Airships set for Arctic’s heavy lifting

25 October 2009 | 05:34 Code : 19606 Geoscience events
Using blimps to deliver heavy payloads to remote northern sites has oft been touted...

Using blimps to deliver heavy payloads to remote northern sites has oft been touted as having cost and environmental benefits over traditional means of transportation.Now a concrete business case can be made for using the SkyHook HLV (heavy lift vehicle) airship in specific applications, such as moving an oil rig, instead of conventional means of transportation, said Boeing Co.’s Kenneth Laubsch, program manager of the Sky-Hook HLV."Our goal is 80,000 pounds of lift, or 40,000 U. S. tons (36,000 tonnes), and to be operating in completely austere conditions," Laubsch said of the SkyHookHLV, an aircraft Boeing has partnered with Calgary’s SkyHook International Inc. to bring to market.Still in the engineering phase, the first SkyHook aircraft is scheduled to fly in 2014. The airship will boast two and a half times the payload of an MI-26 helicopter--currently the world’s largest vertical lift aircraft--and burn about 10 per cent less fuel to move that payload, attendees of the fifth annual Airships to the Arctic conference in Calgary heard Thursday.Using supplier-provided data, the company can create detailed cost comparisons in specific applications of payload, such as pipeline construction, and produce an economic model detailing what it would cost to lease the SkyHook aircraft for the duration of a job.In the case of an oil rig, for instance, the SkyHook HLV could improve the entire logistics move for an experimental oil rig in an oilfield at significantly less cost than the current $60 million to $100 million they estimated it costs."We can actually move that experimental oil rig up to six times in a particular year, so we have the potential, what takes them three to eight years, to finish in one to two years," Laubsch said.They’ve done similar calculations for pipeline companies, oil and gas companies, wind turbine companies and manufacturers.Primary potential customers are oil, gas and mining companies and there’s been some interest in civil construction projects, he said, although customers are coming up with new applications for the airship all the time.Laubsch described the SkyHook airship as a forklift or a tugboat intended to do short-lift heavy haul."Basically it is a purpose-driven machine being designed for Arctic operations, whether in Russia, Arctic Ocean or northern Canada," Laubsch said.Earlier this week, SkyHook announced it had reached a collaborative agreement with Nippon Airship Corp. to commercialize the SkyHook HLV.At the conference, SkyHook International chief executive Richard Charron said what’s needed now is government support to help legitimize and validate the technology, and reinforce that the methodology is the wave of the future.It’s a way to assert sovereignty in the North, he told the Herald."If you think about the sovereignty of the North, how are you going to do that? You can’t move it by barge, you can’t move it by ship, you can’t fly it in," Charron said."You need some means of supplying to the North and it’s really important that the government stand behind this."Conference attendees also heard from Gordon Taylor, director of sales and marketing for Hybrid Air Vehicles, of the U. K., which has an eye on using its airship to bring equipment to the oilsands."We don’t see this as a primary role for the vehicle, but we do see it as a significant operational advantage," Taylor said.

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