The next step, Pasternak says, is a vehicle with approximately twice the Pelican's overall dimensions and eight times the volume—about 450 ft. long and 3.8 million cu. ft.—capable of carrying a 66-ton payload over a 3,000-nm unrefueled range, and with combined diesel and turboprop propulsion. It could also incorporate the ability to superheat helium gas for takeoff—after takeoff, the helium would be allowed to cool to ambient temperatures and the vehicle would use a combination of aerodynamic and buoyant lift in the cruise, at speeds up to 80-100 kt. and up to 10,000 ft. Aeros has also experimented with techniques for extracting water from the engine exhaust to compensate for fuel use. “We could complete the design-build cycle on that vehicle in 28-30 months,” he tells Aviation Week.
The Pelican demonstrator, Pasternak says, includes some “full-scale elements” such as truss members—some of these will be larger on the full-size vehicle, but not all—gas valves and “innovative, pilot-intuitive” flight controls. (The objective is a high degree of automation, says Pasternak, “where the pilot is really the captain.”)
One unique feature of the full-size aircraft that is on the demonstrator is a retractable cockpit on the lower surface. It is fully extended for VTOL operations to provide all-round situational awareness, partially retracts to reduce drag in cruising flight, and disappears completely into the hull when the vehicle is on the ground. The last position permits the flat-bottomed hull to rest flush with the ground, making it more stable in high winds.
This feature is associated with the intended cargo-handling system. The concept, Pasternak says, is “to remove the vehicle from the cargo, not the cargo from the vehicle.” This would imply that the airship lands and the cargo—in containers or pallets—is detached from the ship, after which the craft increases its buoyancy and floats off the load.
Larger vehicles are possible in the future, says Pasternak, “but we strongly understand the need to test an operational vehicle before going to 100 or 200 tons.” So far, the 66-ton vehicle is unfunded.