Airship firm LTA Research scaling up for first flight


Work to build the largest airship in the world is ramping up in advance of the first flight of its design, which could happen before the end of this year.

Founded in 2015 and backed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, LTA (Lighter Than Air) Research is building a 120m (400ft) long airship called Pathfinder 1 in Mountain View California, and its 180m (600ft) successor, Pathfinder 3 at Akron, Ohio. 

When completed, Pathfinder 1 will be the largest airship in the world.

According to media reports, LTA Research plans to fly Pathfinder 1 for the first time before the end of this year. The airship will be able to lift 28 tons, cruise at 70mph (110km/h) and have a range of more than
2,800 miles (4,500km). 

Denny Carter, chief engineer at LTA Research said, “You can expect some exciting things to happen with our first full-size airship later this year.

“Climate change is an increasing threat and natural disasters occur with greater frequency and intensity. Airships can offer an innovative approach to delivering humanitarian aid and reduce the carbon emissions normally associated with aircraft.”

LTA Research’s airship design was first revealed in 2020 after the company filed a patent application. The massive dirigibles are intended to carry both cargo and passengers and to deliver humanitarian aid during disaster response and relief efforts.

Manufacturing of Pathfinder 3 is yet to start at the Akron Airdock, although the company has assembled prototype framing there. Akron’s Airdock was used almost 100 years ago to build Goodyear blimps and US Navy Airships the USS Akron and Macon. The facility at Moffett Field in California was a blimp hangar and is one of the world’s largest freestanding structures, covering eight acres. 

LTA Research’s airships will use non-flammable helium as a lifting gas and a frame made up of 3D printed girders. 

“Our team has reimagined every component that is part of a lighter than air vehicle, from the engineering and materials to assembly and pilot training. One example is the materials used to construct the frame of Pathfinder 1, which is being built using carbon fiber reinforced polymer tubes and titanium joints,” said Carter.


An LTA employee installs a piece of flight hardware on the airship (Image: LTA Research)

LTA Research currently employs more than 65 engineers in a range of disciplines and is recruiting for several engineering positions, including test engineers.

Carter said, “Testing is a critical part of building the next generation of airships, allowing us to ensure reliability, mitigate risk and increase the safety of our airships. We welcome individuals who are excited to change the future of aviation to apply.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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