It can carry more than a C-130 and fly over 1,000 miles at a fraction of the cost.
Everything old is new again. At least, that’s how the saying goes. And that appears to apply to blimps.
Also known as airships, they were on the leading edge of man’s attempts to leave the Earth’s gravitational pull. For most of us, the word associated with “blimp” is “Goodyear.” That company and others have advertised by providing blimps for aerial shots at major sports events, football games in particular.
For the last 20 years, Lockheed Martin and Hybrid Enterprises have been working on making blimps relative for the 21st century. They’ve developed the Hybrid Airship and its purpose could be hauling cargo to and from remote locations.
Two other companies are developing similar aircraft. Hybrid Air Vehicles, based in England, has developed the Airlander 10 and Thales has the Stratobus, a high-altitude blimp that the company describes as an autonomous, stationary stratospheric platform.
Specifically, it’s thought that the Hybrid Airship could unlock resources in Africa that could be worth billions of dollars. The helium-powered blimp can carry up to 20 tons, has a range of more than 1,000 miles and a top speed of 60 knots.
More importantly, it doesn’t need a runway. Unlike other airships, it doesn’t need to be tethered to a mooring tower. The Hybrid Airship has four landing pads similar to a hover craft that allows it to land on a variety of surfaces.
“When you build a project in a remote area, you always have to start with a road, a railway line, and a power line before you build the smelter,” Robert S. Stewart, head of African mining firm Interop AG, told CNN.com. “With an airship you can fly straight in, without even an airport, just an area the size of two or three football fields.”
The new giant blimp has caused the Federal Aviation Administration to redefine the rules for such a craft. Lockheed-Martin and the FAA have worked for more than a decade to define criteria. Last November, the FAA approved a project specific certification plan for the Hybrid Airship.
The FAA’s approval for the certification plan gave Lockheed Martin the green light to start production. Each “super blimp” is expected to cost $40 million. Final FAA certification is needed and Hybrid Enterprises hopes its super blimp will be in operation by 2018.
Those of us at Avgeekery.com hope that the Hybrid Airship’s official debut is accompanied by Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.”