A British company plans to buy a fleet of innovative airships built by Lockheed Martin to deliver cargo into inaccessible areas for the oil and gas industry.
Straightline Aviation (SLA) has signed a Letter of Intent with the US aerospace manufacture to buy 12 hybrid airships for $480m (£333m), which positions the firm to become the world’s first operator of the innovative cargo freighters.
“We are delighted to be first in line with this magnificent aircraft that is going to dramatically change the way cargo is moved around the world,” said Mike Kendrick, SLA co-founder and chief executive officer.
The firm said airships have multiple advantages. Although rather slow (the maximum speed stated by the manufacturer is about 150 km/h), the airship can land on every surface without any preparations or adjustments to the terrain. Held in the air by helium, it uses only very little fuel to propel itself in the right direction. As a result, its environmental impact is much lower compared to other forms of cargo transport.
Although building on the legacy of 19th century technology, Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airship is packed with cutting edge navigation technology and avionics. With enough room in its cargo bay to transport 21,000kg of material at once, the airship takes off and lands vertically. For landing, it uses an air-cushion landing system, which allows it to land on every type of surface.
“Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airship represents a revolution in remote cargo delivery,” said Rob Binns, chief executive officer of Hybrid Enterprises, which is the exclusive reseller of Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airships.
“Having an experienced team such as SLA recognise the Hybrid Airship’s potential by signing the LOI solidifies the demand for this new mode of transportation.”
The airship's tri-lobe envelope provides much better handling characteristics than possible in other types of airships. In fact, Hybrid Enterprises says the airship’s handling characteristics are similar to those of a fixed-wing aircraft, while its fuel efficiency equals those of conventional airships.
The firm believes that the airship, which can also accommodate 19 passengers and is controlled by two pilots, represents a major step towards greener sustainable aviation.
In addition to the oil and gas industry, the operator envisions the vehicle could in future be used in disaster relief operations and everywhere, where it is necessary to deliver a lot of equipment into areas otherwise inaccessible.
Lockheed Martin has been developing the airship for 20 years. In November 2015, certification plan for the innovative vehicle was approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration. The first vehicle for commercial operations could be delivered in 2018.