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]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more