Heavylift / Breakbulk
Flying whales and rhinoceroses
The consortium Flying Whales has presented a concept for an airship with a rigid structure, making it unlike others manufactured in the past. White rhinos travelled to Russia by a more conventional mode recently.
Even though they have not yet really proved their worth, airships are increasingly being touted as an alternative for heavy goods transports. Their advantages are obvious. They are designed primarily to move very large and heavy loads to places where there is little or no logistics infrastructure on the ground. The Airlander 10 (see ITJ Daily of 29 August 2016) and the Hybrid Airship (see page 13 of ITJ 27-30 / 2017) share a common feature, in that they manage without an inner structure. California’s Aeros, with its Aeroscraft unit, in contrast, has been trying for years to make the American dream of a new rigid airship come true (see page 13 of our Heavylift Special in ITJ 49-52 / 2012). The company is now being given a run for its money by Flying Whales, a consortium led by France.
“The rigid structure allows us to put in a powerful engine,” explains Sébastien Bougon, president of the company that operates from the outskirts of Paris. Its LCA60T unit, for example, is a large-capacity airship with electric motors powered by diesel generators and designed to carry loads of up to 60 t at a speed of 100 km / h. Its graphene-based ultracapacitors, developed by the Estonian investor Skeleton Technologies, only consume 10% of the fuel used by freight helicopters.
The payload of the two largest such heavy goods copters, Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook and Rostvertol’s Mi-26 (Russia), are limited to loads of 11.5 t and 20 t, respectively. The airship is also designed to carry the cargo hanging under the hull, like the helicopters do. However, the 140 to 150 m LCA60T will additionally have a 75 m long and 8 m wide cargo hull, providing enough cargo space to carry the rotor blades of wind turbines, for example.
Realisation and end of a dream
Having been initiated by the French forestry department amongst others, including more recently the Chinese aviation and aerospace company Avic, the airship project was given an important boost in March by the French state. As part of a nationwide drive for eligible projects for the future, the French investment bank Bpifrance is investing EUR 25 million. A total of EUR 61 million will probably be needed before a prototype takes to the skies – by 2021, if everything goes to plan. A factory for the serial production of around 150 airships for the European and Asian markets is due to be set up in Istres, near Marseille. This is not far from Marignane, the site of Airbus Helicopters’ main factory just outside Marseille.
In other news, two southern white rhinoceroses (aka southern square-lipped rhinoceroses) recently flew from Israel to southern Russia. Volga-Dnepr Airlines performed the transport at the request of the firm Charter Green Light Moscow, one of the airline’s long-standing partners. Volga-Dnepr deployed an Ilyushin IL-76TD-90VD to shift the large and sensitive animals from Tel Aviv to Rostov-on-Don. The city is home to one of the country’s largest zoos; it participates in international programmes for the preservation of endangered animals. Such programmes will no longer do the northern white rhinoceros any good. It made newspaper headlines worldwide recently, when the last male of the species died in Kenya on 19 March.