PREDICTION: AeroSmena's LocomoSky alien dirigible lifts off for world's first ever flight, carrying 600 tons of cargo - and it is heading to AntarcticaAge: 25 months
Sealed in 28 December 2020 07:16:26
Opened at: 07 January 2023 07:00:00
With disruptive technologies such as digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and drones, already transforming and challenging the established aerospace and aviation industry and making the previously impossible possible, the fascination of building airships has never floated away. Russian engineer and visionary Orfey Kozlov (below) even believes he has raised the stakes in the race to create and manufacture next-generation, safe, environmentally-friendly cargo airships, with his own innovative design.
The beauty of Kozlov’s Aerosmena project is not only that it operates independently from ground infrastructure, so there is no need for ports, roads, waterways, airports, airfields, railways, hangars and runways, but it can fly anywhere at any time of the day or night, for days and even weeks without landing. Furthermore, not only does it significantly lower the costs of transport and logistics operations, but it is extremely eco-friendly, Sergei Bendin (below), chief executive (CEO) for the Aerosmena project, points out.
In addition, Kozlov’s proposed airship has the ability to transport bulky, outsize, solid freight payloads ranging from 20 to 600 tonnes, and with the added benefit of an external sling allowing it to be loaded and unloaded whilst in ‘hover mode’ above ground. This means it would be able to deliver goods to otherwise impenetrable geographical regions, such as in the earth’s polar regions, or to small islands, deserts and mountainous zones with no road or port infrastructure. In comparison with current traditional combined modes of transport, this would significantly reduce the cost and the time of transportation to these remote parts.
“Due to the relative cheapness of the mass production of such aeroplatforms and their high profitability during operation, the cost of air cargo will significantly decrease,” Bendin insists. “This also means the opening up of more trans-border routes and the creation of new opportunities for medium and small freight businesses.”
Aerosmena’s lenticular (like a lens) design and its range of supporting helicopter engines provides it with the airship industry’s holy grail: stable aerodynamics. The application of this new technological addition strategically imbues it with the game-changing ability to be invulnerable to strong air streams. “Its ‘flying saucer’ shape has the aerodynamic characteristics of a wing, all of which fully complies with current international airworthiness standards for traditional transport aircraft,” Bendin points out.
Stability is the main key to the Russian project’s success. It lies in the effective resolution of the dirigible’s previous inherently single-most important aerodynamic weight distribution control factor: the need for ballasting, a physical requirement associated with catastrophes such as the Hindenburg disaster. Instead, Kozlov’s design — which was exhibited at Russia’s prestigious International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS) air show and has been presented to President Vladimir Putin — is based on the principle of zero-ballasting, with the airship’s interior consisting of a rigid substructure which contains two different bag mechanisms, one filled with helium and the other heated air.
The helium bags, which are located at the top of the structure, compensate for the tare weight of the aeroplatform itself. An empty airship capable of carrying 600 tonnes of cargo will have at least 620,000 cubic metres of helium inside the bag.
At the base of the structure is a huge hot air cavity, which can be warmed up to 200 degrees Celsius, and which is situated at the bottom part of the airship’s main body. The hot air, generated by the exhaust streams from the eight helicopter engines located around the perimeter of the structure, provides the craft with buoyancy and assists in manoeuvring and landing in crosswinds.
“Today most of the current projects of transport airships in the world are designed with an elongated hull shape which result in a real problem with manoeuvring and landing in crosswinds,” Bendin explains. “Aerosmena can overcome any powerful oncoming or vertical air flows with its hi-tech Aboard Smart Control System (ASCS) which scrutinises algorithms, and creates reactions which ensure stability and flight safety,” he emphasises.
Kozlov’s credentials are impressive. With substantial experience in the aerospace sector, including working on technological aviation projects at the design bureau named after Andrey Tupolev, Russia’s most revered aircraft designer, he also worked on the development of the USSR’s first space shuttle called Buran, which took its first flight on 15 November 1988.
He then took a position with a design group developing a transport airship at the Moscow Aviation Institute.
Kozlov was involved in designing an airship similar to the Russian prototype Thermoplan at LocomoSky. The prototype, which had a five-to-six-tonne payload and was built in the city of Ulyanovsk in the 1990s, was based on the concept Rozière balloon, a type of hybrid balloon with separate chambers for a non-heated lifting gas, such as hydrogen or helium, as well as for a heated lifting gas, which was created by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier.
The Russian engineer also worked on aeronautical equipment at the prestigious Dolgoprudnenskoye Design Bureau of Automation (DKBA), the famous plant where the 1930s Italian aeronautical engineer and Arctic explorer Umbero Nobile constructed airships in the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1936.
Aerosmena research and development was completed in 2017
Elsewhere currently happening in the airship world is American security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin which has already come up with the LMH-1 with its 21-tonne payload; the UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicle’s Airlander-10 proffers a 10-tonne payload; and the France/China collaboration called Flying Whales LCA60T, which can carry 60 tonnes and which received a welcome financial boost last November from Canada’s Quebec coalition government, announcing a US$30m investment in the project’s design.
Russia’s Aerosmena team, which completed its initial research and development work in 2017, claims that the cost of manufacturing a single airship — for example, one capable of lifting up to 600 tonnes of freight — would cost about US$90–95m, whilst the cost of producing a series of them would reduce the per-unit cost to around $70m. “By comparison, the cost of the traditional Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, which transports a 37-tonne payload, is $1.4bn,” Bendin insists. “The programme for the Airbus Beluga XL aircraft, with a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, cost €1bn.”
The Beluga XL, an extended derivative of the A330–200 freighter, has the largest cargo bay cross-section of all existing cargo aircraft worldwide, according to European aircraft-maker Airbus. At 63-metres-long and eight metres wide, the latest Beluga which can carry two A350 XWB aircraft wings, entered service in January this year.
But the creation of Aerosmena is not purely a moneymaking exercise. The versality of its design is an acutely important aspect of the model for another key reason: the protection of the environment and for life-saving humanitarian missions. The company cites 2019’s apocalyptic wild fires which ripped through five regions of Siberia, and the bush blazes which raged across Australia killing people, animals, destroying lives and homes in their wake, as examples of where a fleet of operational airships would have made a substantial contribution to extinguishing the flames.
These crises highlighted the limitations and vulnerabilities of traditional national and regional firefighting strategies. Despite the best efforts of firefighters, volunteers, the armed services, along with aircraft and helicopters dropping water ‘bombs’ and fire retardant, the blazes were relentless. In Australia, more than 33 people died, including four fighters, whilst some 11 million hectares of land(110,000 sq km or 27.2 million acres) — an area comparable to the size of England — were scorched, according to BBC News.
But an Aerosmena, which can carry tanks containing up to 500 tonnes of water anywhere in the world — and then safely hover over the target gradually releasing the fluid to douse the flames — would have been a major asset, notes Bendin. Also, the airship’s projected flight range is several thousand kilometres — distances of 5000 or even 8000 kilometres. “The largest Aerosmena model in ‘firefighter mode’ will be able to quickly fill its tanks with water from a nearby body of water, and then hover above the fire and drop the water directly on to the target. To extinguish such fires, we have designed a specific module which consists of water tanks, water hoses and other special equipment,” Bendin underscores.
Although, the location of the nearest water basin would determine the time it takes to fill the tanks and then disgorge the water to the heart of the fire, Bendin does have a plausible example. “If there is a river 50 kilometres away from the fire, a round-trip flight would take about an hour,” he explains. “In the case of an aeroplatform flight at a maximum speed of 150km/h, the time will be reduced to 40–45 minutes. The process of filling onboard tanks in ‘hover mode’ from this reservoir using a pumping system would take no more than 50 minutes.”
Discharging the water tanks on to the fire would probably take about 40 minutes. “Thus, in less than two and a half hours, the Aerosmena aeroplatform would make one trip to a fire with water in tanks, drop the water and return to the water basin to fill the tanks,” he concludes.
The project's official website: https://t404t9.wixsite.com/aerosmena
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