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“The world’s largest aircraft” breaks cover in Silicon Valley

LTA Research, a Silicon Valley startup funded by the Google co-founder Sergey Brin has announced that its electric airship, Pathfinder 1 has exited its hangar at Moffett Field to begin the next phase of outdoor flight testing.

The company says in the coming weeks and months, the team at LTA Research will put the proof-of-concept airship Pathfinder 1 through rigorous tests to ensure safety and reliability.

TechCrunch in a feature article about Pathfinder 1 says “The airship has taken drone technology such as fly-by-wire controls, electric motors and lidar sensing, and supersized them to something longer than three Boeing 737s, potentially able to carry tons of cargo over many hundreds of miles.

“At 124.5 meters long, Pathfinder 1 dwarfs the current Goodyear airships and even the massive Stratolaunch plane designed to launch orbital rockets. It’s the largest aircraft to take to the skies since the gargantuan Hindenburg airship of the 1930s. Although similar in appearance to that ill-fated airship, and using a passenger gondola supplied by Zeppelin, the Pathfinder 1 was mostly built from the ground up using new materials and technologies.

“LTA’s airship uses stable helium rather than flammable hydrogen as a lifting gas, held in 13 giant rip-stop nylon cells and monitored by lidar laser systems. A rigid framework of 10,000 carbon-fiber reinforced tubes and 3,000 titanium hubs form a protective skeleton around the gas cells, surrounded by a lightweight synthetic Tedlar skin.

“Twelve electric motors powered by diesel generators and batteries enable vertical take-off and landing. They can propel the Pathfinder 1 at up to 65 knots (75 mph), although its initial flights will be at much lower speeds.

“At the start of September, the FAA issued a special airworthiness certificate for the Pathfinder 1 allowing test flights in and around Moffett Field and the nearby Palo Alto airport, and over the southern part of the San Francisco Bay.

“The FAA’s experimental certificate for the Pathfinder 1 expires in September 2024.”

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(Image: LTA Research)

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