Floating into the future

A safer generation of airships is trying to usher in a low-carbon future for air cargo. The initial target: Developing markets – China, Africa, northern Canada – where transportation infrastructure is nonexistent.

The notion that airships represent the future of air cargo is being revived by a new generation of entrepreneurs some 75 years after a catastrophic fireball brought the industry to a screeching halt.

We may always carry freight in the bellies of passenger jets. But in a fully mature hybrid market, airships should replace the rest of the fixed-wing cargo fleet.

– Barry Prentice, University of Manitoba

Far safer than the Hindenburg, whose tragic 1937 docking remains an icon of aerospace gone wrong, these modern airships are a hybrid of lighter-than-air and fixed-wing aircraft. They can loft enormous payloads without requiring the acres of tarmac or miles of roadway necessary for conventional air and truck transport. And they do so at a fraction of the fuel and cost of aircraft.

Airships “give you access and much larger payloads at much lower costs,” said Peter DeRobertis, project leader for commercial hybrid air vehicles at Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics and Skunk Works division in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s also a green aircraft; you’re not polluting.”

Today’s airships could conceivably be used to transport everything from ripe pineapples to heavy industrial equipment direct to the customer. Shippers, for example, could roll tractors, backhoes, and road graders onto a 50-ton hybrid vehicle at a factory and roll them off at the job site, easing logistics and cost. Link to full post on The Daily Climate

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