A New Tool in the Toolbox
PRL Logistics, a Pacific-Rim based logistics company, announced August 30 a partnership with UK-based Straightline Aviation to bring one of the world’s first heavy-lift hybrid airships, the LMH-1, to Alaska in 2019. The airship is referred to as a hybrid because it combines the abilities of a heavy lift airplane, a helicopter, and a hovercraft. The airships have been developed and will be built by Lockheed Martin. In total, the order is for twelve airships, the first of which will come to Alaska, says PRL Logistics CEO Ron Hyde.
Each airship costs approximately $44 million; they are capable of landing on virtually any surface including snow, ice, gravel, and even water, depending on certain conditions. “The way the ship is designed it has a hovercraft landing system, so it can land on ponds, lakes, rivers, or the ocean, assuming there’s reasonable wave height and wind conditions,” Hyde says. The ship has a hovercraft landing system, which eliminates the need for a landing gear and is utilized for taxiing the ship—when reversed it provides a grip to the landing surface, which is useful during loading and unloading operations. The cargo bay is at the rear of the aircraft and will be 60-foot-long, 10-foot-wide, and 10-foot-tall, “so its internal cargo capability similar to the C-130 aircraft,” Hyde explains.
Additionally, if items longer than 60 feet can be secured properly within the weight and balance limit, the hybrid aircraft can be operated with the tail door open. The hybrid can fly simultaneously with a full-load cargo of forty-two thousand pounds and nineteen passengers. The passenger cabin on the hybrid is non-pressurized and as such will be certified to operate up to an altitude of ten thousand feet above sea level. One aspect of the airship that Hyde emphasizes is that it’s flown with helium, a nonflammable gas, “like the balloons you see at a grocery store.” A fabric “envelope” filled with helium provides 80 percent of the lift which is controlled by an expanding and contracting air bladder.
“It’s not really an airplane,” Hyde says. “It probably has more characteristics of a helicopter than an airplane because it has the ability to do a vertical take-off and landing.” Hyde says, “I’m extremely excited about the possibilities this hybrid airship provides.”
The hybrid’s flight range of 1,400 nautical miles allows it to remain in the field, hovering if necessary, for days when in standby mode or making short runs. The ship can land (or not) without a runway, ice road, or other infrastructure, meaning it has significant potential to operate as a mobile emergency center or to facilitate natural resource exploration with a significantly reduced footprint. “It’s not a big gorilla coming into displace what [transportation modes] exists today. It’s going to enable projects in the state of Alaska to be executed without investing in a lot of new infrastructure like roads and airstrips. This new capability will keep existing businesses moving and growing. To be able to encourage and have the capability to support smaller and more remote projects in Alaska is something we’re looking forward to doing. We see the hybrid airship as a cost effective means to better supply rural and remote Alaska communities without the seasonal limitations of other transportation modes,” Hyde says.
Additionally, this may be another way to supply rural and remote Alaska communities. “I’m excited as an Alaskan, having spent a good part of my life in rural and bush Alaska and continuing to work in those remote regions. I know this hybrid airship can provide relief to many of those remote communities, and I know the hybrid will attract new business to the state.” R Tasha Anderson is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business Monthly