Airships were “dead”, but are being reborn
New Technologies allow new capacity, greater operability and GREENER
Hybrid Air Vehicles , Flying Whales and Lockheed Martin coming
Airships are coming; you cannot hear then because they are so quiet. There are at least three (HAV Airlander (UK), Flying Whales (FR), and Lockheed Martin (US) companies developing these large, slow aircrafts. The innovations in aerodynamic design (the shape of the balloon actually helps lift) , powerplant, energy source, weather prediction, navigation, multi-angle controls, and structure make these aircraft safer, more practical, cheaper, and smarter to operate than the dirigibles decades ago.
These characteristics expand these hybrids’ missions to uplift and carry outsized (beyond some land and sea carriers) cargo; to deliver machinery/infrastructure/equipment to locations not accessible by trucks; to provide spacious, luxurious passenger accommodations for long journeys; to create non-intrusive platforms for ecosensitive tourists.
As with any new aerial vehicle, the hybrid airships will be subject to certification. The FAA is prepared having established basic information (DERs, relevant ACOs and applicable FARs), a reference list of the pertinent rules, and design standards for approvals.
The FAA is so aware of the imminent arrival of these behemoths of the sky that WAAS has incorporated them in the ATC system capabilities.
More information about the three competitors and two recent CNBC stories about these innovative blimps BELOW
- CHRIS POCOCK
- JANUARY 21, 2021
Airship pioneer Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) believes it may be set to get its long and checkered path to market back on track. The UK-based company this week reported that it is working with what it described as “a top 10 global investment bank” to deliver a large-scale investment. It also announced the receipt of a deposit to charter one of its Airlander hybrid electric airships to an unidentified customer.
HAV has been trying to secure a launch customer for years. It has targeted four markets: communications and surveillance; luxury sightseeing; point-to-point cargo delivery; and short-haul passenger travel. The charter just reserved is for a commercial customer and an unspecified mission.
The payload for the Airlander is 10 tonnes (22,046 pounds) for most missions of up to 90 passengers, and its cruise speed is up to 92 mph. The airship’s helium-filled hull reduces the amount of fuel burn required just to keep it airborne.
The company has funded a protracted development by a mix of angel investment, crowdfunding, and government money. The latest of these was a convertible loan note from the UK government-backed Future Fund, which matched another round of crowdfunding to provide a total of £1.87 million ($2.56 million).
In a recent online presentation to the Royal Aeronautical Society, chief technical officer Mike Durham said there were now “very few technical unknowns with the production aircraft.” He stressed the Airlander’s “dramatic” green credentials. He claimed the production Airlander would already save 75 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, compared with a jet airliner. Replacing the front two of the airship’s four combustion engines with 1,000kW electric motors would increase the savings to 90 percent, albeit with a significant range penalty. A fully electric Airlander saving 100 percent could be in service in 2030, according to the manufacturer.
HAV is working with Collins Aerospace and the University of Nottingham to develop hydrogen fuel cells capable of holding 6,000-9,000kW of energy that would power the electric motors. Durham said that HAV was continuing to monitor solar energy and battery power options. But hydrogen fuel cells provide three to four times the power density of batteries, and is “still only six to seven times worse than kerosene,” Durham added. The storage vessels would fit in the airship hull rather than take up payload space in a conventional aircraft.
On a 170-mile city pair such as Liverpool on the UK mainland to Belfast in Northern Ireland, flying to and from sites in the city center, the journey by Airlander would produce 4.75 kg of CO2 per passenger, compared with 67.75 kg for a jet airliner, when taking into account the emissions generated by the ground transport to and from the airport. The end-to-end journey by airship would take five hours 20 minutes— just one hour longer when taking full account of travel times to and from airports. The ticket price would be similar, but the seating would be premium economy standard, Durham said.
One key advantage of hybrid airships is that they scale up easily. Durham said that a much larger Airlander 50 could carry 200 passengers or 50 tonnes of freight for 4,600 miles.
After the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, the era of the airship was deemed well and truly over. But French company Flying Whales is determined to explore the full potential of the airship with the launch of its first craft slated for 2024.
The project was launched in 2012 after a series of discussions with the Office National des Forêts (ONF – French National Forestry Office), which thought an airship would be particularly effective in targeting hard-to-access natural resources in areas such as the Alps, Corsica and French Guiana.
The LCA60T airship will be able to transport up to 60 metric tons of goods at altitudes of close to 3,000 metres. Airships could soon be a solution for countries with such vast expanses of territory.
Romain Schalck, market manager at Flying Whales told Air Liquide: “Airships could be used to collect tree trunks without impacting the ground by hovering above the site and loading and unloading cargo using cables.”
In addition to France, Canada (specifically the province of Quebec) and China, through its state-owned company AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China), have also shown interest by investing in the project.
In the UK, Hybrid Air Vehicles is developing the Airlander airship for both cargo and sightseeing purposes. It will be able to hold up to 40 people for a banquet, or 16 passengers for an overnight stay in private suites.
As of now, the price of the aircraft is confidential, but it’s suggested that the price tag is closer to that of a helicopter than a plane.
Several components of the cargo transport airship are made to be environmentally friendly, such as its floating capabilities powered by helium, hybrid-electric propulsion system, and lack of need for extra infrastructure during take-offs and landings.
Since the air vehicle uses helium to hover, the LCA60T has a low fuel consumption compared to traditional aircrafts.
The hybrid electric propulsion system that powers the airship also gives Flying Whales the opportunity to pivot to full electric propulsion in the future, further decreasing the airship’s carbon footprint.
In recent years, helium prices have skyrocketed as supply has dwindled, says Foreign Policy. Far from just being used in party balloons and blimps, the gas is necessary for MRI scanners and rocket engines. Stockpiles of helium often escape, and are wasted, during other extractive projects.
While there have been shortages before, helium is a nonrenewable resource and can take an enormously long time to generate. Estimates suggest the Earth’s supply could be gone this century. So for blimps to be a sustainable form of air travel, another method of levitation needs to be found (hydrogen is flammable so not an option).
Hybrid Airships make it possible to affordably deliver heavy cargo and personnel to remote locations around the world. Burning less than one tenth the fuel of a helicopter per ton, the Hybrid Airship will redefine sustainability for the future.
With unlimited access to isolated locations around the globe, Hybrid Airships safely and sustainably support a wide range of activities in areas with little to no infrastructure. The airship offers the simplicity of a pickup truck by carrying cargo loads and personnel in and out of remote areas daily, not just certain seasons or only after major road, rail or airport infrastructure is developed.
Lockheed Martin has invested more than 20 years to develop the Hybrid Airship’s technology, prove its performance and ensure there are compelling economics for various markets who would benefit from using this platform. More than 10 years ago, the team built and flew the technology demonstrator known as the P-791, which successfully demonstrated all the technologies needed to make this real. Since then, the team has completed all required FAA certification planning steps for a new class of aircraft and they are ready to begin construction of the first commercial model and the completion of the FAA Type certification process.
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