It is called Pathfinder 1 and it is an aircraft that has the backing of such important investors as Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Named Pathfinder 1 , the largest airship in the world has received authorization to carry out its first flight (without ascending beyond 460 meters, of course). With a length of 122 meters, this gigantic airship is almost twice the length of a Boeing 747-8, the longest aircraft in existence.
From the hand of LTA Research, Pathfinder 1 is a prototype of an electric blimp that will carry out airworthiness tests at Moffett Field, headquarters of NASA’s Ames Research Center, and over the seas south of San Francisco Bay. If all goes well, these huge airships could be used for air travel, cargo transportation and humanitarian aid missions.
“The Pathfinder 1 experimental flight test program aims to demonstrate and establish the flight envelope of the airship,” they commented in the air test request. “LTA’s test plan is designed to include substantial ground testing both indoors and outdoors, using a build-up approach to gradually increase the flight envelope.”
What fuel does it take?
Technologically, instead of explosive hydrogen, this airship uses helium as a lifting gas, which is lighter than air. It uses approximately 30,000 cubic meters of helium and uses 20 electric motors – developed in collaboration with Pipistrel – to achieve vertical takeoff and speeds of up to 120 km/h. With helium prices fluctuating due to shortages, between $250,000 and $1 million may be needed to fill Pathfinder 1 (between $228,000 and just over $900,000).
The aircraft has 13 ripstop nylon gas bags in a structure made of carbon fiber (specifically with a megastructure composed of 10,000 carbon fiber tubes) and titanium (with 3,000 joints of this material) and a surface covered with Tedlar, a laminated material, strong, light and, perhaps most importantly, non-flammable (it is impossible not to remember the Hindenburg disaster in the 1930s that was loaded with extremely flammable hydrogen). What’s more, the Pathfinder 1 is the largest aircraft produced since the 245-meter Hindenburg burned down in 1937.
On the LTA Research website, the company writes that the Pathfinder 1’s landing gear uses “a strong shock absorber and wheels tested for heavy loads such as water or relief machinery.”
The Pathfinder 1 also adapts drone technology, which will make it easier to fly. Plus, you’ll only need one pilot at any given time with the help of a fly-by-wire joystick system. This entire flying monster is managed using simple joystick controls, through a fly-by-wire flight control system.
While Pathfinder 1 can carry about four tons of cargo plus its crew, ballast water and fuel, future humanitarian airships will need much larger capacities. A series of increasingly ambitious flight tests lie ahead before the Pathfinder 1, which has been in development since 2016, moves to Akron, Ohio, where LTA Research is planning an even larger airship, the Pathfinder 3 (which It is expected to be 183 meters long and 30 meters in diameter.
In fact, its long-term objectives are to create an entire family of airships that can be used in cases of natural disasters, for example, in situations where roads or airports are impassable. And LTA says that its main objective is humanitarian aid; Airships can carry bulk cargo and get people out of disaster areas when the areas are quite destroyed and there is no way for other large aircraft to get in and out.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin is also involved in funding a nonprofit called Global Support and Development, which provides emergency disaster relief.
As those responsible explain, “ the aircraft will have the capacity to complement, and even accelerate, humanitarian disaster response and relief efforts , so that many more lives can be saved. Airships do not require aviation infrastructure such as runways and landing zones, allowing them to deliver food, equipment, supplies and other vital aid to areas affected by natural disasters.”