The $40 Million Delivery Blimp

Illustration for article titled The $40 Million Delivery Blimp

The Ice Road Truckers may soon have themselves some competition if Canadian specialty aviation company, Discovery Air, has its way. They want to deliver supplies to the Great White North's most remote locales via dirigible by 2014.

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Discovery Air and Hybrid Air Vehicles have announced plans to launch a commercial Heavy Lift Air Vehicle service serving mining camps and secluded villages in the Northwest Territory using airships originally developed for long-term reconnaissance by the US military.

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These hybrid aircraft—"hybrid" in that they use both the lift from non-flammable Helium and the aerodynamics of the ship to stay aloft—employs laminated fabric covering an internal catenary system as the hull. The airships will be able to carry up to 50 tons of cargo as a time and will purportedly be able to land or take off from virtually anywhere—thanks to its four propulsion fans.

"The North has been waiting a long time for a year-round, heavy-lift, transport capability." Dr. Barry Prentice, Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Asper School of Business in Winnipeg, Manitoba, stated. "The conditions are right for a new form of transport that is capable of heavy lift, but is also low cost and environmentally sustainable."

These blimps will be able to travel up to 115mph (185km/h) without the dangers of an overland route. They will, on the other hand, run about $40 million apiece.

[CBC News via Ubergizmo via MobileMag - HAV Press Release - Discovery Air Press Release]

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DISCUSSION

Everyone loves an airship, but it's never going to happen. Many have tried, many advanced designs have graced the cover of PopSci, but few have ever been built. And many of those built crashed. They're too big and too flimsy; variations in wind fields occur over shorter distances than the dimensions of a big airship, inducing very large torques on the airframe which break them up. Weather brought down virtually every large airship ever built. The amazing exception was the pioneering Graf Zeppelin which was retired intact after the Hindenburg crash, and it's duraluminum frame melted down to make ME-109 fighters for WW-II.

The airship pictured in the article is the Lockheed P-791, successfully test flown in 2006 and promptly abandoned. Video of the test flight is here: [www.youtube.com]