Helium-filled airplane could help aid disaster areas

An article I wrote for Electronic Products.

Hybrid ESTOLAS combines aspects of a plane, helicopter, blimp and hovercraft

An airplane-helicopter-blimp-hovercraft hybrid filled with helium may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but this aircraft may be the best solution to quickly get emergency supplies to disaster zones where roads and runways may be non-existent or completely demolished.

ESTOLAS
The hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft. Image via NewScientist.

The odd looking pot-bellied plane is currently undergoing feasibility tests in the European Commission’s Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface (ESTOLAS) project. Though the design is unusual, the reason behind it is anything but. The central bulge of the aircraft is created to be filled with helium to make it lighter, which will also save on fuel, or it can be used as extra cargo space. With a propeller on the bottom of the vehicle, vertical take-off and landings are possible, and when surrounded by a skirt, the plane can be converted into a hovercraft. In addition, the body of the aircraft will be wing-shaped to provide extra lift while in motion.

ESTOLAS SKETCH
A hovercraft-like skirt allows the ESTOLAS to take-off and land on a variety of surfaces. Image via Gizmag.

The making and testing of the ultimate hybrid aircraft is a joint effort of researchers at Riga Technical University in Latvia and Cranfield University in the U.K. Models of the vehicle are currently being tested in wind tunnels and will move to radio-controlled prototypes later on. Though the drag the helium-filled section of the plane would generate is a concern, since it would slow the plane down, engineers working on ESTOLAS believe that modern computers will take care of the issue.

The next step is finding out if this idea will work economically.

Story via NewScientist.

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