When ice roads across frozen lakes become too treacherous and violent arctic weather prevents resupply by plane, the remote towns in northern Canada can find themselves totally cut off from deliveries of food and medicine. Enter the heavy lift blimp, which Canadian company Discovery Air believes can solve the supply problems faced by isolated arctic hamlets.
Many such towns dot the northern reaches of the Canadian wilderness, where the lack of roads, rail and large landing strips compounds the winter hardships of freezing weather and entire days without sunlight. The giant blimps sought by Discovery Air, and built by the British company Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), have enough capacity to carry much heavier loads than small bush planes, but can land on the same improvised runways.
"HAV's heavy lift and cargo market will be a tremendous addition to our range of aviation services. With a cargo capacity of 50 tons at speeds up to 100 knots (115 mph, 185 kph), we believe this capability will enable economic development of remote, stranded resources with a low environmental impact," said Paul Bouchard, president of Discovery Air. "The ability to deliver cargo point-to-point without the need for a runway, will mean the infrastructure costs of our clients are reduced substantially."
Many believe these far off, snowbound communities will play an important part in the future of Canada, especially since global warming has both reduced the environmental adversity faced by residents and revealed lucrative sources of oil and natural gas that had previously languished untapped beneath the ice. By devising a means for connecting these towns with civilization, Discovery Air hopes to spur the same kind of development seen when rail service connected Wild West boom towns to the rest of the U.S.
HAV’s heavy lift and cargo vehicles have a payload capacity ranging from 20 to 200 tons, with future development potential of up to 1,000 tons. The helium-filled hull creates aerodynamic lift, which when combined with the vectored thrust engines enables vertical takeoff and landing, as well as precision hover. The hovercraft landing system's "suck down" allows for multisurface operation and load transfer on land, water, ice and snow.
The hybrid air vehicle is also one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport. Its flexibility to reduce or eliminate transshipments and fuel consumption is equally impressive, saving up to 75 percent on equivalent payload alternatives. The ability to launch, land and load from gravel airstrips, water, snow or ice surfaces with no preparation or specialist handling equipment saves end-users both time and investment in infrastructure. Ground loading offers roll-on-roll-off capability, while the precision hover allows pickup and delivery of cargo from ships or other austere locations.
The Heavy Lift Programme is currently in its detailed design phase, with construction planned for 2012. The first vehicle is scheduled to enter commercial service in 2014.