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Immigrant Airship Maker Sets Sights Skyward

Ukrainian immigrant Igor Pasternak came to the United States with a dream, to revolutionize the aircraft industry. Mr. Pasternak's Los Angeles company, called Worldwide Aeros Corporation, manufacturers blimps, and the airship maker says lighter-than-air technology may play an important role in the industry's future.

From the age of five, Igor Pasternak has been fascinated with airships, such as helium-filled blimps.

He started his airship company in the former Soviet Union, and 12 years ago, relocated from Moscow to the United States.

"We kind of realized to make this dream a reality, it was impossible in the Soviet Union," he said. "And that was the biggest motivation. And we packed our bags with books, with some work that we had done, and basically jumped on an aircraft."

He ended up in California, where his company now manufacturers blimps.

They are used for advertising and surveillance, and are high-tech flying machines.

"We reduced pilot load. Our pilots, right now, when they're flying our blimps, they're just reading the newspaper," he noted.

Mr. Pasternak's airships are now flying in many parts of the world, but he dreams of creating a new type of aircraft, which combines elements of helium airships with other elements from conventional airplanes. The new craft will be used for carrying cargo.

"It's not the blimp, it's not the airship. It's an absolutely new airborne vehicle," he said.

He says helium will provide lift, but the craft is not an airship. It will be heavier than air, and powered like an airplane. That will make it more stable than blimps.

The ship is being designed to carry hundreds of tons of cargo for thousands of kilometers. Worldwide Aeros vice president Fred Edworthy says the new technology will fill a need in the shipping business.

"Lightweight composites that have gained a lot of prominence in the aircraft industry in the last few years will certainly help us make this a reality," he said. "As well, other forms of transport have been less expensive, rising fuel costs, and certainly volumes of cargo moving between continents has certainly brought it to the forefront in recent years."

Worldwide Aeros was selected for a Pentagon competition to create a massive aircraft to carry 500 tons of cargo for distances of 18,000 kilometers. The design, being created with a Defense Department award of more than $3 million, is based on the company's concept of a hybrid cargo airship. Aeros is competing with Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin in the first phase of the military project.

Mr. Pasternak faced skepticism when he arrived in the United States, speaking no English. But he quickly learned the language, and five years ago received U.S. certification for an original blimp design. He faces a bigger challenge in the race for a next-generation airship, which could potentially carry farm products and factory goods, or military cargo, from the United States to other parts of the world.