Bloomberg reports that Google co-founder Sergey Brin is modernizing a long-forgotten way of flying by investing in airship startup LTA (secretly formed back in 2016).
Built in a giant hangar in Mountain View, California, the company’s first steerable balloon, the Pathfinder 1, is 122 meters long and 20 meters in diameter. It looks quite simple on the outside, with a dozen propellers and a nacelle, and looks like what we saw in the photos, although inside it is a mechanism of complex pattern of carbon fiber pipes and titanium compounds that give it structure and strength, as well as 13 gel lifting chambers.
A rigid airship of this magnitude had not been built since the 1930s, and it is unclear why Brin was interested in the idea other than “he just likes them.”
Today, airships are almost never used as transport – with the exception of a few controlled balloons for entertainment flights or advertising. Air transport LTA, according to the idea of a billionaire, in the future will be able to transport goods in an environmentally friendly way and deliver humanitarian aid to areas of natural disaster. Although their elite versions may simply be entertainment for wealthy passengers planning to travel in a more exotic way.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Brin is now worth $105 billion. According to LTA employees, who preferred to remain anonymous, he has invested more than $250 million in the startup.
As conceived by Brin, airships should work on environmentally friendly technologies. Currently, a pair of diesel generators mounted in the hull of the airship directs energy to lithium-ion batteries that drive the propellers. Solar panels on top of the airship will provide additional power. The Pathfinder I is fully electric, so the steering wheel and other controls are electronic, unlike the mechanical versions of yesteryear.
Rigid airships used to be made of wood and metal, but the LTA team has spent years developing lighter, stronger carbon fiber tubes and the parts and adhesives needed to secure them properly to the titanium joints. The helium chambers and hull of the airship were tested for stability to find materials strong enough and resilient enough to withstand atmospheric fluctuations and intense sun.
Pathfinder 1 is scheduled to be presented in California, after which a long series of tests will begin before it can take to the open sky. The airship can lift 28 tons into the air and is expected to travel up to 4,000 km at a time. The next 185-meter version that the team plans to build will have better performance, and the final result that the LTA is aiming for is an airship carrying up to 200 tons of cargo (10 times more than a Boeing 737).
Brin himself does not give any comments now, and some of the 250 employees of the startup call his company “Bayshore Global” an investor, avoiding mentioning the name of the billionaire.
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