Saturday, March 26, 2011

The cargo airship - moving closer to reality?

I mentioned some months ago that Northrop Grumman had been awarded a contract by the US Army to develop the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) airship for surveillance purposes. Lockheed Martin, which had developed the P-791 concept 'hybrid airship' (combining lifting gas with an aerodynamically-shaped outer skin, providing further lift), lost this competition: but it's not letting that slow it down. Flight Global reports:

Less than a year after losing a major US Army order, Lockheed Martin will revive and scale-up the P-791 hybrid airship to carry at least 20t of cargo under a new contract signed by a Canada-based commercial start-up.

Lockheed P-791 hybrid airship prototype

Aviation Capital Enterprises of Calgary has ordered the first airship, which is rebranded the SkyTug, for delivery from Lockheed's Skunk Works division in 2012, says founder Kirk Purdy.

"We're actually well along into the design of a 20t lifter," Purdy says. "The system requirements are close to frozen for that."

While the first SkyTug will be demonstrated next year under an experimental license to potential buyers, Lockheed will deliver a second hybrid airship to Aviation Capital in late 2012 for launching certification tests with the US Federal Aviation Administration, Purdy says.

"Lockheed is taking us through that right now," Purdy says. "This is not a surprise to the FAA. They've been briefed."

Although Aviation Capital has not signed up any firm customers, discussions are ongoing with "strongly interested parties" in the Middle East, Brazil, Mexico and Canada for the SkyTug, Purdy says.

. . .

The first SkyTugs will be designed to lift 20t payloads, but future designs could be scaled-up to carry from 50 to several hundred tons of cargo, Purdy says.

"We're creating an industry here," he adds.

There's more at the link. Here's a Lockheed video promoting the concept of the hybrid air vehicle.

I said some years ago, in Weekend Wings #2, that the airship might be making a comeback. Perhaps, at long last, that might be about to become a reality?



Anonymous said...

20 tons? The obvious application then is really bulky stuff that would be difficult to move by road, and the second is places where road access is poor. The example that comes to mind is moving stuff above the arctic circle in the summer when the ice roads melt. I'd get a kick out of watching it work, if it does work.


jbrock said...

Airships fascinate me, and the possibility that they could become commercially viable is exciting. Thank you for these very entertaining and educational posts.

There's a little startup in Ohio that wants to get into the manufacturing end of this sector, too. Don't think I can post a hyperlink here, but if you get bored sometime you might want to do a web search on Ohio Airships.

Roy said...

Interesting, and I hope they are successful. But my first question is how does it handle in less than perfect weather?

Turbulence and crosswinds were the bane of the airships of the past. Present day heavier than air jet aircraft get around this by being heavy, fast, and able to fly at altitudes high enough to be above most of the weather.