Aerodynamic Buoyant Blimp Budges Into Low Cost Cargo Commerce

Buoyant Aero MK4 keeps station in a tail wind

Before the Wright Brothers powered their way across the sands of Kitty Hawk or Otto Lilienthal soared from the hills of Germany, enveloping hot air in a balloon was the only way to fly. Concepts were refined as time went by, and culminated in the grand Zeppelins of the 1930’s. However since the tragic end of the Zeppelin era, lighter than air aircraft have often been viewed as a novelty in the aviation world.

Several companies have come forward in the last decade, pitching enormous lighter than air machines for hauling large amounts of cargo at reduced cost. These behemoths rely on a mixture of natural buoyancy and lifting body designs and are intended to augment ferries and short haul commercial aviation routes.

It was this landscape where Buoyant Aero founders [Ben] and [Joe] saw an underserved that they believe they can thrive in: Transporting 300-600 lbs between warehouses or airports. They aim to increase the safety, cargo capacity, and range of traditional quadcopter concepts, and halve the operating costs of a typical Cessna 182. They hope to help people such as those rural areas of Alaska where high transportation costs double the grocery bill.

Like larger designs, Buoyant Aero’s hybrid airship relies on aerodynamic lift to supply one third the needed lift. Such an arrangement eliminates the need for ballast when empty while retaining the handling and navigation characteristics needed for autonomous flight. The smaller scale prototype’s outstanding ability to maneuver sharply and hold station with a tailwind is displayed in the video below the break. You can also learn more about their project on their Hacker News launch. We look forward to seeing the larger prototypes as they are released!

Perhaps this project will inspire your own miniature airship, in which case you may want to check out the Blimpduino for some low buck ideas. We recently covered some other Hybrid Airships that are trying to scale things even further. And if you have your own blimpy ideas you’d like to pass along, please let us know via the Tip Line!

22 thoughts on “Aerodynamic Buoyant Blimp Budges Into Low Cost Cargo Commerce

  1. > enveloping hot air in a balloon was the only way to fly.

    Or helium, or hydrogen.

    BTW even when the Zeppelin was active, Eckener, who was running the company, felt that it was a niche product serving a fairly similar market, of heavy lift and very long loiter times with low operating cost.

  2. Another Cargolifter?

    “They hope to help people such as those rural areas of Alaska where high transportation costs double the grocery bill.”
    With only 300kg payload? Foodstuff and household supplies are heavy, up to 1000kg per pallet.

      1. If it can make 10 roundtrips per day at half the cost of a grand caravan, thats 1360kg. If it will be autonomous and self piloted, i can see that happening. Also if it would have the range of a grand caravan but would be able to drop off cargo in a place where only a helicopter can land, it beats the grand caravan again.

  3. IMHO its about starting “under the radar”. Blimps are so much better then airplanes in nearly every aspect so the are a huge competition for airlines and plane manufacturers. There were a couple of tries to build competing vessels which where all killed of not because of technical issues but because of financial and bureaucratic issues.
    Starting so low that you are not seen as a competitor might help to get a foot in the door and finally get this things flying again.

  4. It would be huge. To pick up 600 lbs, which is about 270 kg, you’d need about 270 m3 of helium (as each m3 can pick up about 1 kg). From here, all estimates of bigness go up as fuel/batteries, motors, frame, helium gas bag, things, and more things, will add up in weight. Then there’s the mentioned 30% discount for using lift, but it’s still huge. Like using a flying house to deliver 1/4 a pallet.

    Clearly profitable. Imagine the advertising revenue from such large surfaces clogging up the skies. Where’s my pointy stick..?

    1. Well, its not like the sky is short for space. And it can have a winch to lower/pick up cargo so that it doesnt have to land. I dont like the idea of being heavier than air though, i think the way to go is to have high pressure gas tanks with pumps connected to the gas bags instead of ballast to regulate boyancy, so that it can be just as heavy as air both with and without cargo.

    1. Probably less than 20 m3 for the prototype, and thus less than 20 kg of lift. It’s not an aerofoil shape for generating lift either. Has to rely on angle of attack.

      Should we call things a hack every time we glue 2 things together?

      Mulling an idea, something that could pick up 87 kg, and carry that around would be great fun. Why stop at cargo? For added ballast, I can always eat another pie.

  5. Grr, Can’t do a new line easily………..The Math doesn’t quite add up……that’s a 20ft prototype – about 6 meters long. Lets be generous and say it’s got about 20m3 volume……if it were a hot air balloon, it could lift about 6KG. There are commercial 20ft ‘blimps’ available that claim around 2KG payload with Helium gas…This is a double blimp so, lets be generous and assume they can somehow lift 10KGish with a 20m3 volume device. 10KG is about 22LB…lets say 20LB. 600LB is 20 times more weiight. At around 1LB per m3 volume – they’d need a 600m3 volume thingy. The smallest hot air balloons are about this volume and can carry a single person, lets say 200lb – without a basket….I don’t know the easy volume to length ratios for these things, but we know 20m3 volume is 20ft. 40m3 volume is probably 30ft, 60m3 volume (needed for 3 x 200lb) is probably 40ft….so the actual device would need to be at least double the length following a similar profile. Maybe theyre using Hydrogen as the lifting gas? – Helium wouldn’t seem to cut it?

    1. that 20x should be 30x more…….(than a 20lb thing).which throws my math out even more to the point where I can’t spend more time……Some quick googling ( suggests that a broadly similar volumed 22,000cuft (622m3) about 75ft length 18ft diameter (23m x 5.5m) ( volume dridgible filled with Hydrogen had a lifting capacity of 1350lb …If we take that, then the numbers seem to work out for a Helium filled envelope of similar volume for that magic 600lb weight. meaning an airship of about double the length of the prototype and half as much again girth? – I’m probably drastically wrong on the exact numbers and i’m sure an expert will help my math

    2. If a 20ft prototype has 20m^3(700ft^3), roughly 4.18ft x 8.36ft x 20ft. Then a 60ft version would be scaled up by 3 and have 530m^3(18,890ft^3), 12.54ft x 25.1ft x 60ft? Or is it too early for me to be mathing?

  6. Dean Ing had a fun SF novel, The Big Lifters, which explored a lot of cool transportation ideas. The main character was spurred on to solve such engineering problems after losing his mother to a truck-vs-car accident (spoiler for the first few pages). This included cargo dirigibles which could pick up standard containers from moving trains (eliminating the need to idle at depots), trucks optimized for short-haul instead of long, and a very clever single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle.
    It’s been years since I read it, it might not hold up.

  7. Without humans on board, you could go with hydrogen instead of helium. Then you could also regenerate anywhere that has water or even from the moisture in the air. The real limiting factor will be power and range. Hard to see this getting far with batteries and an electric motor. Fuel is just more energy dense per pound.

    1. “Without humans on board, you could go with hydrogen instead of helium. ” Nobody around to be killed, but if the aircraft crashes in flames it’s still not good for whoever was expecting the delivery.

      1. I mean, sure, ruins the delivery, but same if your Amazon Prime truck crashes into a wall, etc. Most transportation seems to involve flammable stuff, probably for the very good reason that energy is needed for transportation. As long as we’re not flying hypergolic rockets above populated areas, I’m not sure how far the “it might catch fire” argument will get you.

  8. If you dont use a thermite covered skin, hydrogen is reasonably safe until it mixes with oxygen. Gasoline powered systems are more dangerous by being prone to leaks, but do cars go boom often?

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