A huge inflatable vehicle as long as a 23-floor skyscraper is tall has become the world's largest airship in its bid to serve as a stratospheric satellite, or "stratellite," according to its developers.
The 235-foot (72 m) long airship, known as the Bullet 580, has a top speed of 80 mph (129 km/h) and can serve as a high-flying sentinel that stays aloft for long periods of time. Getting the new sky behemoth inflated required six hours inside Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Ala.
"Our airships are radically different designs that move beyond the performance limitations of traditional blimps or zeppelins by combining advanced technology with simple construction and the ability to fuel with algae, protecting our environment," said Michael Lawson, chairman and CEO of E-Green Technologies.
The airship is designed to carry payloads of up to 2,000 pounds (907 kg) at altitudes of 20,000 feet (6,096 m). Any cargo aboard the airship would sit within an outer envelope made from a new type of Kevlar, or the same material used to build bulletproof vests. That allows the envelope to have a width just one-sixteenth of an inch thick, but still be 10 times stronger than steel.
Airships have undergone a resurgence of interest as both military and civilian operators eye their cost-efficient operations compared to traditional fixed-wing aircraft. But even the modern record-holder for size dwindles in comparison to airships back in their heyday, such as the 804-foot (245 m) Hindenberg.
E-Green Technologies considers the Bullet 580 as the first in a wave of airships in production for commercial use. It acquired the airship's developers, 21st Century Airships, in November 2009.
Military and civilian versions of the airship might take on roles forbattlefield surveillance, missile defense warning, electronic countermeasures, weapons platforms, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) services, weather monitoring, broadcast communications and communications relays.
A maiden flight scheduled for later this year would carry an experimental payload jointly developed by NASA and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. The agricultural and geophysical experiment is designed to measure moisture content in the soil.
Getting commercial airship production up and running is expected to create hundreds of textile industry jobs in Alabama, according to a statement by E-Green Technologies. It might also lead to aerospace and aviation jobs in Central Florida and Northern California, where the company hopes to set up operational centers.