Half-billion-dollar deal signals birth of new dirigibles era

When 17th century futurists imagined skylines teeming with dirigibles, they might have actually been on to something. But rather than ladies in hoop skirts pedaling across the Manhattan skyline on hybrid bicycle/balloon contraptions, the new Era of Airships 2.0 may look more like the one envisioned by Lockheed Martin, moving cargo instead of people.

We’ve come a long way…

With a 10’ x 10’ x 60’ cargo bay and a 21-short-ton cargo payload, Lockheed’s LMH-1 Hybrid Airship design is one of the most ambitious air-freight projects in years.

At this year’s Paris Air Show, Hybrid Air Freighters (HAF) signed a Letter of Intent to purchase up to 12 of Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airships from Hybrid Enterprises, the exclusive reseller of Lockheed Martin’s airship vehicles. The deal is valued at approximately US$500 million.

In addition to its enormous lift capacity, the Hybrid Airship can land on surfaces where other aircraft can’t. The logistics business has struggled for years to deliver oversized payloads to remote sites, and doing so has required expensive infrastructure development, such as airports, long runways, roads and port facilities. The LMH-1, however, could, in theory, provide end-to-end deliveries, touching down in small clearings at the remotes sites where oil and gas exploration tends to take place, thus eliminating massive development costs.

“The LMH-1 Hybrid Airship is designed to revolutionize remote cargo delivery,” said Rob Binns, CEO of Hybrid Enterprises.

Hubert de Contenson, CEO of HAF, added that “the LMH-1 will open a new era for remote cargo delivery that is free from costly ground infrastructure and will provide a sustainable and affordable solution to remote cargo operations around the globe.”

Past failures of lighter-than-air aircraft have earned airships a tough reputation to shake. However, technology has come a long way since floating, flammable gas bags named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin were a common sight in the skies. This helium-filled LMH-1 Hybrid Airship might just be the airship to usher in the modern airship era.

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