If the word “airship” makes you think of blimps flying over a golf tournament, prepare to think again. With a 10-ft x 10-ft x 60-ft cargo bay and a 21-short-ton cargo payload, Lockheed’s LMH-1 Hybrid Airship design certainly stands out as an ambitious air-freight project.
At this year’s Paris Air Show, Hybrid Air Freighters (HAF) signed a Letter of Intent to purchase up to 12 of Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airships from Hybrid Enterprises, the exclusive reseller of Lockheed Martin’s airship vehicles. The deal is valued at approximately $500 million.
The logistics business has struggled for years to deliver oversized payloads to remote sites, and doing so has required expensive infrastructure development, such as airports, long runways, roads and port facilities. The LMH-1, however, could provide end-to-end deliveries, touching down in remote, small clearings, and because they require little or no fixed ground infrastructure and burn significantly less fuel compared to conventional aircraft, they are an environmentally friendly solution to remote cargo delivery, HAF explains.
Key to this is the hybrid airship’s use of what Lockheed calls a “air cushion landing system,” or ACLS, which consists of three underbody hoverpads shaped like donuts. These hoverpads create a cushion of air that allows the airship to float along the ground nearly friction free, according to Lockheed. The system reportedly gives the airship the ability to land on surfaces where other aircraft can’t—including the ability to hover over water.
“Customers will feel confident that with more than a century of proven experience, Lockheed Martin has repeatedly solved seemingly impossible challenges through its products and technologies,” says Rob Binns, chief executive officer of Hybrid Enterprises.
“We are keen to implement such an impressive innovation in the logistics market,” says Hubert de Contenson, CEO of HAF. “The LMH-1 will open a new era for remote cargo delivery that is free from costly ground infrastructure and will provide a sustainable and affordable solution to remote cargo operations around the world.”
Past failures of lighter-than-air aircraft have earned airships a reputation that has been tough to shake. However, technology has come a long way since, as an Air Cargo World article notes, airbone, flammable gas bags named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin were a common sight in the skies. Lockheed, and HAF, are betting the helium-filled LMH-1 Hybrid Airship is the future of modern airships. Indeed, as Lockheed explains, the technologies required for Hybrid Airships are already mature and have been demonstrated in-flight by Lockheed Martin’s P-791, a fully functional, manned flight demonstrator.
“We’ve invested more than 20 years to develop the technology, prove the performance and ensure there are compelling economics for the Hybrid Airship,” says Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “We have completed all required FAA certification planning steps for a new class of aircraft and are ready to begin construction of the first commercial model and the completion of the FAA Type certification process.”
One potential application for this kind of airship would appear to be the oil, gas and mining industries, which spend billions on logistics annually—building roads, helipads and other infrastructure to manage moving equipment and personnel to remote sites. The airship could also be used to gain access into hard-to-reach areas to enable lifesaving response after a calamity. Another application that comes to mind is use of the airship to carry large quantities of commercial cargo, giving infrastructure-poor areas a chance at success in the global economy.
What are your thoughts on possible applications for a next generation of airship?