Airships to potentially transform remote mining

Lockheed lands $480m customer for aircraft combining power of helicopter, airplane and hovercraft dramatically altering mining and exploration economics

On Wednesday, Lockheed Martin signed the first customer for the LMH-1, the giant defense contractor’s hybrid airship. The LMH-1 is a unique new aircraft which is part helium dirigible, part cargo helicopter, part passenger airliner and part hovercraft.

UK-based Straightline Aviation signed a letter of intent with Hybrid Enterprises, the exclusive reseller of the hybrid airship, to purchase up to 12 aircraft with a potential value of roughly $480 million.

When the new aircraft enters commercial service in around three years’ time it would not just be an upgrade to the traditional airship or advertising blimp, but would constitute a whole new class of aircraft says Bob Boyd, program manager for hybrid airships at Lockheed Martin: “It’s a new opportunity, we’re not competing with any other aircraft.”

Straightline Aviation is the world’s largest airship company and operates in 30 countries. Chief and co-founder, Michael Kendrick tells MINING.com that the company would own and operate the aircraft: “We see pent-up demand in the mining and oil and gas industries and expect our first customers from this sector.”

What sets the LMH-1 apart from competing designs is its hovering and landing capabilities or what Lockheed calls its Air Cushion Landing System or ACLS. By reversing the air-flow the landing gear acts as three giant suction cups and make it possible to land on and grip any unimproved field including ice, snow, mud, sand and water.

Boyd says because the aircraft is such a unique proposition Lockheed spent time talking to mining and exploration companies to understand their requirements and explain how the hybrid airship could fulfil those needs.

With rich easily-reachable deposits being depleted, mining and exploration is pushing further and further into frontier markets and remote locations. Says Boyd: “Not only will the LMH-1 lower construction costs by reducing the need to build transport infrastructure, the low environmental impact would also lower clean-up costs at remote sites.”

Mining is water intensive and many mines are located near bodies of water meaning many operations can utilize hybrid airships without creating any new infrastructure.

The LMH-1 will find its main application in hauling cargo and fuel to mining and oil and gas installations with little or no transport infrastructure.

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