Airship pitch to remote miners

One of the world’s biggest companies is pitching airships as a solution for mining companies to develop inaccessible projects.

Known as the Skunk Works, the centre has produced some of the world’s most famous jets including the U2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes.

Skunk Works scientists gave a glimpse into two commercial projects aimed at reviving existing technology for 21st century flight. After years of testing, the company is ready to build helium-filled airships that can lift up to 500 tonnes.

The company believes its Lockheed Martin Hybrid One airships are ideal for reaching remote areas such as mining projects because all they need is a flat landing space.

This can turbocharge the development of projects because work does not need to wait for roads or rail lines to be built. Airships are also more efficient than helicopters, carrying cargo for a 10th of the cost per tonne.

Lockheed Martin plans to have three variations in service by 2019 — one that is 90m long and nine-storeys high that can lift 20 tonnes, a 90 tonne cargo version and a stadium-sized behemoth that can carry 500 tonnes.

The company says its 20 tonne version, which costs $US40 million ($52.5 million), cruises at 110km/h and is capable of flying around the world on a tank of fuel, albeit it would take a month.

Program director Bob Boyd said a British company had already signed a letter of intent to buy 12 airships. Mining companies which had “run the numbers” also liked what they saw.

“It’s just a matter of getting over those first jitters,” Dr Boyd said. “We’re targeting that middle track that is between trains, trucks and ships which carry a lot of cargo but is slow, and aircraft which is fast but expensive.”

Lockheed Martin, together with NASA, is also exploring supersonic flight. It is developing a concept for a single-seat plane that can give off a quieter sonic boom in a bid to convince US politicians to lift a 45-year ban on commercial jets travelling faster than the speed of sound when over land.

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