Development of Lockheed Martin’s hybrid airship, the P-791, is moving along as customers look for a platform to transport cargo in remote areas where there is little or no infrastructure.
Reuters reports that Lockheed hopes to reach an agreement in the next year with clients who are looking to haul oil and other mineral resources from the arctic.
The initial version of the airship, filled mostly with helium, would carry 20 tons of cargo, but could easily be scaled to roughly the size of a football field with 500 tons of capacity, Robert Boyd, an engineer with Lockheed’s Skunk Works R&D house…
What differentiates this airship from others is what Lockheed refers to as a their “air cushion landing system.” This system entails four hovercraft-like landing pads that allow the airship to takeoff and land from any type of terrain, including over water. The air cushions can also “grip” the ground like a suction cup, so there is no need to bring ropes and tethers along to your arctic oil base.
We’re months away, not days, not years,’ Boyd told Reuters. ‘By 2015, we’ll be out there on the development track … By 2018, we should see these in operation.
An article from the Wall Street Journal suggests that potential customers include Icelandair and Cargolux.
Lockheed first flew their P-791 as a proof of concept in 2006. Here is a video of the craft in action.
Lockheed Martin isn’t the only company involved in the airship market. Recently, Google started renting a naval air base that was the historical home for many of the military’s airships.
Another company, Aeros, has been working on their Aeroscraft in accompaniment with DARPA and NASA. It, too, is designed to carry cargo, up to 500 tons. You can check out a video of this other cargo airship here.
Both Lockheed and Aeros use helium in their crafts, which is much less volatile than its close cousin, hydrogen.