17 Aug '11
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
Moscow’s Augur RosAeroSystems has engineered Russia’s new lighter-than-air effort designed to support this country’s increasing Arctic presence. In three years the state-of-the-art Atlant-30 dirigibles are expected to make a difference in trans-polar exploration and cargo transportation. But the company will have stiff competition from another lighter-than-air developer, LocomoSky.
Moscow-based Augur RosAeroSystems has announced a new dirigible program specifically designed to survey the Arctic’s vast ground and/or ocean areas and carry a 16-ton payload for up to 1,500km journey. The Atlant-30’s maiden voyage is schedule for some time in 2014.
Augur RosAeroSystems chairman Gennady Verba declined to comment on any investment amount needed to take the program off the ground, only saying that the current R&D stage, to be divided in several sub phases, “is fully funded by a domestic investor.”
The project owner
Augur RosAeroSystems has been in the lighter-than-air (LTA) market since 1991 and over the past 20 years is said to have become Russia’s only, and one of the world’s few, to afford its own R&D and production of up to 50,000 cu. m volume envelopes (bodies).
A workforce of a reported 150 highly skilled employees designs and makes a variety of specialized LTA aircraft of various sizes and purposes, from drones and patrolling ships to transport aircraft. A hybrid cargo-and-passenger ship program is also on the table.
In addition to supplying domestic customers the firm has been reportedly selling to China, India and South America and has plans to secure a niche in the European and North American markets as well.
Hi-tech, all weather, water or ground landing
As an innovative producer the company claims its new aircraft will utilize “a range of know-how…based on 20 years of experience in dirigible technology and production development.”
Having a modest, 30 cu. m volume the Atlant-30 will be 75m long and 41m wide and can carry a payload of 12-16 tons of cargo over a 1,500km range.
According to Mr. Verba, the airship is equipped with a unique active ballasting system that helps control the dirigible’s free lift in both in-flight and parked modes. A cutting-edge thrust vector control system reportedly enables advanced maneuverability at both high and low speeds.
With its hard-core envelope the aircraft’s range of application has expanded considerably and now includes all-weather use.
The Atlant-30 is designed to take off and land vertically and park on flat ground or water surface without any special gear.
The company chairman emphasized that as a significant advance above its predecessors the future LTA would put forth very low pressure on ground, ice and water—a feature that makes the Atlant project a sizable prospective supplier of Russia’s Arctic exploration programs.
Within the next few months Mr. Verba said a fully operational prototype, to be designated Atlant-6, would be built “to showcase the new technologies” that the entire Atlant family would employ.
Bringing back the halcyon days of the 1930s?
Once the ‘dream of dreams’ for transport aviators of the 1920-30s, LTA passenger projects were never successful after the Hindenburg disaster of 1937. Although still in use as observation and survey craft, most vessels were retired soon after the WWII with the advent of jet technology.
In the 1980s the USSR unveiled its ambitious Thermoplan LTA program for transporting oversized cargo. The project was eventually scrapped with the demise of the Soviet Union; but the idea has always captivated aeronautical engineers.
Augur RosAeroSystems is not the first or only dreamer to push LTA technology into the 21st century. Its Atlant project will have to compete with the much larger-scale $660m LocomoSkyner project announced last spring as a solution to the problem of shipping oversized cargo and people to far-flung areas of Russia’s North and Far East.
On its Ulyanovsk regional site, Moscow-based LocomoSky is developing a family of state-of-the-art dirigibles capable of carrying up to 600 tons of cargo and hundreds of passengers over a 3,000km range. In addition, the LocomoSkyners would purportedly include special-purpose LTAs; like mapping and surveillance of vast remote terrain—an application that the Atlant program is also shooting for.
Racing to the finish
Although much smaller than the LocomoSkyner, the Atlant-30 could be first off the block since the first LocomoSkyners won’t be airborne for at least five years from now; and the entire project may take ten years. With secure funding and its performance history, Augur RosAeroSystems hopes to begin sales by 2015. This would give the firm a real chance of securing a solid niche in multi-purpose exploratory LTAs in a country that is dramatically stepping up its Arctic presence, both scientific and economic.