Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Green Futuristic Airships Coming to a Sky Near You?

Green Futuristic Airships Coming to a Sky Near You?: "

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“The notion that airships represent the future of air cargo is being revived by a new generation of entrepreneurs some 75 years after a catastrophic fireball brought the industry to a screeching halt.”

That’s the intro to a piece on The Daily Climate on these promising, Super Cool airships of the 21st century. These low-carbon options for air cargo transport are currently being targeted at China, Africa, northern Canada, and other developing markets where there currently isn’t much (or any) transportation infrastructure. Here’s a little more:

Far safer than the Hindenburg, whose tragic 1937 docking remains an icon of aerospace gone wrong, these modern airships are a hybrid of lighter-than-air and fixed-wing aircraft. They can loft enormous payloads without requiring the acres of tarmac or miles of roadway necessary for conventional air and truck transport. And they do so at a fraction of the fuel and cost of aircraft.

Airships “give you access and much larger payloads at much lower costs,” said Peter DeRobertis, project leader for commercial hybrid air vehicles at Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics and Skunk Works division in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s also a green aircraft; you’re not polluting.”

Look promising. These airships could be used for transporting all sorts of goods directly to the customer — from fruit and vegetables to heavy industrial equipment.

Are these futuristic airships really on their way?

A few companies are currently developing prototypes. Lockheed has one called SkyTug that it anticipates will be commercially available by late 2013. SkyTug will have a” range of 1,000 nautical miles and a 20-ton payload.” A more heavy-duty airship, a 50-ton “Skyfreighter,” should follow that on in late 2014.

The industry’s future is initially aimed at leapfrogging the conventional cargo transport infrastructure, freighting goods where highways and airports don’t exist – Canada’s frozen north; China’s western frontier; remote parts of Africa, Asia, and South America. No airships are commercially available for cargo transport there yet. But once established on the frontiers, experts say their versatility, cost and fuel advantages should allow airships to penetrate mature freight markets like the United States.

This new generation of airships is apparently much improved compared to previous generations and has overcome critical weaknesses. Look for airships overhead in the years to come.

Image via Millenium Airship & The Daily Climate


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