It looks like a blimp but technically it isn't one because it has a rigid structure made out of ultra-light carbon fiber and aluminum underneath its high-tech Mylar skin. Inside, balloons hold the helium that gives the vehicle lift. Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg airship that crashed in 1937, helium is not flammable.
The Aeroscraft is being developed by Worldwide Aeros for use as a cargo aircraft that could bring a large load of supplies into areas without a prepared landing surface.
According to an AP report posted at Military.com, the airship functions like a submarine, releasing air to rise and taking in air to descend. It can take off vertically, like a helicopter, then change its buoyancy to become heavier than air for landing and unloading.
"It allows the vehicle to set down on the ground. And then when we want to become lighter than air, we release that air and then the vehicle floats and we can allow it to take off," project chief engineer Tim Kenny said.
DoD and NASA have invested $35 million in prototype testing so far, and Aeros is looking for more funding to start the next phase. Eventually the company wants to build a full-size 450-foot-long vehicle that can carry 66 tons of payload.