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Akron's historic blimp hanger is home to a new generation of airships

photo inside airdock with history
Jeff St.Clair
A new generation of airships is being built inside the historic Akron air dock. The lighter-than-air ships will be used to deliver humanitarian aid to disaster zones around the world.

A California-based company is building a new generation of airships in Akron.

LTA Research is funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

His plan is to use the massive airships to deliver humanitarian aid to disaster zones around the world.

Alan Weston
Jeff St.Clair
LTA Research CEO Alan Weston says the new fleet of massive airships will be able to deliver humanitarian aid to remote areas of the world struck by disaster.

The company has been working with the University of Akron's engineering department since 2017 to hone early design and prototyping. The company is now ready to scale up production.

LTA Program manager Harry Harris addressed a small crowd Thursday inside Akron’s iconic blimp hanger.

"LTA’s team in Akron has expanded from a small R & D lab, designing and building models for testing, to manufacturing what will be the largest air vehicle on earth …," he said.

It took a moment for his message to sink in, so he repeated, "the largest air vehicle on earth, built right here in Akron, Ohio,” which garnered the expected applause.

LTA currently has around 70 employees in Akron with plans to grow to around 200 by next summer. The company also has plans to bring manufacturing of the carbon fiber tubes and other components on site.

Aid from the air
LTA's Pathfinder 3 airship will be 600 feet long and 100 feet in diameter when it’s completed sometime in the next two years.

A section of the prototype version sat in its cradle inside the air dock.

outside of the Akron airdock
Jeff St.Clair
The historic Akron air dock was built in 1929 and remains the largest air dock still in use.

LTA has developed a new system to assemble the carbon fiber tube and titanium framework called the "roller coaster," which allows workers to remain on the ground instead of scaling the fragile structure.

When filled with helium, the massive airship will have around 100 tons of lift, leaving plenty of margin for heavy payloads.

CEO Alan Weston says the Pathfinder 3 will have an effective range of around 10,000 miles, with around two weeks of travel.

He says the goal is to deliver aid to otherwise inaccessible areas.

“After a disaster everything’s broken, the airfields are destroyed, the ports are destroyed, and so we can do things with airships … we don’t need infrastructure, all we need is a big open area,” Weston said.

He says the airship can carry up to 20 tons of material for aid relief.

Pathfinder 1 is currently being assembled at the Moffett airfield in California. It's a mere 400 feet long.

Jeff St. Clair is the midday host for Ideastream Public Media.