An Airship That Goes Where Roads Can't Reach

To resupply Arctic mines and oil rigs, roads are expensive (if not simply out of the question). A new company is building fast and efficient helium-fueled blimps to get the needed supplies to workers up north.

Food items that many of us take for granted—say, a container of milk or orange juice—are pricey luxury items in remote Arctic communities that lack easy access to suppliers. And in many areas, roads are built around small mining communities. This is both inefficient and expensive. Instead of relying on roads or airplane runways, Discovery Air Innovations believes that these areas could be better served by airships.

The company recently partnered with Hybrid Air Vehicles to deliver a heavy-lift hybrid air vehicle (HAV) by 2014—a lighter-than-air flying blimp-like vehicle that can carry 50 tons and take off and land from water, snow, ice and gravel airstrips. The HAV, which is filled with non-flammable helium, uses significantly less energy than traditional airplanes, too.

Discovery explains the mechanics behind the ship:

The helium-filled hull creates aerodynamic lift, which when combined with vectored thrust engines enables vertical takeoff / landing (VTOL), as well as precision hover.  The hovercraft landing system, with "suck down" capability, allows for multi-surface operation and load transfer on land, water, ice and snow, while roll-on-roll-off cargo load capability facilitates heavy load operations.

So who will use these airships? Most likely, mining communities will jump at the chance. It costs $110 million to build a road to a gold mine in Baker Lake, Nunavut. We imagine that oil rigs will also want to use low-cost airships. In the event of an emergency, these nearly impossible-to-reach rigs may be at least partially able to rely on airships for help (though a disaster requiring immediate attention will still be problematic since the airships move slower than regular planes).

At the very least, Arctic communities may see a slight price decrease on their $11 gallons of milk.

[Image: Discovery Air Innovations]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • JB

    For a Helium sniffing laugh try the worlds only lighter than air comedy web site:
    3w dot airship dot me

  • Nari Soundarrajan

    nice article and one of my favorite topics too. However, it would be nice if the picture is captioned as to whether it is a computer generated one or a real live action shot of the airship!!

  • bradley newton haug

    aitships of all shapes and sizes have been tried for hundreds of years.  The eventual result is that weather can't be overcome.   

  • RalfLippold

    Tears come to my eyes as I saw Cargolifter's prototype in Leipzig at a logistics fair. The largest zeppelin hall in the world stands in Brand in Brandenburg (now a tropical pool landscape).
    All the best to the developer team - cheers from Dresden