Quite a few have tried in the past decade to re-invent or bring back airships as a means of cargo transport in order to serve the “heavy-load“ industry which could best make use of this
mode of transport.
It now seems that a breakthrough is in the offing through Lockheed Martin, the USA based aircraft design and manufacturing company.
UK-based company will be the first customer.
Lockheed Martin has been working for the past ten years on the development of a new hybrid airship capable of carry a payload equivalent to what can be carrier on today’s C-130J tactical aircraft transporter.
A commitment has been signed with Lockheed by the UK registered company Straightline Aviation to acquire twelve of the helium-buoyed airships.
Straightline Aviation which was founded in 2015 has made the deal through Lockheed’s LMH-1 reseller Hybrid Enterprises. The contract is said to be worth US$480 million for the 12 freighter airships.
Operational start planned for 2018
According to Straight-line Aviation sources a start-up date for 2018 has been announced when commercial operations will be put into effect.
The airship has been derived from Lockheed’s old tri-hull P-791 program which was designed along with the US military for its now defunct long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle operation.
Lockheed and Hybrid Enterprises claim to have the first production model under construction and expect US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification during 2017 with delivery of the first airship to Straightline in 2018.
The airship is designed to carry a 21 ton payload along with up to 19 passengers over a distance of 1.400 nautical miles (2.590km) at speeds of up to 60 knots (111km).
The craft will be powered by four 350 horsepower thrust-vectoring engine units.
The designers claim that this new cargo carrier with its so called aerodynamic lift and buoyancy design will allow it to take-off, land and hold on surfaces ranging from water and snow to sand and mud.
Straightline Aviation which is based at Wolverhampton Business Airport in the UK is aiming generate interest from the oil and gas industry for the transport of heavy equipment and passengers to remote mining stations throughout the world.
A competitor to others?
Hardly, as the aim is to bring much needed equipment into very remote areas where none of today’s freighter aircraft can operate.
The program was originally set up for the movement of military vehicles for the US army.
Who knows! - maybe the military interest will be reawakened in the future if the operation proves to be a commercial success.
Many have tried in the past years - let’s hope that this new venture will meet with success.
Straightline Aviation, with their 12 orders certainly think so.
John Mc Donagh