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Lockheed Martin lands first deal for its hybrid airship – Straightline Aviation buys a dozen blimps at $480 million

PUBLISHED: 16:37 31 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:37 31 March 2016

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Once again the commercial future of the airships is set to begin. Lockheed Martin is about to sell a dozen of its ‘hybrid’ airships. A British aviation company has signed a letter of intent to secure the blimps for $480 million. These floating aircraft are capable of reaching far-off regions and can land anywhere while silently travelling and saving a lot of fuel as compared to more conventional aircraft.

Aviation giant and defence contractor Lockheed Martin has signed its first contract to supply its hybrid airships. Twelve of the ships will be sold to Straightline Aviation (SLA). The companies have signed a letter of intent for the blimps, the first of which are expected to be inducted in the first-of-its-kind fleet of dirigibles in less than two years. The last of the hybrid airships that will complete the fleet is expected to be delivered before 2021.

The hybrid airships make travelling to tough-to-reach regions possible. The companies that will eventually be using these blimps will use them to haul cargo and freight to remote areas. ‘Some of the first regions where we might see these airships floating are in the Arctic, where there are no roads or other supporting infrastructure. Using these dirigibles will significantly bring down the costs and risks involved in transporting heavy cargo and personnel’, said SLA CEO Mike Kendrick.

“There is a real need for this. It can cost up to $1 billion to put the entire infrastructure in for an oil well. Falling commodity prices have not hurt interest in the airships — quite the opposite, given the cost savings — and U.K.-based SLA has four or five customers ready to try out the airships whenever they’re finally ready.”

The hybrid airship, made by Lockheed Martin and sold by Atlanta-based Hybrid Enterprises, is essentially a huge blimp. The first airship, christened LMH-1, is 300 feet long and 78 feet tall. At 21 metric tonnes - it’s heavy - but it is being built to ferry truck-size loads to highly inaccessible regions. Lockheed Martin confirmed the airships will be able to carry a total weight of 47,000 pounds, or roughly its own weight, of cargo. With a carrying capacity of just nineteen passengers, the airship isn’t best suited to transporting people.

These hybrid airships can land on any flat terrain, be it land, snow, or water. The company claims the blimps can hover over open water. The advanced air-cushion landing system allows the dirigible to grip the ground like a suction cup, reported the Los Angeles Times. Potential customers will be pleased to note the operating costs of these blimps is quite low, and they are far more environmentally friendly when compared to conventional aircraft with similar capacities.

Meanwhile Hybrid Air Vehicles, based at the historic airship hangars at Cardington, Bedfordshire is about to launch a competitor in the form of the Airlander 10 – see the May edition of Pilot for a special feature on this British-designed aircraft and its innovative technology.

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