Mar 31, 2016: UK-based Straight Line Aviation (SLA) signed a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase up to 12 Lockheed Martin Hybrid Airships with a potential value of approximately $480 million. SLA is working with Hybrid Enterprises, the exclusive reseller of Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airships, to finalise the purchase agreement.
The helium-filled airships will be able to carry 20 tonnes of cargo to remote places where there are no roads. They will even be able to hover over open water. Lockheed has been pitching the airships as a cheaper, more environmentally friendly way to deliver supplies and equipment. The delivery of first airship is scheduled for 2018, with the final airship expected no later than 2021.
Lockheed Martin has been working on the hybrid airship from its top secret Skunk Works division.
“Lockheed Martin’s Hybrid Airship represents a revolution in remote cargo delivery. Having an experienced team such as SLA recognize the Hybrid Airship’s potential by signing the LOI solidifies the demand for this new mode of transportation,” said Rob Binns, CEO of Hybrid Enterprises.
According to a press note, what attracted SLA to the Lockheed Martin product was that the hybrid airship is heavier than air, even though it is filled with helium. Its skin and airframe weigh it down; it doesn’t need mooring like a traditional blimp. Engines guide the airship into position, and on its belly are wheel-like structures that spin to let it either hover or “grip” a surface. Lockheed said this provides stability in windy conditions for loading and unloading supplies, making it much easier to operate than a lighter-than-air machine. “The difference between lighter-than-air and hybrid airships is quite profound,” said Mike Kendrick, SLA co-founder and CEO. “It may seem small but it is a spectacular development,” he added.
“We are delighted to be first in line with this magnificent aircraft that is going to dramatically change the way cargo is moved around the world. The clear-cut economic and environmental advantages of these Hybrids are attracting vast amounts of attention from a wide-range of potential end users,” said Kendrick.
Lockheed proved the concept a decade ago with a one-third size prototype, and it has spent years figuring out the right size and the right markets, spending more than $100 million on the project. This is also the first time that Skunk Works, a division of Lockheed Martin more famous for creating legendary military aircraft like the SR-71 and Stealth fighter, has developed something for the commercial market. The company even created a special sales and marketing arm, called Hybrid Enterprises.