Last Friday, we talked about rocket launches as possibly becoming an air/space cargo vehicle of the future. For our fun Friday post this week, we look back to one of the oldest forms of air travel — lighter-than-air craft — as our cool vehicle of tomorrow.
After working for 20 years on a number of prototypes, Lockheed Martin said it has received an order for 12 of its LMH-1 “hybrid cargo airships,” which are expected to launch in 2018. With a payload capacity of about 20 tonnes, roughly the same as a 737-400 freighter, the LMH-1 hybrid cargo airships can also be converted to passenger configuration to carry up to 19 passengers and two pilots.
The chief advantage of the LMH-1 is not its speed (topping out at about 60 knots) but its ability to land just about anywhere to deliver cargo into remote locations that have no roads or nearby airports. It’s no surprise, then, that Lockheed’s launch customer for the new airship, Straightline Aviation (SLA), does most of its business in oil, gas and mining exploration. Other potential uses, Lockheed said, include disaster relief work and perishables delivery to polar regions or remote agricultural areas.
The estimated cost of the LMH-1 will be about a third of the cost of a 737 and as much as one-tenth the cost of the specially designed heavy-lift helicopters currently in use in use in the oil and gas industry. Plus, the range of the airship will be vastly greater than a helicopter and would require much less maintenance.
Check out this cool video from Lockheed-Martin, showing the unusual “tri-lobe” shape of the outer skin and describing some of the expected capabilities. Will this be a serious cargo craft or just more helium-filled hyperbole? We may find out in two more years. Enjoy.