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