It’s like the airborne equivalent of the monorail: the wonderful solution to various air transportation problems. Unfortunately, they usually fail to live up to expectations. A joint British-Canadian effort to introduce heavy-lift airships for transportation in Canada’s far north hit the news today:
Last week, Yellowknife-based Discovery Air signed a preliminary agreement with British aviation startup Hybrid Air Vehicles to buy a fleet of futuristic dirigibles to haul cargo and supplies across the Canadian North
Costing $40-million each, the massive vehicles will be able to haul 50 tonnes of cargo, stay in the air for several weeks at a time and use a fraction of the fuel consumed by standard fixed-wing airliners.
By comparison, the largest aircraft in the current Discovery fleet can only carry 7,000 pounds and stay aloft for a matter of hours before refuelling.
The new vehicles, which are still in the early testing phase, may look like little more than sleek reboots of Depression-era dirigibles, but actually are a unique marriage of four different aviation technologies, say designers.
“It actually works more like an airplane than an airship,” said Gordon Taylor, marketing officer for Hybrid Air Vehicles.
The aircraft fly using a combination of aerodynamic lift and helium buoyancy, manoeuver by using a helicopter-style thrusters and they land on a curtain of air like a hovercraft.
It’ll be great if they can work as designed, and also survive the extreme weather conditions of Canada’s far north, but the smart money isn’t likely to bet that way.