An Italian project to develop a highly stabilised airship capable of military and civil tasks such as maritime patrol, coastal surveillance and peacekeeping monitoring missions will advance to its flight-demonstration phase next February, when a subscale version of a twin-hulled dirigible will make its debut flight.

Under development by Ovada-based Nautilus and Turin Polytechnic's Department of Aeronautical and Space Engineering, the proposed unmanned system could also support other unmanned air vehicle operations, for example by carrying communications relay equipment, says project director Piero Gili.

Flight trials of a 16m (52ft) -long, 10m-wide demonstrator are planned next year, with a production system with an overall length of around 25m envisaged. A key objective for the low-level test flights is to prove the capabilities of the airship's automated flight control system. The demonstrator will carry a 30kg (66lb) telemetry payload and have a 1h endurance.

The airship has no aerodynamic control surfaces, but features a central plane between its twin hulls. This will carry the payload and six electric engines. Two motors will be embedded in the central plane to provide vertical thrust, with the other four mounted on rods and used for directional control.

The full-scale system will have an endurance of 12h at altitudes up to 23,000ft and carry a 100kg payload. Maximum speed will be 50kt (90km/h) and it will be able to sustain a hover in a crosswind of up to 18kt, says Nautilus.

Source: Flight International