Hybrid Airship Redefines Accessibility: The era of limited or no access to rugged, untamed wilderness, mountainous terrain, and remote territories with no infrastructure is behind us. A new day has dawned.
A New Class of Aircraft
Lockheed Martin spent more than 20 years developing the technology behind its Hybrid Airship, a whole new class of aircraft capable of hauling heavy cargo and personnel to the most remote and undeveloped reaches on the planet. At its core, the Hybrid Airship is first and foremost a hovercraft, which allows it to be extremely efficient and to access the most difficult locations over any type of terrain. It operates equally well over land, water, and ice.
Being able to fly anywhere isn’t what makes this aircraft so special. Rather, it’s the ability to land virtually anywhere that puts this craft in a league of its own. It has an air cushion landing system (ACLS), developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California. The ACLS resembles massive inflatable doughnuts, called hoverpads that attach to the bottom of the airship’s body.
The hoverpads create cushions of air upon which the airship can taxi across land – or skim across water for that matter. When it’s time to park the airship, the hoverpads grip the ground securely by creating a light suction pressure and “fingers” drape to the ground to help maintain an airtight seal. When the airship takes off from a remote location, there is no long-term damage to the terrain.
The Lockheed Martin team built and flew a prototype of the Hybrid Airship, the P-791 more than 10 years ago that demonstrated all the technologies that make up the airship today. The developers started working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) then to forge a path for making this a reality. Now, the airship has an approved FAA Certification Plan and is set to go into production.
The Hybrid Airship has a payload capacity of 20 tons of cargo with a complement of 19 passengers. It combines lift from a helium-filled envelope with aerodynamic lift from the airfoil shape of the envelope. At its cruising speed of 60 knots, it travels at three times the pace of an average cargo ship, which means it could circumnavigate the globe in only 30 days.
What’s left now is for the world to wait and watch this new class of aircraft establish itself and show what it can do.
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