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Helium buoyancy issue solved at last?

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Some problems can only be solved with a COSH

Enter Pasternak with his COSH equipment, which compresses helium into tanks, so removing lift and adding weight. These tanks, judging by Aeros photos of test blimps, are large low-pressure affairs perhaps made of fabric or other lightweight stuff rather than conventional metal high-pressure jobs. The helium is compressed only enough that it becomes heavier than air rather than lighter – say to pressures of just a few atmospheres, no more than that inside some modern bicycle tyres. (The toroidal tanks used on previous Aeros test blimps somewhat resembled large bike tyres, in fact: a doughnut shape is particularly efficient at containing pressure.)

A Sky Dragon Blimp without COSH fitted

Aeros blimp without COSH.

Pasternak contends that COSH would allow an airship to unload cargo or passengers without taking on ballast or venting gas: instead, enough helium would be rammed into the pressurised cells to compensate for the lost weight of payload. Apparently this can be done in a practical amount of time using condenser/compressor machinery of reasonable size, weight and power requirements.

Originally, Pasternak and Aeros intended to use COSH to build a mighty "Walrus" ship for the famous military crazytech agency DARPA. The Walrus was meant to lift an entire US ground-combat battalion and all its vehicles and equipment in a single load, and drop them off more or less anywhere – ie, do so without taking on ballast.

Sky Dragon with COSH fitted

Same blimp, with COSH. Note the doughnut tanks.

Sadly, Walrus was cancelled by Congress in 2006: perhaps reasonably enough. In order to lift its enormous load the Walrus needed to fill a large fraction of its vast hull with lifting helium, meaning that it would reach pressure height at a fairly low altitude of just 10,000 feet – putting the huge, slow titan within the reach even of basic man-portable antiaircraft missiles all along its line of flight.

Other major airship projects remain – the US Army's LEMV, for instance, and DARPA's ISIS – but these are intended to operate at higher altitudes on surveillance missions and so would not offer massive payloads (though the LEMV could perhaps serve in a cargo role if desired). Since Walrus' cancellation, however, Aeros has been left out in the cold – though DARPA has nonetheless funded a small-scale COSH demo and some work on the innovative rigid shell required for a full-fledged "Aeroscraft".

Now, however, Aviation Week reports that Aeros has new funds from the Pentagon's Rapid Reaction Technology Office. The company now expects to fly a demonstrator dubbed "Pelican" either next year or in 2013. The 230-foot Pelican will not carry any payload, but will prove the rigid aeroshell, the COSH technology and the integrated flight-control system that will use the COSH system in conjunction with vectored thrust from the propulsion (and dynamic lift in forward flight) to handle the craft and achieve full vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) performance. This last is important as many of the newer "hybrid" airship designs are not true lighter-than-air vessels: they are intended to operate in a heavy condition, in large part to deal with the issues of fuel burn and/or unloading. This means that they are likely to need to take off and/or land running, like an aeroplane: it also means that they cannot remain airborne in the event of engine failure, nor unload or load in the hover like a helicopter.

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