Huge airships the size of football fields are expected to start transporting freight and human passengers in Alaska and Northern Canada by 2019.
The airships, developed by Lockheed Martin’s subsidiary Hybrid Airships, combine the features of an airship, helicopter, an aeroplane and a hovercraft. Capable of lifting up to 22 tons of cargo plus a crew of 18, the vessels will be employed by Alaskan logistics company PRL Logistics, which has signed an agreement with the ship’s exclusive reseller Hybrid Enterprises and UK-based operator Straightline Aviation.
"Lockheed Martin would be proud to have its hybrid airships operating in Alaska," said Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager at Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs. "Alaska is an ideal location for the hybrid airship to operate. It enables access to Alaska's most isolated regions, and is designed to protect the sensitive ecological environment."
The first heavy-lift airship, the LMH1, will be delivered in three years. The craft, held in the air by helium, can land on every possible surface including snow, ice, gravel and water without the terrain requiring any adjustments.
"This will be a true game-changer,” said Ron Hyde, CEO of PRL, which provides logistics services to the gas, mining, defence and construction industries in the sub-Arctic region. “It affordably opens up many projects currently inaccessible without the development of the costly infrastructure required by traditional modes of transportation."
The airships, which use a hovercraft-inspired air-cushion landing system for taxiing and landing, will be operated from PRL’s Logistics Operations Centre in Kenai.
"I am pleased to hear this announcement,” said US Senator from Alaska, Dan Sullivan. “Alaska is a storehouse of immense natural resource wealth. This combination of technology and innovation will enable access to resources and provide needed benefits to our infrastructure.”
Hybrid Airships’ competitor, the Airlander 10 airship, crashed last week during a test flight in Bedfordshire. The ship hit the power lines during the flight, which caused it to tip forwards, eventually hitting the ground with its front section.