The FAA’s Seattle Aircraft Certification Office recently approved Lockheed Martin’s project specific certification plan for the Hybrid Airship. What is this new airplane? What makes it so innovative? And, how did the FAA define airworthiness for this new concept? Since 1903, aeronautical engineers have adopted, unconsciously, the Olympics hendiatris “Citius, Altius, Fortius” or Faster, Higher, Stronger in English. Ever the contrarians, the genii at the Lockheed Martin Sunk Works® adopted as their mantra “Tardior, Inferius, Gravius” in their pursuit of innovation. The result is the Hybrid Airship.
The traditional blimp is slow, quiet, limited in capacity, dependent on buoyant lift, utilizes ballast, but virtually unlimited in the places where it can land. A typical commercial airplane is typically faster, noisier, develops lift from its wings and must land at airports or their equivalencies.
The Hybrid starts with helium buoyancy, but develops greater lift from its tri-lobe hull which acts as an airfoil. Its thrust vector propellers enhance its maneuverability in the air and near the surface (ground and water). Add to that Air Cushion Landing System; its capability to land and then anchor itself makes it virtually self-sufficient.
As the history of airships make clear, they were susceptible to bad weather. The hybrid minimizes that risk with state-of-the art meteorological detection and prediction equipment.
What this design creates is an amazing cargo ship. It has the payload to carry 20 tons (more later?) plus because the “cargo belly” is close to the ground, its contents can easily be on- and off- loaded.
The Hybrid Airship addition to the world’s transportation system makes the movement of goods to and from remote areas economical and environmentally friendly. If equipment is needed far from rail, truck and airport infrastructure, this new airplane can deliver on a timely schedule.
So why should the FAA’s certification office should be commended? There are existing standards and procedures for airworthiness determinations of an airship design. They define the “airworthiness requirements for the issue of type certificates and changes to those certificates, applicable to near equilibrium, conventional airships in the transport category.” The Hybrid does not completely rely on helium to fly. The shape of its hull creates added lift as it moves through the air. Further the Hybrid is a non rigid vehicle.
Thus the FAA, working with Transport Canada and Lockheed Martin, established “the project specific certification plan over the past two years, which details how it will accomplish everything outlined in the Hybrid Certification Criteria.” The end product is a portmanteau regulation blending requirements of lighter than air aircraft, the non-rigid construction rules and the Type Certification criteria/process of 14 CFR Part 25. As noted by program manager, Dr. Robert Boyd, “Completing this step took dedication from both the Lockheed Martin system experts and the FAA, who worked meticulously through thousands of detailed items to achieve consistent and accurate verification statements covering the entire aircraft.”
The flexibility and creativity, required for this project, reflect the SAME exceptional thinking and vision evidenced by the Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s government and industry participants. One might hope that the success of this project in formulating the portmanteau plan and in its movement towards a final TC will add to the FAA’s confidence in and issuance of the new Part 23.