Heavylift / Breakbulk
Old heavylift dreams flying high again
The first step is always the hardest. The British founders of Hybrid Air Vehicles must have taken frequent recourse to this old saying in the ten years of their company history. When an order from compatriots Straightline Aviation came in in March it seemed like a breakthrough for the deployment in civil aviation of their technology, which combines elements of aeroplanes, helicopters and airships.
Some of our readers may remember the sleek design presented in the ITJ four and a half years ago (see page 21 of our Heavylift Special in ITJ 49-52 / 2011). The airship, which was then marketed together with the aviation and defence firm Northrop Grumman, seemed to be a hit with the US army. The project was cancelled, in 2013, however, in the wake of the revision of the country’s defence budget. Discovery Air Innovations, a civil aviation enterprise that wanted to deploy airships in oil and gas industry exploration activities in the frozen wastes of northern Canada, also distanced itself from its investment plans in 2012.
Hybrid Air Vehicles’ founders did not let their heads hang, however. They bought the equipment back for 1% of the original price (USD 300,000), further developed it with Lockheed Martin, and then celebrated the resurrection of the airship as the Airlander 10 in 2014.
The unit’s new name also says something about its capacity – it has a 10 t payload. The longest aircraft in the world (91 x 34 m) can stay in the air for three weeks and could be an ideal addition to the transport mix. Its speed of 150 km / h is much lower than even a helicopter’s, which makes it more economical, however (see above). It will be valuable in areas where large or heavy loads can only be handled in complicated operations. A stronger version, the Airlander 50 with a 50 t payload, is also already on the drawing board. Straightline Aviation expects to take delivery of twelve units worth USD 480 million in 2018, and expects them to have a «dramatic impact» on the global airfreight scene.