Sergey Brin – one of the co-founders of Google – resigned as president of Alphabet in December 2019. Subsequently, he paid attention to the company LTA (Lighter Than Air) Research, which deals with top technologies in the field of airships. As The Telegraph reports, this company has now reached a milestone in the form of successfully obtaining an airworthiness certificate for its pioneering Pathfinder 1 airship.
LTA Research CEO and co-founder Alan Weston has played an important role in the story so far, offering his wealth of experience. He previously worked at the Air Force Research Laboratory, the NASA Ames Research Center, and the Florida Space Institute at the University of California. Weston’s vision revolves around the potential of low-emission airships with alternative propulsion.
Airship with electric drive
Weston, in his research on airship construction, recognized theirs potential for humanitarian and disaster relief. In 2015, the project was supported by Sergey Brin, who has a deep connection to aviation. Thanks to this, the company was able to establish a research and development center in Akron, Ohio, and a hangar in Mountain View, California by 2016.
Airship Pathfinder 1
After his entry, Brin invested 250 million dollars (approx. 5.7 billion crowns) and subsequently the construction of the more than 124 meters long Pathfinder 1 with an impressive diameter of 20 meters began. The airship has a solid structure with an internal skeleton of interconnected tubes. This rigidity also provides it with higher structural strength compared to traditional airships.
Airship Pathfinder 1 is equipped twelve electric motors. Each provides high performance and 360-degree rotation to control flight direction. The outer shell of the machine is made of laminated non-flammable material, and inside it there are 13 nylon helium bags that provide the necessary buoyancy. Pathfinder 1 is expected to seat up to 14 people and carry up to 5,000 kilograms of cargo.
While the engine drive is electric and there is a fairly large set of batteries on board, the prototype is also powered by a pair of 150 kW diesel generators. As part of efforts to minimize emissions, the plan is to replace them with hydrogen fuel cells.
Airship Pathfinder 1
The Airship Pathfinder 1 stands out for its impressive cargo capacity and the ability to operate without a runway. The certificate entitles the company to performing 25 flights at low altitudes (at a maximum height of 1,500 feet, i.e. approx. 457 meters) for a total duration of 50 hours within the Moffett Field Military Airfield, located in Santa Clara, California.
Flight tests will begin at an unspecified date with the airship, which has been built in a California hangar near Google’s headquarters. The machine will initially be tethered to a mast for safety reasons, but the company hopes to fly untethered later.
Pathfinder 1 is half the length of the Hindenburg – arguably the most famous airship in the world. Among other things, it differs from the German machine in that it uses inert helium gas, not highly flammable hydrogen, and instead of diesel engines, it is powered by electric motors. It is expected to reach speeds of up to 120 km/h.
The certificate of airworthiness is not only crucial for Pathfinder 1, but will also provide vital data for future airship research and development. LTA expects the Pathfinder 1 trial program to be completed within 180 days. After that, he wants to build the 180-meter-long Pathfinder 3, which will be able to carry several tons of cargo.