ref].
That kind of cargo capacity interests the military as well. It could carry an entire company (100 to 200 troops), all of their equipment, all their support troops, fuel, rations, water and everything else the company would need to set up and go to work fighting a war, all in an aircraft that could drop them anywhere. Such a craft could revolutionize military logistics.
Worldswide Aeros was one of two companies to receive a $3 million preliminary design contract to design a vehicle for DARPA's Walrus program. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Walrus program was created to develop a large heavier-than-air aircraft to deploy both military personnel and equipment. However, the project is currently without government funding, and DARPA's budget request for the 2007 fiscal year called to terminate Walrus at the end of this developmental phase "in keeping with congressional intent" [ref]. The company is still moving forward with its prototype development and plans to have it ready within 18 months.
Recently, the U.S. Air Force awarded Aeroscraft with a Phase I Small Business Innovative Research Program (SBIR) Award. This award "encourages small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization" [ref]. Aeroscraft will use the award to develop high-altitude, near-space aircraft that can perform many of the same duties as Earth-orbiting spacecraft or satellites at a fraction of the cost.
The Aeroscraft Company also thinks their airship will be perfect for commuter flights. According to their Web site:
For short-haul markets, The Short Take-Off and Landing ("STOL") capability of Aeroscraft, its relatively low noise, and efficient fuel consumption (due to lower power levels) give the Aeroscraft power advantages. Aeroscraft will be comfortably competitive in short-haul markets, which have to date been largely uneconomical for traditional airliners. The airlines have largely abandoned service routes between 20 and 300 miles, but Aeroscraft could operate profitably in these markets, restore service between city centers and even minor airports, and work as a feeder to international airports and hubs.
Some other suggested uses:
- Agriculture and Environmental - An Aeroscraft could carry a huge amount of water to dump on a fire in a remote location. It could also deliver fertilizer and assist in identifying sources of pollution.
- Disaster relief - In the wake of a natural disaster, the lack of infrastructure can make it very difficult to bring in aid supplies in large quantities. The Aeroscraft could haul medical supplies, drinking water and food directly to the affected areas.
Worldwide Aeros plans to have a prototype Aeroscraft ready for testing by 2010. It's too early in the development stage to know how much it will cost to manufacture an Aeroscraft. However, the company claims that they will cost 30 percent less in capital costs and 50 percent less in maintenance costs than conventional aircraft [ref]. Two companies have already signed agreements to receive the first Aeroscrafts when it is ready for commercial production.
For lots more information on the Aeroscraft and related topics, check out the links on the next page.