By Ryszard Jaxa-Malachowski,
AWN Central European correspondent
BERLIN - Cargo Lifter AG of Berlin is preparing to build the first and only prototype of the heavy lift airship - the CL-160.
The process begins 100 years after the very first German airship, the Zeppelin, was made. However, the CL-160 will be much larger than its predecessors, and with a length of 260 m and diameter of 65 m it will be the largest airship ever built.
The CL-160 will have a capacity of 550,000 cubic meters and be able to carry a payload of 160 metric tons. It should cruise with a speed of 80-135 km/h for 10,000 km or up to 30 days.
The giant design is to be powered by 16 turboshaft engines with output of about 1,000 kW each, but only four of those will be used for propelling the craft. The remaining engines are to be used for maneuvering while loading and unloading cargo.
This solution is unique - four engines are to be located in the nose and rear part of the envelope and eight will be stored in pairs in the powered wings and two horizontal propellers. The wings are spacious enough to allow in-flight servicing of engines.
The main and secondary structures of the half-rigid craft are made of modern composite materials. The crew is to be seated in the front part of the fuselage, while the rear part will be occupied by cargo. Extremely large elements might be loaded directly to the fuselage.
The great challenge will be the certification of the CL-160. It is planned to be completed under JAR requirements, however the German aviation authority LBA will have to prepare special procedures. No airships of this size have been certified so far and rules are being set up as the program makes progress.
One idea is that before the airship's maiden flight, the static tests will need to be passed but this will be done on components - no global test is required.
For Cargo Lifter AG, the whole project is creating a number of challenges. It will have to create a whole support system to serve its airships. There are a number of hangars that need to be created worldwide to house the CL-160s sailing around world. The initial goal is to have at least one hangar on each continent. This will be similar to the hangar already under construction near Berlin.
The market response to the proposal is very optimistic. The estimations made by specialized teams from German universities (and also for Heavy Lift Inc, the US located arm of Heavy Lift AG) suggest that some 200 such craft would be required over the next 20 years. This creates a serious problem for the company as it states that only 50 airships could be manufactured through the year 2015.
The very first investment made by Cargo Lifter is largest hangar in the world, which is in the final stage of construction on a former military airfield near Berlin. This should be finished by September. Construction of the prototype will begin shortly after this is completed.
The official "roll out" is scheduled for October 2002 and certification should be finished by the middle of next year. Soon after, the prototype will start operational service and production of the CL-160 will be undertaken. The first delivery is planned for 2004.
The whole venture is valued at 600 million DEM. The company has secured a significant amount of capital and shares are now sold on the German stock market.