A Lockheed Martin LOI launches high-flying hopes for northern transportation
by Greg Klein
Bush planes opened up much of Canada to mining, but now there’s talk of a different type of aircraft transforming the industry. On March 30 Lockheed Martin NYSE:LMT announced a letter of intent in which England-based Straightline Aviation would purchase up to 12 Hybrid Airships, a new contraption that evokes pre-Hindenburg efforts to defy gravity. Straightline would then contract its services to resource companies, among other clients.
Lockheed has yet to build the airships. No indication was given whether Straightline has, or can raise, the approximately US$480 million that the ships might cost.
But Straightline COO Mark Dorey extols the potential benefits to Canada’s north. “We’re aware that part of the world is very sensitive from an environmental point of view,” Canadian Press quoted him. “You don’t have to build ice roads or bridges, or wait for the environmentalists to give you permission. You can simply land on the ice.”
Or on water or terrain, provided there’s a clearing nearly as big as a football field. The craft measures about 45 metres wide by 91 metres long and 24 metres tall.
Straightline “was co-founded by a team of highly experienced airship and aviation executives with the sole purpose of bringing Hybrids into operation,” according to Lockheed.
Yet as of press time Straightline’s website had little to say, except that the company “is the world’s first owner-operator of these new hybrid, hi-tech, heavy-lift aircraft, manufactured in the USA by Lockheed Martin and in the UK by Hybrid Air Vehicles, that are about to revolutionize worldwide air transportation.”
Hybrid Air Vehicles actually has an airship sitting in a hangar in England. Its Airlander 10 “can take off and land in a short distance from unprepared sites in desert, ice, water or open field environments,” the company states. “The Airlander 10 is designed to stay airborne for up to five days at a time to fulfil a wide range of communication and survey roles, as well as cargo-carrying and tourist passenger flights.”
The Hybrid Airship uses helium—non-flammable in nature—carrying about 10,000 pounds, whereas the Hindenburg carried seven million cubic feet of hydrogen gas.—Dana Carroll,
spokesperson for Lockheed Martin
Of course these somewhat zeppelin-like machines can bring to mind the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, etched into historical memory through dramatic photos and a live radio account. Lockheed’s Dana Carroll emphasizes “several standout differences” with her company’s design. “Most notably, the Hybrid Airship uses helium—non-flammable in nature—carrying about 10,000 pounds, whereas the Hindenburg carried seven million cubic feet of hydrogen gas,” she informs ResourceClips.com. “Also, the skin of the Hybrid Airship is made of non-flammable material, which further helps in safety.”
Her company has over 20 years’ experience designing, building and testing airships, she adds. “In fact, the Lockheed Martin Hybrid Airship (LMH-1) is the only cargo airship with an approved FAA Certification Plan.”
Lockheed has built and tested a half-scale prototype. That ship “has not flown since November 2006 because we completed the flight test program and met all the test objectives. The aircraft remains in the hangar as a static display model.”
As for the length of time the ship can remain aloft, it’s partly affected by speed. At a reduced rate “you could technically go around the world in 30 days” without landing, Carroll says.
Should all go well with the Straightline deal, the first airship could be flying by late 2018, she adds.
Related reading: What might airships do for Ontario’s Ring of Fire?
Watch a short promo video for Lockheed’s yet-to-be-built Hybrid Airship.