David and the Inflatable Goliath

Remember the Walrus? That's the Darpa project to build a humongous blimp that can haul 500-1000 tons' worth of soldiers and gear halfway across the world in less than a week.walrus_HUGE.jpgThe L.A. Times today profiles Worldwide Aeros, the small firm run by ex-Soviet engineers, which is going toe-to-toe with Lockheed Martin for the $100-million contract to build a Walrus prototype. "The winner then has a chance to bid on a blimp production contract potentially worth $11 billion over 30 years."

Lockheed farmed out the blimp job to its Skunkworks unit, the legendary aircraft design house in Palmdale that has developed many of the nation's most advanced aircraft, including the SR-71 and U-2 spy planes.By contrast, Worldwide Aeros, with 40 employees, expects $10 million in revenue this year from selling blimps for advertising, including promoting MasterCard and Spalding sporting goods...But Pasternak said he had faced bigger challenges than outwitting Lockheed, including persuading six of his employees and their families to flee Russia with him in 1993...After getting a degree in civil engineering, he formed his own company in 1988 and began working on a Soviet project to develop mammoth airships to transport cargo to the remote Siberian oil fields...When the Soviet Union collapsed, Pasternak's investment capital dried up. With growing anti-Semitism in his country, Pasternak said, he and his colleagues fled Russia and emigrated to the U.S.Eventually, he was able to persuade several investors to fund his aerospace company based on his experience making blimps in Russia...Win or lose, Pasternak sees the project as a means to a different end: to build commercial versions for carrying business cargo or even paying passengers.His "cruise ship in the sky" would have hotel-like rooms, vast lobbies with viewing areas, a restaurant and space for about 180 passengers.
(Big ups: Umansky)
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